In this installment of the Small Council, we look at our Best Action Sequence poll, and make our choices.
Andrea Towers: I really, really tried to avoid taking the “obvious” way out with my choice, but when I sat down to think about it, I couldn’t dispute the one clear winner: Oberyn’s fight against The Mountain. The sequence was arguably not only the best action moment of Season 4, but also one of the most intense scenes that the show has pulled off in its four years….
The epic sequence was teased for weeks from both the showrunners and actors, but little could compare to the breathtaking visual performance you were afforded watching it live. Chroeography-wise, the entire fight was a director’s dream, and you can talk about the logistics all you want. But a large reason why the fight resonated as much as it did beyond the physical elements was because of the charisma, wit and personality that Pedro Pascal brought to the role of Oberyn. From his first entrance in the Season 4 premiere, where he verbally sparred with Tyrion and helped Ellaria choose a prostitute, to his involvement in Tyrion’s trial, to his final show of bravado in forcing The Mountain to admit to killing Elia, you knew that Oberyn was a force to be reckoned with. All through the season, we were teased with the idea that Oberyn was the knight in shining armor that Westeros deserved–and Pascal did absolutely everything in his power to convince us of that. Even though you knew what was coming, it was kind of easy to forget that you would have to watch this character that had so much life die so brutally.
When Oberyn gave his taunting speech at the end, you wanted to yell at him, and then cheer with him in tandem. When he was subsequently killed so horribly, you wanted to scream the way Ellaria did. It may have been a terrible death, but damned if Oberyn didn’t go out in style.
Rebecca Pahle: My #1 main dude Stannis was glaring at me from the shadows and grinding his teeth when I voted for Brienne and the Hound’s fight over his with the Wildlings. My lobster baby, I’ll love you forever, but I’d been looking forward to my choice since before I even knew what this fight would be. In a pre-S4 video, a chortling Gwendoline Christie recounted a scene where Brienne “[bit] off a man’s ear and spit it in his face.”
None of this was in the books. Whose ear was she be biting off? Why the sudden appetite for body parts? Didn’t know. Didn’t care. I was hooked. And then the scene itself, Brienne versus The Hound, came along in the season finale, and it was wonderful. From a choreography perspective, the moves were brilliantly brutal, two no-nonsense ass kickers going after each other with everything they had. Sure, Oberyn had flair, but Oberyn died. The Hound or Brienne aren’t ever gonna lose a fight by monologuing—they’re too busy landing crotch blows. I may have thrown my arms up in celebration a little bit when that happened. (I’m not immature, I’m maintaining a sense of childlike joy and innocence.) The fight was a great invention for the show in terms of story and characterization, too, showing as it did its two participants fighting—literally—for the soul of Arya Stark.
And then Arya says “screw you” to both of them and legs it to Braavos. Attagirl. Look, I love Brienne, but the people she pledges her loyalty to don’t have the best record re: not dying.
Rowan Kaiser: This was probably Game Of Thrones’ best-ever season for variety of action sequences, spread across all ten episodes. From the cinematic elegance of “The Watchers On The Wall” to the choreography of “The Mountain And The Viper” to the nigh-apocalyptic duel between good in Jon Snow and evil in Karl Tanner, there were all kinds of varied violent climaxes, which is fitting given that Season 4 was, in many ways, the climax to the previous three seasons.
But I keep coming back to the one that set the season up: Arya and The Hound against Polliver and his gang. The structure of the third season put the Red Wedding at its climax, and with it, the idea that the villains of the story were winning, and the heroes losing. So why should anyone keep watching the fourth season? Game Of Thrones answered that question in resounding fashion with a ten-minute sequence of Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark finding one of the men on Arya’s list, and dealing with him and his gang.
The fight itself is quick and brutal, without the elegant action that defines a few other of these options. But that’s okay in this case. It’s not about tactics or skill or form. It’s about how even if all is lost, how even the bad guys have won, defiant revenge and pure survival are worth fighting for.
Fuck the king.
Ani Bundel: This one was really hard for me to pick. There were many good choices. Clearly the Mountain and the Viper have the edge when it comes to choreography. The Maid and the Hound take top marks for the amount of “Value Added” in their not-in-the-books battle. Then, for the Monty Python geeks in the back, there’s Daario and the Champion of Meereen. (Who knew Meereenese Taunting was taken from the French?) But for my money, the best fight sequence comes from the episode that depended on it the most: episode 9 and the battle for Castle Black.
At the time the episode aired, there was a sense that this episode was not as good as other penultimate episodes. Several recappers, including myself, said that the episode was going for Battle of Blackwater II: Back in Black. Upon rewatching, I want to take that back. No, the episode did not have a nice decisive ending., which all ninth episodes up until this point did.
But the scale of the battle was far greater than the Battle Of Blackwater. Not only does this episode contain three of this week’s entries, it contains some really immersive scenes that made you feel like you were really in a fort under attack, and that The Wall was this gigantic monolith, none more so than the courtyard sequence, where the cameras slowly panned in a full 360 shot, showing all the fighting. We enter with Jon Snow, and then we trace across all our main (and some minor) characters as each of them travels in their fight until they pass the next sequence. We see Nights Watch fleeing down stairs, Styr killing with impunity, Tormund high as a kite on blood lust, and Sam racing to get the hell out of there. It’s a remarkable scene, even more so for being under a minute long.
So what if in the end, it was just one night’s battle? For those on the Wall, it was a life-or-death moment with death taking many of them, and deserves to be respected as such.
Castle Black will stand. The Night’s Watch will stand.
Haven’t voted yet? Now’s your chance!