Chaos is a moon door.
Many who pass through it flail, never get to attempt flight again. The impact breaks them right apart. And some are given a chance to fly. They refuse. They cling to the edge: to the Gods, to love: lies they tell themselves and eachother to delay the inevitable. Only the moon door is real. The attempt at flight is all there is.
This is an unfunny joke, but bear with me.
Ever since Joffrey died, the characters in Game of Thrones have been in freefall. The bastard king Baratheon was a star of burning hatred that the houses orbited, and now that he’s fallen victim to George R. R. Martin’s famous wedding planning, everyone is just flying through space.
It is a fantastic opportunity for Petyr Baelish, the namesake of “Mockingbird” and the one character truly spreading his wings now that the throne has been shaken up. He has been pulling the strings in an immensely long play for the crown and is finally gliding his way to the top.
Tyrion Lannister on the other hand – at least at the beginning of this week’s episode – couldn’t be a better counterpoint to this. His nephew’s death, the subsequent accusation, trial, and tear-jerking courtroom speech has landed him on the chopping block, testing the waters to see if his brother will represent him in a trial by combat.
Jaime accuses Tyrion of throwing his life away, telling him that this isn’t a joke. It is though, according to Tyrion, just not a very funny one.
“Mockingbird” is all about these kinds of unfunny jokes: lies that are told to make sense of chaos and control the actions of others. Game of Thrones is not a funny show, but this episode illustrates it still has a use for humour.
Tyrion muses about how their father is just looking for excuses to rid himself of the shortest Lannister, shedding light on the living example in front of him: a king slaying, one-handed, incestuous – Jaime stops him there.
No good will is lost between the brothers, but Jaime will be unable to come to Tyrion’s aid, even if it would be the ultimate power play. If the one handed Jaime were willing to fight, then Tywin would likely be compelled to intervene with the lives of both his sons at stake.
Despite some incredibly nuanced acting on Peter Dinklage’s part, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard has nothing to offer his doomed brother. Cersei, after all, has already chosen her champion.
Cut to The Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane, slicing his way through an assembly line of poor souls as the Queen Regent watches. Stepping over dislodged bowels, she greets the sadist who will represent her in court.
“Who am I fighting?” asks the monster.
“Does that matter?” she responds, soliciting a shake of the head.
It’s a slightly comical beat, one of many in “Mockingbird,” which in addition to setting the stage for the inevitable episode nine climax, gets to wave around its funny bone as it compares lies, lessons and chaos.
The visit with The Mountain segues to some catch up time with his brother The Hound, now unknowingly the target of a 100 Silver Stag bounty. He and Arya come upon a burnt village, expecting to find either food or soldiers.
Instead, the coolest pair in Westeros find a man dying of a belly wound. What commences is a bit of existential philosophy followed by an anatomy lesson courtesy of The Hound.
He stabs the man in the chest, wipes off his blade and tells his charge, “That’s where the heart is.”
It’s a timely demonstration, as almost immediately a bounty hunter jumps on The Hound’s back, biting his neck before being duly dispatched. The dead man is not alone, and his companion explains that there is a price on The Hound’s head.
Arya recognizes this bumbling sellsword as one of the prisoners being transported to The Wall (back when that was her plan). The episode is filled with badass moments, but this might be the coldest: The Hound learns that this would be child rapist isn’t on Arya’s death list because she doesn’t know his name, so he commands it out of him and his little friend needles the man called Rorge in the heart.
“You’re learning,” he says and they depart.
We only get one look at the Wall this episode, with Jon having returned from the slaughter at Craster’s Keep. Snow’s warm reception is short lived, when the acting commander sees the bastard and his direwolf, he orders the dog caged.
Jon debriefs the Night’s Watch, suggesting that they seal the tunnel in preparation for the coming siege. The acting commander is too proud, and sentences Jon and Sam to sentry duty on top of the wall until the next full moon.
Heading back to Tyrion’s cell in King’s Landing, it is beginning to look hopeless. Bronn shows up days late and wearing new clothes. The once sellsword has entered into his own side-game of thrones, arranging a marriage to a younger daughter of Lord Stokeworth and already planning the accidental death of his sister-in-law to secure his inevitable inheritance.
Bronn’s new taste for assets beyond the coin is a bad sign for Tyrion, who can only promise his desired champion a hypothetical piece of land in the North, given the event of his justice. He eventually appeals to their friendship, but his natural selfishness has finally caught up with him.
