Game of Thrones Revisited: 4.08 The Mountain And The Viper
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with season four's infamous showdown between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The eighth episode starts with a bang, with the brutal Wildling slaughter in Mole's Town, It's the prelude to much bigger events to come next episode but sets up the key players who, to be honest, haven't been up to much this season. It feels an excruciatingly long wait from The Climb over a season earlier, Ygritte and Tormund sneaking around looking fierce but not doing much pillaging. It's also an episode that reminds us of the humanity in Ygritte, saving Gilly and her baby where she slaughters the rest of the villagers with impunity. Of course, poor Sam doesn't know what happened to her, leading to a lot of guilt over leaving her undefended.
The twisted relationship between Reek and Ramsey continues as the Bolton bastard dresses up his pet as the Theon Greyjoy of old and has him convince the disease-ridden, starving Iron Born to give up Moat Callin with the promise of safe passage home. Alfie Allen really sold the conflict of a man utterly broken, the fear of stepping back into his old life and the consequences that might bring.
Iwan Rheon also continued to bring depth to his character. He exuberates villainy in his manipulation of Theon and joy in prostrating the skinned copse of the Iron Born man who thought he would keep his word of safe passage. But there was also that hint of vulnerability only his father can bring as he returned home with new of victory and was granted the recognition as a Bolton he had long desired. It was enough to almost make you happy for him. Almost. He is too much of a monster to ever feel real sympathy for. The Boltons marching to Winterfell is another turning point in the show, the mournful spires of the castle on the hill set to be a place new conflicts in the seasons to come.
The Mountain And The Viper may also have been Sansa Stark's greatest episode, the young girl finally stepping out from the vulnerable victim she has been since the days of late season one. The scene in which she carefully manipulated the truth in front of the lords and lady of the Eyrie, all under the watchful gaze of Littlefinger, teased a new side to her, one that is stronger and more ruthless than ever. It's a brilliant scene and Sophie Turner really towed the line between vulnerable and cunning.
This is the furthest her character ever went in the books, so it is hard to know whether the events next season were intended by George RR Martin, but in the show, there's something rather frustrating that all the greatest teased here is undone by what happens to her in Winterfell in season five, reduced to the abused victim of another monster Ramsey. Of course Game of Thrones never takes the simple path and stories are rarely happy or sad, but the confidence as she descends the steps towards Littlefinger, dressed all in black, suggests there is greatest to come that never happened. Unless of course the final season offers up something of a surprise in the final part of her journey.
Her sister Arya also gets a small but delightful scene, arriving at the gates of the Vale, only to learn that her aunt died just a couple of days earlier. It is yet another case of terrible timings and tragedy that has plagued her life and the laughter as she learns of what happened is a bittersweet, amusing scene.
One the sweetest, most heartwarming relationships in the show has been the bittersweet romance of Missandei and Grey Work, two former slaves who become Daenerys' s most loyal followers. This episode tool a slow but steady step forward in their relationship with an encounter while bathing in the waters of Mereen. Rather than be something sordid or sexy, this was a moment of curiosity and wonder for two people who never believed they would be anything more than human cattle. They are two or the most endearing characters in the show, Nathalie Emmanuel and Jacob Anderson delivering two touching performances as they meet in the throne room and admit they enjoyed that moment. If there are any two characters I hope survive Game of Thrones, it is these two.
One relationship that does come to an abrupt and however, is that of Daenerys and Jorah, as his past allegiance to Robert Baratheon and Varys as their spy comes back to haunt him. Given how far he has come - and the audience's knowledge of his past mistakes - it's heart breaking to see him face a cold, stern Daenerys as she orders him exiled from the city. Barristan Selmy at least has the good judgement to have Jorah tell his queen himself. Jorah's exile will take him in an interesting new direction over the course of the next three seasons.
And finally, we have the trial by combat as the Red Viper Oberyn Martell takes on Gregor Clegane's Mountain. It truly is a thrilling sequence; Oberyn's skills as a fighter feel more like an intricate dance as he flips and spins around the Mountain, striking him with swift blows from his blades as he keeps the Mountain's fists and weapons just out of reach.
This is another sequence that genuinely doesn't play as you might think; Oberyn's demands that Gregor admit his complicity in raping and murdering and her sister - at Tywin's orders - do yield the truth, but only as Oberyn's over confidence gets the better of him. Even on repeating reviewing, the death of Oberyn as the Mountain smashes him to the ground, knocking out his teeth and then crushing his skull is absolutely gory and horrific; not only is it one of the most diusturbingly violent deaths in Game of Thrones, it might be one of the most disturbing deaths in television history.
The sight of Oberyn's bloody, crushed face, Tyrion's look if utter dismay and Elleria's shireks of anguish linger with you long after Tywin pronounces that Tyrion must die and the credits roll. While it is a tragedy that Oberyn Martell's story doesn't play out as expected in the books or show, cutting shockingly short in this episode, it proves again how Game of Thrones continues to subvert audience expectations year after year. And while Pedro Pasdcal may have only appeared in a handful of episodes as Oberyn, he certainly makes his mark in the high stakes of season four.