Game of Thrones: A Tragic Downfall?

Our roundtable on "Mockingbird," the seventh episode of the fourth season of the HBO show.

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.

Presented by

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 and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club,, 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.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In