I didn’t know whether to cry or puke.
Some combination of tears and vomit would be an appropriate reaction to the gruesome final scene in “The Mountain and the Viper.” On a show in which many righteous characters have met horrific and bloody ends, Oberyn Martell’s death at the hands — disgustingly, brutally, literally — of The Mountain feels the most disheartening. Oberyn was arguably the best character on season of “Game of Thrones,” someone with a proper moral compass and, let’s say, progressive social leanings. A truly modern man. A man too good for Westeros. A man whose face and brains are now splattered across the trial-by-combat ring in King’s Landing. And Oberyn came to this sick end as his killer yelled into his about-to-explode face about raping and killing his sister and her children. And this death now sets the stage for the possible death of Tyrion, the show’s one true hero. We all know “GoT” makes its reputation on nobody being safe and killing the ones we most love, but this one just felt gratuitous. (The guy dying by face-squeeze-brain-explosion felt gratuitous, but that kind of goes without saying.) And if somehow this happens to Tyrion next week, well … I guess we’ll just go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and see what happens next. We’ll never stop watching.
There were other events that transpired this week — things that won’t haunt our nightmares for weeks to come — so let’s get to those.
[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: “The Mountain and the Viper” and the meaning of love]
The opposite of a man dying by face squeezing is probably a belching contest in a brothel, and that’s where this episode started. In Mole’s Town, it’s “name that tune,” burp-style, a game being played by prostitutes and johns. The game comes to an end the way most games on “GoT” come to an end — with a whole bunch of people getting stabbed to death. The brothel gets overrun with the wildlings and the Thenns, who kill everyone they get their hands on, except for Gilly and Sam, who find a hiding spot and are shown by mercy by Ygritte. Back at Castle Black, the young men bemoan the sacking of Mole’s Town, with Samwell taking it especially hard. He feels personally responsible for Gilly’s death and if she were actually dead he’d be right in feeling that way. Sam’s Knight’s Watch pals say that if she survived Craster’s Keep, she can survive anything. Then talk turns to how the 102 men in Castle Black will stop the 100,000 about to storm The Wall. They are stumped as to how this can be done. “Whoever dies last, be a good lad and burn the rest of us … I don’t want to come back,” one of them says.
In Meereen, it’s bath time in the river. Unsullied leader Grey Worm submerges himself in the water but also catches a glimpse of a naked Missande, also getting clean, across the way. She stands up, they make eye contact and there are clearly some sparks. Which is notable, of course, because Grey Worm is Unsullied, which means he is castrated, which means that seeing a naked woman shouldn’t have any sort of effect on him. This is what Daenerys says as she’s talking with Missande a little later, assuming that when Unsullied become Unsullied, both “the pillar and the stones” get the old snip snip. Later, Grey Worm comes to apologize to Missande for having looked at her. But Missande is glad that he saw her, and he’s glad that he saw her and I guess it’s kind of romantic.
Reek — who is in character as his former self, Lord Theon Greyjoy — is in armor and getting a pep talk from Ramsay Snow, who needs Former Theon’s help in capturing Moat Cailin, an order given by Ramsay’s father, Lord Roose Bolton. The pep talk features a reminder that Theon is still Reek — “always, forever” and “until you’re rotting in the ground” — but it’s a pep talk nonetheless. Former Theon rides into Moat Cailin, which is in all kinds of disarray — dead bodies and general disgustingness all over. Theon approaches the officer in charge, states his name, tells him that he’s there on orders of Roose Bolton and that if the officer surrenders, he will live. And that there’s no shame in surrendering — Theon’s own father, Balon Greyjoy, surrendered to Robert Baratheon. The officer is not having it. “Only a whipped dog would speak this way,” he tells Theon. “The Iron born will not surrender.” Oh but they will, because said officer gets stabbed in the head by one of his own comrades, because it’s been a few minutes since that happened to anyone. With a promise that if they yield they will live, the current inhabitants agree to surrender. Ramsay Snow breaks that promise, because that’s what Ramsay does. He kills everyone, by flaying. It’s his signature style, after all.
Back in the Vale, it’s time to deal with the fallout of Baelish’s murder of Lysa. How will he get out of this one? With some help from Sansa, it turns out. After Littlefinger is interrogated a bit by some sort of council, Sansa is brought in for questioning. Littlefinger is worried, as he hasn’t had time to prep the witness. But Sansa has his back. She tells a story that combines truth and lies. She isn’t Alayne — the identity she assumed upon arriving in the Vale — but is Sansa Stark, and all the lies Baelish has told were in order to protect her after her father’s execution. She was put through living hell in King’s Landing, and it was Baelish who saved her and smuggled her to safe territory in the Vale. Sansa’s story of how Lysa went through the moon door is almost kind of accurate, at least in the lead up. Lysa was happy to be married to Lord Baelish; she was a jealous lover; she was terrified that he didn’t love her anymore and would abandon her for a younger woman; she saw Baelish kiss Sansa. All true, except that it wasn’t just a peck on the cheek as Sansa suggested. She then talked about how Lysa turned on her, cursed her, called her a whore and threatened to throw her through the moon door. Baelish’s attempts to reason with her were not met kindly and then she stepped through the moon door, to her death, of her own volition. Sansa punctuated this lie with an impressive display of waterworks, fully convincing her interrogators that a distressed, depressed and unstable Lysa took her own life. Littlefinger looks on in the background, and he’s clearly never been more turned on in his entire life.
