Programming Note: These reviews are written from the perspective of someone who has not read books. They contain liberal speculation as to future developments, but these are based only on what has aired on the show so far (not even including the Next Week On trailers), and thus are intended to be safe for the spoiler-averse. That means NO MENTIONS OF THE BOOKS WHATSOEVER IN THE COMMENTS. DOESN’T MATTER IF IT IS THINGS THAT HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED OR CAN NO LONGER OCCUR AT THIS POINT IN THE SHOW, OR PREDICTIONS I MAKE THAT ARE DEMONSTRABLY WRONG. IF YOUR COMMENT INCLUDES THE WORDS “IN THE BOOKS”, DON’T POST IT.
Prior recaps can be found in here.
Sorry about the hold up, folks. I’m out of the country this week, and it took me a couple days to find a way to watch the episode on an iffy internet connection. It also means no pictures and probably more typos this week. I know, I know, life on the internet is almost as harsh as it is in Westeros. At least the episode wasn’t the least bit eventful or anything.
So things had been going good for too long in Westeros. This is a relative measure, obviously, as there has been slaughter and mutilation to spare throughout this 4th season, but we also hadn’t seen the death of really sympathetic character since the Red Wedding. I’ve talked previously about how an inordinate amount of the damage this year was being taken by the outright heels (Joffrey, the slave masters, Arya’s tormentors, crazy aunt Lysa, the Watch mutineers, hell, you can go ahead and throw the grimy faux-Bonham Carter whore that menaces Gilly in there too), and expressed trepidation about things swinging back against the “good guys” before too long. And with the closing sequence of “The Mountain And The Viper”, that pendulum shifts sharply.
But first there are other goings on in the world. In Essos, Dany finally learns of Jorah’s previous occupation spying on her, and reacts poorly. She notes that it was his reporting about her pregnancy that prompted the Westerosi’s assassination attempt, but ignores his protests that he also foiled the attempt – and has risked his life for her many times over since. She had to react somehow, but losing Jorah is more of a blow than I think she realizes. She may not need his swordarm with Daario and Selmy and Grey Worm knocking about, but none of those guys seem interested in tempering her fiery-er instincts, as has already become necessary to rule even a single city. Oddly enough, I am heartened by this turn of events; I had been thinking that Jorah’s increasing redundancy in the khaleesi’s service and generally likeable nature spelled doom for him all season, but I enjoy Ian Glenn’s performance so much that I’m glad that he will be spinning off into another part of the narrative instead of leaving it in a bloody mist of head trauma.
But we’re not there yet. In other parts, Gilly and Sam Jr. also get a reprieve from what seems like certain death at the hands of the marauding Wildlings. Good thing Ygritte is an ol’ softy (we’ll ignore for the moment the four other people she murdered in the sequence). The rest of the Wall stuff is just the guys reacting to the attack. I’m sure there will be a lot more to say about this story after next week’s coming Wallstravaganza, so let’s just move on to the Boltons.
Theon’s life of misery continues apace, as he’s forced to impersonate (I guess?) himself to help the Boltons reclaim a muddy castle that will solidify their hold on the North. Names were prominent this week, with Ramsay getting his father’s bestowed upon him at last, a new name to match the one he took from Theon. This is bad news for those of us who find the relentless sadism of his scenes wearying, but at least it means that there will be a really hiss-worthy villain waiting for Bran Stark to root out of Winterfell when he and Hodor return triumphantly riding a mastodon or whatever.
Or perhaps his sister will beat him to the punch. Sansa makes major strides towards becoming a legitimate political power this week, reclaiming her own name so she can pull Littlefinger from the fire. Her reasoning seems simple enough, as he is the devil she knows, but it’s unclear just how deep she’s thrown in with him. Did she give him “what he wants” after that cutaway? Does she know exactly what the plan is for little Lord Arryn? All of a sudden Lady Stark has secrets from us as the audience, and I’m more intrigued by her than I’ve ever been.
Something else occurred to me as she was descending the steps of the Eyrie, looking regal and sinister in a way we’ve never seen. We’ve talked about Arya cycling through various tutors in the deadly arts, learning to survive the storm of swords that has covered Westeros, but Sansa has been going through her own education, as people like Cersei, Olenna, Tyrion, and now Littlefinger show her, sometimes unwittingly, how to play the game of thrones. Oddly enough, the Stark girls now seem poised to grow into the positions of their hated enemies, the Lannisters – Arya is becoming Jaime, a deadly, charismatic killer with little interest in the titles and ruling that come with her name, while Sansa is poised to be the next Cersei, an ostensible trophy wife who is ruthless in leveraging her beauty and family name to get what she wants.
But that’s in the future. This week, the main even is, obviously, the trial by combat that ends as brutally as it possibly could for all parties, including us viewers. I should’ve known Oberyn was doomed from the moment I named him as a new favorite character a few weeks back. I’m sorry to see him go, as Pedro Pascal’s performance was a real live wire, bringing an intelligence to the portrayal that tempered both his righteousness and hedonism into something that felt lived in and real, instead of simplistic, inconsistent notes. But note that what gets him killed is his insistence on hearing the Mountain name names – both his sister’s and Tywin Lannister’s.
His death is brutal physically, but also emotionally, because it dooms Tyrion along with him. As ever, Tyrion’s fate is sealed because even his champion puts him second to his real objective. The Imp is a second son to the last. And one of the more interesting facets of “The Mountain And The Viper” is how it addresses the grimness of the GOT universe head-on. Tyrion and Jaime, after musing over how many different forms of homicide have names of their own (except murder of a cousin, as cousin-killer Jaime notes), remember another cousin with highly allegorical brain damage. Beetles or people, why do we return to watch them get ground so relentlessly to dust? Are we foolish to think there is a point to be mined from witnessing such nonstop misery? Is it enough to cheer the donkey when it randomly kicks the life out of the crusher?
It’s not just Tyrion who has noticed the harshness of this world; just look at all the people that use that phrasing within the episode. Littlefinger: “My lady was not meant for a world as brutal as ours.” Illyria: “Don’t leave me alone in this world.” Ranger Who Looks Kind Of Like Bronn: “When I’m done with this world, I don’t want to come back.” Or just note Arya’s (perfect) black laugh at the news of her aunt’s death. These people know that this world is unforgiving, and that there are far more beetles in it than there are crushers. How they handle that knowledge is one of the more interesting aspects of human nature to examine, in my opinion, and that is part of the appeal of a dark series such as this.
Or maybe I’m just a perverse simpleton who can’t look away from a pair of naked breasts or a skull being popped like a grape, no matter how much I liked the guy it was attached to. Either way, it looks like there will be more crushings on the way next week when the Wildlings finally reach the Wall.
Is it Sunday yet? Oh, come on!