Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 4: Oathkeeper

In the latest installment of Game of Thrones, the show takes an interesting new direction, with a couple storylines deviating from the original source material. While some book fans are up in arms, “Oathkeeper” will hopefully prove to be an interesting and unexpected new take on several plot lines. After all, as Littlefinger would say, “If they don’t know who you are or what you want, they can’t know what you plan to do next.”

We begin in fire and end in ice. “Oathkeeper” takes us from the hot sands of Meereen to the cold unknown north of the Wall. Game of Thrones, which is based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series, often uses this device to frame its episodes as a reminder of the many different forces at work in a land where even the seasons seem to be at war with one another.

The opening shot looks through an open flame to find Missandei and Grey Worm sitting together in Daenerys’s camp outside of Meereen. The young woman is teaching the Unsullied general the Common Tongue of Westeros. A recurring theme throughout this show has been the power of language, and once again we learn about a character through his new understanding of words. Using their lessons as an excuse to open up to each other, they mine their tragic histories and briefly touch hands out of mutual understanding (and, potentially, affection). In a single scene, Daenerys’s mission is made clear. Though slaves in the series are largely represented as a nameless horde, Missandei and Grey Worm show that there are countless individuals in those crowds with the same stories and desires as the two of them. Daenerys knows this and has made their mission her own.

Grey Worm’s desire is apparent: he wants freedom to get justice for himself and for others. “Kill the masters,” he learns in the Common Tongue, and these words show up on the walls of the city just before it is overtaken by the slaves. Rather conveniently, Grey Worm and several others smuggle weapons into Meereen through a very benign and unprotected sewer, then deliver the means for rebellion to a large congregation of slaves. The slave uprising is just as easy, and it’s no time before Daenerys supplants the masters of Meereen.

Her first order of  business is to have 163 masters crucified like the slave children that they had placed along her path to Meereen. Once again, she is shown ignoring the advice of her small council, this time from Ser Barristan. The former Kingsguard advises her to answer injustice with mercy, but Daenerys insists on answering injustice with justice. This decision would probably be more interesting if the masters of Slaver’s Bay had been portrayed as more than a one-dimensional menace; after all, while the system may be evil, the people who practice slavery are not purely evil. For many, this is probably the only life they have ever known. While an eye for an eye is a simpler code of law, it is not the most just.

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It will be interesting to see what, if any, consequences result from Daenerys’s first order as ruler of Meereen. The imagery of her standing on top of the Great Pyramid leaves little doubt as to what form of rule she is establishing. Daenerys is remaking the world under her authoritarian leadership, her newborn state established with an enormous flag that recalls images of the totalitarian states of the 20th century. This is the first time we have seen her using her sigil as her state’s identity. She stands alone all the way on the top of the Great Pyramid, the screams of the impaled masters rising to her in stark contrast to the loving chants of her admirers (“Mhysa! Mhysa!”) earlier in the scene. The tormented cries are the only sound that reaches her, and her small council is nowhere to be seen.

We cut to King’s Landing where Bronn and Jaime are practicing left-handed sword fighting. As only he could, Bronn cut right through Jaime’s cloistered world and called him out for not standing by Tyrion. “He named you for his champion because he knew you would ride day and night to come fight for him. You gonna fight for him now?” Though Jaime is shocked at first (“You talk to my brother this way?”) he takes Bronn’s words to heart and visits Tyrion in his cell.

When Jaime visits his brother, they share a moment that proves their bond as siblings. Their relationship has endured, even as the two of them both find themselves alienated from their sister and father. “You’re really asking if I killed your son?” Tyrion wonders. “You’re really asking if I’d kill my brother?” Jaime asks Tyrion if there is anything that he can help him with, short of breaking him out of the cell. It is an honest moment of brotherhood and love that is so rarely seen in Game of Thrones.

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Later, Jaime fulfills his promise to help by giving Tyrion’s former squire, Podrick, in service to Brienne. Podrick’s life was likely in danger since he refused to testify against Tyrion in the trial over Joffrey’s death. With Brienne, he will be safely removed from the capital, though she is originally loath to bring him on, especially after he calls her “ser.”

