This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
With a title like “Oathkeeper,” it seemed almost preordained to be a Jaime Lannister focused episode of Game of Thrones tonight. How apt.
Before we dig into tonight’s mostly terrific episode, I feel as obligated as the Maiden of Tarth with a new blade and a loquacious squire to address the controversy that has broken the Internet in half. In case you somehow missed it by living under a pop culture rock—probably by having something as odious as more important things going on in your life than the musings of warring Internet bloggers—last week’s Game of Thrones included a scene not present in the books: the apparent twincest rape of Cersei Lannister at the hands hand of sweet brother Jaime. Indeed, the arguments got so scorching that author George R.R. Martin waded into the online conversation by giving his tepid acceptance of how it could occur while implicitly letting it be known that it might not have happened if they hadn’t changed his Kingslayer timeline in the first place. Butterfly effects and such.
But to be more blunt than the author who consults (and writes) on many episodes of the hit HBO series, I can say it was simply a gross miscalculation on the part of the writers, producers, and/or director. I have received many comments in the last week about how this is a show with child crippling, child murder, and other sequences of gruesome sexual violence. And that’s without getting into the many murders and surprisingly high number of castrations present in the series. Nevertheless, adding a scene of potential rape damages what is tonight’s strongest element: Jaime Lannister.
Very much the show’s focus, Jaime spends the entire episode of “Oathkeeper” slowly finding the courage and strength to do exactly that; he will keep his oath to Lady Catelyn Stark, even if she is dead, and Sansa Stark is now technically Sansa Lannister. He will find his brother’s wayward child bride and have her sent to safety, to the Seven Hells with his grieving, and increasingly embittered sister. It is a wonderful moment of Jaime Lannister finally accepting that the romance he failed to rekindle upon the monument of their forbidden love—their firstborn son—is over and that he can finally be what he always dreamed he was but could never articulate: a good knight. And he will begin his reparations by honoring the Stark family, whom he wounded most grievously to the point where his illicit affair helped facilitate a war that cost Lady Catelyn her throat, along with everything else.
It was the highlight of the night, if one ignores the TV series-only context of him doing all this as a rapist. Could it be that Cersei’s ugly cruelty has been exacerbated by his violation of her? And can he really care about his brother when he did that to a sister he loves/loved more than anything else in the world? It throws a wrench into the literally titular chivalry of tonight’s newest, finest hour for the Kingslayer.
However, having witnessed “Oathkeeper,” I feel that the sequence in question was not entirely meant to be rape by the episode’s writers, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, but that it fell victim to network needs to ambiguously draw titillation in the most grotesque and taboo of locations. As I addressed in my previous review, the sequence in question was one of consent in the novel (with still plenty of considerable creep factor what with the whole twins having sex under their dead son thing). But due to all the above contextual incongruities, I do not think it was meant to be rape after this week’s episode either.
If the change was meant to have the gravity of the act in question, it would have surely been addressed during Jaime and Cersei’s confrontation in tonight’s episode, if for nothing more than dramatic juiciness. It is not, because despite her growing hatred for her brother’s newfound conscience, Cersei is not enraged because she was betrayed by Jaime in the Great Sept of Baelor. She is enraged because he has not killed her little brother, even after she gave him what he wanted (as how it roughly plays out in the books over a longer period of time). Likewise, she demands that he brings her Sansa’s head, a request that fills the man who saved Brienne from rapists and one particularly nasty bear with dread. Not unlike the scene of Craster’s daughters being raped in tonight’s episode (also not shown in the book), this is a case where the HBO/Game of Thrones need to shock the audience with violence and intermingled sex overtook the better service of its narrative.
This is the first time in the series’ history where the (often needless) exploitation has had a directly negative impact on the overall storytelling, because the plot in “Oathkeeper” can only conceivably work if that woefully misjudged sequence is ignored. And other than to note it as the once-and-future best example of premium cable pervert quotas harming the overall quality of the series, from this point on, ignore it I shall.
As mentioned, this Game of Thrones is heavily about Jaime Lannister and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes the best out of it by finally being able to show the lionheart of this Lannister growing 10 sizes bigger, seemingly overnight. After a wonderful date with Bronn and the sword fighting by the sea, Jaime realizes that he is being a bit of an arse for not seeing his brother. Honestly, for all of Martin’s reservations about Jaime coming home earlier to King’s Landing in the show, it has mostly been a boon because it’s allowed more scenes between the brothers Lannister, and Coster-Waldau and Dinklage are fantastic. Whenever the two funniest and wittiest presences on the show ever meet, it is especially poignant that they put all of that smarmy goodness behind them, letting their guard down to solely each other. Jaime even only corrects Tyrion the first time when he implies that he is Joffrey’s father. When Tyrion is more direct with “are you really asking if I killed your son,” Jaime neither deflects nor mocks the severity of the query. “Would you really ask if I’d kill my brother?” The relationship between the Kingslayer Brothers is probably the most sincere thing left in King’s Landing now that Tyrion’s wife has fled and his true love would appear on a boat bound for Pentos, as according to Bronn. Plus, it makes a wonderful contrast to when Jaime confronts his sister.
