When Arya and the Hound come upon a dying stranger in Sunday’s episode, he expresses regret for the way the world has changed: “Fair. A balance. No balance anymore.” It’s hard to imagine that this is possible, that the world shown in Game of Thrones has ever been fair or balanced. He has seen, at the very least, four kings in his lifetime. Several wars have been fought over the throne, the current War of the Five Kings being only the latest of many.
Even on a personal level, few adults in Westeros have made it out of childhood unscathed. It’s almost impossible to imagine that a fair and peaceful society made any of these characters. These people seem to have been “born to woe,” as historian Barbara W. Tuchman writes in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Like the medieval man, the characters of Game of Thrones have grown up in a world where a “habit of violence” and adversity rule more effectively than any government.
In “Mockingbird,” we see several adults who have survived a childhood of violence, abuse, and misery, but not without scars, both physical and emotional. This episode shows how these adults revert back to childishness to cope when present traumas aggravate old wounds. Meanwhile, the actual children, Arya and Sansa, continue to experience the brutality that has already begun to make them into scarred adults.
After the show trial of last week, Tyrion is all too happy to risk his life (and, it should be said, the lives of others) just to spite his father. He is defiant for the sake of defiance, no matter the consequences. “That deal we made… It was everything father wanted… All so perfect. It felt good to take that from him.” Jaime is unhappy with Tyrion for being so rash, but can commiserate with the childlike instinct. They bond over the idea of how perfectly imperfect it would be if Jaime fought and died as Tyrion’s champion, leaving their father with no viable heir after his selfish quest to make Tyrion into a scapegoat. Throughout the scene Tyrion is in the shadows as his brother, the golden Lannister, sits in the light.
In the end, however, the once-great knight admits that he cannot be Tyrion’s champion. Jaime is unwilling to risk both of their lives by being an inadequate match for the man Cersei has hand-picked for the trial: Ser Gregor Clegane (a.k.a. The Mountain). The third actor to play this same role is arguably the best yet, bringing to life the insurmountable size and strength of “The Mountain That Rides.” When Tyrion learns of his opponent, we cut to a scene of The Mountain pell training on live humans (as opposed to the typical knotted tree trunk). He disembowels men with ease, slices into them without mercy, and commits to being Cersei’s champion without hesitation.
Tyrion then asks Bronn to meet him in his cell. The sellsword has fought for him before at the Eyrie and Tyrion is reasonably confident that he will fight again. His hopes are dashed when, after several days’ delay, Bronn arrives in fine new attire. He is Cersei’s man now, bribed with an attractive offer of marriage to a “dim-witted” Lollys Stokeworth. This young woman is not someone that we have met yet, but is clearly a daughter of noble birth whose parents are desperate to see her married. Cersei’s match of Ser Bronn is perfect for both parties; most noble families would not consider such a lowborn upstart, but most noble men would not consider Lollys. He stands to inherit the Stokeworth castle if the eldest daughter, Falyse (who is barren), happens to meet with an accident, which he is all too happy to provide, if need be. This offer is too attractive for a practical and ambitious man like Bronn to pass up.
At first, Tyrion acts betrayed by his friend. Slowly, Bronn is able to show Tyrion that what he asks is no small favor, even among brothers and friends. Tyrion called for a trial by combat all on his own, and is now looking for champions to risk their lives for his need to not only prove his innocence, but also to do so in a spectacular fashion– one that would shame his father and spoil the man’s pride. “Why should I risk it?” Bronn wonders. “Because you’re my friend,” Tyrion responds.
“Aye, I’m your friend. And when have you ever risked your life for me? I like you… I just like myself more.” Tyrion admits that Bronn’s ruthless individuality was what he liked best about him, and they part with a handshake that is difficult to break. After his brother, Bronn was his last hope.
Luckily for Tyrion, there is one person in the capital whose long-held vendetta makes him the perfect man to fight for the Tyrion’s cause: Oberyn Martell. His single torch is the only light to cast out the darkness that Tyrion has been abandoned to. He admits that Cersei came to him a little while ago under the guise of sharing her pain over losing her daughter, Myrcella, whom Tyrion shipped away to Dorne. “She was trying very hard to pretend that she had not come to sway me against you, I think she may have even believed it herself.”
“Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of her many gifts,” Tyrion surmises, and it’s as accurate as any description of what Cersei did throughout the episode “First of His Name.”