“Aye, I’m your friend,” says Bronn. “And when have you ever risked your life for me?”
It’s true to character and Tyrion sees this too. He can’t begrudge his old buddy.
The men shake hands as they part ways, Tyrion joking that maybe he will kill The Mountain himself, inspiring a song. It’s a sad farewell, framed as a death sentence, punctuated with another joke that only makes the situation that much more hopeless.
Across the sea in Meereen, things get steamy as Daario Naharis romantically breaks and enters Daenerys’ chamber. She rebukes him as usual, but when he promises to kill her enemies, she commands him to disrobe (taking a long beat to appraise his sword).
The implied sex is punctuated with the episode’s big laugh: a cut to Lady Baratheon opening the door onto something embarrassing and retreating in embarrassment.
No, she didn’t defect to the armies of the Khalessi, she’s still in Dragonstone. She walked in on Melisandre taking a bath. After being forced to put her bashfulness aside, Selyse is given a lesson in jokes, lies and potions.
She brings concerns to the Red Woman that her daughter Shireen shouldn’t come with them on their coming journey. Melisandre, ever the contrarian, convinces her that Shireen’s presence is necessary, showing her this in the prophetic flames.
This scene – thanks to its decidedly awkward comic tone and discussion of lies – really feels like a hint that things are not as they seem. On the surface, the joke simply seems to be at the expense of Selyse’s faith.
As the audience, we never see what’s in the flames, and there is a good chance that neither does Lady Baratheon. Through flattery, humour, and honesty Melisandre seems to have convinced her queen that the Lord is speaking to her, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
Unique in tone, this scene is as close to some sort of thematic anchor that “Mockingbird” gets. By telling people what they want to hear, characters can seize power in confusion. All anybody wants is a narrative to grab on to. Melisandre provides that for Selyse, and gets her way without question.
Back in Meereen, Jorah, on his way to Dany, bumps into a post-coital Daario. He is quick to voice his disapproval to the Khaleesi, and she tells her advisor that Naharis and his Second Sons will be heading to Yunkai to kill the masters.
What ensues is a pretty classic Jorah moment of reason, and again proving that she is ready to rule, Daenerys is swayed to mercy. Not only that, but she lets Jorah take credit for the idea. She will send Hizdahr zo Loraq (the son of one of the crucified masters of Meereen) as her ambassador, giving the slave owners a choice: join the new world order or be killed.
It’s not complete mercy, but it’s definite progress. These small character moments that Dany has been experiencing, expanding her range beyond the tired old “REVENGE FOR THE SLAVES” warmongering, are very refreshing. It is also an example of a secondary theme: education. Younger characters, paired with mentors, are learning all sorts of lessons.
This note of mentor-student bonding continues halfway across the world. The Hound’s bite wound is getting bad and Arya knows he needs to burn away the tainted flesh. Of course, Sandor is not letting fire anywhere near him (especially from a girl who has an actual death list with his name on it) and he begins to mope about the whole bounty situation.
What follows is my vote for the best of the episode’s many character moments. The Hound actually tells the story of his wicked burn. The rumours are all true. The Mountain held his face to coals when he found his little brother with his toy, but Sandor impresses, “I didn’t steal it. I was just playing with it.”
Sandor has always had a spark of pragmatic humanity, but the source seemed destined to be forever implied. Game of Thrones doesn’t employ flashbacks, so any sort of past-dwelling needs to be shared in the present tense. The respect that The Hound and Arya are beginning to foster for each other is clearly making them a more lethal duo, but until this connection with a childhood trauma it was unclear if they were making each other better people.
Even The Hound was a kid once, and all he wanted to do was play.
Arya washes and stitches the wound (sans fire), and we meet up with Brienne of Tarth. She and Podrick are in an inn, eating a fantastic kidney pie cooked up by none other than Arya’s former child crusader pal: the orphan known as Hot Pie (best name in the show).
More comedy comes when after a compliment on the cooking invites Hot Pie to the table for musings on gravy and kidneys, eventually leading Brienne to divulge her mission. Hot Pie hasn’t seen Sansa, and is quick to tap the implied “No Traitors” sign that hangs in the atmosphere of the Inn.
