Game of Thrones – 38

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“The Mountain and the Viper”

Even knowing what’s coming sometimes doesn’t do much to soften the blow.  That’s about the only thing I can say about the final scene of this episode of Game of Thrones.

Boy, that was a rough one.  Harder for me than the Red Wedding for sure, because of the way Martin wrote it.  About the only thing I can really put in the same class would be Ned Stark’s final moments, which was a different beast because I didn’t know that was coming when I watched that.  In an episode that’s part of a season that’s so full of ch-ch-ch-changes (and boy, is this week full of them) from the books, part of me rages that Weiss and Benioff couldn’t change this of all things?  But I know they couldn’t really – it’s too much a part of what makes Game of Thrones what it is.  It’s just that sort of world.

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This is an interesting episode in that the headline moment is nowhere to be seen for about two-thirds of it.  Instead we get a mixed platter of mostly B-plots and less effective character arcs.  Some of it was mighty important, mind you, but the scenes involving Danerys and the endlessly tiresome Ramsay/Reek storyline simply don’t hold up very well against what’s to come.  It’s certainly notable that Roose Bolton has managed to manoeuver himself into such a choice position without doing much actual fighting – he’s a clever one, he is.  Whether he’s clever to officially raise his bastard up as a son remains to be seen.

What else is happening up there?  Even farther North Tormund and Ygritte have led their forces to Mole’s Town, where it seems as if Gilly is the only one to survive the subsequent massacre (thanks to a surprising moment of kindness from Ygritte).  If it’s getting quite frustrating to watch the Night’s Watch holed up in Castle Black, their numbers shrinking and their leadership callow and incompetent, as Wildings and far worse close in on them, trust me – it was frustrating in the books, too.  The best moment up here was the short scene of the original “Band of Brothers” commiserating, trying to cheep up Sam by arguing that Gilly was a survivor, and getting ready to die.

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There are two other moments of considerable consequence on the undercard before the main event, taking place in Meereen and The Vale.  Someone (I wonder who?) has anonymously given Ser Barristan proof that Jorah was pardoned by Robert Baratheon, which effectively proves he was a spy in Dany’s midst.  I don’t especially like Jorah – this is not a good man by any definition – but I’ve never doubted that he truly did come to love Danerys, even as he was appraising Varys of her developments.  And despite her harsh words I think the reason Dany gave Jorah such a comparatively light punishment (exile from her sight) was because she loves him too, though certainly not in the same way he does her.

As for The Vale, well – this is another one of those arcs where I’ll be discovering right alongside the new viewers, because there’s not a whole lot left that I recognize from ASoIaF.  It’s certainly an interesting twist, seeing Sansa actively work on Petyr’s behalf – and at her own instigation too.  Sophie Turner has stepped up her game more than any of the cast this year, IMO, and she’s doing stellar work here.  I kind of like this Sansa – cunning, practical, a little cold.  It’s not hard to see what Petyr has in mind, but is Sansa’s endgame something more than simply staying alive?  I don’t blame her for choosing the devil she knows over the devil she doesn’t, especially as she knows now that she has a certain power over Littlefinger whether he likes it or not.

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The other interesting twist here is seeing Arya and Sandor show up at The Vale three days after Petyr has murdered Lysa.  Yes, it’s another manufactured scenario where Stark children are within shouting distance (well – not quite here, though Bran and Jon were) and have no idea.  I can’t imagine Arya would be at the outer gates of the domain of one of her relations and not actually seek protection there, or that The Hound wouldn’t ask for a ransom whether Lysa was alive or not – but as I said, you’re on your own here, I have no idea what’s going to happen.  All I know is I’d like to see a series where it’s just Arya and The Hound as buddy cops or something, because they’re magic together.

And I suppose I’ve avoided talking about this last bit as long as I can, because I don’t really want to.  It’s heartbreaking, and it made me furious at Martin when I read it in ASoIaF.  As for the mechanics of how GoT did in depicting it, I would say generally quite good.  There was a new scene with Tyrion and Jaimie in his cell before the duel, reminiscing about a simple-minded cousin who liked to crush beetles all day, that I thought was fascinating and extremely sad.  The duel itself felt much shorter to me than it was in the books – I pictured it as lasting 10 or 15 minutes at least on-screen, but considering the expense and brutal difficulty for the actors, I suppose that would have been too much to ask.   The choreography was superb, the drama dramatic, and that moment…  It was every bit as horrifying and sickening as I dreaded it would be.