Brienne departs with several gifts from Jaime, including the new squire and a great new set of armor.Most incredible is the invaluable Valyrian steel sword that Jaime’s father had just made for him, which she has a hard time accepting. Jaime insists, hoping that she will act as his right hand and fulfill his vow to Catelyn Stark. As he says, the sword was forged from Ned Stark’s; it should therefore be used in protecting his daughters, as they both had promised to do. In honor of Jaime’s firm commitment to his word, despite the conflicting wishes of his family, Brienne names the sword Oathkeeper. When she says it, it’s as much a name for the sword as it is a name for Jaime: the Kingslayer himself, reforged. Their goodbye is special, as Brienne is so full of chivalric love for Jaime that she can hardly stand to look at him. “I’ll find her for Lady Catelyn… And for you.” There are tears in both their eyes as they part, the both of them better for having known each other.

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Brienne is hoping to find Sansa Stark before the other men Cersei has supposedly dispatched. Cersei suspects Sansa of aiding in Joffrey’s murder, and though she is more right than some people know, “Sansa’s not a killer… not yet, anyway” (as Tyrion says).

We learn of Sansa’s unknowing involvement from Littlefinger. Like Arya, she has been taken under the wing of an older and much more cynical mentor, who coaches her through his plot to murder Joffrey. She rightly assumes that Ser Dontos wasn’t anything more than the messenger used to deliver the weapon (the necklace, which contained a poison). This seemingly benign gift given at the start of the season was Chekhov’s gun. Someone else took the poison from her necklace and used it to kill Joffrey, and though it’s not explicitly said who, the camera cuts immediately to Lady Olenna as Littlefinger explains, “Joffrey, a vicious boy with a crown on his head, is not a reliable ally… My new friends are predictable, very reasonable people… Nothing like a thoughtful gift to make a new friendship grow strong.” (“Growing strong” also happens to be the house motto of the Tyrells…)

The Lannisters gave him wealth and power, and made him Lord of Harrenhal, as Sansa reminds us. But, “a man with no motive is a man no one suspects.” Littlefinger and Lady Olenna Tyrell worked together to be rid of Joffrey, albeit for very different motives. As Olenna tells her granddaughter, “You don’t think I’d let you marry that beast, do you?” and touches Margaery’s necklace, much in the same way that she touched Sansa’s necklace during the Purple Wedding.

“I’d risk everything to get what I want,” Littlefinger says to Sansa, back on the ship. “And what do you want?” He touches Sansa suggestively and says, “Everything.” He’s always loved her mother, Catelyn, and now that he can’t have her, it looks as if Sansa will be a convenient stand in. Baelish is taking her to her crazy aunt Lyssa in the Eyrie (also known as the Vale), which is also where he will happen to be, trying to secure the woman’s hand in marriage. These scenes, some of the darkest ever shot on the show, are thrown sinisterly into the shadows. Like Sansa, we cannot predict Littlefinger’s actions. Chaos is a ladder, after all, and no one is better at quietly manipulating the realm into chaos than Littlefinger.

Margaery uses her own brand of manipulation on Tommen as she visits him in his chamber late at night. Before she enters, the camera catches Tommen’s weary gaze upon a mounted boar’s head stuck with an arrow, and in that single shot we know all we need to about him in contrast to his elder brother. Though Lady Olenna coaxed her into the visit, it is hard to imagine that Margaery did not think of this herself; though she has been outmaneuvered by her grandmother this season, the young Tyrell woman was previously a master politician in seducing the love and favor of two different kings, Renly and Joffrey. Renly she coaxed to favor with the promise of her understanding and openness to the love between her brother and him. With Joffrey, on the other hand, she indulged his deepest desires for murder.

Joffrey: “Could you kill something?”

Margaery: “I don’t know, Your Grace, do you think I could?”

Joffrey: “Yes.”

Margaery: “Would you like to watch me?”

With Tommen, she plies him with the promise of sex and possession in the future, with the safety of present innocence. He seems to desire and fear her at the same time, and is relieved when they are interrupted by Ser Pounce, a fan-favorite cat whom he loves (and Joffrey wanted dead, naturally). He wants her to kiss him, but at the same time he is terrified by her, and is thankful that she leaves him with only a peck to the forehead. Margaery had him wrapped around her finger the moment she entered the room.

Though Cersei has not yet accounted for Margaery’s latest claim on Tommen, she is not likely to be thrilled about the prospect. She has grown suspicious of everyone, most of all the members of her own family. Her father she suspects of trying to freeze her out of power, her brother for having murdered her son, and her twin lover for having pledged his duty to their enemies, the Starks, over her. On the first and last count she has a case; after all, “Cersei may be vicious, but she’s not stupid,” according to Lady Olenna. She sees that the power she attained has now been taken from her and that she’s lost anyone that mattered along the way. So, she clings to her goblets of wine and addresses Jaime formally as the Lord Commander, putting up a wall between them that Jaime himself helped construct.