When Oberyn describes his childhood hatred of Casterly Rock, he calls Tyrion the “biggest disappointment.” Even after years of receiving such abuse, the sting of the supposed insult is just as strong. Tyrion’s eyes well up to hear Oberyn describe tales of the monster born to the great Tywin Lannister. In the end, however, a young Oberyn observed the baby Tyrion and remarked, “That’s not a monster. That’s just a baby.”
The adolescent humanist from Dorne witnessed Cersei do and say cruel things to her youngest brother. She clearly tormented him from a young age, accusing him of having murdered their mother (who died giving birth to him). “‘Everyone says he will die soon. I hope they are right. He should not have lived this long,’” Cersei says through Oberyn’s recollections. She has hoped that Tyrion would die his entire life, and she may have easily got her wish if not for Oberyn.
“I will be your champion,” he declares gallantly, holding the torchlight out like a sword. The light reflects off tears in both of their eyes. As sympathetic as Oberyn is to the one Lannister he can seem to tolerate, he has agreed to be his champion only because he will have the chance to get revenge for the rape and murder of his sister. “I want to bring those who have wronged me to justice.”
When Cersei named the Mountain, she did not realize that it would end up giving Tyrion a fine champion. After all, Oberyn is nicknamed the Red Viper in part because he is a quick and agile warrior (just like we saw when we were first introduced to him and he stuck a knife through a soldier’s hand before he could realize what was happening). Though the Mountain is a fearsome fighter, Oberyn is driven by a lifetime of hatred, and that can be a powerful motivator in combat.
Still heading toward the Eyrie and her Aunt Lysa, Arya and the Hound come upon the smoldering ruins of a home and decide to search it for food. Instead, they find a man bleeding out from the abdomen. “Bad way to go. Haven’t you had enough?” the Hound asks him. The stranger leads them into philosophical discussion about the state of the world they’re living in, taking them into a conversation that reveals much about Arya’s beliefs in life and death.
Arya: “So why go on?”
Arya: “Nothing could be worse than this.”
Man: “Maybe nothing is worse than this.”
Arya: “Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing.”
Clearly, Arya would not agree with philosophers like Alan Watts, who said that “Nothing is what brings something into focus,” and is therefore something in and of itself. The man fears that what happens to him after he’s gone might be worse than dying a slow and painful death, but Arya remains a nihilist on the existence of a life after death.
Arya stopped being a child long ago, and she lost her sense of hope along with it. (As Melisandre prophesied last season, “I see a darkness in you.”) In her mind, the death she delivers to her victims does not send them to hell, but into nothingness. She is erasing people from this world not out of divine retribution, but out of her own.
The Hound takes pity on the dying man, offers him a drink, and slides his knife into his chest. Arya does not even flinch. “That’s where the heart is. That’s how you kill a man,” he tells her after wiping his blade clean on the man’s shirt. She is able to apply this teaching into immediate practice, stabbing an attacker through the heart and then wiping Needle clean on his clothes. “You’re learning,” her latest instructor tells her, somewhat proudly.
The men who attack them are named Rorge and Biter (an apt nickname, considering the chunk he manages to take out of the Hound’s neck). They are not only dumb enough to try to kill Sandor Clegane, but also dumb enough to stick around to tell him about Joffrey’s death and the large bounty that has been placed on his head.
The Hound kills Biter with ease, and then Arya recognizes the men as two of Yoren’s prisoners from Season 2. Imprisoned with them at the time was the faceless assassin, Jaqen H’ghar. He taught Arya that she could collect “names to offer to the Red God,” which has grown into a rather lengthy nightly prayer. While Rorge was deserving of a spot on this list, Arya did not know his name. The moment he tells her, she offers him as another name for Jaqen’s god, erasing one more evil into nothingness.
Later, as the Hound tries in vain to treat the bite, Arya suggests cauterizing the wound. The Hound reverts back to his childhood fear of fire, having been scarred when his older brother, the Mountain, held his face into the flames. At first, he pitches a bit of a tantrum, claiming that Arya has ruined his life (to say nothing of all the ruining he’s managed to do on his own). “Wish I never laid eyes on you.”
Despite his frustration, he opens up to her about the incident that left him marked for life. Such a simple, childish thing as playing with his brother’s toys led to something that would come to affect him nearly every day of his life. The physical consequences of his brother’s actions were one thing; the emotional toll they left on the Hound as a child were quite another. “The worst thing was it was my brother who did it.” To make matters worse, their father protected the Mountain. “You think you’re on your own?” he asks Arya sadly, looking more like a lost puppy than a ruthless hound.
Arya, undeterred by his earlier tantrum, offers to clean and sew his wound instead. She understands why he lashed out at her, and does not complain when he blames her for all of his troubles. In a role reversal, Arya acts like the parent to his child. Like a good mother, she lets him get his feelings out, takes them with a grain of salt, and nurtures him all the same.
