Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones almost did it. It was the first time ever that I considered, albeit briefly, quitting the show. The brutal Red Wedding didn't affect me that way. Or the shocking exit of Ned Stark. In fact that savage event and first season got me started on reading the books in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. But after viewing "The Mountain and the Viper" I felt brutalized. Even knowing what was coming I wasn't prepared for how far show creators (and writers of the episode) David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were willing to go.
A lot happened in the episode. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally heard of Ser Jorah's (Iain Glen) Season One spying for Varys (thanks to a letter from Tywin) and banished him from her side. Dumb move, Dany. Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her baby narrowly avoided being slaughtered during a Wildling raid with the rest of the inhabitants of Mole's Town, thanks to Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Sansa (Sophie Turner) decided that the devil she knows is better than the alternative, and finally showed not just backbone, but a desire for power. She backed Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) in his assertion that Lysa's trip through the Moon Door was suicide and forged a new, uneasy, and potentially very creepy alliance between them. Arya and The Hound arrived in the Vale, only to hear that Lysa had died. The two sisters so close, yet unlikely to meet.
But there were two sequences that were the dark, black heart of the show. Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon) sent Reek (Alfie Allen) to Moat Cailin to convince his fellow Ironborn to surrender, with promises that they would be spared. Of course as soon as the gates were opened they were all slaughtered and flayed alive — a Bolton favorite form of death. Allen looked as horrified as most audience members must have, in the jump cut from a close-up of a hopeful Ironborn soldier to a horrible close-up of his flayed body. Thanks, Game of Thrones.
|Alas poor Oberyn, I knew him well|
But that was just for starters. The episode ended in King's Landing, with the bout that everyone was waiting for — The Viper, Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) vs. The Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane, in a fight to the death to determine the fate of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Game of Thrones has been compensating for the season-long imprisonment of Tyrion by giving his some kick-ass monologues, and "The Mountain and the Viper" delivered, once again. Visited by his older brother Jaime, for what could potentially be the last time, Tyrion found himself reminiscing about their "moron" cousin Orson, who spent all of his waking hours killing beetles. Hundreds, thousands of them. It clearly both fascinated Tyrion and repulsed him. He wanted to know, “Why? Why did he do it? It filled me with dread.”
And speaking of dread ... now to the fight of the century. It was beautifully staged, but the ending ... Knowing as a reader of the books that Oberyn had to die (after poisoning/fatally wounding The Mountain) made watching the duel hard enough. Benioff and Weiss have allowed Pedro Pascal to bring so much to his role this season. The character is far more expanded and interesting than what I remember from the book. I suspect that many viewers like myself were maybe not hoping for a completely different outcome, but at least not a worse death than he had coming to him. But like Ramsay Snow, who isn't just satisfied with killing someone, he must betray them, castrate them, flay them alive, Game of Thrones didn't just stop at having The Montain get a last gasp of energy to kill Oberyn, they had him pulverize him in one of the most disgusting scenes ever on television. And I didn't even watch all of it. I had to turn away — but I heard it, and I still have nightmares of that last long shot of his body on the ground.
I can't really point an accusing finger at author Martin. Yes, he wrote the story and characters, but it is quite different to write about flaying and skull crushing than to insist on showing it, so graphically, on screen. They had to know how much the audience loved Oberyn/Pascal. Yes, he had to die, the story demanded it, but did he have to die so horribly? Are we the beetles, Benioff and Weiss? You just keep crushing and crushing.