Blogging the Hugos: The Mountain and the Viper (Game of Thrones)

Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves
Category: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

got_season_4As longtime Arcane Gazebo readers know, I’m a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire. I didn’t even last long in my resolve not to read A Dance With Dragons (which, due to my blogging hiatus, is still declared embarrassingly recently in the post history). But I quit the TV series midway through the second season. I felt like all the subtlety of the books was dropped, and they treated the viewers like idiots who needed to be hand-held through the complex plot. When they did make changes from the story itself, it rarely seemed to be for the better.

Thus it was that I originally planned to watch this episode in isolation for my Hugo review. I’ve read Storm of Swords—I know how the titular fight ends! But my girlfriend, who has been following the show (and will be joining me at Worldcon) convinced me to catch up on the episodes I’d missed. Coming back with lowered expectations, I found the show more enjoyable. Although it’s not the ideal adaptation that exists only in my head, it’s still amazing that a fantasy show of this caliber exists at all, and even more amazing that it’s become such a huge crossover hit. So by the time I got to this episode, I’d mostly made my peace with the flaws of the series. (Mostly—I still have a tendency to shout “Lies!” at the screen when they deviate from the books.)

We are here to review this episode and not the whole series (which has plenty of Hugos under its belt already), so I won’t get too hung up on the big picture. On the other hand, I don’t have much to say about some portions of this episode: as part of a serialized drama, it checks in with all the ongoing storylines, but some of them are less significant than others. There are some scenes at the Wall that continue to build the tension leading up to the battle there; there’s a scene with Arya and the Hound in which their quest to reunite Arya with her family is stymied yet again. There’s a creepy scene between Sansa and Littlefinger after she backs up his account of Lysa’s death. Jorah’s spying for Robert Baratheon is revealed, and Daenerys exiles him in response. I had to remind myself that these things happened in this episode, and not one of the other ones I watched leading up to it; they don’t seem thematically connected to each other or to the main event.

Some of the other minor scenes were more memorable. I thought Theon’s struggle to hold himself together as he played the role of his own past self was well-acted and not overdone. And the relationship between Missandei and Grey Worm is a really interesting addition by the show—it wasn’t in the books at all, and I’m very curious to see how it will develop. (I haven’t watched past this episode yet, to keep my Hugo rating… unsullied.)

It’s Tyrion’s storyline and the trial by combat, though, that’s the focus of the episode, and where it really shines. First there’s the conversation with Jaime in the dungeons before the fight, where Tyrion relates a story from his childhood about his cousin’s mindless killing of beetles. This makes a pretty effective metaphor for the grim outlook of the series, but applies to the immediate situation as well: the justification for a trial by combat is that the gods will favor the side whose claim is just, but in this world the gods seem to be more like Tyrion’s cousin, killing without rhyme or reason. Tyrion certainly has no illusions about justice going into the trial—he’s hoping chance and his champion’s skill will save him once again.

As for the fight itself, that pretty much was the ideal adaptation I had in my head. Tense, well-staged, and true to the books down to the gory ending. I have my complaints about the show as a whole, but this was a solid episode. (The best adaptation, however, is still the board game.)