Game of Thrones: A Tragic Downfall?

Our roundtable on "Mockingbird," the seventh episode of the fourth season of the HBO show.
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Spencer KornhaberChristopher Orr, and Amy Sullivan discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones.


Orr: So long, Lysa! Have a nice trip!

This episode, “Mockingbird,” reminded me a bit of the previous one: a little slow and expository at times, especially given—and I know I’m becoming a broken record on the subject—how many Big Moments still remain to be crammed in by the end of the season. But while I found last week’s A Few Good Men-like trial of Tyrion to be a bit overlong and underwhelming (and, yes, I was clearly an outlier in this), tonight’s episode accelerated nicely into Oberyn’s valiant offer and Lysa’s fatal misstep.

So, a good episode by this season's lofty standards, I’d say, if not quite a great one. You’d mentioned earlier in the season, Spencer, how much you liked the episodes directed by Breaking Bad’s Michelle MacLaren, and I agree. I think these last two, directed by Alik Sakharov, have suffered a little by comparison: The dialogue hasn’t crackled quite as satisfyingly and the pace has been uneven. Here’s hoping that the next episode, directed by Alex Graves (who ably directed episodes two and three this season, as well as last year’s terrific “And Now His Watch Is Ended”), will be a genuine stunner. As of tonight, the promise of its title, “The Mountain and the Viper,” should be evident to everyone.

But back to this episode. We began with Jaime trying to pick up the pieces after Tyrion laid it all out there at the trial, blowing up the deal that would have commuted his death sentence to life in the Night’s Watch. It was even clearer this week than last that his demanding trial by combat was no customarily cunning scheme on Tyrion’s part, but rather a pure explosion of emotion—quite possibly cutting off his own head to spite his dad. I loved the expression of surprise and dismay on Tyrion’s face when Jaime pointed out that (duh) he’s no longer any great shakes in the champion department. Tyrion’s subsequent pitch—“Even if you lose, imagine the look on father’s face when you fall”—was not exactly what you’d call persuasive, but it did lead to a nice moment of brotherly bonding. Still, it wasn’t until Tyrion asked whether Cersei was choosing Ser Meryn Trant, famed beater of children and not much else, as her champion that it truly became clear how little he’d thought this all through.

I confess I wasn’t a big fan of the segue to a shirtless Ser Gregor Clegane, a.k.a., the Mountain, outside the city walls killing—whom exactly? And why? For starters, Clegane may be a murderous monster, but he is still a knight and, as such, ought to be wearing armor. (When we caught a glimpse of him in last week’s previews, he looked so un-Westerosian that I assumed he was Cleon, the butcher-king of Astapor.) Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s decision to introduce—or re-introduce, as we saw a bit of Ser Gregor, played by a different actor, in season one—the character as a half-naked barbarian randomly chopping people to bits seemed like yet another in a long series of ill-advised efforts to take the worst characters in the books (Joffrey, Ramsay, Karl the mutineer, etc.) and make them even worse.

That said, you could see why Contestant Number Two to be Tyrion’s champion, Bronn, wasn’t terribly eager to take on such a brute—especially if it meant giving up a Cersei-arranged lordship and castle in the bargain. This was another in a series of nice scenes giving minor characters their due, much like Pod’s similar scene with Tyrion in episode three. “I like you,” Bronn told his old friend and employer. “I just like myself more.” It was logic so airtight that even Tyrion didn’t try to poke a hole in it.

Of course, someone who’s been actively searching for an excuse to fight the Mountain is another matter altogether. Enter Prince Oberyn Nymeros Martell, the Red Viper, a warrior/poet specializing in poison and advanced sexual technique. I’ve noted before (a few times) how fantastic I find actor Pedro Pascal to be in this role, and he did not disappoint tonight in what I found to be easily the episode’s best scene. The dialogue was top-shelf (Tyrion: “Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of Cersei’s many gifts”; Oberyn: “It is rare to meet a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters”) and both Pascal and Dinklage delivered beautifully understated performances. Oberyn’s gentle description of his childhood meeting with cruel Cersei and baby Tyrion; his central, animating desire to serve justice to the Mountain—it all added up perfectly, inevitably, to his offer to be Tyrion’s champion. (The latter’s look of bottomless relief and gratitude was a nice bookend for his crestfallen visage when talking to Jaime.) June 1 can’t come soon enough.

As for the rest of the episode….

I love the shtick that Arya and the Hound have going, but they’re in need of a bit more variety plot-wise. The whole check-out-the-postwar-chaos-of-Westeros, let’s-watch-Arya-kill-another-guy storyline seems to have pretty much run its course. Nasty bite the Hound got there, though. Hard not to get the sense that he may regret not allowing Arya to cauterize it.

Meanwhile, our other mismatched road couple, Brienne and Pod, were living the high life: feather beds, kidney pie, the whole nine yards. And whom should they stumble upon but everyone’s favorite baker of wolf-loaves—Hot Pie! Just look how much his invention has improved over the course of the past season, from a poxy maybe-quadruped:

…to the kind of artisanal delight you might find in a Parisian boulangerie:

Unless I misremember, this scene at the inn didn’t appear in the novels at all. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the Brienne-looking-for-the-Stark-girls subplot is among the weakest going forward, so it’s good to see Benioff and Weiss trying to write it into some new directions.

Over in Essos, Daenerys was sending some decidedly mixed signals to her various would-be lovers. First she got it on with Daario 2.0, then she sent him away to Yunkai. When Ser Jorah rambled in post-sexytime looking all hurt, Dany made a point of following his advice—and ensuring that the abruptly banished Daario knew she’d followed that advice. If she keeps this up, she’s going to have as difficult a time maintaining order among her paramours as among the cities of Slaver’s Bay.

Bathtime with Melisandre followed directly after Daario’s dude-ity to complete our weekly skin quota. But it also offered another potentially intriguing deviation from the novels, with the suggestion that Shireen Baratheon—and, perhaps more particularly, her royal blood—has an upcoming role to play. The bit at the Wall, by contrast, was pretty thin. Just a quick scene to remind us that Mance’s army should be arriving soon and that Ser Alliser Thorne is still a tool. (On a related note: What the hell have Ygritte, Tormund, et al. been up to all this time? We haven’t seen them since episode three. By now, the Magnar of Thenn must have eaten up half the population of the North.)

Which brings us to the Eyrie, and our first notable casualty since the Purple Wedding. I’m of somewhat mixed minds here. The defenestration of Lysa Arryn definitely qualified as a Major Event, but it felt a little rushed to me. I loved the earlier setup scene in episode five, in which Kate Dickie was utterly phenomenal, and I would have liked it if we’d had maybe one more installment of this storyline before she got the shaft. There’s a whole subplot in the books involving an amorous young singer named Marillion (he had a minor role in the first season of the show), whom Littlefinger ultimately frames for killing Lysa. It’s not important by any stretch—and obviously cuts have to be made here and there—but it could have given us an opportunity to enjoy a little more of the marvelous Ms. Dickie. And I do wonder how Littlefinger is going to explain Lysa’s fall in the absence of an obvious patsy. She tripped?

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

Amy Sullivan is a correspondent for National Journal and the director of the Next Economy Project. More

Amy Sullivan is a writer and former senior editor at TIME Magazine who covers politics, religion and culture. She previously served as the magazine's nation editor and as editor of The Washington Monthly. Her first book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap, was published by Scribner in 2008. She was a 2009 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science & Religion.

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