Anatomy of a Throne: “The Laws of Gods and Men”
By Marc N. Kleinhenz on in Editorial.

HBO’s Game of Thrones brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but there still, of course, are differences. While most of these gaps from the page to the screen are small and detail-oriented, it is nonetheless the case that the most subtle discrepancies often hold the biggest insight into the adaptation process, into the demands of filmmaking, and into the rigors of the literary narrative.

This, then, is the anatomy of a key scene of Thrones – not because of its dramatic importance or visual effects whizbangery, but because of the telling nature of its realization.

Episode: “The Laws of Gods and Men” (406)
Scene: Tyrion’s grand demand

The episode-ending, season-stealing, award-winning performance that Peter Dinklage delivers in his demand for a trail by combat is, of course, an especially potent scene, one that will be hard for the actor to top in subsequent installments (though he will certainly be given the material with which to try). What makes it even more notable is that its translation to the screen is nearly identical to George R.R. Martin’s original conceptualization, from its location to the blocking of characters to nearly every word of dialogue, but it still packs quite a different dramatic punch – even beyond Dinklage’s emotional intensity.

The culprit here, as is so often the case with HBO’s flagship series, is the reshuffling of material that both precedes and runs concurrently with the scene, creating an entirely different narrative context for everything to play within. Showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have specifically trimmed and tucked two specific throughlines, and analyzing both not only shows how stories can be most poignantly told through small details, but also reveals how the two writer-producers approach the overarching narrative of Game of Thrones.

The first change involves the man who is arguably the main character in the sequence in question: Hand of the King Tywin Lannister. His strategizing in the novel A Storm of Swords – attempting to force his son to confess and take the black – is largely the same, though with decidedly different dynamics and hugely changed deliveries. Here, it isn’t Jaime Lannister who arranges a plea bargain for his dwarven brother, but Kevan Lannister, Lord Tywin’s brother (and Lancel’s father); it is Tywin’s idea to have Tyrion be extricated entirely from King’s Landing (and, not coincidentally, from House Lannister), and it is Kevan’s familial duty to convince the Imp to take it, despite his personal conviction that his nephew is, indeed, a kingslayer and kinslayer both. And what’s interesting to note here is that, as the trial continues to grind on over the course of the next three days, Tyrion starts to seriously consider the offer – and, indeed, he may have very well gone for it, if not for his fundamental questioning of his lord father’s trustworthiness and, of course, for the ultimate, game-changing appearance of Shae.

Why make the edit? The minor explanation is that, despite his continued (background) presence in the books, Uncle Kevan hasn’t been seen since the end of season two (“The Prince of Winterfell,” episode 208), and the showrunners tend to consistently deploy these characters throughout the sequence of episodes if they are to sprout up and interact with the main throughline in any significant way (such as keeping both Robb Stark and Theon Greyjoy front and center in the narrative despite lengthy, book-long absences in Martin’s telling, or making such ancillary characters as Talisa Maegyr or Ramsay Snow into main [that is to say, listed in the opening credits] players). And not only has Ser Kevan been out of sight, out of mind for too long, he’s also been nothing but a peripheral presence in the show, making his dramatic impact at this key moment too minimal.

Much more importantly, however, the character of Ser Jaime needed more servicing (in the eyes of Benioff and Weiss, at least), helping to further propel his character development while simultaneously filling in all the extra episodes that have been devoted to Storm of Swords. Making him offer to rescind his sacred vows after all speaks volumes about Jaime’s love of and devotion to his brother, and it makes his transformation from would-be child-killing creep to redeemable, sympathetic would-be hero in the audience’s mind all the more complete. (Not to mention the simple fact that such a change makes the material in question infinitely more dramatic and, therefore, infinitely more filmable, which is also something that the executive producers keep their eyes on.)