More and more, it seems that the writers and director made an error in filming last week’s rape scene in the Sept. Not only have they released conflicting reports about whether or not the scene ended up consensual (the dialog makes it pretty clear it was not), but now they’ve made an entire episode carrying on where they left off with Jaime’s redemption arc. He plays the hero in more ways than one throughout the episode, and it would be a great one for him if not for the fact that his actions in the Sept go unexamined. Much has been made of the prevalence of rape in this world, as is evidenced by the disturbing scene up in Craster’s Keep. However, what makes Jaime’s rape of Cersei particularly troubling is that they are both main characters. We are meant to admire him in his quest to become a better man, and we are meant to root for him again this week, but that’s not easy for some people to do after what happened last week.

If a main character, one who is blatantly expected to be liked (as he selflessly helps his brother and Brienne throughout this whole episode), commits such a terrible act, the least you would hope for is some reflection or even contrition. No matter how awful Cersei proves herself to be, Jaime did wrong, and it will be confusing to root for him and Brienne to reunite someday when it is clear that if the heroic woman only knew the half of it, she would lose all respect and love for Jaime. For now, it seems like we’ll just have to forgive the showrunners their error if we’re to let ourselves enjoy this storyline once again. It’s one of the best in the series so far: a wild redemption arc that takes a near child-murderer to a new level of respect and even love among the fans. Last week was a major misstep; sadly, ignoring it seems to be the only way to move forward.

Up at the Wall, Jon Snow is once again harassed by Alliser Thorne, the acting Lord Commander. We learn that Thorne is not yet the official Lord Commander, and there will be a “choosing” declared shortly where the brothers will get to democratically elect their new Lord Commander. Janos Slynt, who spent years in King’s Landing as a commander of the city watch, knows a B-team version of how to play the game of thrones, and suggests to Thorne that he might want to get rid of the popular Snow before the vote is called by Maester Aemon. To do this, Thorne gives Snow his consent to raid the remaining Night’s Watch traitors holed up at Craster’s Keep, hoping that something ill will befall the young man. Jon is all too happy to have been given this mission, especially since he and Sam hypothesize that Bran might have sought shelter there after journeying north.

Jon Snow recruits men to join him rather easily, appealing to their sense of honor and duty in a rousing speech. “Lord Commander Mormont was our father… and he was betrayed by his own men,” he says, demanding that his brothers help him deliver Daenerys’s brand of justice to the traitorous crows. A new recruit offers to join up with them. Locke, the man sent by Roose Bolton to hunt down the missing Stark boys, sees an opportunity to get to Bran and Rickon, having overheard Sam and Jon talk about the possibility of finding them at Craster’s. He lies to Jon in order to get in with him, pretending to have stood up to the injustices of a high born lord. He claims to have volunteered to serve in the Night’s Watch instead of losing a hand (he would know that punishment well, as he was the one to take Jaime’s), and proves himself to be a good fighter, so Jon agrees to take him north.

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The mutinous brothers have been drinking and raping the women at Craster’s Keep since they rose up against their former Lord Commander. Karl Tanner, a murderer and psychopath, has established himself as the leader of the group. He drinks out of the skull of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and taunts his men on as they attack and abuse the women around them. When he finds Bran, Hodor, and the Reed children spying on their camp, he captures and threatens them. It’s only when Bran reveals who he is (in order to save Meera from Karl’s attentions) that Karl realizes their value as hostages. With the group held at Craster’s and Jon’s band heading their way, the Stark boys may at last be converging on the same point. We also see that Ghost, Jon’s direwolf, has been captured at Craster’s, which would explain why Jon hasn’t seen him for a while.

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When a final son of Craster’s is born, he is offered up to the White Walkers just as the old man used to do. Up until now, it was unclear what the Others were doing with these babies. Were they eating them? Stealing them to create their armies? In a strange but haunting final scene, we see the same White Walker Sam ran into at the Battle of the Fist of the First Men riding with the baby atop his dead horse. They journey to a place that feels like it is off the map entirely from the known world. There, the child is placed on a kind of altar in the middle of a Stonehenge-like arrangement of ice. When another White Walker approaches and touches his cold fingernail to the child’s face, the baby’s eyes freeze over with the crystalline blue characteristic of this strange breed of humanoid demons. This seems to prove how the White Walkers are able to multiply their number. While up until this point they have seemed a more elemental force, feeling hardly of this world, they have now been given an interesting physical form and tradition. Soon, Westeros may be overrun with the mutant sons of Craster.

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