“Game of Thrones” makes you feel lots of things — excitement, dread, disgust, sadness, confusion — but it doesn’t always make you feel all of those in each episode. “Mockingbird,” arguably the most masterful episode of the season to date, comes pretty close to checking every box. There were no dead spots, except for that literal one at the end. The most honorable characters were at their most noble and the most devious character continued his unstoppable run of murderous scheming. Major events were set into motion for the final three installments of the season, yet nobody would dare call this a transitional episode. There was nudity and there was disemboweling. There was existentialist theorizing and sword-through-the-heart murder — both by a child. There was a little bit of everything.
[Note: At this point I will also direct you to the review written by my colleague, Alyssa Rosenberg on her Act Four blog. Alyssa is a book reader, and between the two of us, we more than have you covered. You'll find more of a play-by-play here, she'll do more of the analysis there. Here's her review: "Mockingbird" and other relics of childhood]
The episode opens in Tyrion’s cell, where Jaime admonishes his younger brother for not accepting the deal that had been worked out with Tywin. Tyrion notes that the deal was everything their father wanted — his disgrace of a son would be exiled to the Wall while Jaime would return to the seat of the family and raise his own brood. “It felt good to take that from him,” Tyrion says of destroying his father’s master plan. There’s still the matter of who will be Tyrion’s champion for his trial by combat, of course. Jaime simply isn’t up to the task — he can’t even beat a stable boy with his left hand — though Tyrion delights in the thought of the Lannister lineage ending if Jaime is defeated and Tyrion is then executed. So that leaves the next most obvious person, Bronn, who already successfully fought for Tyrion once before at the Vale. Whoever it is that fights for Tyrion will have his hands full, because Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane is Cersei’s chosen champion. If he doesn’t look familiar, it’s because he’s yet another character who has been recast — maybe even for the third time? The burly and violent man is seen preparing for his battle in what amounts to batting practice — poor saps are thrown at the giant, who easily decapitates and impales them. Seems like he could use more sprightly competition, doesn’t it? What’s splitting a defenseless peasant in half going to do to prepare him for a more worthy opponent?
The Mountain’s brother, the Hound, continues his journey to the Eyrie with Arya in tow. They come across a wounded man who is clearly about to expire, although the stab wound to the stomach may take a while to bleed out. (At least that’s what I remember from “Reservoir Dogs.”) With his death inevitable, Arya asks the man why he continues to go on. “Habit.” Arya tells him that nothing can be worse than what he’s going through, and follows up by showing herself to be the next great existential philosopher of Westeros: “Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing.” The dying man regrets the way the world has become. It used to be fair. Now there’s no balance anymore. It’s a surprisingly moving monologue, especially considering it comes from a complete unknown. The Hound gives him some water for one last moment of relief before mercy-killing him, and also turning it into a teachable moment for Arya. “That’s where the heart is. That’s how you kill a man,” he says.
You do not kill a man by jumping on his back and biting his neck. Some poor sap learns that the hard way after attacking The Hound and then paying with his life. The newly dead man’s traveling companion informs The Hound there’s a bounty on his head for killing Lannister men and also informs him of Joffrey’s death. This chubby, scrunch-faced fellow looks familiar — he’s one of the criminals who traveled with an in-hiding Arya when they were all shipped off to Harrenhal. He made some quite unpleasant threats to Arya back then. He’s not on Arya’s “kill list” because she doesn’t know his name. Once Arya finds out that bit of information (it’s Rorge) she takes Needle and stabs him right in the heart. She’s a quick learner. And a true killer.
At The Wall, Jon Snow is given a hero’s welcome upon his return from Craster’s Keep — except from his old nemesis Alliser Thorne, who orders Jon to lock up his direwolf, Ghost. Jon Snow continues to warn about Mance Rayder’s approaching army of 100,000 men and suggests flooding the tunnel to cut off access for the attackers. If anyone else suggested this, maybe the Wall council would listen. But when Alliser asks the lead Builder if he agrees with Jon’s strategy, it gets a big “nope.” Jon — and Sam, just because — are ordered to take night duties at the top of the Wall until the full moon.
