I think my academic title for this episode would be “Mockingbird: Lysa Arryn and the Effects of Rapid Deceleration Syndrome.” And let me be the first to say, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer gal.
Yup, it’s that time again kids, in which Nikki Stafford and myself throw the most recent episode of Game of Thrones into the mass spectrometer that is our shared brain and emerge with a scientific breakdown of the contents. For real, this is Science™.
Want to lead us off, Nikki?
Nikki: This week opens with the Kingslayer and He Who Is Accused of Being a Kingslayer. Poor Tyrion is still reeling from his treatment at the hands of Shae, and doesn’t seem to be clear enough yet to realize that she did what she did out of heartbreak. “Yes, I fell in love with a whore,” he tells Jaime, “and I was stupid enough to think she’d fallen in love with me.” She really did give her heart to Tyrion, despite what he thinks, and he doesn’t realize that he took that heart and shattered it into a million pieces, because if he’d held onto it the way he’d wanted to, she’d be dead. But SHE doesn’t know that he was sacrificing himself to save her, and so she committed her act of pure revenge.
Tyrion had declared at the end of last week’s episode that he wants a trial by combat, and he wants a champion, and that becomes the theme of this week’s episode. Jaime was the one he wanted, and Jaime turns him down. He’s scared, and through his lessons he knows he’s no match for anyone anymore. He was cocky and self-assured at the beginning of the season, knowing he could fight with his other hand better than most people fight with their regular hand, but his lessons have taught him differently. And the Mountain, as we saw in that one grotesque scene, is quite the formidable foe. Poor Tyrion is lost, and tries one last feeble joke on his brother, telling him he’s the golden child, and wouldn’t it be funny to see their father’s face as the family name is snuffed out with one blow. Jaime actually considers it for a moment, but realizes he values his own life, and were he to step into the ring, both he and Tyrion would be dead.
And so Tyrion tries Bronn, the man who was his champion the last time. But Bronn isn’t the sellsword that he once was, willing to step up and fight for Tyrion for a few pieces of silver. Now he’s dressed in fancy clothes and betrothed a woman who will ensure him a castle (as long as he gets rid of the older pesky heir, of course) and has no need for Tyrion and his shekels. “I like you . . . I just like myself more,” he tells Tyrion, reminding him that despite theirs being a friendship that is actually important to him, Tyrion has never risked his life for Bronn. Tyrion resignedly accepts Bronn’s refusal. It’s easy to hate Bronn in this scene — after all, he was nothing but a sellsword wandering the lands before he took Tyrion’s challenge and saved his life at the Eyrie, and made a lot of money doing so. Since then he’s been at Tyrion’s side, receiving favours and being given higher positions of power at King’s Landing due to Tyrion’s continued favours, and along the way has mocked Tyrion’s every move and talked about what a ridiculous family the Lannisters are. And . . . actually, yeah, it is easy to hate Bronn in this scene. And for a moment, I thought they were going to actually attempt a David and Goliath thing when Tyrion joked that he could go up against the Mountain himself. “Wouldn’t that make for a great song?” he says.
Until the real champion enters the room. We talked about Oberyn last week, Chris, and what a fantastic character he is, both funny and casual, yet cunning and as full of political maneuvering as the next guy. But there’s a deeper purpose behind Oberyn’s actions: he knows what the Lannisters did to him, and specifically what horrors the Mountain enacted upon his sister, a sister he loved very much. The scene where he tells Tyrion about seeing him for the first time as a baby, a tiny misshapen thing that young Cersei had told him was a monster, is heartbreaking. We all talked about Dinklage’s incredible performance last week, but the one he gives during this scene might have topped it: he doesn’t say a word as Oberyn tells the story, but instead sits there, eyes welling with tears, jaw moving in fixed, clenched hatred of a sister who seemed to have despised him from the beginning, a little girl who would come in and pinch his pink cock, as Oberyn put it, until he thought she’d squeeze it right off and Jaime would have to stop her. Tyrion knows that Cersei has hated him for as long as he can remember, but it’s during this story he realizes she’s hated him even longer. At the trial he told Tywin he was on trial for being a dwarf. Now he realizes that as far as Cersei is concerned, he’s on trial for murdering her mother as well as her son.
