Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 8
The Mountain and The Viper
Adam O'Brien

This season of Game of Thrones takes place more or less in the section of the books where almost every chapter is exciting and memorable. I won’t say it’s without its flaws, but every week has something I’m so giddy about I can hardly wait to see it.

There’s a real question of identity in the Vale storyline. Sansa has been terrorized for so long that she barely remembers what it is to think or act for herself, and she’s never yet been an autonomous adult. It was interesting and a little surprising to see Sansa lie so easily to protect Petyr. I’m not sure how much of his motives she actually sees, and I’m not even sure that she cares. It’s a bit soon to tell, but are we seeing the empty vessel that is Sansa being filled with whatever influences she’s exposed to? Because that look she gave Petyr while she was crying on Lady Waynwood’s shoulder gave me the chills.

It’s been a while since it was mentioned, so one could be forgiven for forgetting, but way back when, Jorah got involved with Daenerys in order to betray her for a pardon and a ticket home. Here we see the fruition of Tywin asking Varys if his little birds could make it as far as Meereen: bring the origins of Jorah’s service to Daenerys’s attention, inducing her to exile her most trusted advisor herself. Say what you will about Tywin, the man knows how to cut your legs out from under you. It’s hard to watch, because you know that Jorah has long since become Dany’s man, heart and soul, and I know it, and Jorah knows it. But queens can’t be seen as soft, and Daenerys has always reacted a bit extremely when it comes to her children. Still, it never rains but it pours, and we’re not done with heartbreak tonight.

I have mixed feelings about the scene between Tyrion and Jaime, not least because it stole screen time from the following scene. I have no idea where it came from, and I can’t even figure out what significance the beetle story was supposed to have. I’ll just have to trust that it will become relevant later. The show wastes a lot of time on boring scenes at the expense of scenes we all actually want to see, but in a rare occurrence of taking the opportunity to expand on things only suggested in the books, we’re being treated to a lot of interactions between the Lannister brothers, and that can’t be all bad.

The duel scene itself did not disappoint, though I do wish more time was given to it (and if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know it takes a lot for me to say boo to a Tyrion/Jaime scene). Listen: if you watch the show because it’s entertaining and you get to see swords and boobs and the occasional mythical creature, then that’s just fine. Enjoy the show on your own terms. But if themes, motifs, and grand ironies get your engine going—and if you’re reading this, I assume you’re at least marginally interested—then this is possibly the most iconic scene in four seasons or five thousand pages of plot.

If you’re a fan of any kind or level of fantasy, then you want to see great romances, great bravery, great redemption. A prince waiting twenty years to avenge his raped and murdered family is about as perfect a setup as you could ask for. And for a while, it seems to go how we all want it to. The prince, who is a renowned fighter, dances literal circles around the hulking monstrosity that causes so much trouble. To take it even further, he echoes Inigo Montoya ’s famous refrain as he names Gregor Clegane’s crimes over and over again. It all seems to be going wonderfully, and in any old story everybody would get what they paid for and go home happy. But George R.R. Martin, and, to their credit, the showrunners, want to take you to much greater places. From the time Ned Stark died, we were all forced to realize that we were on a very different ride than we originally thought. A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones distinguishes itself by being a brilliant, heartrending deconstruction. By that I mean that it takes all of these clichés and tropes of fantasy stories, and plays them out in harsh realism. In this world, turning your back on a conniving queen gets you beheaded, being a lord’s son among an army of thieves and murderers wins you scorn, and having three baby dragons makes you little more than a sideshow attraction. And, of course, getting in a wounded man’s face to hear his confession, however righteously, gets you your own face beat in. The scene is visually stunning, yes, but once you get past all the fancy fighting and brutal violence, there’s so much more below the surface. Even more than the Red Wedding, this was the most abrupt, shocking twist since Ned was put to death.

The spirit of the whole series can be seen here, in every character’s actions and reactions. Did it work out great? No. Is Tyrion finally catching a break? No. Did all of Oberyn’s dreams of revenge come true? Well, maybe. Oberyn did stab Gregor a few times, cut his Achilles tendon, and run him through, after all, and the Dornish are known for their extensive knowledge of poisons, so I highly doubt Gregor is going to walk away from this one easily. There’s always that little bit of hope, that little glimmer that hooks us in and keeps us following the story, waiting for the day we feel true satisfaction.

Grade: B

Other Thoughts:

-Was Margaery not interested to see the trial of her husband’s alleged killer? I know actors need time off, but this was kind of important.

-I’m not going to address the Missandei/Grey Worm storyline, because A) Not enough has happened to have any meaningful insights about it, and B) So far it’s really inane and I won’t waste my time or yours.

-Theon’s doing his Reek thing. That’s about it for him, really. There’s not a lot to say about it right now.

-It really does bug me how close, how often the show approaches true greatness, only to stumble on the tiny pebble of time management.

-Thanks, writers, for making sure I remember that Ygritte is still running around, setting farmhouses on fire.

-One little touch I greatly enjoyed was Arya just cracking when she hears Lysa is dead. Arya does seem to spend a lot of her time traveling towards people who die right before she gets there.

-Another funny moment you might miss if you blink: When Littlefinger says that it’s time for Robin to leave the nest, Lady Waynwood gives a quick nod to Lord Royce ,like, “Solid pun.”

-Wtf was that Disney villain getup Sansa was in at the end.

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