Game of Thrones Review 4.08 - 'The Mountain and the Viper'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.02.2014
Prince Oberyn fights for Tyrion's life while Daenerys learns some troubling news about one of her closest allies! 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review of "The Mountain and the Viper!"
[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen the June 1st episode of Game of Thrones.]
Love may make the world go around as the saying goes, but it also makes fools of us all. There have been as many wars started for love (or lack thereof) and as many atrocities committed in its name as nearly any other reason. The things we do for love can be deeply inspiring and change the world, but they can also be incredibly self-destructive and lead to our ultimate, head-crushing downfall. The ramifications of love are by and large the focus of "The Mountain and the Viper." While not everyone ends up in the worst way over it, many all of our characters this week find themselves on down particularly dark roads in their devotion to others whether it's a duel to the death or banishment upon pain of the same.
Let's save the gory explosion of craniums for later and start slow. It's been a long time since we've seen the storyline of Ser Jorah's seeking a pardon rear its ugly head. It's the kind of plotline that, when we saw it in season one, just knew that it wasn't going to just be left there. However, it's been long enough that we've been allowed to forget about it and see Jorah as Daenerys' rock. He's the one true friend that she has, in part because of his love for her but also because he honestly believes in her cause. It's fair to say that the Dany/Jorah (non-romantic) pairing is one of the longest-survived on the show, at least up to this point.
But that's how you knew it was doomed to failure and when Jorah's secret selling was mentioned in the small council meeting back in "The Laws of Gods and Men" you just knew it was going to come back and bite him in the ass. And bite him it did, as Tywin has Varys send documentation of Jorah's pardon to Ser Barristan. Barristan is enough of a stand-up guy to let Jorah know before he tells Dany and the scene between the two advisors to the Khaleesi is a great one. There's civility and respect, but that moment when Jorah asks to address it with Dany in private Barristan snaps back into the mode of her protector, telling him there's no chance in hell of that happening.
And thus we get the scene, played to perfection by Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen, where Jorah chooses not to defend his actions and instead points out what he's done since. Daenerys is a Targaryen however, and as we've seen this season she has some very black and white views on right and wrong. It's more than just that though, and Clarke really sells it in the rises and falls of her voice. We have to remember that Dany has been betrayed by nearly everyone she's ever known. Her brother basically sold her into sexual slavery and when she turned that around Duur betrayed her and Khal Drogo, leaving Drogo as good as dead. Qarth was a bed of betrayal and she lost those close to her, nearly losing her dragons in the process. And let's not forget that the lords of Westeros would like nothing better than to kill her; Robert Baratheon was trying to kill her since she was a child. She has a trigger about betrayals, you could say, and learning that the man she trusted the most sold her out for a pardon is difficult to take. Some likely think that Dany was too harsh on Jorah, but I would argue that her acknowledgment of all he's done for her was what spared his life at all. Still, poor Ser Jorah. It's going to be interesting to see where he ends up.
Jorah's not the only person who finds himself on the wrong side of the fates thanks to devotion. Good old Prince Oberyn leaves a lot of people in precarious positions because he couldn't let go of his devotion to his slain sister and nephew. In all fairness to him though, this was his entire narrative arc. We loved Oberyn because he was stylish and witty and he had no problems matching himself up with the Lannisters; he was going to take them down a peg when they sorely needed to have it happen. We also loved him because of Pablo Pascal's portrayal of the role; he gave the man a Latin Lover sort of bent that I really liked and yet he never let go of the seriousness rippling just underneath the surface, the viper ready to strike. Alex Graves was back to direct this episode and the way he films the battle between Oberyn and the Mountain is fantastic. All of those glorious wide shots allowed us to really feel the battle and see the matchup between Oberyn's quickness and Gregor's strength. It was a back and forth battle with the stakes incredibly high, and kudos to Graves for knocking another one out of the park in how he filmed this.