“It’s rare to meet a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters,” Oberyn says of Cersei. But he’s not on her side. She’s a true Lannister, and one who backs the Mountain as her champion. And if the man who killed his niece and nephew before brutally raping his sister Elia (before slicing her in half with his giant sword) is going to be the Lannister’s champion, he will be the one to fight him.
What a song that will make. I hope they’re singing it for centuries afterwards.
If he does win, I wish he could head north to the Wall and take out Ser Alliser while he’s at it. That guy drives me nuts. What did you think of the non-celebration upon Jon Snow’s return, Chris?
Christopher: GRRM’s talent for writing hateful characters is nowhere more evident than with Ser Alliser Thorne (well, and Joffrey). His sustained animosity toward Jon Snow is as consistent as it is vaguely baffling … especially when it flies in the face of common sense, as with Jon’s suggestion that they block the tunnels through the Wall. Tunnels can be re-built, but a massive wildling army south of the Wall would do more damage than Thorne seems to want to admit, to say nothing of leaving the Wall breached for the inevitable invasion of ice zombies.
The scenes at the Wall, however infuriating Ser Alliser is, felt a little like a placeholder—we’re in a holding pattern at the Wall, waiting for the arrival of Mance’s army. But then the rest of this episode felt like a placeholder. It was all quite good, don’t get me wrong, unlike the previous two episodes, not much actually happened (until the very end—but we’ll get to that). We do however get a new installment in the saga of Arya Stark’s unsentimental education, and another example of the common folk suffering in the aftermath of the war. “Who were they?” Arya asks the wounded farmer. “I stopped asking a while ago,” he replies, and his calm resignation in the last minutes of his life speaks less to stoicism than to exhaustion. Who were they? It matters not at all whether Lannister or Stark, Ironborn or Northmen is burning your home and plundering your coin. As we learned a few episodes ago, if the farmer had not already been attacked, the Hound would not have been adverse to relieving him of whatever meager wealth he possessed. The war might be over for the nobility, but the common folk still suffer.
The Hound performs what he considers an act of kindness, putting the man out of his misery … only to be attacked by the men who (presumably) are responsible for sacking the farm, one of whom shared a cage with Jaqen H’ghar—a particularly nasty piece of work named Rorge. I was wondering if we were going to see him again, considering that he actually plays a somewhat more substantial role in the novels than he has so far in the series. I was wondering to myself, as he stood facing off against the Hound, “How is he going to escape this now so he can … Oh. OK, Arya killed him.” Apparently she took the Hound’s anatomy lesson to heart (get it? to “heart”? Oh, I kill me), and I think I was even more surprised than Rorge at Arya’s quick little thrust to his chest. I guess they’ll have to introduce another psychopathic killer to play the role Rorge plays later in the story …
What did you think of the ongoing Hound and Arya story, Nikki?
Nikki: Ooh, I’m intrigued by the fact there’s another psychopath later in the books, whether he be Rorge or not. As you say, with the exception of the conclusion a lot of the episode felt like exposition to get us to whatever’s going to happen next, but what I did like about the scenes with the Hound and Arya is that it moved their relationship a little further. As we discussed a few episodes ago, they can’t make the Hound completely sympathetic or he’ll lose the danger he’s supposed to pose to Arya at every turn. However, they can certainly give us some insight into his character and allow us to see things from his perspective. Yes, he could turn on Arya or anyone who does him wrong at any moment, but at least as an audience we’ll understand why.
