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[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.
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