Well, I’m sure I’m not alone in recognizing that last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was devastating for Tyrion and Oberyn fans. In the trial by combat we have all been waiting for – a trial fueled by revenge and injustice – the outcome was as gruesome as it was shocking in terms of Tyrion’s fate. This was the last scene of the episode and I really think that was a wise choice in the overall arc.

Though the title of the episode leaves the viewer in a suspended state of tension waiting for what is to come – will Oberyn win and free an innocent Tyrion while simultaneously avenging the rape and murder of his sister or will that giant man-beast of frequent re-casting smash the skull of Oberyn Martell with his bare hands? Not to mention we left last episode with a ‘holy shit moment’ when Littlefinger chucked crazy Aunt Lysa out the moon door. We had to wait two weeks for this episode, and I definitely feel that this season has picked up the pace with moving storylines forward and with more implications for some of our favorite characters with the two episodes remaining.

Sansa Stark Goes Dark

I’d like to pick up the recap with this storyline because I’m fascinated by what’s happening with Sansa’s character. As a book reader I was always immensely frustrated with Sansa as she never seemed to fully grasp her own power. However, my respect for Sansa has grown immensely in the past couple episodes of the show, and in this episode the writers really handled her role in the post-Lysa “business” quite beautifully. It’s no spoiler to inform viewers that in the books, Petyr blamed Lysa’s death on a court musician who was known as a playboy. I think to keep the storyline clean and simple we were spared additional characters, and this decision also allowed an exploration of Sansa and her own personal motives. That’s right – the naïve girl full of fanciful dreams has realized that knowledge is power, and power over Petyr Baelish , which is pretty impressive. She also proves herself a formidable liar once more by playing up her misfortune and innocence.

Sansa has learned the art of duplicity, and she is quite adept. Sansa chooses to reveal her true identity and convinces the nobility of the Vale that Lysa threw herself out of the moon door out of wild jealously over Petyr and Sansa. Ultimately she paints Petyr as her savior. I think her lying is so convincing because it’s very close to the truth. Sansa draws on her weaknesses to spin truth for her own survival. She was always being told how dumb and weak she was with all her fantasies and fairytales, but it is this façade that enables her achieve duplicity.

And that look. Sophie Turner is killing it with those looks this season. So much can be said in a look, and when Sansa is pulled into an embrace while she breaks down in tears – she and Petyr share a look of great significance. She has saved him, and in that look he knows that she has saved him. For once he is left wondering who Sansa really is and whether his repeated revelations of his lying and scheming has given her a new edge. Later, when Petyr visits Sansa in her chambers to acknowledge what she has done for him, we see Sansa cast in a soft light from a window on her bed where she is engaged in some soft task like needlework, still perpetuating the illusion of innocence. But Petyr knows that she is playing the game now, and she has chosen to cast her lot with the devil she knows. When he asks her if she thinks she knows what he wants – she doesn’t answer, only looks up from her sewing and gives him a knowing look. She’s keeping her cards close to vest on this one. Smart girl.

Petyr comes up with a plan for freshly weaned Robyn to visit all the lords of the Vale, in an effort to secure his claim and calm the lords. As they prepare to leave, a new Sansa appears. The Tully hair dyed dark to avoid any link to the lineage, Sansa emerges through a blinding flash of light looking more like the black swan than the soft faced girl forever cloaked in lilac. This is a new look for Sansa, because this is a new Sansa. I wonder what will happen now, and I think Petyr Baelish is wondering the same thing.

Reek Plays Dress Up

Ramsay dresses Reek up like Theon and sends him to Moat Cailin to talk the Iron Islanders into surrender. Reek plays the part of Theon quite well until the Iron Islander spits blood in his face. It is then, when his integrity and manhood is questioned that the PTSD takes hold and Reek begins to tremble. He’s afraid of this plague-infested man, his own inferiority and most of all he is afraid of failing Ramsay and what will be done to him. Luckily, the Iron Islanders don’t care about betraying their own kind and so the spitting man gets an ax through the head, Reek succeeds, and Ramsay still flays the Iron Islanders who surrendered. Most importantly, Moat Cailin is secured, and Lord Bolton has now successfully secured the North.

This episode ran thick with themes of identity, but in this part of the story especially. Not only with Reek posing as Theon, but with Ramsay Snow receiving legitimacy as Lord Bolton’s true son. We all know the Bolton’s are bad people, so when we get the sweeping landscape shot of the flayed man banners marching toward Winterfell I was filled with a sense of injustice. Not the self destructive kind that resulted in Oberyn Martell’s skull turned to goop, but with knowing that the noble Starks are gone, and Winterfell is falling into the hands of monsters.