In season one, at the jousting tournament for Robert Baratheon, Baelish sat with Sansa and told her the story of the Mountain and the Hound. He said it like he was telling a ghost story around a campfire, turning the Monster into a true monster, and it wasn’t clear if he was just telling a story to scare the shit out of Sansa or if it was actually true. (I believe in the books it’s simply stated by the narrator, so you know it to be true, but in the show it wasn’t as clear.) Now we have it stated by the Hound himself: his own brother stuck his face in the fire because Sandor was playing with Gregor’s toy. And much like with Tyrion hearing the story about himself as a baby, here we are reminded that the Hound was a mere child once, being horribly abused by his own brother, and we’re also reminded that he’s human, and that he can be hurt emotionally. As he tells Arya, the pain was bearable, the smell was worse, but it was the fact that his own brother did it — and that his own father covered it up by telling everyone that his bedding had caught on fire, thus letting Gregor off the hook — that showed him where his place was in the world. He has always been alone.
For me one of the best parts of the episode was when Podrick, of all people, figured out where the Hound might actually be headed after he and Brienne discover that Arya is really and truly alive. I was thrilled when Brienne complimented the cook on his kidney pie and then the camera turned to reveal Hot Pie standing there! We see he’s doing well and thriving as a cook in this pub, and has been able to hone his craft (the bread direwolf that he sends with Brienne is much better than the one he’d made for Arya before). Where before Brienne and Podrick were presented as a comic duo, now we see just how well they work together. Brienne tells Hot Pie the truth about their quest, and where Podrick correctly thinks they should hold their cards closer to their chest, Brienne is the one who’d correctly asserted that Hot Pie was not their enemy and could be trusted. We’ve seen that Podrick is incredibly loyal, worthy in battle when he defended Tyrion and saved his life, and apparently very good with the ladies, but now we see just how brilliant he is when he deduces that if the Hound has Arya he must be taking her to the Eyrie because that’s the only place where he’d get a ransom.
Of course, now all I can think of is that if it’s like any other scene where Starks are about to come together (see Red Wedding and Bran and Jon a couple of episodes ago), either the Hound isn’t going to make it up the hill to the Eyrie or Sansa will have disappeared before he gets there, and Brienne and Podrick will be captured. Oh GRRM, how you frustrate us so!!
Speaking of frustrated, poor Selyse walks in upon Melisandre in her bath and not only has to continue to show her unwavering devotion, but must do so while gazing on the gorgeous body of the woman who has been with her husband. What did you make of that discussion?
Christopher: Well, first and foremost I was impressed with just how much Tara Fitzgerald has allowed herself to be so dowdied up. Carice van Houten is an extremely beautiful women, to be certain, but so is Fitzgerald—when I first heard she was cast as the unattractive Selyse—who is described as plain, dowdy, and chinless—I wondered why they were departing from the novels in casting someone with Fitzgerald’s striking looks. But they’ve chosen to make Selyse severe and angular, turning her into an ascetic as well as a fanatic. We haven’t seen much of Selyse so far in the series; this encounter went a long way to explicating the power dynamic between the priestess and the would-be queen.
My initial reaction to this scene was to roll my eyes a little, as it first appears to be yet more classic Game of Thrones sexposition (without the actual sex), an excuse to let the camera linger on Melissandre’s naked form while she and Selyse talk. But I think you put your finger on it (that’s what she said) in observing that it works as a goad to poor Selyse, whom we assume to have taken to Melissandre’s religion with such passion to compensate for the fact that there is utterly no passion in her marriage to dutiful, cold Stannis. As I’ve noted previously, in the novels there is no sex between the priestess and Stannis, and I was dubious when, in a moment of rather hamfisted symbolism, she did him on the giant map of Westeros. Then I had about the same thought I had in this scene: that they were introducing this plot point as an excuse to get Carice van Houten naked (as with her seduction of Gendry). To be certain, it does seem that the writers have a bit of a crush on van Houten, as she has replaced Esme Bianco (Ros) as Character Most Likely To Get Naked. But upon reflection, I think that the series has made the relationships on Dragonstone somewhat more complex, and made Melissandre at once more human and more inscrutable. In the books, she is painfully beautiful but also aloof, operating (from what we gather) entirely according to whatever religious impetus brought her to Stannis to start with. The series’ Melissandre appears as slightly more self-interested. Sleeping with Stannis, we begin to suspect, wasn’t merely a religious rite; she has insinuated herself into the life of the man she wishes to place on the Iron Throne, and her conversation with Selyse delineates exactly how the power dynamic now works. Yes, it was a typical bit of Game of Thrones gratuitous nudity; but while van Houten’s nudity means to titillate the audience, Melissandre’s means to intimidate Selyse. As I’ve said before, there are many moments when this show uses female nudity as an assertion of power, such as the scene between Brienne and Jaime in the baths, or when Daenerys defiantly stands and stares down Daario Naharis 1.0. It is significant that part of Melissandre’s monologue deals with the trickery a priestess like her has to engage in: what powders and potions will put on a show for the credulous, but also which ones actually have power. The larger meaning here isn’t exactly subtle: Melissandre knows how to dazzle, how to impress, how to seduce … some tasks require magical assistance, some do not.