It also proportionately makes Lord Tywin all the more despicable, despite his own heart-warming moments of affection with Arya Stark in the second season; the murder of his grandson is simply yet another opportunity for house advancement – and what can be more important than the continuation of the family line, despite Tywin’s many nieces and nephews? (Though, to be fair on this point, Game of Thrones has the consistent habit of paring back the number of branches of the various family trees, attempting to make the story as streamlined as possible for the typically-overwhelmed average viewer, so we honestly do not know how many other Lannisters there are lurking in the background.) That his character did the same in the novel is of no consequence – there, it appeared to be an attempt at salvaging an intractable situation; here, it comes off as an active, almost gleeful, manipulation.

Then there is the other major alteration at work in the scene: Tyrion’s decision to demand a trail by combat. In Storm of Swords, this is essentially his first thought at how best to acquit himself, given the sheer number of witnesses that Queen Regent Cersei has arrayed against him (which we directly get to witness in the television rendition) and given his success with the tactic previously (“A Golden Crown,” 106). Indeed, a large number of scenes before or even during the trail are dedicated to this very possibility, with Kevan warning Tyrion against such a maneuver – Cersei already has her champion in mind, and she’d love to pit him against whatever hapless creature Tyrion can scrounge up – and Tyrion attempting to feel Ser Bronn of the Blackwater out on the possibility. The former, of course, has been completely cut, and the latter has presumably been moved to next week’s installment (“Mockingbird,” 407). In Game of Thrones, then, Tyrion may have considered such a seemingly remote option during his imprisonment, but the first the audience gets to hear of it is during Dinklage’s dramatic delivery – certainly one of the key reasons why the reshuffling of the material was made in the first place.

Another reason for the change is, simply, the standard level of narrative condensation (as it were) that the showrunners apply to each and every chapter of the source material; in this instance, a three-day, extremely drawn-out trial, in which Tyrion continually – and fruitlessly – attempts to sketch out a counter-strategy while being held at arm’s length from friends and family alike, gets compacted into one major sequence, with just one short recess (for Jaime and Tywin to make their deal). This, also, compacts the emotional intensity of the sequence, reinforcing the heft of the cliffhanger ending.

When all of these edits are taken together, Tyrion’s anger-fueled tirade becomes a double-whammy: not only a retaliation against Shae’s fictitious testimony, but also a repudiation of Lord Tywin’s grand ambition and, indeed, life work. Much more than it ever appears in the novel, the scene becomes, at its very core, an extraordinarily vicious duel between the outcast son and the proud father, an attempt to cause as much physical and emotional trauma to one another as possible before the bitter end.

In this way, material that is presented in a more detached, conceptual way is reduced to a bare-bones, visceral depiction – more appropriate to television storytelling, perhaps, and certainly an intriguing alternative viewpoint into psychologically complex and narratively compelling characters.

Previous Installments

Episode 201: “The North Remembers”
Episode 203: “What Is Dead May Never Die”
Episode 207: “A Man without Honor”
Episode 209: “Blackwater”
Episode 210: “Valar Morghulis”
Episode 304: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
Episode 305: “Kissed by Fire”
Episode 309: “The Rains of Castamere”
Episode 401: “Two Swords”
Episode 402: “The Lion and the Rose”
Episode 403: “Breaker of Chains”
Episode 404: “Oathkeeper”
Episode 405: “First of His Name”

Marc N. Kleinhenz is the features editor for Tower of the Hand and the author of It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I, which covers Game of Thrones’s first season. He has written for The Huffington Post, co-created and -hosted two podcasts, and has even taught English in Japan.


22 Comments

  1. Laurentius
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I do hope we get Kevan next year.

  2. freoduwebbe
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Points well made. Thanks

  3. Redking
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I wish more book-readers understood the dynamics of adaptation. Year after year the (ignorant) vitriol has increased on this forum. A teleplay and a novel are two very different forms of writing, with distinct demands on both their creators and their audiences.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful piece. I hope some visitors to this website who make a pastime of owning the source material and dissecting the show by comparison will pause a moment to consider how little they understand the writing process, and what actually motivates their criticism.

