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