4.8 “The Mountain and the Viper”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alex Graves
There’s a lot of really weird stuff going on in this episode, so let’s get right to it.
We open on Mole’s Town, and it took me a couple of minutes to figure out that’s where we were, because the whole thing is above ground. It looks like any other dirty little village that passes for not-King’s-Landing in this version of Westeros—mud streets, rotting thatch, and it’s so danged dark it’s hard to see anything. They had a really great opportunity to do something different here, given that in the books there’s maybe one or two structures above ground and the entire rest of the town is subterranean to protect from the cold. That’s why it’s called Mole’s Town. But I guess since it’s not someplace cool, important, or exotic like King’s Landing or Meereen, it didn’t deserve any special architecture.
One of the prostitutes demonstrates the difference between city whores and country whores by belching a tune and having the men guess what it is. Then she heads into a back room and yells at Gilly, who’s doing the laundry, about baby Sam crying all night and waking her up, then we get a bit of racism before Gilly recognizes a hooting noise and realized they’re about to get raided. Everybody dies except Gilly and baby Sam because Ygritte lets them live and gives Gilly the stay-still-and-be-quiet signal.
Of course, the Night’s Watch finds out about this, and of course Sam thinks Gilly’s dead, and he takes the opportunity to whine about how badly he messed up sending her away and how she’s probably dead and oh woe is me. Pyp tries to convince him that Gilly’s resilient and even Edd tells him that Gilly survived way worse than a raid on Mole’s Town. Jon turns the discussion to defending Castle Black, since obviously they’re next, and Edd (back to his usual Dolorous self) says whoever’s the last to die needs to burn everyone else’s bodies. That’s the setup for the enormous fight next episode.
Over in Meereen, Missandei is bathing and notices Grey Worm noticing her, and everything is super weird and awkward. Missandei tells Daenerys about it, and Dany is the worst at girl talk, telling Missandei it can’t really matter that Grey Worm saw her naked, right, because the Unsullied aren’t interested in girls. As if whether Grey Worm is physically attracted to Missandei makes any difference in the fact that he was creepily staring at her while she’s naked and she clearly felt violated by the whole incident. This leads to Dany wondering just how much of his bits Grey Worm is missing, which makes everything even more awkward. I wonder what Benioff and Weiss were trying to do with this scene; was it just to show that Missandei trusts Dany enough to bring something like this to her? To try to have some rapport between two women (since there’s pretty much none anywhere else in the show)? Is it supposed to show how bad Dany is at relating to other women, and if so, is it because she’s a leader and therefore more masculine than feminine (because lord knows their characters can’t have layers)? Or do they honestly think this is how women talk to each other? You know what might have helped? Having a woman in the writer’s room. Just sayin’.
The subsequent meeting between Missandei and Grey Worm is even weirder; he apologizes for looking at her and doesn’t want to lose her friendship over this incident, because their lessons (she’s teaching him Westerosi) and her friendship are important to him. She tries to discuss his life before becoming an Unsullied, but he claims not to remember it and not to regret being enslaved because it all led up to Dany freeing him and him meeting Missandei. Before he leaves, she says he’s glad he saw her, and he says he is to, and I’m just super confused about this whole relationship. I like that they have one; they’re both such damaged characters who are really two-dimensional in the books, and expanding and exploring their histories and interactions is a nice touch. But did we have to turn it sexual (or sexual-ish)? Couldn’t they just be good friends?
Later, Tywin’s plot from last episode is revealed; he’s sent proof of Jorah’s spying to Barristan in order to disrupt Dany’s support structure. Jorah tries to tell her that that’s Tywin’s whole plan and she shouldn’t give him what he wants, but Dany’s a bit caught up with the fact that the attempted poisoning was all his fault, because he’s the one who sent the information to Robert that she was pregnant. She tells him to get out, he continues to try to talk her out of it, and she tells him to get. Out.
Meanwhile, the Boltons are using Theon to take Moat Cailin, not by swapping him like Roose had planned before Ramsay messed him up real good, but by getting him to convince the remaining Ironborn to come out and surrender. At which point they’re hung on crosses and flayed because who needs honor? This whole thing might actually have been a major mistake on the Boltons’ part, though, because even pretending to be Theon for a bit might have been what helped lay the foundation for “Reek” to turn back into “Theon” and rescue himself.
Also, as much as I generally hate the way the show has treated Theon’s storyline (and will hate it even more later—just wait), Alfie Allen has handled the portrayal of barely-hanging-on with some serious mastery. He’s really great at this and deserves some props.
After the retaking of Moat Cailin goes without a hiccup, Roose hands Ramsay a writ of legitimization, which is his second mistake, as we’ll see later. They also shift their seat of power from the Dreadfort to Winterfell, where they head at the end of this scene.
Petyr and Sansa have to deal with the fallout (heh) of Lysa’s death, the treatment of which shoves Sansa’s story further away from the book story. First of all, they took Marillion out of the Eyrie story way back in season one, so he’s not an available scapegoat. Then, Sansa tearfully admits to her real identity and supports Petyr’s story to the skeptical lords (and lady) of the Vale. Her sob story is so convincing that Lady Waynwood gives her a hug, and Sansa and Petyr exchange looks over her shoulder. With the lords convinced of Lysa’s insanity leading to suicide, they discuss what to do with Robin in a lead-up to joining in the war.
Later, Petyr comes to see Sansa in her room and asks why she helped him; this would have been a good time to strike out on her own, after all. He doesn’t trust her motives or her ability to play the game, but she knows that he’d never turn on her because of this Tully-fixation he has. They exchange super-creepy looks and she goes back to sewing. Later, when they take Robin out of the Eyrie and down into the Vale, she comes out in the results of that sewing—a slinky black dress with weird feathery things on the shoulders cut down to here and a collar-and-chain necklace and a smug, come-hither look at Petyr who’s drooling all over himself and I can’t even you guys. There’s just so much wrong with this.
