About fifteen seconds into Episode 8 of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, a random ale-swilling extra tries to guess what tune the prostitute next to him is burping and utters the words “The Rains of Castamere”. Something that, in hindsight, should have told us everything we needed to know about this episode: it would involve bloodshed and would ultimately end with the death of someone we love.
Though that ominous Castamere mention might have prepared us for the death of Oberyn Martell, however, we weren’t prepared for just how bloody things would get. Is it presumptive to suspect that 90% of tonight’s audience watched through their fingers as the Viper met his fate, head crushed to pieces by Gregor Clegane’s paws of death? Probably not.
Still, as ever, Game of Thrones did a very Game of Thrones thing and managed to genuinely surprise us. Just as it looked like the Viper was about to Inigo Montoya his way to victory, his desperation for vengeance betrayed him, allowing Clegane to gain the upper hand. As always, we were reminded that the only way to succeed in this world is to eschew all emotion, Tywin Lannister-style. Or perhaps, as of this episode, Sansa Stark-style.
Though the main thing on people’s lips will certainly be Martell’s demise, it’ll be pretty hard to forget what became of our sweet Sansa this week. In the last episode, we saw her begin to shed her vulnerable Stark skin when she smacked her cousin Robin across the face. This week she completed the transformation and matured from naïve youth to ravishing, deceitful, ebony-clad mistress of the Eyrie.
Sansa, it seems, has finally learnt that in order to protect herself she needs to possess power over someone. The irony being, of course, that the man who taught her this lesson – Petyr Baelish – is also the man over whom she has gained power.
Though it’s certainly been chilling watching Arya Stark get stabby with every evil henchman who comes her way, there’s something even more unsettling about Sansa making sexy eyes at the man responsible for her father’s death. Then again, this is also the first time in the series that we’ve got the feeling Sansa can take care of herself.
Oddly enough, her hubby Tyrion isn’t having as much luck accepting the realities of human nature. In the run up to Oberyn’s fight with the Mountain, Tyrion tried to allay his nerves by shooting the breeze with big bro Jaime. And though this scene wasn’t quite as captivating as Martell’s eloquent reminiscence in the last episode, we saw Tyrion nicely sum up the brutality of life in Westeros with a drawn out tale about a beetle-smashing cousin from his youth.
Tyrion, of course, will never understand exactly why men kill one another and this might just be his downfall.
And the rest? Well, Daenerys finally discovered that Jorah traded secrets to Westeros and banished him from Meereen, and, in a moment so gruesome it could play second fiddle only to Oberyn’s head-smushing, Ramsay Snow flayed the Ironborn men holding Moat Cailin. We also witnessed the wildlings attack Mole’s Town and Ygritte take down the burping prostitute before sparing the lives of Gilly and her baby – just to remind us that she’s a good girl at heart.
Taken that all in? Good. The only real question now is not whether more bloodshed is coming, but exactly who – if anyone – will escape this season in one piece.
Aired on Monday 2 June 2014 on Sky Atlantic.
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