If I were trying to dig deep and sound smart about "The Mountain and the Viper," I'd say that the episode was all about characters coupling off and the various results that can come from different pairings. Two men fought, two men reminisced about the old days, two men strengthened their brotherly bond, a man and a woman exchanged eyes during bath time, a man apologized to a woman for spying, and so on.
But really, there's only one pairing that means anything in this world, and that's the partnership between our good friends life and death. And boy did death have its hour in "The Mountain and the Viper"! The episode was punctuated by a brutal fight, but there were plenty of other signs that more death is on the way. That's life in Westeros, and if you haven't figured that out yet, then you might want to get your brain replaced.
Start burping the Game of Thrones theme, and let's discuss what happened in "The Mountain and the Viper."
"When I'm done with this world, I don't want to come back." —Dolorous Edd
Look, I don't think I'm being too mean when I say that Mole's Town got what it deserved. I mean, at best, it's a town named for furry little dirt-diggers; at worst, it's named after spies or skin cancer. So when a game of Name That Belched Tune was interrupted because Ygritte's gang of wildlings and Thenn dropped by to slaughter the townspeople, it wasn't horrific at all. In fact, it was quite a delight! Mole's Town is just a rest stop on the way to Castle Black, and it's full of scoundrels, whores, and oathbreakers, so the blood spilling and pouring through the ceiling felt practically weightless (as opposed to the emotionally draining final scene). But of course, it was heavy in what it portended.
As the little rascals of Castle Black quickly realized, Mole's Town getting plundered was a sign that Mance Rayder's army was nearby and yet another reminder that the Wall is too severely understaffed to take on an army of 100,000 men. A whole town was bled out by a couple dozen wildlings and Thenn, what will 100,000 men be capable of? Jon and company are in deep doo-doo, and the devastation in Mole's Town was just a set-up for next week's episode, "The Watchers on the Wall," which looks like it's going to be another big one. And if you want proof, it was directed by Neil Marshall, the small-budget action specialist who directed Season 2's "Blackwater." The chances of it being 60 minutes of Samwell fretting over Gilly are slim.
"The pillar and the stones?" —Daenerys Targaryen
With all the problems of Slaver's Bay apparently well under control, it was time for the Essos storyline to spend some time on... Messandei and Grey Worm? I still don't know what to think about those two having a romance when Game of Thrones could be spending time on more important things, like ANYTHING else. But the show seems determined to make it a thing that we're supposed to root for, so Messandei got naked in a river. Okay, you've piqued my interest, television show. She had a funny way of being shy about being leered at, too, when she stood up to give Grey Worm a look at her goods for a few long seconds and then played coy. He later apologized, she said it was cool, and they clearly have the hots for each other. Was it cute? Sure. Is it necessary for a story about power dynamics in a sprawling fantasy world? Probably not!
Of more interest was the reveal to Dany that a while ago, Jorah "Ser Friendzone" Mormont was spying on her in exchange for a full pardon from the king (at the time, it was Robert Baratheon). Oops! Obviously Jorah is no longer a spy because he's smitten for Khaleesi, but Dany couldn't forgive him, so she gave him the boot by exiling him. It seemed that Tywin was the man behind the letter that outed Jorah as Tywin continued to build up the Lannisters by chipping away at Dany's strength, which he thinks are her advisors. What's next? He'll send a telegram saying Ser Barristan is old and that Daario was making out with a clone on another show?
"Remember what you are, and what you're not." —Ramsay Snow
The Greyjoys may say, "What is dead may never die," but Theon Greyjoy's self confidence is dead and it just keeps dying over and over again. The man is a helpless drone whose free will must've been stored inside his penis, because he continued to do Ramsay's bidding even when he was among his own men and could've easily switched back to serving his own house. This week it was suckering a bunch of sick and tired Greyjoys into surrendering Moat Cailin to the Boltons, only to have the Greyjoy men peeled like bananas in the Bolton tradition of flaying. Oh, Theon! That is not going to go over well with your briney dad.
But it went over swimmingly with Ramsay's dad, who finally let his bastard son take the Bolton name. And let's face it, it was well deserved. Ramsay went from sociopathic bad apple to conqueror of Moat Cailin and reprogrammer of his enemy's prince son. Ramsay may be Westeros's equivalent of the creepy neighborhood kid who tortures cats, but he gets the job done.
"Better to gamble on the man you know than the strangers you don't." —Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish
"The Mountain and the Viper" will be forever remembered for its big fight, but the most meaningful sequence was probably Sansa coming around to Littlefinger's way of doing things. Sansa always gets grief because she's a girly girl in a manly man's world, but when she was forced to make a decision between right and wrong, between the truth and lies, between honor and self-preservation, Sansa proved that she's finally learning how to play the game. She insisted that her teary confession full of semi-truths—which she convincingly delivered to the Eyrie PD—was to save Littlefinger, because without him she would be expendable and unprotected, but her little saunter down the stairs in Maleficent cosplay and that look of confidence on her face led me to believe that she's all in, and ready to embrace her role beside Littlefinger. How far she'll go is yet to be seen (Will she marry Littlefinger? Will she marry *gasp* Robin?), but when a women dyes her hair it's kind of a big deal. I love this Sansa transformation, and she and Littlefinger are quickly becoming my favorite pairing in the show.