First of all, Sansa is fourteen. Maybe fifteen, but barely. Petyr’s well into his thirties, possibly pushing forty, and his fixation with her is already super gross without her weird sudden discovery of the power of sexuality. Sexual manipulation goes against everything she believes in the books; it’s one of Cersei’s tools, and Sansa explicitly does not want to be Cersei. Instead of making her into Cersei’s opposite, Benioff and Weiss have turned her into a baby Cersei and sexualized a child. And don’t give me that guff about medieval sexual mores and no such thing as childhood and blah blah, because history doesn’t support it and this isn’t the Middle Ages, this is a contemporary show with a pre-industrial setting that bears some resemblance to the Middle Ages and Sansa is a child. Sophie Turner might be in her twenties, but Sansa is a child.
Also, there’s the whole extra-textual discussion of the costume and how it was developed; in Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones: Seasons Three and Four, costume designer Michelle Clapton says that Benioff and Weiss “wanted Sansa to be her own woman rather than this victim,” and that “after this, she doesn’t really want to sew anymore” and that somehow that necklace is meant to echo Arya’s sword Needle and it’s her weapon, and none of that makes any gorram sense, so let’s try to break it down.
They “wanted Sansa to be her own woman rather than this victim”: okay, it’s phrased really badly (somehow a woman who’s been the victim of the kind of abuse Sansa’s endured isn’t “her own” anymore?), but it seems that they wanted Sansa to take control of her own life rather than being pushed around by the abusive people who have had her in their clutches since season one. Fair. But in order to do that, she has to use her sexual wiles on yet another predatory man who’s only using her to get what he wants? And sure, if he gets what he wants, she could be queen, but that doesn’t make him any less of a creepy, predatory, ultimately abusive, practically pedophile. And we’re supposed to celebrate her choosing to put herself at the mercy of this man? Somehow this makes her “her own woman”?
“After this, she doesn’t really want to sew anymore”: This is pretty much right in line with Benioff and Weiss’ disdain for traditionally female tasks and the ways that the women in A Song of Ice and Fire use them to gain or maintain power. They completely miss the whole point of the political power that can be gained by dancing, the arts, courtesy, and even sewing, so of course when they want to show that Sansa’s growing up and becoming a power-player, she has to give up traditionally female pastimes. Instead, she’s got to learn to gain and wield power in one of the two ways women are allowed to in this version of Westeros: through sex or violence. Right now, there’s nobody to be violent against, so sex it is. Did I mention gross?
Finally there’s the thing about that necklace, which makes the least sense of any of it. It’s “a ring that you stitch through and then that’s her weapon”? Huh? If it was supposed to look like a needle going through a circle in order to represent that she’s using her ability to sew as a weapon, they missed hard. Instead, it looks to me like a collar with a chain coming off, which conjures up all sorts of BDSM stuff as well as slavery and ownership and the connotations are just not good.
Arya and Sansa have a near-miss; Sansa’s preparing to leave the Eyrie just as Arya is finding out that Lysa’s dead, so she doesn’t try to go into the Eyrie. Since nobody outside the Eyrie knows that Sansa is Sansa, they don’t know to tell Arya that she’s there. Arya, presumably overcome by the sheer ridiculousness of the whole situation, bursts out laughing, while Sandor looks super cranky.
It’s trial-by-combat time, but first we have to have yet another super weird scene, this one between Jaime and Tyrion. They discuss the possibility of Tyrion’s death, but then come around to a brain-damaged cousin who spent all day crushing beetles with a rock and making a weird noise while doing it. Tyrion tells a whole story about how he used to sit and watch Orson with his rock and the beetles, trying to figure out why he did it. Not only is the story completely pointless, as far as I can tell, it makes me like Tyrion even less because of the way he talks about Orson. He freely admits that mocking Orson made him feel a bit like everyone else, because at least he also had someone to look down on, but he also imitates Orson’s manner of speech and the weird noise he made in a way that seems like it’s supposed to be funny? Instead, it adds to the problem the show has with ableism by mocking yet another disabled person, one who doesn’t have Tyrion’s gift of intelligence and quick-wittedness to defend himself. I understand that this scene is meant to be bonding between Jaime and Tyrion before Tyrion’s final trial. I don’t understand why they talk about this during that time. I don’t understand what the character-building, world-building, or narrative purpose of it is. There’s so many things they just skip over, presumably because they don’t have time, but they can spend several minutes on this? I’m befuddled.
Tyrion’s dragged out into the square, where he berates Oberyn for drinking before a fight and not wearing a helmet. Oberyn is confident that today isn’t the day he dies; Oberyn is sometimes an idiot. The scene progresses more or less like it did in the books, with Oberyn yelling at Gregor to confess to raping and murdering Elia and killing her children, and Gregor getting more and more pissed. Oberyn gets a couple of good stabs in with his poisoned spear, but Gregor ultimately grabs him, pins him down, and crushes his head. What I’ve never understood (even in the books) is that this bout seems to have ended in a draw—it takes longer for Gregor to die, but he does die. He and Oberyn kill each other. So how is Tyrion automatically guilty? It seems like nobody’s claim is upheld here. My guess? Politics. Tywin calls the match for Gregor and sentences Tyrion to death because it’s the most politically expedient thing to do and he hates Tyrion.
Black Jack Bulwer
Mole’s Town residents
Next week: Mance reaches the Wall.
All images from screencapped.net