HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper

Oberyn Martell in the ring

I just have a couple of quick thoughts on this week’s episode. I know I haven’t been posting on GOT much recently; I’m back in novel-writing mode (elbow-deep in revisions) and putting most of my energies there.

First, a customary warning: As always I play fast and loose with the spoilers, book and show. Read at your own risk.

Like many viewers, I was taken aback by the ending of this episode. The teeth, the eyes, the screaming. The exploded brains. Even for a show that has been brutal throughout, this episode took it further. (How about that flayed man earlier in the show, too?)

It was so traumatic, my initial reaction was “that’s not how it happens in the book!” Then I went back and re-read what happened in the book, and realized this was almost exact. The teeth, the eyeballs, it happens slightly differently, but it’s all there.

And after I got over my initial reaction, horror at what I thought was exploitative, ratings-seeking violence, I decided I liked this ending–and I’ll tell you why.

Oberyn Martell, in his brief stint on the show, has been charming. Elegant. Luxurious, even. He glamorizes his life of sex and violence. Even his quest for vengeance takes on a sort of poetic beauty, as does his style of combat, dancing and flipping and spinning his weapon in spectacle as he repeats his accusation. He’s so beautiful, he wins over the crowd.

But of course, the Cleganes are the opposite of all that. They are Westerosi black holes of chivalry and beauty, and Gregor Clegane, even as he lays dying, has a lesson for Oberyn Martell: No matter how beautiful you might think you are, death is ugly.

It’s a lesson Littlefinger lays out just minutes earlier in a speech to young Robin Arryn, simultaneously foreshadowing [extra spoilery!] the upcoming ugly end of Tywin Lannister, who dies on the privy and leaves a corpse so rotten that it sickens those who come to mourn him.

It’s a theme pervasive to the George R. R. Martin’s world–no one who crawls through such shit ever really comes out clean. It’s one I wonder about as I ponder what the rest of the books, and the TV series, have in store.

Other random thoughts:

  • I am increasingly baffled, and concerned, about the pacing of the TV series. Certain characters seem to be halfway through A Feast for Crows already, while others are way behind. There is so much of Arya’s story to get through, and so little for Dany, Bran, and Brienne. Either we’re going to be seeing a whole lot of Meereen, or Season 5 is going to be dropping a lot of book spoilers.
  • Like many people, I’m wary of a whole episode devoted to the Wall, even if it is an epic battle. I’m curious to see if Episode 9 follows past patterns and stays with one story all the way through, or if we get to see other sequences.
  • Assuming Episode 9 is entirely Castle Black, there is a LOT to get through in Episode 10. I’m almost as excited for this episode as I was for the Red Wedding, because I am completely confident that the last image we’ll see in this season is a certain undead and very angry mother. We also get Tyrion’s escape, Tywin’s death, and (if the episode title, “Children,” means what I think it does) our first glimpse of Bran’s new best friends. It’s going to be a doozy, and leave a lot of people talking.
  • Lastly, back to the Mountain the Viper. Am I the only one who thought it very unclear whether Ser Gregor died or just passed out after crushing Oberyn’s head? I’m wondering if the show runners eliminated the poison storyline altogether in favor of a simpler, straight-out death. I suspect not, however, since there was a very deliberate shot of Oberyn’s squire wiping down the blade of his spear. I suppose we’ll wait to find out–I do hope it’s not handled as clumsily as the slow reveal of the plot to poison Joffrey.

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