Back in his cell, Tyrion gets a visit from his would-be champion, Bronn. But something is amiss. Bronn has a new cape and, it turns out, a new bride-to-be. He will soon be marrying Lollys Stokeworth. It is a marriage that is, of course, arranged by Cersei, to keep Bronn from fighting on behalf of Tyrion. Tyrion tries to cut a deal with Bronn, explaining that if he manages to keep his head, he could one day rule the North as husband of Sansa Stark and would have plenty of land to offer. But see it’s just so bloody cold up north, and Bronn would rather avoid the chill. Bronn breaks it down quite simply — given the choice between being amorous with Lolly and fighting The Mountain, which seems like the wiser choice? “I like you … I just like myself more,” Bronn says. He apologizes that it has to be this way, but Tyrion gets it. “Why are you sorry? Because you’re an evil bastard with no conscious and no heart? That’s what I liked about you in the first place.” The two shake hands and bid each other farewell. It was a good run.
Daenerys walks into her quarters in Meereen and Daario Naharis has managed to sneak in. He arrives bearing flowers — flowers he said he had to swim a mile to obtain — but Dany isn’t impressed. At least not yet. Daario explains that he has only two talents — war and women. We can see where this is going. He tells her, “my sword is yours until the day I die” in what is the most eye-rolling and unsubtle double entendre ever uttered in Meereen. But it works. Dany leans back with a glass of wine, orders him to take off his clothes and starts examining the goods.
It’s off to Dragonstone for the next naked body; this time it’s Melisandre, who’s enjoying a nice bath when Stannis’s wife, Selyse, walks in. Melisandre tries to make a joke about how The Lord of Light spoke to her this morning and told her she would be enjoying her last bath in a long time, but it’s lost on Selyse. “Humor isn’t my strength,” she admits, which is what makes her such a perfect match for Stannis. (In defense of Selyse, Melisandre could use some better material.) Selyse is clearly intrigued by/attracted to Melisandre, who turns up the seduction both by walking around naked and telling Selyse the secret of the potions. (That secret being they are mostly bunk, and only make people see what they hope and want to see. The original confirmation bias.) The conversation then turns to Shireen Baratheon, the scale-faced daughter of whom Selyse is clearly ashamed. Selyse wants to leave her in Dragonstone for their upcoming journey. But Melisandre says that’s impossible. “Your daughter must be with us,” she tells Selyse. “The Lord needs her.”
Back in Meereen, Ser Jorah is paying an early morning visit to Daenerys. He arrives just as Daario is walking out, adjusting his shirt as he saunters. Jorah is not going to be happy about seeing this, especially when Daario notes that Khaleesi should be in “a good mood.” Ouch. Dany can tell Jorah doesn’t approve of this extracurricular activity, but Jorah tries to pass it off as a question of trust, not a question of lust. Dany says she’s ordered her new boy toy to head back to Yunkai and kill all the masters who have reclaimed power. Jorah tries to help Dany see some shades of gray in how she rules. Jorah pleads for a hint of mercy, using himself as an example. He once sold men into slavery and he wouldn’t be there today to offer advice if Ned Stark did to him what Dany intends to do to the masters of Yunkai. Instead of carrying out the killing, Dany tones down her rhetoric. They can either live in her new world, or die in their old world. She tells Jorah to find Daario before he leaves for Yunkai and to tell him that she changed her mind. On second thought, tell Daario that you changed my mind, she tells Jorah. Maybe it’s not as good as a roll in the hay, but it makes Jorah smile for now.
A return visit to the Hound and Arya finds the Hound tending to his newly-acquired bite marks. Arya knows that he’s got to burn the wound or else it’ll get infected, but the Hound is famously afraid of fire. He then recounts the (well-protected) story of why he hates fire and how half his face got burned. That monster The Mountain thought his brother stole a toy; the Hound says he was just playing with it. “The pain was bad, the smell was worse,” he says of the attack. But even worse was the fact that it was his brother who did it and his father who protected him. “You think you’re on your own?” he asks Arya. Come on, girl. Take this sweet man off of your List.
Brienne and Podrick are continuing on their journey and come upon a local Applebee’s-type establishment. Their server is Arya’s old pal, Hot Pie, and what he lacks in flair, he more than makes up for in annoyingly endless conversation, mostly about kidney pie. Brienne asks if he knows the whereabouts of Sansa Stark and Hot Pie suddenly goes silent. As they saddle up to leave, Podrick suggests to Brienne that maybe they shouldn’t so loudly and publicly talk about the Starks in the middle of Lannister territory. No sooner does Hot Pie come out to tell them that while he doesn’t know Sansa, he knows Arya and tells of their journeys together. This is significant because it’s one of the first confirmations that Arya is still alive after she escaped King’s Landing after her father’s beheading. Hot Pie says when he last saw her she was with The Hound and then gives Brienne a gift to give to Arya — one of his famous direwolf loaves of bread. It was a useful visit to the diner, after all.
