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Game of Thrones – ‘The Mountain and the Viper’: A smashing success

Brought to you by our friends at Talk Thrones.

When any kind of scuffle goes down in Westeros, it’s safest to bet that everyone involved is going to die. Last night, Game of Thrones’ show runners told its audience exactly what they were getting, and it didn’t disappoint: the eighth episode of this fourth season is titled “The Mountain and the Viper”, confirming for those invested enough to see episode titles in advance that that season-long wait to have Tyrion’s fate decided would come to (a legal) end by the hour’s conclusion.

There were really three possible outcomes. Oberyn kills the Mountain. The Mountain kills Oberyn. Or, they both die. Considering the show’s history, Option 3 seemed the most likely. And when Oberyn let his heart get in the way—demanding some sort of closure, an admission from Gregor Clegane that he not only raped Elia Martell and killed her and her children, but that he did so at the behest of Tywin—his and Tyrion’s fates were all but sealed.

We’ve seen it for four seasons. If you care about something—justice, power, respect, the love of another—don’t tell anyone (unless their heels are hanging over a moon door; respect, Pete). Instead, from his very first scene Oberyn made his deepest and strongest desires—“kill those fucking Lannisters” and “I want to be inside everyone … maybe even a Lannister or two”—known to everyone who’d hear it, and probably a few who didn’t care to. Still, Oberyn’s pronouncements of longing for dead Lannisters and vengeance on the Mountain to Tyrion and Tywin aren’t what ultimately did him in (whether that’s because the Mountain only sped up a Tywin-planned ending for the Red Viper or not may remain a mystery, but as always I’m siding with Team Tywin Will Kill Anyone Even Remotely Threatening One Way or Another).

Still, these constant whorehouse threats didn’t lead directly to Dorne’s second son’s demise. Much like Ned Stark, it was his demand for justice that did him in. The Red Viper received a small sum of it in avenging Elia’s rape and murder with a dead Mountain, and one could argue that was enough for Oberyn, that he lived his remaining days to kill his sister’s killer. But there’s so much he didn’t achieve: staying alive for his paramour; closure that Tywin did in fact order the Mountain on Elia; dead Lannisters; the slight but totally existing measure of justice he thought Tyrion deserved, despite his lineage (or maybe because of his being the reject of said lineage); donating his brain to science.

Right behind his hatred for Lannisters and his unrelenting erection, Oberyn’s most noted character trait is his distaste for King’s Landing. He prefers his home, where all people (according to him) are treated with respect, and where justice exists. Sadly, this is his downfall. A few more trips to King’s Landing and the Red Viper may have come to understand its nature, and in turn discovered his overt style imprudent for the results he sought. Instead, he’s left screaming a death wish mantra that would have made Inigo Montoya proud, but paid the ultimate price for his lesson on King’s Landing justice.

From the moment he burst onto the show with his cocky pansexuality to moment he burst to death, Pedro Pascal’s performance as Oberyn was such a pleasure, rivaling Bronn in giddiness-inducing screen presence. It’s a shame to see him go, but this is Game of Thrones’ tried-and-true bizarro version of fan service: instead of fueling the fires audiences are rooting for, crushing every ounce of hope in fans’ hearts as if it were a head in the Mountain’s hands, then starting again from the bottom. It may hurt at first, but once the blood puddles are mopped up, we’re turning our necks in search of any other possible banner of hope for the “good guys”—whatever that means.

If not Oberyn, who does know how to game the system?

The first response is obvious. Petyr Baelish’s schemings seem to be going swimmingly, so much so that a near-hiccup bounced wholly in his favor. Like Oberyn, Sansa had spent more time than she preferred in King’s Landing. Unlike Oberyn, she was held there, forced to watch so much ugliness with her eyelids peeled back by various tormentors. And so she learned. Learned how to tell enough truth to support a lie. Learned to recognize self interest while concealing it. Learned to always be on the side of power. These lessons manifested themselves in Littlefinger’s trial, leaving a few unanswered questions. Is she genuinely smitten by Littlefinger’s, uh, “caring” presence? Or is she playing him closer to the vest as well? Did their relationship take a turn for the sexual? And how old is she again?

Baelish was able to turn the good will gained from the trial into an opportunity to put Robyn in harm’s way. Littlefinger half-accused the families of the Vale of Lannister-cooperation, citing Lysa’s rejection of help for Robb and steadfast immobility against those residing in King’s Landing. Their defensiveness positioned them to agree with Littlefinger’s nomination of Robyn as a great leader, one that would demand a whole lot of the King of the Vale. Likely too much.

Joining Baelish on the mantle of shameless, power-hungry liars? Why, it’s the Boltons! Come on down! Why don’t we take this chance to meet these two.

First, he likes roasted sausage, a nice warm shave, and manhunts through the woods … fresh off a deceitful siege at Moat Cailin, it’s Ramsay Bolton! How does it feel to be here, Ram?

“Great, Bryan. Like I’m strangling two infants at once.”

Next, his father out of wedlock. He’s a big hit at weddings, doesn’t drink, and his dream house has a yard that spans hundreds of miles in each direction … it’s Roose Bolton! What do you say, Roose?

(Slowly turns his head and gives me the dead eyes.)

Oh-hokay!

NOTES

The Hound and Arya finally reach the Vale, and Arya cracks up (as did I) when the pair learns that Lady Arryn had passed just three days prior. Part of what makes the show so great is its ability to fill in blanks without showing or explaining every goings-on. But I will be pretty disappointed if the Hound and Arya have been turned away without the audience seeing the preceding conversation. Did the Hound ask who was living in the Vale now? If they could still go inside if only briefly for food and drink? It’d be upsetting to learn next episode that they traveled for a season and a half only to be turned away without even a quasi-logical line of questioning. Fantasy world or not, you don’t just pick up and turn around without asking who’s home.

Grey Worm has a moment with Missandei. And when I say “has a moment” I mean the Thrones equivalent of a famous Porky’s scene. They have a frank discussion about consequence. He’s glad his masters castrated him, because it was part of the journey that led him to her. She’s glad he stared at her while bathing because it led to the discussion.

The Wildlings get closer to the Wall, sacking Mole’s Town. Jon’s ex, everyone’s favorite smoking hot ginger archer, Ygritte, let Sam’s main (only, ever) squeeze go thanks to her incestuous crying baby.
In a move that reflects both the audience’s and characters’ feelings toward him, Maester Pycelle’s introduction to the trial by combat is cut short.

Reek/Theon almost cracked during his mission, chewed out by Ralf Kenning until the garrison commander is axed, in the literal sense. Unfortunately for those surrendering, one doesn’t “surrender” to the Boltons so much as one volunteers for a most painful and inglorious death.

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