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Game of Thrones

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Episode 8 - The Mountain and the Viper

6 June 2014

Credit HBO

Synopsis: Ygritte lets Gilly live while the Wildlings sack Mole's Town. Grey Worm and Missandei sort of admit to having feelings for one another. A boy hands Ser Jorah's pardon to Ser Barristan. He passes it on to Daenerys who kicks him out of Meereen. Theon helps Ramsay take Moat Cailin and the latter gets upgraded to a Bolton. Sansa confesses who she is but protects Baelish to the Lords of the Vale. The Hound and Arya arrive only to learn that Lysa is dead. The Mountain kills Oberyn in the Trial by Combat.

The Good: I will make this review as thorough as I can to limit misunderstandings. But can I remind you all that we are emotional beings who use logic in retrospect to make sense of how we feel. These reviews are not written to give a balanced account of the episodes strengths and weaknesses. Nor are they written to keep a majority of people happy. They are simply my emotional reactions minutes after seeing the episode. They are written in the language of logic because it's the only way I know how to make sense of the feelings a show stirs in me. Sometimes I can't adequately explain something that I feel I know to be true.

I liked Tyrion's beetle speech. It was mesmerising because it was never clear where it was going or what purpose it served. Was it just an old itch he wanted to scratch once more? A story he'd never shared with his brother. A person he related to on some level whose struggle touched something inside him? Or was it some kind of metaphor for the brutality of life. By episodes end it certainly made me wonder if George R R Martin isn't the one who wakes up dreaming of never ending dead bodies. But it was yet another good scene between two actors emoting like brothers might and whatever deeper meaning you took from it the way they both sobered up (the moment the bells began to toll) was effective at setting the emotional stage of the Trial.

The Bad: I was disgusted and disheartened by Oberyn's death. The fight itself was very underwhelming. There was not nearly enough desperation conveyed by either combatant or those watching. But as soon as the twist began to take shape I felt perhaps it was a deliberate choice. By making the combat fairly one sided I was lured into an utterly false sense of security that made Oberyn's death more shocking.

But the shock makes me a bit sick. The visual aspect of it did not help. It was a gross sight and one that I'd rather not remember. I'm trying to reason why it's got me so downcast. The even more horrific moment in the Red Wedding when a pregnant belly was stabbed has perhaps just faded more from memory at this point. But I suppose on some level the suffering of the Stark's in that scene was avoidable. Perhaps we didn't need to see such a brutally vivid depiction of their murders but it did drive home the point about Robb breaking his oath with blunt force. What did the Mountain squashing Oberyn's face achieve? In the moment it helped me to visualise the Mountain raping a woman and then doing the same to her. It underscored the horrificness of an act which I had some distance from.

There was something too about seeing Oberyn's face collapse that brought back all the uncomfortable feelings which Game of Thrones has generated in me. The nudity in rape scenes. The castration. Innocent people being cut down in front of my eyes when there was little purpose in seeing it. The voyeurism of this adaption. Did I need to see his head explode to realise he was dead? No. Here was a character who had just started to earn some emotional investment. Someone who stood for a less brutal world. And what was he really designed for? To be slaughtered. His face evacuated of all hope in one brutal squoosh. 

What I wrote after the Red Wedding was not just would the violence on the show turn people off. It wasn't just would the slaughter of innocent people turn viewers off. It was whether or not there was enough force for good left in the narrative to balance the scales. Medieval life was harsh, of course it was. But there were monastaries, orphanages, churches and kind people everywhere. Human nature hasn't changed to the extent that everyone used to be cruel all the time. I'm struggling to look forward to the next episode when those who come forward to redress the balance are so horrifically killed, while minor characters like the Mountain and Walder Frey disappear into the shadows.

And that last point is something I struggle to convey and I know book readers just can't relate to. On any other TV show Walder Frey would be a major character. Because he did a horrific thing and surely the resonance that creates should be part of the drama. Similarly I don't care about the Mountain and yet he gets to be a part of this truly horrible twist. I like the fact that Game of Thrones has such a rich and complex world and as many characters as a real world would have. But what I don't like is that I always feel there's information off screen waiting to hurt me. The Tyrion beetle speech worked so well in part because you just 'experienced' the scene. You took it at face value and tried to figure out what it meant through the dialogue and through his emotions. But the Trial by Combat scene was more of a "gotcha" scene. All of Oberyn's emoting and incinuating gestures toward Tywin really didn't have much point to them once the Mountain makes his move. And it's not just about that scene. I felt there were missing pieces to Jorah, Sansa and Arya's story which all left me feeling out of the loop.