It’s been a long time since most people in the series have seen or heard of Arya Stark. Most people believe her to have died sometime after witnessing her father’s beheading in King’s Landing. It’s easy to forget that, though we’ve seen Arya alive and well for some time now, even Sansa has no idea that her sister still lives to this day.
Brienne finally gets confirmation that Arya is alive from her old companion, Hot Pie. The two got separated last season when Hot Pie elected to stay behind at the Inn at the Crossroads when Arya was taken away with the Brotherhood without Banners. Brienne and Podrick run into Hot Pie at the inn when they stop for a meal.
The interactions between the very serious Brienne and the unproven Podrick continue to be highlights of the show. However, Hot Pie interrupts their banter to tell them all about his kidney pie and gravy. When he’s worn out his welcome, Brienne steers the conversation to a much more useful topic. She tells him of their mission to locate Sansa Stark, but this seems to spook him. In the least, they are left to eat the rest of their pie in peace.
Podrick is nervous about Brienne telling strangers around Lannister country that they are looking for the Starks and expresses as much to his knight. However, in this case, Brienne’s instincts (or lack thereof) manage to secure the valuable knowledge that Arya Stark is still alive as of only a few months ago. Hot Pie brings them a loaf of bread shaped like a direwolf to give to Arya, this one better than the last.
When they set out again, they determine that both girls might be at the Eyrie, after Podrick recalls that their aunt lives there and is no friend to the Lannisters. It’s a show of her growing faith in him that Brienne chooses his path through the woods, heading in the direction of the Vale.
At the Vale, Sansa delights in spending time in the snow, recalling the beloved cold of her home in the north. The fresh snowflakes take her back to a much more carefree and dreamy childhood. She even takes the time to build a castle out of the snow, and eventually it takes the shape of Winterfell.
She’s smiling for the first time in forever when her annoying cousin Robin comes out to see what this strange northern girl is up to. At first, Sansa humors him, but then he latches on to his favorite subject: the moon door. “What do you do with all the bad people, and the scary people, and people you don’t like?” Sansa smiles and says, “I never did anything with them at all. Girls didn’t take part in that where I came from,” and it’s as good an explanation as any for her passive endurance through all of these years of abuse: she was never taught to resist.
But then, Robin destroys part of the castle in trying to put in a moon door. When Sansa gets upset, he reacts by throwing a tantrum, kicking the whole thing down. In that instant, Robin becomes all of the people who have destroyed her family and her home. Sansa snaps out of her childish play and slaps the boy across the face as an adult might (or should) do.
The only true child in all the Seven Kingdoms seems to be Robin Arryn, and only because his mother has fiercely and obsessively guarded his youth. She’s hidden him from the outside world, nursed him, and spoiled him in order to preserve his innocence. In the end, Robin is the only person in all of Westeros who has not grown up too soon.
Littlefinger interrupts the scene and consoles Sansa when she is frustrated with herself for losing her temper. Sansa, still suspicious of Littlefinger, demands once more to know why he killed Joffrey. The man claims that he did it out of love for her mother and out of justice for her death. Sansa smiles a little at that. “You’re more beautiful than she ever was,” he says. Suddenly uncomfortable, she tries to put some distance between them by calling him “Lord Baelish.” For the thousandth time (okay maybe the third), Littlefinger insists, “Call me Petyr,” and grabs her face to kiss her. This he does after he said that she could have been his daughter in another life. (The creepiness is strong with this one.)
Unfortunately, Lysa witnesses this before she can see Sansa pushing him away. Sansa probably grew up dreaming of moments like this, but her second kiss is unlikely to be remembered any better than the first (which was to Joffrey, her gleeful abuser and the murderer of her family). Over the last several years, the only two men who have not abused or taken advantage of her are Tyrion and the Hound, neither of whom would be confused with the golden princes of her youthful dreams. Her head used to be full of fairy tales and love songs, but the reality of adulthood has proven to be far from her childhood fantasies.
When Lysa confronts her over the moon door, Sansa assumes that it is for smacking her beloved Robin. Soon it becomes clear that when Lysa talks dreamily about what happens to the bodies that are pushed through the open floor, she is imagining Sansa’s body scattered among the rocks. The “blue eyes staring at nothing” from deep below are meant to be Sansa’s. Lysa grabs her and threatens to kill her for daring to come between her and her husband.
