BEWARE: The Game of Thrones reviews on this blog are likely to contain spoilers through A Dance with Dragons. Read at your own risk!
It was pretty clear to me from the somewhat awkward opening scene in last night's episode of Game of Thrones that the writers of this show had no intention of letting up on the shock value aspect of what was to come. This season they've put a lot of focus not just on things that didn't happen at all in the novels, but on events that Martin only mentioned in passing - in this case, the wildling attack on Mole's Town.
Of course in the show, Gilly was sent to Mole's Town because Sam thought that she would be safer there. But this is Game of Thrones, so of course that's not the case. Thankfully, despite her origins Gilly is no idiot. She stands up to the woman who confronts her about the baby crying, realizes that the wildlings are about to attack before anyone else does, and then hides herself as well.
Apparently showing the wildling point of view of the attack called for a ridiculous amount of shaky cam. Oh, and in case you didn't remember that Ygritte is super pissed off about Jon Snow, they made sure to remind us over and over and over again. But hey, don't worry - her anger apparently doesn't extend to women with babies, and as it's Ygritte who discovers Gilly's hiding place and then shushes her before moving on, we can safely assume that in the following Castle Black scene, when Dolorous Edd assures Sam that Gilly may be alive, he's probably correct.
Speaking of Dolorous Edd, he was quite a bit more serious in The Mountain and the Viper than he usually is (in the books and in previous episodes of the show). That sort of makes me sad, but at the same time I love his character and I'm pretty much just happy that he had a decent amount of screen time and several lines last night ;)
Over in Meereen, the Missandei/Grey Worm side story is certainly getting a lot of screen time. I'm still a bit confused as to where the show is going with it, and I'm not sure I like how they're dragging out the mystery of whether the masters take 'all of it - the pillar and the stones' (har har har) when they castrate the Unsullied, but other than that this was a really sweet aside to an otherwise very dark episode. I especially loved Dany and Missandei's 'girl time' and Grey Worm's apology to Missandei definitely tugged on the old heartstrings.
Not that Game of Thrones can give viewers those warm fuzzies for too long, though. Yes, I still cringe when Theon and/or Ramsay come on screen, so I'm going to give a brief synopsis of the two scenes featuring them: first of all, ugh, but second of all, I was excited to see Moat Cailin. It didn't look anything like I pictured (too out in the open, too intact, too big), but it was still a dreary place, and the bit between Theon and the Ironborn certainly followed the books closely enough, complete with a *great* (<--sarcasm) view of a completely flayed man! Later Ramsay meets up with dear old dad, at which point he is officially deemed Ramsay Bolton and they ride off to hang out in Winterfell. This storyline is certainly moving along quickly, and maybe, just maybe, I'll hate it less once they're settled down and they begin to experience the fact that the North remembers.
I was very excited that we got some more Sansa action this week - and wow was it awesome. At least, I think it was. I'm still a bit torn about certain things. But the council scene was great, and I loved that viewers were finally introduced to the lords (and lady) of the Vale. And there wasn't even a moment for that excitement to wear off before the rest of the events at the Eyrie set me - and kept me - on the edge of my seat. I suppose that suicide was really the only excuse Littlefinger could use for Lysa's death, as he and Sansa were the only ones present, but at first I couldn't see how he would convince Lord Royce and the others that it was the truth.
And then Sansa, beautiful wonderful amazing Sansa, convinces them for him. It certainly doesn't seem the smartest idea for her to have told these people exactly who she is, but I understand that it's certainly the easiest route for the show - especially if they plan on eventually linking her with Harry the Heir. She certainly pulled off her story, and I foresee many Sansa detractors having their eyes opened by this scene, but as someone who has loved her character for quite some time I do have some concerns about them making such huge changes with her, and so quickly.
