“Is that what happens to us? Life of conflict, without time for friends? So that when it’s done, only our enemies bring us back to our family? Violent lives, ending violently. We never die in bed. Not allowed. Something in our personalities, perhaps? Some animal urge? Unimportant. We do what we have to do.” It’s Rorschach who speaks these words in “Watchmen”, but somehow, they reminded me of Arya and the Hound when Arya broke down in laughter at the news of her aunt’s death. There’s a lot of stuff breaking down in episode eight, titled “The Mountain and the Viper”, drawing out our meeting with them to the bitter final five minutes of the episode.
Let’s do the same for this deconstruction and follow the path the episode laid out for us.
It started off with Mole’s Town, where three brothers we haven’t met before dig for buried treasure among what must be the ugliest set of whores anyone could find. They are mean and they are dirty, like fresh from the set of “Les Miserables”. You know, there’s almost a rhyme in there. Dirty, Les Miserables. Or perhaps not. One of the whores is giving Gilly a hard time, so we see she’s Not-at-a- -nice-place™, when Gilly hears something she can immediately connect to: the cry of some animal. Only that is not the cry of some animal, but in fact the wildling’s call to arms. While Gilly hides, the wildlings under Thormund (who doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic in storming the village) and the Magnar of Thenn start off the slaughter.
And oh boy, what slaughter it is. Throats are cut, chests stabbed and torsos split, while the camera follows the raiders as if the audience was either one of them or one of the fleeing Moles, it never becomes quite clear, which is just the intention. The murderous chaos is brutal, indiscriminate and one-sided. It’s just a massacre. In the midst of all of it is Ygritte, showing us that she is still really angry about Jon Snow, now killing people with a spear instead of arrows. That will help later with the term “spearwife”, I’m certain. Gilly luckily is found by Ygritte, who hesitates a moment before she remembers that she’s still the girl Jon Snow loved at heart and rescues the two. It would be heartwarming of not for the blood seeping through the ceiling.
Meanwhile, at Castle Black, news from the attack arrived. Jon and his pals are pondering on it, with Grenn representing the “we have to avenge Mole’s Town”-side of things while Jon urges caution with the “That’s what they want us to do”-argument. Sam’s not really interested in either, always mumbling about how they killed Gilly and how it’s his fault. Great Future Leader Jon of course forgot his empathy at home today, so it’s Dolorous Edd who has to tell Sam that Gilly “might” still live. Oh, you have to love that guy. I’m a bit uncertain as to why they have this discussion in their own fraternity house instead of the other Night’s Watch. Jon’s depicted as though he’s making a decision, but he’s not, because Alliser Thorne is still acting commander. Yes, they have overdone the “Jon is talked down before the officers and sulks”-thing a bit, but still, I have the feeling it would have been appropriate here.
With that, we’re off to Meereen, where the Unsullied take a bath while the handmaidens wash some clothes. I’m not an expert in cloth-washing, but I’m pretty sure that Missandei owns a second dress she could wear while washing the other one, so there wouldn’t be a technical reason for her being naked and watched by Grey Worm and me. Not I’m feeling a bit like a pervert, thanks Game of Thrones. It was a sight, that’s for sure. I guess if Emilia Clarke hadn’t insisted that no new scenes with her naked were shot, we’d already have her and Missandei in bed, filling in for Irri.
With that opportunity wasted, the spot is taken by the evolving love story between Grey Worm the Eunuch and Missandei the handmaiden. They both talk later in the throne room in a nice and emotionally satisfying scene. I can solve the mystery that Daenerys and Missandei ponder over, though – the Unsullied have neither pillar nor stones. Hence, the term Unsullied. I wonder if the show will keep it that way, and if this particular subplot is leading anywhere. Somehow, I still feel a rift between Dany and Grey Worm over her future peace policy coming, especially since they again reinforced his recollection of her ordering to “kill the masters” as his happiest day in live. Until he saw Missandei’s boobs, that is.
With that, we’re off to the North. Moat Cailin took the spot in the credits for some reason, and while I’m always glad to see more castles rendered in that beautiful intro, I don’t understand why the Eyrie isn’t in there, given how much time we spend there, especially this episode. Plus, we still see Braavos, where no one currently is. Sorry for keeping at mentioning this, but it bugs me. That’s a good sign, though, because it shows that there’s nothing really major to complain about.
Ramsay gives Reek another reminder of the role he’s playing (“Theon Greyjoy”) and who he really is. With that, Theon’s off to Moat Cailin, where he tries to persuade the crew to yield (“You’ll be going home”, yeah, right). Their sick commander sees Theon for what he is, and the revelation leads to a serious breakdown of Theon, who reverts back to Reek. This would have ended messy for sure had not one of the Ironborn continued their tradition of hitting their leaders in the head when they make last-stand-speeches. The scene is terribly effective in showing the borders between Theon and Reek and how very thin this red line is. This should serve well as the setup to cross it in the other direction when the Winterfell plot hits next season.
