Game of Thrones Episode 8, The Mountain and the Viper, has exploded onto our screens, quite literally, as a game-changing episode of the season. From Sansa’s long-awaited transformation to a woman capable of showing an ounce of guts and initiative, to Oberyn Martell’s gag-worthy death and Tyrion’s ensuing destiny, it seems many characters have been wound up like clockwork characters and set ambling down new paths.
My flatmate ran into the kitchen screaming after finishing watching it in her room, and dragged me out into the corridor to discuss. Not surprisingly, she couldn’t help but start with the epic battle that took place between the Red Viper of Dorne and the Mountain that Rides (AKA: the battle of the cool nicknames). “He was my favourite character!” she said, head in hands, “and he’d only just entered the show, he had so much potential!”. We were eye-poppingly re-awakening to the ruthless, brutal, merciless wrath of George R.R. Martin and we are again reminded that no one is safe in the Game of Thrones; there is no leeway for justice and happily-ever-afters in this vicious world. In the words of Cersei Lannister; you either win or you die.
Not only is the morality of the situation upsetting, but the way in which it was filmed, produced, written and directed squeezed every last “noooooooo!” out of the scene. Pedro Pascal’s nimble and fiery character fought with charm and elegance, despite the amount of blunt-handed aggression needed to conquer the infamous Mountain. His coaxing words urging Ser Gregor to confess and incriminate Tywin Lannister in the process only earned him more support, building spirits to a climax, then tempting us into belief that he was victorious when he issued a triumphant stab to the Mountain’s chest. It was not to be. Perhaps the display of pretentious swordsmanship at the beginning of the trial, or his preceding words to Ellaria were an ironic foreshadowing of things to come, but the excellent play-out of the scene, along with his gruesome stomach-curdling death, meant the turn of events were still every bit a surprise. Even my corridor-discussing friend, who has read the books and knew what was coming, said she was shocked and by her repeating gawking I could tell it was no lie. As Tyrion rightly pointed out, he at least could have worn a helmet.
Meanwhile in the Vale, things are getting interesting. Sansa is flourishing under the mischievous hand of Littlefinger – an extremely intelligent yet slightly perverted uncle-type figure. After relentless oppression through physical exploitation and mental manipulation in Joffrey’s child-in-a-sweet-shop court, Sansa finally has the chance to seek vengeance on her oppressors during Petyr’s trial. Following in the path of her protector, she has finally enters into the ‘Game’ of Thrones, betraying the interests of her high-born Aunt in favour of getting ahead. She defends Petyr and for the first time lies of her own will to further her own interests. She is slowly beginning to move out on her own – perhaps the first steps in the resurgence of the Stark dynasty (although this may be wishful thinking considering the lack of justice available in the Seven Kingdoms). She has a new found freedom, despite Petyr’s immense desire for her beauty, which ‘surpasses’ that of her mother who he was infatuated with. But no longer are her physical features a hindrance to her, with her revealing black-feather dress and rebelliously died black hair, she has finally taken control of her sexuality and feminine prowess, making her entrance down the winding staircase looking like a true queen.
Developments across the realm were rapid this episode: Ramsay Snow has finally been made a Bolton, though his very uncreative responses to Roose’s questions should have been enough to deter him from naming him his son altogether. House Bolton has speedily crept into a startlingly good position; practically Kings of North, now with an heir and a reasonably strong army, they are certainly on the rise.
In the East, Dany’s slow-crawling storyline has finally been spruced up by the revelation of Jorah’s original purpose in supporting her. Their tedious relationship has finally been fractured, and with little hope of healing. Curious new storylines are also developing, such as Greyworm and Missandei; a tentative sexual tension arises between the two as their gazes cross whilst they’re bathing, and there seems an acknowledgement that their relationship could be something more than just fellow former slaves.
Overall, this week’s episode deserved this season’s highest viewer ratings, a good day for the program’s dark characters and a headache-inducing one for our good guys.