Review By Joe Thompson
Two weeks felt too long, a testament to the strength of this season of Game of Thrones, which came roaring back with last night’s strong episode, “The Mountain and The Viper.” It’s a hour that doles out huge developments, via both action and character. Certainly, “The Mountain and The Viper” reaches violent heights we haven’t seen yet this season. Sure, the Red Wedding was horrific, both in the depth of the deception and sheer rampant bloodletting, but I think the injured Mountain squashing Oberyn’s head has got to be in the top three sickest moments of Game of Thrones’ run. The sound effects, the screams, the blood…I watched through my fingers and I knew it was coming.
Let’s dive into that first, even though the show made us wait for the last fifteen minutes and leave us shaken. Tyrion and Jaime continue their bonding-palooza. It’s sweet, even if it’s only because Tyrion may not have many hours left to live, that Jaime is basically just hanging out with his brother. Jaime certainly has more in common with Tyrion now, being outcast from Tywin and Cersei’s inner circle. His sojourn with Brienne through the forest changed him, at least a little bit given the exception of the disturbing rape of his sister at Joffrey’s viewing. At this point, I’d say family matters more to Jaime than Tywin, in the sense of actually caring for your living blood relatives.
Anyway, they have a awkward conversation about a simple Lannister cousin prone to crushing bugs all day for amusement. The talk seems to be about our inclination for violence regardless of our level of wits, but there’s a real air of symbolic importance that threatens to take us out of the story. Thankfully bells toll, calling the accused to the trial arena. Tyrion enters to find his champion, Oberyn, downing wine and sans armor. Oberyn is hopped up on his desire to avenge his family’s loss and quickly goes full on Inigo Montoya all over the place.
Things look good for the Red Viper for awhile. He holds his own against the hulk of a man, dropping acrobatic moves that would make Darth Maul jealous. But it’s Oberyn’s desire for revenge that ultimately blinds him and leads to his awful demise. With the Mountain wounded and flat on his back, Oberyn continues to circle his foe, taunting him and demanding a confession. The Mountain only needs a second to knock Oberyn to his feet while the prince is distracted, and it’s all over. Tywin announces Tyrion’s death sentence faster than anything we’ve seen the man do.
More blood spills elsewhere as the wildlings continue their path to Castle Black. This time the band sacks Molestown (which should be named Gonhorrea-ville, or No Penicillin-opolis), where Gilly and her baby were stowed by Sam in another one of string of bad ideas. It’s basically a slaughter again, save for Ygritte’s moment of compassion when she discovers Gilly covering with the child in a corner upstairs while blood practically rains down through the slats above them. It’s s simple and revealing moment for Ygritte, one that shows her as more than the spurned and bloodthirsty member of this gang of wildlings.
“The Mountain and The Viper” is full of such character revelations. To deal with the most important would be to address Sansa’s testimony before the lords and ladies in the Vale. A small trio is looking into Lysa’s death, which Littlefinger asserts is a suicide. Littlefinger’s reputation precedes him, so no one believes a word out of his mouth. But when Sansa’s trotted in, Petyr finally looks stirred, if only for a moment, when Sansa says she must speak the truth. What follows in a string of half truths mixed with lies that makes the former Master of Coin pleased. Sansa’s no longer the little, cowering girl we’ve come to expect. Instead, she’s slowly emerging as a savvy player in the game, further tormenting Littlefinger by asserting she knows what he really wants, and then appearing later with her hair dyed black and a dress with a neckline that looks swiped from Margaery’s closet. Sansa chose the devil he “court,” and now it’ll be curious to see just how she begins to make her presence on the chessboard of the show. Sophie Turner thrives this hour, given so much more to do with Sansa’s changes than her typical tears or innocence.
The scenes in Meereen split their screen time between romantic style interludes and political style intrigue. Grey Worm spots Missandei bathing and literally cannot take his eyes off her. When she later tells Dany about this, as Dany is doing her hair like at a 1950’s style slumber party, the two discuss the plight of the Unsullied as castrated. One of the lines of the night, is listening to the Mother of Dragons make a reference to the “pillar and stones.” When Missandei and Grey Worm later cross paths, he comes to apologize to her, but she tells him she’s glad. It’s a nice reprieve from all the manipulation, but does this mean more romance or are these two destined for some horrible demise now? I don’t believe these moments are in the books, but feel free to correct me. Either way, they’re a welcome addition.
The sweet, euphemism spouting is gone later as Barristen brings her a scroll outing Jorah’s previous role as spy for Varys and Robert Barantheon. Barristen continues to solidify his rep as a stand up guy, telling Jorah to his face before going to Dany. Jorah’s devastating remorse is no match for Dany’s fury, though, and she gives him the day to get his stuff and hit the road lest he lose his head. Of course, she’s surely playing into Tywin’s hands just as Jorah says, but can we really blame her here? The shot of him riding away from Meereen is just so sad, but I’m sure we’ll see this unrequited love find some way to prove his loyalty.
Speaking of loyalty, Theon/Reek and Ramsey take a road trip to Moat Cailin, where he uses Theon to bait those holding the fort into surrendering, only to flay them, as Ramsey is wont to do. Despite Reek’s quivering and dubious acting skills, the fort soon surrenders. When delivering the fort to his father, Roose, Ramsey gets an unexpected bonus. As Roose explains his ultimate plans to have full control over the North, he bestows the Bolton name upon his bastard, making him a full heir and son. Given what we know about Ramsey, it’s probably a terrible idea, but hey, Roose rewards success.
It wouldn’t be an episode of Game of Thrones this season without checking in with Arya and the Hound, who we find heading up to the Bloody Gate of the Vale. The Hound is moving much slower than usual, something Arya blames on his bite wound from last time, but Clegane has his mind on his money and his money on his mind. It’s ransom time for Arya. Things take an abrupt turn when the pair discover Lysa’s been dead a few days. While the Hound just looks stunned, Arya busts out in laughter. It’s probably the only thing she can do, given the roadblocks and trouble she’s encounters since first arriving at King’s Landing.
“The Mountain and the Viper” is an hour stuffed with story and plot movements, yet never feels overwhelming. It just shows how well the creative team is managing the wealth of story elements deftly. That there is still many explosive things to come promises a crazy end to the season and I’m excited to see the execution