Trust is a dangerous thing in a world like Westeros. If last week’s episode established the idea of fairness being something subjective that characters earn, “Mockingbird” was all about the dangers of putting your trust in the wrong people. Nobody embodies that idea better than Lysa Arryn, who let her lifelong love of Petyr Baelish blind her to all of his maniuplation, resulting in her unfortunate trip through the moon door. But Lysa’s trust in her new husband, and the sad ending it brought her has bigger, longer-lasting consequences, as it leaves Petyr in charge of the Vale (Robin might inherit the house, but Petyr will always call the shots), and forces Sansa to decide whether or not she can put trust in her new, creepy uncle.
Sansa has spent much of her time on the show learning who she can and can’t trust, as most of the people she has confided in have either turned against her or been killed. In may ways, her relationship with Petyr is one of the most dangerous ones she’s had to navigate thus far, as he’s made it obvious what he’s capable of. Thus far, he’s protected her from the Lannisters, from Robin and from Lysa, but Petyr is such a master manipulator that it’s harder to tell when he might change his mind at the least second and send someone to their death. And if that weren’t enough of an uncomfortable situation, he’s constantly comparing her to her mother — whom we’re reminded is the only woman Petyr has ever loved — so she’s forced to handle his romantic feelings as well as his desire for power.
The whole situation leaves Sansa in a difficult position: she’s the only one who knows that Petyr killed Lysa, and she knows that he’s willing to protect her, but there’s no way for her to know how extensive that protection will be. In some ways, he will need to trust her to protect him from the authorities, but he still holds the power in this reationship. She may know he is a murderer, but she’s seen him kill two of the most powerful people in Westeros, and he can hand her over to the Lannisters with one word, and so she must now decide whether she can continue to place her faith in someone so manipulative and dangerous.
Meanwhile, her estranged husband is also placing all of his eggs in one basket, as Tyrion discovers that he can no longer rely on the people he thought he could. After demanding a trial by combat in order to exert a little bit of control over his death, the youngest Lannister goes through one potential champion after another, discovering that he may no longer have anyone in his corner he can count on. Having assumed that Jaime would fight for him, he’s thrown for a loop when Jaime admits that he can’t fight with his left hand. From there, he truns to his trusty second-in-command, Bronn, only to find that someone has beaten him to the punch.
When Bronn arrives, he reveals that he’s set to marry Lollys Stokeworth, and thus be second in line to the Stokeworth castle, an arrangement that Cersei kindly put together. Bronn doesn’t trust people, he trust gold; it’s a statement he’s made many times over, and for the first time, Tyrion can’t buy that trust, and it leaves him spinning. Peter Dinklage does wonders with the scene, cycling through disbelief, frustration and disappointment, before sitting in the corner, resigned to his imminent death. However, it turns out that though Tyrion can no longer trust his friends or family, he can trust his enemy, as Oberyn Martell offers to be his champion as a way of getting revenge for his sister’s death.
Oberyn’s anecdote about seeing Tyrion as a baby and witnessing the contempt his family had for him from day one is used not only as an explanation for why he volunteers to be his champion — Oberyn has often talked about the Dornish perspective of justice and fairness, and Tyrion’s situation clearly violates that — but also as a contrast between the relationships with their families. Oberyn loved his sister and wants to avenge her, while Tyrion’s wants him dead, and since Oberyn prefers Tyrion over the other Lannisters, why not take the opportunity to right two wrongs with one sword? Pedro Pascal does a fine bit of acting here, recounting the story of the “monster” born at Casterly Rock, and allowing his distaste for Cersei’s behavior to become clear in his voice, but the moment truly belongs to Dinklage, whose reaction to every beat of the story is evident on his face.
Like most episodes of Game of Thrones this season, “Mockingbird” touched bases with several different characters before spending the last act focused solely on one event. In Mereen, Daenerys is learning that being queen means controlling both your people and your advisors, and in a pair of scenes, she tests the loyalty of her two closest counsellors. First, she makes Daario prove his loyalty by allowing him to showcase his two skills (swordplay and women, of course), and then, when Jorah lectures her about trust and her practices of ruling, she pits them against each other. It’s an unexpected bit of manipulation from Dany, who is so focused on the black and white of any situation that she often refuses to acknowledge any grey area. Though she professes to, she doesn’t seem to trust Jorah’s counsel, and she’s warming up to Daario, which means those two will soon come to a head, and knowing Dany, it will likely be bloody.
Over on the King’s Road, Brienne and Pod run into Hot Pie, who is alive and well and cooking the best steak and kidney pie in the kingdom. Brienne, ever the pragmatist, outright asks Hot Pie if he’s seen Sansa Stark, but Pod was trained by Tyrion, and is wary about trusting strangers. It works out for them, and Hot Pie reveals that Arya and the Hound are headed toward the Eyrie, which gives them a lead on Sansa. Their trust of Hot Pie leads Brienne to trust Pod in return, in a sweet if heavy-handed moment where she lets him lead the way to the Vale.
Meanwhile, Arya and the Hound have learned to trust each other for protection, with the Hound stepping back and allowing Arya revenge on Rorge, and her offering to clean and stitch his wound for him. Sitting around the fire, he reveals to her how he got his scars, and how his father protected his brother instead of standing up for him, and by the time he ends his speech with “And you thought you were alone…” it’s obvious that these two loners have come to rely on each other more than they want to admit. However, there’s no telling how long this trust will last — he is her captor, after all — and so their moment, like Sansa’s conversation in the courtyard with Petyr, has an ominous overtone to it.
Though it ended with another shocking death, “Mockingbird” is primarily an episode of exposition, allowing the series a breather before launching into the action of Tyrion’s trial by combat and the Wildlings’ raid on the Wall (which should either happen soon or be mentioned less, as the plot is starting to stall). It’s a necessary part of any series, in order to build momentum for a big finish, but the writers might be better off mixing up the groups they focus on in any given episode, as not even a fall though the moon door can help keep things in motion.
Episode grade: B, or A Hot Pie with Two Wolf Breads. It’s always good to see the kind-hearted characters make it through the series in once piece.