This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

Last night's Game of Thrones was ridiculously eventful, with a number of major turning points. But "Mockingbird" was also full of intense moments, where people revealed their defining tragedies and made life-or-death decisions. And discovered what they're willing to kill, or die, for. Spoilers ahead...

Tyrion and the Three Swordsmen

The backbone of this episode is the question: Who's going to fight for Tyrion in the trial by combat that he so rashly signed up for? And he goes through a couple candidates before finding a willing victim — especially since Cersei's champion is the Mountain, the most ruthless butcher in the Seven Kingdoms.

There are a couple of reasons why Tyrion insisted on a trial by combat, even when he'd already been offered a way out:

1) He "fell in love with a whore," as Jaime puts it. (Tyrion believes this is the second time he made this mistake, the first time being Tysha, the low-born woman he married, who he later learned was a sex worker hired by his brother. Tysha was last mentioned in the first-season episode "Baelor.") And when Tyrion heard Shae selling him out, he couldn't bear to listen any longer.

2) The deal Jaime made gives Tywin everything he wanted: Jaime back as his heir, and Tyrion gone forever. Tyrion couldn't let his father have the satisfaction.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

In a nutshell, as Jaime puts it, Tyrion is willing to die for pride — despite having claimed to be a realist all along.

Unfortunately, Jaime can't fight for Tyrion, because his one remaining hand is useless. Tyrion kind of likes the idea of Jaime dying for him, because it would horrify Tywin to see "our family name snuffed out with a single swing of the sword."

So the second swordsman who might serve as Tyrion's champion is Bronn, who after all fought for Tyrion the first time around. But Bronn's already been bought off: He's marrying Lollys Stokeworth, the dim-witted second daughter of Lord Stokeworth. And then all Bronn has to do is make sure Lollys' barren older sister Falyse meets with a tragic accident, and he inherits the castle.

Killing a defenseless middle-aged woman is much easier than surviving a duel to the death against the Mountain, Bronn quite reasonably points out. Bronn might be able to dance around the Mountain until he gets tired, but it would only take one slip-up for him to lose his head. Bronn only visits Tyrion because he promised that if anyone bribed him to sell Tyrion out, he would give Tyrion a chance to beat their offer — but Tyrion can't, in this case.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

And Tyrion completely understands. He liked Bronn in the first place because he was "an evil bastard with no conscience and no heart" — so Tyrion can't exactly hold it against Bronn when he holds true to form.

The third candidate for Tyrion's champion is someone Tyrion doesn't even expect: Prince Oberyn Martell, who was one of Tyrion's judges. Not only is Oberyn willing to fight for Tyrion — because it lets him take revenge against the Mountain, who raped Oberyn's sister with the blood of her children still on his hands and then murdered her in turn — but he's the first person we've met who sees Tyrion's family the way he does.

The contrast between the Jaime and Oberyn scenes is fascinating — they're even lit differently, with Tyrion's face mostly in shadow when he meets his brother, and then bathed in the glow of Oberyn's amazingly radiant torch.

But also, Tyrion keeps pointing out to Jaime the reality of their family: that Jaime is the "golden son" even after committing regicide and incest, and getting maimed, while only Tyrion is disposable, and Jaime doesn't seem to appreciate the reality check. Nor does Jaime quite laugh along with Tyrion at the idea of both Lannister brothers dying in one go, to Tywin's dismay. (The crestfallen look on Tyrion's face when he realizes Jaime isn't laughing with him is quite priceless.)

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

And then Tyrion talks to Oberyn, who despises Tyrion's whole family and has completely seen through Cersei. Not just recently, when Cersei was trying to manipulate Oberyn into condemning Tyrion to death, but when they were children. Oberyn tells a story that completely sums up the dynamic of the three Lannister kids: Tyrion falsely accused of being a bizarre monster, Cersei torturing Tyrion and wishing for his death, and Jaime ineffectually protecting him.

In some ways, getting that validation in his absolute darkest moment seems to mean even more to Tyrion than to have such a deadly swordsman fighting for him.

The Hound's Mercy Killing

Besides the Tyrion scenes, another bookend in this episode is the two scenes between Arya and the Hound. We start with the two of them meeting a man who's mortally wounded but not eager to die. The man doesn't even understand at first, when the Hound asks him if he's had enough. He and Arya get into a philosophical debate over whether "nothing" is better than a slow lingering death — with the man contending that nothing is actually worse, because it's pure nonexistence, to which Arya responds, "Nothing isn't better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing." The Hound gives the man some water, then stabs him.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

But soon enough, the Hound has his own nasty wound — he gets attacked by Rorge and Biter, the two vicious prisoners that Arya met when she was fleeing King's Landing. Biter bites the Hound in the neck before the Hound kills him, and then Arya only waits long enough to learn Rorge's name before killing him. Thing is, the only reason they attack is because Tywin put a bounty on the Hound — which is Arya's fault, because she made him go into a tavern where he wound up fighting and killing five Lannister soldiers (one of whom was on Arya's list.)

