The fate of dwarf Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) hinges on a brutal trial by combat in “The Mountain and the Viper,” Episode 38 of HBO’s epic fantasy “Game of Thrones.”
Falsely accused of poisoning King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), Tyrion rejected a Westeros-style plea bargain. Now the gods will determine if he’s beheaded or set free.
Tyrion’s champion in this fight to the death is Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), the cocky Red Viper of Dorne.
Battling on behalf of Joffrey’s bereaved mother, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), is monstrous Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson).
“He’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen,” gasps Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Oberyn’s terrified paramour. “Don’t leave me alone in this world!”
While The Viper is decidedly overmatched in size and strength, he’s tricky, agile and burning with a vengeful rage. The Mountain killed Oberyn’s sister and her children -- and it’s time to settle the score.
“I’m going to hear you confess before you die,” Oberyn yells as he knocks off The Mountain’s helmet, slices his legs and stabs him in the chest. “Who gave you the order?”
Just when it appears The Mountain is defeated, he grabs Oberyn and squeezes his head until it explodes. And as bystanders scream in horror, The Mountain falls dead.
“The gods have spoken,” Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) announces to son Tyrion. “You’re hereby sentenced to death!” Really?
At The Eyrie, meanwhile, Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) comes under intense questioning after his new bride, Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie), plunges to her death through the infamous Moon Door.
Petyr murdered her, of course, but alleges it was suicide. The only witness is teen Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who’s on the run while her husband, Tyrion, faces execution.
“Lord Baelish has told many lies -- all to protect me,” Sansa says tearfully, claiming Petyr was her only ally when she was held hostage at King’s Landing. “He saved me!”
Actually, Sansa’s lies just saved Petyr by collaborating his story about Lysa’s “suicide.” Then Sansa doubles down on her bet that Littlefinger will prevail in his boundless quest for power.
She supports his insidious plan to force Lysa’s son Robin (Lino Facioli) into assuming his weighty duties as Lord of The Vale -- a task for which the fragile, overprotected boy is woefully unprepared.
“Time for Robin to leave the nest,” Petyr says with a sinister smile.
In other action, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and her band of wildling warriors invade Mole's Town -- a small village near Castle Black -- and slaughter the inhabitants.
But when she comes upon frightened Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her infant son, Ygritte spares them and moves on.
When word of the attack reaches Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his Night’s Watch comrades at The Wall, they realize the full wildling army is drawing near.
They also realize their odds of victory are infinitesimal, in that they’re outnumbered a thousand to one.
Finally, across the Narrow Sea in the former slave city of Meereen, military advisor Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) is exposed for spying on Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) early in her rise to glory.
“This is the work of Tywin Lannister,” Jorah protests. “He wants to divide us. If we’re fighting each other, we’re not fighting him!”
“You betrayed me from the first,” Daenerys exclaims, deeply hurt by the actions of her friend and confidant. “You sold my secrets to the man who killed my father!”
Jorah’s punishment? Leave Meereen by dusk or she’ll chop off his head.
So it’s back to King’s Landing for Jorah, it seems, as he rides sadly toward the sea.