HBO, and especially Game of Thrones, is known for penultimate episodes that deliver the biggest punches of the season. (See: Season 1, Ned Stark’s beheading; Season 2, the Battle of Blackwater Bay; Season 3, the Red Wedding.) Last Sunday’s “The Watchers on the Wall,” portraying the Battle of Castle Black, was no exception, and to be honest I have absolutely no idea how to write about it. It was an episode that nearly gave me a coronary—an hour of expertly choreographed, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, heartbreaking battle. To paraphrase Special Agent Dale Cooper, it was damn fine television.
And another one bites the dust during last week’s episode, appropriately titled “The Mountain and the Viper”…but let’s start from the beginning, everyone. The opening scene is your typical “going-out” scenario: some friends, some brews, some debauchery. However, in Mole’s Town (the village closest to Castle Black) the revelers look a bit like creatures that have recently emerged from the Bog of Eternal Stench, and the “fun” is perpetually tinged with mean spirits and danger. You can understand why Gilly is just doing her work and not participating in the revelry. All of a sudden—it seems wildlings favor sneak attacks—the place is ransacked by invaders, including Ygritte, Tormund, and the Thenns (The Wildlings You Know®). It’s a brutal scene of flagrant killing and destruction—however, as Ygritte comes upon a cowering Gilly holding her infant son, she shows mercy, giving a curt nod and moving on. The war has begun, kids.
This episode begins with some good old fighting between siblings. Jaime is mad at Tyrion for undermining the deal he worked out with Tywin, in which Tyrion would be sent to the Wall rather than being killed for his “crime.” Tyrion, for his part, doesn’t want to go to the Wall for a crime he didn’t commit—death sucks for sure, but have you seen what goes on up there? Not only is it cold, miserable, dangerous, and a straight up sausage fest, but a man like Tyrion would surely be tortured until his dying day. There is one last grain of comfort for the brothers though. Everything played out exactly as Tywin would’ve wanted it to, making Jaime and Tyrion assume that the whole shebang was a ploy to get Jaime to leave the Kingsguard and get rid of his youngest without actually killing him. It’s kind of genius, actually. Tyrion’s claim that “It felt good taking that away from him” is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
We’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of talk about ships lately, and this episode opens with another one, sails boasting the new Baratheon fiery stag and carrying Stannis and Davos to…that’s a good question. Where are they going, we wonder? …Then the Titan of Braavos appears on the screen and a bunch of nerds start breathing into paper bags. (I must confess I also got wicked excited when I saw the Titan pop up in the title credits.) If you have been paying attention, there have been many ominous references to a certain Iron Bank of Braavos throughout the season so far. The Lannisters for sure owe them an indescribable amount of cash. It seems Stannis has decided to trust Davos enough to sail all the way to Braavos to entreat the Iron Bank for cash. Tycho Nestoris, the apparent head Iron Banker (played by Mark Gatniss of Dr. Who and Sherlock fame, if you hear any more fan-screaming in the distance), greets Stannis coolly and calls him “Lord Stannis” before Davos imperiously corrects him with the full title. But really? Tycho points out that not only does Tommen Baratheon sit the Throne, but Stannis lacks both men and resources. He goes on to describe the Braavosi concept of looking at cold hard facts (read: the figures in their ledger books), and it seems there’s no hope for a bailout. Yet Davos saves the day again—he vehemently vouches for Stannis, ripping off his glove and displaying his stubs because his King is an honest man that deals with debt. All you have to do is compare/contrast that to the Lannister situation, and Mycroft/Tycho is straight convinced.
Aaaand another king sits the Iron Throne. Tommen’s coronation is underway, and his nervous posture and expression is endearing when contrasted against Joffrey’s usual sprawled-leg entitlement. He looks to Margaery, in plain sight across the room, for comfort and she offers it in the form of a sisterly (with promise) knowing smile. Of course, Cersei notices this exchange and begins her inevitable interception. Normally, when Cersei makes a move in someone’s direction, it’s either to deliver a thinly veiled threat or dress them down entirely, so I was intrigued to see that she spoke plainly and (sort of) kindly. Cersei admits that Joffrey was a monster, but she loved her oldest son anyway—Tommen is a good boy, and has the potential to be the only worthy king to sit the Iron Throne in fifty years. But Tommen “will need help.” With this confessional spirit, she slickly insinuates that she’s willing to pass the Queenly baton to Margaery. This is a battle of wiles, and Cersei is either changing her tactics or softening in her grief. Margaery on the other hand, is quickly learning epic levels of connivance judging by that burn she closed out the convo with…
The enslaved all have stories of how they became captives. During a conversation disguised as a language lesson, Dany’s interpreter Missandei and the Unsullied leader Grey Worm discuss their pasts and the horrors that led them to slavery. Despite everything, Grey Worm still harbors pride in being Unsullied, saying “Before Unsullied, nothing.” Yet he still wants to kill the masters, and it’s evident that something is afoot when Dany breaks up the intimate moment to let them know that “It’s time.”