Speaking of traditions, we immediately learn about the Bolton’s tradition of not keeping promises and skinning people. The makeup-department outdid itself with the flayed Ironborn. Father and son get reunited in a scene that’s closer to the books than their first encounter at the Dreadfort, and it feels a little bit like Groundhog Day. But that doesn’t really matter, since we also get a very well done conversation between father and son shot against the background of a really breathtaking scenery of the North. Wow, this looks so good. Also note the money-shots of the Bolton army; there’s more CGI budget in these shots than the whole of Drogo’s khalasaar got in the first season. You can see the bigger budget in scenes like this, and it serves the story very well.
And then, we’re at the Eyrie, with political mastermind Petyr Baelish. Oh, did I say “mastermind”? I meant FUCKING IMBECILE. Seriously, suicide? And you didn’t even bother to check with Sansa so their stories could match? How the hell did you ever survive King’s Landing? Littlefinger is looking all guilty as he is berated by the Lord’s Declarant (I guess they will be it). In about two minutes, his head would be on a spike, but then Sansa continues the popular “tell everyone I’m secretly a Stark”-game and wins them all to her side, naming Littlefinger as her one true friend who only lied for her. It’s tremendous acting by Sophie Turner here, and you can see the final stages of the development from Sansa, the girl, to Sansa, the woman. Really, really well done. And her final look at Petyr! The only thing lacking was her lips forming “You owe me”.
Besides letting Littlefinger look like a dumb fuck, the scene is really, really well done and sells us on all important concepts: Sansa maturing, the lords of the Vale being important players and, of course, the Stark heritage. That’s one clever buildup: if a stupid fat guy like Nestor Royce immediately drops all suspicion at the mention of the honorable Eddard Stark, how will all the lords of the North react when there’s an opportunity to side against Bolton? In yet another very well done scene Littlefinger confronts Sansa about her motives. It’s a little bit too “on the nose” for my taste, but it works nonetheless: a hefty fose of “the devil you know” and a pinch of “I know you want me” go a long way, and they both know it. It’s promising, I say that at least. After Littlefinger decided they were all going to leave the Vale for some educative journey through the Vale, we see the Sansa’s transformation completed by her gorgeous costume, complete with feathered shoulders. The “little bird” has taken wing. Very subtle, Game of Thrones. Very subtle.
Back in Meereen, the promise from the “Previous on Game of Thrones” section is fulfilled: true to its spoilery nature, the section cut back to season one and Jorah’s betrayals. I wondered previously how they would fit in his betrayal, if at all, but they brought the story back on the track of the books: a “little bird” gave Barristan a royal pardon for Jorah, and Barristan confronts first Jorah (in a total “I own you”-pose) and then Dany. Emilia Clarke delivers a good performance as she’s looking over Jorah, never looking at him, while she speaks her sentence. You also see how she hopes to be able to pardon him first, and then rapidly changes her mind when she learns that he informed on her unborn kid. The scene is totally heartbreaking, as Jorah is riding off into the sunset, presumably to Volantis. I wonder if he’ll met Quentyn? It would fit the little detours the series is always taking.
Back in the Vale, the Hound and Arya arrive. The Hound is visibly ailing from the bite he received in the fight with Rorge and Biter, but he still manages to berate Arya about her not letting go of Joffrey’s death, which she would have liked to cause herself. They get philosophical, as the Hound repeats the old cliché of poison as a woman’s weapon. Arya sets him straight: killing is killing, and the Hound isn’t a killer. He’s just talking much. And, you know, she’s right. The Hound really isn’t the one who sees the world as it is; he just has a very destructive world view. There are others who are much more in on the joke around them. When Arya in her growing nihilism starts laughing at the news that Lysa is dead, her reaction is genuine. The gods, if they exist, are only mocking them. Will she play along with the mindlessness of it, or won’t she?
The same question is posed by Tyrion Lannister. He’s sitting in his cell, talking to Jaime in the final hours before the fight. Tyrion goes in a lengthy tale about their cousin Orson, a simpleton who liked to squash beetles. The scene is tremendous. Not only is it very cleverly written – more on that in a second – but Coster-Waldau and Dinklage are selling their characters and their emotions here, it’s a real feast. That’s acting. But the whole scene is also full with meaning and riddles. What was cousin Orson about? He was a mindless god to those squashed beetles as well. Good and bad are determined by humans, after all. We can’t take anything for granted. If Ezio Auditore was at hand, he would have told Tyrion: Nothing is forbidden. Everything is permitted. Alas, no Ezio, so we have to take Indigo Montoya to tell Tyrion.
When the fight finally begins, Montoya displays a cocksureness that should ring some alarm bells, and clearly does in his paramour and Tyrion. The fight – which is beautifully choreographed and might just be my favorite Game-of-Thrones-fight – is over after Montoya owns the Mountain, who still refuses to acknowledge his enemy’s heart’s desire: to finally admit the murder of Elia of Dorne and who’s behind it. Did you see Tywin at the edge of his seat when Oberyn called him out? But all the beautiful justice of the scene – Tyrion cleared of a crime he didn’t commit, the Mountain killed for the atrocities he did commit – we’re once again reminded that there’s always an Orson Lannister squashing Beetles. Had Westeros not had the “laws of gods and men” as per the previous episode’s title, but instead had a government “deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed”, this travesty of a trial would have been impossible. Take this with you as the lesson of the week.