Another episode, another “Oh, shit!” ending. Expect at least one more of those before we wrap up Season 4, which adapts the second half of Book 3 -- easily the best of the series (so far) -- and ventures a bit into Book 4 and beyond. In addition to that brutal, jaw-dropping ending, we also got some interesting progression on a few other stories, including one that I would argue advances past what we’ve seen in the books. At the very least it changed the trajectory of a plotline significantly.
I’ll break down the story arcs, going from least interesting to most. Spoilers on!
In the North, the Wildlings south of the Wall attacked the messy whores of Mole’s Town and their johns. It was your standard village slaughter, with at least two survivors: slack-jawed Gilly and her baby, who were spared by Ygritte. From a narrative perspective, the attack was a gambit by the Wildlings to flush the Night’s Watch out of Castle Black. But really it was to establish that even though Ygritte is pissed off and ready to take out some crows, she still has a conscience. It also served to make Sam cry over Gilly possibly being dead, but I’m sorry: I do not care about Sam and Gilly. I like Sam fine, I’m ambivalent about Gilly, but their shared scenes have all the intensity of two damp pieces of wool lazily slapping together. There’s absolutely no chemistry there. Gilly doesn’t even seem to particularly like Sam.
Also in the North, Ramsay Snow sent his lapdog Reek to pose as Reek’s former self, Theon Greyjoy, so that “Theon” could treat with the Iron Islanders who have taken over Moat Cailin. You have to hand it to Ramsay -- that is an epic mindgame. The Krakens were not doing so well. They were all sick and wounded and dying, and barely holding on to the fortress, which is a hugely important strategic position when accessing the North (I don’t know if the show has made that sufficiently clear). Reek did his best role playing to persuade the pirates to surrender to Ramsay, assuring that they would be well taken care of and allowed to return home. The initial commander of the pirates politely turned down Reek/Theon’s offer by spitting blood in his face, Reek’s facade began to crack, but he was saved by another crack -- the one that appeared in the head pirate’s skull when his underling put an axe in it, and accepted the conditions of surrender. This of course led to his immediate disfigurement and skinning by certified crazy Ramsay (the fact that the pirate dude’s body meat was still steaming in the breeze was a…special touch), and presumably all the Ironborne being massacred. In return for securing Moat Cailin for his father, Roose Bolton, Ramsay was legitimized, meaning he is no longer The Bastard of Bolton. He’s just another sadistic, torture-loving nutbag, and the father and son are determined to take over the North. But first, Ramsay wants a bath! In all seriousness, this was the point in the books where I realized that the Boltons, who had been fairly minor characters since the start, were emerging as legitimate threats that would have to be dealt with by the time the series ended. You can’t just ignore them anymore, since they more or less run the North. And they still have at least one more trick, which I suspect will have to wait until next season.
On the road to The Vale, The Hound and Arya talked shop about the most satisfying ways to kill a person. As you do. They seemed to be getting along well enough, until they reached the Gates of the Moon and discovered that Lysa Arryn -- Arya’s aunt, whom The Hound planned to sell her back to -- was dead, probably dashed to pieces on rocks a few miles down the road. This prompted a spectacular facepalm from The Hound, and an uncontrollable giggling fit from Arya, because seriously, at this point it’s just ludicrous. Consider that she has been on the run since the end of Season 1, being bounced from one “protector” to the next in the hopes of being reunited with one family member or another. And every single one of them has ended up dead RIGHT before she arrives. It’s like Charlie Brown and that football, except the footballs are the heads of her family. Of course, Arya is unaware that her sister is in the Eyrie right now. And I don’t think she even got close to the Eyrie in the books. The question is now, to whom will the Hound try to sell her? Is there a fourth cousin twice removed hanging around?
In Meereen we had two plotlines. First, Grey Worm ogled Missendei while they were both bathing, leading to a confused Missendei asking the Mother of Dragons for her advice about boys, and later, a legitimately sweet scene in which Grey Worm essentially told Missendei that he was glad that he suffered all the torment of his childhood because ultimately it led him to her. I like both of those actors, and I like those characters, but I’m confused why the show is inventing this storyline -- those characters are very, very tertiary in the books -- when it has so many other character arcs and so little time to juggle them. I mean, how long has it been since we’ve seen Bran? At least two or three episodes? Anyway, Daenerys has boy troubles of her own, as Ser Jorah got sold down the river by Tywin’s messenger boy (literally, it was a boy who brought the message), who delivered to Ser Barristan Selmy the royal pardon Jorah was to receive from Robert Baratheon for spying on Dany and Viserys all the way back in Season 1. Jorah, to his credit, took being exposed like a man, and tried to explain to Daenerys that he believes in her, loves her, but Dany was in Stone Cold Mother role, and kicked his ass to the curb. That was a great scene, and very well acted by Emilia Clarke in particular. But it did take out some important Jorah background. In the books he explains specifically why he betrayed her -- he was desperate to get back to Westeros, to regain his honor, which he threw away for the love of a woman who was using him. I also can’t remember if the show went into the prophecy from the House of the Undying, in which Dany was told she would be betrayed three times, once for blood, once for gold, and once for love. Jorah sure seems to satisfy one of those, although you could argue which.
