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‘Game of Thrones’ Recap: Episode 8, ‘The Mountain and The Viper’

This publicity image released by HBO shows Peter Dinklage, left, and Sophie Turner in a scene from "Game of Thrones." The program was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding drama series on, Thursday July 18, 2013. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Emmy ceremony will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. It will air Sept. 22 on CBS. (AP Photo/HBO, Helen Sloan)
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in a scene from “Game of Thrones.” AP Photo/HBO, Helen Sloan

We’re back. That one week seemed like it took an eternity, didn’t it? The Mountain versus the Viper, for the life of Tyrion Lannister, was the main draw of last night’s epic, and I confess, I haven’t looked forward to a one-on-one battle this much since Clemens v. Pedro in the 1999 ALCS. That was only a baseball game, really, although those old Yankee-Red Sox matchups did seem to feel like they were the equivalent of the struggle for Westeros.

“Thrones” makes us wait for the matchup. An agonizingly long time, too. It’s not until 8:45 until we get to the main event. In fact, all of those “check-in-around-the-realm” scenes have the feel of undercards to a title fight. Gilly’s working in the middle of a grimy Mole’s Town whorehouse, populated by hookers that can burp the entire music catalog of Westeros—honestly, it’s probably the North’s top tourist destination. The wildlings come in to make a bloody mess of the whole place, though Ygritte spares Gilly and her kid in-between plenty of her own slaughterings. Over at the wall, the booze-pounding men of the Night’s Watch recognize that they’re next on the target list. That biggest fire the North’s ever seen is on its way.

Missandei does her first bit of requisite nudity over across the Narrow Sea, sparking some weird emotions in a Grey Worm; they share a nice moment together in Meereen’s hall, after Dany plays confidant to her helper. What a nice little relationship between the two of them. On the other hand, Dany and Jorah Mormont’s shaky partnership is finally blown to smithereens with the revelation that he’d been spying on her for a while, uncovered when Barristan Selmy intercepts a royal pardon for Mormont’s misdeeds. Dany chucks him out of the kingdom, a lone rider on a horse, a man unwanted on two continents. That’s a powerful bit of screw-uppery.

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Ramsey Bolton uses Theon to persuade the Iron Islanders at Moat Cailin to surrender, after one of the Islanders splits the noggin of their defiant commander in two with an ax. Fickle bunch, these Islanders are. Ramsey, of course, flays the whole lot of ‘em in truly bloody fashion, earning him the castle and the new-found acceptance—and surname—of his father, Roose Bolton. To think, on another planet, earning the last name of “Bolton” would be cause for shame and embarrassment. “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks!”

Back in the Vale, Baelish is being questioned about the Lisa Arryn moon-door-pushing by the ruling council. Sansa’s their star witness, their Colonel Jessup, their Mona Lisa Vito. Instead of condemning Baelish, though, she saves him, spinning a tale with a good ¾ of the truth, but persuading the court that Lysa jumped to her death in a fit of madness. She sells it, and they believe her. “Better to gamble on a man you know than the strangers you don’t,” Baelish says to her later, acknowledging her burgeoning political acumen. She’s already avoiding the mistakes her father made. The last scene presents a suddenly vixen-like Sansa heading out to tour the kingdom with Robyn and Baelish. Boy, no character’s changed as much this season as Sansa has, and it’s been great to see. Can’t really roll your eyes at her anymore.

Meanwhile, we’re so close to another family reunion—as the Hound and Arya arrive at the vale only to find that Lysa Arryn is dead. The hound gets that Spinal Tap-seeing-Stonehenge shocked expression, while Arya just bursts out laughing. Priceless. Like Jorah, they’re left without options. Maybe they’re all destined to meet.

Finally, after 45 minutes and another long jailhouse chat between Tyrion and Jamie—featuring an extended, delicious Tyrion monologue / anecdote about a deranged cousin and his penchant for squishing beetles—we get to the real showdown. Oberyn is dressed light, with more alcohol in him than armor on him, and spins around a spear like Darth Maul. The Mountain has a Panzer tank’s worth of metal on his titanic frame and wields a sword the size of Connecticut. The classic matchup—speed versus brawn.

For a while, speed prevails. Oberyn, whirling and spinning in the air with an acrobat’s flair, dodges, ducks, dips, dives and dodges out of the swings of the mountain’s huge sword, taunting him with his litany of crimes all the while. No way, he can’t actually win, can he?, is the expression on Tyrion’s face—and, probably, the line running through the head of everyone watching. After that, Oberyn gets a few good slices and a stomach-stab to the chest of the suddenly-mortal Mountain, and we’ve got our “The Russian is cut!” moment of this match (with appropriate acknowledgement to Bill Simmons). Hot damn, we’re gonna win this thing! Will Tyrion actually survive this?

Leave it to “Thrones” to sucker-punch us just when we think there’s going to be a little light in our lives. One massive Mountain fist around Oberyn’s leg and a brutal punch to his jaw later, and Oberyn’s teeth are gone in a bloody Tic-Tac shower and the whole thing’s just about over. All that’s left is one of the goriest scenes in the history of ...anything, really, as the Mountain squishes Oberyn’s eyes and sinuses with those two big thumbs and bashes the rest of his skull over the stone battle area, leaving it a soup of brains and blood. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen too many things—in any medium—that were more viscerally disturbing than that scene. The episode closed on Tyrion’s face, jaw dropped in shock and dread. It’s a good bet that most of the people watching the show had the same countenance. I know I did. It feels like the Mountain worked all of us over. Why the hell do we keep subjecting ourselves to this, year after year? Sigh. I’m depressed. It’s okay to start drinking at 10:00 on a Sunday, right?

Other thoughts, as I wonder how I can use “the pillar and the stones” at my next meeting at work:

- Any way we can get Donald Sterling in a trial by combat? No?

- Won’t it be great to see Winterfell not on fire in the opening credits someday?

- The last battle so traumatized one of my roommates she immediately fled to her room to “watch something happy.” I might have to send her an edible arrangement or something.

- Jon Favreau was on the Nerdist podcast a few weeks ago, and the first twenty minutes of so feature his thoughts on “Game of Thrones.” He’s a fascinating guy and a great interview, and he really gets right to the heart of the show’s success. Well worth a listen.

- “Thrones” baby names are super-popular.

- Glimpsed some seriously fantastic “Thrones”-inspired T-shirts at the American Craft Beer Fest on Saturday at the Seaport, especially this “Winterfell Beer” T-shirt. Sadly, the Ommegang booth had none of the “Thrones”-inspired beer there. More than made up for it elsewhere.

- This picture of David Bradley (best known for playing Walder Frey) holding up a “Weddings For Dummies” book with a fan is just great.

- Another great link from the Winter is Coming website: fight night posters for the Oberyn—Mountain match.

- Next week: “The Watchers on the Wall,” written by Benioff and Weiss and directed by Neil Marshall—the feature-film director (“The Descent”) who also helmed a little episode called “Blackwater.” Judging by the name of the episode and the pedigree of the man behind the camera, it’s easy to predict that next week will bring on the wildling assault on The Wall. Odds are that the entire episode will chronicle the battle, just like “Blackwater” did. This one should be jaw-dropping. Get excited, folks—“Thrones” is surpassing itself every week, and next week’s could be pretty legendary.

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