The nature of hope is a strange one, isn’t it? Even despite knowing what the outcome of this episode’s trial would be, I couldn’t help but wonder, deep down in my heart of hearts whether somehow, however impossibly; Oberyn might not just pull off a surprise win. Hope defies logic and rationality and instead clings to the smallest iota of possibly despite the odds. Watching that hope smashed like bowl of pudding is often worse than the dreaded outcome would been in the first place; watching the Mountain cave Oberyn’s head in like a particularly obstinate water balloon brought back all the despair of reading his death in the books, and then some. It was an appropriately macabre death for one of the series’ most flamboyant characters while elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, others’ fortunes similarly rise and fall – Sansa and Littlefinger’s stock skyrockets while Jorah’s plummets but the proud owner of the episode’s worst crash is ultimately Tyrion Lannister.
Speaking of improving circumstances, Ramsay Snow climbed his mountain of corpses and heaps of flayed skin high enough to become Ramsay Bolton, trueborn son of Roose Bolton, Warden of the North. Instrumental to his ascension of course, was his thoroughly wretched and pitiable creature Reek, formerly Theon Greyjoy. It is difficult, verging on impossible, to feel any sort of sympathy for the Ironborn – even when they are rotting with disease and festering wounds they manage to be the single most unpleasant race in the series. It is an effort, a fruitless one I might add, to feel sorry for the betrayal they face when they quite regularly mutiny against their own commanders. This week, we see them turn on their leader for the exact same offer (against the exact same army, no less!) that Ramsay offered Theon in Season 2. If the irony was apparent to Theon, it didn’t show. Alfie Allen’s performance was especially impressive this week in how he was able to create an amalgamation of both Reek and Theon when trying to treat with the Ironborn on the Boltons’ behalf. Between Iwan Rheon and Allen, the storyline in Winterfell next season promises to be an absolute treat.
In the Vale, questions lingered after the previous episode’s less than stellar ending, about just where Sansa was headed and how her story would be affected by the numerous prior cuts and omissions. In a revelation that no one saw coming, Sansa reveals her true identity as the Stark heir – a major deviation from her story in the novels, where she is still posting as Littlefinger’s bastard born daughter. These deviations will only get more frequent as the show continues to outpace the books and one can only hope that the changes improve the story and characters rather than diminish them. Interestingly, HBO has skipped the multitude of lessons that give Sansa the confidence to make such bold moves without Littlefinger’ instructions and as a result, it feels a little jarring that this character, barely an adult, is able to play the game so adeptly. Nevertheless, this would the perfect place to put Sansa story on hold for the season – for the first time since Season 1, she is a place that she can feel reasonably safe in and she is in a position to leverage the stores of goodwill towards her in order to make a big play come Season 5. Where exactly will Season 5 take her though? An invasion of Winterfell seems eminent but doesnt seem to be Littlefinger’s style while that would also crowd out Stannis from his own story. Moreover, will Sansa overstep her bounds and become a threat to Littlefinger? And if so, how will he react?
Finally the day of the trial has arrived and the atmosphere is an exceptionally odd blend of festive and tense. The main attraction at this circus isn’t Tyrion, not for the spectators at least. Instead, they have gathered to watch the Westerosi version of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather go at it. Before the fight itself, we see an incredibly strange scene featuring the Lannister brothers; the scene, which discusses their cousin (show-addition) Orson, is largely superfluous and is a rare miss from the otherwise quite talented HBO writers. It seemed like the speech was building up to this grand, philosophical conclusion that would reverberate especially with Dinklage’s delivery but instead it fizzled out somewhere in the middle and became confused in its own metaphor. It certainly made for an odd prelude to the season’s primetime fight. The fight itself was less than impressive, at least at the beginning. It would be unreasonable to expect Pascal to do all his own stunts but the result of the frequent switching between body double and main actor resulted in the initial section of the scene looking very choppy. The two actors got into the groove of things soon enough though and the rest of the fight was a smooth enough flurry of sword and spear play. The dialogue was thick with ironic foreshadowing and false hope – “Today is not the day I die”, Oberyn declares cockily, echoing Jojen Reed’s oft-repeated assurance. Unfortunately, die he does and both the show and the audience are poorer for it. Pascal was quite possibly the single most entertaining actor on a show that has a variety of them; he had a knack for comedy as well as that natural, actor’s affinity for drama. Like Harry Lloyd had done to Viserys long ago, Pascal enhanced Oberyn Martell beyond what he was meant to be.