The adaption of Game of Thrones has begun to feel like it's just trying to shock. It's trying to keep pieces from you so that you will be more surprised when they appear. Rather than letting scenes be fully informed and then play out as they will. I know this point is not coming across as clearly as it might. But the best example I can give remains my desire for Tyrion to demand to speak to Tywin during his imprisonment. The fact that he didn't made me feel like I was just waiting around until the show decided when to reveal the truth. As opposed to letting the character be real and finding a way to write around that.

So how am I supposed to feel about what just happened? Because I should be feeling hatred for the Mountain and a yearning to see him be brought to justice. But instead I feel like he will disappear into the narrative mists as Lord Frey has. And even if Tyrion kills him with his bare hands next episode that doesn't change how I feel now. And were I a different person I might well say "I'm not watching any more of this because it's disgusting and depressing."

Perhaps more importantly how do I feel about Tyrion who now has no means of escape and is sentenced to death. I do feel worried and concerned and sad. But I also feel like I'm just in the dark. Maybe he will beg for the Wall and be pardoned. Maybe he will be rescued by one of Dany's dragons. I kind of shrug at the thought. Sure the answer could be brilliantly written into the story and I'm just too dense to see it but that's no comfort. What I feel is sadness for the whole grubby thing. It's not something I want to feel when watching TV. The twist, in other words, didn't work for me because it didn't increase my desire to watch, it lessened it. If Tyrion is executed then the show is poorer for his loss. Much poorer. Suicidally brave I called that idea and that's still how it strikes me.

On a minor note I'm not happy with Tywin waving off Pycelle's attempt to pray to the Seven Gods. If Trial by Combat is to be credible then the society it comes from must be overwhelmingly religious. Surely the Hand of the King should not be seen impiously refusing them a few seconds of respect?

The Unknown: I liked the Sansa story in outline. She is slowly moving up the charts from her position as King's Landing's worst liar. She does a convincing job of getting Baelish off the hook and makes the choice to go with him for now. Perhaps in his weird interest in her she sees a means of guaranteeing his protection. Those feelings may seem a more tangible source of loyalty than Lords of the Vale who she doesn't know. I can buy that and the sight of her dressed as a lady (looking like Catelyn) was an effective moment in her psychological development.

However for this story to be truly effective I think Sansa needs a confidant. We need to see how she feels day to day so that we can understand how much she truly understands about her situation. For example I would have been very impressed if it had been made clear that she outed herself as Sansa Stark because it would put some pressure on Baelish. He could no longer threaten to just get rid of her if powerful people know who she is.

But I don't think that was intentional. And the staging of the "confession" scene was poor. It felt like at least a day had passed (if not more) between Lysa's death and Baelish making his excuses. Surely in that time Little Finger would have gone to Sansa to advise her on what to say. As the scene played out and she used so much truth to tell her lies I couldn't help but think "this isn't necessary, you could have made up anything over the last few days." I do understand that she can only effectively lie (at the moment) using her real feelings to convey emotion and that's fine but a little tweaking could have made it more plausible.

Ser Jorah is another character whose personal emotional journey has become lost amidst the large cast. So it was hard to feel much for him as Dany kicked him out despite the plot mechanics being sound. I tried to think about how him leaving would affect the story but the only thing I could think of were his conversations with the mystery woman in Qarth. She seemed to know all about his betrayal and I don't know if that was marking out his narrative as more important or just part of the weird populace of that city? I think there is intrigue in Dany kicking out someone who we know she can trust. Is this the mistake that leads to problems for her court?

Arya's laugh felt a lot like Sansa's dress. It was clearly designed to be a sign post on her way from naive child to world weary adult. And it worked ok I could believe it even if resigned, hysterical laughter is a hard noise to fake. But as with Sansa I don't quite feel it. Arya has popped up multiple times this season to kill people and then tell us about her growing disillusionment with the world. I understand the story and sometimes I like it but I can't say I really feel it. I just don't spend enough time with her and the time I do spend is waiting for the next twist.

The knock on effects of scenes like the Trial by Combat were felt in the romance between Grey Worm and Missandei. It seemed so unlike the show to present a very innocent romance story. Two freed slaves who never thought about the possibility of choosing their own loved ones now suddenly can. And of course GRRM loves to tell stories about disabled people overcoming their afflictions and so you have the added intrigue of what exactly Grey Worm feels. It was nice for once to have the needless nudity be the spawn for something pleasant. But I don't feel like I can truly invest in these two because who's to say the Masters won't rebel next week and smash their faces in so we can all be terribly shocked. I realise that I sound like a cynical broken record but this is a repeated pattern so far.

