Before we begin: there be spoilers here. But you knew that already; a Game of Thrones episode (Season 4.08) with a title like “The Mountain and the Viper” isn’t exactly enigmatic.
And still I find myself gape-mouthed and heartbroken hours after the outcome. George R.R. Martin and HBO, you magnificent, demoralizing bastards — you did it again.
Grand Maester Pycelle is no Michael Buffer.
He’s not even a Howard Finkel.
Thanks to a two week-wait between episodes that only fanned the flames of anticipation and countless debates of “The Red Viper vs. The Mountain, who ya got?” with my Game of Thrones loving friends however, not even Pycelle’s s----y, mumble-mouthed introduction could dampen my furor for the fight to the death.
In my head, Oberyn’s ring entrance was as grand as any renowned pugilist in their prime:
“In the red corner; hailing from the scorching desertlands of Dorne; he says that the Lannister’s aren’t the only ones who pay their debts; he is the Red Viper:
If you couldn’t tell already, I was rooting for Oberyn.
Ever since he swaggered his way into King’s Landing with the machismo of ten Razor Ramons/Inigo Montoya amalgams, palm heeling candleflames, talking s--t to Lannisters and f-----g everything that walked — I imagine many other Game of Thrones fans shared that sentiment. (Last week’s inspirational “I can be your hero, baby” speech to Tyrion while in prison probably did it for everyone else.)
I will stand by you forever.
We knew Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane was big. Strong. We knew he was an incorrigible bastard with a laundry list of other sickening transgressions. We knew he chopped his own horse’s head off with a single swipe all the way back in Season 1. In other words, we had a good idea of the kind of wanton destruction the guy could bring, both in combat and in general.
On the other hand, we’d never really seen Oberyn fight before. (Stabbing a Lannister soldier through the wrist in the blink of an eye was a good skill indicator, though.) Besides the overarching revenge motive, that’s also what made the fight so intriguing.
Round 1… Fight!
What could Oberyn do? Did he simply talk a big game? Was his thirst for familial revenge clouding his judgement? Surely a man cocky enough to take on The Mountain one-on-one wasn’t just some blowhard. And more importantly, why would George R.R Martin introduce such a bad-ass character, build him up, endear him to us… only to see him fall flat on his face without any vindication?
He’d already taught us lessons with the overly honorable Ned Stark. The Red Wedding. Yeah, we get it Georgie boy. You fart in the face of common fantasy archetypes and saccharine tropes. Game of Thrones is gritty and realistic and you play for keeps.
So when Oberyn started ninja-pirouetting his way across the arena, outmaneuvering The Mountain like some Dornish matador… I was sort of impressed, but not hopeful. Not yet.
When he repeated the words “You raped her; you murdered her; you killed her children,” while systematically slashing into The Mountain like a surgeon, my admiration for the Dornishman only intensified. He’s going to do it, I thought. And George is going to let him.
The Unsettling Outcome
By the time Oberyn had The Mountain on his back, just as he had predicted, spouting, “Are you dying? No, no, you can’t die, you haven’t confessed!” I was on the verge of cheering.
Then s--t went south pretty fast. All because Oberyn wanted to gloat instead of getting the job done.
When Oberyn took the first armored thunder-punch to the face, and then twisted his head around all bloodied and toothless — I cringed. God damn, that’s gruesome… but he’s still good, I thought. Nothing a little Westerosi dental work and a few weeks of Maester massaging can’t fix.
Then came the “pop” heard ‘round the world. The screams of agony from a character who had never displayed anything but confidence and charm. That might be what got me the most. Ellaria’s horrified wailing didn’t help too much either.
You’re probably feeling just like I am. Despondent. Bitter that George had killed off yet another character whose cause was just, whose motives were righteous.
I feel like the Patriots just blew a 28-0 lead in the Superbowl. (Knock on wood.)
Like Tyrion in his pseudo-Nietzschean “beetle speech” to Jaime where he questioned the motives behind perpetual, mindless violence and bemoaned the conundrum of “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”
Remember though, this all makes sense.
Just like Ned and Robb Stark had to go. The overly noble Ned and the brash Robb were likeable characters, but in retrospect, flawed in their actions. The very qualities that we admired in the character of Oberyn were also his undoing. His hubris. His desire not only to physically best The Mountain… but to make him suffer; to embarrass and disgrace him as retribution for sister. George R.R. Martin reminded us that this is fantasy unlike that before it; there is no plot-armor here to protect the fan favorites or the noble. (So far as we can tell.)
Oberyn rattled his tail and sank his fangs into an opponent that he had clearly outskilled. And then he got cocky and let the beast claw his eyes out before he had a chance to finish the meal.
Oberyn went out just like he entered: with a bang. What would you have wanted to see? Wild-card Oberyn win the fight, javelin toss his spear through Tywin’s heart after receiving a confession and then detonate a “Viper Bomb” in the middle of the arena while he Batman grapple-gunned himself, Ellaria, and newly-appointed king Tyrion to safety?
Be thankful that there’s more story to tell. More Game of Thrones to watch. There might not be any more Oberyn… but how much longer would it have been before he suffered from bad-ass decay?
And that confession Oberyn was so hellbent on attaining: he got that, didn’t he? Sure, he got his head crushed in the process; but The Mountain confessed to his crime in front of plenty of witnesses. Something tells me Oberyn’s death won’t be completely in vain. Don’t forget, there’s other Martells in the royal family. And their hatred for Lannisters is likely right up there with Oberyn’s.
R.I.P. Oberyn Martell. Let’s take solace in the fact that one day we’ll imagine Eddard, Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, and now you raising your ale-filled mugs in a triumphant afterlife toast (with buxom barmaids cavorting behind you) when some of these “evil-doers” finally start getting their comeuppance.