After an unconscionable week off because of Memorial Day, Game of Thrones is back this Sunday to begin the close-out of its spectacular fourth season. To catch you up in case you forgot: the Wildlings are thiiiis close to the Wall (haven't they been all season?), Oberyn is going to be Tyrion's champion in his trial by combat, and Lysa Arryn just went out the moon door. Who are the characters to watch in episode eight, "The Mountain and the Viper"?
Joe Reid: Look, I'm going to start this off by saying that I am neither a professional nor amateur psychologist. The brain is a squishy mystery to me. But Theon has only been brainwashed into the sad wretch known as Reek for, what, a few months? At most? Is it really the best idea for Ramsay Snow to send him off alone on orders to "pretend" to be Theon in order to gain strategic intel and allegiances? Isn't Ramsay running the risk that pretending to be Theon will make Theon remember he's Theon? (Okay, and now all I can think of is "they don't know we know they know," and the last thing I ever expected Game of Thrones to remind me of is Friends.)
David Sims: I think we're supposed to believe that Theon is safely and fully brainwashed in Ramsay's service after he rejected his sister's rescue attempt. Which, fine, but to me the larger problem is that Theon as Reek is NOT a very functional human being. He's basically just a loyal dog-person who stutters out every word and shrieks a lot. This is the decoy you're going to use to take a castle? Still, as much as the Reek storyline might seem a little rushed, it's probably better to do it on-screen. In the books, Theon isn't seen between the second and fifth entries, and when he re-emerges he's utterly transformed. That'd be a tougher sell on-screen, so instead we've had two seasons of torture.
Joe: Fair enough. We've seen a few times how the identity games as played out in the books just don't work on the screen, so instead of the surprise of Reek we get to just be horrified by the end product. And I suppose it speaks to the madness of the Boltons that they're going to be putting as many eggs as they are in Theon's basket. Still, should be plenty of opportunity for Alfie Allen to play bug-eyed crazy.
David: Last time we saw Sansa, she was watching her aunt get pushed to her death by her benefactor Littlefinger, a man who had earlier that day sexually harassed her. The saddest thing about all of this? It's still an improvement in circumstances for poor Sansa. Like, did she really want Lysa around with all that crazy? And for all of Littlefinger's creepiness, it does belie a genuine affection for Sansa, even if it's grossly rooted in the man's love for her departed mother Catelyn. Poor Sansa. This week, she's testifying in some sort of trial, and presumably her dilemma is whether to throw Petyr under the bus. Word to the wise, Sansa: this guy always seems to have another card to play.
Joe: It really IS an improvement in circumstances for Sansa! This poor girl hasn't had a good day since she left Winterfell, and since then has lost basically her entire family (starting with her direwolf), and yet the last two seasons, basically since becoming un-betrothed to Joffrey, her circumstances have become better, but still utterly awful. I suppose being married to Tyrion back in King's Landing was a more benign life than hovering above the moon door in the Eyrie, but you're right, on the great long list of people who Littlefinger is bound to betray, Sansa seems way down that list. Which is far from saying that she's got it good. As a ride-or-die Sansa supporter (we're called "Sansanatics"), I think I speak for everybody when I say we'd all rather she find her way to Highgarden so that she can learn at the feet of Olenna Tyrell and emerge a top-notch schemer, but since nobody in this series is ever that fortunate, we trudge from week to week, hoping Sansa avoids the ultimate doom that always seems a half-step behind her.
David: Sansa remains a huge bargaining chip — remember last week, Tyrion tried to make promises to Bronn based on her claim to Winterfell, even though he was in jail and she had fled the capital. Her personal story, of course, should involve transcending that status, or at least recognizing its power and using it to her advantage. She remains very much an unwitting pawn, but Sansa's definitely grown some serious self-awareness over the series so far, and that evolution is one of the best aspects of the show for me (count me as a Sansanatic, although there are very few Game of Thrones characters I don't like). I too would love to see her become a top schemer in Highgarden, but that sounds like too airy and fun a plot for this show to do.
Joe: From the looks of this preview, my hope is that Sansa has learned enough from her time in King's Landing, and her time with mentors like the Hound and Shae and Tyrion and even Littlefinger, that the truth both a luxury and a great way to get your own throat cut. Hell, she saw what happened to her father. So when she's all "I have to tell the truth," she better be prepping to tell one hell of a whopper of a lie.
