There were times when this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Mockingbird,” felt a little thin, but once again, it delivered in its most crucial moments to leave us with another satisfying hour and two long weeks before we’re treated to more. The wait becomes even more anxious because much of this episode, before it ends on a real shocker, is setting the stage for the final three episodes of this fourth season, so the lack of a new episode next Sunday makes the epic fight between Gregor Clegane and Oberyn Martell even more hotly anticipated. Then again, anyone who glanced at the titles of the forthcoming episodes, the next of which is “The Mountain and the Viper,” may have had this matchup spoiled for them.
Indeed, despite the couple of scenes that dragged as though they were stories being told to us by Hot Pie—the conversation between Melisandre and Selyse, and the obligatory Night’s Watch scene were fairly forgettable—that tremendous prison cell meeting between Oberyn and Tyrion was magnificent, and despite Littlefinger’s big moment (which I’ll get to momentarily), was the scene of this episode with the greatest dramatic and emotional execution by far. Much of its strength came from the tremendous setup it received from Tyrion’s two prior exchanges, first with Jaime, then with Bronn.
The speculation regarding who Tyrion’s champion would be following last week’s call for a trial by combat was generally limited to these two: Jaime because he is Tyrion’s brother and historical defender, and Bronn because he was Tyrion’s previous champion and seemingly loyal friend. But it doesn’t take long for us to be reminded that Jaime is a broken thing, left with only his weaker hand and unable to defend his brother one more time.
Bronn, meanwhile, has never hid the fact that he is loyal to money before all else (the writers reminded us of this nicely a few episodes ago while he was training Jaime), and Tyrion can’t offer him enough to risk his life against The Mountain. Their farewell moment together was enough to rival the final moment shared between Tyrion and Podrick, but something about Bronn’s line about hoping to hear the song about how Tyrion Lannister slayed Gregor Clegane was especially heartwrenching, a reminder that these two men are routinely laughing in the face of death, just not laughing together anymore.
The rule of threes would then dictate that Tyrion’s third visitor would be his final one, the person who would fight in his stead, but the nice reveal of the source of light that illuminates Tyrion’s shadowed face ought to have seemed almost like the type of joke Tyrion had alluded to in his first scene. Oberyn’s appearance should be a bit of a surprise, but the cleverness of the storytelling quickly makes it seem obvious and inevitable. Yes, he has always had it out for Lannisters, a grouping that Tyrion would have been a part of, but we’re reminded that he is in King’s Landing not just for justice, but a specific form of justice he wishes to carry out on those responsible for the murder of his sister, and having a stage on which to carry out that justice on The Mountain is too delicious to pass up. There’s also the added bonus of screwing over the other Lannisters who feel as though their show trial is going marvelously.
But the third reason provided for Oberyn’s decision seals the deal: he is actually a good person. We’ve heard about the way Dornish people treat marginalized groups far more sympathetically than those in King’s Landing, but here we get a demonstration of the depths of the Dornish (or just Oberyn’s) heart, as his story about his first encounter with baby Tyrion is delivered and received by these two outstanding actors with devastating weight and earnestness. It also conveniently occurs at night, unlike the previous two scenes, and so the warmth of the orange torchlight provides a visual match for the warmth of the Viper’s compassion. Possibly the most gorgeous scene of the season.