Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 8 - The Mountain and the Viper (TV SPOILERS)

Victory has to be earned



Valar morghulis. Oberyn and the Mountain sort out their differences, while Jorah and Daenerys don’t. Roose Bolton dismisses Bran as “unimportant…a cripple, a young boy”, while Lord Baelish later says “sickly little boys sometimes become powerful men”...hmm! Sansa plays the Game and bails out Baelish, while Grey Worm gets some boob and says "I love you, sorry about not having a ding dong" in the longest way possible. Game of Thrones is back and it's taking no prisoners. Oh, and yet another wild prediction from me. Dive in for the most intelligent and detailed Game of Thrones analysis you'll see on the interweb. (Read the first page for key points and the rest for more detailed stuff).

All in all, a good episode that doesn’t quite resolve the Castle Black or Tyrion storylines but gives us a massive centrepiece that people will debate for a while yet.

Rank of Thrones



So George R R Martin again illustrates his utter contempt for the twee morality shows that permeate TV today – this is no NCIS, no 24 or even the venerable Walking Dead. There are no heroes and the “good guys” don’t win…not easily, anyway – the good guys have to really, really earn it. Nobody is safe - and you know what, you can’t blame them.  The tagline for this season is “valar morghulis”.

Game of Thrones is entirely a different beast from those shows - it’s about narrative over individuals and circumstance over heroism. This is no Walking Dead, where a campaign to keep Daryl alive probably keeps the showrunners awake at night. A Song of Ice & Fire is basically sado-masochism in poetry. The only way Oberyn’s death could’ve been worse was if the Mountain had sexually assaulted him afterwards and this being GoT, that’s a real relief. Now we'll see if really nobody is safe: next week is the dreaded penultimate episode of the season, with previous ones being Baelor (Ned Stark's death), Blackwater (Battle of Blackwater) and of course, Rains of Castamere (Red Wedding). So this season, will it be the death of Tyrion? His death might be just too much for viewers and so I'd be surprised if he dies. I just hope this doesn’t get dragged into season 5.

Before I go any further, I’d like to point out a cross-parallel: Roose Bolton dismissing Bran as “unimportant…a cripple, a young boy” and Lord Baelish later saying “sickly little boys sometimes become powerful men”…very much a “hmmm!” moment.

We also bade goodbye to another character, although only from a storyline: Ser Jorah and Daenerys. This was somehow even more heartbreaking, since we’ve followed these two for so long. Jorah lost his customary calm and bared everything, only for Daenerys to throw him out. In GoT, secrets don't stay buried forever. Now a wiser ruler might have looked beyond Jorah's indiscretion and accepted that he was crucial to the operation now, but Daenerys is increasingly becoming a short-sighted tyrant. No doubt we’ll see Ser Jorah again, maybe with a rival camp.
[In case anyone is wondering why he needed a pardon, he was convicted of slave-trading, which is forbidden in Westeros. He fled prosecution and so has lived in exile since then. Why did he do this? To pay for an exorbitant lifestyle for his beautiful wife, who left him anyway.]

Amongst other notables, I love how Littlefinger tried to corral the troops at the Vale by referencing Ned Stark’s death (“Do you support the Lannisters, the house that executed your friend, Ned Stark?!”) as if he had nothing to do with it. As we now know, he asked commanded Lysa to kill Jon Arryn AND turned the Kings Landing City Watch against Ned Stark when he should have brought it to his defence.

Generally, the show has a massive ‘eunuchs’ motif: the opening scene in the tavern (“I thought you were a eunuch!”) and Grey Worm and Theon, both castrated. The former believes castration enhanced his power and dignity, whilst the latter had deposited all his honour into his penis and so was devastated at its loss


"Too bad you got a hangnail for a cock”
Eddison: "Once I’m done with this world, I don’t want to come back"

I did think, in my recap, that this and the Tyrion story were the most urgent storylines, and so the episode show bookended this episode with those two stories. The plot wasn’t moved along in a meaningful way, so I won’t spend too much time on this. In short, Ygritte can’t be all bad, because she refuses to kill babies (never mind the hundreds of dead adults in her wake). Did she recognise Gilly as a wildling as well? Wildling solidarity, y’all! I presume we’ll now spend a whole season watching Gilly and Sam slowly inch towards eachother.

Castle Black is really desperate, with 100ish against 100,000, although we haven’t seen anywhere near the numbers they keep talking about. Jon Snow and co. will have to come up with something truly extraordinary to get out of this.

Or maybe, just maybe, and I’m giving you fair warning of a Fourth Wall prediction, just as the wildlings are about to get stuck in at Castle Black (in a very literal sense), maybe the White Walkers will attack! Suddenly the Wildlings and Night’s Watch will find themselves fighting together! Now wouldn’t that be interesting…

Meereen / Essos

“If the masters never cut me, I never am Unsullied, I never stand in the Plaza of Pride when Daenerys Stormborn orders us to kill the masters. I never am chosen to lead the unsullied, I never meet Missandei from the island of Naath”.

Greatest line in Game of Thrones. Ever. Grey Worm, you silver-tongued devil, you.

Cue Missandei saying "you had me at hello! Or whatever you said in Valyrian."
Ironically, the GoT character who speaks the least "common tongue" is also the most poetic. This could very easily have been a cornball speech in any other show, but here it comes off quite sincerely and well earnt. Here is a man (well…) who has known only military service, suddenly beginning to understand humanity, affection and boobies. Dammit, I’m almost afraid to like him lest he gets his face crushed in by [random bad guy], but right now, he and Missandei are easily more interesting than Daenerys.

