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Review: In ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4, Episode 7, Reservations and Surprises Fly

Review: In 'Game of Thrones' Season 4, Episode 7, Reservations and Surprises Fly

There is nothing quite like the third or so good episode of
Game of Thrones” in a row. The show has so many moving parts that to
see them all functioning harmoniously, as if it’s no big deal, is quite a sight
to behold. “Mockingbird,” written by showrunners David Benioff &
D.B. Weiss and directed by series regular Alik Sakharov, manages to keep the
larger story moving ever forward (with the exception of one storyline, more on
which below) and provide for some terrific character moments. And that ending,
oh, that ending…

Before we get there, we have the rest of the episode to get
through. First, there’s the perilous situation in which Tyrion finds himself,
after the seismic dramatics at his trial. Jaime upbraids him for his
impulsiveness, but Tyrion (quite justifiably) dismisses Tywin’s so-called
clemency in allowing him to live the rest of his natural life at The Wall as
not that great an upgrade over death. Jaime, clearly still in spiritual agony
over being forced into a career as a left-handed duelist, cannot be Tyrion’s
champion in the trial by combat. But Tyrion assumes that Bronn will swoop in
and save the day as he did before, regardless of who Cersei’s champion ends up
being.

As it turns out, that’s rather a larger ask than Tyrion
anticipated, as Cersei is not screwing around or even operating in the same
language family as the phrase “screwing around.” For her side of the
trial by combat, she’s enlisted Ser Gregor Clegane, The Mountain, who according
to Sakharov’s direction is about nine feet tall and kills dudes in ALL CAPS,
emptying his sparring partners of blood and entrails with minimum effort. Even
on a show as violent as “Game of Thrones,” Ser Gregor is a scary
figure.

His brother the Hound, a terrifying dealer of violent death
in his own right, seems weaker by comparison, if only because he’s had these
few weeks of traveling with Arya to be humanized. But let there be no mistake,
he is still a man who will say “fuck the king,” in that
not-exactly-a-bastion-of-free-speech realm that is Westeros, and get away with
it.

This week’s installment of “Arya and the Hound”
sees the pair come across an old man slowly and uncomfortably dying from an
abdominal wound, and discuss with him the possibilities of hastening the
process of death rather than suffer needlessly awaiting the inevitable. The
Hound turns it into a lesson for Arya: showing her where the heart is by
mercifully running the old man through with his sword. When they’re ambushed
immediately thereafter—and the Hound turns one guy’s neck backwards—Arya
recognizes the remaining thug as someone who’d threatened to violate her in the
early days of her captivity heading north to The Wall in season 2. The
difference between then and now is that she calmly asks the man’s name before
taking his life with emotionless precision, in a manner that even impresses the
Hound, guardedly.

(Between this and her announcing with no hesitation to the
dying old man “I’m Arya Stark,” her confidence in her own skills
combined with her bleak worldview and taste for it, we’re clearly witnessing
the beginning of a promising career in murder.)

From beginning to end, the visit Bronn pays to Tyrion in the
dungeons plays like a (surprisingly devastating) breakup scene. The freshly
betrothed Bronn, courtesy of Cersei, shows off his stylish new clothes, jokes
about having his future sister-in-law bumped off so he can get his hands on his
in-laws’ gold, and doesn’t immediately jump at Tyrion’s request that he risk it
all to fight The Mountain.

In a deft and convincing explanation that clearly delineates
the difference between opportunistic self-interest and cowardice, Bronn manages
to flip the expected narrative. It’s hardly a first on “Game of
Thrones,” where narrative expectations spend more time with their feet in
the air than not, but makes it seem like Tyrion’s request is unreasonable,
which it is (“When have you ever risked your life for me?” Bronn
asks, not peevish, just calmly factual). Their parting is all the more
devastating for not being floridly emotional; there’s a rather good chance that
this could be the last time the once-great friends see each other alive.

A matched pair of seduction scenes — meeting the episode’s
nudity quota — follow, with first Danaerys trying to keep the restless,
mischievous Daario in line. Daario is still something of a weak link, in spite
of his impressive feats of heroism; last season he was a metal drummer, but
after being recast this season he’s something of a black hole of charisma.
However, Emilia Clarke’s expression as he disrobes at her command is, per her
usual standard for this season, simply great.

The other seduction seems at first like it’s going to be
more subtle, and more of a political move on Melisandre’s part to keep Selyse
Baratheon under the same sway she holds over Stannis. But it’s not accidental
that she’s nude in the bath at the scene’s outset and then walking nude around
the room. The speech Melisandre gives Selyse about truth and lies is
particularly apt, as while Melisandre clearly has supernatural powers, the
extent to which they prove the things she says they do is in dispute, and a
great deal of her power is the perfectly natural ability she has to enthrall
people. Far from being gratuitous, her nudity in this scene is a great way to
both throw Selyse off her bearings slightly, and also infer knowledge of deeply
suppressed desires on Selyse’s part.