Back in Tyrion’s cell, he gets an unexpected visit from Oberyn, who tells Tyrion how Cersei tried to manipulate him with her weepy tale of missing her only daughter, Myrcella. “Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of her many gifts,” Tyrion says of his evil sister. “It’s rare to meet a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters,” the sharp-tongued Prince of Dorne replies. He says how Cersei desperately wants to see Tyrion killed, which Tyrion says has been a long time coming. But even longer than he realizes. Oberyn tells a story of a childhood visit to Casterly Rock, his first time away from Dorne. He hated everything — the food, the weather, the accents. (Is it possible he even hated the way Tywin said “Casterly Rock”? I refuse to believe that.) The big draw on the trip was to see the new monster of a child born to Tywin Lannister. The tales were legendary: huge head, tail, claws, a single red eye, the privates of both a boy and a girl. But the reality was not nearly as exciting. He was just a baby. But he was a baby who caused his mother to die in childbirth, and Cersei has held that against him ever since. She wanted him to die as a baby; “sooner or later, Cersei always gets what she wants,” Tyrion says. But while Oberyn has plenty of empathy, he’s mostly worried about himself right now. He wants revenge for his sister and her children, all murdered by The Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane. So Oberyn volunteers to be Tyrion’s champion as his opportunity to finally settle the score with The Mountain. When he states, “I will be your champion,” it brings a tear to Tyrion’s eye.
The episode ends in the Eyrie, where Sansa is looking … wait a second. Is she smiling? Is that even possible? In a beautifully shot and colored scene, she’s building a snow replica of Winterfell (and doing quite a fine job at it) when she’s visited by her future-husband and present-spaz, Robin Arryn. She holds back her frustration at losing her moment of solitude as he starts blabbing and eventually gets to the only topic that seems to really interest him — moon doors. He’s gobsmacked by the fact that Winterfell had no moon door. “How did you make people fly?” he asks. Robin decides to install a moon door on Sansa’s snow castle, but ends up knocking a part of it down. Sansa tells him he’s ruined her work, Robin throws a fit and kicks the entire thing down and Sansa finally gets fed and slaps the little spaz. He runs off crying as Littlefinger approaches. He tells her it’s something his mother should have done a long time ago. Sansa asks why Littlefinger really killed Joffrey. “In a better world, one where love could overcome strength and duty, you might have been my child,” he tells her. “But we don’t live in that world.” As he touches Sansa’s hair, which is looking more red than ever, he tells her, “You’re more beautiful than she ever was,” speaking of her mother. And then they kiss, and yes, it’s a bit uncomfortable. In the background, Lysa can be seen spying on the two and storming off.
So it’s no surprise that Lysa summons Sansa, and the two chat right near Robin’s beloved moon door. Lysa talks about what becomes of the bodies that fall through the moon door; sometimes they find a head completely in tact, “blue eyes staring at nothing.” (One of many great lines from this episode.) Sansa thinks she’s being made to apologize for slapping Robin but Lysa is soon threatening to throw her to her death for kissing her husband. She will add her to the list of those who had to perish for Lysa to be with her true love. Littlefinger intervenes just in time and swears on his life and all of the gods that he’ll send Sansa away. While this calms Lysa down, shouldn’t she know better than to trust anything he says? “I have only loved one woman. Only one. My entire life,” Littlefinger assures Lysa. Of course, he’s talking about her sister, Catelyn Stark. And with the words “your sister,” Littlefinger makes his wife fly through the moon door. Now there’s a new Lord of the Vale, and he’s going to be needing a new bride.
Episode 5: “First of His Name,” first of hers (Act Four review)
Episode 4: Oathkeeper and broken vows (Act Four review)
Episode 3: Breaker of chains, breaker of will (Act Four review)
Episode 2: The lion, the rose and the cruelty of Westeros (Act Four review)
Episode 1: Two Swords and even more dangerous stories (Act Four review)