'Game of Thrones' Review: "The Mountain and the Viper"

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Game of Thrones’ season 4 conjures its eighth episode of the season, “The Mountain and the Viper,” as Tyrion's trial finally comes to pass with a shocking conclusion, while Daenerys discovers a traitor in her midst, and Sansa faces a difficult decision on Petyr Baelish.

Previous installment, “Mockingbird,” saw Tyrion's difficulty obtaining a champion for his trial against The Mountain take an unexpected turn, while Jon's pleas fell on deaf ears, and Sansa discovered more of Littlefinger's nefarious intentions. So, what does the latest installment of season 4 bring?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4, episode 8, "The Mountain and the Viper.”

In Molestown, a brothel woman accuses GIlly of failing to keep her baby quiet, just before Ygritte and the other Wildlings attack. Ygritte manages to find Gilly hiding with young Sam, though Ygritte ignores the woman, motioning for her to keep quiet, while her fellow Wildlings rage. Afterward, the elder Sam laments that he failed to protect Gilly, while Jon Snow theorizes that the Wildlings must be close, and the other rangers comfort Sam by suggesting Gilly survived much worse.

Grey Worm and the other Unsullied bathe in a stream, as Grey Worm finds himself fixating on the similarly naked Missandei in the distance. Afterward, Missandei tells Daenerys of the incident, leading the Mother of Dragons to wonder how much of the Unsullied have been cut beyond their castration. Shortly thereafter, Grey Worm finds Missandei in the throne room and apologizes for his behavior, thanking Missandei for his English lessons as well, as both admit to being glad to have seen one another in the stream.

After being reminded of his “cover” as Theon Greyjoy, “Reek” rides into Moat Cailin and identifies himself to the Ironborn as the heir to Balon Greyjoy, assuring the men they’ll all be spared if they surrender the moat to Ramsay Bolton. The ailing commander refuses to bend the knee to a traitor, before one of his subordinates stabs the man from behind and gladly accepts the terms of surrender, though Ramsay shortly thereafter skins the men regardless. Elsewhere, the council of the Vale question the validity of Petyr Baelish’s appearance and Lysa’s subsequent “suicide,” though Sansa surprisingly backs up the tale, identifying herself as Ned Stark’s daughter and openly weeping at having witnessed her aunt’s jealous degradation.

While the Unsullied continually remove the crucified masters from their post, Barristan Selmy receives a mysterious letter delivered by a young former slave. Reading the letter, Barristan takes the news to Jorah, identifying the parchment as a royal pardon from the late King Robert Baratheon, and deducing that Jorah had spied on Daenerys for the crown. Jorah attempts to plead his case to Dany in her throne room, though she realizes that Jorah had been responsible for the attempted poisoning of her and Khal Drogo’s unborn child, and banishes Jorah altogether, in spite of his pleas.

Ramsay brings his father the flag of Moat Cailin, as Roose in turn provides his son with a parchment officially proclaiming him a Bolton and heir to Roose’s title as Warden of the North. Meanwhile, Baelish visits Sansa in her room and questions why she would have backed up his claims, to which Sansa proclaims to understand what it is Baelish wants from her. Shortly thereafter, Baelish prepares to send Robin Arryn off to tour his future kingdom, while Sansa displays a more mature wardrobe. Meanwhile, Arya and The Hound finally arrive to the Bloody Gates of the Vale, wherein soldiers reveal that Lysa has been dead for several days, leading Arya to burst out in laughter, considering the whole point of their journey was for The Hound to sell her to her aunt.

Tyrion and Jaimie enjoy a last drink before the former’s trial by combat, wherein Tyrion fixates on their mentally challenged cousin and his bizarre fixation from birth on smashing beetles. Tyrion recalls how he tried in vain to discover the source of his cousin’s obsession, all the while contemplating a live beetle of his own. Just then, the bells ring to signify the start of the trial, as Tyrion discards the beetle and is led to Oberyn’s pulpit, observing the man to be wearing surprisingly light armor, and drinking, which he claims to do before every battle.