Finally I thought the Theon-Ramsay-Roose scenes were good. Roose has so far been shrewd at every turn and you wonder if his faith in psycho Ramsay might cost him one day. Alfie Allen is doing a tremendous job with Theon but he seems so utterly broken at this point that you question what could shake him from his brain washing.

Best Moment: The beetle speech.

Conclusion: To all you book readers. Yes I do know the story isn't over. And yes I do know that there will be more twists and that justice will appear at some point as it did when Locke was killed. But this is how I feel and I've tried to explain that it is more than a knee jerk reaction to Oberyn's death. And remember that I am reacting to the adaption of the story HBO are presenting and not to the books. The two experiences will always be very different.

My ratings system is of course straining under the weight of all the Unknown. I thought most things before the big twist were engaging and well performed as they normally are. But emotionally a lot is dependent on how the overall narrative flows. And this was a massive downer that affected everything else.

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  • Oberyn in the books was never a main character. If you liked him enough that it devastated you that mens the show is doing its job well. He was not a point of view character and so you sw things from Tyrion's perspective. I might also add that now looking back at this I think the cuts to the audience serves a) to show how NOT phased they are by this sort of spectacle and violence (Cersei even smiles after Oberyn dies), b) to serve as visual clues as to what might happen next (see Varys and Jaime looking at each other), and c) to showcase the differences between the chracters because the desperation and stress Tyrion feels is clearly visible, Jaime seems impressed by Oberyn's fighting because of course he himself cannot fight that well at this point and he hopes his brother makes it and Tywin has ice in his veins when it comes to everything. Oberyn's purpose in the books is to deconstruct the Han Solo kind of badass that always makes it out of any situation just because he is 'too cool to die'. Sorry, that does not apply in a more realistic setting and it demonstrates hybris very well. He did not fight for Tyrion but for his sister and ws not content with a simple victory, he had to push his luck and Bronn even said in episode 7 of season 4 "one misstep and I'm dead' and this is exctly what happened here. Now you might not like it but it's perfectly reasonable why this might happen under these circumstnces. Also, I feel obligated to tell you that the horror elements from the books have been downplayed on the show (Ramsay is way worse in the books). Ultimately, this is a show that delivers consequences where otherwise you would not expect any because tv usually shies awy from going all the wy (which is why the Breaking Bad finale does not work for me AT ALL, primarily because the showruners talked a lot about consequences but there was a limit as to how bad the situation was going to get and I wished they had decided to leave Walter to die alone of cancer becuse that was the likely scenario, not nazi killing supergun and Jesse forgiving Walter. With Game of Thrones there is NO risk of any of that kind of moral compromise happening if the story elements do not lead there naturally. Tywin waving off Pycelle is in character also because in season 2 episode 9 Cersei said that Tywin believes in the gods but does not like them very much so why would he respect them by having that old man waste everyone's, and most importantly his own, time? Keeping all those minor character details straight is not easy, especilly since sometimes one cannot be sure if something has been kept or left out from the books but this was definitely already mentioned. I also hate shows that tell you how you should feel (another problem I have with the Breaking Bad finale). How about a show that eaves it up to you to feel angry, confused, etc. s to your point bout human nature nd cruelty, people were cruel back in the Middle Ages and people can be cruel today. Also the beetle speech was about the arbitrariness of violence and the nknowable nature of people so I don't understand how you did not connect those Tyrion scenes together?

    Posted by Great Eagle, 19/03/2015 7:36am (4 years ago)

  • One correction to my post:
    Sam mentions in (S3E9) the Black Gate secret tunnel that Goes to the Night Fort to Gilly. Not S4E9.

    Posted by Fluids, 09/06/2014 7:19pm (4 years ago)

  • Funkhauser, sorry it's a drag but can you repost your comment?

    Posted by The TV Critic, 06/06/2014 11:50pm (4 years ago)

  • I'm disheartened by this episode as well. There is a repetition that's setting in that for me is taking some of the joy out of the show. Killing well liked characters can serve a purpose and can make sense but this time it really felt like everything was designed to shock instead of actually serve the story. And after a while it stops being shocking because we just wait for the next one to come along.

    It reminds me of some bands with great 1st albums that blow out of the gates with a seemingly new sound but with followups that seem to merely repeat the same riffs and sound that made them unique before.