Arya and the Hound must've been making good time, because the duo finally arrived at the Eyrie. And when they got there, they were informed that Lysa had died three days earlier. The look on the Hound's face was priceless, as his get-rich-quick scheme was totally destroyed without Arya's rich auntie to pay a ransom. But it was Arya's laughing hysterics that stole the scene. That little Stark lady has a twisted sense of humor, and seeing the Hound's plan fall apart, even if it was tied to the death of her aunt, was just too funny not to cackle over. Now what does the Hound do? The Eyrie guards know he's got Arya, and there's no one to pay for her. Does he even get out of there without being taken into custody? And will Arya and Sansa finally give us a long-awaited Stark family reunion?
"Today is not the day I die." —Oberyn Martell
If you're so confident about a fight that you have no problem making a statement like that, you don't have to worry too much about being embarrassed because you're dead. And really, for most of this epic (I hate that word, but it's so appropriate here) duel between the Mountain and Oberyn Martell, it seemed like Oberyn was right. But he was spectacularly wrong. And boy was it tough to watch. But also so good that I've already re-watched it like 20 times! The much ballyhooed one-on-one battle lived up to its hype, and Game of Thrones staged it perfectly, jumping right into the action before we were even ready. There was no touching of the gloves, there were no lengthy introductions. Even Maester Pycelle's pre-fight prayer received the "Wrap it up!" sign from Tywin, and then next thing we knew, Oberyn and Gregor Clegane were going at each other.
What made the fight so thrilling was everything about it. The stakes were incredibly high (the lives of Tyrion AND Oberyn hung in the balance), the choreography was perfectly realistic (I love how Game of Thrones treats a man wearing plate armor), and Oberyn's repeated screams of "You raped her! You murdered her! You killed her children!" were deeply personal. But my favorite part was the roller coaster ride of crowd reactions. Jaime and Tyrion went from uneasy to hopeful to absolutely crushed, and Cersei went from shocked to smug as the Mountain pulled off a late victory by opening Oberyn's head like a girl popping a zit on prom night.
Oberyn had the Mountain dead to rights, but then he made the common TV mistake of wanting to end the fight with flair by getting the Mountain to confess. Well, the Mountain did confess, so I guess Oberyn got what he came for, but it cost him the structural integrity of his skull. The reason it was so effective was that Oberyn's fortune turned so quickly that we couldn't believe what we were seeing. And neither could Ellaria, as we saw in a shot that was even more horrifying than seeing Oberyn's brains spilled out on the floor.
That right there is the image of this episode, if you ask me.
And so Game of Thrones offs another character, and it's a particularly difficult death to take. Oberyn was a new character who was only introduced this season, but he was already a favorite. In this world full of brutality and suffering, Oberyn was a man of passion with a lust for life. But he suffered the most grotesque demise of the series, proving once again that Westeros is no place for the passionate, and that if you have a heart, Game of Thrones will find it and rip it out. Hopefully by now you understand that's part of being a fan of the show, and in some sick way you appreciate it. I knew it was coming and I'm still devastated.
Now Tyrion has a death sentence on his head, and we're left to wonder whether Game of Thrones has the guts to kill him off, too.
Each week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 4 from best to worst. But remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the comments!
This week: The last minutes of "The Mountain and the Viper" were absolutely perfect, but the episode stalled just a bit on the way there. Still, Oberyn and the Mountain's fight might have been Game of Thrones' best scene to date.
1. "The Lion and the Rose" (Episode 2)
2. "Mockingbird" (Episode 7)
3. "The Mountain and the Viper" (Episode 8)
4. "First of His Name" (Episode 5)
5. "Breaker of Chains" (Episode 3)
6. "Oathkeeper" (Episode 4)
7. "Two Swords" (Episode 1)
8. "The Laws of Gods and Men" (Episode 6)
– In Westeros, Name That Belched Tune is the easiest game ever. There are only like six songs in all of the Seven Kingdoms!
– I don't have a whole lot to say about Tyrion's chat with Jaime about their cousin the beetle smasher, except that it fortified the bond between the two and reminded us that they're brothers, which might be laying groundwork for things coming up. Will Jaime stand idly by while his brother is set to be murdered? What was your interpretation of their discussion?
– A huge jump in acting from Sophie Turner in this episode as Sansa quit whining and started conniving. Turner hasn't always had the best material to work with, but now she's really showing off her skills.
– The Mountain didn't exactly look dead at the end there, did he? If he did die, wouldn't that mean it was a draw and Tyrion could be free?
– One last round of applause for Pedro Pascal for his performance as Oberyn Martell all season long. I didn't think we saw much of the character in the books, but seeing Pascal play him on screen really made him something special.
– Haha at Maester Pycelle getting played off during his fight introduction.
Please, no book spoilers in the comments!