To quote Time‘s TV critic James Poniewozik, “said it before, but for all the spectacle, Game Of Thrones is never better than when it’s about one person talking to another.” Amen. The last ten minutes were brutal, and next week teases an epic battle between the Wildlings and the watchers on the Wall, but one thing that this season of Game of Thrones has done so well is bring the show down a notch, and return it to the essence of what makes the books so compelling: characters. (And scheming, of course). But by focusing on only a few stories each week, Game of Thrones has made things simple while keeping it twisted. “The Mountain and the Viper’s” finale had a big impact, but perhaps even more shocking was the transformation of another character. Hit the jump for more.
We might as well get to the final fight first, since the sight — and worse, the sound — of the Mountain crushing Oberyn’s skull is likely still fresh in your mind. For those who thought Oberyn would win the fight, bless you and your optimism. You are a rare rose still finding sunlight in which to bloom under an otherwise gray and gloomy sky that is Game of Thrones. Joffrey’s death in the second episode of the season seemed to portend a sea change. Maybe in the wake of Robb’s death, this has evened the scales, and others will triumph? Oh you sweet summer child …
The chilling irony of Oberyn’s death though was that it was his hubris and focus on revenge which killed him. After delivering several mortal blows to the Mountain, it would have been easy to finish him off. But he lingered, desperate to hear him repent his sins, and let the Mountain regain some of his strength instead. In addition to the series losing such a great and charming new character, Oberyn’s death also means that Tyrion will die as well (or, is scheduled to. There was a lot of foreshadowing in this episode if you knew where to look for it). And on a much more macro level, one can only assume that the Martells of Dorne, of whom we know next to nothing at this point in the show, are surely going to be pissed that their prince went on a friendly mission to King’s Landing, only to end up with a crushed head.
Timing was an important element in “The Mountain and the Viper.” If the mail wasn’t so slow, for instance, maybe Dany would have kicked Jorah out of her ranks a long time ago. Now though, it was an extremely painful expulsion, because he had become one of her most trusted allies (even though he was indeed spying on her since the first of their time together). Grey Worm also speaks about cause and effect and time in his apology to Missandei, stating that had he not been taken captive and castrated, he never would have ended up with the Unsullied, been freed by Dany, or have met her. This romantic deviation from the books was one to embrace with open arms, not only in the wake of the breakup of Dany and Jorah, but because we just deserve something nice, damnit.
Timing was also important with Arya’s story, as she and the Hound reached the Eyrie just in time to learn of Lysa’s death three days before. Her bursting into laughter at that fact was the perfect response — everywhere they go, death proceeds them. The Hound can’t seem to hand Arya off to anyone before they are killed. It’s a tragic fact, but even more tragic given that her sister Sansa is just beyond the gate. Another near-miss with the Starks that is positively heartbreaking.
The overarching theme for all of the stories in “The Mountain and the Viper” though was identity. In addition to these other narratives, there was the moment when Roose Bolton legitimized his bastard Ramsay, his sole heir as Warden of the North (Roose wisely decided that it didn’t matter who Ramsay’s mother was, he shares the same black soul as any good Bolton so might as well carry the name). In one of the biggest changes to any character so far, though, the meek and stumbling Sansa takes a leaf from Littlefinger’s book, and re-imagines herself as a femme fatal. She tells everything to Lord Royce in total truth up until the distinction of suicide versus homicide, and in doing so, saves Littlefinger and herself. She’s learning. Moreover, she finds a revealing black frock to wear to tempt Littlefinger as they go visiting in the Vale, knowing that his protection of her is all she has left to go on. “You know what I want?” he asks her. It’s not hard to guess. He’s made that pretty clear.
To go back to Poniewozik’s thoughts on the show, each of these little scenes packed a very powerful punch this week. These conversations and schemes all showed a lot of character growth, and also helped viewers to get to know the characters better. It makes the more overwhelming moments of spectacle all the more emotional if we are given time to really invest in these stories, rather than just being jettisoned from one beheading in Westeros to a bloody battle in another.
The best conversation of “The Mountain and the Viper” was of course between Tyrion and Jaime. His extended meditation on his afflicted cousin Orson was one of existential dread. Does any of this mean anything? It’s easy to think it doesn’t, and that the cost of life in this horrible world that Game of Thrones paints is cheap. Or maybe it does, so much so, that no one has time to give a dusty fuck about beetles. It’s time to formulate a plan.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
– I totally ignored everything that happened in Molestown and on the Wall this week because next week looks exclusively devoted to that fight, but did anyone else kinda forget about Ygritte? Also, it was nice to see the boys all back together (Jon, Sam, Pip, Grenn, Dolorous Ed), with Ed giving a pep talk about their chances. Their chances are pretty grim. 102 versus 100,000? As long as they stay humble …
— Nice equal opportunity nudity, more or less, in the scene with Grey Worm and Missandei by the water. On the other hand, had Grey Worm stood up, all of our questions (and Dany’s) might have been answered … “just the pillar? Or the stones too?”
— In the books Jorah kisses Dany at some point, and is a lot more overt in his affections. Looks like that’s not going to happen here (or it would have happened pre-exile). Then again, this Jorah is a lot hotter than book Jorah, so it might not have made as much sense for Dany to rebuff him so quickly …!
— According to Roose, the North is essentially the Canada of Westeros.
— I like that Jaime brought up cousin-slaying, which there is no word for (which he has partaken in, in Season Two? or Three. Unlike in the books. They’ve done odd things to his character).
— Poor Gilly. But as Ed said, she’s a survivor!
— Some great shots in this episode, particularly when Royce and the others were questioning Littlefinger. They looked like statues.
— No one gives a blank stare like Alfie Allen. I loved the surprise that the Pyke guy killed their leader so that they could leave that stinkin’ Moat Cailin. On the other hand, they all got killed and flayed so … not really a great decision. Theon/Reek did a good job of selling it, though.
— “Time for Robyn to leave the nest” – Littlefinger. Through the Moon Door, preferably.
— Arya: “I would have killed Joff with a chicken bone if I had had to.” Hound: “And I’d pay to see that.”
— “You think being tormented from birth would have taught you some affinity for the afflicted” – Jaime.
— “Who gives a dusty fuck about some beetles?”‘- Jaime.