I have waited for so long to make an American Horror Story reference in one of my Game of Thrones recap titles, and I’m simultaneously thrilled and horrified that today is that day. Anyway, the fourth season of this show seems to be doing away with its previous formula: setup, setup, more setup, Episode 9 is crazy, Episode 10 is a whole barrel of setup, with usually one action-packed sequence stuck randomly in an early-season episode. This is SO not the case anymore. Episode 8 packed a whole lot of wallops, to the point where Episode 9’s preview actually seemed lackluster! Let’s talk about what went down.
Let’s get some of the housekeeping stuff out of the way. Ramsay, as promised, sends Theon to take Moat Cailin, which he apparently does, which means Ramsay is legitimized as a Bolton and no longer has to suffer the indignity of being a bastard. (I have trouble believing that a psychopath like Ramsay would actually give much of a shit about “being a real Bolton” – he seems like somebody who would wear the bastard name as a badge of honor – but whatever, it happens in the books.) The Wildlings are taking Castle Black from behind, starting with Mole’s Town, but Ygritte takes pity on poor Gilly and puts a finger to her lips before vanishing, leaving the audience with a perfect shot – complete with sound – of blood dripping from the ceiling. (Sam thinks she’s dead, because Sam cries first and acts later.)
Khaleesi’s camp gets a fair amount of action this week too – Missandei and Grey Worm seem to be striking up a little bit of a romance, which is totally weird, cause Grey Worm is most definitely a eunuch. Even though this B-plot love story is completely shoehorned in, it eventually won me over, mostly because it’s nice to give a little more humanity to Daenery’s ethnic sidekicks. (It doesn’t hurt that the actors sold the scene nicely either.) The warm and gooey feelings didn’t last long, though. This was the episode where Daenerys, after all this time, eventually finds out that Jorah has been spying on her for Varys since he became her khalasar. In reality, he hasn’t been spying since he received the royal pardon back in season 1, and he did totally save her from poisoned wine about five seconds after he got that pardon in the first place (if you’re having trouble remembering what happened, he basically got banished by Ned Stark instead of getting executed, and agreed to spy on “the Targaryen girl” for the Lannisters, but was pretty much done with that job when she rose from the fire flanked by three baby dragons, because you always pick the person with the dragons). Sorry, Jorah, but you don’t even get to hang out in the friendzone anymore – or anywhere at all near Khaleesi, actually. She banishes him too, so now we’ll have more Sad Jorah to deal with. Fantastic.
The Stark girls are also struggling with new feelings and situations – some better than others – and like Daenerys did when she decided to rule, one Stark girl is coming into her own under the skeeviest possible circumstances. Let’s talk briefly about Arya first, who finally arrives at the Bloody Gate with the Hound, seemingly hours away from reuniting with her older sister, only to be told that her Aunt Lysa died a few days ago (and obviously, the guards have no idea that Alayne is Sansa). Arya just does what she can, which is laugh hysterically while everyone stares at her. Yeah, it’s a weird reaction, but this poor kid has been through the wringer, especially with the whole “I’m so close to reuniting with my family oh look they’re dead” thing has happened to her TWICE now, so I almost kind of get it. Jesus. First we have Arya with her mother and brother, then Bran and Jon, and now Arya and Sansa – this whole close encounters of a Stark kind thing is going to give me a stroke.
