Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Mountain and the Viper”

The Moment: The Red Viper faces the Mountain in a fight to the death to determine Tyrion’s fate

Setting the Scene: Tyrion’s trial by combat leads to a long-awaited showdown between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane. During the fight, Oberyn demands that “the Mountain” admit to the crimes Oberyn knows he’s guilty of: the rape and murder of his sister Elia and the deaths of her children.

Warning for those who haven’t seen the episode: These videos (especially the second one) contain EXTREMELY violent, disturbing images.

Why It’s Awesome: I’ve been awaiting this scene with equal parts excitement and dread since I first read it in the books, and those feelings only intensified when we were first introduced to Pedro Pascal’s incredible take on Oberyn in this season’s premiere. While this showdown wasn’t as long as I would have liked (especially compared to its length in the book), it was still every bit as compelling as I’d hoped it would be.

This was Oberyn’s shining moment, and Pascal ran with it. I was captivated from the moment Tyrion saw him with Ellaria before the fight even began. There’s something so engaging in Pascal’s portrayal of Oberyn’s confidence; there’s nothing smarmy about it, which is a difficult balance to achieve. I think it helps that we finally got to see exactly how he got his reputation as the Red Viper with his spear skills. The choreography of the spear work was stunning. There was this graceful power to it that reminded me perfectly of a snake. And it was such a beautiful counterpoint to the brute force of the Mountain.

The fight was gorgeous to watch on a visual level, but it was also completely compelling on an emotional level. I’ll admit to crying as soon as Ellaria told Oberyn not to leave her in this world alone since I knew what was coming; it was the perfect final moment for one of my favorite relationships to be shown this season.

The actual fight had such a brilliant sense of momentum. The way it built had me feeling intense anxiety even though I knew how it was all going to play out. Pascal did a phenomenal job of showing the way Oberyn’s fight-induced adrenaline kept propelling his grief over his sister to new stages of intensity. The repetition of “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children,” would have been powerful on its own, but the combination of that battle cry with Pascal’s increasing intensity gave me chills. You could feel the years of emotional torment over not being able to defend his sister pouring out of him in that moment. It was catharsis at its most visceral.

But, as we’re often reminded while watching Game of Thrones, this isn’t a fairytale. The good guys—the characters we root for—don’t often win. If you want happy endings, go somewhere else. And in this sense, Oberyn’s fate was perhaps the most brutal and horrible reminder of all of those things. He was almost victorious, but a literal low blow from the Mountain brought him down. And to add insult to injury, the Mountain admitted to all of the charges against him as he crushed Oberyn’s skull with his bare hands.

It’s amazing how this show still manages to shock even those of us who read the books. I knew what was coming, and yet I was still horrified by it. It’s an image I won’t get out of my mind, and I know that’s exactly what they were aiming for. That brutal, bloody image combined with Ellaria’s painfully realistic reaction will be haunting me for a long time. I was devastated to lose Oberyn in the books, but I think I’m even more devastated to lose him on the show. Pascal truly brought something special to this ensemble, as his presence will be missed.

Honorable Mentions: Everything with Sansa—her testimony; her conversation with Littlefinger about why she lied for him; and her final descent down the staircase showing this little bird’s new, black wings

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6 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Mountain and the Viper”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. The scene was spectacular, and it says a lot about how much it struck me that, even having read the books and knowing what was going to happen, I let myself hope for a moment that Oberyn was going to win.
    Pedro Pascal has been a fantastic surprise, and one of the few cases where I’ve found myself liking more the show’s character than the book one. It’s a pity that his participation was so short lived.

    • I definitely agree with you about liking the show’s version of Oberyn even more than the book’s version. I loved getting to see more of him and his dynamics with other characters because I think it deepened his character so much on the show. I found myself looking forward to his moments in every episode—however small they were.

  2. I think it says a lot that this scene gave my 35 year old boyfriend nightmares. To quote him when we went to bed that night, “every time I close my eyes, all I see is Oberyn’s crushed head”. We have both read the books and knew it was coming, but I couldnt even make it past once the mountain went for the eyes (I kept my eyes closed after that, although the sound was disturbing enough), so I spared myself the full visual (although I did see the aftermath at the end when the camera showed them lying side by side).

    I enjoyed Oberyn, but I think I protected myself pretty well from getting too attached knowing what was coming, so it didnt quite have the same impact on me as I think it did for most. My favorite scene was Sansa’s testimony about her aunt’s death. What I loved about it was how it was 99% the truth. Sansa got to confess and come to terms with all the crappy things that has happened to her, while also making a calculated lie. And thats how you effectively spin a lie, you drowned it in so much truth that you cant see the lie, and Sansa played that perfectly. She was finally given power over her situation and I enjoyed seeing what she did with it.

    Runner up for me is Arya’s reaction to the news that her Aunt was killed. Desperate laugher from realization that you just cant catch a break. At this point every time Arya has tried to find her family they just end up getting killed. It makes sense that she would want to abandon that strategy at this point.

    I am kinda upset they went forward with the Jorah storyline from the book. This seems to me like it was the perfect opportunity to stray from the book a little bit. It was a sad turn of events in an episode that already had more than enough drama. This scene really upset me in the books (way more than Oberyn’s death) and I was disappointed that it didnt have the weight I thought it deserved. I know He needs to split from Dany for the story further down the line, but I think they could have come up with a different situation for him leaving that took out the betrayal. Just this once I wanted a deviation from the book that actually made something a little less dramatic…but no.

    • You were smart to close your eyes. I seriously cannot stop seeing it. It was absolutely horrifying.

      Your pick for favorite moment is probably my personal favorite as well (I knew that I had to write about Oberyn for this post, though). To see Sansa finally get to have a moment of release to talk about the horrors she suffered, all while taking control over her situation in whatever way she can, was brilliant. In relating the ways she was stripped of her agency, she reclaimed a little of it by playing the game on her terms. It was a great reminder of why, after Brienne, Sansa is my favorite character.

      I also have to agree that the Jorah storyline felt like just another piece of angst on this already towering pile. I actually forgot that it would be coming up soon, and when it hit me that it was happening, all I could think was ‘Not this too!’ 😦

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