It's been two whole weeks since a Game Of Thrones episode has graced our television screens — did you survive? HBO's mega-popular fantasy show took last Sunday off so the network could air their film The Normal Heart instead. That movie was great and all, but let's be honest: there weren't any dragons or ice zombies or characters with names like The Red Viper. And of course Thrones took its break just as it teased us with the impending trail by combat between Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne and Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, a confrontation the entire season has building towards.
But now Thrones is back, which means it's time to see how this epic fight-to-the-death shakes out... and the stakes couldn't be higher. Not only is the life of our favorite Dornishman in danger, but the fate of wrongfully-imprisoned Tyrion hangs in the balance as well. Oh, and there's also the honor and memory of poor Elia Martell to consider as well — she's Oberyn's sister who was raped and murdered by The Mountain, and the reason The Red Viper is seeking vengeance against the fearsome fighter in the first place. That's an awful lot hinging on the outcome of one duel.
Regardless of who wins, the fight should be thrilling to watch. It's one of the most famous events of the third book in George R.R. Martin's series, A Storm Of Swords, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been looking forward to reaching this point ever since they first pitched the series to HBO back in 2006. And if you ask them, they think they've nailed it.
It’s one of the best — if not the best — combat scenes we’ve done so far. It’s not just people hacking at each other with spears and swords. It’s the culmination of 20 years of anger and hatred and thirst for vengeance coming to a head in this amazing set piece that [stunt coordinator Paul Herbert and swordmaster C.C. Smiff] have put together. The fight delivers beyond our expectations.
To fill the giant, giant shoes of The Mountain, Benioff & Weiss found 6' 9" 420-pound Icelandic strongman competitor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson. He's the third-strongest man in the world, but he's also a former basketball player, so he moves surprisingly well for such a large person.
We can't help but feel nervous seeing the charismatic Oberyn face off against The Human Hulk. Played by Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal, the Dornish prince quickly became a fan-favorite character in Thrones' fourth season. His quick temper, charming smile, and flexible sexuality left an instant impression in the season premiere that has only strengthened over time. We know George R.R. Martin has a penchant for offing beloved and important characters (see: just about every Stark), but surely he wouldn't kill off such a terrific character so soon — and at the same time doom nominal protagonist Tyrion to a certain death as well. ...Would he?
WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW AFTER THIS GRATUITOUS BUT RIDICULOUSLY SEXY GIF!
Thankfully, we have Martin's source material to emotionally prepare us for the bone-crunching outcome of the death match. And it's an outcome no one will see coming: a draw. How does a fight-to-the-death end in a draw, you ask? Why, with both combatants dead, of course.
Oberyn actually manages to get the upper-hand on the massive Mountain, but the death of Clegane isn't his only goal. He's also seeking a confession for the murder of Elia... and that turns out to be his undoing. The Red Viper gets his enemy on his back, but then hesitates a moment too long, demanding justice for his dead sister — which gives Gregor just the time he needs to send a face-smashing fist through Oberyn's helmet.
But the Prince of Dorne would never go into combat uncertain of the outcome. He made sure that no matter what happened, his opponent would perish: the spear he fought with was tipped with poison. So despite winning the duel, The Mountain still dies a slow, agonizing death, which helps ameliorate the tragic loss of Oberyn just a bit. But since Gregor technically won the trial by combat, what does that mean for Tyrion? Well, we're not spoiling that particular plot point just yet.
Only time will tell how people react to the demise of Prince Oberyn, but we know viewers won't be too pleased. In many ways, it may be the most infuriating death on the show yet: it's so cruel to tease us with such an awesome character only to snatch him away so soon. I suppose we can always hope that Benioff & Weiss continue their trend of departing more and more from the source material and change the outcome of the combat so that Oberyn somehow miraculously survives. Hey — a boy can dream, right?
Images: HBO (4); Imgur