TV Review: ‘Game Of Thrones’ “Oathkeeper” Sets Things Up And Breaks With Books

Not much really happened on last night’s Game of Thrones.

Named “Oathkeeper,” after the name Brienne gives to Jaime’s sword, now gifted to her, this was a less than entertaining hour of Game of Thrones. Moving the pieces around to establish upcoming storylines is nothing new, especially for a show like this with a wealth of material from the novels. But it’s never felt so obvious and heavy-handed at the same time, to the point where we’re nearly begging for something big to happen. It’s all the show’s fault, really, for front loading this season with big narrative pieces only to need to slow the pacing down again so there’s enough left in the second half of A Storm of Swords to cover the end of the season. Still, “Oathkeeper” is the type of episode we get about twice a season, one that works to establish future direction rather than deliver big action.

So, what do we get in “Oathkeeper?” Well, the episode opens with an extended take on the slave revolt in Meereen, aided by Grey Worm and a band of Unsullied who smuggle arms in through the city’s sewers. What constitutes justice is a major touching point this hour, and we he ignores Ser Barristen’s counsel of mercy in favor of an “eye for an eye” approach, crucifying the Masters left alive where they had previously left slave children. Points to the super cool shot of the Targaryen colors flying from the top tower in Meereen as Dany looks out over the breath of her growing empire.

Likewise, Cersei is just as focused on justice for Joffrey (possible future hashtag?), and all she sees is Tyrion’s death. Even after a tender visit with Tyrion in prison, Jaime is unable to sway her from her convictions, and although we know there’s no love lost between Cersei and Tyrion, I can’t help but feel Jaime’s rape of Cersei in the sept might also be clouding things just a little. As a quick aside, the show needs to get this trial on the road, because keeping its strongest character (and actor) stuck in chains is beginning to grow a bit tedious. At any rate, Cersei’s eyes are turning to Sansa and Jaime decides to send Brienne out to find her before Cersei can get her. Jaime and Brienne’s farewells are another emotional point in “Oathkeeper,” where we see the depth of the bond the two have forged. Brienne may harbor deeper feelings for him, But it’s clear both she and Jaime have connected. It’s an interesting attempt to sway our sympathies back to Jaime after last week. And let’s not forget to mention Brienne’s new squire, the legendary Pod, who injects the hour’s only comedic moments struggling to discern whether to call Brienne “Ser” or M’lady.”

Speaking of Sansa, her scenes with Littlefinger give us more insight into Joffrey’s murder and a better insight into his character than ever before. Aiden Gillen shines in this scene, letting LIttlefinger’s ambition, cleverness, and overall smugness at the success of his schemes ooze from his pores. He all but walks poor Sansa through his methods of strategy and, when she asks what he wants and replies “Everything,” the look in his eyes shows us not just how big of a player he really is, but that he’s so slimy he could possibly pull it off. This is also the scene where the show all but telegraphs Littlefinger’s accomplice in killing Joffrey in King’s Landing. While the show still stops at revealing it outright, by now we should all be able to discern just who placed that poisonous stone in Joffery’s goblet, even if all the motives are still unclear.

You’ll still get no spoilers from me, but we’ll cut here as “Oathkeeper” does, to Margarey and the Lady of Thorns strolling once again through the floral gardens. Seems grandmother is making her exit prior to Tyrion’s trial, but before her departure she takes a moment to mentor her granddaughter on the art of manipulating men and “doing what must be done.” This advice sends Margarey sneaking into Tommen’s gloomy chambers at night to bond in secret. It also features the appearance of Tommen’s cat, Ser Pounce, giving a nod to the book readers as well as showing Tommen’s more innocent side in contrast to the cruelty of his dead brother.

“Oathkeeper” also marks the first episode of Game of Thrones that veers strongly from its source material, most notably in its back half. While, it’s true that the taking of Meereen happens off page, beginning with the scenes at the Wall and onto Craster’s Keep, book readers were as much in the dark as everyone else. Jon, still angling to take a band up to Craster’s and squelch the Night’s Watch deserters, busies himself training the men for battle. This only earns him more ire from the new Lord Commander, who eventually decides to allow Jon to go, if only to show Jon he has no support among his brothers. Of course, that’s not the case, and Jon raises a good sized group, including Bolton’s man, Locke. This raises all sorts of questions, such as whether Locke has a hidden agenda to kill Jon, but one thing we do know is that upon arrival at Craster’s, Locke will discover Bran. And that’s a very valuable prize to Roose Bolton indeed.

The scenes at Craster’s Keep are some of the most brutal of the show overall, not counting the Red Wedding. The spectrum of abuse is on display, with nary a shot existing without battered or raped women. This highlights one of my big gripes, not just about the show, but its fans. I find it troubling that fans can tolerate the show’s portrayal of violence to women, some onscreen and others only spoken about, only to lose their minds when Jaime rapes Cersei. I understand the impact this makes to his character arc, but to cloak that in concern of the misogyny seems disingenuous. I’ve long been uncomfortable with the prominence of rape as a plot motivator as well as just the rampant gratuitous female nudity that’s threatened to overshadow the storytelling many times.

Stepping off my soapbox, let’s talk about that final scene. Again, these moments with the White Walkers do not appear in the novels (at least not yet), but this reveal feels the most out of place to me. While I’m grateful that we didn’t have to endure the Walkers chowing down on this infant, I’m just not sure how we’re meant to take this new information. If Game of Thrones stays true to form, we won’t see the Walkers again until the season finale. It all feels tacked on to create more urgency after an hour filled with the beginnings of new directions and reminders of conflicts spread out across Westeros. Still, If we look at “Oathkeeper” as stirring enough pots to get us to tune in next week, I’d consider the hour a success.

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