Melissandre: A drop of this in any man’s wine will drive him wild with lust.
Selyse: Did you use it with Stannis?
I confess to a sharp intake of breath at this exchange, in spite of the fact that you can see Melissandre’s answer a mile off. Here she asserts her power over Selyse, which is the simple fact that she has power over Stannis, that she inspires in him the lust and desire that Selyse never has. And she goes on to exercise that power, more or less ordering her to bring Shireen with them when they sail. Why? Why does Melissandre want Stannis and Selyse’s unfortunate child with them?
Actually, I’m really asking … because this exchange (to the best of my memory) never happens in the novels.
But from one cauldron of sexual politics to another: it seems that Daenerys has allowed herself to succumb to Daario’s charms. And that’s quite the outfit she’s wearing in the scene: I have written in my notes that I can’t wait to see what Gay of Thrones has to say about it.
Nikki: HAHAHAHA!!! OMG, I have in my notes, “Well, there’s one more outfit I’ll never be able to cosplay.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen Daenerys in an outfit as revealing as that one, save her birthday suit. And also, no offense to Liam from Nashville, but I just felt like this scene might have made more sense with Daario 1.0. The new guy seems a little too hamfisted to be a Lothario. (That said, when he dropped trou I immediately said to my husband, “So THAT’S what Rayna James has been gettin’.”) Like Melisandre, Daenerys telling Daario to undress comes across as an order — one with which he is all too willing to comply — showing that even the most powerful woman has needs. She will not allow him to control her any more than Stannis controls Melisandre, but she will enjoy her time with him and then send him on his way, which, in the case of Daario, is pretty much all he was looking for anyway. Poor Ser Jorah then sees him leaving the room, and when we talk about sexual frustrations on Game of Thrones, Ser Jorah’s picture really needs to be sitting beside it. It’s clear he’s been in love with his Khaleesi from the get-go, which is why he stays at her side and why he dislikes Daario and anyone else who gets too close to her.
In this case, at first Daenerys seems to have learned nothing from Loraq’s visit in the last episode, telling her about how ill-gotten her attempt was to free the slaves of Meereen, and that she’d hurt his father, who was a master but a fair one who tried to get others to treat their slaves fairly. (To which Dany never asked, “But did your father pay his slaves?” If only to have the guy look around and say, “Uhhhhh… oh look over there!” and then run away.) She tells Jorah that she’s sending the Second Sons to Yunkai to slaughter all the masters and free the slaves again. Jorah argues for moderation, she says she wants an end to slavery and will do whatever it takes to get it. However, she tells him, she’s going to send Loraq as an ambassador so he can tell them that “they can live in my new world or they can die in their old one.”
Can this work? We’ve seen what Daenerys has done in Yunkai, Astapor, and Meereen, and word travels quickly in Westeros. Her name will be known far and wide if it isn’t already, and it’s one thing to free the slaves in Yunkai, leave, and have the masters try to restore order even worse than it was before, but it’s quite another to go back to Yunkai, remind everyone who’s boss, slaughter all the masters, and once again free the slaves by showing them someone is looking out for her. Jorah tries to advise her on moderation, and on the one hand he’s absolutely right: the world is not black and white, and there are even slaves who are terrible people, and masters who are good and righteous, but Daenerys isn’t looking to deal with individual will here. As far as she’s concerned there is a world with slavery, and a world without it. Sacrifices have to be made, and if a few good men die along the way to eradicating slavery, so be it: the greater good will endure.