Just then, Petyr arrives to talk Lysa down, managing to convince her to let Sansa go by claiming that he only loved one woman his whole life. The other shoe drops through the moon door just before Lysa when Littlefinger elaborates, “Your sister,” then shoves her to the rocks below.
Poor Lysa, always the bridesmaid and never the bride, has been scarred from her own childhood crush on Littlefinger. She’s been cursed to love a man who chose a mockingbird for his own sigil: a small, harmless creature who can mimic other species in order to discourage other birds from settling in its territory. He acquired a fantastic seat at the Eyrie, gaining territory far beyond he could have ever hoped for in birth, because he was able to lie and scheme his way into Lysa’s heart. He got her to do terrible things in his name (“I lied for you! I killed for you!”), and yet, she still could not get him to love her.
“If you want to build a better home, first you must demolish the old one,” Littlefinger told Sansa when her Winterfell snow castle was destroyed. This is Littlefinger’s mission statement; he is trying to tear the Seven Kingdoms apart in order to remake it into his own kingdom. “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”
Over in Essos, Daenerys is not too different in trying to remake the world into her own. She dreams of a world without slavery and believes that the best way to achieve this is by destroying what was, killing the masters who propagated the corrupt system through the generations. After all, she was only recently made free herself. She spent her childhood acting in service to her brother and the mission of others to put her family back on the Iron Throne. After the death of her arranged (though eventually loved) husband, Khal Drogo, Daenerys has been chasing a long-held desire for freedom for all, at all costs. As a young ruler, she has not yet learned how to best achieve her desires. “Slavery is real. I can end it. I will end it.” But she hardly knows how.
At first, she sends her new lover and commander, Daario, to reestablish her control in Yunkai by killing all of the former slave masters. Jorah, who was excommunicated from the Seven Kingdoms for his own participation in the slave trade, implores her to be a better parent to her new subjects; all of the slave masters are not evil and deserving of death. At long last, she takes some advice, agreeing to send Hizdahr zo Loraq with Daario to offer the former slave masters a choice: “They can live in my new world or they can die in their old one.” From the ashes of Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys is emerging as a more mature leader at last.
Up at Castle Black, Alliser Throne continues to be a you-know-what in Jon’s side. He tells Jon to put away his toy (in this case his direwolf, Ghost) or else they’ll be served for dinner. Jon obeys, grudgingly, but later continues to press his case for the Night’s Watch to prepare for attack. Thorne, entirely inept as a leader, seems to have only a mind to punish Jon for being the cool kid in class. When Jon suggests that they fill in the vulnerable tunnels that run through the Wall, Thorne refuses to consider the very obvious defensive strategy. He is childishly singular in his bullying efforts, and lumps poor Samwell Tarly into an order to have the two friends stand guard at night atop the Wall.
Finally, on Dragonstone, a much warmer Melisandre seduces Selyse Baratheon like she seduces her husband, Stannis. She pretends to bring Selyse into her confidence by telling her about the potions she uses to make men see what they want to see: parlor tricks used to convince people of the existence of God. “You don’t need powders and potions, my queen. You don’t need lies. You are strong enough to look into the Lord’s light and see His truth yourself,” she lies. This truth, she claims, is that the princess Shireen must go with them on their next mission. The woman relents easily under the spell and the warmth of Melisandre’s fire. “No act done in service of the Lord can ever be called a sin,” she claims, as if in a trance.
As Tuchman wrote of the Middle Ages, “the reach for the divine and the lure of earthly things” was the central struggle of the 1300’s, and in Westeros it is no different. People constantly strive to overcome the scars of their childhood, to achieve some greater power, greater love, or greater faith. However, earthly things like revenge and lust continuously bring them back from the light, grounding them in a bleak reality where all children grow into damaged adults.
Other thoughts on “Mockingbird”:
- I loved the exchanges between Tyrion and his would-be champions, but most of all the bittersweet goodbye he had with Bronn. Before the Battle of Blackwater we saw Bronn singing along to “Rains of Castamere” with Lannister soldiers. When asked where he had learned the song, he replied, “Drunk Lannisters.” He is a man who clearly appreciates a good refrain sung with a good pint in hand:
Bronn: “What will you do?”
Tyrion: “I suppose I’ll have to kill the Mountain myself. Won’t that make for a great song?”
Bronn: “I hope to hear them sing it one day.”
- My one disappointment with this episode is that the moon door scene is not as tense as it is in the books. I remember there being a real sense that Sansa might die, but there did not seem to be enough of a threat of that last night. In the television series, the scene is over quickly, but in the source material, it’s one of many great shocks in a book that included the surprise deaths of Robb, Catelyn, and Joffrey.