TV Review: Game of Thrones – Season 4, Episode 8 “The Mountain and The Viper” (USA, 2014)

the mountain

Well I sure feel like one of those beatles Tyrion was so eloquently advocating for in “The Mountain and The Viper”; even if you knew what was coming, the sheer brutality of it all was shockingly affecting and – even though it crushed me – was beautifully done.

Many characters moved forward in leaps and bounds in this crucial episode, placing it as one of the stand-outs of the entire series.

Let’s start with Sansa. It’s interesting to watch the completely different trajectories on which Arya and Sansa are being developed. While her younger sister has always had a more boisterous proclivity, and hence is learning how to be explicitly dangerous; it seems her time with Littlefinger will begin to morph Sansa into a skilled manipulator as she quite effectively has begun to learn the benefits of good acting and believable storytelling. Her sequence as a witness to Littlefinger’s tense mini-trial was perhaps the biggest moment she has been given in a very long time, taking her out of the helpless victim role and placing her into new, exciting territory. While it’s terribly hard to see Littlefinger as a positive influence, it’s looking like he is to be what The Hound is to Arya – a catalyst for survival instincts and if the time spent with him helps Sansa grow into someone as dangerous as him, then things are looking up for House Stark.

Samwell Tarly ends up with a pie-in-the-face moment as he hears of the destruction of Mole’s Town – his ‘hiding place’ for Gilly. We’re reminded of Ygritte’s human-side – as compared to the blood-lusty wildlings and the disturbingly heartless Thenn – as she spares Gilly and her baby, assisting their hiding from the all-out blood-fest that is going on. Things are edging closer to boiling point now for the guys at Night’s Watch, and it takes a plot which has been fairly dull this season and gives us something to really look forward to next week. From the trailer, it seems like most of episode 9 will revolve around the battle of Castle Black, in similar fashion to season 2’s brilliant “Blackwater.”

It’s puzzling that the gory death of the second-in-command at disease-ridden Moat Cailin didn’t really have much of an impact, even though it was arguably just as brutal as Prince Oberyn’s death at the end of the episode. It’s this relationship between how developed a character is, how emotionally attached we are to them, and how brutal their death is, that is a curious force in Game of Thrones. The unnamed House Greyjoy bannerman was skinned, butchered, and impaled on two diagonal pillars, but yet it’s largely forgettable because he was only introduced seconds before. It’s a treatment ever more torturous than Ramsay (Snow) Bolton’s usage of Reek to convince the garrison at Moat Cailin to surrender. Watching Theon go through his trauma-driven identity crisis and yet remain firmly loyal to his captor is haunting, even more so when Ramsay receives the good news that he has become an official Bolton thanks largely to Reek, and yet Reek’s reward is nothing but to give Ramsay a bath.

Big development in Dany’s camp as Ser Jorah Mormont’s initial betrayal is uncovered by Ser Barristen, exposed to Dany who then treats her redeemed adviser quite harshly. Jorah is dismissed, threatened with death and exiled from ever setting foot in Khaleesi’s present. If this puts Jorah on a new trajectory with other characters, then this is probably the best thing to come out of ‘camp Dany’ in a long time. These are also important sequences because of the development with Grey Worm, as he slowly morphs from a stone-walled ‘unsullied’ to a man struggling with his own desires. What this means for the structure in Dany’s army is yet to be seen, but it makes for some very interesting material which I believe wasn’t in the books and gives a nice depth to the capable warrior.

Tyrion’s recollection of his simply cruel cousin seems to reflect the helpless, bettle-crushing world in which they live, a blunt reminder of how we aren’t to trust Game of Thrones to deliver us any sort of justice or emotional reward. It’s another brilliant, slightly humourous, performance from Peter Dinklage, a vivid, engaging tale of Tyrion’s curiosity and pursuit of explanations deeper than those that concern his family members.

The hulking mass that is The Mountain – now portrayed by the third strongest man in the world, Hafthor Bjornsson – and the fluid Prince Oberyn made for the best fight scene Game of Thrones has pulled off to date. The contrasting fighting styles are pronounced with brilliant choreography, particularly for Oberyn as he slides and twirls his way around Ser Gregor Clagane and supplements all his loud-mouthed taunting with deadly force. Of course the scales have to teeter throughout the fight, building tension as both characters have their moment of upper-hand glory.

Prince Oberyn’s false-win was very well done, slashing away at The Mountain in a three-part attack to make the potential victory a real possibility, getting us all nice and ready to cheer, and then punching us in the face as Oberyn’s stubborn need for The Mountain’s complete confession has him let his guard down and lead the viewers into hand-over-gaping-mouth fear; with one trip and one punch Clegane ends up in top of Oberyn, pushing his thumbs deep into the prince’s eye sockets and ripping his head open like it was a packed of chips. Hearing Prince Oberyn – such a confident, cocky, and capable fighter – let loose a hair-raising toothless scream, adds to the horror of it all. The gore may seem excessive, but it’s this gore which leads this death a bigger impact than expected.

Prince Oberyn quickly became a fan favourite due to his excellent portrayal by Pedro Pascal and his quest for revenge against the Lannisters; taking him and killing him in the worst way possible – so unexpectedly – is one of the cruelest things George RR Martin has done so far; hence, one of the most effective.

Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Positives

That brutal ending
Sansa’s growing into a strong character
Ser Jorah free from a dull storyline
Grey Worm developing well

Negatives

Scene at Castle Black used just to remind us of the handicap in upcoming battle
No sense of direction for House Bolton
Dany less and less likeable

Episode M.V.P: Tyrion Lannister

Game of Thrones airs Mondays at 3:30pm on Showcase