Oh, episode eight. I've been waiting for you for four seasons. Yes, I was waiting for other classic moments such Ned Stark's beheading and the Red Wedding, but in some ways I was anticipating this episode even more. As far as fantasy battles go in secondary worlds, the Red Viper vs. the Mountain is probably the greatest example of single combat I've ever read. Please note that I wrote "single combat," i.e. one on one. As I said to a Facebook friend, when we start comparing a battle like this against classic fantasy war scenes (examples: the siege of King's Landing, the siege of Helm's Deep, the siege of Dros Delnoch, etc.) it becomes a matter of apples and oranges. So I was extremely curious to see how they would bring this scene to life. So with this said, let's dive in. As always, the usual spoiler warnings for the books and the show apply.
Well the episode got off to a great start, because I think everyone always watches the opening credits thinking to themselves, "I hope we get a new location on the map this time." And lucky us, we were rewarded with Moat Cailin this time around. In terms of new characters, in the Eyrie we met Lord Royce and who I believe to be Lady Waynwood, while down in Moat Cailin we met Ralf Kenning, a minor character in the books who became even more minor in the show with his abrupt death.
OK, onto the episode itself. Things started off in Mole's Town, and here there are some immediate deviations from the books. As already established in an earlier write-up, Gilly and her babe were never in Mole's Town. Ygritte should also have been long dead by now, so it seems like they're just saving her death for next episode (assuming they wrap up the assault on the Wall in one episode, which I imagine they will). In the books, Mole's Town was also evacuated ahead of the wildling raiding party, but I suppose this version was more dramatic for HBO's purposes. This scene follows with the scene at the Wall as Samwell is worrying that Gilly is now dead. Again, this is obviously all fabrication for the HBO series, because Gilly was never down in Mole's Town.
Shifting over to Dany's scenes, I was a little unprepared for Jorah's exile, only because he never made his move on Dany. In the third book he kissed her, something that seems to have been written out of the show. As to the exiling itself, Tywin Lannister and Varys never had anything to do with this development. In book three, Jorah outs Arstan Whitebeard as being Barristan Selmy, at which point Barristan Selmy reveals Jorah's betrayals, something he was privy to because in the books as leader of the Kingsguard he sat on the Small Council prior to his dismissal. Of course, Barristan Selmy was immediately revealed following his reappearance in season three, because it would be obvious to viewers that it was the same actor, so there was no point in sitting on the secret. This probably explains why the show runners opted to not have Selmy be a part of the Small Council, because otherwise he could have outed Jorah Mormont ages ago. So all things considered, these tweaks worked just fine for the HBO adaptation. As to Jorah, unless they decide to invent some extra story for him, it's going to be a while before we see him again, as he doesn't factor into the story again until his path crosses with Tyrion's in A Dance with Dragons.
As to this developing romance between Missandei and Grey Worm, I don't know what to make of it. It's all new material for the HBO series, and it's taking Missandei's character arc in a completely different direction, as she's still a child in the books. I also suspect she is the traitor Daenerys's inner circle that GRRM is hinting at in the books. So if I'm right about this, perhaps Grey Worm will kill Missandei to protect Dany? Killing the one he loves might create some extra potency (pun not intended) to this arc for HBO's purposes. Otherwise I can't see much point to date in this subplot they're creating. Just some random conjecture that I'm making based on the available (albeit limited) data in the books and the show. Also, I found it rather amusing that despite having some 212 supplicants to deal with the week before, this week Queen Daenerys has time to do her servant Missandei's hair while they're gossiping about Grey Worm.
Skipping over to Moat Cailin, the taking of the moat was pretty much by the numbers, though I feel like this was a missed opportunity to drop Victarion's name. In the books Victarion was holding Moat Cailin until Balon Greyjoy died (something that is WAAAAAY overdue), at which point he leaves for home to take part in the kingsmoot, leaving Ralf Kenning in charge. I have to assume that Victarion is still going to be part of the HBO series next season, so I suppose he'll have been on the Iron Isles all this time. Still, I don't recall a single mention yet in the HBO series of any of Balon's three brothers--Aeron, Euron, and Victarion. Even if Balon is still alive, it would have been easy to make it that Victarion was still occupying Moat Cailin and was called away on some other business by Balon. It would have at least started planting seeds for the introduction of the Greyjoy brothers next season. Of course, if my hypothesis is correct, we've already met Euron Greyjoy in season two. The other deviation is that Ramsay Snow becoming Ramsay Bolton is something that is decreed by the crown in book three as opposed to strictly the will of Roose Bolton, but this is another one of those small deviations that doesn't hurt the integrity of the story.