A Traitor in Our Midst

More hidden identity is revealed in Meereen when Selmy delivers a document to Daenerys revealing Jorah Mormont’s long betrayal. True, he has given up his traitorous ways for a more lusty motivation, but we all knew this revelation was bound to happen. I thought it would be more emotional, but I suppose Dany’s coldness is an example of her refined regality that has been evolving during the course of her conquering and acquisition of more power. I don’t think the acting was one note, but the lack of emotion on her part makes a statement to everyone who serves her – she is not one to easily forgive betrayal. She burned the maegi alive and birthed her dragons in the flames from that act betrayal, so I suppose banishing Mormont was the worst punishment for him because she knows that he loves her. His ride of shame was super sad, but he had it coming.

Arya’s Missed Opportunities

Arya is the queen of multiple identities, changing her name and her story of origin for the sole purpose of survival. She’s almost been reunited with her family and able to be Arya Stark on multiple occasions, but such is fate that she misses out once again. The Hound brings her to the Bloody Gate of the Vale and they are informed that Lysa Arryn has been dead for three days. Arya’s reaction is to break into hysterical laughter. It feels authentic, I mean, how many times has she been so close to reconnecting with her family only to have the opportunity ripped from her grasps by death? This also speaks to Arya’s relationship to death, and in terms of psychology and her evolution into the deliverer of death – where will Arya go now and who will she be?

Tyrion Loves Beetles

I’m really glad we’re getting scenes with Tyrion and Jaime. I feel like the enclosed space of the cell and the pressure of their father and sister and the unjust world pushes these actors to their emotional thresholds. Some viewers might be wondering why the story of their cousin with developmental disabilities smashing beetles is relevant, and I was left wondering the same thing. What does it mean? Basically … it means everything. It means Tyrion is good at heart; that his obsession with finding out the ‘why’ behind his cousin’s unstoppable beetle massacres means that Tyrion is a man of good conscience who questions everything that is questionable about life. And Jaime is a soldier, a knight who follows orders – he even follows his sister’s orders; he doesn’t question, he just does. This is the fundamental difference between Tyrion and many characters on the show.

I don’t think this conversation is one that will leave Jaime. This essential human question of “why” spurned from quiet observations of reckless, meaningless behavior is the type of seed that needs to be planted in order for Jaime to see Cersei for who she really is – a merciless beetle killer, of course. Tyrion is the beetle, small and helpless and easily forgotten as less than a man, but he is going to be squashed by those bigger than him, and why? Tyrion recognizes this as part of the human condition in his world and he feels helpless in trying to understand the ‘why’ of it all. Even his faith in the Seven is undermined by this recognition, for what kind of gods judge a man’s fate through the act of battling to the death?

The Mountain and the Brain Goo

Damn you, Oberyn Martell! Your pride and your obsession with vengeance is what got your brain smashed. You had him! The Mountain was down and likely poisoned by whatever we saw them rubbing on the spears that Oberyn was wielding. But he had to hear the admission of guilt by The Mountain that he raped and killed his sister Ellia under the command of Tywin Lannister. I knew how this was going to end, but I still gasped at the horror of it. It was awful to read, and it was just as awful to watch. I think the gruesome factor had to be there, because The Mountain is nothing but a killing machine, and the fact that he smashed Oberyn’s skull with his own hands speaks to the kind of beast he is.

Did anyone else catch the frequent shots of Jaime and how he watched his sister and father throughout the battle? I couldn’t help but wonder if the story of Tyrion’s observation of the beetle killings did in fact infect his brother’s mind. Jaime saw what we saw: more needless death in order to blame and kill an innocent man. Poor Tyrion; nobody outside of your world wants you to die!

Other awesome stuff I will mention from this episode …

  • The Wildlings south of The Wall have invaded Molesville and butchered just about everyone. We catch another glimpse of the compassion within Ygritte when she spare’s Gilly’s life. Sam is at The Wall lamenting about his poor decision making, but his friends all give him a glimmer of hope that Gilly still lives. However, this news is harrowing in the fact that the Wildlings grow closer to The Wall, and as we saw from the previews, Mance Rayder’s army will be there soon. I am really looking forward to this story becoming a bigger focus in the show, because the ultimate evil lives beyond The Wall, and so far this storyline has always played back burner to happenings in Kings Landing. I feel like that is about to change.
  • Missandei and Grey Worm. The development of this storyline feels disjointed. I understand why the show creators and the writers are trying to give more character and development to those who surround Dany, but I just don’t have much interest in what’s going on between these two. Plus … the question still stands: the pillar or the stones?

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Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.

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