In the end of course, it doesn't turn out the way we want it to. It's the way we need it to turn out though. Game of Thrones has always looked at the bad things that can happen if you let your passions overtake your logic. Ned Stark's need for justice led to his death; Robb's need to follow his heart with his choice of bride led to the Red Wedding. Joffrey's poisoning was the result of his sick, twisted nature and here, Oberyn's need for the Mountain to admit to his crimes causes his own death. The tragic irony is that Oberyn had his justice, at least to a degree. He had the man who he was sure killed Elia at his feet there for the killing, but Oberyn needed more and that led to his fatal mistake. It results in Tyrion's fate being sealed and Ellaria's horrified scream. But in the end, the Viper did get what he wanted; the Mountain confessed and he even heard it (assuming you can focus on such a thing when your eyes are being gouged out). It's a truism on Game of Thrones that sometimes you just have to die in order to get what you really need.
And then there are the depths of what dark deeds you will commit for love. Nowhere is this more apparent this episode than in Theon and Ramsay's portions of the show. Both of these characters are currently driven by a deranged need for love and acceptance. For Theon/Reek it's Ramsay's love he needs; in Ramsay's case he needs the acceptance of his father. This dual set of insanity means bad things for the Ironborn of Moat Cailin, as Reek goes in pretending to be the Theon he once was and manages to convince the Ironborn--or at least their second-in-command, who kills the leader--to surrender. Who didn't laugh when Theon told the knights, "he will be as just and fair as you as he has been with me?" Of course it's a sad laugh because Theon thinks it's a lie, but it's pretty much true. They let him in and the Ironborn are flayed to death for their troubles, leading Roose Bolton to grant Ramsay his name. It would be a sympathetic moment for Ramsay if he wasn't so irredeemably a psychopath, and they head off to the ruins of Winterfell as a group.
Of course on Game of Thrones, there's always the exception that proves the rule. This week that exception is Sansa, who for my money is the MVP of the episode. I know that the character isn't everyone's favorite, and I can understand why but she's had to go through all of the things she did so she can get to this point. Sansa has absolutely no love for Petyr Baelish; that much is clear. She has seen through him, and she understands who and what he is. And yet, she basically saves his life when she flips Baelish's script and admits to House Arryn's loyalists that she is indeed Sansa Stark. The look of "oh hell" on Littlefinger's face is priceless; for the first time in a long time he's not in control of the situation or his own fate and he doesn't know what's coming. But while Sansa tells Royce, Waynwood and Corbray everything, she does twist the ending so that Lysa's death is portrayed as a suicide and Baelish is in the clear.
Sophie Turner is someone who I will continue to champion as one of the more underrated actors on this show, and "The Mountain and the Viper" could be described as her official coming out party. The look that she gives Baelish while she's hugging Waynwood is pure calculation. And in the scene afterward between Peter and Sansa in her room, she proves that she learned a lot from Cersei and her time at King's Landing when she expertly lays out the situation in front of Littlefinger. She saved him not out of love, but out of self-preservation because she didn't know what would have happened to her without him. And that moment when she comes down the stairs in that feathered black dress with the plunging neckline, you truly realize that she's either become or is well on her way to becoming the woman she is destined to be. Fantastic stuff and a true turning point for the character. She's learned how to play the game.
Some Final Thoughts:
• Gilly finds herself spared during a wildling raid thanks to Ygritte, who proves she does still have a soul by not slaughtering the wildling and her infant. That's an Odd Couple friendship I would love to see develop, if only for the supreme awkwardness when they run across Jon and Sam later on.
• Proving that love isn't completely dead in the world, Missandei notices Grey Worm staring at her while she bathes and Daenerys gets an adorable moment where she tries to play matchmaker. Sure, this can only end in tears but it's fun for a little optimism and levity in an episode that would have been very bleak without it.
• Speaking of levity, Arya laughing hysterically at the news of her aunt's death is going down as one of my favorite moments for her so far. Because at some point, you just have to laugh at your lot in life, even if it's the weirdest time ever.
• I could watch entire episodes of Tyrion and Jamie talking about anything together in the dungeon, whether its wine or idiot cousins smashing beetles. They just play off each other so well.
• The Game of Thrones effects team needs some definite recognition for the death of Oberyn. It was one of the most brutal moments we've seen yet, and that's saying something.
The 411: It's hard to top an episode like "The Mountain and the Viper." Plot advancement, character development, great direction and great performances leave almost nothing amiss here, while still leaving plenty to be wrapped up in the final two episodes. As Game of Thrones thunders its way to the fourth season finale, it's hitting every note with pitch-perfect clarity.