Tyrion has a shot at survival as 'Game of Thrones' teases us with hope, bonding and sellsword sex in 'Mockingbird'

By James Hibberd
May 19, 2014 at 03:23 AM EDT
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After so much darkness this season, tonight’s Game of Thrones was unexpectedly upbeat, with bonding moments and hopeful news scattered across Westeros and Essos. Consider: Arya and The Hound became closer besties. Brienne and Podrick gained more trust. Tyrion found an unexpected champion. Dany ordered up some sellsword sex. And shrewish Lysa got shoved out her beloved Moon Door. It’s happiness and good news everywhere you turn! … Except at Castle Black, of course, because life at The Wall blows like the freezing Northern wind. Which Tyrion reminds us as we start this week’s recap of “Mockingbird” …

King’s Landing: Tyrion can’t bring himself to regret his impulsive yet oh-so-satisfying, show-stopping demand last week for Trial by Combat. He got to ruin his dad’s master plan, and the prospect of living at The Wall is only a shade better than being executed anyway. “Brilliant speech, they’ll be talking about it for days to come,” chides his brother, who accuses Tyrion of risking his life for his pride. But c’mon — Tyrion is a Lannister. Of course a lion has pride.

Jaime breaks the news that he won’t volunteer to be Tyrion’s champion since his southpaw sword training with Bronn isn’t going so well. I suppose getting his hand chopped off is a valid excuse not to battle the deadliest fighter in the land. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Tyrion asks, and notes if Jaime dies that will hurt their father even more. He’s not joking — the idea of both of them perishing just to spite Tywin kind of appeals to him. Tyrion really, really hates papa.

Next we see the man Cersei has appointed as the crown’s champion: The Mountain, who is shot from below to make him seem even bigger. He grimly slashes his way through sacrificial prisoners’ entrails like an explorer hacking at jungle vines.

Riverlands (at least, I think Arya and The Hound are in the Riverlands — that’s become my all-purpose “wandering around in the Westeros forest” location tag): So in this week’s Road Trip Adventure-Time, Arya and The Hound come upon a dying man and have an existential discussion. Their Beckett-like debate is familiar to those who have watched a loved one suffer, or been jammed cart-to-cart in an endless line at Costco on a busy Sunday:

“So why go on?” Arya says. “Nothing could be worse than this.”

“Maybe nothing is worse than this,” counters the dying man.

“Nothing is just nothing,” double-counters Arya.

The Hounds puts the man out of his misery, abruptly concluding this production of Waiting For Gregor.

NEXT: Zombie attacks The Hound

Suddenly we’re startled when a refugee from another cable network drama leaps his back and takes a bite out of his neck, while his companion stands nearby doing nothing. These guys are trying to cash in on the bounty put on The Hound. But wait, wait, wait: These guys see The Hound. They actually manage to sneak up behind him. And this is their best plan?

The Hound kills his attacker, and Arya quickly dispatches his companion — right in the heart, like he just showed her. “You’re learning,” The Hound says approvingly.

Later, Arya wants to sterilize The Hound’s wound with a burning branch. But his no-fire-near-face policy is absolute even if it means risking infection. In terms of mortality rates, I suspect infection in Westeros is an even greater cause of death than heart disease, cancer and being a Stark combined. 

Elsewhere: Brienne and Podrick have a pleasant meal. Finally, a tavern scene where nobody is abused or murdered or arrested. Their server is —

Hot Pie! At first I’m worried, because Hot Pie escaped this story with all his limbs last season. My initial assumption is the Thrones gods have returned him so something awful can happen to him — getting baked in one of his ovens or raped with a rolling pin or something. Nobody gets off that easy in this tale. But Hot Pie simply babbles about his hot pies.

Brienne asks Hot Pie if he’s seen Sansa Stark. Podrick hesitates to suggest that they not trust outsiders with their mission, but is worried about offending her. (“You’re not interesting enough to be offensive,” she assures him, which is my favorite line this hour.) Hot Pie reveals Arya is alive and on the road with The Hound. Brienne and Pod decide to make off for The Eyrie, figuring, quite rightly, the Stark daughters could be headed there. And once again, Hot Pie escapes unscathed. 

Castle Black: Jon returns triumphant to Castle Black after his heroic mission against high odds. And what reaction does he get from his bosses? Cold looks and insults. You just want him to yell: “What do I have to do to impress you people?!” Next, Jon proposes sealing off the tunnel that runs under The Wall with ice to thwart the advancing Wildling army. Alliser Thorne shoots this down because it’s a good idea, and he hates those. I suppose you cannot expect the Night’s Watch, full of people who either volunteered for this miserable life or committed some horrible crime, to actually make wise decisions. The whole setup is a terrible way to defend a realm against its greatest threat, like putting death row inmates and the cast of Celebrity Apprentice in charge of NORAD.

