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Monday, 2 June 2014

Game of Thrones S4E8: The Mountain and the Viper.

[Trigger warning for mentions of violence and sexual assault.]

This is the second thing I've seen this week with a beetle theme.

Is there a festival?

Game of Thrones
S4E8: The Mountain and the Viper.

God, there's a very large and very noisy subset of A Song of Ice and Fire fans who are the most irritating people known to man.

These past two weeks have basically been an exercise in a bunch of people desperately trying to spoil those who haven't read the books for the outcome of Oberyn vs Clegane, for reasons that are highly unclear but which I can only presume have much in common with the reasons some men take rulers into public bathrooms. It happened just before the Red Wedding too.

Not so much an issue for me, I already knew what was going to happen, and yet I profess I prefer this subset when they were limiting themselves to whining about minor wording changes, and not cartwheeling into other people's faces to scream spoilers at them. Yes, we get it, you're literate. Barely, it seems, but you are. Medals, cheering, swooning in the aisles, I'm sure you've let your imaginations run wild often enough to fill in the rest.

(Yes, this was prompted by a specific incident.) 

Moving swiftly on.

Anyway, on to the episode. We open on a tavern/brothel just South of the wall, where a game of burping-out-songs (a startlingly easy game, given that the Game of Thrones universe only has two songs in it) quickly shifts to a rather unpleasant woman threatening Gilly, saying that her baby kept her awake. Gilly does what we basically all would do, which is apologise, but not try to claim it won't happen again – after all, how could she, nobody controls when a baby cries.

Handily, though, this potential threat to her child's life is interrupted by a very real threat, in the form of Wildlings (who, as we've established in earlier episodes, have picked up a tendency for cannibalism). Ygritte discovers Gilly and her child hiding, and warns them to be quiet. There's also one of the creepiest shots of the episode here, as Gilly looks past Ygritte to see blood dripping through the ceiling.

Back at the Wall, Jon, Samwell, and Their Dour Band of Friends have heard the news. Sam is mostly concerned about Gilly, the others variously about some Nights Watchmen who were drinking and carousing when the Wildlings came, or about the impending massive army that will be at their insufficiently manned doorstep soon enough. In possibly the worst odds in the series so far, they're outnumbered a thousand to one, by an army that includes giants.

Eventually, the other men reassure Sam that Gilly is a survivor, and may have survived the Wildling attack. 

Bless you, Ygritte.

Meanwhile, in Essos, Missandei and Grey Worm are both bathing, when Missandei sees Grey Worm – well, Missandei is quick to note later that he wasn't spying, and she's right, spying implies some form of deception. Watching, then. Inappropriately. Daenerys seems wholly unsure how to deal with this, which is fair enough, since the idea that her eunuch army might suddenly start acting like randy teenagers probably didn't occur to most people. Shortly after, Missandei and Grey Worm meet, and he apologises.

It's a – scene. I wasn't sure what to make of it, actually. I liked that Grey Worm apologised, and did so more than once, demonstrating respect for Missandei. I liked that even in this awkward situation, Missandei was still giving him grammar lessons. I felt a bit more conflicted about Missandei eventually saying that she was glad he saw her, and to be honest, this whole subplot has me feeling a bit conflicted. Missandei and Grey Worm are two of the nicest, and most honestly good characters in the series, so I'm not at all opposed to their pairing, but I've harped on before about other subplots not contributing anything to the story, and this is no different.

Not to mention that it's just all coming a little bit out of nowhere. We had a scene of Missandei teaching Grey Worm how to speak Common a few episodes ago, but apart from that, I don't think we've ever seen them interact. The actors have the chops to pull it off, but I wonder if the writers do.

Also in Essos, Barristan receives a letter meant for Jorah, only now just arriving despite having been finished and signed when Robert Baratheon was still alive, way back in the first half of the first series. It's a royal pardon, and both Barristan and Daenerys can clearly see what it means. Jorah is confronted, and he admits that he passed information to Varys – information that very nearly led to Daenerys and her unborn child being killed way back in the first series. As Jorah insists that he deserves clemency for his love and service, Daenerys is repulsed, and exiles him from Meereen.

I cheered, I admit. Jorah of the Nice Guys has been annoying me for a while. It's just – it's very disconcerting, having him in the background of all the Essos scenes in his fedora and cargo shorts, softly whining 'But I'm such a niiiiiiiiiiiice guy …' and browsing MRA forums on his tablet. 

His reddit username is LadiesBear69.

In the Vale, Littlefinger is under suspicion from several lords of the Vale, who think it's a little odd that Lysa would 'commit suicide' mere days after he arrives, and are questioning the suitability of a pimp and money-lender to be the Lord Protector of the Vale. He is saved when they summon the one independent witness to Lysa's death, Sansa. Anyone who's been following Sansa's development into a skilled game player probably won't be surprised when she reveals her identity, and then proceeds to tell a mix of lies and truth that paint Littlefinger as a saint who bravely rescued her from King's Landing, and whose innocently avuncular affection drove Lysa into a jealous rage in which she took her own life. Littlefinger looks so proud.

Sophie Turner really is a superb actress. She plays Sansa here with just the right amount of emotion that it seems both plausibly genuine to the lords and, for the most part, visibly calculated to the viewer. She continues to show off her acting skills in just about every scene she's in in this episode – there's been a lot of talk about how Peter Dinklage needs an award for some of his acting this series, and he does, but Turner definitely deserves one as well.

