Game of Thrones 4×08, ‘The Mountain and the Viper’: Eye-popping entertainment


You know what?  I think I may be done with this show. I’ve had just about all the misogyny, shocking violence, and endless meandering plotlines I can stand. But what’s even worse than all of that is the way that the truly despicable villains on this program continue to wreak misery unmet. They don’t just get away with depravity and debased malevolence, they roll around in it like a pig in its own filth, flinging it at anyone who dare gaze upon it.  I don’t know how much more of that I can take. Ugh. This season can’t end too soon.  

source: HBO

source: HBO

IN THIS EPISODE: Theon negotiates a surrender with the Ironborn at some random fortress in a swamp, but Ramsay crawfishes and flays them anyway just for fun; Grey Worm and Missandei exchange long meaningful (and nude) glances and then talk about their feelings, because what Dany’s subplot needed was more pointless dalliance; Sansa outs herself during the inquiry into Lyssa’s death, but sides with Littlefinger to make her formal début as for-real player in the actual game of thrones, and it’s kinda gross; Littlefinger tries to rally the loyal houses of the Vale against the Lannisters to the cause of young Robin Arryn, while everyone makes the same face you’re making right now; Arya finally arrives at the Eyrie, seemingly the only person on this show cognizant of how utterly screwed up the world is; Tywin sends a letter to Barristan Selmy outing Jorah’s role as King Robert’s spy, causing Dany to drive him from her sight and ordered never to return under threat of death; Mance Rayder’s Wildling gang kills everyone at the brothel in Mole Town, except Gilley and Little Sam, who are saved by a kindly Ygritte; Jon Snow and the Jon Snow Five wail and moan about The State Of Things while continuing along their plan of not doing much about it; Roose Bolton formally grants family title to the fortress-conquering Ramsay and tells him of his plan to become the new King of the North; Tyrion and Jamie share a final drink in jail while pondering the motivations of violent imbeciles; Prince Oberyn defeats the Mountain in single combat, but can’t stop his Inigo Montoya routine long enough to remember that Game of Thrones is a program where horrifying things only happen to good people, and how Cersei wears 18 layers of plot armor, or that — just like with Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger — characters like the Mountain are supernatural and no amount of stabbing or bloodletting will actually kill them, which of course means that the Mountain rises from the dead to crush Oberyn’s head into bloody custard while proudly screaming about raping and killing children.

source: HBO

source: HBO

So . . . yeah. That’s what’s going on this week in Westeros. Horrifying violence, uncomfortable employment of sexual agency, torture, betrayal, wanton murder, and George R. R. Martin’s favorite — the death of the righteous by the hand of the evil and banal.  This week we’re treated to several instances of being witness to the withering of hope, from Oberyn to Tyrion, from Jaime to Jorah, and from Sansa to Arya.  All of these characters who dared to fall on the lighter shades of grey within this show’s morality are treated to precedence’s typical result.  Personally I’m fatigued with it all at this juncture; if Tyrion is put to death and we lose Sansa to gamesmanship, what’s the point of even watching anymore?  I wondered and fretted at the end of last season after losing Robb and Katelyn if there was to be any more joy to take from this show, and after eight episodes since I don’t know if there’s any way to argue in the affirmative: this is simply a joyless show.

At the top of that list of joyless miscreants is Tywin and Cersei; I’ve long defended Tywin Lannister in this column because no matter what happened, his focus has always been keenly on the stability of the realm (given his family’s secured place on the throne, naturally), but given his treatment of Tyrion in the context of being not only his son but a very capable Hand and servant of the throne, as well as the context of Cersei openly being a vindictive, stupid cow, Tywin’s discernment skills must now be called into question. As well, as a more metatextual critique of the writing of this show (or more likely, George Martin), it calls into question whether or not this is just becoming misery porn, and I think it has. The motivation for Tywin and Cersei’s cruel mistreatment of Tyrion has never been more deep than merely lamenting that a deformed child unwittingly stole the life of his mother in childbirth, and inhumanity in that thinking coupled with Jaime’s ability to love and protect Tyrion wholeheartedly elevate their vile acts into the realm of cartoon villainy.  They’re just plain evil, and no halfway-competent author alive would argue for the complexity of a purely evil opposing force because it’s flat-out bad writing.  It’s a crutch for lazy authors to fall back on when they don’t know how to do anything else but ratchet up tension by putting their protagonists constantly in danger; Hero X fights against Villain Y because evil must be fought, forever and ever, amen.  It’s boring, and it’s stupid, and it’s demeaning.

source: HBO

source: HBO

But let’s go to something that I found very interesting: Tyrion’s anecdote about poor cousin Orson Lannister, the idiot.  Young Orson was dropped as child and spent the rest of his life as moron (as Tyrion puts it), singularly fascinated with squishing of beetles in the family garden.  Tyrion recounts his efforts as a youth desperate to understand what drove his addled cousin to mete out such pointless destruction, the studying he did in the maester’s library on psychology, the questioning and intervening he attempted . . . all to be met with no avail, helpless to only look on as the moron continued killing mindlessly.  Is Tyrion, in a moment of grave reflection, trying to make sense of a senseless world?  A world where his dutiful family service was only ever met with scorn and ridicule, where his competency was met with dismissal, and where his ultimate reward seems to be death for a crime he didn’t commit against someone who most certainly deserved it?  It clearly makes sense on that level, that grim nihilism would be the only explanation for the events that have lead to that point, but consider this: that story about Orson Lannister is not from the books.  It was written by the showrunners and put into the mouth of one of the show’s most popular characters, surely chosen for its metatextual portent.  But was it merely Tyrion talking about the peculiarities of fate in the abstract?  Or was David Benioff and D.B. Weiss commenting on their frustrations with Martin as a storyteller?  As viewers like myself ask increasingly every week, “Is there a point to any of this misery?” are the people who make the show wondering the same thing?

Atomika D.

is a writer and critic of TV and film since 2006, an alumnus of NYFA’s school of celluloid direction and production, and she once ate seven burritos on a dare. It was not pleasant. Read all about it on Tumblr.

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  • Sheryl Parrish

    Well… this season has been extra brutal. You’ve sure got that right. But it is laying the groundwork for some reversals of fortune. IDK if you’ve read the books or not but it ain’t over yet. Sh_t’s about to get real.

    I agree a lot of this season has been cringe worthy and I doubt I will be birdwatching any episodes anytime soon but your Cersei hate seems over the top. Cow? Really? B_tch I get but negative on the cow thing.

    And Sansa Littlefinger thing is uber disturbing. Reek needs to die. The greyworm storyline seemed like a waste of time. Here’s hoping the last 2 episodes do something besides make us all uncomfortable.

    • Atomika

      I liked episode 9 of this season!

      I haven’t read the books, so don’t go spoiling me!

      Yes, Reek’s whole plotline needs to die.