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I’m not fully sold on Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (Icelandic is a fascinating language) as The Mountain – I thought the first two were more menacing and he’s just huge – but it almost doesn’t matter here, because this is all about Pedro Pascal.  The entire season has been, to some extent – Oberyn Martell has burst onto the scene as a huge and vibrant presence that simply wouldn’t be denied.  Pascal is an amazing actor and he shows himself to be an amazing action star here, too – he’s graceful and athletic and far more elegant than most of the fighters in GoT, who tend to favor the heavy blunt instrument approach.  I loved Oberyn in the books, too, but this was on another level, and that’s all down to the work Pascal did with the character.

Obviously, Oberyn’s death is a terrible thing.  The Mountain is an evil sociopath, and Oberyn a thoughtful and passionate man who voraciously consumes life and values loyalty to those he loves above all else.  His cause – both for Tyrion and for his sister – was just.  Is there something deeper in Martin’s message here, or is he simply reminding us that in ASoIaF justice and honor are meaningless in the face of cruelty and savagery?  As a reader or viewer if you allow yourself to be swept up by sentiment for those who are good and just, heartbreak always seems to follow.  Yet it’s a measure of Martin’s skills as a writer – and the work HBO has done in this adaptation – that we continually fall in love with characters in this series, even knowing what we know.  We want this world to be a better place than it is, because there are people who deserve to live in such a place.  But at best, it seems, those people can only hope to survive – and we can only hope they have the strength to accept the injustice and cruelty that surrounds them and not be broken by it.

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  1. Z

    Jorah Mormont are you kidding? He was one of the few interesting characters left in Daenerys' storyline. We're left with Ser Barristan now.

    My Sansa, you're saying the right things!

    Oberyn. Good night sweet prince.

  2. U

    Well, I find him rather boring when he was close to Daenerys. Either in books or adaptation.

  3. w

    I'm not too compelled by him either. I general the fact that he could fall in love with someone like Dany sacrifices a lot of respect points with me.

  4. Z

    Well okay. I liked Jaime despite the fact he could fall in love with his repugnant sister, but each to their own.

  5. Z

    >He's a sad bear

    Life is so unnerving
    For a servant who's not serving
    He's not whole without a soul to wait upon
    Ah, those good old days when we were useful…
    Suddenly those good old days are gone
    Ten years we've been rusting
    Needing so much more than dusting
    Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills!
    Most days we just lay around the castle
    Flabby, fat and lazy
    You walked in and oops-a-daisy!

  6. T

    Urg, I think I'll rewatch the entirety of One Week Friends now…

  7. G

    GOT teaches us that evil rules over all and the good, just, and interesting end up with short lives.

  8. U

    I can't wait for Oberyns daughters to show up on screen. Fortunately Dorne is full of vipers. xd It was out of the picture for far too long. The sole kingdom that afair didn't even appear on screen yet.

  9. w

    The worst part of it all was that Oberyn f**king had him! My heart was on edge the whole fight. For a second I'd almost believed he'd beaten The Mountain completely. He wasn't around long, but I'm gonna miss him. He was like a shooting star throughout this season, gone before he could make anyone's wishes come true.

    I thought Tyrion's discussion was incredibly interesting not just for what it says about him, but for Jaime's reactions to it. You can see how he's so unlike Tyrion in that he never would have thought about these things before, he just doesn't have that breadth of vision. But at the same time, he seems to realise this about himself. The fact that he was genuinely hooked by Tyrions story and even considered his questions as opposed to dismissing it all as pointless babble makes me think Jaime's once again changing that side of himself.

    Also I haven't read the books so I don't really know the timeline there, but is it just me or do they all seem to reach their climax with Tyrion's life on the line?

  10. Yes, this is the trap in Martin's writing – he really makes it seem as if Oberyn is on the verge of triumph here, the kind of cookie ASoIaF never gives its audiences. As for Tyrion and Jaimie, they're indeed an odd couple, but that's one thing that makes them so compelling. For all his flaws that's always been a redemptive thing about Jaimie – when everyone (almost) was treating Tyrion like filth, Jaimie always stood by his brother.

    GoT has engineered the timelines so that a number of climaxes in different storylines are happening as the season ends. To a certain extent they've moved stuff around every season to make that happen.

  11. w

    It's a real triumph of writing though. When I look back on the series I feel as if very little good has ever actually happened. Yet there's always someone to root for and despite all evidence to the contrary, it rarely feels that sort of depressingly dark where you give up on caring because there's no point. It's barely a flicker, but it always feels as if there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Somewhere…

    I remember back after I watched the very first episode with a friend of mine, I joked 'I think we're going to grow to like Jaime Lannister'. Oh how right I was.. Never would have imagined he'd become my favourite character though.

  12. That light is usually an oncoming train.

    He does somehow manage to keep things from feeling totally hopeless, but it gets close at times like this. Martin sure doesn't throw the audience many bones.

  13. w

    Only usually..

