GAME OF THRONES: “Mockingbird”

Let’s take a trip down the Moon Door; don’t forget your parachute.

Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing.

–Arya

Where to begin?

For a show that features dragons, brutal swordplay, and copious blood/nudity, Game of Thrones is often at its best when two characters are simply…talking. The characterizations dig deep; the dialogue soars, the performances are off the charts. Who needs the cheap thrills of flying entrails and careening battlements, when you can have full course meals like the scene this week between Tyrion and Oberyn Martell? Or Arya and The Hound? Or Sansa and Littlefinger? Hour after hour, the Shakespearean heft of the drama — wheels within wheels, plans within plans — makes mincemeat of the show’s detractors. Sure, it overindulges from time to time (RIP Karl; on second thought, don’t), but it always re-centers itself on the humanity of its characters, charcoaled in a spectrum of grays. “There’s good and evil on both sides of every war ever fought,” Jorah says, stating the house words of Benioff & Weiss, and of George R. R. Martin. (No, GRRM’s words are actually something like “I’m Working On It.”)

This week the script is split into more pieces than ever before (seven by my count), but almost every scene involves just two people. So “Mockingbird” is a bit of a table-setter, but the series has still managed to steadily build momentum through these last few episodes, and now we have tangible developments to look forward to — not that Winter is coming, eventually, or Dany will sail to Westeros, you know, at some point, but stuff that will actually be happening very soon: Tyrion’s trial by combat, the attack on the Wall, and whatever Stannis is up to. We’ve settled into the best stretch of narrative the book series has to offer, and the payoffs will be massive.

This Week In: Bromance

Now that Tyrion has so dramatically ordered up a trial by combat, there’s the little problem of who will fight on his behalf, or if anyone will at all. He half-heartedly makes the pitch to Jamie, who is royally ticked at how Tyrion would just throw his life away. “Do you think this is a joke?” “Of course it’s a joke; just not a very funny one,” Tyrion cracks. The Littlest Lannister has spent his life covering himself in an armor of japes and street smarts, with the idea that no one could ever loathe him as much as he loathed himself — but for his final performance, all he wants to do is ruin his father’s careful plans one last time. Tywin knows he’s innocent, but it doesn’t matter; it’s an issue of pride, and Tyrion’s satisfaction comes from taking control over whatever remains of his life.

Not that he doesn’t want to live, but somebody’s going to have to go against Gregor Clegane, who Cersei has summoned back to King’s Landing for this sole purpose. (His idea of letting off steam is butchering prisoners, you know, for fun. He’s also being played by the third different actor, so he and Bobby Draper have ONE thing in common.) So Jamie turns Tyrion down, which was expected; Bronn turns him down, which is less expected but still understandable. Bronn is getting married, a deal arranged by Cersei; all he’ll need is the “accidental” death of his new sister-in-law and Mr. Lollys Stokeworth becomes Lord Stokeworth. Tyrion has nothing to counter this offer, except almost certain death at the hands of the Mountain. And Bronn, who has become Tyrion’s friend (or whatever passes for friendship in Bronn’s world), gives him the Real Talk: “When have you ever risked your life for me? I like you, I just like myself more.” Ouch. But…fair. Tyrion gets it. And the two have a sweet farewell, each hoping that the coming David & Goliath battle becomes worthy of a song, provided that Tyrion doesn’t get stomped like a bug within moments of stepping into the arena.

But just when Tyrion is ready to write his will, he gets one more visitor: Oberyn Martell, who has been in King’s Landing long enough to know who the real snakes are, and senses an opportunity to murder two birds with one stone. Sure, he had already gotten a pitch from Cersei to ensure a guilty verdict (“Imagine a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters!”), but Oberyn has one thing the Queen Regent doesn’t: empathy. And in the best scene of the episode, and one of the best of the entire season, he tells Tyrion the story of how they first met: Tyrion was only a baby, and terrible rumors surrounded him — he had a tail, they said, and a gigantic head, and both boy and girl parts — but when a gleeful young Cersei pulls the blanket back, Oberyn saw…just a baby. An innocent baby, doomed to grow up in a home where everyone would always hate him, and blame him for the death of his mother. Oberyn remembers being disappointed, actually, at how “normal” Baby Tyrion looked. But Cersei wanted him dead then, and she wants him dead now: “Sooner or later, Cersei always gets what she wants,” a shaken Tyrion tells the Viper. “What about what I want? Justice for my sister?” he replies. Tyrion: “If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place.” Oberyn: “I disagree.” BOOM. Tyrion has his champion, both men are getting misty-eyed (wow, did Dinklage and Pedro Pascal kill that scene), and now we have to wait an agonizing two weeks.

