If Sunday night’s Game of Thrones proved anything, it’s that George R.R Martin’s next book should be titled 101 Creative Ways to Die in Westeros. Or have we passed 101 yet?
This most recent episode will likely go down as one of the show’s most breathtaking, with its final scene filed right alongside the Red and Purple Weddings, Ned Stark’s death, and all the jaw-dropping scenarios that are sure to follow in future seasons. How can you beat squashed eyeballs and a skull cleaved by sheer force? It’s a wonder that after all this time, Game of Thrones still manages to lull us into a false sense of security, only to slit a main character’s throat or squeeze his face until it ruptures. We know the games you play, Martin! When will we learn?
In case you had forgotten about Gilly (let’s face it – you probably did), she and baby Sam are still holed up in a brothel somewhere vaguely near Castle Black. This episode begins with the wildlings and Thenns massacring that very brothel. What was that Sam had promised her, again? Something about “you’ll be safer here, away from me but exposed to all manner of Northern murderers.” Luckily, despite the scalding look she’s worn on her face throughout season 4, Ygritte does have a heart – a fact we’re reminded of when she raises a finger to her lips and shows Gilly mercy while she and baby Sam hide from Mance & Co. Word of the massacre gets around at Castle Black and Sam blames himself for Gilly’s demise – rightfully so, too.
In Meereen, there’s a little romance brewing between Grey Worm and Missandei as they bathe. The Unsullied equivalent of courtship apparently consists of baffled gawking and subsequent fervent apology – a classic romance! Since they were castrated as children, the Unsullied aren’t supposed to feel any sexual desire – but as Dany suggests, maybe Grey Worm’s still got part of his pillar and stones.
The primary drama in Meereen goes down when Barristan receives a letter that exposes Jorah as a former Lannister spy – except the “former” part is irrelevant, as far as Dany is concerned. She is quietly furious and chillingly unflappable in her resolve to shun Jorah, which is understandable but a little heartbreaking. We know how devoted the guy is to his khaleesi, but not even his desperate declaration of love can save Jorah when Dany commands him to get out of her sight forever. Emilia Clarke gives an absolutely scorching performance in this scene – likely her best of the season. Maybe we should have seen this coming, what with last week’s uncommonly mushy bit between the two blondes. But truth be told, I’m not sorry to see Jorah go. He’s become little more than an overgrown puppy with a crush and a few good ideas – I think Barristan and Grey Worm can probably take the reins from here.
Meanwhile, Ramsay takes full advantage of his stinky captive when Reek, masquerading as some guy named Theon Greyjoy, proves instrumental in the capture of Moat Cailin. With a mere echo of his former swagger, Reek/Theon waltzes into the ruined stronghold (which is littered with dead bodies and coughing men) to try and convince the head officer to surrender to Roose Bolton. After some spat blood and a murdered superior, the men end up agreeing to this deal in exchange for their safe return home – but that’s not how Ramsay rolls. He captures Moat Cailin and flays its inhabitants, garnering long-awaited appreciation from Roose and written permission to use “Bolton” as a family name instead of “Snow.” It’s a great day for Ramsay Bolton.
It’s not such a great day for Petyr Baelish. Following Lysa’s exit through the moon door last week, Littlefinger appears to have announced the incident as a suicide – but the council in charge of investigating the tragedy isn’t so sure. After all, Lysa was still breastfeeding her son at the time of her death – why would someone with so much – er, maternal compassion – take her own life?
Littlefinger’s questioning isn’t going so smoothly, and things appear to get even worse when Sansa is ushered into the interrogation room. Uh oh! She and Baelish haven’t had time to cement a story! What is she going to say? But Sansa does her creepy “uncle” proud and confirms Lysa’s death as a suicide caused by rabid jealousy and general madness. Littlefinger is painted as not only an innocent, but a hero! He’s been nothing but kind and altruistic ever since King’s Landing, according to Sansa. She conveniently further revises the truth and insists that a “peck on the cheek” ultimately catalyzed Lysa’s jealous suicide. Why is she covering for him? Is she afraid what he’ll do if she exposes the truth? Is she mainly looking out for her own skin (if her uncle is found a murderer, she can’t be far from trouble either)? Does she love him?
Sophie Turner also flexes her dramatic muscles this week – it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from her other than “bewildered” and “helpless,” and her smooth little fabricated sobs are a welcome change.
And finally, we have the Mountain and the viper. Oberyn is dazzlingly light on his feet as he dances circles around his chunk of an opponent – who knew he was such a talented acrobat? But the prince’s cocky theatrics are what ultimately spray his brains on the ground. Somehow, Oberyn manages to incapacitate the Mountain and get him flat on his back – but let’s not forget why our hero is in King’s Landing to begin with: dramatic revenge. He walks circles around the Mountain’s body, screaming about his sister’s rape and murder, demanding a confession – and it would’ve made a good story for your grandchildren, Oberyn. It really would’ve. But this is Game of Thrones, and we don’t care about your grandchildren on this here program. So with his dying breath, the Mountain slams his opponent to the ground and splits his pretty skull in one of the show’s most gruesome moments of all time. In the eyes of gods and men, Tyrion Lannister is hereby sentenced to death.
“The Mountain and the Viper” is a true gem of an episode, and its remarkable quality stands entirely independent from mere shock value. Although we hear from nearly every corner of the map, this week’s plot flows beautifully and never once feels like it’s trying to compress a week’s worth of material into a short hour. Each character and plot line was given exactly what they needed – no more, no less. Yet despite this reasonable pacing, we got some seriously terrific camerawork and uncommonly indulgent dialogue – and I mean that in the best way possible. Game of Thrones is known for its storytelling, not its artistry – but this episode showed us that sometimes, we can have both. The first long take of Gilly’s brothel, Baelish’s drawn-out close up during his questioning (that whole scene, really), Tyrion’s beetle soliloquy…there’s usually not enough time for these kinds of luxuries! Under regular circumstances, we’re on too tight a schedule for frilly shots and delightfully irrelevant monologues! This week’s allowances were skillful and stunning – a true pleasure to watch and a testament to the excellence of the show.
What do you think? Can Tyrion wiggle his way out of this one? Do we want him to?
Pictured: Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Pedro Pascal
Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay/ HBO