Game of Thrones S4E8 “The Mountain and the Viper”
Never has an episode of Game of Thrones messed with the viewers’ expectations more than this episode, “The Mountain and the Viper”. A lot of this episode comes down to people putting their trusts in other people to complete important tasks and hoping for the best. In a case like Tyrion’s, he puts his trust in Prince Oberyn Martell and has his life shattered when Oberyn’s head suffers the same fate. In a case like Littlefinger, a true testimony by Sansa would surely see his climb of the chaos ladder end with a fall through the moon door. It’s a nervous spot to be in when you have to trust others with such critical tasks but its compelling to watch “The Mountain and the Viper” because so many people have been forced into positions where they simply cannot do it themselves. Along with the two plot lines we mentioned, we also get to see Reek play a role that greatly benefits Ramsay, Jorah finding himself at Dany’s will, and an attack that hits very close to home up at Castle Black. We get to all of that, right now.
We start the episode in Mole’s town, the brothel town that is a few miles south of Castle Black. One of the prostitutes gets into an argument with Gilly about her baby but it turns out to be the last argument she’ll ever have as the wildlings have come to raid the town. They kill nearly everyone, all the prostitutes and the patrons (which included some night’s watch brothers). Gilly goes into hiding with baby Sam and is very fortunate that Ygritte is the first wildling to find her. Ygritte gives no thought to killing Gilly and her son and tells Gilly to keep quiet so they can make it out alive.
When the watch gets the news, Sam is devastated. He assumes Gilly and the baby died and he blames himself for sending them there for their own “safety”. Edd tries to convince Sam that they may still be alive while Grenn is furious that they’re just sitting at Castle Black and not confronting the wildlings in the field. Jon tells him he need not worry much longer because if they attacked Mole’s town, they’re only a couple of miles away from Castle Black. Even worse is that beyond the wall, Mance has his army of 100,000 men ready to attack from the north while the group led by Tormund and Ygritte attack from the south. Down to 102 men, the night’s watch looks royally screwed.
We go from the northern end of the north to the southern end. Ramsay and Reek have completed the journey to Moat Cailin and Ramsay tells Reek the plan one more time to make sure he’s got it. Reek begins the plan by riding towards the castle entrance with a white flag held high. He is allowed entrance and tells the Ironborn inside that staying here is a lost cause and they should go home as Ramsay has promised them safe passage to the shore if they yield the castle. Their captain sees right through Reek though and notes that while he may be Theon Greyjoy, he’s talking like a beat down dog. Reek looks horrified thinking of what Ramsay would do to him if he fails this mission but luckily for him, he won’t be failing. Another Ironborn kills the captain as he, along with the rest of the group, have no desire to stay put at Moat Cailin. He asks one more time if yielding the castle will grant them safe passage home and Theon swears it.
To the surprise of no one, Ramsay doesn’t keep his word and kills and flays the Ironborn as soon as they yield the castle. Ramsay meets his father Roose who looks content now that his armies may return home. Ramsay presents Roose with the Greyjoy banner which once signified Ironborn control of Moat Cailin and Roose basks in his accomplishments for a minute. Roose hands Ramsay a letter and much to Ramsay’s delight, it’s a legitimization decree from King Tommen. Ramsay Snow is now Ramsay Bolton, heir to Roose Bolton, warden of the north. Ramsay tells his father that he won’t let him down. Winterfell is the seat of the warden of the north so that is where Roose, Ramsay, Reek, and the rest of the Bolton army are heading. The flayed man of House Bolton will soon be the banner that flies atop Winterfell.
From a bastard who just became highborn, let’s go to a highborn trying to blend in as a bastard, Sansa. Littlefinger is under investigation for the death of Lysa Arryn which he is claiming was a suicide. The tribunal doesn’t seem to buy his story and they call in Sansa (who they think is Alayne, Littlefinger’s nephew) and ask her to testify as she was the only witness there. With Littlefinger’s life hanging in her hands, Sansa decides to cover for him and tells the story mostly how it happened, changing things to line up with Littlefinger’s story. She really sells it by admitting she is Sansa Stark and recounting her hostage years in the capital and by the end of her story, she’s feigning breaking down at the trauma of having to tell the story. Mission accomplished.
Later on, Littlefinger asks Sansa why she lied for him and she tells him that she wouldn’t know what would happen to her if they executed him. Littlefinger is impressed at the calculating decision she made but asks her if she really knows what it is that he wants, and leaves her to think on it. In any case, they aren’t long for The Eyrie as Littlefinger has convinced the other lords of The Vale that it’s time that Robin got out and saw his kingdom and gain experience with swords and horses. Littlefinger will accompany Robin and so will Sansa, who’s darked out with an all-black dress and black dyed hair. Sansa’s looking good and more importantly, not looking like herself. She’ll be safer if no one can recognize her, and masking that signature red hair of hers will definitely help in that regard.
Also happening in The Vale is Arya and The Hound arriving at The Bloody Gate, the final security check point before entering The Eyrie. Their progress is halted before the gate and they are asked who they are and what they’re business is. They answer honestly, revealing their names and Sandor reveals that he is here to ransom Arya off to Lysa. The guard tells them that Lysa passed away only a couple of days ago. Arya can’t help but laugh in hysteria at the tragic irony that she showed up to a family members’s location ever so slightly after they died, again.