Sansa, on the other hand, is brought in to a council meeting at the Eyrie to decide if the clearly evil Littlefinger is actually evil (OH MY GOD JUST LOOK AT HIS CREEPY FACE THE ANSWER IS YES HE’S EVIL), since she is the only witness to Lysa’s great fall. Once she reveals herself as Lysa’s niece, the missing Sansa Stark and former Lannister captive, you start to feel like she might rat out Petyr for killing just about everyone who’s ever died on this show (I’m gonna go ahead and blame them all on him since Jon Arryn’s death was directly his fault which kickstarted, I don’t know, literally every other murder), but Sansa clearly has a few strains of Stockholm syndrome. With a perfectly orchestrated single tear, Sansa tells the council that every lie Littlefinger has told has been to save her, and that her Aunt Lysa was just a nutjob who flung herself out the Moon Door for no reason. It’s a masterful play, and it firmly convinces the council, who start talking about how crazy Lysa was this whole time the second they leave the judging room. Sansa might not be in the best position, but she knows she can play Littlefinger as much as she can, and he shows up in her room later to have a terrifyingly flirty exchange wherein she tells him “she knows what he wants.” (Yeah. We all do. Please don’t show us that. I’m still recovering from Lysa’s sex symphony.) Later, when she greets Robin and Littlefinger in her best Maleficent costume – which does look spectacular on her – there’s a newfound, womanly confidence in her, which I suspect has less to do with Littlefinger’s devotion and more to do with the power she’s just discovered and how she plans to use it.
Those things were all fun, but let’s get to the real meat of this episode – what everybody wants to talk about. The Trial of the Century came to a close with combat, and Oberyn Martell fell hard, taking poor Tyrion along with him (well, that’s the plan). And he was doing so well! Oberyn came into the fight literally swinging, poisoned spear by his side, and danced around the waddling Mountain so dizzyingly that it seemed like he might be able to topple the giant. When he got in a few choice cuts, it seemed inevitable, and when he found his moment and went for the gut, it seemed over. But hubris has been the downfall of many a man, and while Oberyn gloated and demanded a confession, the Mountain summoned the last of his strength and hurled himself on top of the apparent victor. The teeth went first, and the eyes went last, while Ellaria wailed and Tyrion simply looked on in abject horror. (Tywin and Cersei, obviously, looked as though they had each swallowed about a thousand canaries.) There have been so many fights and so many gruesome moments on this show, but for my money, this tops the list – worse than Viserys’ crown, worse than Ned’s beheading, maybe (although it could be tied) worse than stabbing Talisa in the stomach during the Red Wedding. I mean… Oberyn’s HEAD FUCKING EXPLODED. After his eyes were… I don’t know what the right word is. Smushed? Muddled? Popped? Ew. Ugh.
Game of Thrones has always been a show that knows how to use violence to its advantage, and though there have certainly been scenes that seemed absolutely gratuitous (Ramsay hunting women earlier this season comes to mind), this one was both quick and slow, which made it incredibly tense. Oberyn was dead in a matter of seconds, but the camera made sure to linger as the Mountain finally confessed that he definitely did rape and kill Oberyn’s sister while he poked out Oberyn’s goddamn eyes. Pedro Pascal, when he wasn’t either a fight double or a dummy with an exploded head, gave a brilliant final performance in this scene, finishing an excellent run of fleshing out a fairly unremarkable character in the books (Natalie Dormer as Margaery is still definitely winning that race, though). It’s sad to see him go, but even sadder to watch how justice is served in Westeros. A man who held onto a lifelong desire for revenge is taken down by the same man who destroyed his family, which leaves an innocent fugitive to be sentenced to death by his own father. So much for a fair trial – although I think we all knew, all along, things don’t work out particularly well for Tyrion. As soon as Oberyn volunteered to be Tyrion’s champion, by George R.R. Martin standards, he signed his own death certificate.
All in all, this was a spectacularly shot episode with great pacing and shock value mixed with heavy storytelling – and it’s looking like next week may focus exclusively on the battle between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch, meaning we may have to wait until the June 15 finale to find out Tyrion’s fate. (If next week is definitely just the Wildling-Crow war, it’ll also be shot mostly in the fucking dark, so… great.) For those who have read the books, you know that there’s a lot more that needs to happen unless A Storm of Swords is going to stretch into season 5 (which I sincerely hope it doesn’t), so the formula for Episode 10 may change to accomodate the dropping of just a few more bombshells. See you back here next week, where we can at least look forward to “You know nothing, Jon Snow” making a triumphant comeback. It’s really been too long.