I need a hero: Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) gets some bad news from Bronn (Jerome Flynn)
  • Neil Davidson/courtesy of HBO
  • I need a hero: Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) gets some bad news from Bronn (Jerome Flynn)

Note: I have not read the books. Which should become obvious here. Also, spoilers ahead.

It’s rare to emerge from an episode of Game of Thrones feeling any sort of relief. In fact, “relief” is probably too strong a word for it. Maybe this is a better way to put it: it’s rare to watch an episode of Game of Thrones and not feel completely fucking nauseous with dread throughout and afterward. Even when Joffrey was killed the glee was fleeting: watching him transform into a bloody-eyed purple thing felt so great, but our attention was immediately directed toward the horrifying consequences his death was going to have on others (mostly Tyrion, who’s our best guy). And ever since then we’ve had to white-knuckle it through episodes while he’s falsely accused of Joffrey’s murder by everyone including that asshole Shae, who is either too stupid to realize Tyrion was trying to save her life or who’s been coerced by Cersei. Or a combo of the two.

There were a record number of these brief, precious moments of relief in episode seven: watching Sansa slap Robin (I would buy that glove on eBay), psychotic Aunt Lysa plummeting to her death through the moon door after threatening Sansa with the same fate, and—a biggie—Prince Oberyn Martell telling Tyrion that he’d be his champion in the trial by combat.

Since he was introduced in the first episode of the season, Oberyn—a hothead with a delightful honest streak—made clear that he was seeking revenge against the Lannisters. He bided his time for the perfect scenario: a chance to fight the very Lannister bannerman who raped and murdered his sister and her children. And if he wins he’s depriving Cersei of what she’s wanted most since she was a little girl: to be rid of Tyrion, the “monster” she’s always blamed for her mother’s death in childbirth. Before Oberyn gives Tyrion the good news he relays the excruciating story of meeting the Lannister brood when Tyrion was first born and witnessing Cersei threaten to pinch his little infant penis off.

So things might really work out for Tyrion! But, come on. There’s so much that can go wrong. Is Oberyn a good fighter? He’s a little nuts and harbors a lot of vengeful rage, which is good, but that might not be enough to win a sword fight against a human giant.

And it looks like we’ve found a real pragmatist in Bronn, the person I assumed would volunteer to be Tyrion’s champion. Enticed by Cersei with a wife and a castle (the latter so long as he or someone else murders his wife’s sister, which sounds like it’ll be no problem whatsoever), Tyrion’s knight in dingy armor takes the bait with pleasure, considering the other option was maybe-probably dying but, if he lived, walking away with his dignity intact and with Tyrion’s undying gratitude. Hm. No thanks. Bronn’s sort of like the anti-Brienne, and it’s hard to judge him too harshly for it.

Again, what a relief that we’re rid of Lysa! Not only did she kill Jon Arryn—the act that set the entire series into motion; so actually maybe we should say thanks?—she’s psychotically jealous of other women, particularly those related to her more attractive and remarkably less psychotic sister. But just when the knot in your stomach starts to unravel, consider: what’s in store for Sansa now? A creepy relationship with a deeply deviant man who wishes he was her father. That’s how it’s looking.

Earlier in the season—I think it was episode five—Cersei said, “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.” Really it seems like there’s a neverending supply of “theys” who are slightly less discriminate in selecting people to hurt. (Not that little girls don’t have it the absolute worst of all worsts—we’ve seen it again and again.) There’s no top of the food chain. Everyone’s prey. There’s no time to relax, not even for us.

It’s what makes this show so goddamned fun.