'Game of Thrones' Podcast: Smashing Back Into "The Mountain and the Viper"

The climactic episode features one of the most violent moments in all of 'Thrones,' as well as a deep meditation on the show's attitude toward mortality.
Macall B. Polay/ HBO

[This story contains full spoilers through seven seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

Forget the Mountain. Forget the Viper. When it comes to "The Mountain and the Viper," it's all about the beetles.

Sure, the battle between Gregor Clegane and Oberyn Martell more than solidified itself as one of the single most shocking (and nauseating) events in Game of Thrones history. It's impossible to forget the image of the Mountain crushing the Red Viper of Dorne's head with his bare hands, like Gallagher's hammer dropping on a watermelon. But it's the other lifeforms that were crushed along the way in season four's eighth episode that deserve closer examination — the lifeforms that were crushed long ago, forever embedded in the heart of one Tyrion Lannister.

In the final scene before the episode's titular climactic showdown between the Mountain and the Viper, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) sits in his prison cell, speaking with his brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), reminiscing on one of the most notable aspects of his childhood: cousin Orson Lannister, brain-damaged in his infancy, forever dedicated to crushing beetles with a rock. Tyrion describes his memories of Orson's beetle genocide in vivid detail, unable to understand why anyone would mete out so much violence for no apparent reason. When he reaches the end of his story, he's no closer to arriving at an explanation, which perfectly bleeds into the next act of the series: the Red Viper's seemingly meaningless death, even with so much unsatisfied justice still out there on the horizon.

The story of Orson's beetles not only speaks to the show's attitude toward human nature and the random qualities of chaos and violence, but a larger view of those things as well — that sometimes, horrible things happen to good people, or entities simply minding their own business, struck down by another's flailing waltz through life. Prince Oberyn's death is one such example, and the deaths of those still to come in the forthcoming final season of Thrones could very well join him — perhaps even Tyrion.

Listen to more about the Orson Lannister story and the Red Viper's final stand in "Winter Was Here," the Game of Thrones rewatch podcast collaboration between THR and Post Show Recaps. Listen to the episode below, then read on to revisit the dialogue between Tyrion and Jaime, in which the younger Lannister revisits his late cousin's history of beetle-smashing violence.

Tyrion: "Do you remember cousin Orson? Orson Lannister?"

Jaime: "Of course. Wet nurse dropped him on his head, left him simple."

Tyrion: "Simple? He used to sit all day in the garden, crushing beetles with a rock. Gunk, gunk, gunk. Nothing made him happier."

Jaime: "Nothing made you happier. You'd think being tormented from birth would give you some affinity for the afflicted."

Tyrion: "On the contrary. Laughing at another person's misery was the only thing that made me feel like everyone else."

Jaime: "The joke wore thin, though."

Tyrion: "For you. You drifted away."

Jaime: "I had other interests." 

Tyrion: "Yes, other interests. But I stayed with Orson."

Jaime: "Why?"

Tyrion: "I was curious. Why was he smashing all those beetles? What did he get out of it? The first thing I did was ask him: 'Orson, why are you smashing all those beetles?' He gave me an answer: 'Smash the beetles. Smash them!' Gunk, gunk, gunk. I wasn't deterred. I was the smartest person I knew, certain I had the wherewithal to unravel the mysteries that lay at the heart of a moron. So I went to Maester Volarik's library." 

Jaime: "Volarik. Tried to touch me once…"

Tyrion: "Turns out, far too much has been written about great men, and not nearly enough about morons. Doesn't seem right. In any case, I found nothing that illuminated the nature of Orson's affliction, or the reason behind his relentless beetle slaughter. So, I went back to the source. I may not have been able to speak with Orson, but I could observe him, watch him, the way men watch animals to come to a deeper understanding of their behavior. And as I watched, I became more and more sure of it. There was something happening there. His face was like the page of a book, written in a language I didn't understand. But he wasn't mindless. He had his reasons. And I became possessed with knowing what they were. I began to spend inordinate amounts of time watching him. I would eat my lunch in the garden, chewing my mutton to the music of gunk, gunk, gunk. And when I wasn't watching him, I was thinking about him. Father droned on about the family legacy and I thought about Orson's beetles. I read the histories of Targaryen conquests. Did I hear dragon wings? No. I heard gunk, gunk, gunk. And I still couldn't figure out why he was doing it, and I had to know, because it was horrible that all these beetles should be dying for no reason."

Jaime: "Every day around the world, men, women and children are murdered by the score. Who gives a dusty fuck about a bunch of beetles?"

Tyrion: "I know, I know, but still, it filled me with dread. Piles and piles of them, years and years of them. How many countless living drawing things, smashed and dried out and returned to the dirt? In my dreams, I found myself standing on a beach made of beetle husks, stretching as far as the eye could see. I woke up crying and weeping for their shattered little bodies. I tried to stop Orson once." 

Jaime: "He was twice your size…"

Tyrion: "He just pushed me aside with a gunk, and kept on smashing. Every day… until that mule kicked him in the chest and killed him. (Long pause.) So what do you think? Why did he do it? What was it all about?"

Jaime: "…I don't know." 

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