Game of Thrones: The Viper and the Mountain Battle Royale

Game of Thrones - Mountain Viper

This is why we can’t have nice things!  Because George R. R. Martin takes them away from us! 

As an avid reader of Martin’s superlative Song of Fire and Ice novels, I’ve learned to steel myself from even the slightest shred of hope. Reading Martin’s tales of Westeros in hopes that good will eventually triumph and those who do wrong will receive their comeuppance, is a recipe for disappointment. But to relive these tragedies on a weekly basis through HBO’s equally compelling Game of Thrones is almost too much for a fan to bear. Having already witnessed the brutal murder of Oberyn Martell on printed page a few years ago, I knew that this duel had only one possible outcome. Yet a part of me still hoped that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would somehow use some of their creative license to grant Martell a stay of execution. But alas, those hopes exploded right along with Martell’s head in the meaty paws of The Mountain.

For those in my friend circle who have not read the books, the buzz on social media was almost uniformly for Team Oberyn. After all, why wouldn’t you be cheering for the pan-sexual charmer with the alluring accent and beautiful wife, who also happened to be fighting to save the life of arguably the most popular character in the show. And beheadings and weddings aside, it’s not like Martin was going to sentence Tyrion to death. No one I talked to thought this could end in any way but with Martell standing over the corpse of the defeated Mountain. Sure, some people were more guarded in their optimism. But in what world would a charismatic fighter such as Oberyn Martell get beaten by a brutish killing machine such as The Mountain? Oh, right. In Westeros.

Yes, this was another shocking event that came as no surprise to those who have read the novels. But rather than pretentiously turn my nose up to the “non-book readers” as so many are prone to do, allow me to instead marvel at how fortunate all of us are, book readers and non-book readers alike, to be able to enjoy this incomparable, and yes, occasionally gruesome show. From my recollection, the Oberyn Martell in the novels was an interesting, yet ultimately unimportant character in the grand scheme of the books. But in the hands of Weiss and Benioff, he became an integral part of the story. Someone who had the best lines this side Tywin and Tyrion Lannister. As played by Pedro Pascal, Oberyn Martell was someone who absolutely grabbed your attention whenever he was on screen. His electric charm and imperious arrogance shone through in his performance, making his presence felt in every scene he was in. And as I continued to watch the show, I slowly let myself get lulled into a sense of complacency about what happens to arrogant and noble people in Westeros. In some ways, the entire duel was a bit of a microcosm of life in Westeros. Always keep your guard up. Because the instant you think you’ve achieved a victory, it will be cruelly ripped away from you. Oberyn let his arrogance and desire to make a “big statement” cloud his killer instinct. And he ended up being exactly what the Mountain said he was: Some Dead Man.

But what really caught me by surprise was the genuine pain I felt at watching Oberyn get manhandled (literally) by the Mountain. Even knowing this was inevitable, I couldn’t help but feel anguish watching someone who had so expertly played the Game of Thrones for so long, get snuffed out because of one fatal mistake. We already know that Martin has a bit of a sadistic streak in him, removing characters from his story as casually as one who would swat a fly off their lap. But HBO’s Game of Thrones has somehow raised the stakes even further, making deaths seem to matter more. As much as I reveled in Joffrey’s death in Storm of Swords, I was absolutely gleeful watching Game of Thrones’ Joffrey slowly and painfully choke to death on the television screen (a testament to how well actor Jack Gleeson played one of the most hated characters on TV). And I was equally horrified watching Oberyn Martell get his skull brutally crushed by The Mountain.

So where do we go from here? Is Tyrion really going to meet his end at the hands of a King’s Landing Executioner? You’ll get no book spoilers here. Just know that as someone who eagerly anticipates the next novel, I’m starting to anticipate the next episode just as much. And that was something that I most certainly did not expect.

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