Joe: David, I fear that our Ygritte has fallen in with a bad crowd. Sure, she came from wild and wooly stock to begin with, and we first saw her (I think) trying to kill our pouty little snow warrior Jon Snow, but Ygritte really burrowed herself a place in my heart. Not least of which because she was by far the most interesting thing that's ever happened north of the wall. But as often happens to people post-breakup, she's regressed to her misspent youth. Who among us hasn't retreated to our old gangs after we've had our hearts stomped on? Who among us hasn't taken to pillaging and eating human flesh as a kind of comfort food? Look, there's no mac and cheese in Westeros, far as I can tell. Gotta eat something. Anyway, book reader, is Ygritte one of those characters who I'm more attached to watching the show than I would have been reading the books? Seems that's the case for all my favorite characters/all the female characters (these two categories are indistinguishable).
David: Ygritte's pretty similar in the books — lots of telling Jon he knows nothing, lots of aggressive flirting, while all the time remaining a steely cut-throat warrior-bandit. But it's hard not to argue that Rose Leslie has done something special with the character to keep us firmly invested even as she kills innocent villagers and, like you said, pals around with people-eating Thenns. (Annoying book-reader side-note: the Thenns don't eat people in the books. I guess the TV show includes that to raise the stakes, but it's mostly unnecessary). Anyway, this whole season has been pointing Ygritte and Jon at each other for a real showdown after the breaking of their relationship at the end of last year; maybe that will happen this week, but the preview suggests that the wildling bandits may just reach Mole's Town, the nearby village to the Wall where Sam stupidly stashed the lovely Gilly.
Joe: "Sam stupidly ____" seems to happen a lot. I feel a lot of pressure to like Sam. I'm not sure if I do. Though they were smart in casting Cassie from Skins as Gilly, because now it is imperative to me that she survive, so I guess I like Sam for that. Except when, like you say, he stupidly stashes her in stupidly vulnerable places.
David: The reveal of Oberyn as Tyrion's champion against the Mountain was nicely telegraphed throughout the season but still felt like a big surprise that the show really earned. He showed up in King's Landing ready for vengeance against the Lannisters, but seemed to genuinely entertain Tywin's offer of an alliance in exchange for the Mountain's head. But if he'd really taken that seriously, he wouldn't be doing this now — or maybe Oberyn's just a firm believer in the whole "if you want a thing done well, do it yourself" concept. Sunday's episode is called "The Mountain and the Viper." Do we think Oberyn can take down that giant with his big ol' spear?
Joe: I'm gonna take a time-out here to talk about Westerosi jurisprudence. As essentially a jurist in Tyrion's trial, how is it not WHOLLY inappropriate for Oberyn to assert himself as a major player in what is essentially the sentencing phase? Isn't this a conflict of interest at best, a mistrial waiting to happen at worst? Diane Lockhart would have this case thrown out so fast, it'd make Tywin's head spin. But I suppose I digress? I do. I do digress. Anyone who's taken a look at GoT episode listings has known for weeks that this episode, "The Mountain and the Viper," would feature this very confrontation. It's a good thing Oberyn was such a hit from basically minute one. I generally am one to impatiently tap my fingers during battle scenes in order to get to the part where people deal with the battle scenes (which is why "Blackwater," as remarkable a technical achievement as it was, will always take a back seat to some of the other GoT episodes on my personal list), but I'm so invested in Oberyn that I NEED to see him take that Mountain down.
David: Well it helps that The Mountain is one of the least redeemable characters in this whole shebang. We never even met Oberyn's poor sister or her kids, but we're sure the Mountain is totally guilty of all the decades-old crimes he's being accused of regarding them. Just to address your digression: what Oberyn's doing will certainly make Tywin's head spin, but a trial by combat is a whole different deal from the proceedings Oberyn served on the jury for. As Tyrion said when requesting it (I believe), "let the gods decide." In theory, Oberyn and the Mountain's battle is being left to fate, and heavenly intervention into the battle will shed light on Tyrion's guilt. But this is Game of Thrones. There's more guiding plot movement than just divine will, and Cersei is not going to let the Red Viper spoil her plans easily.