Aw jeeze, Lester! A beloved character dying is all part and parcel of GoT, and dying REALLY horribly is the doom cherry on the grimcake, I know this. I also know there’s only more awfulness to come, but this week’s show made even the most hardened fan flee to the internet for support groups. Whether you read the books or not – and even putting the Red Wedding aside – this episode smarted. It also felt frustratingly perfunctory at times.

I think we’ve all learned to bristle whenever a scene begins with happy smallfolk. Dudes be drinking in a Mole’s Town brothel, where the sex workers serve you quaffable ale and entertain by belching one of the two known songs in Westeros (this time “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”). Said gassy lass has always hated Gilly, and we’re given a brief window of the bullying she’s had to endure since being shipped there ostensibly for her safety. The nasty woman is soon, like the rest of the clientele and staff, reduced to a puddle of blood pouring through the floorboards as Tormund Giantsbane and his pack of Wildling Allsorts arrive to send a message to Castle Black. And to source dinner, from the Thenns’ perspective. Gilly and baby Sam are spared by Ygritte, because although she’s happy to shoot arrows in adults’ faces, she draws the line at a baby because reasons?

I’m not sure I buy it, but it gives the Crows reason to assure Sam Tarly needn’t worry about his unofficial kinda-girlfriend. Jon gets fairly snippy, insisting they need to stay at Castle Black to defend the Wall, but the odds aren’t looking good – roughly 100 Nightswatchmen to more than 100,000 various Free Folk, featuring actual giants. It’s a short scene, and it’s all we get from them this week. The slow burn regarding The Wall’s role this season has been mostly vexing, but the payoff should be good. And by “good”, I mean heartwrenchingly awful, obviously. I clearly never learn, because I was really looking forward to the trial by combat, and now I’m all empty inside.

Bathtime for the Unsullied and royal maidens, in another short vignette bringing some much-needed humanity to this episode. Grey Worm can’t help but stare at Missandei’s beauty. His gaze is one of longing and romance, confusing her. She mentions the incident to Dany, who is plaiting her handmaiden’s hair, which seems out of character for a queen but whatever. They discuss the Unsullied’s pillars and stones (or lack thereof), pondering which bits have been cut. Incidentally, for your edification, ASOIAF readers have been told countless times that they have been cut “root and stem”. You’re welcome. Despite his lack of junk, Missandei feels that Grey Worm is feeling Ways About Stuff when he looks at her. He pretty much tells her so, when the scene cuts to his apology. When Missandei presses him for intel about his past, he continues to insist that he remembers nothing before being taken and trained. He can’t even regret losing his nuts (and possibly banana), because otherwise he’d not be where he was and who he’s become. I think the guy’s possibly cracked Ultimate Zen Mindfulness, and I almost envy him. This is the best “The Mountain and the Viper” can offer in terms of pleasant viewing – a forced asexual who is far from aromantic and a freedwoman being admired by a super-hot Non-Threatening Boys magazine cover star.

Reek “dresses up as Theon Greyjoy” so he can betray his Ironborn for the sake of Big Daddy Bolton’s wardship of the north and for Ramsay’s legitimacy bid. Theon’s almost entirely broken and remade as Ramsay’s puppet. He hesitates before announcing his “false name” to the guard at Moat Cailin – and as if to reinforce the erasure of himself, we cut straight to him dictating the terms of surrender without actually hearing him say it. Life at MC doesn’t look too fun: Horses provide the food, and there’s a nasty-sounding bug doing the rounds. But because the Ironborn are nothing if not bloody-minded, the terms of surrender (“Leave the castle, and we totes promise not to flay you.”) are firmly rejected by Commander of the garrison. He nearly reduces Theon to tears by sneering at his apparent weakness, which is rich coming from a guy who can hardly stand up. Luckily for Theon, the Commander gets an axe to the head by a soldier presumably sick of eating horse on toast. He takes over leadership for a few mutinous moments, his fellow men dreaming of home and the sea. Naturally, there was no way Bolton was going to show mercy to the fishdudes as we handily cut to – of course – a Flayed Man. I’m not sorry we skipped the wholesale slaughter, because the real horror is for the closing scene, but everything regarding Theon this season feels choppy and unbalanced. I’m not saying the show should reflect the pages and pages (and pages) of text describing what everyone was wearing first, and what they ate, and a billion side characters to be carefully created and then killed, but his story isn’t holding my interest to the degree I think it should.

To the Eyrie, where Littlefinger is forced to prove to the Vale’s Neighbourhood Watch Patrol that a) yes, Lysa totally jumped out of the Moon Door of her own volition, b) no, he ain’t no gold digger, and c) he’s got Robin Arryn’s best interests in mind. This is probably my favourite Sansa scene ever – she’s finally learning how to not just continue surviving, but actually play the game and win. And hooray, she also makes Littlefinger sweat by announcing she’s not going to lie for him anymore. Spinning a yarn mixing facts with fictions so plausible I could almost believe them, she confesses her true identity with Baelish smiling that oily, leery grin in the background. The Vale is not THE NORTH, but House Stark has more love than House Lannister, and the panel chows down Sansa’s story rather easily. From there it’s even easier for Baelish to send Robin away after they all take a moment to reflect on Lysa’s extreme attachment parenting and realise the kid’s definitely going to need some work.

Ser Barristan oversees the removal of dead masters from Meereen’s crucifixes, when a messenger boy arrives with News. It’s a document laying out the terms of Ser Jorah’s pardon – spy for Robert Baratheon and his slaver past will be wiped clean. Barristan confronts Jorah, who has to then face a brilliantly fierce Daenerys. Before she can read him the riot act, he blurts out the truth, looking much like those photos of pathetic-looking dogs behind printed confessions (“I pooped on the kitchen floor”). His protestations that he totally stopped spying after the whole poisoned wine incident fall on hardened ears. Dany shows cruel mercy – she could have Jorah killed with a click of her fingers, but she knows that he WUVS her, so instead she pours a giant goblet of Haterade and banishes him from the land.