This Week In: Pies

This was an episode of pairs, and our Warrior/Child tandems both return to the screen after taking a week off. Brienne and Podrick are still looking for Sansa Stark, and get more than they bargained for when they stop for a bite at an inn, where the baker is the Artist Known as Hot Pie. (Welcome back, Hot Pie!) His skills have improved dramatically — especially when it comes to baking loaves in the shape of wolves, a welcome callback — but his loquacious nature remains undimmed, to the point where Brienne will surely put a sword through him if he says one more word about gravy. She asks him if he knows anything about Starks (something that bothers Pod, who doesn’t think they should be advertising their mission), and at first Hot Pie says no, but reconsiders: as it happens, he’s seen Arya — who most are presuming dead — and as far as he knows, she’s making her way north with the Hound. Brienne and Pod (thanks to Pod’s knowledge of Westeros houses) put two and two together and guess Arya’s heading for the Eyrie. Then they come to a literal fork in the road, and Brienne, for the first time, defers to Pod’s uncertain judgement. They take the one less traveled.

Brienne and The Hound — as they are quick to remind you — are not knights, but something makes them more worthy of the title than many that get it. For Brienne, it’s her unwavering honor; for the Hound, it’s his ruthless pragmatism. Sandor Clegane isn’t a nice guy, but he is capable of compassion: he and Arya come across a dying man whose homestead has been torched by raiders, and the three have a lovely existential conversation (“Why go on?” “Habit.”) before the Hound puts the farmer out of his misery. “That’s where the heart is,” he tells Arya, demonstrating. But it’s only moments before her pop quiz, as the pair are surprised by old friends Rorge and Biter (last seen back in Season 2, when Jaqen H’ghar was chained alongside them). Biter, naturally, goes for the Hound’s neck and is swiftly demolished; Rorge lives just long enough to announce that there’s a bounty on Clegane’s head. “Is he on your list?” the Hound asks Arya. “No, because I don’t know his name.” His name is Rorge. Arya stabs him through the heart. That was easy!

The Hound is understandably pissed; “No reward is worth this much trouble,” he laments, gingerly touching his new neck wound. Arya is worried it’s going to get infected, but the Hound freaks out when she picks up a torch: NO FIRE. Not ever. But whether it’s the softening of their relationship (reverse Stockholm Syndrome?) or the Hound confronting his own mortality, he opens up to Arya in a beautiful scene, telling a childhood story of his own: how his brother gave him that permanent scarring. We’ve heard it before — back in Season 1, when it was Littlefinger telling Sansa — but in the hands of Rory McCann, who so often plays the brute (despite having the best pronunciations on the entire show) it becomes rich with heartache. When Gregor shoved his face in the fire, mistakenly thinking Sandor was playing with one of his toys, the pain was bad and the smell was worse, but “the worst thing was that it was my brother who did it.” The Hound learned at an early age what a hard, cruel world it is, as his father let Gregor off scot-free, while he was disfigured forever. It’s enough to perhaps make Arya consider striking him from her list, as she goes to clean him up. And Sandor lets her. I hope these two never reach their destination; I hope they just walk the continent forever, trading barbs and getting into misadventures. Is that too much to ask?

This Week In: Friend Zone, Population Jorah

Daario Naharis is a man of only two talents (not including slipping unannounced into Danaerys’s room via window, I guess), and with the Khaleesi currently settled in Meereen, he doesn’t get to pursue either. He asks her to let him just go and kill some enemies for her, wherever and whoever they are, as he is also unlikely to find satisfaction in any of the other women here, but Dany, uh, has an idea for that. She orders him to take off his clothes, and when Daario bounds by Grumpy Jorah while on his way out, he can’t help but tell him “she’s in a good mood.” Poor, poor Jorah. He can’t help but let his jealousy show to Dany, and lays into her for her plan to send Daario to Yunkai to wipe out the Masters; he wouldn’t be here today if Ned Stark had the same zero tolerance policy towards slavery. But Dany (cleverly?) heeds his call for restraint, and says that the Masters can instead be offered a choice: “They can live in my new world, or die in their old one.” (Doesn’t sound like much of a choice, if you ask me, but there’s not really a lot she can do except go back on her entire campaign platform.) And what’s more, Jorah gets to tell Daario that it was he that changed her mind. She doesn’t want her sellsword to get too comfortable, after all. He may have jumped the line, but for now he’s out of the picture.