  14. S

    I'll agree to the "usually". How else can we be able to keep on watching?

  15. S

    An oncoming train, or a light?
    That makes me think back to, "The chicken, or the egg?"

  16. Z

    You guys need to start rooting more for the morally gray characters! Will save you a lot of grief in the end. 😉

  17. w

    Are there non-morally gray characters? 😛

  18. Bran hadn't really done anything yet in GoT that could be seen as morally gray , but that sort of changed in his last appearance (which is one reason why it was an important adjustment rom the novels). I would say Brienne has been pretty noble from the beginning as well.

  19. w

    T'was a joke.. tee hee. If I couldn't root for the grey characters I don't think I'd be watching this series. I'd say Jon Snow is closer to the white side as well. Pun not intended.

  20. Close but no cigar, I'd say. Same with Davos. Those are the ones who make up the meat of the "good" ranks in ASoIaF.

  21. w

    I would place Davos below Jon in the echelon though. He's got too much that loveable rogue swag. Where would you place the likes of Tyrion or Jaime?

  22. Both way grayer than Jon or Davos. I think Jaime has a lot more Karmic bad debt than Tyrion though.

  23. m

    You always get the sense with Tyrion, that he never was a bad guy. That he was more of a product of his environment, and the constant drive to gain his father's approval. The bad things he has done being more in an attempt to gain his father's love, whereas with Jamie it feels more like he did it bc he was just a spoiled brat. Too self-centered and morally ambiguous when it comes to what he desires, but also not a bad person per se.

  24. Z

    >Are there non-morally gray characters? 😛

    You mean morally white and black? Plenty of the later.

  25. U

    He meant that 'gray' next to 'character' always refers to morality… wait… you wanted to make sure noone will mistake them for zombies? xd

  26. Z

    The Direwolves (most of them) are gray characters. Chaotic neutral though.

  27. Z

    Scratch that – just neutral.

  28. m

    Man, I really thought he was going to win. At least right until the scene started and he was obviously toying with the Mountain. Then it was a bit too telegraphed, but in a way it made it so much worse. Just knowing that it was gonna bite him in the ass had me yelling at the TV to finish him off quickly. Or at least stay spears length away. It was such a great scene, but so devastating. They really do seem to kill off every character of moral substance, or have them turn evil or at best morally ambiguous in order to survive. Sansa is the perfect example of that. I don't think she was even taking "the demon you know". I think she was making a choice to stop being the victim. To not be protected and hide out at the veil, but instead use her position to team up with Littlefinger and start going on the offensive. Joffrey and Cercei clearly pushed her one too many times (well, prob lot more than one too many), and she no longer was looking just to escape and be safe, but won't be satisfied until she's has had her revenge. Sort of the old saying "you must become a monster to defeat a monster".

    I was nervous when I saw Aria closing in on the veil without having even met up with Brie. I love the scenes with her and the hound. and didn't want it to come to an end. Plus her story would be seemingly boring holed up at the veil, or at best tagging along on Sansa's quest for revenge. Aria and the hound make a hilarious duo, and if they team up with Brie and Pod it could get even funnier.

  29. m

    Did anyone else get a huuuuge "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die" vibe when Oberyn was fighting the mountain? I laughed a bit when I thought that while watching the fight. Right up until it became painfully obvious what was about to go down. That's what I get for seeing the obvious signs pre-fight, and still hoping to see more of that look an Tywin's and Cercei's faces.

  30. I think the Inigo Montoya comparisons were inevitable, especially given the accent Pedro chose for Oberyn (which certainly puts pressure on the actors who're cast as his family next season).

  31. A

    My reaction to that ending (I haven't read the books and I haven't been spoiled): "Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck! FUCK!"


  32. m

    Could someone who's read the books tell me what the differences have been, up til now. No spoilers for future stuff, but I am curious as to what has been different. Has it been big, small, or mostly meaningless plot wise?

  33. That would take a very long time – in many ways it's a totally different story now.

  34. m

    Cool thanks guys

  35. J

    You know arch villainy winning out in this show due to the mistakes of the paragon type characters was maybe interesting the first couple of times it happened, but not so much the next half dozen or so. This outcome was as predictable as they've come and the scene pretty much played out exactly as I expected. The line between good and evil is clearly drawn again and again and as Oberyn is just prancing around repeating the same lines over and over again I was just waiting for the hambeast to get back up and go all Game of Thrones on him. At this point this show is just reveling in this sort of stuff and that's where all roads lead and it's just starting to lose it's sense of purpose to me. The wanton cruelty was fresh early on but at this point I'm more curious to see if this show is capable of anything else at this point. It's just getting kind of lame and the shock losing it's value with each rehashing of the same old lesson Martin and HBO's writers seem to want to show us.

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