Friday, January 15, 2016

Game of Thrones Season Four Episode 408 “The Mountain and the Viper”

The Horrible, Horrible Truth

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(Spoilers for the eighth episode of Game of Thrones Season Four are below).

While Mockingbird was an episode that focused on humor, this week had some moments of laughter on its own.  However the focus on the truth is what really stood out, and Game of Thrones takes a hard bitter look at the truth even by this show’s bleak standards.


What is the Truth?

Truth is used as a motif throughout the episode to show us how evil the world we live in is. Specifically it shows viewers how far certain characters have fallen, how it can be used as a weapon, and in a couple of instances, how it can be redemptive – however those instances are overshadowed by darker truths and/or cruel fates.
Game of Thrones is typically lots of bitter moments with hints of some sweet one’s thrown in the mix.  

Consider the sixth episode of the third season, The Climb. In that episode numerous people become the victims of power struggles.  The episode climaxes with two very different emotional scenes: Littlefinger gives his epic Climb speech over a depressing montage that condemns love, and right after that we see Ygritte and Jon complete their climb of the wall and kiss over a beautiful sunset. It’s the perfect example of a typical bittersweet Game of Thrones ending.

Compare that ending and the way it explores love and power to the way the truth is explored in the Mountain and the Viper. Throughout the episode viewers see the negative aspects of the truth on both individual character identities and we see it used as a weapon to destroy relationships. This episode climaxes with the Viper defeating the Mountain in single combat and demanding the truth about who ordered his sister’s murder. The Mountain confesses to raping and murdering Elia, but he does so while crushing Oberyn’s skull in. Where The Climb has a brief moment of redemption, any chance of that is utterly destroyed in the Mountain and the Viper’s closing moments. Simply put this is an episode that focuses on the bitter.


The Redemption of Truth Is Overshadowed By Evils Done in the World

Game of Thrones isn’t a black and white show which means that it is never all negative, even though it sometimes feels that way.  The Mountain and the Viper has some moments where truth is seen as being redemptive, but these redemptive moments are overshadowed by darker truths or realities.

Tyrion and Jaime have another conversation in his jail cell.  The two converse about Orson Lannister, a mentally challenged cousin of theirs that liked to crush beetles.  While the moment serves to ask some questions about why people are cruel, it also allows Jaime and Tyrion to share a moment together.  Yet the truth of an unfair trial overshadows the moment (along with Orson’s beetle genocide).  That reality is underscored by the ringing bells, which signify it’s time to decide Tyrion’s fate.

In Meereen Greyworm admits he is glad to have met Missandei and Daenerys, and Missandei reciprocates.  Despite the suffering experienced by these two former slaves, they are truthfully glad to have suffered, otherwise they would not know each other.  While a very sweet romance may be brewing between Missandei and Greyworm, it’s overshadowed by the fact that even if they do fall in love they will never be able to embrace in love’s ultimate act with one another.  It’s realizing this, along with their disturbing pasts that make their developing relationship feel overshadowed by the cruelties of the world.

The truth is used to cheer up Samwell Tarly on the Wall.  After finding out that Mole’s Town has been raided by the Wildings, he fears for Gilly’s life, whom he sent there initially to be safe. Sam is reminded of all the horrible experiences Gilly has survived in the past: Craster, The Night’s Watch attack on the Craster’s Keep, the Wight Walker attack, and the journey back to the Wall.  While Gilly may be a survivor, the truth about how much she’s suffered comes to light again. In addition to this viewers see she’s still alive in the scene previous to this, but she has gone through yet another traumatic experience. The truth of her suffering overshadows, the Night’s Watch’s attempts at cheering up Sam.


The Truth and Identity Transformation

Major characters that have been around since season one have undergone some drastic changes.  A lot of aspects about their changes in identity came to the forefront in this episode, forcing viewers to acknowledge the truth that these characters are not the same people they once were.  The saddest part is these characters’ identities are changing for the worst.