The fight begins, as Oberyn greatly utilizes his speed against the fearsome warrior, all the while demanding The Mountain confess to killing and raping his sister Ellia Martell and murdering her children. Oberyn manages to land several key strokes against The Mountain to the point of smacking his helmet off, knocking him to his back, and landing a few good stabs with his spear. However, Oberyn’s insistence on a confession ultimately provides The Mountain an upper hand. After grabbing his ankle and tipping him off balance, The Mountain manages to knock several of Oberyn’s teeth out before ultimately gouging out the Dornish prince's eyes and crushing his skull while admitting to his heinous crimes. Ellaria Sand screams in horror at Oberyn’s fate, as Tywin proclaims that the gods’ justice has seen fit to condemn Tyrion to death.

OUR REVIEW:

Given the Memorial Day break, we’ve had a good long while to anticipate the self-titled “The Mountain and the Viper,” even if any faithful viewers still question whether or not the HBO fantasy drama would go so far as to kill off its most popular and prevailing character. If nothing else, the weeks and episode runtime wait for the titular battle certainly pay off, perhaps a bit moreso for viewers than those apprised of George R.R. Martin’s books, as the series again forgoes any notable opportunity to truly diverge from the source material. At least from a directorial standpoint, “The Mountain and the Viper” provides a thrilling climax to Tyrion’s season-long trials, and surprisingly gets rid of a character we’d only just met.

The titular battle not withstanding, tonight’s installment also gave us a number of other major climaxes to propel us through the final three episodes of the season, the most notable of which saw Jorah’s early season 1 treachery exposed, leading to a subsequent banishment from Daenerys’ service. Once again, book readers won’t find any major surprises to enjoy in HBO’s adaptation, though we will admit that the exposure and subsequent banishment seemed horribly sudden, as contextually Dany’s motivation proves sound, though the presentation over the course of a solitary episode seemed exceptionally rushed. The burgeoning romance between Missandei and Grey Worm has only clicked as far as  the runtime will allow, where more established relationships like Daenerys, Jorah, or even Barristan Selmy prove far more deserving of our attention, and either story suffers as a result.

Along the lines of pacing, it’s difficult to say if Sansa’s trip from Kings’ Landing to the Vale, to protecting Littlefinger work as well given the speed through which HBO has adapted Martin’s work, though we might at least understand the overall point of Sansa taking a more active role in her own story for a change, the creepiness factor of her wardrobe appeal to Littlefinger notwithstanding. As with Ramsay Snow Bolton’s brief tale with Theon, it occasionally feels as if the story services the actors solely for the sake of keeping them around from season to season, without regard for where it might take us in future adaptations, or if the vignettes themselves fit into an overall theme of the episode. That said, Ramsay’s gratitude for Roose finally accepting him into the family proved a nice moment for a complex character we’ve consistently had trouble reading.

Among the outliers tonight were Jon Snow and Arya, both climaxing with outcomes that overall seemed to reinforce the hopeless “told ya” moments of their respective miseries. Though, in Arya’s case at least, her revelation with The Hound afforded a rare moment of levity and a sure sign of direction change in the future. As far as the Night’s Watch at least, we’re given to understand that next week’s penultimate installment will grant a stronger focus on the battle of Castle Black, making tonight’s brief moments with Sam and Jon a bit light.

Overall, “The Mountain and the Viper” spelled out by its very title the most significant portions of the episode, including the surrounding material with Tyrion’s deathly fixation on his cousin’s beetle slaughter, and the apparent hopeless misunderstanding of existence itself. The scenes between him and Jaime prove their usual highlight, while the subsequent battle afforded a strong conclusion to an overall exciting, if perhaps disorganized, episode.

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of sword-swinging ‘Game of Thrones’ action?  What did you think about tonight’s installment, “The Mountain and the Viper”? Check out all our other ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4 coverage, and join us next week for the all-new episode recap of ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4's penultimate installment, "The Watchers on the Wall" on HBO!

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