Now the Hound has a nasty wound on his neck — not deadly in itself, but just ask Khal Drogo about non-fatal wounds. Arya wants to burn the "horrible bit" away so it doesn't get infected and fester, but the Hound is too afraid of fire, so she's only able to clean it and stitch it up. The Hound points out how much trouble she's brought him, and says no bounty could be worth all this.

But then he opens up, for the first time, and talks about how he got his facial scarring — and it's every bit as sad as the story of Cersei almost ripping baby Tyrion's penis off. Gregor, whom we glimpse in this episode disemboweling random prisoners for practice, pushed his brother's face into the fire when they were kids, because he thought Sandor had stolen his toy. And their father protected Gregor, claiming Sandor's bedclothes had caught on fire somehow.

And that's why Sandor would rather risk death by infection than be reminded of the agony of his brother burning his face half off.

Mothers and Daughters

King Stannis is apparently going on another journey — so soon after his trip to the Iron Bank of Braavos — and he's bringing Melisandre and his wife Selyse with him. Stannis also wants to bring his daughter Shireen along, but Selyse is eager to leave Shireen at home. Not because Shireen will be safer there, but because Shireen is a heretic who will ruin everything.

But when Selyse asks for Melisandre's support in keeping Shireen home, Melisandre responds that they'll need Shireen where they're going — because the Lord of Light "needs her." (As a human sacrifice? Maybe. That's usually what the Lord of Light seems to need.)

And Melisandre gives Selyse a modified version of the same speech she gave Gendry before she put leeches on his penis. With Gendry, it was "You can tell when things are real, like this tasty wine." With Selyse, it's "Most of my tricks are fake, and just special effects, they're like jokes that reveal the truth by lying. But you are strong enough to face the actual truth, without any need for fakery."

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

Meanwhile, Brienne is still trying to fulfill her promise to the dead Catelyn Stark, to bring her daughters home — and she hits an unexpected jackpot. The man who serves her and Podrick an excellent kidney pie isn't just a pie expert, pie is his middle name. (That's assuming his full name is something like Hot Pie Jackson.) Image via TumblrOfThrones

Brienne trusts Hot Pie with the truth of their mission — which could easily have gone south, as Podrick points out. They're in an inn full of people, and if Lannister loyalists realize that Brienne wants to help the traitorous Stark girls, she could be in more trouble than she can handle. But instead, Brienne's gamble pays off, with Hot Pie giving her enough info to get pretty close to where Arya has been recently, and where she's heading.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

Not only that, but Hot Pie touchingly seems to have stayed up all night baking Arya a perfect wolf, to make up for the disastrous one he baked her last time. Awww. So Brienne's choice to trust Hot Pie not only pays off, but leads to a touching moment of loyalty and baked goods.

Daenerys Chooses Mercy (Sort Of)

Just as Tyrion originally liked Bronn for being an evil opportunist, Daenerys first gained the service of Daario Naharis when he sneaked into her chamber during her bath, delivering the heads of his captains. So she can hardly complain when he steals into her chamber once again, this time begging for a new chance to do one of the two things he does best.

He's the only one of Daenerys' followers that she can't entirely control — he keeps bringing her flowers uninvited, and disrupting her nice orderly regime. But she likes his particular brand of insubordination, so she lets him do both of the things he does best: first sex, then killing.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

Daenerys is still troubled by the news that the first two slaver cities she liberated, Astapor and Yunkai, have fallen back into the hands of the masters. So she orders Daario, full of postcoital vim, to go retake Yunkai — and to kill every single one of the masters, so they can't take power yet again.

(Side note: You have to love Daenerys saying with total confidence, "I could never have faith in a man like Daario. That's why I've sent him and the Second Sons to retake Yunkai." Because of course you send someone you have no faith in to undertake a crucial mission.)

Jorah Mormont is put out that Daenerys slept with Daario, and that she's continuing to treat him as one of her lieutenants — but he's even more upset that she wants to condemn untold thousands of "masters" to death. He tries to explain to her that this is just as wrong as the system she's trying to break, and that she's just continuing the cycle of brutality, but she won't hear it.