Ramsay Snow and BD Bolton consider the landscape spread before them like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, or a better simile. Roose prompts Ramsay into answering THE NORTH in response to the query “What is this thing we look at?” but the bastard can’t work it out. Regardless, the repulsive scrote has impressed the old man, who’s decided that he isn’t too bothered about Bran or Rickon Stark after all, which I had totally forgotten about to be honest. Ramsay Snow becomes Ramsay Bolton, and guess what? BD Bolton’s gonna want grandkids. Be afraid, my friends.

Littlefinger drops by Sansa’s room for a quick session of perving and inquisition. Why on earth would Sansa think he was her last and only friend (that’s the bottle, dammit! Sorry, just channeling Tyrion via Uncle Tupelo). She knows what he really wants – or does she? Ooh, Sansa, you are fast becoming an equal of the Queen of Thorns herself. Littlefinger tries to throw her confidence – is she SURE she knows what he wants? Ugh, yes, dammit – now go away! The short scene left me worried in one of the few instances where I felt like it was actively unfair to leave us in the lurch. What happened then? Did he just leave? Apparently yes, but I had to pause, don my cutoffs, and take a shower in boiling water to cleanse myself before continuing.

Checking in with Arya and The Hound: The Legendary Journeys. They’ve finally reached what The Hound is hoping is the end of their time together – the Eyrie. The guards at the Bloody Gate inform them that Lysa is dead. Hence, no ransom. You can actually pinpoint the exact moment Sandor’s heart finally breaks into a thousand pieces. It’s the moment that Arya collapses into proper hysterics. OF COURSE Auntie Lysa’s dead. She’s related to Arya! And imagine just how more uncontrolled that laughter would be had she known that her own sister was still there, and they’d left? Stark siblings so close, yet so far…at least unlike Bran, she couldn’t actually see Sansa. My fanfic brain went mentile at this point, because I have a pressing need to know what Arya thinks of Sansa – she can’t know the torment the Lannisters put her through, and the last she saw was her at the Great Sept for all intents and purposes siding with her family’s mortal enemy.

And my, how Sansa’s changed. She descends the stairs, clad in Lysa’s fancy frock, eyes hardened, head held high. Dressed to kill, you could say. She’s not forced to hide as “Alayne Stone” anymore. Robin Arryn won’t be there to act as a buffer either – but I don’t think she needs him. I complained about the choppiness of the Moat Cailin scenes, but I have to admit, this was all I needed thanks to Sophie Turner’s UNHOLY ACTING TALENT.

And finally, what I mistakenly thought I’d been waiting for all season – the trial by combat – The Red Viper vs. The Mountain That Rides. Oh, me. I’ve been a fool – a foolish fool. I must admit when I saw how little time was left, I was annoyed that everything would be over so quickly. [sobbing] I’m sorry! Jaime and Tyrion discuss their simple-minded cousin who was obsessed with killing beetles, and we’re given a glimpse into the kind of child Tyrion was – the kind who never stops asking “why?” Sadly the answer is “Because people is assholes, that’s why.” Humans are nasty, brutish types who kill for fun. The Hound once told Sansa that “killing is the sweetest thing there is”. As Tyrion faces his pretty-certain death, he’ll still never really understand why Orson killed all those beetles. Maddening.

Finally, Tyrion enters a brilliant, blindingly bright world where death is a lovely day’s entertainment. Oberyn kisses Ellaria, and I nearly didn’t recognise her with her clothes on. The fight starts awesomely and is just what I expected and wanted – waterdancing moves and swashbuckling and big attitude from Oberyn. But as talented as he is, he doesn’t just want to kill Gregor – he needs a confession to truly avenge his sister. His mantra “You raped her, you murdered her, you killed her children” doesn’t lose its horror with repetition but seems to grow in power by sapping Oberyn’s control. And just when he should have let it go, plunged the blade into the heart of his enemy, he hesitates and then – oh Obz! – lets his guard down. And then that behemoth of a man uses his dying breath to overwhelm him, push his eyeballs deep into his sockets and crush his noggin, and now who’s going to fly the bisexual flag for House Martell at King’s Landing Pride? [more sobbing]. Yes, it was just as grim in the book, but it really was so much worse than I could have ever imagined, and now I’m all empty inside. Plus, y’know, Tyrion’s been sentenced to death. Woe is Bender! 7/10

Sexy, Important Thoughts:

  • I’m not sure why Moat Cailin merits a mention in the opening credits; it feels like this story was almost forgotten and being crammed into the last few episodes and Ramsay seemed to imply they were heading to a new home [MILD SPOILER ALERT] i.e. Winterfell.
  • The internet – by which I mean Arrested Westeros – needs to redo the Jorah-leaving-Mereen scene by adding the sad Peanuts incidental music over his miserable shuffle out of town.
  • “Who gives a dusty fuck about a bunch of beetles?” – Jaime has been hanging out with Bronn.
  • ARockPaperCynic speaks for those of us who’ve read the books: it still hurts!
  • I can’t bring Oberyn back, but here’s a pic of him with Gregor Clegane all happy and smiling.
  • I know I’m going to fold and buy one of these skater dresses – this is fact. I just have to decide between House Lannister & House Targaryen.
  • Two episodes to go and I’ll be honest – there’s so much more death and sadness to come and I have no idea how it will all play out. Episode 9 will assuredly be THE WORST, and I might genuinely have to set up a support group via chat or sutin.