And last but certainly not least we come to the Eyrie, a place of sexual frustration if ever there was one. First we have the exchange between Sansa and her super-creepy cousin, who asks her what kind of a place Winterfell could possibly have been if it didn’t have a moondoor that made people fly, and then Littlefinger reveals the intentions he has on Sansa that we kind of saw coming, and then there’s that spectacular ending.
I will leave the final discussion on this to you, my friend, and will just say that A) I thought the scene between Sansa and Robin was a dream at first because who the hell can pack snow that perfectly (???!!!), B) Sansa’s hair is an even more remarkably red than I thought it was, and C) what I love most about this season is that we’re not having to suffer through a lot of good people dying, but instead we’re getting some true karma here. Although, for as weird and effed-up a child as Robin is, part of me feels sorry for how he’s going to take this news. After all, he still appears to be breastfeeding. :::shudder:::
Christopher: You’re quite right to observe that the lion’s share of the deaths this season have been people we won’t miss—but they’ve still been quite shocking, most of them, none more so than Lysa. And we’ve still got three episodes left, so expect that butcher’s bill to be added to.
This episode is titled for Littlefinger’s affected sigil: he wears a mockingbird, an eminently appropriate symbol for him, as they mimic the songs of other birds. Littlefinger has proven to be a master of dissembling, of being different things to different people and giving people the songs they want to hear. We see however in this episode that he is also playing the part of the cuckoo, insinuating himself into the Eyrie with Sansa as his ward and, after marrying Lysa—and thus giving himself title to the Eyrie—he disposes of her. We know from hard experience that Littlefinger is playing the long game, and for the most part he plays it utterly unsentimentally (recall his speech, re: chaos, ladder). What’s remarkable about his resurfacing this season is that he seems to be betraying genuine, deep feelings … When Sansa asks him why he really killed Joffrey, he replies “I loved your mother more than you could ever know. Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who’ve hurt the ones we love?” Sansa’s response is to smile: a moment ago when she asked the question, we could see her steeling herself, obviously ill at ease with Littlefinger, on guard. But when he characterizes his murder of Joffrey as vengeance, she allows herself a bit of complicitous satisfaction. She is still guarded, but there is a sense here that Littlefinger has said precisely the right thing. “In a better world,” he continues, “one where love can overcome strength and duty, you might have been my child.”
I have previously voiced my ambivalence about the way in which the series has been portraying Littlefinger as an utterly unsentimental, utterly calculating player for whom all those around him are disposable. He has that dimension in the novels, to be certain, but there was always visible a minute chink in that armour where Catelyn was concerned, as well as his past humiliations. That has largely been absent until now, and the Littlefinger we see in this episode proves to be far more complex than he has let on.
None of which is to suggest he isn’t being supremely creepy here. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing—the prospect that everything he has done has been all one big long con of almost algorithmic precision, or that it all proceeds from a perverse psychodrama in which Littlefinger has decided to resolve his past hurts by replacing Catelyn with Sansa. “But we don’t live in that world,” he tells Sansa. “You’re more beautiful than she ever was.” And he kisses her while audiences the world around squirm uncomfortably in their seats … and Lysa witnesses it.
What I like about Littlefinger in this episode is that he manages to be at once sympathetic and creepy, heartfelt and cruel. He doesn’t just shove Lysa out the Moon Door, he makes certain she knows she’s been terribly deceived. “I have only loved one woman,” he assures her, “only one, my entire life,” and for a brief moment she looks mollified. But of course he then stabs her metaphorically through the heart before literally killing her, giving her a terrible last thought to run through her head on the long, long way down.
On the bright side, we’ll never again have to watch her breastfeed her son.
Well, that brings us to the end of another episode. Three more to go! As always happens, this season is flying by. So on behalf of Nikki Stafford and myself, have a wonderful week of anticipation.