Hello. My name is Oberyn Martell. You killed my sister. Prepare to die.
More strong stuff from Game of Thrones this week. This is still by far the weakest season to date, but The Mountain and the Viper had a lot of good character work and one hell of a thrilling conclusion, so it’s definitely more the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from this show.
This episode was structured pretty nicely, beginning and ending with scenes of brutal violence with relative calm in between. For a change, though, the quieter scenes actually advanced the plot, and showed us sides of characters we hadn’t seen before. Case in point: the opening showed us the wildlings massacring the population of Mole’s Town just south of the Wall, while having Ygritte – finally back on the screen – spare Gilly and her baby. Ygritte’s normally been characterised as fairly ruthless, so this moment of mercy from her is a good way of keeping her sympathetic.
What was most refreshing about The Mountain and the Viper is that it was the first time Daenerys’s storyline has actually gone anywhere since she captured Meereen back in episode four. It’s revealed that Jorah had been spying on her when he first met her, which results in her banishing him from her city in return.
She’s clearly trying very hard not to burst into tears at finding out that her oldest friend is a traitor, while Jorah’s waterworks are in full flow – there’s great performances from Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen here. Again, it would have been nice to see her private reaction, where she wouldn’t need to hide her sadness, but this display of actual human emotion is still a good change from the cold aloofness that’s defined her this season.
In one of the episode’s more gruesome interludes, Theon managed to convince Moat Cailin to surrender to Ramsay, after which every one of the soldiers there was killed by him. One unfortunate guy got all the skin on his chest flayed off, and we get to see all of it. Lovely. Alfie Allen is really impressive here, switching between his personas of Theon and Reek and very nearly having a nervous breakdown when he briefly thinks he’ll have to go back to Ramsay empty-handed. He’s definitely become the Most Unexpectedly Sympathetic Character, considering how awful a person he was in season two.
Sansa got a couple of great moments as well, and she’s clearly learning how to play the game: she’s not just the scared little girl she used to be, and seems to have actually embraced being Littlefinger’s protege. The scene where she emerged into the Eyrie’s great hall wearing a very regal dress and a cool, almost Cersei-esque demeanour was a great progression of her character, and it’ll be fascinating to see where she goes from here. She and “uncle Petyr” have a very strong place on the board right now.
Obviously though, what we’re all really here to see, as per the title, is the battle between the Mountain and the Viper. Surely one of the most anticipated events of the season, and it didn’t disappoint. Oberyn’s death was about as gory and unpleasant as this show gets, rivalling the infamous bathtub scene from Breaking Bad, and it’s a fittingly shocking conclusion to a great fight scene.
By having Oberyn wear light armour so he can be light on his feet, moving quickly around the enormous, plate mail-clad Clegane and getting in hits wherever he can, it’s clearly designed to recall Tyrion’s previous trial by combat in season one. Only here, the fact that Tyrion’s champion relies on movement and speed over brute strength doesn’t work out – Clegane is simply too strong – which is a brilliant twist to how we thought this fight was going to end. You can’t underestimate someone who’s been named the Mountain That Rides.
The writers even managed to get a Princess Bride reference in there, and there are few things that can’t be improved by a Princess Bride reference. It would’ve been nice if Clegane had yelled “Stop saying that!” at Oberyn, but you can’t have everything. Oberyn was easily this season’s best new character, arguably the Coolest Spaniard Since Inigo Montoya, and it’s sad to see him go. The leaked cast list for next season promises many more Martells, so at least we’ll meet his family.
The Lannisters ought to have 10 points for managing to sentence Tyrion to death and thereby accomplishing what they’ve all wanted (apart from Jaime) since the day he was born. They’ve taken some heavy hits this season, but their control over the Kingdoms is still fairly undisputed at this point. That could change, however, with Littlefinger and Sansa securing their control of the Vale, setting themselves up as two of the biggest players in the Game and earning another five points.
Lannister: 30 / Stark: 40 / Baratheon: 25 / Targaryen: 35
As for the death toll, it’s hard to tell how many were killed in the attack on Mole’s Town, but it’s safe to say that there were a lot. There were around 15 on-screen deaths, and doubtless at least that many again off-screen, so between them, Oberyn and (presumably) the Mountain, let’s put our total at a nice, even 440. It may not be terribly precise, but counting deaths during a massacre isn’t the easiest thing in the world. If anything, it’s probably an underestimate.
All images: HBO