For me, the most interesting developments of the night came in The Vale, where the Sansa/Littlefinger plot advanced in a very different, interesting fashion. In the books there is a bard upon whom Littlefinger blames the death of Lysa Arryn. The bard had his tongue cut out and so could not defend himself when Petyr claimed that he pushed Lysa through the Moon Door. There was no bard here, so the show instead streamlined things so that it was Petyr being tried for the crime by the Vale lords, and his “niece Alayne” as the witness. I was stunned when Sansa delivered her monologue in which she told the lords of the Vale exactly who she was, how she got there, and that Littlefinger was the only person who had been a friend to her -- in the books, Sansa’s actual identity is still very much a secret to pretty much everyone in the Vale. Second, she made a very calculated move to speak truthfully up until the bit about Lysa’s death, at which she baldly lied, saying that Lysa killed herself out of fear of losing Petyr’s affections. That was another stunner for me. Finally, Petyr sought out Sansa in her room to ask why she lied for him, and Sansa, blithely working away at needlepoint, informed him it was because she didn’t know what would happen to her if they killed Littlefinger, but she does know what Littlefinger wants -- her, more or less. And in what I think of as a fairly major development that we have yet to see in the books, Sansa seems totally cool with leading Petyr on. For the remainder of their scenes she was giving Littlefinger major bedroom eyes and dressing and acting very much like a grown woman. There has been a lot of speculation about how Sansa would continue to develop over the course of the book series. I found this episode very telling. She’s going to take everything she’s ever learned from Cersei, Joffrey, Margaery, Olenna, and Littlefinger, and she’s going to become as ruthless a manipulator as she needs to be. I can see why some people might find it misogynistic. Personally, I found it empowering. You guys, Sansa is going to destroy Petyr. And it’s going to be amazing.
But what everyone will be talking about this morning is the conclusion of the trial of Tyrion Lannister. First, we got another great jail-cell scene between Tyrion and Jaime, including what I believe is an entirely new monologue for the show about Tyrion’s dimwitted cousin and his penchant for crushing beetles. Then it was the main event: trial by combat, with The Mountain acting as Cersei’s champion and Oberyn Martell as Tyrion’s. But truly, the Red Viper was acting in his own interests -- he wanted The Mountain to admit to raping and murdering his sister years ago, and murdering her babies, all at Tywin Lannister’s command. This was an interesting fight scene. The Viper was flipping and twirling all over the place while brandishing a spear, while The Mountain just lunged around in full armor, swinging a sword. The Viper had The Mountain on the ground, speared in the guts, and taunting him, and truly for a moment I thought the show was going to change things up, and that the Viper would win -- a huge, huge departure from the books. But then The Mountain pulled him down to the ground, got on top of him, admitted publicly that he did all the horrible things to Oberyn’s sister, and then CRUSHED HIS HEAD IN HIS BARE HANDS. It was just fucking brutal. Way worse than I imagined while reading it, because of the screaming (Oberyn’s and his paramour’s), and, you know, the sounds and sights of a skull being ripped apart.
So thus ends Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. It’s a shame; I was kind of hoping the show would find some way of keeping him around, because Pedro Pascal really did a great job bringing the character to life. I liked Oberyn in the books, I loved him on the show. But his death is really a pretty spectacular moment, and I’m glad it wasn’t unwritten, so to speak. It also sets into motion a few other major plot points. Consider: Tyrion is now set to be executed for Joffrey’s murder (in which Tyrion had absolutely no part); Dorne just lost another member of its royal family in King’s Landing; anyone at that trial just saw The Mountain confess to murdering Elia and her royal babies; and before Oberyn died, he did a fair number on The Mountain. So this event produces many, many ripples.
But we won’t see any of them next episode, which apparently focuses solely on the Wildlings’ assault on The Wall. I’m excited to see that on screen, but concerned because that leaves only one episode to focus on this season’s myriad other plots, in which there are many, many big moments to come.