As time goes on, wars are fought, and casualties mount, Petyr Baelish has slowly showed his true colors. We learned he was untrustworthy when he betrayed Ned, though Littlefinger was admirably transparent about that particular quality from the start. We learned he was power-hungry when he speechified to Varys on the opportunities chaos presents for those primed to take advantage. And a few weeks ago, we learned that he’s been putting that ambition and guile to work for a long, long time, kicking off the chain of events that began this entire series. “Mockingbird,” however, offers what’s possibly the biggest surprise of all: Littlefinger has an emotional side, and he’s not afraid to act on it—however rash those actions might be.
Lysa Arryn’s demise this week was the inevitable, pitiful result of a lifelong battle for Petyr’s affections. She never stood a chance against Catelyn or even Sansa; as Melisandre points out, men only ever want what they don’t already have. And now that she’s married Petyr and handed him the keys to her ultra-fortified mountain castle and the insanely rich valley that comes with it, Lysa’s rendered herself expendable. Which means that her husband won’t think twice before tossing the latest rung on his chaos-ladder out the much-vaunted Moon Door.
Petyr’s latest murder, the first we’ve seen him commit with his own two hands, wasn’t a calculated next step in his plan for global (or at least continental) domination, though. Getting Lysa out of the way may well have been on his to-do list, but the immediate trigger for Littlefinger’s actions is her ill-advised decision to threaten Sansa’s life. Because in the absence of his one true love, this week’s creepiest moment shows, Littlefinger’s transferred his unrequited love for Catelyn onto her teenage daughter. That fierce attachment is the only quality that keeps Petyr from becoming the perfectly Machiavellian operator he purports to be, and the fact that it’s still in play makes him an even more fascinating, and far more unpredictable, player of the Game of Thrones than most in the audience had previously thought.
In an interesting bit of the parallelism in which this show is festering-neck-wound deep, the character that gets the second most screen time in this scattershot episode is Tyrion. After Ned Stark, the youngest Lannister son seemed a likely candidate for the series’ most important character, carrying the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders as he struggled to protect a country from its psychopathic king. This season, unfortunately, he’s been powerless, left with little to do but rot in a jail cell and take what little agency he can in the form of spiting dear ol’ dad and his perfectly laid plans. The same episode that gives us more insight into the man that likely is this show’s most important character thus spends some time checking in on the last guy to fill that role.
Tyrion gets a trio of scenes in “Mockingbird,” each of which sees a different potential champion drop by. Director Alik Sakharov repeatedly emphasizes how little control Tyrion has over his own situation: he cranes his neck, unable to tell who’s visiting until Bronn walks in the door; he’s literally in the dark before Oberyn enters his cell. And indeed, his situation is pretty damn hopeless. Cersei holds all the cards, naming the Mountain as her champion and offering Bronn a rich wife in return for his loyalty. Jaime wants to defend his brother, but can’t thanks to his recent handicap. They even share a silent bonding moment over their total helplessness, the first time in their lives Jaime’s joined his little brother in lacking control.
But even though this trial by combat is Cersei’s to lose, lose it she just well might have. In a move perfectly indicative of her weaknesses, the queen goes for maximum brute force without considering its subtler implications. The Mountain is freakishly strong. He’s also the mortal enemy of the one warrior in King’s Landing who has both the ability and the desire to kill him. Oberyn has never been one for bowing to the Lannisters’ will, and he’s more than happy to give them the middle finger by siding with the black sheep of the family.
That leaves us with scattered odds and ends, including Daenerys. Her love scene with Daario has a nice bit of gender role reversal (and a weird callback to the Ramsay-Theon bath scene that launched a thousand slash fics) when she orders him to strip. But the conversation between her and Jorah after he runs into Daario on his walk of shame—not that Daario’s ever been ashamed in his life—is far richer with insight into her character. For one, she still hasn’t internalized the lesson in moral ambiguity she got last week, opting instead to retreat into a me-good-slavers-bad mentality that leaves her feeling confident, if prone to stupid political moves. It takes Jorah to snap her out of it, giving her an example of a redeemed slaver that hits close to home: himself.
Dany may not be the best at playing the titular game on the macro level yet. With Jorah, though, she demonstrates a masterful understanding of her inner circle and its dynamics. Daario gives her the daring to launch an offensive on Yunkai. It’s Jorah, though, who helps her temper that daring with diplomacy. And she appreciates the need to maintain balance between them, giving Jorah carte blanche to take credit for his counsel. At the beginning of the scene, a wide shot literally separates Dany and her old friend (/former mole, though she doesn’t know that yet) by placing a divider between them. By the time he leaves her chambers, that figurative distance is gone.
Finally, there’s #TrueDetectiveSeason2 leading candidates Arya and the Hound. Their scenes together in “Mockingbird” finalize the trajectory Arya’s been on for some time, bringing her around to Sandor’s brand of dog-eat-dog (sorry, couldn’t resist) worldview at last. First, they meet talking, if no longer walking, case for mercy killing, and yet another example of how the war Arya’s brother fought wasn’t as noble as she’d like to believe. Then her would-be rapist shows up, just in time for Arya to practice Sandor’s tips for heart stabbing. The Hound’s story of his mutilation at his brother’s hands is what seals the deal. He’s framed by himself as he delivers his monologue, and he looks softer than usual.
Then he looks away, and without his gruesome scarring, the Hound looks, just for a minute, like an ordinary man and not the brutal warrior his life’s shaped him into. As Arya sews up his wound, he even allows himself to show some pain—if only when he’s facing away, and she can’t see.