    I realize that people give Martin credit for defying story conventions but there is a reason that those conventions exist. In the end we want to be entertained and rewarded. I'm not sure that I want to be grossed out and made miserable for the next 5 or 10 years.

    Viewer score: 60 / 100

    Posted by bb, 06/06/2014 2:25am (4 years ago)

  • You always know how to cheer me up :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 06/06/2014 12:03am (4 years ago)

  • I'm pretty sure we can all agree that this would have been the best:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8oOi6JOXEQ

    Posted by Brando, 05/06/2014 10:19pm (4 years ago)

  • "I was saying with last episode's review that the reviewer did not
    apply the lessons that he'd been given in the 3 previous seasons"

    I really don't care what you feel about Robin's review and that is not
    what this area is meant to accomplish.

    It's meant to give your comments about the TV episode so they can be folded
    into a feedback podcast so we all get everyone's perspective from various sides.

    This commands respect for everyone's right to leave these comments.

    In other words, I care about what your comments are about the show.
    It's good to finally see you provide those. I see the words "I feel..."
    This is a refreshing change from you telling us all how we should feel.

    "Now for your other complaints" I am not complaining.
    Those are your words and the way you view my comments.

    I urge you to reread my comments. You still don't seem to be getting what
    Robin has said repeatedly or what I am saying.

    I gave you examples of how I felt the show is holding back certain things which
    would help us understand what is going as we are watching it.

    The explanations come after the actions so they have no impact in the places when they should.
    I gave you an example of this with Roose and Ramsay Bolton.

    You give me back examples of how I should feel about Ramsay and Roose Bolton.

    That's not the purpose of the podcast or this comment area is supposed to be for.

    I didn't ask for an interpreter or answers I am pointing out how what the writers
    aren't giving me the viewer.

    That also doesn't solve the issues the show has in terms of withholding information
    in my opinion.

    Are you the show runner? Why are dictating how I should feel about Roose Bolton
    or Ramsay Bolton? I don't do that to anybody and neither do most people here.
    Why don't you tell me how *you* feel about those characters instead?

    There isn't a wrong or right way of each person having their take on things.
    Please stop telling me how I should look at characters on the show.
    You are coming across as lecturing everyone and being condescending and negative,
    which isn't what I believe you are trying to accomplish.

    I appreciate your comments on each episode and how you feel about it.
    I don't appreciate your criticism about my comments
    and forcing me to abide by your interpretation of everything.


    I hope the point has been brought across.

    Posted by Fluids, 04/06/2014 11:07pm (4 years ago)

  • Robin, just go with it. This was the best epode of television this year - somehow still better than Mad men, fargo, true detective. Most other tv shows would have ended on Jorah, Arya, Sansa or Ramsey but we got a great scene with Tyrion and then the duel. Oberyn had charisma and charm - horriified to see him die but it was thrilling never the less.

    Viewer score: 95 / 100

    Posted by hangingbaskets, 04/06/2014 10:43pm (4 years ago)

  • Eric, I'm not trying to divide the audience. I'm trying to tell book readers to stop telling me what I should and shouldn't feel about the show. They lack the perspective of being spoiler free. I lack the perspective of all the extra detail and POV you get from reading the books. I'd like it if people could just state their opinions on each episode and not attack other people for their reactions.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 04/06/2014 9:35pm (4 years ago)

  • I think that dividing the audience between those who have read the books and those who have not is problematic. First of all, the show is caught up wirh the books in a few aspects. Also the show has major deviations from the books. The cultural talking heads around this show make a big deal about how close this adaption is. It's hard to explain how that's simply not true without going into spoilers.

    But I also think as a method of dividing the audience it fails because you have people who read all the books then watched the show. You have people who watched the show and read the books after. You have people that read book 1 and then watched season 1 and vice versa.

    Not to mention that every single individual will come at the show from their unique pov. So while it's true that I can't have the same reaction as you I think that's a point that's a bit over simplified and na bad way to divide the audience. Everyone has a rught to their reaction and I agree with much of your criticisms. I just don't think it's fair to say that I wouldn't understand.

    As for the show I think this is a devastating point in the series but I don’t think it's aboit nihilism or gratuitous violence but rather a story that goes into the true horrors of war. I think the killing of characters is more that subversion for its own sake. And the violence is discusting but there is something darker about how casual regular tv treats murder. We see the sheer brutality of it for a reason (though I still hate watching those moments).

    Viewer score: 65 / 100

    Posted by Eric, 04/06/2014 3:27pm (4 years ago)

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