Mmmm, Beetles: "Game of Thrones" Book Readers' Edition - 'The Mountain and the Viper'
Welcome to the book readers’ edition of recapping Game of Thrones! As we’ve established previously, if you haven’t read all of the books (yes, all the way through A Dance of Dragons, it’s been just shy of three years on that count, so it’s fully in play) kindly either depart gracefully or accept that there will be spoilers in what follows.
Welcome to the book reader’s edition of our discussion! As always, I’ll set you with my thoughts, so that you can get to dissecting the episode in the comments.
Let’s begin in the north! Oh we wouldn’t want anyone to think that the redhead Jon Snow shagged is mean or anything, what with all the massacring of women and children and hanging out with cannibals. So let’s add a scene where she let’s a random person live who holds up their baby
plot card to the camera. The fact that said person happens to be half of the Sam and Gilly derailed plot train of the next book does little to help matters.
But here’s a question, because my memory of this part of the books is a bit hazy. The wildlings who snuck south of the wall were not being this indelicate of ambassadors, were they? Because at least as I recall, when in the wake of the coming battle and his subsequent election Jon argues to settle the wildlings south of the wall, it makes logical sense to the reader. I’m not exactly sure how they navigate on the show from Captain Cannibal to that point.
How do a hundred men stop a hundred thousand? Apparently by angrily asking each other that question for ten episodes and doing shit all else with their time. I love their half-comforting and half-pissy response to Sam’s self-flagellation. Gods, Sam! Would you quit futilely brooding about that? We as a group have clearly decided to futilely brood about this.
I’m looking forward to the big battle that we presumably get next episode, I just wish that they’d spent the season building up to it instead of just checking in to show that the men at Castle Black are still bitching every week. They’ve spent the screen time on them, they just haven’t spent it well.
Let’s get this straight. Littlefinger, master manipulator of the realms, second only to Varys, came up with the brilliant plan of 101st airborning his wife and then just saying that she jumped and hoping that without consultation Not-Only-Cat would back his play? That is about as good a plan as charging a machine gun nest with your pants around your ankles on the hopes that they accidentally drop one of their grenades at their own feet. And the logic on display in the subsequent scene is just baffling.
“Hello, I’m Sansa Stark.”
“The one who killed the king? Um, guards get in here, much?”
“But who will stand against the Lannisters if not you?”
“Um, no one, exactly. That’s why we’re going to Fedex you to King’s Landing post haste.”
“But you could back Bravely Bold Sir Robin instead!”
*They laugh so hard at this point that the Eyrie falls over and lands on the Hound waiting outside. *
I mean, I appreciate that they’re trying to give Sansa same agency, which is sorely lacking in the novels. I really enjoy the way that they’re casting this as Sansa’s entry into the playing field of the game of thrones. But liking the idea doesn’t change the fact that the implementation is painfully flawed. When the show does political machinations well, it’s like watching a chess game. And then there are sequences like that where it looks less like a chess game and more like an exercise in seeing how far they can get each piece up their nose before sneezing.
Another case in point is the Hound arriving with Arya. The reactions on their face, especially Maise Williams’ uproarious laughter, are just perfectly scripted and acted. But the fact that the Hound just announced that Arya’s alive is a lot trickier. It seems very intentional that in the books Arya’s survival is known by only a few, she is completely and utterly alone in the world. I’m curious where they’re going with this, because now people exist who can at least feed the rumor to Sansa that Arya was alive and just here.
So we come to the final epic fight scene, with far too little time left on the clock. Good thing we didn’t waste any time in the episode on the Adventures of Gilly or conversations about whether Grey Worm still has his trouser snake. It’s not like curiosity could have been sated by staring at him while he was bathing or anything, I mean where would that have organically come up? If there was a question of whether a female character had breasts, this show would get her blouse off so fast that the sonic boom would kill sheep three towns over. But a dude? Sorry Missandei, only Ramsay can say for sure what dwells in the breeches of men.
Oh, Oberyn, you went full Inigo. You never go full Inigo, not unless the giant’s the one with your back instead of trying to melon ball your noggin. And while Pedro Pascal was nailing the “say her name” fire (and I liked the decision to make more explicit his blame of Tywin), the whole affair just seemed over before it began. It felt so tense on the page, because it starts with it being unbelievable that Oberyn even has a chance, barely surviving the early fight, and then mounting into hope as the poison begins to fuck up the Mountain, before the catastrophe at the end. And the turn around is even more tragic because the poison had already won the fight for him, all he had to do was stand ten feet back and watch.
On screen the fight itself fell flat, just a couple of quick exchanges with Oberyn seeming completely in control the entire time until the fall, and no hint that his blade was poisoned. That was a missed opportunity. First, because the emotional sequence as written is so much more devastating (and not any less filmable of a version). And second, because Tyrion’s recognition that Oberyn was using poison, would have given Peter Dinklage a bit more to work with on screen, and it’s always advisable to maximize the use of Peter Dinklage.
But we did get this little visual exchange, which was wonderful, and very few non-readers picked up on the implication:
Err, okay, ignore the fact that when frozen it kind of looks like they’re staring in confused horror at Cersei farting.
All in all, not a terrible episode, but yet another one that had exactly one scene that really mattered, held to the end of the episode, by which point it didn’t have enough time to play out as well as it did on the page.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.