In Meereen, Grey Worm joins some of the other Unsullied for a swim in the river. Grey Worm looks down the river and spots Missandei bathing, naked. He gives a long look at her and when she spots him, he actually holds his gaze. Grey Worm embarrassingly ducks his head underwater when she goes to cover up. Missandei talks about the incident to Dany and surprises her when she says Grey Worm looked “interested” despite being a eunuch. That does seem rather odd.
Elsewhere in the city, Ser Barristan is making rounds when a child, presumably one of Varys’ little birds, hands him a letter with the seal of the hand of the king. He reads it and is surprised to see that it is a royal pardon for Jorah, on account of him spying on Dany. He first confronts Jorah about it, man to man, but Jorah won’t have any time to prepare a defense or talk to Dany one on one because Barristan quickly thereafter brings the letter to Dany. Jorah is summoned to defend himself but nothing he says works, and all he can fall back on is asking forgiveness. That too doesn’t work, and Dany tells Jorah he has one day to leave the city and never return, on penalty of death. We see Jorah ride off and it’s a sad moment. Jorah and Dany is probably the longest lasting duo over the course of the show, dating back to the very first episode. This very well could be the end of that.
Lastly, we swing over to the capital on trial by combat day. Jaime smuggles in some wine into Tyrion’s cell and the two brothers share what is perhaps their final drink and final conversation. Tyrion recalls a fascinating memory about their simpleton cousin who would crush beetles all day. Tyrion would wonder why would he do it, how does he pick which beetles to kill, and what’s the purpose? He goes on for a fair while about this, at least three or four minutes. Jaime wonders why Tyrion cares so much about beetles when human beings die in droves every single day. Tyrion’s story though is really a microcosm of how he’s feeling. He would like to imagine that there is some greater meaning for all of them out there, because if it’s just as simple as bad things can happen to you just because that’s the way it is, it seems like just too cruel a fate. Jaime can’t really tell him what he wants to hear because how would anyone know if there’s some greater meaning to what happens in life? All he can do is comfort the brother he loves and to his credit, that’s what he does. Jaime takes his leave and wishes his brother the best of luck.
When it’s time for the fight, Tyrion is brought to the arena and meets with his champion, Oberyn. Tyrion’s a bit upset to find Oberyn isn’t using any heavy armor and is enjoying a cup of wine before the fight. Oberyn’s a free soul though so good luck trying to convince him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He tells Tyrion that this is what he does before a fight and assures him and his lover, Ellaria that he is going to win. He gets the crowd cheering for him, pulling off some impressive pre fight acrobatics. The fight begins and to a lot of people’s surprise, Oberyn is actually holding his own, the spear seems to be the perfect weapon against a big guy like The Mountain and Oberyn is the perfect guy for the spear. Oberyn is also using this time for his personal gain and tells The Mountain that before he dies, he will admit to killing Elia’s children and killing and raping Elia, on the orders of Tywin. The Mountain doesn’t seem to like this and charges frequently at Oberyn but that plays into the agility of Oberyn and he gets some great stabs in at The Mountain. Jaime and Tyrion look on, visibly happy when Oberyn has got The Mountain lying down on the ground. The fight is basically won but Oberyn won’t seal the deal until he gets The Mountain to confess. Oberyn tragically lets his guard down for one second and The Mountain is able to knock Oberyn down and knock out half his teeth with a single punch. In an absolutely brutal kill, The Mountain grabs Oberyn’s face and crushes his eyeballs while giving Oberyn that confession that he wanted. He adds to the confession that he crushed Elia’s head in “like this” and proceeds to cave in Oberyn’s skull and his head explodes. Ellaria yells in horror. Jaime and Tyrion look on in despair. Cersei lets out a smile. Tywin ends the episode with the announcement that Tyrion is hereby sentenced to death. Wow.
Rest in Peace Prince Oberyn Martell. He truly was a man who did what he wanted, when he wanted, and couldn’t be told otherwise. It’s extremely admirable but people like that generally don’t live very long. It proved to be the cause of his death because if he didn’t need the confession, he would have just killed The Mountain.
The Mountain may have “won” but it came at a huge price. Those spear wounds look awful and Oberyn is an expert in poisons, he may have put some poison on there too.
The sad thing with Jorah is that I really feel Dany was more upset that he never told her about the spying rather than the act itself. He probably figured it wasn’t worth mentioning after such a long time but if he just told her from the get go, she’d probably be alright with it.
It was very much a case of the devil you know vs the devil you don’t but it will be very interesting to see the ramifications of Sansa giving Littlefinger a second chance here. It’s super rare that Littlefinger is ever in a compromising position, let alone one true testimony from his death. Who knows the next time he’ll ever be as close to screwed as he was in this episode.
How tragically close can these characters get without actually meeting? Brienne and Pod are going to the Eyrie to find Arya. Arya is already at The Bloody Gate which leads to The Eyrie, and Sansa is at The Eyrie.
The Battle at Castle Black seems imminent and I hope it gets The Blackwater treatment and gets an entire episode dedicated to it. Should be great to see what they do with a bigger budget than they had for “Blackwater”.
“The Mountain and the Viper” messes with expectations and puts the fate of characters in the hands of other characters in an excellent episode of Game of Thrones.