Moving on to Arya, she and the Hound never reached the Bloody Gate, but being as they never cross paths with Sansa, Petyr, Brienne, etc. this didn't really bother me. And I admit, when Arya learned that Lysa was dead, her reaction was perfect. The only other thing worth mentioning here is that made sure to let us know that the Hound's bite wound is still bothering him, so in the next episode or two this should mirror book three when Arya leaves him to die of leg wound.
So as long as I mentioned Lysa, we're obviously moving on to Sansa and Petyr. So since there is no Marillion present at this point in the HBO series to blame for the death of Lysa, they instead opted to play the suicide angle to explain Lysa's death. Now Sansa's performance for Lord Royce and Lady Waynwood was well done, and I can definitely believe that they bought what she was selling ...but the thing that made me shake my head was Petyr's utter reliance in this situation on Sansa to bail him out. Petyr Baelish is never two steps ahead of the opposition ...this dude is ten steps ahead. When it comes to the Game of Thrones, he and Varys are operating on another level. He pushed Lysa out the Moon Door in the book because he knew he could get away with it. The way they're portraying things in the HBO series, Petyr didn't know he could get away it. This is not how Baelish operates. You could argue that Petyr Baelish is a gambler and this was a gamble, but in truth Petyr has always struck me as less of a gambler and more as someone who stacks the deck in his favor. Now if HBO wanted to tell me that Petyr and Sansa worked out their story beforehand that would be one thing, but based on what they were selling, this is not how things went down. Petyr asked Sansa why he helped her. If they wanted me to believe they'd worked out the details beforehand, they needed to present this very differently. But nope, he was at Sansa's mercy, and Petyr does not put himself at other people's mercy if it can helped. It would have made so much more sense to keep Marillion around, not only for all the reasons I'm going into, but also because damn, they've just about exhausted Sansa's story in the published material. Keeping Marillion in the Eyrie would have allowed them to stretch things out a tad more.
Speaking of stretching things out, following that initial scene with Lord Royce and Lady Waynwood, every time they cut back in on another scene with Sansa and Petyr, I wanted to yell "Stop it! Stop burning through the published material! There is so little left! What's wrong with you?!" Now granted, there was very little from the ensuing scenes that are from the books--it was mostly invented material that felt (about) parallel to some of Sansa's final chapters. But by the Seven, PLEASE stretch this out. We're down to bare bones at this point for what has already been published that hasn't been adapted to HBO. Petyr can still secure his position over the Vale with some bribes and some wheeling and dealing, they still need to retreat to the upper reaches with the coming of winter, and Petyr still needs to reveal to Sansa his plan to deliver the North to her ...and that's basically it.* This worries me immensely, because while I think I should be all right for the rest of this season, unless The Winds of Winter is published prior to season give of Game of Thrones, I don't see how it will be possible for me to continue watching the series. But that is a concern for next year. In the meantime, write George, write like the wind.
As to Sansa, "growing up" ...hmm. They seem to be accelerating things only hinted at in the books. In book four, we see her learning to play the Game of Thrones under Petyr's tutelage. By donning a dress that accentuates her womanly figure, they're sending a clear message that she's already playing it. The game that Sansa intends to play is as yet unclear in the books or the show, though we can presume she'll follow Petyr's lead while he secures his position over the Vale since she's already cast her lot with him. Beyond this point? Well after reading the books several times, I actually wouldn't be surprised if Sansa ends up casting her lot with Petyr a lot more if you take my meaning, though whether she'll end up doing this because of some ill-advised attraction or because she is playing her own deeper game (and taking Cersei's advice that her greatest weapon is between her legs) is a question I don't have the answer to. Regardless, things are right on the precipice regarding Sansa's story, in a number of ways. And for the sake of being thorough, it should also be noted that she never revealed herself as Sansa Stark in the books. She is still posing as Alayne to the Lords of the Vale.
And now we start closing in on the true meat of this episode. As to that scene between Jaime and Tyrion prior to the trial by combat, I don't recall any equivalent scene in the books, though the whole conversation about crushing beetles made for some nice foreshadowing.