Soon Littlefinger is telling his new friends on the council that it’s time for the Vale to have a new leader — Robin Arryn. He argues that sickly little boys sometimes become powerful men, and he needs to learn how to swing a sword, ride a horse and fight for himself. Yes, this seems like a not-deceptively-sinister plan at all.
Back in Meereen, it’s a sad scene that might get overshadowed by the other sad — and nauseating — one at the end of the show. Ser Barristan Selmy gets a letter with a seal he recognizes, reads it and doesn’t like what it says. He confronts his frenemy Ser Jorah Mormont about the letter’s contents — it’s that seasons ago letter that pardoned Jorah for his past crimes for which he was exiled. It exposes that Jorah was a Lannister spy, even though we all know his complete devotion to Daenerys in recent years. Selmy tells Daenerys about this, and no amount of apologizing or rationalizing or anything will get Jorah any semblance of forgiveness from Daenerys. She realizes that the long-ago attempt on her life was a direct result of information Jorah had been feeding to Varys. Dany does not like to be wronged, so Jorah should consider it a small victory that he’s not crucified and is simply exiled. He rides out of town, his always-concerned look now one of permanent depression. He will have to find a way to regain her trust, won’t he? He has no other reason to live.
In the North, Ramsay Snow tells his father that Moat Cailin has been taken. Roose Bolton takes him for a walk and tells his bastard son to look over the vastness. Where Ramsay sees nothing, Roose sees the north. Seven hundred miles that way, 400 miles the other way, 300 miles the other way — it’s all the North. It’s larger than the other six kingdoms combined (also has the most boring name, but who’s keeping track?) and Roose Bolton is the warden. He’s proud of his son and he tells Ramsay that he can ditch that Snow last name, for he is now a Bolton. Ramsay is legitimately happy and honored. How is it possible these two murderous creeps are part of a genuinely touching moment?
The Hound and Arya have finally reached their destination but as they announce themselves at the Bloody Gate — mentioning that Arya is niece to Lady Arryn — they are greeted with the news that Lysa has died just three days ago. The Hound’s plan to cash in is thwarted but Arya takes it in stride as she bursts out laughing. Inside the castle, Littlefinger is prepping Robin Arryn for a life beyond the Vale. Robin is worried he might die, which is a solid concern since he’s a fragile little boy who will almost certainly be killed mere moments after he makes it through the Bloody Gate. Littlefinger tosses some fake-inspiring quotes at him — “Don’t worry about your death, worry about your life!” — but then something catches his eye. It’s Sansa, in a full gown, seemingly exiting her not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman phase and entering adulthood, walking down the stairs like she’s in a 1930s film noir or something.
Jaime visits Tyrion in his cell in the moments before the big trial by combat. Tyrion is optimistic, to a point, about his champion — you don’t get a cool nickname like the Red Viper of Dorne by accident, right? Soon the conversation shifts to one of those symbolic story/monologues that everyone in Westeros seems to have a couple of in their back pocket. The brothers reminisce about cousin Orson Lannister, their “simple” “moron” family member whose only purpose in life was smashing beetles. As a kid, Tyrion became obsessed with finding out why Orson did this. (“Who gives a dusty f— about a bunch of beetles?” Jaime asks, quickly moving “dusty” to the top of my list of words to say in front of that other word.) We never do find out why Orson so enjoyed crushing those beetles because the bell tolls. It’s time for the fight.
Tyrion is distressed by Oberyn’s light armor — well, he’s distressed in general because he’s possibly minutes away from a death sentence. Oberyn is all smiles, though. He has a drink and proclaims, “Today is not a day I die.” Ellaria sees The Mountain and is, understandably, quite worried. “You are going to fight that?” she asks. “I’m going to kill that,” Oberyn responds. He was so optimistic. “Size does not matter when you’re flat on your back.” He had so many good one-liners. After Pycelle does the worst attempt ever at Michael Buffer and gets played off the stage, the two officially square off.
Oberyn is floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee and trash talking, to boot, telling the slow-footed Mountain just why he will delight in killing him. He will make The Mountain confess to his past crimes — raping and murdering his sister, Elia, and murdering her children — before ending his life. The Mountain’s brute strength is no match for Oberyn’s quickness and agility. Oberyn gets some vicious blows in, knocking the giant off his feet. It’s all going so well. And when things are going well in the “GoT” universe, shouldn’t that be a hint that things are about to quickly go the other way? As Oberyn jumps on top of a toppled Mountain, seemingly about to deliver the fatal cuts while demanding a confession, the tables are suddenly and decisively turned. The Mountain grabs Oberyn by the face, squeezes, squeezes some more, admits to the heinous crimes of which he has been accused, and then squeezes a little more. Pop goes Oberyn’s face, like one of those beetles Tyrion had been talking to Jaime about just moments ago. The Red Viper is dead, brains splattered across the ground. Ellaria screams in terror, Tywin quickly announces that Tyrion is sentenced to death and we all dry heave just a little.
Episode 7: “Mockingbird” and other relics of childhood (Act Four review)
Episode 6: Do “The Laws of Gods and Men” actually matter? (Act Four review)
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)