Game Of Thrones review – 4×08: ‘The Mountain And The Viper’

Courtesy of HBO

After taking a week off for the long weekend, Game of Thrones roars back with a trial by combat. It’s time for the brawl in the capital, folks!

Let’s bitch it out…I’d say that that was an unexpected ending, but you had to know that it would be tougher than some acrobatic twirls, posturing and a few flesh wounds to bring down The Mountain. As likable and entertaining as Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) is was, the moment he began showboating for the crowd and acting like he had won pretty much sealed his fate (I didn’t expect him to go out in such a disturbing and visceral fashion, though; no one deserves to have their eyes and head crushed!). It’s an entertaining fight, well shot and energetic, but considering how Game of Thrones works, the outcome felt a little pre-determined from the start.

As much as the trial by combat is the big draw for the episode, there are many other moments that resonate much more strongly. I particularly enjoyed the maturation of Sansa as Sophie Turner finally got material to play that should go a long way towards shutting up naysayers. In playing Baelish’s (Aidan Gillen) game, mixing truth and lies to achieve the best possible outcome in the wake of her Aunt’s death, Sansa proves once and for all that she’s a survivor. Baelish is nearly incredulous in his realization that she chose him – the stranger she knows over the ones she doesn’t – and his shell-shocked expression when she descends the staircase looking regal suggests that our dear Sansa may finally be playing the game she’s been a pawn in for so long. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trust Baelish as far as I could throw him (he’s already looking to send poor, naive Robyn out where I’m sure a terrible fate will befall him). Still, if Sansa can get Baelish on her side by dressing and looking like her mother, kudos on her for being savvy.

As for the Theon (Alfie Allen) / Ramsey (Iwan Rheon) storyline, I wonder how much these scenes depend on your personal interest in these characters. There are some interesting (albeit slightly obvious) parallels to be drawn between Theon’s Stockholm Syndrome desire to please his stand-in father figure and Ramsey’s own desperation to prove himself to his father…but do we care? I’ll readily confess that I still carry a lot of ill-will for these two because of the endless torture scenes that consumed so much of S3. Do we know more about Ramsey now that we know how driven he is to win his father’s affection? I’d argue no. It’s a bit of light pop-psychology that doesn’t truly satisfy in a meaningful way. Ramsey may have earned a last name, but as his war tactics demonstrate (massacring the soldiers who surrender because it’s the new way of war) Ramsey is clearly still a bastard. Of all of the characters we spend time with, Ramsey – and by extension Theon – is near the bottom of my list. I simply don’t care about these two.

Other Observations:

  • Unfortunately that theme more or less pervades ‘The Mountain And The Viper’. Too much time is spent on Grey Worm’s interest in Melissandei. Zzzzz. Even Gilly’s survival during the Wildling attack…I just don’t care. I suppose it’s useful to keep up to date on these disparate storylines, but can anyone truly say they’re excited to spend time with these third-tier characters?
  • It’s especially difficult to care when these blander/less compelling scenes are competing for space and time with ones like Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jamie’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) conversation in the prison cell. I’m talking about Tyrion’s soliloquy about their cousin Orson and his proclivity for killing beetles. Re-read that sentence and then marvel at how Dinklage manages to absolutely enthrall us…with a story about beetle-killing. The man is just a master class in acting prowess and personality. Stop feeding me garbage filler-stories and just give 52 minutes of Dinklage, dammit!
  • Pity poor Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) whose questionable past spying on Dany (Emilia Clarke) is exposed courtesy of Tywin (Charles Dance). It’s disappointing that Dany does exactly what Tywin wants her to do by expelling one of her closest, most trusted advisors (and let’s be honest, her conscience), but it sure does make for a gut-wrenching goodbye. The image of a solitary Jorah riding away from Meereen alone = heartbreaking.
  • Arya (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) come within arm’s reach of the Vale and then learn of Lysa’s death. Arya’s reaction: hysterical laughter. It is completely and perfectly played.
  • Finally, did anyone else get a Princess Bride vibe from Oberyn’s taunts? Very Inigo Montoya.

What’s your take: was the trial by combat what you expected? Was this episode a bit of a dud? Is Dany foolish for falling for Tywin’s ploy? Do you care about Missandei/Grey Worm or Theon/Ramsey? Did Sansa’s actions surprise you? And did you laugh along with Arya? Sound off below

Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO. Next week brings the always epic ninth episode, which looks to feature primarily the Wildling attack on the Wall and Castle Black.

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

2 thoughts on “Game Of Thrones review – 4×08: ‘The Mountain And The Viper’

  1. “Dinklage manages to absolutely enthrall us”
    Yeah, whatever, that scene was strange and went on far too long. I get what they were trying to get across- all very symbolic, meaningless brutality, Orson Lannister = the gods etc. but the writers could have got their point across in a third of the time.

    • Benioff and Weiss have definitely been playing around with their pacing this season so you’re not the first to mention that some things are taking too long. I’d personally prefer more time for scenes in general, though I agree that this scene did go on a bit long. I just love watching Dinklage talk, so I may have been more okay with it.