NEXT: Dany orders Daario to show his dragon

King’s Landing: Tyrion was hoping Bronn would be his champion. But his sellsword buddy visits his cell and flaunts Cersei’s bribe. He’s snazzily dressed and reveals he’s getting a wife who stands to inherit a castle if he kills her older sister.

Bronn seems truly conflicted about betraying Tyrion, noting that while he genuinely likes him, “I just like myself more.” It’s sad. Tyrion had two close companions aside from his brother — Shae and Bronn. Both relationships were built on a financial agreement, and now they have crumbled to condemn him to death. Yet it’s hard to blame Bronn here. Even if he somehow won against The Mountain, Cersei would probably have him killed. Plus, as he points out, “When have you ever risked your life for me?” This is a fair point. If Bronn were in this cell, Tyrion would try to find a way to get him released. But he probably wouldn’t volunteer to put his life at serious risk to do it.

Meereen: Daario sneaks into Dany’s bedchambers through her window, which earns him extra quest points since she lives atop an 800-foot pyramid. He essentially tells her to either love him and/or send him away, since screwing and fighting are the two things he does best.

“Do what you do best: Take off your clothes,” Dany says in a horny dragon-queen voice.

There’s some power in that line. This Middle Ages-inspired show gets slammed for its male characters treating female characters the way men sometimes treated women in the Middle Ages. (Damn you, accuracy!) Yet this scene has Queen Dany enjoying some table-turning objectification. Of course, Daario is exceedingly willing to comply, so it’s not exactly the same — yet it still makes the moment stand out among Thrones sex scenes, and should provide additional fodder for all those post-graduate “Gender Equality on Game of Thrones” thesis papers.

Daario strips, and there is Daario butt. Viewing companion on my couch says: “Best Thrones episode ever.” Dany lustily eyes his unsheathed self.

However: We’re denied the actual sex scene. It’s the second time in two weeks; you’ll remember Thrones didn’t show Littlefinger and Lysa either (thankfully). It’s interesting that the series chose to show us, say, the brutal rapes at Craster’s — yet this union, which is romantic in all the right ways and been teased all season, remains offscreen.

Next morning, Daario swaggers down the hall, doing his stride of pride past Ser Jorah. He’s not exactly subtle, practically shouting to Ser Jorah: “Dude, I just tapped the Breaker of Chains!” Disturbed Jorah finds Dany in a rather sexy outfit, which makes things even tougher for him, I bet. Ser Friend Zone struggles to find logical objections to fooling around with Daario, but they all stem from the fact he wants her and they both know it.

Dany reveals she sent Daario to kill all the slave masters in Yunkai, who have re-taken control of the city. Jorah counsels against this: “It’s tempting to see your enemies as evil, but there is good and evil on both sides of every war ever fought.” We’re surprised when he actually changes her mind. Then she also lets him take the credit for the idea when he speaks to Daario — that will help show Daario that despite last night, Jorah is still an influential member of her circle. Sex apparently improves Dany’s managerial skills.

NEXT: “I will be your champion”

Dragonstone: Melisandre boobs. The most interesting thing about this scene is the Red Woman’s admission that not all the magical powers she displays are real — some of what she does to impress people are merely tricks “that led them to the truth.” The second most interesting is thing is that Melisandre keeps some sort of lethal-to-the-touch poison on the shelf right next to her bubble bath. Beta-female Selyse meekly ogles his wife’s mistress and gets steamrolled on her parental decision to leave little Shireen behind on their upcoming sea voyage. Wait, sea voyage? To re-take King’s Landing, I assume, with their wealth from the Iron Bank?

King’s Landing: Have the scenes set in Tyrion’s cell been getting progressively darker all season? Certainly in this episode, his cell has been literally darker in each passing scene, as Tyrion’s situation gets increasingly dire and he descends into despair. He’s barely left with torchlight in this scene.

Tyrion has been visited by his protector ghosts of Christmas past (Jaime), present (Bronn) and now his future — Prince Oberyn. This was the first scene actor Pedro Pascal shot for Thrones, by and by, which is pretty amazing considering how formidable and pivotal it is.

Oberyn tells of visiting the Lannisters’ home when Tyrion was just a baby. He gives a horrifying anecdote of Cersei abusing The Imp as an infant, and how Jaime ordered her to stop. He recalls Cersei said, “It doesn’t matter, everyone says he will die soon. I hope they are right, he should not have lived this long.” This confirms Tyrion’s suspicions of how deeply her antagonism for him runs. It also infuriates and saddens him. He now knows that even as an infant, he was hated and tormented. It’s like he never stood a chance. He’s struggling not to cry, and we are too. Recall here The Hound’s statement — how the worst part was that a family member was abusing him. “It’s rare to meet a Lannister who shares my enthusiasm for dead Lannisters,” Oberyn says.

But once again, Cersei’s use of strategy is short sighted. By appointing The Mountain, such an obvious Goliath, she picked the one person that one of the best swordsmen in King’s Landing desperately wants to fight. “I will be your champion,” Oberyn declares, and Tyrion’s face breaks into relief. Everybody is talking about Peter Dinklage’s big speech last week, but this week’s performance is just as great.