One more note: yet again, in Westeros, profanity is used quite prodigiously (a mere 15mins ago, in fact), but in Essos we continue to get polite euphemisms such as “pillar and stones”…

The North (south of the Wall)

Roose: “Unimportant…a cripple, a young boy”
Ramsay: “What are we without our history?”
Kenning: “The Ironborn will not surrender”

Oh, Theon. Oh, Ramsay. Both of these guys are products of a system that desensitises men and allows them to do shocking things, but with a key difference. Theon was brought up by Starks, so he feels remorse and certainly started to feel a tinge of disgust as he saw the burnt corpses of the two children (season 2), while Ramsay Snow Bolton is turned on by torture and violence.

It’s hard to identify Theon's character arc now, except perhaps in the context of penance. Unfortunately, Theon is doing penance for far fewer crimes than those committed by Tywin, the Mountain or any of the long list of villains in GoT. Also, he’s become so infantilised and traumatised, it’s actually more disgusting than the brutish violence.

Anyway, this was a vindication of sorts for Ramsay Snow Bolton, who saw his manoeuvre pay off well, earning him a West-Wing-style “walk with me” moment and the pride of place in the Bolton family. Having said that, the fort looked like it was done for anyway. The map below shows why Moat Cailin was so important to the Boltons: it opens up the whole North to them. As Roose says, “the North is bigger than all the other Kingdoms combined”.

The scene of Kenning receiving an axe in his head shortly after a bombastic display of manhood was a bit like Theon’s triumphalist war cry at Winterfell, halfway through which he was smacked in the back of his head by one of his own men. The flaying was yet another example of why nobody in Westeros is worth their word. Finally - why do I get the feeling that Roose Bolton’s dismissal of Bran as a ‘cripple’ will come back to haunt him?

Vale of Arryn

Lord Yohn Royce: “And when Jon Arryn named you Master of Coin, no-one cared. It’s always been a grubby job, why not let a grubby man do it?”
Sansa Stark: “I have been hostage in Kings Landing…a plaything for King Joffrey to torture or Queen Cersei to torment”
Petyr Baelish: “Sickly little boys sometimes become powerful men”

Lots of great lines here, including a very pointed Westerosian putdown by Royce. The way Royce was cross-examining Baelish came off like a House of Commons session or a telling off at an English Public School! (FYI, in England a “public school” is actually private and often upper-class). The Fourth Wall has often found itself being told off by public school Headmasters.

So in a way, the most quietly interesting storyline is the one where we follow Sansa finally coming of age in a brutal, uncaring world. She finally has some power and the will to use it, even making Baelish out to be a hero. We have yet another dysfunctional GoT relationship in the making: Littlefinger loved Catelyn Stark but now she's dead, he's transferring this 'affection' to her daughter (yeah, that’s not weird at all) and she’s decided ‘better the devil you know’. Hell, it’s Cersei all over again.

About being a grubby man: Littlefinger is FORCED to be grubby…in a nepotistic world where bloodlines determine who will be King, backstabbing, betrayal and whispers are the only way a commoner can grab power for himself.

We also get a short edition of the Hound and Arya show – Arya seems to be going insane. Why do I get the feeling Arya and Sansa won’t meet?!

Kings Landing

"Deciding a man’s guilt or innocence in the eyes of the gods by having two men hack eachother into pieces…tells you something about the gods”

Tyrion has long been the ‘viewer’ in Game of Thrones, making the same remarks as us, pointing out Westeros’s fallacies, inconsistencies and just plain weirdness. That he is just tickled by trial by combat (which he survived previously thanks to Bronn) just masks his nervousness. He’s lost the fatalism and bravado he displayed in the previous episode and is again worried about saving his own bacon.

Tyrion then starts bumbling about nepoticide and how there’s no family-killing that doesn’t have its own word. The story about the cousin who kept killing beetles was interesting in that it got Tyrion focused on something from his childhood, which he was holding onto as comfort. It’s interesting to note that the Orson story almost resembles a vengeful god who just “crushes the beetles” without having some sort of grand plan or great redemption. In retrospect, it seems like Tyrion’s voice was the Song of Ice and Fire warning us of what was to come.

So, onto the showpiece of the episode: Oberyn to beat Mountain, avenge Elia Martell and save Tyrion’s dwarf ass. Oh wait, this is Game of Thrones, and so naturally Oberyn dies in the worst way possible – just after appearing to win, the Mountain crushes Oberyn’s head and eyes (the internet is a bit cross because this wasn’t realistic, but atleast dragons are ok).

Dammit Oberyn, always leave 2 armlengths of space when gloating!
There's a parallel here: Arya’s lessons with the Hound. 'Water dancing' is out, brute force is in. Oberyn’s prancing with the lance was ultimately pointless against the Mountain’s sheer size. Ultimately Oberyn wasn't that interested in winning, but in forcing out the truth.

Emotions ran high: Ellaria was completely horrified by the end, but when Oberyn was winning, the look of excitement and utter joy on Jaime’s face was absolutely priceless. On the other hand, while Cersei continues to cement her reputation as Queen Bitch of Westeros, her own look of smug joy when the Mountain finally does win was quite repugnant. Tywin genuinely looked uncomfortable. But then as with so much in life, victory for the heroes was too good to be true. However, the crowd got to hear of what the Mountain did. 


Boobs of thrones: Missandei. That is all.

Violence of thrones: A particularly violent episode, mass murder in Molestown, flayings and axe-head in Cailin's Moat, crushed skull in Kings Landing and crucifixion in Meereen.

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