With a glass of wine in her hand, always with a glass of wine in her hand, Cersei is nothing short of contemptuous for her crippled brother who will not ignore the obvious. Tyrion didn’t do it. Understandably, grief has turned to rage. Sadly, Cersei being a woman of power has chosen to aim that rage anywhere and everywhere around her. It is Jaime’s fault for not protecting Joff or murdering Tyrion in his cell. It is Tyrion’s fault, because she saw him standing with a chalice of wine, which is all the evidence required to prove his guilt in her mind. And she blames Sansa, because…well, she never really did like Sansa, did she? And she did flee awfully quickly.
This brings us to the point of tonight’s episode. Jaime rather shockingly gives up his family heirloom that is not even a week old. Brienne of Tarth will take his new sword, which she movingly names Oathkeeper, and will find Sansa S-annister like the Queen commands. Except she will not find her for the Queen or her late, great Lady Catelyn. She’ll do it for Jaime, who wants to make the Stark girl safe. Somewhere out there, at this very moment, a Game of Thrones shipper is feverishly re-cutting that scene with some early ‘90s Bryan Adams and all of the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves nostalgia that comes mandatory with being a Millennial.
Of course, we viewers know where Sansa Stark is and it is nowhere near where Brienne of Tarth and Podrick are heading as they march off land-bound. The eldest Stark daughter and Creeperfinger are on a ship bound to an unknown location (lest you watched the preview for next week). And this gives Lord Petyr Baleish enough to begin his education of Sansa Stark into the real game of thrones. As Tyrion wisely pointed out, she is too innocent to kill someone…for now. What others have written off as stupidity, Littlefinger takes only as naivety, which he will erase through careful manipulation. And what better place to start than the murder of Joffrey Baratheon?
Yes, the greatest mystery of Game of Thrones turned out to be quickly solved this week when Littlefinger and his accomplices jointly put the rest of the pieces together. While Sansa’s accused husband was innocent of the conspiracy, she unknowingly walked into it when she wore Ser Dontos’ necklace, a jewel of which contained the poison needed to kill the king. Why would Littlefinger wish to kill the king of a family that has made him Lord of Harrenhaal? He gives a swift dodge to an answer that will become apparent in the next week or two. Until then, it should become painfully clear that Lord Baleish is one of the most dangerous men in the Seven Kingdoms. What is it that he wants? “Everything.” If all of actor Aidan Gillen’s characters were this cunning, then Bane would have never made it off of that airplane in The Dark Knight Rises.
But what of his accomplice? It was made transparent tonight that Lady Olenna Tyrell, “the Queen of Thorns,” made the executive decision to end Joffrey Baratheon’s life. She revealed as much to a surprisingly unaware Margaery Tyrell. Last week, Olenna made it evident that Margaery had the new task of seducing Tommen Baratheon (a task she did with remarkable ease, as would Natalie Dormer do in any teenage boy’s bedroom), and this week Olenna revealed why she was so unflappable about the prospects all along. She was the one who took the poison off of Sansa’s necklace, as you can rewatch her play with it in “The Lion and the Rose,” and placed it in a cup that she designed a party for to be within her delicate reach. And she did it for the best motive of all: Joffrey is unpredictable. Why marry your precious granddaughter off to a sociopath with budding serial killer tendencies, when she can play with pliable Tommen and his pets? It is a terrific plan and makes sense for those who recall Season 2.
In the second season, Littlefinger remained mostly absent when he first (failed) to broker a deal with Renly Baratheon and then was sent to merge the Tyrell forces with the Lannisters by Tywin after he visited Harrenhaal. Off-screen, Littlefinger cut the grand bargain that facilitated the surprise attack by Loras Tyrell on Stannis at the Blackwater and earned Baleish his Lordship of Harrenhaal. But Harrenhaal is a haunted ruin, and his eyes are on a prize of greater worth. That means Littlefinger would have had many weeks to spend in the company of Lady Olenna Tyrell as they discussed the future, not to mention Margaery’s proposed engagement to the Lord Protector of the Seven Realms. Littlefinger knew what kind of king Joffrey was, and much to the woe of the Lannisters, so too then did Lady Olenna.
However, it was not all courtly intrigue this week. Daenerys Targaryen doesn’t have time for anyone’s court, lest she is smashing it. In the show’s opening moments, Daenerys’ Unsullied captain, Grey Worm, took a script page out of Starz’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand when he united the forces of Meereen’s slaves in rather quick succession to overthrow their masters. In an equally cinematic image, they lay waste to one master, promising many more suffered a bleak fate. But the bleakest came when “Mhysa” entered the gates. Greeted as a liberator and conquorer, Daenerys within a day had her Targaryen sigil blocking out the Great Harpy and took the grandest of the multi-colored brick pyramids as her own home. She also, rather rhetorically, asked Ser Jorah how many slaves did she see crucified on the walk to Meereen. “One hundred and sixty-three,” he helpfully replies. Yes, then that too will be the number of slave masters she’ll give a martyr’s death. Did I mention Spartacus, yet?