  4. A flayed man none
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    A very well-done analysis.

    I would add that the streamlining of the trial also supports the idea that Tyrion’s case is unwinnable, and that the trial itself is simply a kangaroo court. This increases viewer sympathy for the Imp by highlighting the injustice of the process.

    While some points in the series remain open for viewers to make up their own mind (i.e. Jaime’s redemption or Theon’s plight), there is no room for viewers to adopt unique opinions here. We have to root for Tyrion or forego our own beliefs in the concept of justice.

    It’s really a wonderful example of how well the writers manage to adapt the sprawling novels into what is almost inarguably the best television ever.

  5. Troublesome Birdsong
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Nicely put.
    I was really hoping for some Kevan/Tyrion scenes this year, and was annoyed to start with, but now that it’s happened, I’m totally fine with using those scenes as part of Jaime’s redemptive arc.

    Kevan can be just as effectively reintroduced next season at Tywin’s funeral with Cersei asking him to become the new Hand and him flipping her intentions by telling her to go back to Casterly Rock, while he becomes Lord Regent. This resentment of her will lead nicely to him admitting he knows about her seducing Lancel and will help provide exposition about Lancel’s injury at the Blackwater and going off to be the Lord of Darry. I’m kind of imaging maybe Kevan reveals the High Septon is blackmailing him with the knowledge of Lancel/Cersei, which Lancel had confessed on his supposed deathbed, and this then spurs Cersei into killing the High Septon and introducing Osmund Kettleblack as a new character in the process (as well as the new High Septon eventually). That’s a lot of information/backstory to drop, but I think it flows well enough that they could convincingly knock it off in a couple of scenes.

    Yeah, I might be naive thinking they’re going to keep the Kettleblacks at all, given we haven’t seen them already, but I’ll hold out hope that they get merged into one whitecloak who acts as Cersei’s assassin/’post-Jaime-bit-on-the-side’. There’s no way I’d accept that material going to Trant even though that’s what some people have suggested.

  6. HARmundGiantsbane
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I love these Anatomy of a Throne articles. I have read the books, but only once so these help remind me exactly how some of the major events went down in the books.

  7. Daniellica
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Redking: Year after year the (ignorant) vitriol has increased on this forum

    Really? I think it has decreased. Have you read the recap comments from Season 1? Barkgate, anyone? From what I have noticed, there are a few very vocal critics of how the show makes changes, but by and large the community here is very thoughtful and understanding of televised necessity.

  8. Luka Nieto
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Troublesome Birdsong,

    I had exactly the same thought: Kevan should be reintroduced in season 5, episode 1, at Tywin’s funeral. Cersei offers him the position of Hand; he says he will accept if Cersei abandons her powers and goes back to Casterly Rock; so Cersei tells him to fuck off. It would be a nice reintroduction, and the setting offers an opportunity to reintroduce this character as Tywin’s brother without falling to over-exposition. I mean, he probably becomes Hand of the King by the end of season 5, so reintroducing him at the beginning of the season seems like the perfect placement. Does anybody else have any thoughts?

  9. Mariya Martell
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    There is also the fact that, when Tyrion demands trial by combat in the book he already knew he had someone to champion him, while in the show he plays a much higher risk. Though it could be said he probably believes Bronn will step up for him, it is still a huge gamble with his life, considering he just witnessed the reach of his family’s manipulations. This difference helps emphasise the despair and utter destruction that came with Shae’s betrayal.

    Of course this couldn’t be said in the post without spoiling.

    All in all, I am very happy with these changes. This was one of my favourite episodes and changing Kevan with Jaime was a very good move. (Though we all love Kevan and miss him very much!)

  10. Troublesome Birdsong
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Luka Nieto,

    Technically Kevan wants to become Lord Regent and make Mace Tyrell the Hand in the book, but I suppose having that extra rank may just cause an unnecessary complication in the show.

