Episode 8 of Season 4 of Game of Thrones is titled "The Mountain and The Viper." This episode was anticipated with much trepidation because of the trial by combat between Ser Oberyn Martell (also known as The Red Viper) and Ser Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) will decide the fate of the audience's favorite character, Tyrion Lannister (The Imp), who is accused of kingslaying and kinslaying in the poisoning of his nephew, King Joffrey Barratheon (the most hated character on the show who met his end in S4E02, "The Lion and the Rose."
I didn't make my self-imposed deadline of posting my thoughts about S4E08 before S4E09 aired, thanks to my travel schedule and short vacation. Because I'm outta town, my ability to see S4E09 and S4E10 will probably be time-shifted. (I may resort to HBOGO, we'll see!)
"The Mountain and the Viper" episode, like "The Lion an the Rose" episode, contains a grisly death of a key character, one that occurs in a completely shocking manner, mostly due to the element of surprise.
If you are reading this review, I must tell you know that there ARE spoilers below, so if you have not seen the episode yourself, I would recommend you stop now and return here when you have seen the episode.
Before we get to the climactic end of S4E08 we have a number of very important scenes that forward the plots in multiple ways. In Essos we see the beginning of an attraction between Missandei (Dany's right-hand woman) and Grey Worm (The Commander of her Eunuch Army, the Unsullied). How can a guy with "no pillar or stones" be attracted to a naked girl? I guess we are going to find out in the future. Also in Essos we finally come to the point where Ser Jorah Mormont's past as a spy for Lord Varys is revealed to Dany and she angrily casts him out, not realizing she is doing exactly what Tywin Lannister wanted her to do, and is weakening herself by eliminating a useful source of wisdom and experience.
One of the less interesting sequences involves another example of House Bolton's insanity and cruely as they use Theon/Reek to gain Moat Cailin, the largest surviving castle in the North (now that Winterfell has been sacked and burned to the ground by Theon). Roose Bolton names Ramsey Snow his true heir, renaming him Ramsey Bolton in the process. There's a great sequence where Arya and The Hound (Sandor Clegane, Gregor's younger brother) reach The Eyrie at last, only to discover that Arya's Aunt Lysa, whom Sandor hoped to ransom Arya to for a fortune has died three days previously, which means that all their treacherous travels for the last several weeks are for nought. Arya laughs hysterically, because what else is there to do at that point?
And then of course there is that battle between The Mountain and the Viper at the end...
There were many highlights of this episode
- Beetle Crushing! Right before Tyrion is taken out to attend his Trial By Combat where The Mountain and The Viper will fight to "reveal" his innocence or guilt by the result the Gods ordain, the two Lannister brothers have a few moments if private conversation, and they spend these 5 minutes, not talking about how much they love each other or other practicalities one may think of when death is imminent but instead the subject is beetle crushing. By an imbecilic distant cousin of theirs whose only action in life was to repeatedly crush beetles. Tyrion was obsessed by this behavior and tried to explain it. I believe the point is that it can't be explained and that at some point, everyone is the beetle and "life" crushes everyone, or in the other tagline of the series, "Valar Morghulis" (All Men Must Die). The point of the story is that there is no order or design to the world and there's nothing that can be done to stop death. (Note this is completely in opposition to what the followers of the Lord of Light believe.)
- The Red Viper Strikes, The Mountain Rumbles. The fight between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane was as impressive as it is in the books. In this depiction it is very clear that Oberyn HAD effectively won the fight with The Mountain, delivering a fatal blow. The problem is that killing the person who raped and killed his sister was only part of Oberyn's revenge. He wanted to get revenge on the person who gave the order for the atrocity to happen, presumably Tywin Lannister, and in trying to goad The Mountain to confess this Oberyn made the fatal mistake of stepping a little too close to the Clegane and ended up dead, in horrifying fashion, literally with his head exploded by the powerful hands of The Mountain.
- Sansa Is A Big Girl Now. The other highlight of the episode is Sansa Stark showing that she has learned from her association Littlefinger how to lie effectively with the best of them, spinning a tale about Lysa Arryn's death with enough truths and half-truths to protect Lord Baelish and herself from harm. The final transformation she makes to appear as the Lady of the House in a black dress resembling a mockingbird, House Baelish's sigil, was very impressive.
Nothing is perfect; even this classic episode had some flaws. The only ones I think worth mentioning are:
- Beetle Crushing? The conversation between Jaime and Tyrion about their Cousin Orson who was "thick in the head" and sat around crushing beetles all day was both a highlight and a lowlight for me because even though I greatly enjoyed the interaction between the characters and the actors, I wish the writing was clearer. Plus, if the point of the beetle story is that "all life is misery" (that the gods will continue to bring death to anyone and everyone in a random fashion over which we have no control) then I believe the point could have been made in half the 5 minutes that the producers allotted for the sequence.
- Farewell, We Hardly Knew Ye. Another lowlight was the realization that there would be no more appearance of Oberyn Martell on the show, who was a breath of fresh air into the fetid swamp of intrigue that is King's Landing.
Grade: 9/10 (A).
Overall, S4E08 contained one of the most horrifying sequences ever shown on television but was also incredibly affecting, which ultimately, is what we hope that excellent art can and will do, and does do here.