Game of Thrones 4.07 Review “Mockingbird”

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An hour full of sibling rivalries and bad jokes, “Mockingbird” is another hour of pause and contemplation for Game of Thrones as it (presumably) builds towards its end-season moments, the first of which arrive in the episode’s closing moments. And like most thumb-twiddling episodes of the show, “Mockingbird” is a series of fascinating interactions, some exciting for their proximity to the big stories of the season – and others because they give otherwise-dormant story lines life through their characters, rather than plot movement.

Sure, it has a few weak spots – Jon Snow getting bullied by the Night’s Watch council chief among them – but “Mockingbird” shows what Game of Thrones manages to do so well between its big, defining moments: deliver a series of performance-driven scenes with loose thematic connections constructed through allusion (like the recurring “bad joke” reference). It also allows the show to give other, lesser characters (like Oberyn, Lysa, and The Hound) a chance to shine, putting the show’s massive (and massively talented) cast on full display for the hour, right down to cameos from Hot Pie and Rorge, leading to two of the episode’s best moments (Brienne learning Arya is alive, and Arya’s continuous descent into darkness, respectively).

As it often is, the highlight of the night belongs again with Tyrion, who is slowly learning how many friends he has left as his trial by combat – against The Mountain, no less – looms in every corner of his underground prison cell. Jaime’s not sacrificing his life for him (as tempting as it may sound when Tyrion tries to convince him), and neither is Bronn: seeing him in upper-crust garbs really drove home how quickly (and efficiently) Cersei has ripped away every single friend he has. And with nobody jumping at the opportunity to fight The Mountain (who gets a nice re-introduction, gutting prisoners with his massive Ice-like sword), Tyrion finds himself abandoned by those in King’s Landing,  bowing their feet to Cersei – until he gets an 11th-hour visit from Oberyn Martell, who has a number of bones to pick with the massive beast the Lannisters name as their champion, deciding to fight for the man everyone’s called a “monster” since birth.

For an episode that’s essentially stalling until its final moments, “Mockingbird” is able to put plot aside and focus on its characters, utilizing its infamous paired-off structure to keep things engaging. Arya and The Hound’s visit to a local home, for example, gave us an opportunity to see the maturity in their relationship, both when it comes to being merciful with a dying man, or The Hound releasing his growing list of life-long frustrations (which now include keeping a hunted girl alive all the way across Westeros). Like the Tyrion and Oberyn scenes, Arya and The Hound’s are performance-driven, two loosely metaphorical moments (Oberyn bringing Tyrion a “beacon of light” in the darkness, one might say) that re-purpose things we already know about these characters (The Hound’s accident, Oberyn and Tyrion’s anger at the Lannister sigil), reinvigorating them as motivating factors in a world finally starting to gain traction again, after coming to a halt with two massively disastrous weddings.

Of course, all those scenes lead to the episode’s big moment, alluded to in the episode’s title: while in the Eyrie, Littlefinger’s plan to secure his family (which is really just him) name up in the Vail comes to fruition, with Lysa Arryn and all her damning information with it. Since Lysa’s been such a small character on the show, her death doesn’t quite feel as momentous as others (like anybody in the Stark family), but it’s a great scene to bring the episode’s themes to a head: driven by jealousy for her sister, Lysa’s been Petyr’s secret weapon in his attempts to usurp the throne  – and Petyr is nothing if he isn’t opportunistic. In a matter of minutes, he goes from applauding Sansa slapping little Robin (who destroys Sansa’s Winterfell built of snow, because it has “no moon door” on it), to kissing her, to throwing Lysa out the moon door after reminding her exactly how many women he’s loved in his life time (you can guess it’s a short list).

In short, “Mockingbird” is like many of this season’s inert episodes: where it lacks in plot advancement, it makes up for in character development and philosophic ponderings (led by “Why go on?”, asked to The Hound by a dying man), hinting towards the big end-season moments to come (like next week’s trial by combat, or the long-awaited arrival of Mance’s army at the Wall, which will happen by “the next full moon”, according to Snow) and continuously reminding the audience how we arrived at this point (even Daario’s betrayal of his companions is mentioned and discussed by Jorah and Dany, after Jorah learns that Daario’s become her sex toy, a source of much envy for the disgraced knight). It may be taking its sweet time getting from point A to point B, but “Mockingbird” reminds us that Game of Thrones is, at its core, a show driven by character, rather than the necessities of a plot – instead, those moments are served as reminders to who these people really are, driven by uncontrollable lusts for power and justice, two elastic terms that don’t necessarily have to be exclusive.

Other thoughts/observations:

– I wish we could spend an entire episode with Pod and Brienne, who run into Hot Pie, learn of Arya’s status with the living, then make a decision at a fork in the road, in the course of a single scene.

– Bronn’s getting married, and now dresses like a fancy lord: he always told Tyrion he’d sell him out, and Tyrion certainly can’t hold up his end of offering double what anyone else does anymore. Their farewell is a sad one, but given his fear of The Mountain, also ensures he’ll be with us in Westeros (among the living) at least a little while longer.

– Melisandre and Stannis’s wife spend some quality sexposition time together, as Melisandre explains that sometimes, lies can be just as magical as the Truth seen in the light. Boy, she has the art of seduction mastered.

– Petyr: “A lot can happen between now and never.”

[Photo via HBO]

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