Also, let’s praise George R.R. Martin for this scene. I suspect this twist plays less surprisingly on the show due to unavoidable story compression. Did many of you see this coming earlier, during this episode before Oberyn’s reveal? That may explain why producers wrote this scene’s ending a little differently. In A Storm of Swords, this beat was the best kind of shock — totally unexpected, yet completely obvious in retrospect. I actually liked Martin’s closing dialogue better, which came at the very end of a Tyrion chapter. Oberyn tells Tyrion that he will try to save him. Then:

“You?” Tyrion studied him. “You are one judge in three. How could you save me?”

“Not as your judge. As your champion.”

BOOM! I jumped out of my chair all geekily excited when I hit that line. It felt like this wonderful piece of plotting clicking perfectly into place. If you only read one of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, read that one.

NEXT: The Moon Door is hungry and must be fed; Teases of what’s to come

The Eyrie: It’s snowing! For Sansa, it’s like being home again — except almost all her family are dead, and she’s held captive by her mom’s scheming, horny suitor, her crazy aunt, and her aunt’s even crazier kid. She builds a rather competent snow model of “Winterhell” without getting any snow on herself and is interrupted by young Robin. She gamely tries to play with him, but Robin is only interested in making people fly and breaking toys. When he stomps all over her home, Sansa slaps him — which surprises us even more than it does him. Robin runs off, and we learn Littlefinger was secretly watching. Of course he was. He probably watches Sansa sleep through a secret spy-hole.

Sansa finally grows a pair of fourth-season balls and demands to know why Littlefinger killed Joffrey. This is growth for Sansa. She hasn’t been bold enough to demand anything since her ordeal began, except perhaps for the occasional second helping of lemon cakes. Littlefinger explains that he thought Sansa’s mom was really hot, and if she had agreed to sleep with him all those years ago then Sansa could be his daughter. But since her mom didn’t have sex with him, it’s actually cool that she’s not his daughter, because now he finds her even hotter than he did her mom. This is just about the creepiest way the man could have possibly expressed all this. Littlefinger says, “Call me Petyr,” then kisses Sansa. Viewers collectively go “Eewwwwww!

Later, Lysa demands to see Sansa, and the Moon Door is wiiiiiiiide open. We’ve had a lot of Moon Door shots and references this season, and you know Chekhov’s gun rule of storytelling, right? If we see a loaded rifle in the first act, that weapon must eventually be used.

Turns out Lysa secretly saw Littlefinger Petyr kiss Sansa. Apparently, nobody has anything to do in The Eyrie but spy on that courtyard. She grabs Sansa and threatens to throw her out the Moon Door. Littlefinger comes to her rescue and calms down Lysa. He gets all close to her and assures that he’ll send Sansa away.

“I have only loved one woman. Only one my entire life,” he tells her gently, then adds: “Your sister.” Litttlefinger waits a moment to give Lysa time to understand what he said, then gives her a hearty shove right through the trapdoor — quite literally dumping her — and she plummets, brokenhearted, to her death.

We don’t feel bad about this, though the prospect of Sansa being left alone with Litttlefinger is worrisome. (We’re going back to calling him Littlefinger. I get annoyed typing his first name, as if he’s a suburban girl named something like Alyce, Gennifer, Catie or Jayne — “Oh, I’m so cool! I use a different letter!“)

And again, more props to Martin for his clever plotting. The groundwork for this moment between Sansa and Littlefinger was being laid right from that first jousting tournament — which was early in the show’s first season — when Littlefinger sat next to young Sansa and chatted her up. Likewise, Jaime losing his hand last season — that was such a pivotal turning point in his character’s journey, but this week we see how it also served a whole other purpose: Jaime can’t volunteer to save Tyrion.

If you missed it the first time around, be sure to check out my story on the casting of Pascal as Oberyn, where the showrunners talk about the above scene.

So now in next week’s episode —

Wait! There is no episode next week. Game of Thrones skips Memorial Day weekend once again this year, so we’ll have to wait two weeks. Then we get the final three episodes of Thrones, and I’ve been hearing each episode is huge.

Minor spoiler alert for the broad strokes of what’s to come this season: In eight, we see Prince Oberyn fight The Mountain, which I hear is a rather amazing fight sequence. In nine, we get the biggest staged battle in the show’s history — Mance Rayder’s forces finally reaching The Wall (expect pretty much the whole episode to be devoted to that). And in the finale … you know, in previous seasons, the finale has been considered somewhat anticlimactic after major plot twists the penultimate hours (Ned Stark’s execution, the Battle of the Blackwater and The Red Wedding). This season, I’m told episode ten truly rivals nine, and I’m not telling you anything about it, because the less you know the better.

I will see you again in two weeks. Let’s make a pact that we will spend this time well. Because maybe Arya is right, and nothing is nothing. But something is always better than nothing, right?

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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