Plot: The day of reckoning has arrived for Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Can his champion Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) defeat the enormous Gregor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson)? Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is forced to make a tough decision regarding her own future. Unwanted guests arrive in Mole’s Town. Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon) sets into motion his plan to take Moat Cailin. Daenerys Targaryen learns the truth behind one of her closest companions. Arya (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) arrive at the Bloody Gate.
“The Mountain and The Viper” is a relatively misleading name for last night’s episode. As book readers obviously realized several months ago and TV viewers discovered two weeks back, this is when the epic fight between Oberyn and Gregor occurs. It’s undeniable that this is bound to be one of the most remembered fights in the entire series. What makes the title misleading though is that absolutely nothing happened concerning King’s Landing until about 45 minutes in. A solid ¾ of the episode was completely dedicated to nearly every other character within Westeros and beyond. In all honesty, more time was spent with Sansa defending Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) than Oberyn trying to save Tyrion/get sweet revenge for his sister. Not many programs can bury the main event in such a manner. Yet last night it actually worked incredibly well. While the fight between the Red Viper of Dorne and The Mountain that Rides is what people really wanted to see, we got enough major plot movement with everyone else to make this episode amazing.
Let’s kick this review off with what everyone is freaking out about now: that insane duel. It’s obvious that the general viewing audience wanted Oberyn to win. What sane person would root for a man who is known worldwide for raping and murdering women and children? There’s also the fact that everyone’s favorite half-man is in danger of becoming even shorter if Oberyn lost. It was a classic tale of perceived good guy vs. definitely evil guy. In this world created by George R.R. Martin though, the good guy rarely comes out on top. True enough, “The Mountain and The Viper” ended with the Mountain crushing Oberyn’s head like an overripe melon and Tywin (Charles Dance) sentencing Tyrion to death. Can you get anymore graphic than that? The fight was also wonderfully choreographed, giving Pascal a chance to really show why he was picked to play such a popular character. The guy should have checked his vanity at the door though…
Tyrion’s face at the end perfectly detailed the sheer gravity of the situation too. The man is completely out of options now. He could never get justice in the courtroom, and now his champion had his brains crushed out of his skull. In the eyes of gods and men, Tyrion is completely guilty of murdering his ruthless nephew. What more can the man do now? Can this really be the end of Tyrion’s troubled life? Like many people, I’m not prepared to say goodbye to such an engaging character. There are two episodes left and I’m convinced something will happen to keep him alive for a little bit longer. What that will be though remains to be seen, but you can bet the man won’t go quietly.
While Oberyn never getting ahead in life will be the only thing people can talk about for the next week, “The Mountain and The Viper” actually contained plenty of other very memorable events. The one that immediately jumps to my mind is Sansa’s monumental shift in character. For almost four seasons, this poor girl has been a pawn for people playing the game of thrones. She was beaten senseless, forced to marry Tyrion, held prisoner within her own quarters, and had to watch her father get executed. You can make the case that Petyr is also using Sansa to further his own goals. Yet last night showed her actually make a move for herself for the very first time. It all started in Petyr’s trial for Lysa Arryn’s (Katie Dickie) death. Without any added persuasion, Sansa weaves a tale of half-truths that exonerate Petyr and convince everyone that Lysa killed herself. It was a bold move from a girl who is now starting to understand what she can do to keep going. Then to further solidify her change, Sansa later reappears with darker hair and an entirely new set of clothes. Gone is her conservative royal garb. In is a straight black dress with accented cleavage and crazy shoulders. This is a brand new, much more confident Sansa that is starting to look even more like a young version of her mother.
A little bit further north in Moat Cailin, we also got some major movement regarding Theon/Reek (Alfie Allen) and Ramsay. Last night had Reek arriving at Moat Cailin pretending to be Theon Greyjoy to present a false treaty to the remaining Ironborn. Theon losing his personal identity and then being forced to adopt it again as a lie is disturbing on so many levels, and I give a ton of credit to Allen’s acting chops for getting me to actually care. You can easily tell that he’s completely destroyed mentally. To make matters worse, the plan actually succeeds. The evil Bolton’s have now completely taken the North and Ramsay Snow has officially become Ramsay Bolton. It really does suck to watch the detested characters succeed in their plans and have the favored players get their heads turned into ground meat.
As if this wasn’t enough, we got a major radical change in Essos with Dany. Remember when Varys (Conleth Hill) briefly reminded everyone that Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) used to spy for him? Well that wasn’t done by accident. Last night Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) got a hold of Jorah’s pardon from Season 1 and revealed to Dany the truth behind her longest and closest companion. Can you really blame her for banishing the man from Meereen forever? It was sad to watch these two close companions permanently lose their friendship, but I do appreciate the changes it will definitely bring to that story. Dany sitting on a throne and ruling can only be engaging for so long. Her exiling Jorah is an excellent change up and I personally cannot wait to see what comes of it. I can however do without a relationship between Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel).
Both Jon (Kit Harington) and Arya received some minor attention last night as well. Jon’s was definitely more open ended as the Wildling attack on Mole’s Town primarily set the stage for next week’s episode. The Battle of Castle Black is bound to be absolutely insane so I’m glad last night was basically a taste of what’s to come. As for Arya, her brief segment was more an example in futility. Both her and the Hound finally reach the Vale only to learn that Lysa has fallen to her death. What does Arya do? She laughs uncontrollably. Clearly, this girl has reached the end of her rope. She’s been dragged all over Westeros with a whole slew of destinations, all of which were torn from her in a variety of ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if she chooses to abandon the Hound from this point to go on her own path. Clearly leaving her future in the hands of others is not getting her anywhere.
Despite pushing the main event until the very end, “The Mountain and The Viper” was easily one of the best episodes this season. The titular battle was as spectacularly grotesque as you could want and plenty of characters received absolutely necessary changes to their respective stories. At this stage, it’s looking like next week’s episode will be entirely about the Night’s Watch. I am extremely excited for that as it’s been built up all season. Typically the penultimate episode is the most exciting, and after “The Mountain and The Viper,” “The Watchers on the Wall” has a lot to live up to.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.