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I’d rank last night’s “Mockingbird” as a textbook example of how Game of Thrones has been improved by HBO’s translation to the screen. The power of George R.R. Martin’s books lies in raw conceptual gymnastics – not just how much is going on, but how it twists and reverses in unexpected ways. But it’s also a dry, best-appreciated-from-30,000-feet bit of showmanship. Immediate emotional access is hard to come by in the writing, since Martin generally limits himself to workmanlike descriptions of events, leaving the reader to fill in what that must have been like for the characters. Which is tough, since reading Game of Thrones is rather like drinking from a perpetual narrative fire hose. Occasionally, Martin is able to get into the interiority of his characters and achieve something closer to the immediacy of cinema – the chapter that features the Red Wedding comes to mind – but it’s relatively rare.

An obvious solution is to just bring the whole thing into the realm of actual cinema. Suddenly you’ve got actual people you can watch; you can read tones of voice and body language and all the rest of it. And the show has taken up that opportunity and run with it.

Take Sansa, who is one of the most passive and thus frustrating characters in the book. In the show, she remains primarily acted upon, but Sophie Turner’s performance – especially this season – adds new layers. When she asked Littlefinger point blank last night why he helped poison Joffrey, Sansa was deliberately gathering information and feeling out a potential ally. When she decided to share her personal history with Robin, despite the child’s unbalanced nature, she was doing the same. The latter attempt failed when Robin collapsed into another one of his tantrums, though Turner left the impression that Sansa was not all that sorry for slapping him.

So despite Littlefinger forcing himself on Sansa with that kiss, the overall result is a sense of momentum for Sansa that’s entirely lacking in the book; as if she’s biding her time until she has the resource to begin molding the world to her preferences instead of merely suffering its injustices. And when Littlefinger shoved Lysa out the Moon Door – it what is sure to be the least shocking moment of the rest of the season – it came off not as a random act of external deliverance for Sansa, but as an opportunity.

The return of Hot Pie carried similar weight, since we weren’t simply told on the page “Brienne and Podrick ran into Hot Pie,” but actually got to see Ben Hawkey’s familiar mug again, and experience his relentless talkativeness anew. The callback to Hot Pie’s wolf-themed bread – now vastly aesthetically improved – was touching, and gave all new force to the possibility that Brienne’s quest may not simply end with finding Sansa, but with finding Arya as well.

As for Danearys, we’ve been seeing a lot more of her capacity for destructiveness and ill-considered self-righteousness. But last night showcased one of the things that makes her so immanently watchable: her consistent, if not exactly perpetual, ability to get out in front of her own worst instincts. She will indulge in Daario’s sexual company, but she will not allow it to deflect her decision-making, as she immediately sent him off to free Yunkai after their tryst. She also reassured Mormont of her own trust in his counsel, telling him to order Daario to give the masters of Yunkai an opportunity to escape execution, not because she had changed her mind but because Mormont had persuaded her. (Also, last night confirmed the wisdom of recasting Daario with Michiel Huisman this season. Can anyone imagine Danearys being sufficiently impressed with the previous Fabio-inspired version of Daario to take him into her bed? I can’t.)

As for Tyrion, His teeth-knashing eruption of rage at last week’s show trial was a sight to behold, but this week we got something ultimately more powerful, in Dinklage’s unspoken expressions and the pauses between what was said. There was his nihilistic camaraderie with Jaime, as the two brothers realized they would both loved to see their father’s reaction should Jaime be killed in the trial by combat, snuffing out the Lannister bloodline in one fell swoop.

Then came Tyrion’s goodbye to Bron, who likes Tyrion well enough to be his champion, but likes himself a bit more. The break ends one of the most enjoyable partnerships the show has produced. But it also communicated something the books, which handled Bron’s abandonment of Tyrion with brute abruptness, couldn’t get to. “You’re my friend, but when have you ever risked your life for mine,” Bron asks. It was a reminder that their partnership was always founded on mutual exploitation, and their goodbye was an unspoken admission from both men that they’d failed to be the friends they should’ve been to one another.

As for Oberyn, offering to be Tyrion’s champion was clearly a self-interested move on the Prince’s part – this is his chance to avenge himself upon the Mountain. But he still chose to introduce it by telling the story of how he hoped to find a monster when he visited Tyrion as a baby, and merely found a child instead. It was classic Oberyn: a dry, cynical, darkly amusing, and roundabout way of offering someone a recognition of common humanity.

Nothing topped the roiling look of barely-contained emotion on Dinklage’s face when Oberyn’s story dredged up Jaime’s willingness to defend his brother even then, along with Cercei’s willingness to hate him. Not to mention the sad, intimate way all those cross currents are tied up with their mother’s death in childbirth. Tyrion’s look of relief, when he realized he might have a shot at surviving the trial after all, was a moment of universal human weakness from a character so often defined by pure intellectual firepower. Once again, nothing profited the show so well as the decision to cast Peter Dinklage.

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