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For an episode entitled “The Mountain and The Viper,” many more important things happened in the 50 minutes preceding the fight for which the episode was named. This was one of the few episodes of Game of Thrones where every character’s plotline that was included actually moved. There was almost no filler, and what little there was, was another fine moment for Tyrion and Jaime, and it felt that many of the stories that were plodding along found something important to deal with. “The Mountain and The Viper” will be remembered for what happened before its namesake.
But it would be foolish to discuss anything else before discussing the fight between the Mountain, Gregor Clegane, and the Red Viper, Oberyn Martell. Despite the spear flourishes of Oberyn and the giddiness of Jaime whenever Oberyn was winning, the actual fight lacked tension. Game of Thrones has not had much one-on-one single combat throughout its seasons, and none lasting as long as this duel, but it is clear that the grand set pieces are more the show’s forte. Yes, the fight was choreographed well featuring acrobatics by Oberyn and some overwhelming power by the Mountain but it did not put me on the edge of my seat. There was no typical ebb and flow. Oberyn seemed to be winning early on and only furthered his lead while the Mountain looked like an overburdened, bumbling warrior. Of course, there is always some built in drama when David meets Goliath, but there needs to be something more than the initial shock in size.
Even the “twist” ending to the fight, where the Mountain is lying motionless as Oberyn dances around demanding him to admit the crimes against Oberyn’s sister until Oberyn gets too close and the Mountain crushes Oberyn’s skull with his hands, lent little drama – although the skull crunching gore was certainly shocking. This is not to say the fight looked bad and didn’t have the grandiosity everyone expected, it just wasn’t as interesting as one would hope it to be. Tyrion is condemned to death by Tywin but Oberyn gets his revenge as the Mountain dies after killing Oberyn. What repercussions Oberyn’s death, if any, will have on the Martells is unknown, but don’t expect them to sit idly by as another member of a generation of the family is killed by a Lannister.
The scene before the fight outshined the actual fight. It was great to see Jaime and Tyrion have one last close moment between them, talking about nothing but just enjoying each other’s company before Tyrion’s ultimate judgment. Tyrion’s story about the mentally impaired Lannister cousin crushing beetles brought some light heartedness to the darkness swirling around Tyrion’s fate and the story, despite Tyrion and Jaime supposedly not understanding the cousin’s motives, was clearly an allegory to Tywin wanting to kill Tyrion for no other reason than to exercise his power because he had it. Jaime scurrying from the cell before he began crying was also a nice touch.
But this was an episode that was so much more than what happened with Tyrion. In fact the character who seemed to take the biggest leap was Sansa. From here on out it looks as though Sansa is taking her future into her own hands as much as she can. She protects Petyr in front of the Lords of the Vail, by revealing her identity but not that Petyr pushed Lysa out the Moon Door, not because she has to but because she has learned that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. As long as that devil constantly leers at you. While nothing was overtly obvious, the scene in which she walks down the stairs past Petyr, showing off her beauty in front of him, suggests she would use his attraction to her in her favor from here on out. And even though she does not completely control her life, it is finally nice to see her taking some charge instead of being the rag doll she had been since season 1. Before leaving the Vail, it should be mentioned that Arya hysterically laughing at either the failure of another one of the Hound’s thwarted ransom plans or her losing another family member in power was quite out of character for her. The Hound not immediately retaliating also spoke to how comfortable he has allowed her to be around him.
Where the Hound can get no luck, Ramsay has more than he can spare. His plan to take Moat Cailin by having Theon ride in with a bargain that if the Greyjoy warriors vacate the castle they will be given safe passage works perfectly, at least for Ramsay, who ends up flaying the soldiers anyway. It’s clear that Theon has a long way back to recovering his old self as he almost breaks down in the negotiations but could this be one small step towards him remembering who he used to be? Ramsay is later honored by Roose as Roose allows Ramsay to use the name Bolton. And now that Roose has taken control of the north, there is only one question that remains, how long can he hold it?
That question is just as important for Jon at the Wall as well. After the whorehouse where Gilly was living was destroyed by Tormund and Ygritte, who spared Gilly’s life, there was a cloud cast over Jon and his friends who can only wait for the oncoming wildling attack. They feel helpless despite trying to cheer Sam up and their odds of victory, 102 Nights Watchmen versus 100,000 + wildings, are next to nothing. And if the Nights Watch fail it is only a matter of time before Roose and Ramsay have to come up against the wildling army as well.
And finally something happened in Dany’s story line. For a few episodes nothing of consequence really happened as she was learning to rule over her subjects and their mundane problems. But this episode finally outed Jorah for what his original plan had been, to spy on Dany for a pardon in Westeros by King Robert. A letter finally arrived, reminding the audience that while years have passed between seasons the actual time passed in Westeros is not nearly as much, which was delivered to Berristan about Jorah’s pardon. And even though he came clean to Dany she banished him from Meereen forever, sparing his life. Yet another kingdom Jorah has been excommunicated from. What will become of Jorah is a complete mystery but it is about time something happened in Meereen other than girl talk about pillars and stones.
“The Mountain and The Viper” was another strong episode for Game of Thrones in what is the best season of the show to date. Each episode has actually had something happen that was more than just intense conversations or journeying onward to a destination not yet known. It is sad to see Oberyn, who was a much needed injection of excitement into the political proceedings in King’s Landing, die so soon, but in a season with the tagline “All men must die,” it should be anticipated. Next time you’re sipping some Dornish wine with your friends, pour some out in memoriam for the fallen Oberyn.