Game Of Thrones season 4 episode 8 review: The Mountain And The Viper

This week's Game Of Thrones features spectacular one-on-one fight and a shed load of heartbreak...

This review contains spoilers.

4.8 The Mountain And The Viper

The ultimate theme of Game Of Thrones, or I guess of A Song Of Ice And Fire as well, is that there’s no such thing as a happy ending. Fighting and dying, marrying, bleeding, joining together and breaking apart… it’s all about as useful as beetles getting smashed in the garden and you can do about as much to stop it. The hand of fate comes down, soft innards get scattered across a killing floor courtesy of a giant. However, the broken heads are perhaps less damaging than the broken hearts, and there are a lot of those going on.

The fight scene that gives this episode its name, between the Mountain That Rides and the Red Viper of Dorne, is not just a matchup between two of the coolest nicknames in Westeros, it’s also a match-up between two of the deadliest fighters in the Seven Kingdoms. Not that we’ve seen the Dornish involved in any of the conflicts of the War of Five Kings, or had much experience with them at all during our time in Westeros. However, with the introduction of Oberyn Martell and Elleria Sand, we got a brief look into Dornish style, Dornish morals, and Dornish fighting in one of the most impressive moments of the series as far as one-on-one fights go.

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The Mountain, as played by hulking Icelandic power-lifter Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, is nothing but crushing instinct, all brawn and no brains. The other, the deft and delicate Oberyn Martell as played by Pedro Pascal, is a combination of showiness and skill, using speed and the reach advantage of a spear to his benefit. It was a beautiful contrast of styles courtesy of show swordmaster and stuntman C.C. Smiff and Pascal’s stuntman Liang Yang, who is presumably some sort of wu shu master given the way the spear was used during the fight. Styles make fights, as they say in the boxing game, and the styles of these two fighers made the trial by combat for Tyrion Lannister one of the show’s more entertaining moments. With every bite of the spear, the Viper seemed more and more likely to win, and yet… and yet, his obsession blinded him to the job at hand.

It’s a brilliant, crushing moment from Dan Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the writers of this week’s episode. Just when you think it’s going the way everyone wants—the way that suggests there is truly justice in the world—the episode ends with the one-two punch of Oberyn’s demise and Tyrion’s death sentence, communicated impressively through a variety of reaction shots throughout the fight. Cersei’s queasiness turns to joy; Jaime’s amusement turns sour. Tyrion’s joy turnes to ashes in his mouth, and Elleria’s heart is ripped out of her chest as her paramour’s skull explodes between the ham-like fists of a giant.

Strangely, that’s not even the biggest downer of the episode. Tyrion’s death sentence is nothing compared to the heartbreak of when Jorah Mormont, the man who turned down his freedom and a chance to end the Targaryan dynasty, turned it all down to serve his queen and secret love interest. Betrayed by a letter from (presumably) Tywin Lannister, Jorah’s life gets turned upside down and he goes from advising a powerful warlord to have another powerful warlord as an enemy. That means Jorah is 0-2 in pleasing kings, though the current king in Westeros has little to do with anything it appears.

It’s crushing to see Jorah reduced so low, and to raise such ire in his queen that she refuses to look at him; the whole scene is brilliantly staged by director Alex Graves, to provike maximum sympathy for Jorah from the first interruption from Barristan to his wholly unsatisfying banishment. Graves also does a great job, with a sweeping long take into the doors of a Moletown brothel, at establishing that Gilly’s so-called sanctuary is anything but a good place to raise a baby. It might be warm and relatively dry before the wildlings show up and put every one of them, whore and customer alike, to the spear, but it’s definitely not a good place to be.

That Gilly and Sam survive this ordeal, for now, is one of the rare kindnesses of the episode. At least Missandei and Grey Worm got to advance their cute little romance (as cute as it can be for a eunuch to romance a woman) before that all ends. That was, a few moments of black comedy involving the Lannister brothers and Arya apart, the only lighter moment in the episode. The break for the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the US provided a gap in between the break-up of the Bronn/Tyrion gravy train and the disollution of one of the show’s original pairings, Jorah and Dany. Perhaps no match, no matter how perfect, can survive the meat grinder that is the game of thrones.

I’m not sure I could have handled so much depressing, heart-wrenching stuff in short chronological order like that. For the second episode in a row, Game Of Thrones has been brutal, brilliant television, handled with a grace and style that few television shows can match, all without lessening its impact on the viewer. To think, all this incredible television, and we’re still not to the ninth episode of the season. If this is the lead-up to the traditional craziest episode of the season, what must that particular episode contain?

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Mockingbird, here

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is not sure what’s going to be next; all he knows is that it is going to be bad for everyone he cares about in TV land. Such is the nature of the game, after all. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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