    I’m curious what they end up doing with the whole Hand position problem, given Cersei offers it to Kevan and gets rejected, then she offers it to Jaime and gets rejected, then she ends up giving the position to Harys Swift, and then later to Orton Merryweather, both characters they’re not likely to bother casting. I assume she’ll have to make Mace the Hand early in place of those two, even though she hates that idea in the book. Then when Kevan reappears later, he can take over as Hand instead or they just don’t bother to specify what his role is.

  11. Luka Nieto
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Troublesome Birdsong,

    Orton, I don’t think so, but they might just cast Harys. Although not an interesting character in the book, that wouldn’t be a first: while many book characters are not featured in the show, many others are fleshed out more than in the books. I think they might cast Harys because in his short tenure he becomes Hand of the King, is demoted to Master of Coin and then is sent to Bravoos to placate the Iron Bank. Also, considering (TWOW excerpt spoilers) that Arya encounters him in Bravoos and kills his guard Raff (who killed Lommy in the books instead of Polliver), maybe his storyline is going somewhere and might still interact with Arya some more. Just for that, they might just add him to the series. Of course, that’s wild speculation. Still, he could be easily cast as a secondary character. The Small Council will be awfully empty if they do not invite some new people in: Cersei as Queen Regent, no Hand, Pycelle as Grand Maester, Qyburn as the new Master of Whisperers; and later, Kevan as Lord Regent, Mace as Hand, Pycelle as Grand Maester, and that’s it. Harys and Randyll, and later Nymeria as adviser in place of Doran, would be enough to fill the void, I think.

  12. Mr. Lemoncloak
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    HARmundGiantsbane:
    I love these Anatomy of a Throne articles. I have read the books, but only once so these help remind me exactly how some of the major events went down in the books.

    my thoughts exactly, these are probably the most helpful articels on this site for me, and certainly some of the most entertaining. great job!

  13. wizardeyes
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    This has made me wonder if they’re going to replace Kevan with Jaime in season 5 as well. How necessary are Jaime’s FFC chapters once he leaves King’s Landing?

  14. Troublesome Birdsong
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    wizardeyes:
    This has made me wonder if they’re going to replace Kevan with Jaime in season 5 as well. How necessary are Jaime’s FFC chapters once he leaves King’s Landing?

    Siege at Riverrun is pretty important, because it shows that he’s trying to become more tactical like Tywin and that he has developed a better sense of honour and respect. And of course that’s where he is when he receives the letter from Cersei pleading for help and decides to ignore it.
    Meeting Lancel at Darry isn’t necessary, but I would still hope they keep it.
    I’d be very surprised if he was still in King’s Landing by episode 504.

  15. Antipurist
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Trail by combat? Perhaps he’s going hiking with his opponent and whoever collapses first loses?

  16. Kessell
    Posted May 17, 2014 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    nice article, I would add a third prong to your throughlines of changes, namely changing Shea from exploited opportunist to scorned lover (regardless of off-screen pressure undoubtedly put on her at this point) changes the viewer’s perception of her testimony, and it changes how Tyrion finally snaps. With regard to playing out a ‘did she get away?’ with Shea attentive viewers know that she has probably taken a deal offered by Cersei and that Bronn has betrayed Tyrion, instead of letting Shea’s testamony be fait accompli and leaving the ‘shock’ with the unexpected turn down by Bronn, which, in hindsight, is of course not that unexpected. We see a focus on Tyrion breaking down after feeling betrayed by Shae instead of the cummalative efftect of all the jeering by the crowd that makes him snap. Obviously a minor change, but it is made out of neccesity after glossing over the more unpleasant side of Tyrion for the better part of 4 seasons. It also ‘hightens drama’ for some people, while others call it out as needlessly melodramatic. I must confess I also found the spectacle a bit much, hightend as it was by the need to shoot from 1 close up of a face to another and the rather ‘ PAM PAM PAAAM ‘ way the ending was delivered, but this is coming from someone who has watched / listened to it more than 10 times over the last few days, so don’t take this as anything other than an overindulgent nitpick.

