[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 4 Episode 8, "The Mountain and the Viper"

Courtesy of HBO
If this episode illustrates anything, it is that the producers need to either 1) adapt more of the songs that George R.R. Martin wrote in his books, or 2) stop drawing attention to the fact that there are apparently only two songs in the entirety of Westeros. It would be like if the only two songs in the whole world were Black Day In July by Gordon Lightfoot and Mamma Mia by ABBA. It doesn't pass the bullshit test. Which is the test in which the event transpiring either causes or fails to cause you to exclaim "bullshit!" It is like the English writing a couple weeks back: a minor detail, and in the grand scheme not that important. But as a single detail in a detail obsessed universe, it's pretty glaring. 

Oh, and this may well have been the best episode of the series to this point, from a writing, acting, choreographic and cinematographic perspective. Except for Dany. Dany's story still sucks the air from the room.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that killed my father, prepare to die.

The usual pattern for Game of Thrones is that the big, emotional, world-impacting events happen in episode nine. This season has been an outlier of sorts. Episode 2 featured a fairly significant death, and so did this one. A metaphorical death too, as the demise of Oberyn means that Tyrion's fate is sealed. In the past, having the big thing happen in episode 9 has provided the audience episode 10 to come to a kind of terms with what just happened, a wind-down as it were. Not to spoil anything, and not to suggest anything other than some additional turmoil is on the horizon, season 4 might well prove to be the most emotionally scarring season yet. The one-two-three punch of episodes 8, 9 and 10 will certainly have people's heads spinning. This might well be the breaking point for some viewers.

As mentioned above, this might be the best episode the show has produced. What was weak was happily overshadowed by what was strong, and the writers were able to maintain a balance in the story. I've noted the past few weeks that they've stuck a new rhythm with how the episodes are laid out. The first half of the episodes are nicely divided between three of the ongoing minor stories, and the back half in entirely devoted to one of the season's major arcs. I've argued for years that the series needs to find a way to linger longer with certain characters, and it appears that they have finally found the best way to make it work. the majority of these back halves have been focused on either Tyrion or Jon, as the plight of the Wall and the plight of the Imp have been this season's foremost concern. That has left plenty of time to check in with the character's whose stories haven't had the material to flush out whole arcs. Like Bran, or Arya, or Reek. In fact, the only character that the writers insist on revisiting every week is Dany, despite her story lacking the stuffing to necessitate such a presence.

In fact, Dany's story line is the only one showing signs of the dreaded filler. While the Greyworm and Missandei romance has been well handled, and I feel more for their affections then I have some of the other romances on the show (Tyrion and Shea, Robb and Talisa), it also feels too Ross and Rachel for me to really appreciate. What the show didn't need was a "will they/won't they" story in order to give two minor characters a reason to distract the audience from the fact that the principle they orbit isn't doing anything of interest. Dany's time this episode was halved in favour of this flirtation, with the other half focusing on something that actually is interesting, has feet and will change the long term effects of her story: her discovery of Jorah's betrayal. It was a beautifully shot scene (I'm in awe of Dany's throne room set more than I am the Iron Throne room). The way the camera shifted between the perspectives, as Dany issued her wrath and Jorah begged for forgiveness was nothing short of beautiful. And Iain Glen delivered a fantastic performance. the same cannot be said of Emilia Clarke. This speech could have been her "Tyrion telling off a courtroom" moment. And I understand the instinct to play it from a distance. I liked the idea of not being able to look him in the eyes. But the performance was too stilted, it felt too cold, too removed. It lacked the power that the moment demanded.

An actress, and a character, I've been critical of in the past has come into her own in the form of Sophie Turner and Sansa. When you've got the likes of Maisie Williams in the cast, the rest of the child actors have had an uphill battle in terms of their own abilities. but Turner has grown substantially as an actress over these four seasons, and the writers used her honed abilities to great effect in her fantastic confession scene. As a consequence of spending far too much time around people like Cersei, Tryion, Olenna and Littlefinger, Sansa is transforming into a master manipulator. Her playing the Lords of the Vale shows she's been paying attention, putting to use the chief weapons of the sneak and the liar: include enough truth for the lie to seem palatable, use the mark's emotions and preconceptions against them, and only ever concern yourself with your own best interests. The Starks that have survived this long have had to do so with their wits and skills, and until now Sansa has displayed neither. Suddenly, her story is one that has promise.

The last major thing to take away from this episode (other than, once you stab someone through the chest, walk away) is how the Boltons have really claimed their place as the anti-Starks. After Roose and Ramsey's Lion King talk, I had a crystallising moment. All the family pride and honour and duty that Ned had is present in Roose, he's just less naive about how other people react to such things. Roose is a pragmatist, doing what successful, not what is right. Ramsey is the anti-Jon, or the anti-Rob, the son living in the shadow of the father, trying to establish his own identity through victory and upholding the basic principles of the father's name, except he skins people occasionally. The story of the Bolton's rise to power is a mirror of the Stark's fall. both had similar opportunities presented to them, and the different paths took different form. Now the Stark name is all but extinct, while the Bolton name is fortified. And, both houses have served as protectors for Theon. And Ramsey's way at least resulted in a kind of loyalty.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Okay so this show is shown on HBO? I think I need to subscribe it now I am using charter spectrum services after reading the reviews here: http://www.techlogins.com/reviews/charter-spectrum-reviews/