Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones Season 4 Ep 8 "The Mountain and the Viper" Review

Greg Tito | 2 Jun 2014 17:33
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Another scene with Jaime and Tyrion steal this episode. I've said it before, but I absolutely love the chemistry between these two actors. They couldn't be more different in appearance, but they are brothers on screen. It's a wonder to behold. Tyrion's speech about the thick-headed cousin who did nothing but kill beetles might have been a bit heavy-handed - some people just like to watch the world burn - but it made for some dramatic TV. Tyrion saves the beetle he picks up in his cell. He doesn't kill it. That means something!

The stage is set for the duel between Oberyn Martell and Ser Gregor Clegane. There haven't been that many scenes which matched my imagination's view of them, but the sandy court on which the duel was held certainly did. Tyrion is clearly nervous, and he quips with Oberyn to stop drinking before the fight. Ellaria Sand, Oberyn's paramour, also entreats her man to not leave her alone in this world. It's almost like HBO wanted us to root for him. (There's also a funny bit with Tywin cutting off the officious speech from Maester Pycelle.)

The Mountain enters, and again, he doesn't look that imposing or mean, just giant and cartoony. I suppose that's enough, as the contrast between the quick and lanky Prince of Dorne fighting with a spear and the armored husk of Clegane's greatsword is apparent immediately. From the start, Oberyn treats this as a show. He twirls around his spear like a drum major twirls his baton and it's all very impressive. But Clegane's got a big fucking sword. They engage, but Oberyn has the upper hand. He dances away from the bigger man, and even if a kick or a blow gets in here or there to knock the Prince down, Oberyn is quickly on his feet. Even when his wooden spear is shattered he doesn't panic, just grabs another from his squire - who was wiping what on that blade gingerly with a rag, I wonder?

All through the fight, Oberyn is recounting the Mountain's crimes against his sister Elia. "You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children," he says over and over again. His obsession with getting the oaf Clegane to admit to his crimes, for the whole fight being more of a show than a dire contest, is Oberyn's downfall. Martell gets first blood, then cuts the Mountain's Achilles heel, and finally jumps on him to stab him in the belly. Thinking the fight won, Oberyn plays to the crowd, and to his paramour, but a man like Clegane is still formidable even with three vicious bleeding wounds. He grabs Oberyn's feet, gets on top of him, pushes his thumbs into the Prince's eye sockets and bursts his skull wide open.

It is very hard to watch. The gruesomeness of Clegane popping open Oberyn's skull like a can of beer is possibly one of the most terrible things I've ever seen on TV. Just watching it again in writing this review churns my stomach.

It is disgusting. And wonderful. And terrible.

Tyrion's hopes at freedom are dashed. Tywin pronounces that he is sentenced to death. The episode ends as the silent credits roll.

Game of Thrones has perfected the gut-punching moment ending an episode. It draws on excellent source material, of course, but translating the emotions I felt reading this chapter 14 years ago to seeing it performed on my TV is not simple or automatic. It takes great skill and care to grab your insides and twist them the way this episode did.

My wife hasn't read the books, and she is not really a fan of the fantasy genre, but she was talking about the implications of the duel and what it means. I reminded her what will be happen politically now that the Prince of Dorne has been killed in the capitol. The Martells hold Cersei's daughter hostage after all. We've heard that Doran Martell and his court has been cast for season five - what does that mean for poor little Myrcella Baratheon?

We'll talk about this and more in our Game of Thrones-cast this week. But for now, I'm going to go throw up.

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