The only thing wrong with the Melisandre/Selyse scene isn’t
anything to do with the scene itself, but a sense that, on a show where
crossing Westeros can take the better part of a season under certain
circumstances, it sort of feels like Stannis is just going to show up at The
Wall as if his army took the train there; after the business with the bank in
Braavos last week, it feels like a step back to just be hanging out back at the
castle. It’s a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and is
something almost certainly to be addressed next week.

Cutting back to Danaerys in Meereen, the seductive aspect of
political power is dropped, with the Khaleesi being implored by the
ever-faithful Ser Jorah to not let Daario to reconquer a slaver city and kill
every slave-master there. Danaerys lets herself be talked into walking back her
ruthlessness, but she makes a point of telling Ser Jorah to tell Daario the
postponement/cancellation was Jorah’s idea. It’s still unclear what her endgame
is in sowing discord between the two men who love her most, but it’s clear she
has one.

Another matched pair of scenes follows, this one checking in
on the two road-trip storylines, first with Arya trying to convince the Hound
to dress his wound from the ambush properly. The Hound then opens up about the
origin of his facial scarring and fear of fire, which turn out to be one and
the same incident — his brother the Mountain having violently overreacted to
the Hound playing with one of his toys.

Then it’s a scene with Brienne/Podrick, which plays very
differently, and far more comically. Not just from the awkwardness between the
two of them, or the fact that on a certain level they’re both enormous dorks.
The hilariously — and now, appropriately — named Hot Pie is also an enormous
dork, and now working as the apparently excellent pie maker at the inn where
Brienne and Podrick have stopped.

Hot Pie discourses at great length on different kinds of
pies, which Brienne only manages to halt by mentioning Sansa Stark. Podrick
nervously advises Brienne that they’re unlikely to get any information out of
anyone by actually asking about Sansa’s whereabouts. Only, as it turns out,
they’ve asked exactly the right person — Hot Pie gives them helpful
information and a gingerbread direwolf that he asks them to deliver to Arya if they
encounter her.

All in all, if the episode had ended there, it would have
been a functional episode of the series with some nice moments. But the last
two scenes elevate it, and do a smashing job of building excitement for the
next episode (which is not airing next week; HBO’s adaptation of “The
Normal Heart” is bumping their usual Sunday programming) in the bargain.

First, a champion of formidable skill presents himself to
Tyrion in the form of one Oberyn Martell, who makes it clear that his quest for
revenge against the Lannisters is a long game, and is not aimed at those
Lannisters, like Tyrion, who enjoy so little of the family’s privilege and
power. Thus, a public embarrassment of Cersei is something for which Oberyn is
readily willing to risk his life. Pedro Pascal has done spectacular work
introducing the character of Oberyn, earning him the regard which the text
requires the audience to have far faster than other cast members, who’ve had
years on the show by this point. His ability to nail both Oberyn’s sexiness and
his fierce intelligence is rare; whoever was responsible for casting Pascal
deserves a raise.

But the last scenes manage to top even that, with Sansa
encountering both Robin and Lysa — encounters that start out innocuously
enough, before each reveals the Arryns’ essential madness.  Most importantly, Littlefinger tells
Sansa how much he loved her mother, before kissing her (an act witnessed by
Lysa, which was probably on purpose since this is Littlefinger we’re talking
about).

Lysa, in a jealous rage, is about to throw Sansa out of the
Moon Gate, the hundreds-of-feet high answer to the architectural question
“what if we made an oubliette except instead of a cylindrical hole it’s a
mountain range?” Littlefinger intervenes, in an apparent attempt to calm
Lysa, his new bride, except that he abruptly tells her, “I’ve only loved
one woman in my life… your sister,” and drops Lysa through the hole to
her death. Roll credits.

The character of Littlefinger is a little shaky on the show,
in part because if the evolution of Aiden Gillen’s acting choices is
intentional and based on the text, then they’re a bit too opaque, in part
because the realities of production have forced him to vanish for slightly too
long periods. Thus, there are some questions about whether his straight-up
killing someone, least of all his wife, is too out of character for him
textually.

But I would argue that at the Eyrie, essentially the ends of
the (rough analogue for) Earth, with no one of import to hold him accountable,
Littlefinger can, and subsequently does, exactly as he pleases. One gets the
feeling that if he were still the high-end King’s Landing pimp we first
encountered, he’d have done the same if there was any way to get away with it.
(It’s a shame that the show’s most notorious instance of
“sexposition,” where Littlefinger gave that speech about the
importance of maintaining appearances above all else while two women had sex in
the background, is the most perfect confession we’re likely to ever get out of
Petyr Baelish.)

But, back to “Mockingbird” for one final moment: It’s
a terrific episode of “Game of Thrones” and practically the Platonic
ideal of an endgame table-setter. Two weeks from now, the next episode should
complete the set-up, for what’s been — with the odd unfortunate misstep — a
rock-solid season of “Game of Thrones.” 

Grade: B+

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