The best Game of Thrones episodes are those that find a unifying thread between all of the jumping around from storyline to storyline. Then there are those rare episodes that find multiple unifying threads and weave them delicately around a series of major moments up to which the show has been building for most of a season. “Mockingbird” is a fine example of this rare episode. It moves our story forward, never overplays its hand, is paced wonderfully and ultimately delivers some nice surprises. It’s a joy to watch this show operate at such heights.
The most pervasive theme of “Mockingbird” revolves around siblings and the sometimes horrible, sometimes noble things they do to and for each other. The episode opens on Tyrion and Jaime, a relationship that has grown tense since the final moments of last week’s episode when Tyrion threw Jaime’s deal to save his life out the moon door with one big speech at court. But even though they are frustrated with each other, there’s still a sense that they are trying to work things out together. Even though Jaime can’t fight for Tyrion’s freedom, it’s hard not to believe that he’s still in his corner.
Cersei, on the other hand, has recruited quite possibly the worst person in the history of worst people to fight against Tyrion (or his champion). Yes, let’s take a moment to remember Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. The episode does a great job reintroducing us to The Mountain That Rides — he’s the guy who chopped a horse’s head off in season one, remember? It’s not just the scene of him sport-killing prisoners, but the gut-wrenching moment when The Hound takes off his emotional armor and opens up to Arya. Sometimes siblings relationships can be the most cruel.
They can also be the most noble, passionate bonds between two people, as we see in the great moment between Tyrion and Prince Oberyn. Sure, he’s telling a story illustrating how horrible Cersei has been to Tyrion since the day he was born. But there’s also so much love in that scene, from Oberyn for his sister Elia. Pedro Pascal, as he’s done since his first moment on-screen, makes a regal, charming, dangerous Oberyn Martell. It’s all encapsulated perfectly in this scene. We see him empathize with Tyrion, reveal that he’s onto Cersei’s game, and decide that he will find his revenge in fighting on behalf of a man who is not, after all, a monster.
This, of course, sets up one hell of a battle between the two most dangerous men in all of Westeros — but we have to wait TWO WEEKS for that.
Ehem, back to the themes. The sibling rivalries spill out in such surprising and eventful ways. Hot Pie makes a connection with Brienne and Pod over his knowledge of a Stark girl. Not the one they are looking for, but her sister Arya. This gives a bit more hope and direction to their journey, as they know believe themselves to be en route to not one, but two Stark girls at The Vale. They’ve got it half right, after all.
Which leads us to the final punch of the siblings theme. We take some time up in the mountains of The Vale with Littlefinger, his new wife Crazy Lysa, his moody stepson Robin and Sansa. It’s interesting to watch Sansa talk about giving up hope of seeing Winterfell again, but who would have thought she’d ever see snow again. As Littlefinger explains, a lot can happen between now and never. A lot being plenty more Crazy Lysa moments and a long fall out the moon door. It’s a shock for sure, but think for a moment about what this means from a character standpoint. Up to this point we’ve always thought of Littlefinger as a calculated, cold-hearted guy who is only really in it for himself. In the span of a few moments, we learn a few important things about him: (a) the real reason he killed Joffrey was a revenge against the Lannisters for killing Catelyn Stark and (b) he’s so into Sansa that he’s willing to put a great deal of things at risk by pushing Lysa to her death. Those Knights of the Vale, renowned as they are, might not take kindly to the situation. No matter how crazy she was, Lysa was still important. This might complicate things. It’s a turn we wouldn’t have expected from Littlefinger, the kind of which less slithery men have died taking — that of doing something in honor of family and love. He’s a complicated guy, that Petyr Baelish.
Of course, it wasn’t all about siblings. There’s also a theme of fair trade and balance throughout the episode. Bronn can’t help Tyrion because Tyrion no longer has something to trade. And Bronn knows that he’d most likely lose to The Mountain. It goes well with the scene between Arya, The Hound and the dying man. “There is no balance anymore,” is the message we receive. But there is a balance. Albeit a cruel one. The players at the height of this Game of Thrones understand the balance — every debt is paid eventually. Often in unexpected and horrible ways, but they are paid. Oberyn has debts to pay. Jon Snow is paying his in the way Ser Alisser Thorne is ignoring his warnings. Plenty of others have racked up a tab.
Season four has begun paying off debts. And from the look of things, there are plenty more to come. Sometimes balance is messy business.
Final Spoiler-Free Thoughts:
– The Dany/Daario scene was a bit of fun, though our entire visit to Meereen feels like it accomplished showing some taut man ass in the short term, but is really playing its character stuff for the long term. I’ve said too much already.
– The show’s commitment to balance was a little too on the nose cutting from Daario’s well-formed behind to Melisandre’s lightbringers. Though in its way, the show does open itself up for some sexism talk with the way it lingers on Carice van Houten’s naked form for so long right after the hard cut away from Dany’s naked warrior man. It’s all got character reasoning behind it — Stannis’ old lady is still conflicted about that time she let her husband put a smoke monster baby in the red woman — but I’m not above saying that it could’ve been a little more in balance with fleshy screentime.
– For the record, Oberyn was my favorite character from the books. So it was never a fair fight. To see him so wonderfully realized in the show brings me joy. I hope it’s the same for everyone else.
– That was a pretty sweet Direwolf cookie.