So Jorah opens up and talks about the one subject he never discusses with Daenerys — his own origin story. (There's a lot of people sharing their origin stories in this episode.) Jorah was a minor lord, back in Westeros, when he sold some poachers into slavery to pay for his wife's overly expensive tastes — and Ned Stark didn't execute Jorah, but instead exiled him.

Hearing about Ned Stark's (somewhat uncharacteristic) mercy changes Daenerys' mind — instead of having Daario kill all the masters, she'll have Hizdahr zo Loraq accompany Daario to Yunkai. Hizdahr is the guy who begged Daenerys to let him give his father a proper funeral, and maybe he can use those persuasive talents to convince the Yunkish to stop resisting Daenerys' new world order.

Jon Snow Knows Everything... But Nobody Listens

Jon Snow gets home from killing the traitors at Craster's Keep, but he's barely inside Castle Black when Ser Alliser starts screwing with him, ordering him to lock up his newly recovered direwolf Ghost.

When Jon Snow reports that Mance Rayder's army of 100,000 Wildlings will be there by the next full moon, Ser Alliser still seems not to take him very seriously. And Jon Snow's recommendation, blocking the tunnel that leads North of the Wall, is a non-starter because then the Night's Watch will never be able to range north again.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

A giant can easily break through the gate protecting that tunnel, and there are giants in Mance's army, Jon points out. But Ser Alliser wins the argument by resorting to labels, pointing out that Jon is still officially a steward, and the tunnel is the responsibility of the builders — who go along with Ser Alliser's decision. (Although noticeably, the head builder hesitates a moment before agreeing.)

For his pains, Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly get ordered to pull night shifts on top of the Wall from now until the next full moon. And Ser Alliser also orders 100 barrels of pitch placed up there, to help defend against an attack.

Sansa's Snow Castle

Even in an episode full of heartbreak, Sansa's snow castle is unexpectedly moving: She builds a model of Winterfell, the home she never expects to see again.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

This leads to a meeting with Lord Robin Arryn, whom she's supposed to marry, which seems like it's going to turn into a touching moment of understanding. Except that Robin has been so sheltered by his crazy mom that he can't even comprehend the tragedy that befell Sansa's home.

All Robin understands is tossing people through the Moon Door and making them fly — and he kind of thinks Winterfell is useless without a Moon Door of its own. Robin promises that when he and Sansa are married, they'll be tossing people out the Moon Door all the time, it'll be a nonstop Moon Door party. He wants to add a Moon Door to Sansa's Winterfell model, and she agrees.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

Unfortunately, Robin wrecks a big part of Winterfell, and Sansa (acting more like a child than we've seen in a long time) accuses him of ruining it and making her start all over again. Soon they're shouting at each other like little kids, until Sansa slaps Robin.

But just like Joffrey, Robin could have used a bit more slapping a long time ago, according to Littlefinger. And Littlefinger says Sansa shouldn't assume she'll never see Winterfell again — a lot can happen, and sometimes you have to demolish the old home before you can build a better one. (In other words: Chaos is a ladder. And Littlefinger is all about demolishing stuff so he can rebuild it in his own image.)

Sansa asks why Littlefinger really killed Joffrey, and he claims it was for Sansa's mother, whom he loved more than Sansa can know. "Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who've hurt the ones we love?" And in a "better world" — one where rank, privilege and duty mattered less — Catelyn could have married Petyr and Sansa might have been Petyr's daughter. But Sansa isn't his daughter, and she looks like a more beautiful version of Catelyn.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

And that's when Petyr kisses Sansa. Is he just manipulating her, trying to force a confrontation with Lysa? Or is Sansa really his end goal? The part about wanting to live in a "better world" where men like him get who and what they want, instead of people like the Starks, seems sincere enough. And it's obvious that Littlefinger considers his wounding by Brandon Stark, and Catelyn's subsequent marriage to Ned Stark, to be his defining setback. (Again, origin stories.)

In any case, Lysa witnesses the kiss, and immediately blames Sansa — because she's not just a psycho, she's also not terribly bright. She shows Sansa the famous Moon Door, gloating about its dismembering properties. She says that everybody who's stood between Petyr and her has ended up dead.

This Was The Most Emotionally Intense Game Of Thrones Episode Yet

When Littlefinger shows up to rescue Sansa, he promises to send her away. And then when Sansa is free, he tells Lysa the truth: He's only loved one woman his entire life. Watching Lysa's blissful smile turn to horror as he reveals that it's her sister is almost as satisfying as watching her fall through her own instrument of destruction.

Of course, this leaves Sansa alone with Littlefinger, in an escape-proof castle.

Image sources: WICNet, Tumblr Of Thrones, Fuck Yeah Sansa Stark, Glory Love Tragedy