Game of Thrones, Ep. 4.08 “The Mountain and the Viper” crushes expectations, breaks hearts



Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 8: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Directed by Alex Graves
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO

Let’s begin with Molestown. The opening sequence is bound to be overlooked by the 45 minutes which follows, but the sequence is noteworthy for several reasons: As The Wildlings swarm the village, Alex Graves and cinematographer Anette Haellmigk work their magic, creating exciting action set-pieces while setting the stage for what is yet to come. Take note of the reflection in the well of a man slitting another man’s throat, or the blood dripping from the ceiling as Ygritte spares Gilly’s life. The opening offers gorgeous cinematography and scenery, loads of gore, and an atmospheric score to help sustain the mood.

For those who see this savage journey through to the end, there are riches aplenty culminating with the duel between The Mountain and The Viper. On this episode’s big finale, we see fan favourite Oberyn Martell crushed under the weight of Gregor Clegane, the notoriously fearsome warrior with a tendency toward extreme violence. The sequence has some of the intensity of old Hollywood in terms of setting, spectacle, and heroics, but from a traditional storytelling aspect, the scene defies expectations. Everything seems designed so Oberyn will walk away the victor, but as Game of Thrones does so well, it surprises us once again.

“You’re going to fight that?”

“I’m going to kill that.”

The show has done a marvellous job of fleshing out the Prince of Dorne in such a short span of time, and although his end is abrupt, it seems only fitting he goes down swinging in search of justice. Everything about the scene is pitch perfect, from Oberyn’s dazzling entry to the fight choreography intercut with the reactions of the spectators, to Oberyn’s monologue as he challenges the Mountain to confess to raping and murdering his sister. The duel is a thing of beauty; a visually astonishing set-piece that brings script, performance and, alas, displays of violence up to the high standard we come to expect from HBO. This is filmmaking on a grand scale; poetic, horrific and brutal. As it gradually becomes clear through the scene, the Prince is not fighting for Tyrion Lannister, he is instead fighting the trial by combat of Gregor Clegane. No one can be blamed for believing Oberyn would win, especially given that Tyrion’s life is also on the line, but leave it to this show to kill off a new character just shortly after he’s introduced. As Oberyn is caught unexpectedly and pulled to the ground, audiences can’t help but hold on to that false hope that Game of Thrones will maybe, just once, let the good guy live. As Clegane proceeds to sadistically admit to Elia’s murder, before crushing Oberyn’s eyeballs with his thumbs, what little hope we have is squashed,  much like Oberyn’s skull. Ellaria looks on in horror, as does Tyrion, knowing that through the rules of trial by combat, his fate is sealed.

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But what helps elevate “The Mountain and The Viper,” is not only the grand guignol of Oberyn’s death, but the quieter moments as well. Game of Thrones has swordplay, magic, giants, dire wolves and yes, dragons, but the series is never more enthralling than when it’s focussed on two people simply talking. “The Mountain and the Viper” not only gives us a tense, exciting, and graphic climax, but just about every single moment that leads up to the fight is superb. How fun is it to watch Sophie Turner play Sansa Stark who is herself acting out a role. And how refreshing is it to see her take a page out of Lord Baelish’s book and learn the art of manipulation. After suffering for so long, she’s in a position to finally take control and not sit back and allow terrible things to happen to her. Her transformation from the precious princess infatuated with Joffrey to the frightened child cornered in her Eyrie quarters, to a cunning woman now pulling the strings, makes for a powerhouse performance. Meanwhile Daenerys banishing Jorah after discovering that he was originally sent as a spy for King Robert is flat out heartbreaking, and perhaps the most shattering thing that’s happened in her storyline in quite some time. And than there is Arya’s burst of laughter. How perfect is Arya’s laugh? The Hound and Arya showing up at the Bloody Gate only to be told that Lysa had died was without a doubt the highlight of the night. Not only does it add some much needed levity to go with the bloodshed, but it puts to question the little Stark’s sanity. Chances are, The Hound and Arya will turn back, and never cross paths with Sansa. 

Why did Tyrion’s younger cousin keep smashing the beetles? That’s the question posed immediately before the climactic battle in a remarkable exchange between the Lannister brothers. It’s a question the show seems to answer several minutes later in excruciating, painful detail. If anything, the trial by combat underlines the monologue’s importance but the metaphorical hand stretches across every character in this world. Maybe the lesson is that the cost of life in this world is cheap, and while intelligence, riches and eloquence can get you what you want, sometimes it’s the simplest minds who get the last word.

– Ricky D

Other thoughts: 

“Don’t worry about your death. Worry about your life. Take charge of your life, for as long as it lasts.” -Littlefinger

Men kill with steel, women kill with poison.

The acting is always great each and every week, but this time around, Sophie Turner is my pick for episode MVP.

While the cinematography is exquisite for the majority of the episode, there are some odd framing choices, mostly involving close-ups on Daenerys, Grey Worm, and Sansa, who are all photographed at the edge of the frame. I’m not a fan of these stylistic choices, and found them so distracting, I thought I had to adjust my TV set.

“You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”

“Time for Robyn to leave the nest” – Littlefinger.

Arya: “I would have killed Joff with a chicken bone if I had had to.”

“You think being tormented from birth would have taught you some affinity for the afflicted” – Jaime.

“Who gives a dusty fuck about some beetles?”‘- Jaime.

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