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There are certain moments within George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that fans will point to as key “tent pole” moments. Several have already graced the screen in Game of Thrones: Ned Stark’s death, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding. While it isn’t quite as tragic as those that have come before it, the battle between the Mountain and the Viper is certainly on the list of Westeros’s greatest hits among fans, and it thoroughly impacts the lives of several central characters. Perhaps most importantly, its impact will continue be felt as the television series moves forward.
On paper, this showdown is a high-tension page turner. On screen, I found myself holding my breath in anticipation despite already knowing the fight’s outcome. In one corner, we have the Mountain, who has a list of atrocities a mile long. This is a guy who thinks nothing of burning his young brother’s face over a perceived slight regarding a toy, for pete’s sake. In the other we have the charming Oberyn Martell, known as the Viper for his exceptional skills at poison. He’s the sexed up youngish prince from the coastal city of Dorne. And, in case you have forgot despite being told nearly every week, he has come to King’s Landing seeking revenge on the Mountain for the murder and rape of his sister Elia (who was the wife of Rhaegar Targaryen), and the murder of her very young children.
While the Mountain may tower over all around him, the Viper is certainly no slouch in the fighting department. The fight is beautifully choreographed. It’s the meeting of skill and grace with brute strength. And, it appears for some time that Oberyn’s skill and speed might emerge victorious. But there’s this little thing called hubris that has always been the downfall of even the most righteous heroes (not a category I would place Oberyn in, but he is clearly the good guy in this fight), and here it is also is responsible for the truly horrific death of the Viper – along with Tyrion’s hope of an acquittal.
It’s easy to forget that this epic clash of titans is actually to determine Tyrion’s guilt or innocence. As the action ramps up and it becomes clear that Oberyn has his own agenda here, there is clear worry on the faces of Jaime and Tyrion. But, with each repetition of the Viper’s mantra (“Her name was Elia Martell. You raped and murdered her. You murdered her children.” – Westeros’s own “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”), it is clear that he is gaining the upper hand with his skill. Upon impaling the Mountain after some truly excellent spear work, everyone assumes it’s the end. But no. Oberyn just can’t accept his victory without hearing the Mountain admit his crimes. As the Mountain uses the last of his strength to pull Oberyn down, I have a feeling all non-book readers (and, perhaps even a number of book readers) let out a guttural cry cursing Martin’s name as Oberyn’s head is slowly squished by the Mountain. As the Viper’s brain decorate the pavement, Tywin announces Tyrion has been sentenced to death. Things are not looking good for everyone’s favorite character.
While the clash between Oberyn and the Mountain is the main course of the episode, we also spend some time checking in on various characters. In Mereen, Dany is finally made aware of Jorah’s original purpose in getting close to her: he was pardoned by King Robert and tasked with the mission of spying on Dany, reporting his findings back to King’s Landing. Despite our knowledge that he stopped making these reports some time ago (Tywin’s displeasure at this is perhaps the reason a copy of the pardon appears in Mereen), Dany suffers no fools and this is an unforgivable offense. Poor Ser Jorah is banished from the gates of Mereen- a much kinder fate than one might have expected for a traitor, especially considering Dany’s past penchant for an iron fist.
But the episode’s most surprising development comes from the Eyrie. Unsurprisingly, the lords and lady of the the land around the Eyrie are suspicious of Lysa’s death. However, Littlefinger is ready for them, concocting a tale painting Lysa’s death as the suicide of a disturbed woman. This isn’t King’s Landing, though, and no one believes him (which, I must say, is certainly a relief- I’m glad there are people in Westeros who have some sense), and Sansa is sent for to corroborate the tale.
In the novels, Littlefinger concocts a different plan than the one in “The Mountain and the Viper,” so book fans are likely just as intrigued with Littlefinger’s ace in the hole as fans of the series are. Having Sansa reveal her true identity does indeed add greater weight to her tale, but it also presents a marked departure from the stories. Sansa is a wanted woman throughout Westeros. If Littlefinger wants Sansa safe and alive, I’m not sure it is in his best interests to trust this secret to three characters who could easily trade her into King’s Landing. On the other hand, Sansa is widely believed to be the sole remaining heir to Winterfell. A marriage to her makes one the warden of the North- and we all know how much Littlefinger craves power. It’s certainly a gamble, but one with a rather large payout for him if he can pull it off. But that’s a big if, especially considering Sansa’s new-found inner strength. She’s wise to Littlefinger’s game, and while she is willing to play it at the moment, Sansa is definitely a wildcard now.
— Speaking of the Eyrie, Arya and the Hound have made it to its gates, another thing that doesn’t happen within the novels. I’m very interested to see where this particular story goes.
— And how great was Arya’s maniacal laugh upon hearing the news of Lysa’s death?
— Over at the Wall, Ygritte lets Gilly live when the Wildlings attack Moles town. I’m happy she still has a heart, but I don’t think Gilly is out of the woods yet.
— Poor Reek. Or, I guess I should say Theon, as he certainly looked every inch his old self for a few moments. But there are most certainly years of therapy in his future, should he survive this.
— Finally, I’m really not sure how I feel about the Grey Worm-Missandei flirtation. While I’m glad to see the series expanding Dany’s storyline (Dany has the second dullest storyline on the horizon- after Bran’s painfully boring tale), I don’t think it really fits particularly well into the overall tale of Mereen.