  17. Marc N. Kleinhenz
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    freoduwebbe:
    Points well made. Thanks

    Thanks for reading. =)

    ~M.

  18. Marc N. Kleinhenz
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Redking:
    I wish more book-readers understood the dynamics of adaptation. Year after year the (ignorant) vitriol has increased on this forum. A teleplay and a novel are two very different forms of writing, with distinct demands on both their creators and their audiences.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful piece. I hope some visitors to this website who make a pastime of owning the source material and dissecting the show by comparison will pause a moment to consider how little they understand the writing process, and what actually motivates their criticism.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments — and observations.

    I’m actually fully aware of the level of vitriol; you should see the first-ever piece I did for WIC, back during the third season. The comments will knock your socks off…

    :O

    ~M.

  19. Marc N. Kleinhenz
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    A flayed man none:
    A very well-done analysis.

    I would add that the streamlining of the trial also supports the idea that Tyrion’s case is unwinnable, and that the trial itself is simply a kangaroo court. This increases viewer sympathy for the Imp by highlighting the injustice of the process.

    While some points in the series remain open for viewers to make up their own mind (i.e. Jaime’s redemption or Theon’s plight), there is no room for viewers to adopt unique opinions here. We have to root for Tyrion or foregoour own beliefs in the concept of justice.

    It’s really a wonderful example of how well the writers manage to adapt the sprawling novels into what is almost inarguably the best television ever.

    Thank you for the compliments. And just for the record, I actually find *your* analysis to be spot-on.

    =)

    ~M.

  20. Marc N. Kleinhenz
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    HARmundGiantsbane:
    I love these Anatomy of a Throne articles. I have read the books, but only once so these help remind me exactly how some of the major events went down in the books.

    Mr. Lemoncloak: my thoughts exactly, these are probably the most helpful articels on this site for me, and certainly some of the most entertaining. great job!

    I appreciate the kind words. They make working past midnight when you know your one-year-old is going to wake you first thing in the morning not only bearable, but worthwhile. :D

    ~M.

  21. Marc N. Kleinhenz
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Kessell:
    nice article, I would add a third prong to your throughlines of changes, namely changing Shea from exploited opportunist to scorned lover (regardless of off-screen pressure undoubtedly put on her at this point) changes the viewer’s perception of her testimony, and it changes how Tyrion finally snaps. With regard to playing out a ‘did she get away?’ with Shea attentive viewers know that she has probably taken a deal offered by Cersei and that Bronn has betrayed Tyrion, instead of letting Shea’s testamony be fait accompli and leaving the ‘shock’ with the unexpected turn down by Bronn, which, in hindsight, is of course not that unexpected. We see a focus on Tyrion breaking down after feeling betrayed by Shae instead of the cummalative efftect of all the jeering by the crowd that makes him snap. Obviously a minor change, but it is made out of neccesity after glossing over the more unpleasant side of Tyrion for the better part of 4 seasons. It also ‘hightens drama’ for some people, while others call it out as needlessly melodramatic. I must confess I also found the spectacle a bit much, hightend as it was by the need to shoot from 1 close up of a face to another and the rather ‘ PAM PAM PAAAM ‘ way the ending was delivered, but this is coming from someone who has watched / listened to it more than 10 times over the last few days, so don’t take this as anything other than an overindulgent nitpick.

    Mr. Lemoncloak: my thoughts exactly, these are probably the most helpful articels on this site for me, and certainly some of the most entertaining. great job!

    Yeah, I desperately wanted to get into the rather dramatic (no pun intended) differences with Shae, but I just didn’t have the time or the space to. I’m really hoping to tackle this at some point in the future — and if I do, I’ll have to reference your observations/analysis. =)

    ~M.

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