‘Game of Thrones’ recap: Season 4, Episode 8, ‘The Mountain and the Viper’

sansa stark eyrie game of thrones the mountain and the viper
The girl least likely has become the queen of “Game of Thrones.”
Credit: HBO

This week on “Game of Thrones,” disguises are stripped away, secrets are exposed, and a few people even try on new identities. The game is about to change!

“Remember what you are, and what you’re not,” Ramsay Snow tells Theon “Reek” Greyjoy as he sends him off in his former finery to Moat Cailin. Ramsay needs to take the fort to gain access to the North, where his father Roose Bolton may have gained the deeds, but not power, by killing the Starks at the Red Wedding.

Theon secures surrender by promising the Ironborn who hold the Moat freedom, which Ramsay promptly breaks by flaying their leader.”Traditions are important — where are we without our history?” he wonders at the man whose every shred of identity he’s stripped from him like the flesh from his enemies.

But those words become less rhetorical than they seemed when Roose, presented with the Moat Cailin banner, christens Ramsay a Bolton, his rightful son. Does this mean he still gets to flay people but can no longer torture them into catatonia? Lines in the sand are all the boundaries there seem to be in Westeros these days.

Life away from Sam and the rest of the Night’s Watch hasn’t suited Gilly. But then, raising a baby in a whorehouse was bound to be little better than drafty Castle Black. She’s reminded, needlessly, by a prostitute that she doesn’t belong there, and ought to be with her own kind — just as Mance Rayder’s advance guard of wildlings rolls through Mole’s Town. Ygritte certainly seems to have set aside her sympathies, until she spares Gilly and her child. Maybe spending the recent past pillaging the countryside alongside a tribe of cannibals hasn’t managed to kill her last bit of humanity after all.

khaleesi daenerys targaryen missandei meereen throne room
Missandei is still loyal to Daenerys, even if she’s worthless at braiding hair.
Credit: HBO

In Meereen, Missandei and Grey Worm share a moment as he bathes in the river where she’s washing what is apparently her only dress. That night, she and Daenerys gossip about whether the Unsullied are 100 percent castrated — Daeny is literally braiding Missandei’s hair, it’s every middle school slumber party ever. Grey Worm later approaches Missandei with a heartfelt apology, but rejects her pity for his condition because if he hadn’t been castrated, he wouldn’t have become one of the Unsullied, then been freed by Daenerys and ultimately met her. Being a warrior is all he knows, though Missandei keeps insisting he had a home, a family, a life before. Some past lives are not ready to be embraced.

Others, meanwhile, return to haunt another man in Daenerys’ camp. Ser Jorah’s original mission as a spy for King’s Landing is exposed when a pardon from then-King Robert Baratheon finds its way into Ser Barristen’s hands. Jorah pleads that he’s a changed man, and that this is a Lannister ploy to weaken Daenerys’ reign. But she refuses to hear anything, having realized that the attempt on her life while pregnant with Khal Drogo’s child happened because of the information that Jorah had sent to Lord Varys, and grants him the comparatively generous choice of banishment or losing his head.

Woe.

In the Vale, Petyr Baelish’s silver tongue is failing him before his new homeland’s highborn, centuries-old legacy families who are suspicious of the money-grubbing whoremonger who claims that Lady Arryn threw herself out the Moon Door. Littlefinger seems as good as a stain on the rocks below, too, until the council calls on Sansa Stark — who puts on her performance of the series. Dear Uncle Petyr lied about her identity to protect her, he got her out of King’s Landing, away from the Lannisters’ torment and her forced marriage, and Lady Arryn simply misunderstood a peck on her cheek and killed herself in despair.

The council eats up every word; Petyr is stunned into uncharacteristic silence. That is until later that day, when he goes to Sansa’s room and asks why she lied for him, the master manipulator who works four steps ahead surprised by a woman half his age. Sansa never takes her eyes off her sewing project as she says she simply had no way of knowing what the council would do to him, or her, if they knew the truth. Which, as Petyr points out, isn’t an answer.

“Do you think you know me?” he asks. “I know what you want,” she answers simply. “Do you?” he counters. Maybe not the master plan, but she knows enough, proving it with an enigmatic smile. After last week’s definitely not chaste kiss, she definitely knows what he wants from her, at least, and now that he owes her his life she’s taken the upper hand in their dynamic and can bide her time until she figures a way out. It is breathtakingly satisfying to see Sansa come into her own.

Just as Sansa and Petyr prepare to lead Robin Arryn out of the Eyrie for the first time in his life, the Hound and Arya arrive at the Bloody Gate. Familial blood is worth at least money, the Hound says, despite Arya never having met Lady Arryn — and she never will, as the guard informs them of her sudden death three days ago. There’s nothing to do but laugh, really, and Arya’s echoes down the Vale’s canyon.

Despite having a champion, Tyrion’s mood about his upcoming trial by combat is no lighter: “The Red Viper of Dorne — you don’t get a name like that unless you’re deadly, right?” Jaime is worthless at reassuring him, so Tyrion naturally moves on to listing all the different words for killing members of one’s family. Then, presumably lightheaded from the wine Jaime smuggled in for him, Tyrion makes a long speech about their cousin, Orson Lannister, who was left “simple” after a wet nurse dropped him on his head and spent his days smashing beetles in the garden. Maybe there was a deeper reason for his obsession, as Tyrion tried for so hard and so long to decipher — just because we don’t understand something, doesn’t make it mindless. Because it wouldn’t do for life to have no meaning when a larger power comes along and decides to end it, would it, Tyrion?

His musings are interrupted by the horn announcing the start of his trial, in which Cersei’s champion the Mountain and Tyrion’s unlikely ally Oberyn Martell face off. If you were paying attention in the previous scene, you know how this ends. Oberyn has the upper hand throughout, dancing circles around the Mountain and wounding him enough to land him flat on his back. But he won’t end the fight until the Mountain confesses to raping and murdering his sister and killing her children, and all it takes is for the Mountain to get within arm’s reach to end Pedro Pascal’s stint on the show.

Twitter user @mariesammy speaks for us all:

The man himself summed it up well:

RIP, Oberyn Martell. You were too good for King’s Landing, but damn if you didn’t make it much more fun for a long minute.

Episode grade: A-
Out of 100 possible points, 90 go to Sansa for her sudden ascent to most compelling person in Westeros; 5 to Arya for expressing the only possible reaction to Lysa’s death; and 5 to Tyrion for the strangest existential crisis ever committed to film.



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