The fortnight of waiting might have been arduous, but the duel between 'The Mountain' Gregor Clegane, and 'The Red Viper' Oberyn Martell, was everything we could have asked for, all except the final result. Oberyn's death was shocking in its suddenness, grotesqueness, and most of all, unfairness. But as we have come to learn from watching Game of Thrones, the world of Westeros is anything but fair.
It's not fair that the people of Mole's Town, who we witness in drunken revelry in the local tavern at the episode's start, should be slaughtered by the rampaging wildlings, even if a fleeting appearance of Ygritte sparing Gilly's life reminds us of her goodness, and how much her and Jon need to get back together.
In an unusually flashy episode there were several moments of visual flair from director Alex Graves, including the two-minute moving long take in the brothel at the start of the episode, and the rapid editing to Oberyn's spear showing-off later on. But it was the quieter moments, such as Sansa's subterfuge during her 'confession' to the lords of the Vale, or Tyrion's beetle anecdote to Jaime, that had me on real tenterhooks. The action sure keeps you entertained, but it is moments like these, layering the show's characters and exploring its themes, that keep you enthralled.
Which is why it is a shame that Daenery's banishment of Jorah, a figure who has been at her side since we first met her, felt rushed and poorly handled. Most of the Meereen exchanges took place between the seemingly insignificant characters of Grey Worm and Missandei, and whilst their story of impossible love had parallels with that of Daenerys and Jorah, the revelation of his betrayal would have been served a lot better with some foreshadowing.
For Jorah is the Khaleesi's eunuch, a loyal figure by her side, but one who unlike Daario could never serve her as anything other than advisor. The revelation that he was a spy was a storyline dispensed with back in the first season, but the question always lingered if his switching allegiances was due to his loyalty to Daenerys, or his lust.
After Barristan receives Jorah's pardon note from the old King Robert and informs Daenerys, her terse dismissal is swift and brutal, but meant that what should have been the most emotionally devastating part of the episode served as merely a footnote.
Playing the Game
But that's not to overly criticise the episode, as there are some things that were done very, very well, perhaps no more so than the incredibly tense confession by Sansa to the lords of the Vale over what really happened to Lysa Arryn.
Petyr plays courteous with the Vale nobility (including a great turn here by Rupert Vanisttart as Lord Royce), but when Sansa is brought in and blubbers to the group that she will tell the truth, it appears Littlefinger is finally trapped in a situation he can't weasel his way out of.
Appearing to crumble under the guilt, she reveals her name as Sansa Stark, that Petyr kissed her, and Lysa's subsequent mad fit of jealously, before turning the confession into a corroboration by saying that Petyr is her only friend and desperately tried to save Lysa, rather than the other way round.
Later telling Petyr that she lied because it would be better to stay with the person she knows than the strangers she doesn't, his response," You're not a child any longer," appropriately summarises how she has now learned the rules of Westeros, and what it takes to survive.
Alfie Allen also continued to shine as Theon Greyjoy becoming Reek now once again becoming Theon, in a cruel but pragmatic act from Ramsey in order to get Moat Cailin's surrender.
The Iron Islander's dire situation is told with great economy, showcasing the soldiers starvation with a decapitated horse's head when Theon enters, and a revolting jump cut from when the leading Greyjoy of Moat Cailin talks of being spared, to being shown completely flayed by Ramsey.
And the justice served to Ramsey for now becoming in the absence of Joffrey the most loathsome figure on the show? Being made an heir to the North! Proving his worth, his father Roose legitimises the bastard to become a Bolton, and points out that the north is now fully under their control.
And if you thought after this moment that you'd at least see justice for Oberyn and Tyrion in the trial by combat, then you were once again mistaken. Tyrion's beetle monologue to Jaime is a great intimate moment between the two, as the doomed Lannister uses memories of a bug-crushing cousin to reflect on the senselessness of life.
Soon it is Oberyn who finds himself the beetle crushed at the mercy of the Mountain, but not before a terrific David and Goliath battle between the two. The signs don't bode well initially for the Martell, donning light armour and drinking before combat. But as the fight starts it becomes clear the only thing the Viper is thirsty for is revenge.
Reflexively darting away from the Clegane's cumbersome strikes, he soon dazzles the Mountain with both his quick attacks and angry words, stabbing him in the chest and demanding in front of a watching Tywin that he admit to murdering and raping his sister Elia under Lannister orders.
But in the cruellest twist of all, the Mountain manages to trip up Oberyn, before admitting to the crimes as he crushes his skull. It's a horrific farewell to one of this series' best new characters, and also a solemn condemnation of Tyrion's final chance to avoid execution.