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Nothing in Game Of Thrones is ever easy. If there is one thing you can take away from this week’s episode, “The Mountain And The Viper”, it’s that. The roads are rocky and treacherous and unpredictable, and those we love live their lives on the edge of oblivion. Loving them more does nothing more than making their undoing hurt that much more.
We began in Molestown, where Gilly finds herself hiding from the onslaught of the feral, vicious rage of the Wildlings. Perhaps the most remarkable part of it is Ygritte, a fierce, relentless, and remorseless killer who cuts down anything in her path, save for a babe and his mother. It’s a solid scene, though I couldn’t help but begin sighing upon the image of Sam, moping and whinging, lamenting how stupid his stupid decision was (I mean really now, Sam). I’ve grown tired of Sam, but the ensuing dialogue between Jon Snow and his supporters saves the scene (even if its dreadfully repetitive — that’s basically all Jon Snow does now). There’s a dark realism to the men of the Night’s Watch, all of them trapped in a place that seems to have no hope, on the verge of fighting a lost cause of a war, wondering how they can survive what’s coming.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the world in Meereen, a most curious flower is blooming. In another rare instance of nudity actually serving a bit of a purpose, we see the castrated Grey Worm, hypnotized by the beauty of Missandei, and she confused and intrigued by his gaze. This pairing is an interesting one, as it’s nonexistent in the novels (Missandei has been aged up substantially in the show — in the novels, she’s but a child). Yet it’s also an immensely satisfying one, two very good supporting characters getting unexpected depth and nuance added to their stories. Their final moments, with Grey Worm shamed by his stares, and Missandei full of curiosity and uncertainty, combined to show the beginnings of something more and was terrifically acted by both of them. This is a complex, surprisingly nuanced and wonderful courtship, with the potential to grow into one of the show’s better romantic relationships.
When we eventually find Theon and Ramsay, it’s more of the same (and I don’t mean that necessarily as a bad thing). It was a broken man and his master holding an unseen whip and phantom chains, testing his limits for a greater plan. That plan is Moat Cailin, a fortress containing nothing but dirt, disease, and despair, held by an Ironborn soldier who dies because of his dedication. But Theon plays his part and reason seizes his fellow Ironborn — and for their reward, they are granted the sight of Ramsay’s true colors. Moat Cailin is turned it into a place of savagery and suffering, but more importantly, Ramsay is a Snow no more, finally given what all bastards crave, finally recognized as a son. That moment with Roose and Ramsay was shockingly effective, and its a testament to the two actors that we felt any sense of emotion over the union of a traitor and a torturer.
I have grown tired of the saga of Baelish and Sansa, I confess. So it was with some trepidation that I watched the events of the Vale unfold and the inquisition of Littlefinger, as he roused the suspicion and ire of the nobles of the Vale. Yet it was salvaged by an unexpectedly excellent and interesting showing by Sansa. Forced to bear witness, she uses a lifetime of abuse and tragedy to play a part brilliantly. She plays a role by threading a lie with strands of truth, making her final, boldest lie the greatest of all, and ultimately making a choice for the devil she knows. It’s a stellar performance by Sophie Turner, and those final looks — once, in her chambers and again, as she purposefully approaches Baelish and Robyn, finally felt like the beginning of something powerful, like something we’ve all been waiting for.
As for Arya and the Hound? I have nothing to say, because I’m still giddy at both of their reactions upon arriving at the Eyrie. Never before in the show have we seen two opposite reactions handled so perfectly, and I would happily watch a clip of Maisie Williams bursting into peals of laughter on an endless loop.
Perhaps the most frustrating scene was the other moment in Meereen, where Barristan receives a message, and Jorah’s terrible secret is revealed. The moment of their confrontation was a confounding one, and one that clearly demonstrated a vast difference in acting ability. I’ve said before that for some strange reason, Emilia Clarke is at her best when she must give the great speeches, but in the smaller, more intimate moments, she often stumbles. This felt like one such moment. Yes, she is clearly tearful and angry, yet her performance felt strangely stilted — what she wants to be a cold fury comes off as merely wooden. The punishment granted is swift and without regret, and to Jorah Mormont, absolutely devastating. All the love and support and devotion in his heart cannot stop the damage done to hers, and that’s where the difference shows itself the most For every monotone, unemotional utterance of hers, there is a shaky, distraught, tragic one from him, and we are left to witness the utter dismantling of a man losing what he loves most.
And then, finally, we are back to King’s Landing, to see Tyrion’s fate decided. In a scene both riveting while also maddeningly drawn out, we see him and Jaime, full of odd stories and gallows humor, telling a tale that Tyrion himself never understood. But it underscores the convivial charm of the two brothers, perfectly portrayed, the only real love to find the Lannisters in this world of venality and ambition that they live in.
At last, the Viper and the Mountain. It’s a wonderfully directed and choreographed scene, right from Tyrion’s frantic and ironic pleas for sobriety to Ellaria’s adoring caveats. The fight itself is stunning, and even knowing its outcome, I found my breath caught in my throat. Throughout his tragically brief run, Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn was never without a sense of showmanship, and it’s no less on display here. For every brutish lunge from Gregor Clegane, there’s a whirling, leaping, impossibly graceful parry from Oberyn, and it makes the final outcome so much more awful. There’s a furious, Inigo Montoya-like dedication to Oberyn’s raging torments — it’s not just about the fight, it’s not just about vengeance, it’s about making the world know the truth. And they do, but only because in the end, his thirst for vengeance is his undoing, and he condemns himself — and Tyrion — to a brutal and gruesome ending.
The worst thing that can happen in Game Of Thrones is to grow to love someone. When the ones that are loved die, it’s then that we feel something. Even Joffrey, that malevolent little cancer of a king, had a death heavy with emotion as he died in his mother’s arms. And so with Oberyn’s grotesque passing, punctuated by the clarion, anguished scream of Ellaria, we feel it again. It was unexpected and vicious and god knows it bodes ill for the futures of the others that we love. And kudos to Pascal, for so ferociously embracing the role, and damn him for making us love him. Like the death of Ned Stark, even though I knew it was coming, I secretly hoped that it wouldn’t. But of course it did, and we are once more left wondering what will come next.