This Week In: Jon Snow Can’t Get No Respect

Surprise, surprise: after his successful raid, Jon is still treated like crap around Castle Black. Sniveling Lord Commander Thorne is openly annoyed at his continued survival, and pledges anew to make his life miserable. At another meeting in the Night’s Watch conference room, Jon advocates for the sealing off of the tunnel beneath the Wall; the Wildlings have giants, you see, and they’ll knock down the gates like LEGOs no matter how many inches thick they are. But, of course, no one wants to listen to Jon because he’s just a Steward and possibly a traitor; lather, rinse, repeat. Good seeing you, Jon!

This Week In: Oh Dear

We also check in briefly at Dragonstone, where Selyse Baratheon interrupts Melisandre while she’s taking a bath to be all weird and whatever. But we do get some interesting pieces of information out of their conversation: all of Mel’s potions — the fire gags and love spells — are simple parlor tricks, the better to help lead unbelievers to the light (so that Smoke Baby was…what?); Selyse, confronted so directly by the body of her favorite priestess, might be falling in love (uh-oh); Mel needs the Baratheons’ daughter for…something (double uh-oh.) “No act done in the service of the Lord can be called a sin,” Selyse says, condoning both Mel’s relationship with Stannis and whatever blood magic she’s got planned for Shireen. They’re all getting ready to leave Dragonstone, but for where? And will this ever become not uncomfortable?

This Week In: Chekov’s Moon Door

And finally, the strange saga of Littlefinger and Sansa Stark takes another turn. For a brief, shining moment, Sansa feels like a princess again, standing in the snow in the courtyard of the Eyrie, magical flakes falling around her. It’s certainly the happiest she’s felt since she left Winterfell, the home she then begins to build out of the drift. (Turns out, she’s got quite a skill. She should enter a contest.) All is lovely until her betrothed, Awful Cousin Robin, shows up; he judges her snow castle inadequate because it doesn’t have a Moon Door. What do the Starks do with all the bad people? But Sansa, who had never had to deal with “bad people” until she set out with her father, doesn’t have an answer. Robin has been raised to be paranoid and spoiled, a deadly combination; he says that when they get married, he’ll make fly anyone that bothers them. Then he goes and ruins the snow castle, and Sansa slaps him for being a petulant little brat — something that clearly no one has ever done before.

Robin runs away in tears, but Littlefinger is there, to huskily reassure Sansa that “a lot can happen between now and never;” she may not be stuck with Robin, hint hint. “I loved your mother more than you’ll ever know,” he says. “Given the opportunity, what do we do to those that hurt the ones we love?” Sansa might have been his child…but because she isn’t, Baelish takes that chance to lean in for a kiss, which is incredibly — (runs off to confirm that Sophie Turner is in fact 18) — nope, still super-creepy. And Lysa sees the whole thing, so her crazy-pants jealously is now totally validated, sort of. Next chance she gets, she’s grabbing Sansa and threatening to pitch her out the Moon Door, but an apologetic Littlefinger intervenes; Lysa wants him to send Sansa away, and he will…send someone away.

“I have only loved one woman in my entire life,” he begins, staring deep into Lysa’s deranged eyes.
And it’s meeeeeee, those eyes say.
“Your sister.”
And with that, Littlefinger makes her fly.

The episode takes its title from the Baelish sigil, that Petyr chose himself when he began to move up in the world: the Mockingbird. He repeats back what you want to hear until he gets what he wants, then he tosses you over the side. And he continues to have free reign over the Vale, because of the castle’s unassailability; the only thing he doesn’t know is that Sansa’s pissed-off sister and two hardened fighters are making their way towards him. While Tyrion, Dany, and Jon are waiting, and Littlefinger is sitting pretty, other forces are starting to gather.

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