Spoilers are coming.
There’s more than a few lessons learned in this week’s Game of Thrones 4×08: The Mountain and the Viper. Some are new, and some are old lessons that must be learned again.
We start up north where the wildlings raid Mole’s Town. Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing there to resist them. Gilly and her child hide away and are spared by Ygritte. Word travels back to Castle Black. Jon Snow believes the Night’s Watch will be their next target. Samwell Tarly regrets leaving Gilly back in Mole’s town and fears her to be dead. At this pace I’m not sure we’re going to get to see Castle Black attacked during this season.
But over in Moat Caitlin, other parties are faring much better. Ramsay Snow sends Reek as “Theon Greyjoy” to parley with the last remaining ironborn that hold the castle. The leader, barely able to stand, curses Theon and rejects the offer of a treaty. Then he falls over dead of an axe to the head, as his next in command accepts the offer. Of course, once inside the Boltons flay him. In case you don’t know, the Boltons’ standard is an upside down flayed man. Charming. Roose Bolton and Ramsay have a tender moment as the lord finally grants him his last name. Ramsay is now part of the family. Err, way to go?
Let us now travel across the Narrow Sea to Meereen. Grey Worm has a moment with Missandei as she spies her nude form while he’s taking a bath. Missandei talks to Daenerys, both of them wondering exactly how castrated is he. Missandei later questions Grey Worm when he approaches to apologize, but his answer seems to be ambiguous. He has to be Unsullied to lead the Unsullied. Makes me think someone in the writer’s team is shipping these two.
There’s a lot more Ser-ious business ahead. Ser Barristan Selmy receives a mysterious parchment signed by Robert Baratheon (the former former King) pardoning Ser Jorah Mormont. Jorah insists that it’s a trick, but the last Targaryen points out the document is dated the very same day Dany met Ser Mormont. Jorah implores and swears his fealty, but Dany banishes him from Meereen. This is a discovery that happens a lot earlier in the books. We’re catching up. Things are about to get more interesting.
Back on the Eyrie, Petyr Baelish faces the regional lords who are not convinced they should trust him. After hearing Littlefinger’s sad tale of how Lady Lysa Arryn took her own life, they decide to question his niece. Sansa’s confession is one of Sophie Turner’s best scenes. By revealing she’s Sansa Stark, she both puts herself as a person of trust for the lords who knew her parents and by slyly twisting the truth, she extends the trust to her uncle. It’s a miracle that Littlefinger didn’t think of this himself. This is a masterful scene.
Sansa has been growing up. She has started to learn that she herself cannot survive in this world without adapting. And so, she has chosen to learn the ways of Petyr Baelish to manipulate people with half truths. It’s actually something not too different that her sister Arya is doing. They’re both learning to survive from unlikely teachers. Sansa even tells Lord Baelish that she knows what he wants of her – but she doesn’t tell us what that is. Then we see an easily manipulated Robin being told by Littlefinger that it’s time he faces the world, possibly a strategy to get him out of the way. They both turn to see Sansa Stark, looking more than a little like her mother, dressed in darker tones and with a new aura of self-confidence about her.
Not very far, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane have finally arrived at the Eyrie. If you remember what happened a season ago, the Hound was bringing Arya to her aunt Lysa Arryn at the Eyrie (George must you put the letter y in every goddamned name of Westeros?) to sell her for ransom. When the guard informs him Lady Arryn has been dead for three days, Arya’s reaction is invaluable. She breaks down laughing. Are we going to see a meeting between Sansa and Arya here? Not to rain on anybody’s parade, but I strongly doubt it.
Finally, let us go to Camelot. I mean, King’s Landing. Tyrion and Jaime share their last moments before the trial by combat with a childhood story about a cousin of theirs who’d spend all day killing beetles. Has Tyrion lost it? Or is there more to this story? We don’t get to know. The combat part of the trial is about to begin.
Ellaria Sand is not keen on her paramour facing down such a gigantic adversary. “You are going to fight that?” she asks. “I am going to kill that,” comes the reply.
This is it. The confrontation between the Red Viper of Dorne, Oberyn Martell and the Mountain, Gregor Clegane. Oberyn proves himself a great, and possibly superior, fighter. He’s agile, he’s fast, he’s skillful. But he’s after something different. He wants a confession from the Mountain, a confession of how he killed Oberyn’s sister, married to the last Targaryen king. A confession of how he raped her and killed her kids. And finally, he wants to hear Clegane admit that it was Tywin who told him to do so. This fuels him as he circles the seemingly invincible Mountain with his spear. One spear gets broken but he still manages to avoid Clegane’s massive broadsword. Using a second one, he slices at the Mountain until he finally stumbles. He then stabs him true in the chest.
I couldn’t help but remember Bronn’s lessons to Jaime and his words: “Do you want to fight pretty or do you want to win?” And as it turns out, Oberyn Martell wants more justice than just seeing the Mountain dead. So when he takes the lance out of Gregor Clegane’s body and motions to the Lannisters, it’s no wonder that he gets tripped by his adversary. The Mountain then does what he does worse: he crushes Prince Oberyn’s skull with his massive hands screaming how he did the same with Elia Martell. It’s a rather graphic and gruesome scene.
Tywin calls it as Cersei smiles. Tyrion is sentenced to death. Poor Oberyn, we hardly knew you. It’s a lesson that we have to learn yet again. The coolest character is not always the winner. With two episodes left in the season, any options that Tyrion had have run out. But if you think you know what’s next, you know nothing. Unless you’ve read the books, of course.
Highs: Sansa Stark, it’s your moment to shine. This was an amazing episode for her as she finally gets to stretch her wings and try out what she’s learn since the death of Ned Stark. Sansa is now playing the game. She’ll have the best teacher but she might have to outwit him too. The scene with Arya laughing out loud. I’m not sure if it’s realizing that life is futile or that she’s laughing at the Hound. The trial by combat is going to be both a high and a low, as great and as messy as it was.
Lows: The combat part was good – until the Mountain’s brutal execution of Oberyn. It seems a very unfitting end for such a cool character, and it mimics the same feeling of loss that we get in the book. What was the point of the story that Tyrion tells Jaime about their cousin who killed beetles? It’s hard to watch a psychologically and physically tortured Theon on the screen with Ramsay. The scenes at Mole’s Town and Castle Black didn’t do much to create expectation. Perhaps we should have been given a look at the advancing army of Mance Rayder instead.
That will do for now.