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When Game of Thrones first took over our DVRs, it was marked by its gleefully impatient execution of the story’s plot, an intolerance for putting off for an episode what could happen right now. It’s hard to say whether this mode so successfully enthralled viewers because each reveal or beheading came at such an unexpected moment, or because it felt right to watch a show with more quality source material than they’d ever be able to film give its viewers what they could stand instead of milking for time/episodes/seasons/money. (Of course, there’s also a lot more heavy lifting needed to be done in the earlier seasons: establishing personalities and this unique world. So there is more space to fill in telling that side of the story, and it doesn’t hurt that our virginal minds were more easily shocked by our lessons in the way of the Westerosi back then.)
Where some shows may stash characters away with tangential tasks and arcs (example for Homeland viewers: Brody’s daughter’s hit-and-run; example for Lost viewers: anything that ever happened on Lost), Game of Thrones somehow managed to stay tight while still being a sprawling, hard-to-follow mess of a show. There’s a lot of movement, but none was wasted.
While it’s hard to accuse Game of Thrones of full-fledged stalling, what used to feel like an intricate web of dominoes falling fast and in patterns (often simultaneously) now feels more like jumping from one stone to another episode to episode, with each hour containing one big reveal in a 10-minute set piece tagged on at the end. Tyrion has been held for murder for parts of six episodes now, and will be for at least seven total (Lord of Light, I pray it’s no more). Is it crazy of me to have thought we’d know his fate halfway through the episode succeeding his nephew’s demise? Instead, every episode is another stone: Tyrion’s accused of regicide, Tyrion’s in prison, Tyrion talks to Jaime, Tyrion picks his nose (or, he didn’t appear in “First of his Name”), Tyrion demands a trial by combat, then, this week, Tyrion finds his champion. Next hour, Oberyn fights the Mountain (again, we can only hope).
In “Mockingbird”, this seventh episode of the fourth season of Game of Thrones, Arya and the Hound come across some weak men on the road, kill people, and talk about life and death. Couldn’t that describe basically any episode they’ve appeared in together dating back to last season? Sansa’s world keeps changing around her (especially this week—more on this later), but her status as captured princess hasn’t changed since the first season. Unfortunately, withstanding all of this hasn’t led her character to change much at all, as evidenced by her hissy fight with a breastfed psychopath. Daenerys’ big move this season was her decision to stay put and hold Slaver’s Bay; or, in other words, be boring.
A lot of this comes with the nature of the show, and the audience’s growing understanding of the Thronesiverse. Would we have been able to see Lysa’s plummet coming had this arc appeared in Season 1? Possibly not. But for a few episodes it was pretty clear someone was going out that moon door. And it was even clearer that whoever it was was falling at Littlefinger’s behest. And the only person in the way of what Littlefinger wanted was Lysa.
Even with the pace staggering a bit (going war-less for a while certainly aids in that regard), it’s hard to go an entire episode without satisfaction. This hour featured plenty of moments—touching ones, funny ones, chilling, exciting—that any time-biding is more forgiven than on any other show. In short: if, at its worst, Game of Thrones is a heightened version of typical modern television, it’s still pretty untouchable, even after the predictable drop-off once its budget decreased and the content well showed sings of running out.
The pillars this episode stands upon are the three separate visitors Tyrion takes in his dungeon chamber. The first: His brother and fellow Kingslayer. But Jaime doesn’t come bearing good news. He’s not such a swell swordsman with his left hand, and fighting as champion against anyone would be suicide. When Tyrion delights in the idea of Tywin’s family name being wiped out in the swipe of one sword, Jaime happily laughs at the thought with him. But Tyrion’s serious.
Disappointed but understanding, Tyrion resigns to the fact that Bronn is loyal and typically happy to make a better life for himself with blood in his sheath.
Second visitor: Bronn himself. Or is it? Gone are the all-black threads, and with them his bachelor lifestyle. Not only does the former sellsword have himself a new fiancé, he has a clear path to the throne of a castle he can call his own. There’s just the matter of Lollys Stokeworth’s 40-year-old (“and baron”) sister standing in the way (“ladies fall from their horses and snap their pretty necks all the time”). Of course, Bronn hasn’t changed enough not to listen to Tyrion’s offer for standing as his champion. Unfortunately for the prisoner, he can’t offer enough for Bronn to risk the nice setup he’s cut out for himself. “I like you, pampered little shit that you are. I just like myself more … I’m sorry it has to be this way.” Ever the voice and mind of reason on this show, Tyrion concedes his second big understanding of the episode: “Why are you sorry? Because you’re an evil bastard with no conscience and no heart? That’s what I liked about you in the first place.”
By the time his third visitor rolls around, Tyrion painfully can’t see coming what the audience could see since we heard Cersei named the Mountain as her champion (or, if you watched the “Next Time on Game of Thrones” last week and saw the Gregor splashing around in blood like he’s prone to do): that Oberyn would not only be happy to stand as Tyrion’s champion, there’s nothing else in the world he’d rather do. Tyrion probably should have known better: it’s not his years-enforced bonds with his two closest friends, Bronn and Jaime, that have the best chance at saving him, but a bloodthirsty enemy of his family acting in revenge and his own self interest.
This Oberyn-Mountain square-off raises some important questions. Tywin seems to have had this Tyrion trial plotted down to a T from its inception. Tyrion notes to Jaime that his being installed at Castle Black was obviously calculated by the Hand of the King, confirming universal suspicion. But with his hands clearly all over the goings-on of King’s Landing, is it a mistake to allow the Mountain to fight for Cersei, as it would clearly inspire Oberyn to fight for Tyrion? Oberyn made his intentions concerning Gregor Clegane very clear to Tywin in the brothel a few episodes ago, and he seemed confident in his chances to cut Gregor down. Did Tywin have no say in the matter, with Cersei demanding the Mountain and no one else? Did Tywin simply not account for Tyrion’s trial-by-combat demand? It seems unlikely Tywin would give Oberyn such a good chance to take the revenge on all Lannisters he so clearly seeks. Perhaps he’s aware of this possibility and has other motives.
Although he’s in it for revenge, Oberyn does seem to be fueled at least in part by the defense of the “monster” born to Tywin. But whether that feeling is out of a sense of justice or an eagerness to disappoint Cersei, whom he sees as far more monstrous than Tyrion, is another question.
Half Pie makes a return with an excess of information about Arya Stark (and kidney pies) for Brienne and Podrick
The quest for the affections of Daenerys is ongoing. While Daario makes it into his queen’s nether-regions, Jorah makes his way into her mind, convincing Dany to show some mercy to Yunkai slave master’s on their way to submission (“The slaves you freed, brutality is all they’ve ever known. If you want them to know something else, you’ll have to show it to them.”).
Jon seems confident that blocking the tunnel at The Wall is the Night’s Watch’s best chance against the Wildling hoard. Shocker of the century: Lord Dickface (Alistair) disagrees.
Arya is incrementally becoming more of a killer, sparing no time upon learning Rorge’s name to waste him, thanks in part to an anatomy lesson given by the hound only seconds prior.