Episode still from HBO

**SPOILER ALERT** This article contains major character death spoilers for “Game of Thrones” up to episode 4×08. Don’t read if you aren’t caught up. Seriously.

Episode 8, “The Mountain and the Viper,” was fantastic, but I got little joy from it.

There were a few moments when I convinced myself it wasn’t going to happen. That the writers had diverged again from the books. That he would be spared and all would go right for once.

But no. His death sets too many things in motion. So Oberyn Martell – that spicy, snarky, sexy, vengeful, cocky, spitfire of a man we got to know and love for such a little while – died by the bare hands of Gregor Clegane.

I’ve been dreading it for weeks. And this episode did not disappoint. The fight sequence was one of the best things I’ve seen from this show. Never before has “Game of Thrones” made my heart pound out of my chest like that, or drawn from me anything like the dying deer moan I made when Clegane swept Oberyn’s feet out from under him and started punching.

And I knew what was coming. I can’t imagine how non-book readers felt.

Oberyn’s death was the hardest for me. Not just because I loved him, but because Oberyn HAD Clegane. He’d won. It was his pride and hunger for not only vengeance but satisfaction that killed him. He would’ve walked out of that fight cheerfully if he’d been content with winning – or, for God’s sake, stayed out of arm’s reach while harassing his dying opponent.

And that’s why his death was so powerful. That’s the message. Revenge and pride lead only to blood and suffering. Walk away while you’re ahead. Bend a little, or you’ll break in a red mess all over the dirt.

The fight choreography, Pedro Pascal’s thunderous performance – they hit every mark. Tyrion’s hauntingly blank stare at the end was a great touch. The book saw him vomit in horror and despair, but the stare was much more effective. Tyrion has been a dead man walking for weeks; now it’s official.

The performances all around were fantastic. Seeing Alfie Allen slip between Theon and Reek was impressively disturbing. And Sophie Turner was staggering in Sansa’s monologue to the Vale’s bannermen. That part not only demonstrated Turner’s growth as an actress, but Sansa’s. Gone is the timid, broken, survival-oriented Sansa. Now she’s playing the game for real. Her character arc has taken a fascinating turn – to the dark side? Or is she playing Baelish like he’s playing her?

Book readers, did you catch that bit of foreshadowing from Baelish? About how some men die at their dinner tables, some in their beds and some over their chamber pots? Non-book readers, make what you will of that.

Another great performance came from Iain Glen as Jorah. Let’s forget that he already got that pardon way back in season 1, episode 7, unless this one really was a forgery sent by Tywin, and focus on the sheer emotion of that confession/banishment scene.

I didn’t know Glen could do that. His delivery is usually pretty straightforward, but here he was practically sobbing his lines. It was a truly powerful moment. We could’ve used some more passion from Emilia Clarke, but since Daenerys has been getting increasingly distant her calmer demeanor made sense. I do hope this development will pull some vulnerability out of her, though, now that her oldest and most loyal companion is gone.

To conclude, I want to talk about Tyrion’s beetle-crushing parable. At first I thought it was a metaphor for how each of the characters struggles for the tiniest taste of power, no matter how inconsequential, just to feel less like a weak, foolish underdog in the cutthroat and unforgiving world they live in.

No.

The boy who crushed the beetles? George R. R. Martin. The beetles? His characters. Martin lets his beetle-characters scurry around long enough for us to start loving them, and then he crushes them, one by one, until none are left.

Why does he do this? Power? Entertainment? Some sadistic form of art? We simply don’t know.

But he’s got us. No matter how many of our favorite beetles he crushes under his pitiless rock, we’ll keep coming back for more. Like how we will next week for the penultimate episode, “The Watchers on the Wall,” where the wildlings attack Castle Black. It shouldn’t be much less heartrending than this episode was. Happy viewing.