Season four of Game of Thrones has been a tumultuous one to say the least, especially for those who have read the A Song of Fire and Ice series and know how much the television show has diverged with the characters in the last several episodes in particular (cough, cough Jaime Lannister the rapist).
The season’s sixth episode, “The Laws of Gods and Men,” grapples with a lot of thorny issues such as how leaders need to balance justice with mercy and whether they truly are able to deliver justice or just merely a series of motions with a pre-ordained verdict.
Daenerys is settling into ruling and realizing 1) it’s super tedious with tons of people requesting stuff from you, and 2) decisions always have unintended consequences.
Here’s Tywin’s description of the bank in “Walk of Punishment,” the third episode of the third season of Game of Thrones:
One stone crumbles and another takes its place and the temple holds its form for a thousand years or more. And that’s what the Iron Bank is, a temple. We all live in its shadow and almost none of us know it. You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses. If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.
By that description it seems like the Iron Bank is the invisible hand that determines the fortunes of rulers in both Westeros and Essos. Their influence is everywhere and like fate, you can’t run from or cheat them.
If you were the Iron Bank of Braavos, who would you bet on for the Iron Throne? Forget the fancy titles, stories, and bloodlines. The Iron Bank looks at numbers because numbers don’t lie: you either have adequate resources or you don’t.
Choice A: Stannis
He has a legitimate claim to the throne as the surviving brother of King Robert Baratheon. As Ser Davos, the best hype man in all of Westeros, pointed out, “He’s got the birthright. He’s in his prime. He’s a tried and tested battle commander, and he doesn’t just talk about paying people back. He does it.”
Choice B: House Lannister
War and extravagant spending by King Joffrey has the royal family maxed out. Littlefinger, the former Master of Coin, borrowed heavily to finance the War of the Five Kings. Tywin is past his prime and placing all his eggs in one basket: this grandson, King Tommen. There’s nothing more vulnerable to a kingdom than a newly crowned young monarch open to influences from others (e.g. Margeary Tyrell, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson). Not only that, the royal lineage is in question with those pesky incest rumors.
It seems that the bank crunched some numbers and came to the conclusion that Stannis is the man who can recover the debts incurred by the Lannisters. In the end, everyone owes something and eventually someone will come collecting, one way or the other. As the Lannisters are famously known for paying their debts, the Iron Bank of Braavos “will have its due.”
If Stannis and Tywin are the “contenders” and wise investments for the Iron Bank, the two characters who are clearly “lost causes” in the eyes of their family and society are Theon and Tyrion. Both men are high born and yet are seen as damaged goods by those closest to them. In a world obsessed with bloodlines and family, it is still possible for circumstances to obliterate a person’s identity and birthright.
Theon Greyjoy was a prick for all of seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones. After his disastrous attack on Winterfell, his own men betrayed him and gave him to Ramsay Snow. After relentless torture, Theon transformed into “Reek,” a hollow, soulless slave to Ramsay.
In this episode, Theon’s sister Yara (a.k.a. Asha in the books) stages a rescue attempt. When she tries to drag her brother to freedom, Yara quickly realizes Theon is not Theon anymore. He is no longer a value but a loss for House Greyjoy.
The second “lost cause” in the eyes of the bankers of Braavos and House Lannister is Tyrion, second son of Tywin. As I live-tweeted last night, I desperately wanted to mash-up Tyrion’s trial and one of my other favorite shows, Law & Order.
Despite coming from one of the most illustrious and rich families in all of Westeros, Tyrion is hated by his family. His birth caused his mother’s death, extinguishing any remnants of joy or love by his father Tywin. His sister Cersei tried to choke him to death as a toddler. All his life, Tyrion used his mind and his words to survive in a world where strength comes from a sword and power from gold coins. Currently, he’s on trial for killing his nephew, the late King Joffrey.
As the trial progressed, it became clear to Tyrion that the odds were stacked against him and this time he might not be able to talk himself out of this situation. His former ally Varys turned his back on him, Cersei diminished his role in the Battle of Blackwater, and other characters testified to his hatred for Joffrey.
The turning point in the so-called-trial was the appearance of Shae, his mistress/lover. Her testimony against him, the laughter and derision by the audience, and humiliation by his father — the prosecutor and judge in this trial — was the last straw for Tyrion.
Rather than playing along with the script for this trial, Tyrion refused to confess. He let loose with the rage that has been building up his entire life. He wasn’t on trial for murder. He was on trial for being a dwarf.
At the moment when he seemed most broken and weak, he roared like a lion and said what he really felt. With nothing to lose, he raged at the people he saved.
A lifetime of ridicule, disrespect, contempt, and hatred was just too much for Tyrion. In a most perfect way of saying F-U to the justice system, his father and everyone at King’s Landing, Tyrion demanded a trial by combat.
With so much talk about balls, penises, machismo, and what it takes to rule in this show, Tyrion displayed the ultimate set of balls by speaking truth to power and respecting himself enough to tell it like it is, even if he’s going to die.
He may be an imp, but he’s no one’s bitch.