And the scene with Gregor the Red Viper ...oh man. Man oh man. Yes. YES. This was the kind of unexpected memorable death that Qhorin Halfhand had in A Clash of Kings but HBO dropped the ball on. I've always seen a lot parallels between these two characters, even though they were living on opposite sides of Westeros. Both of them were seasoned warriors, legends in their time. Both of them made an instant impact on the page that moment you meet them, not so much through their deeds but just the way GRRM paints them as characters, through description, background, and dialog. Both of them had a single-minded focus that took precedence over all else. Both of them entered into a single combat to the death for noble purposes ...though Oberyn's noble intentions were undermined by all-consuming need for vengeance. And finally both characters died before the readers wanted and/or expected in epic memorable fashion ...in the books anyway. In the HBO series, I'd be shocked if viewers even remember the name Qhorin Halfhand, because HBO did a terrible job bringing this character to life. OTOH, every last viewer will remember the name Oberyn Martell, because they got his character right. He wasn't what I pictured in the book, but Pedro Pascal did a great job with the material, and the entire team rendered this character brilliantly, right up until his death. They managed to do on the screen for Oberyn what George did with both Qhorin and Oberyn in the books, making us root for this character far more than we expected in so short a time. After all, Oberyn was only introduced this season, and only appeared in seven episodes total. By the way Twitter was freaking out, you'd think they killed Ned Stark, you'd think he would have been with us far longer. So bravo HBO for getting this right. It takes away some of the sting for the horrendous job you did on the Halfhand.
As to the battle itself, I thought it was great. No, it wasn't as good as the fight in the book. I didn't expect it to be. But I wanted them to do the scene in the book justice, and that they did. And that vision of Oberyn's squashed head will be with me forever. I won't go into every little deviation between the book fight and HBO's--that would be overkill, even for me. But I'll note two differences that really stood out for me. One is that in the HBO series the Mountain squeezed Oberyn's head until it popped. This was cool, but I still like the brilliant way George handled this scene in the book better:
"Clegane's hand shot up and grabbed the Dornishman behind the knee. The Red Viper brought down the greatsword in a wild slash, but he was off-balance, and the edge did no more than put another dent in the Mountain's vambrace. Then the sword was forgotten as Gregor's hand tightened and twisted, yanking the Dornishman down on top of him. They wrestled in the dust and blood, the broken spear wobbling back and forth. Tyrion saw with horror that the Mountain had wrapped one huge arm around the prince, drawing him tight against his chest, like a lover.
"'Elia of Dorne,' they all heard Ser Gregor say, when they were close enough to kiss. His deep voice boomed through his helm. 'I killed her screaming whelp.' He thrust his free hand into Oberyn's unprotected face, pushing steel fingers into his eyes. 'Then I raped her.' Clegane slammed his fist into the Dornishman's mouth, making splinters of his teeth. 'Then I smashed her fucking head in. Like this.' As he drew back his huge fist, the blood on his gauntlet seemed to smoke in the cold dawn air. There was a sickening crunch. Ellaria Sand wailed in terror, and Tyrion's breakfast came boiling back up."
Wow. Even in one of the most brutal moments in the entire series, Martin manages a moment of pure poetic beauty right before that fist caves in Oberyn's face and skull. So while the shock value of HBO's version was great, I give the edge to the printed version, for the whole battle and especially for its conclusion.
The other little difference I'll point to is the last line the Mountain utters before he kills Oberyn. In the HBO episode, Gregor does not saying "fucking." It's a small thing, but this bothered me. George isn't shy about using swears in his writing, but this one in particular was well chosen. It really emphasized the violence of the moment in a way beyond physical actions, especially since the Mountain hardly ever speaks. I can't be sure, but it might be the one time the Mountain has cursed in a direct line of dialog in the entire series.
But these small points aside, I very much enjoyed the battle, and the look on Peter Dinklage's face at the end was absolutely classic even if there was no vomiting (probably for the best).
So that's everything, except to explain that asterisk regarding what remains of Sansa's published story. Basically, there is one other little tidbit that maybe they could do a little something with. In book four, Brienne encounters a hedge knight early on called the Mad Mouse who is one of many that is looking for Sansa in order to collect the reward. Toward the end of the book, GRRM very slyly informs us that Petyr has hired this same man as part of his household in an effort to bring in a few more swords. So unknown to Petyr there is a traitor lurking among them. So perhaps they'll incorporate this in the HBO series as well, though at this point Brienne hasn't encountered the Mad Mouse. So if they do incorporate this character, it wouldn't be surprise me if it happens after Sansa's story has advanced past the existing published material.
Whew! That was a long one this week, but well worth taking the time to write in honor of the Mountain and the Viper. See you all next week, when I'll no doubt have much more to say about the war at the Wall.