4×07 – Mockingbird
Nestled between ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’ and ‘The Mountain and The Viper’ is this curious little episode; a quiet interlude from the intense filibustering that proceeds it and the bloodshed that follows. It’s an episode intended to establish and re-establish the goals of our characters and set them on their intended path for the rest of the season. As such, without the distraction of epic battles and shocking plot twists (for the most part), one’s enjoyment of this episode is dependent on how much you relish spending time with each subset of character pairings.
Another deciding factor as to whether or not you enjoy this episode is based on your tolerance for seeing our beloved (and not-so-beloved) characters doing supremely stupid things. I could watch Brienne and Pod play I-Spy on the road for hours so I’m less annoyed by the fact that they get the information they need through the most contrived way possible; just happening to come across the path of Hot Pie and having Brienne stupidly talk loudly to strangers about their quest to find the girl that all the Lannisters want dead.
Even more shockingly contrived and out of character is the goings-on out at the Eyrie. Surely someone as fiendishly clever as Baelish and someone so accustomed to dealing with psychopaths as Sansa would have the better judgement than to make-out in the open inside the castle owned by a crazy women who already suspects they’re in love. The entire story plays like a florid telenovela, with an ending that’s as cathartic as it is telegraphed and silly.
Across the narrow sea, we get a little more life out of Dany than we’ve seen in a while, demonstrating that even Mother’s of Dragons need some lovin’. It’s also good to see that her conversation with the man whose father was killed by her orders last episode has yielded results, with Dany no longer seeing in purely black and white terms. But still there seems something oddly circuitous about her character arc, especially given the next episode’s revelations. I appreciate that her resolve and credentials as a leader are being tested but I can’t help but thinking that the best of Daenerys Stormborn is behind us as the writers contrive reasons to make her relevant to the story at large.
Oh yeah, the Hound gets inexplicably bitten by a rando, assumedly in order to slowly kill him off and leave Arya to fend for herself. It would make sense if the biter were one of the cannibalistic tribes who have been slaughtering the north alongside The Wildlings but he just seemed like a random person trying to procure the money on The Hound’s head. In which case…..biting? It could have just as easily been a sword wound.
The obvious highlight of the episode, as has been the case for much of this season, takes place in King Landing, in Tyrion’s cell. First came Bronn, then Oberyn. The latter has a greater impact, but it is sad to see Bronn abandon Tyrion (without malice of course) not long after sending away Podrick and being betrayed by Shae. It’s also a testament to how little the bonds of friendship or companionship matter in this world. However, it’s Tyrion’s quietly somber conversation with Oberyn that is most revealing and fascinating about the evils in this world, mostly taking the form of the other Lannisters. While Bronn revealed Cersei’s cunning; prying him away by appealing to his very human instincts and needs, rather than simply fear mongering, Oberyn speaks to her wicked streak that stretched back into childhood. She’s always seen Tyrion as a monster and has demanded as much from the rest of the world. Oberyn hates everything about the stuffy, institutionalised entitlement that surrounds King’s Landing and The Lannisters and in a moment of soft-spoken rousing promises to help Tyrion fight back against the forces that aim to crush them at every turn.
Overall Rating: 7 Slices of Hot Pie out of 10
4×08 – The Mountain and The Viper
If the last episode was a bit tame on the action front, this episode is wall-to-wall ‘axe in the head, fingers in the eyes, blood through the floor boards’ action violence. Despite still covering its usual smorgasbord of locations and characters, this episode feels less scattered than previous one, unified by the creeping feeling that the shit is really about the hit the fan. Ramsay and Roose Bolton are firmly in control of the north, Tyrion’s ninth life has cracked open in an explosion of blood, teeth and bone, The Wildlings are slaughtering without prejudice and they’re heading for the wall. Seemingly all that’s left to do is laugh about how fucked up this world is as Arya aptly demonstrates.
The only shining light in this depressive slog of a universe comes from Sansa, who this week takes the ‘better the devil you know’ approach, siding with Baelish in an act that we all saw coming. But damn it all if Sophie Turner doesn’t act the crap out of that scene. If season 3 was the season I finally started to find Jamie Lannister an interesting and valuable character, then season 4 is definitely Sansa’s time to shine. For too long has she been forced into silent servitude based on the whims of the capital. She finally has same agency and we can see Arya’s badass edge peeking out from behind her put-upon meekness.
But as with most episodes this season, ‘The Mountain and The Viper’ belongs to Tyrion. There’s no longer any point in saying that any given episode offer’s Peter Dinklage’s best work; you could say that about any of the last three. Here, his performance in his conversation, turned monologue to Jamie is so full of pained consideration of a cruel world, not one that has gone to shit, but one that has always been an awful place for those who don’t hold the power; summed up in a beautifully simple story about his simple cousin. It could have easily be seen as over-wrought or overly symbolic, but the detailed textures of the story, with both Lannisters mimicking the ‘crunk’ of the beetle crushing, allow it to be what it ought to, a memory that reminds Tyrion that he’ll always be a beetle that the world will try to squash, unthinkingly and without compromise.
Then we get to this episode’s final dose of brutality as predicted by the episode title (Spoilers), the fight between The Mountain and The Viper. The fight starts out light enough, full of wide-shot stunt-double flips and theatrics. And I can’t see how anyone could watch this fight without thinking of Mandy Patinkin’s fight with Christopher Guest’s 6-fingered man in The Princess Bride. At any moment I was expecting Oberyn to shout ‘Hello, my name is Oberyn Martell. You killed by sister. Prepare to die’. But oh how swiftly does any ray of light or hope of retribution disappear. Like a giant crushing beetles, The Mountain eviscerates Oberyn, leaving nothing but a bloody fractured mess on the beautiful Kings Landing waterfront. How are we supposed to react to that? Tyrion’s face says it all: ‘I can’t believe that happened. But of course that happened. That’s what always happens’.
Again I’m less interested in what’s happening in Mereen. It’s always good to see supporting characters fleshed out and the show seems to be slowly stripping Dany of her support structure with Daario last episode and Jorah in this one, but I’m still not getting my hopes up that her story will amount to anything profound or exciting in he near future. However, if you take out the Mereen storylines which are somewhat tonally jarring compared with what’s happening across the narrow sea, this episode is one of the best of the season, filled with quick paced action, deep foreboding and darkness and a profound self-awareness of the great cruelty that exists in this world.
Overall Rating: 8.5 recently vacated eye sockets out of 10.