Later, Littlefinger confronts her in her room and asks her why she saved him. She simply and very calmly suggests that she'd rather have to rely on the person she knows than people she doesn't, pointing out that she knows what he wants. It's a really interesting reversal of their scenes earlier in the series: In previous scenes, Sansa was seeking the truth and Littlefinger was acting as a gatekeeper to it, controlling their interactions. In this scene, Sansa has the advantage, and Littlefinger is the questioner who is being forced to play by her rules.

Later, towards the end of the episode, Arya and Sandor Clegane arrive at the Vale, and Sandor is starting to become visibly unnerved by Arya and her murderous ways now. As they reach the Bloody Gate, Sandor announces who they are, and is informed that Lysa Arryn has died several days prior. In what might be the most chilling display of how far gone she is now, Arya just starts laughing and doesn't stop.

At the same time, Robin is setting out on a trip around the Vale with Littlefinger. Sansa emerges from her room, dressed in a fine gown with an enigmatic smile, indicating the culmination of her transformation into court intrigue expert, now poised to take control of the Vale and control the largest army left in Westeros. 

All hail Dark Queen Sansa.

A little further North, Theon acts as Ramsay's ambassador to the Ironborn. I almost get the impression that Ramsay really cares about Theon and his loyalty here, although in a incredibly twisted way, not that it matters – there's no denying that the things Ramsay has done to Theon are utterly monstrous, and whether he has any affection for Theon is fairly immaterial. Still, it's an interesting glance into Ramsay's character, that there's some shade of affection there for a man who he tortured, mutilated and brainwashed.

Theon's negotiations go sour, as he was never very good at interacting with Ironborn anyway, and now he struggles to even pretend to be how he used to be. As he starts having a breakdown and mumbling 'reek' to himself, though, the Ironborns' natural tendency towards backstabbing comes to the fore and they kill their leader, in order to offer a surrender to Theon.

Next we see of them, Ramsay has mutilated and flayed them, because of course he has, he's literally the most evil person in this entire fictional universe. Roose seems pleased, though, and legitimises him, and once again, Ramsay seems – touched. For a violent psychopath with sadistic tendencies, Ramsay certainly seems to crave not just respect but affection and caring from those around him. 

I still hate you, Ramsay, just so we're clear.

As the episode draws towards a close, we go to the King's Landing Krew, who we hadn't seen for most of the episode. In his cell, Tyrion and Jaime discuss a cousin of theirs who, brain damaged at a young age, had an obsession with crushing beetles. Tyrion talks about how he became obsessed with discovering why, and how it had begun to haunt him, disturbing him both while he was sleeping and waking. It's another really well delivered monologue, and this is the third episode in a row that we've had one of those from the King's Landing Kast, with two of them being Tyrion (and one, last episode, from Oberyn). Awards. Awards for everyone.

The big fight begins, and – well, anybody who's seen Game of Thrones before can probably guess that it's going to end poorly as soon as they see Oberyn performs acrobatic flips, because you can be stylish or alive in this series, but never both. Funnily enough, even knowing it would end poorly for Oberyn, I still found myself hoping it wouldn't. Desperately hoping, even: I didn't quite realise how much Oberyn had stolen my heart until I saw him circling and screaming at Gregor's fallen body, and found myself watching intently, hoping that Gregor would just die and that Oberyn would be victorious and fine, at one point even convincing myself for a second that that would be the case, even though I knew that wasn't going to happen. 

I may have yelled 'GO, OBERYN' out loud. I admit nothing.

Gregor drags Oberyn to the ground and gives him his confession, telling him that he raped and killed Oberyn's sister, along with killing her children. Oberyn's death is definitely one of the most brutal scenes I've seen in this show, and only the second time that the show has actually managed to shock me and leave me feeling shaken. Gregor hits him so hard that you see teeth just showering about them, before gouging out his eyes and then crushing his head.

It's just – very brutal, and the image of Oberyn's body with his head just a bloody mass will probably be sticking with me for a good long time.

The verdict is announced, Tyrion will be put to death, which puts us in good stead for an excellent ninth episode, as we now enter the last fifth of this series, where everything starts unravelling faster and faster. 

hey guys look at this selfie i took at the end of the episode lol

Oh god, Oberyn. Oberyn, no. 


  1. From what I've gathered of the GoT worldview, the only things that matter are power,
    brains, status and self control.

    Tywin has all four, which is why he's the ruler of Westeros. Tyrion has brains but little self control, no personal power, and a severely handicapped status. Jaime and Cersei have power (physical for him, political for her) and status, but not much self control and average brains. If the Lannister siblings got along they'd be ruling the country without challenge.

    The Starks had honor but very little else. Now they're trying to cobble together a new creed from things like honor (Jon), vengeance (Arya), magic (Bran) and ... I'm guessing political intrigue (Sansa)?

    Daenerys is growing to be a genuine rival to Tywin, but lacks his decades of experience. On the other hand she has dragons and an insanely loyal army.

    Oberyn had skill, but lacked self control. Which is why he got crushed by the mountain.

    1. I've discussed similar things about the Lannisters with others. None of Tywin's children truly succeed him individually. Working together, and pooling their individual strengths, they would easily safeguard the legacy he desires.