Early in the series Theon Greyjoy was the loyal friend and companion of Robb Stark.  Now he is Reek, a tortured eunuch that betrayed his friend, which ultimately led him to his servitude with Ramsay. In this episode Reek gets to become Theon Greyjoy one more time, and he is instructed to deliver Moat Cailin to Ramsay. For a short period it feels likes Theon may be returning to his oldself, but the moment is quickly squashed as he convinces his fellow Iron Born to surrender to Ramsay, even though he knows they will not be granted the mercy that he claims Ramsay is promising them.  Reek’s actions here allow Ramsay to take Moat Cailin.  Ramsay is shortly thereafter legitimized, fulfilling his goal of becoming a Bolton. Reek’s transformation is reminder of the truth of his horrible suffering, and Ramsay’s legitimization grants a complete psychopath more power to do what he wants.

Sansa Stark has been portrayed as a naive young girl who is too stupid to be able to play the “game.”  Season after season she fails at lying and strategizing; she’s constantly at the mercy of others.  This is the first episode we see Sansa adapt to the game successfully as she convinces Royce and the other nobles from the Vale of Littlefinger’s innocence in Lysa’s murder.  Sansa’s lies are believable, and her actions here showcase a character who’s falling from grace.  The episode continues to show how much Sansa has learned to manipulate people when Littlefinger asks her why she helped him and he can’t get a straight answer.  This is the first moment in the whole series where viewers can finally say “game on” for Sansa. The moment is punctuated in her final scene of the episode where she debuts a dark new dress while she seductively walks towards Littlefinger and Robin. This change in Sansa reveals a dark truth about her character: she can lie and she’s willing to compromise her morals do so.

Arya has suffered non-stop since her father’s death.  Her negativity prompts a serious question by the Hound: what makes you happy?  Arya’s response is killing the people on her hit list.  She also admits that she wished she could have killed Joffrey, or at least been there to watch it.  Arya’s morbidity sounds childish, and the Hound is dismissive of her answers.  It isn’t until Arya hears about her Aunt Lysa’s death that we see her laugh for the first time since her father has been alive.  Arya’s laugh is absolutely haunting.  It’s a moment of genuine joy at the loss of a family member, and not only that is it that, but it validates her past statements about killing people making her happy. The truth here is Arya’s dreams about being a heroic female warrior have been molested by her real life experiences; now all she wants is revenge and death.


The Truth As A Weapon

There are two distinct moments where truth is used as a weapon to cause harm to certain people in this episode. The first destructive truth occurs when Barristan and Daenerys discover that Jorah was once a spy for Robert Baratheon. Tywin Lannister has sent a royal pardon to Jorah, hoping that it will cause friction amongst her closest allies.  Daenerys exiles Jorah for his past treachery, unable to contain her anger with the role he played in killing her unborn child.  Needless to say Tywin’s plan succeeds and the truth, a noble idea, is used successfully to destroy what had been a great partnership between Daenerys and Jorah.

The other truth that turns into a game-changing weapon, is the truth about what happened to Elia Martell.  Oberyn has been obsessed with avenging the brutal murder and rape of his sister, and he finally gets the opportunity to do so when he fights the Mountain at Tyrion’s trial by combat.  Throughout the fight Oberyn yells at the Mountain:

” You raped her. Your murdered her. You killed her children.”

The fight becomes an obsession, and those words become a mantra. Oberyn defeats the Mountain, but he won’t finish him off until he tells Oberyn who ordered him to kill his sister.  It’s these idle moments that cost Oberyn his life as the Mountain swipes his feet from under him, knocks out his teeth, gouges his eyes, and finally crushes his skull in. The Mountain admits his guilt in Elia’s murder while using Oberyn’s fighting mantra to do so.

If ever you needed a cautionary tale about the truth, and the dangers of the truth, you have one here; this episode’s ending should serve notice. The truth is considered an honorable idea, but in The Mountain and The Viper that noble construct is turned on its head.  Truth is a weapon, it’s overshadowed by glum realities, and it acknowledges some unwelcome changes in certain characters.

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