“Brilliant speech,” Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) says with fatalistic sarcasm amid berating Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) for the show-stopping speech he gave at the end of the previous episode. Doubly mad at his brother for spurning the deal he brokered with their father, Tywin (Charles Dance), for Tyrion’s life, and himself for not realizing that the deal is what Tywin wanted all along, Jaime can only begrudgingly accept Tyrion’s line of thinking while throwing up his hands at the hopelessness of any action. As an introduction, it stands out as bleak even for a season that now occurs almost entirely in shadow.
The first act of “Mockingbird” maintains this defeatist spirit, never more so than when Tyrion has Bronn (Jerome Flynn) brought to him to try and hire his services for the second time as his dueling champion. But Bronn knows that Cersei (Lena Headey) will declare Gregor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), that walking, disemboweling mountain of a waking horror, to fight for her, and he’ll not die for Tyrion. Bronn’s decision doesn’t mark a betrayal, really, as he always looked out for himself, but his refusal visibly stings Tyrion, who can only offer a dejected handshake as proof that he understands his friend’s rationale. Bronn, for his part, has the decency to look regretful that Tyrion will surely die.
The implication of coming violence hangs over exchanges like these, and once again the series tests the patience of those in it for the bloodletting. (An early scene of Clegane ripping out the guts of some hapless prisoner, complete with a second close-up of said intestines for good measure, plays like an especially cynical sop to this mindset.) Up north, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) continues to receive pushback from Night’s Watch officers about his strategy to deal with the coming invasion of the Wildlings, whose haughty confidence has already increased the number of casualties before the battle has even begun. Meanwhile, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) dispatches Daario (Michael Huisman) to kill the slave masters in another city, an order she only slightly modifies when warned of its pointless inflammation by Jorah (Iain Glen) into having Daario first warn them that “They can live in my new world, or die in their old one.”
Anticipation unites the various storylines of the episode, which may explain the return of the homogenizing blue filter that occasionally rendered various locations indistinguishable last season. Winter is coming, and it’s already cast such a pall that the first cut to the Wall no longer packs the icy, surprise punch that the location normally does when set against a scene set down south. There are a few moments of visual grace, especially in a two-shot of Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Stannis’s wife, Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), in profile facing each other before a flame, with Selyse’s face lit in the fire’s orange glow, but Melisandre’s entropically drained in pale blue. For the most part, however, the aesthetic tedium of the episode aligns with its narrative stalling, and for once the complaints of the season’s padding find their mark.
The episode’s saving grace lies in the contrast that the series continues to develop between the two young women of the Stark family. Sansa (Sophie Turner) has long since taken up position as the show’s most pitiable major character, someone with absolutely no control over her fate, and “Mockingbird” only exacerbates her problems. Faced with the raging paranoia and jealousy of her mad aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie), Sansa soon finds herself, for the second time this season, rid of the immediate threat in front of her, only to be reminded that she’s a pawn in other people’s schemes. Her own lack of self-determination is the antithesis of Arya’s (Maisie Williams) increasing fortitude. She casually puts a blade into the heart of old tormentor Rorge (Andy Beckwith) with all the care of shaking his hand, and when she calmly reassures a frightened Hound (Rory McCann) about cauterizing a wound, it’s clear that she’s adapted to the collapsed world of the series instead of crumbling with it like her sister.
That doesn’t mean, by any measure, that she’s safe though. For proof of that, there’s Tyrion, a once disadvantaged child who grew into a self-reliant adult. Arya has much in common with him: Both have been denied the chance at a nobler life by virtue of sex or genetic anomaly, and both have adjusted to the world’s cruelty and carved out some facsimile of the lives they wished they had. But as Arya learns to survive on her own, Tyrion realizes too late that he doesn’t have a true friend in the world.
The episode ends with Lysa’s abrupt flight from the Eyrie, but it climaxes with Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) conversation with Tyrion in the latter’s cell. Recounting the story of visiting the infant Tyrion and expecting, based on rumor, to find a monster, Oberyn recalls seeing only a mostly normal baby. For the Dornish prince, the memory speaks to his ongoing surprise with Tyrion, now regarding him as the Lannister he respects and wishes to save. For Tyrion, however, the story, with its tangent of a young Cersei’s irrational hatred of her baby brother, reminds him only of the lifetime of hatred he’s suffered from his family, causing a regression to a time when he couldn’t yet hide the pain of the world’s insults. Tyrion’s brash individualism typically places him nearer to Arya in temperament, but when Oberyn volunteers to be his champion, his overwhelmed gratitude recalls Sansa’s constant state of desperately seeking help to survive. The main difference between the two is that Sansa has the poorer luck in allies.
For more Game of Thrones recaps, click here.