Outside in lodge, Pod disapproves of his Lady’s transparency, parroting the lessons that Tyrion once taught him. The Starks are worth money, people kill for money, maybe they should be quiet about who they’re looking for. He’s proven immediately wrong though, when Hot Pie comes out to inform them that he’s seen Arya.
The information that the tiny chef hands off prompts Pod to redeem himself. The actions of others might be a great way to learn trust, but Tyrion was a great teacher of the game. He quickly deduces that the girls would head to the Eyrie to be with their aunt Lysa Arryn, and the companions take the dark path to the Vale.
The final visitor to Tyrion’s dungeon is quickly becoming an endearing presence on the show. Oberyn Martell enters with a joke about being with a blonde, getting a request for some sleazy stories before revealing that he was talking about Cersei.
Oberyn talks about meeting Tyrion when he was a newborn child and being disappointed. The Imp was built up to be a monster, but he was just a baby. In the name of justice, Prince Martell offers to be Tyrion’s champion and fight The Mountain to the death.
The themes of the episode converge and reveal themselves fully here in Oberyn’s monologue. Monsters are just stories that people tell about others. Everyone is human, and the truth is disappointing. Hopefully for him, the outside eye that can bring this lucid thought to the confusion of King’s Landing, The Mountain is more story and less monster.
And then we come to Sansa, finding a familiar comfort in the snow of the Eyrie. She builds an incredibly accurate snow castle of Winterfell before being joined by Robin, who destroys the model when trying to give it a moon door for all of Sansa’s enemies.
She slaps the twisted Lord of the Vale, who runs away in a cloud of anger. Petyr Baelish, the Mockingbird himself, intervenes, telling Sansa that the Arryn boy should have been hit by his mother a long time ago and then smooching her as Lysa looks on jealousy.
The kiss is a lie. Or it better be for the sake of rescuing the scene from due criticism. The camera panning away from the kiss to focus on Lady Arryn spying from the landing above is too soap opera-ish and convenient to be taken seriously at face value.
The reveal feels manufactured and forced because it is. Given what we’ve seen all episode, and Baelish’s claim to the episode title, this make out session is just a story he’s telling his new wife in order to teach her a practical lesson in chaos.
Sansa is called to the courtroom by her batty aunt, and brought to stand by the open moon door. Lysa describes what happen to people that are thrown through it and then accuses her niece of seducing Petyr.
Speak of the devil and the mockingbird appears. He comforts his lady, assuring her that he has only ever loved one woman: her sister.
With a push, Lysa Arryn is sent flying and Littlefinger has successfully taken the Vale for himself. The Eyrie was said to be unconquerable, but this is just a story. Baelish understands better than anyone, stories are just illusions and only chaos is real.
-Does anybody else find it dumbfounding that HBO plays episode previews right before the the show airs? Are any GoT newbies watching American Splendor, leaving their TV on long enough to see the preview and then saying to themselves “Oh hey, that made sense to me, maybe I should just jump in and see what the show is all about”? People who watch this show are already watching this show whether you spoil it for them or not, HBO. Jeez.
-More customer service complaints: The HBO nudity double standard is so present in this episode that it’s practically another layer of comedy. Daenerys stares at Daario’s manhood (hidden from camera), pleased with it for a full beat before we are shown an entire scene with naked Melisandre.
-Peter Dinklage’s acting was excellent in last week’s dramatic speech, but I think watching him react to his three visitors this week was a better specimen of the man’s abilities. Watch his face when Oberyn is talking about meeting him, and then the emotional swing he experiences when he realizes what’s happening.
-I’m curious what other people will think about this episode’s tone. The jokes make sense given the theme (and Melisandre’s “jokes are lies” speech), and none seem like a reach for the show, but they do seem to be a product of this season’s slower than normal pacing.
A Storm of Quotes:
– Entertaining Quote of the Episode Award: “This day’s really not working out the way you planned,” – The Hound
– Single-handed Explanation of the Episode Award: ”That’s not a monster. That’s a baby.” -Oberyn Martell
– The ‘Boy, Does Sansa Have Good Luck With Men or What’ Award: ”I’m Lord of the Vale. When I grow up I’ll be able to fly anybody who bothers me.” -Robin Arryn
– The Sneaky Asshole Award: ”If you want to build a better home, first you have to demolish the old one.” -Petyr Baelish, conqueror of the Vale