Selmy urges Daenerys to reconsider this approach, because mercy is sometimes its own form of justice. “I will answer in justice with justice.” In her defense, she’s a Targaryen! Her House words are “Fire and Blood,” not “Hugs and Kisses.” Still, anyone who watches this show long enough knows that when a heroic character acts rashly, or even justly in the biblical Old Testament sense, that it is not necessarily wise. Meereen is now a subjugated city under Dany’s rule. And her first act is to murder 163 of its likely most powerful oligarchs? You don’t have to be an avid House of Cards viewer to know that there will be consequences.
Meanwhile, the action heated up north of the wall in story threads invented primarily out of whole cloth for the TV series, and most of them were interesting. In a little nugget that makes a whole lot of sense, Jon Snow has figured out that if Mance Rayder captures the traitors and turncloaks at Craster’s Keep, they’ll spill the beans faster than Mance can order “a Theon #7.” They would tell of every weakness in Castle Black and of its limited defense. Ergo, Jon Snow is going to ride out and slay these monsters. But the plot wrinkles further with the series-only character of Locke seeing this as the opportunity to find Bran Stark (who Jon and Sam not-so-wisely were yammering about downstairs). Sent by Roose Bolton to find and kill the last true male heirs of Winterfell, Locke has gone so far as to apparently take his Night’s Watch oath (off-screen, at least) in search of the boys. Locke ought to be careful, because no matter how much he fools the Crow Who Knows Nothing, it will not save his head when he inevitably attempts to desert. However, no matter the circumstance, Locke is headed with Jon Snow to Craster’s Keep where there might be a reunion with…Bran?!
In a surprising twist of plotting that will have novel purists howling, but leaves me only curious, Bran Stark and his sidekicks were captured by the treacherous murderers of Lord Mormont to be hostaged. Ergo, it would appear that Jon Snow is on a narrative collision course with his younger half-brother. It bothers me none at all that this is not in the book A Storm of Swords. Where it does bother me though is that, unfortunately, the added material from Bran’s side of things is less than riveting. Bran Stark’s story is probably the most pure high-fantasy subplot in all of “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Daenerys may have the dragons, but Bran is practically from Dungeons and Dragons. He is a crippled boy who has the Warg power to imprint himself inside his Direwolf when he isn’t chasing a three-eyed raven on a quest with loyal friends in a land of giants and ice zombies.
It is all very romantic in its own odd way, which is probably why his storyline is, if I’m honest, one of the dullest. While it will inevitably pay off in dividends, it boils down to a lot of walking and/or carrying over snow with characters who only passively bicker between warg-outs. The political intrigue of King’s Landing, the visual spectacle of Dany’s desert Odyssey in Essos, and even the human stakes and drama of the Night’s Watch is not as prevalent in this storyline. Indeed, by the time we had spent nearly 10 minutes on Bran’s misadventure at Craster’s (which is an hour with a character in Game of Thrones time), I found my attention fading. At least until Benioff and Weiss gave us one more unique piece of information when they showcased what the White Walkers are doing with Craster’s bastards.
When our latest White Walker on his dead horse travailed the cold and ice to reach his brethren, every viewer’s blood should have been equally frosty at what they saw in this small council of the undead. They may be ice zombies, but they are not nearly as stupid as those other television walkers. No, these monstrosities seem to have a different way to reproduce. If you should die north of the wall in perpetual winter, you will rise again as a Wight. But to be a White Walker, a supernatural creature with a far more noticeable level of intelligence than your run of the mill zombie, is a different matter, entirely. Now, we may know how it happens. They take our young and give them a new definition of frostbite. It is all wonderfully horrifying.
Tonight’s Game of Thrones, as per usual, was another strong hour of television, and likely better than any other you shall experience this week. For the political revelers, we had sweeping revelations about who killed Joffrey and what that means about allegiances in episodes to come. And for those who prefer a little more high-flung fantasy in their…well, fantasy, we had a chilling glimpse into the reproductive rituals of White Walkers. Plus, 163 douchebags got crucified! It is all enough to ignore that scene which will not be named from last week, as well as forgive tonight’s weaker moments—namely, the majority of the last 15 minutes.
Next episode, I look forward to seeing more of Sansa’s point of landing, as well as the crowning of Tommen. The latter of which should provide ample after-party entertainment when Cersei and Margaery cross verbal blades again. But most of all, how far will this Stark reunion go when Jon Snow reaches Craster’s Keep? I admit that much like the bastard of Winterfell, in this situation, I know nothing.