Speaking of changes, I was actually a bit surprised that we saw Jorah dismissed in this episode. I thought they would drag that out a bit more, possibly until the very end of the season; additionally, for it to basically happen all at once made it seem more than a little bit rushed. I do think it helped that all of the actors involved did an incredible job - they added emotion and gravity where those things would have been sadly lacking due to the aforementioned rushing of this scenario.
As a Sansa and Sandor fan, the next chunk of this episode was nothing short of amazing. Though the little aside with Sansa and Littlefinger seemed oddly placed and in my opinion really didn't bring anything new to their story, of course I loved that right after that it switched to Sandor and Arya, who apparently were able to walk all the way to the Vale since we last saw them (despite the fact that Sandor's bite wound is obviously festering and causing him problems). I enjoyed the fact that Sandor referred to Arya as his 'traveling companion, and their reaction to the news that Lysa is dead was interesting to say the least - first Arya's crazy laughing, which was a somewhat appropriate reaction but also a bit over the top in terms of portrayal, and then the fact that they apparently turned around and left.
Now, it's likely that the guards aren't privy to the knowledge that Sansa is there, and we didn't see Sandor and Arya appear anywhere else after this, but in order for her to follow her book storyline in any way she would need to leave. Hopefully we'll get more clarification about this before the season ends, but it seems that this was simply a way to stretch out the Sandor and Arya plot, and possibly showcase yet again that none of the Starks are going to be together anytime soon. As the writers have spent quite a bit of time stretching certain plots this season, I'm guessing it's more the former :-/
The fact that they then cut back to the Eyrie was certainly welcome. Robin seems to be taking his mother's death a lot better than one would think, Littlefinger is as creepy as ever (although the 'some people die over their chamber pots' was amusing whether they meant it to be or not), and Sansa has truly become Alayne now. Plus she finally gets a flattering gown!
I've already seen plenty of comments from Sansa detractors who are apparently relieved that she's 'way more interesting' now. Of course I knew some of that was coming, but as I already mentioned, the show is making bigger, bolder changes with her character, and doing it a lot faster than what we've seen in the books so far. Basically I just wasn't expecting to see all of the eye roll-inducing comments quite this soon ;)
While I've generally enjoyed the interactions between Jaime and Tyrion this season, and understand how important they are to set up Tyrion's escape, which will likely happen before the end of this season , their conversation in The Mountain and the Viper didn't serve any purpose. Not only that, the whole story about their special needs cousin was nothing short of awkward. Honestly, as much as I cringe every time Theon and/or Ramsay show up on screen, this Jaime and Tyrion scene was probably the worst one in the episode.
Although hey, they did make it a point to say there is no term for killing your cousin. I'm not certain if this was merely supposed to be amusing, or if they were harkening back to Jaime's actions in season two and trying to cover their tracks, but I suppose I hope that it was the latter, because that means they made one tiny point with this scene.
The bells certainly couldn't ring soon enough, and when they did we finally got to see the men who gave this episode its name. While at times Oberyn showing off with his spear was a bit much for my tastes, in general both the writers and the actors did an amazing job with the fight.
And as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, they continued to go for shock value when Gregor finally got the better of Oberyn. I guess at this point I shouldn't be surprised that they continue to go to such lengths, though ;) (But let's not lie, that death scene was super disgusting.)
There are now just two episodes left in season four, and several characters we haven't seen in a while - Brienne and Pod, also on their way to the Vale; Stannis and Davos, who are likely, as book readers know, on their way to The Wall; Bran and Co., who may actually run into the children of the forest before the season ends; and even a few King's Landing characters (namely the Tyrells and Tommen). With the big battle for The Wall coming up next week, there is a lot of ground that still needs to be covered.
And speaking of characters we haven't seen in a while, I'm still wondering when we're going to be introduced to Lady Stoneheart. Will it be in the season finale, or will they save her for season five? Or will the show perhaps avoid her altogether? It seems that no matter how much it frustrates me sometimes, and despite the fact that I've read the books, Game of Thrones is still keeping me on the edge of my seat.