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“Oathkeeper” isn’t a particularly entertaining hour of television. It’s a bridge to forthcoming passages in Game Of Thrones’ fourth season, composed of storylines that are either well under way (Daenerys’ anti-slavery crusade, Tyrion’s imprisonment) or just getting started (Jon’s assault on Craster’s Keep, Brienne’s renewed quest to find the Stark girls). Well before the White Walkers throw to the credits with the episode’s big gasp of a conclusion, this is an episode of cliffhangers. Its main storytelling aim is the enticement to check back next week, one of the less appealing attributes serialized TV inherited from its literary forebears.
Unfortunately, this bridge happens to also be one of the shoddiest looking installments of Game Of Thrones to date. Even in its dullest passages, the show can usually be counted upon for visual wow factor—and “Oathkeeper” delivers on that count for the first 15 minutes or so. Stunning landscapes serve as the backdrop for Dany’s latest victory and Jaime’s latest sword-fighting lesson, but elsewhere, Emmy-nominated director Michelle MacLaren gets a bum assignment. She’s contending with the less dazzling of the show’s CGI subjects, and it’s only partially the White Walkers’ fault: Though Game Of Thrones continues to struggle when it comes to depicting the mythological menace of its most mythologically menacing foes, the triumphant sight of Targaryen colors flying over Meereen is undercut by cheap-looking effects. Considering the ways the episode finds to obscure the White Walkers—including a POV shot that’s at least a clever nod to MacLaren’s old gig, Breaking Bad—I have to wonder if budget was being conserved this week with an eye toward later episodes.
The episode’s resources are more wisely spent between the lines. Payoff for threads old and new is sure to be found down the road, but within “Oathkeeper” specifically, there are thematic riches to be found. This is an episode preoccupied with searches for justice, fitting for a season that’s being defined by Joffrey’s murder, an event that’s like a prism of what’s seen as just and unjust in Westeros, refracting divergent opinions and new plotlines for all who witnessed it. It hardly matters how and why the conspiracy to kill the king—in which Littlefinger and Olenna have both implicated themselves—was pulled off. What’s of greater importance going forward are developments like Cersei and Tyrion both wanting the same thing—that thing being justice—but from different angles.
The mother of madness and the mother of dragons have a lot in common on this count: In preparing her punishment for prisoners captured in the siege of Meereen, Daenerys declares “I will answer injustice with justice.” Cersei must be pushing similar thoughts through clouds of grief and red wine, resolute in her stance that someone must pay for the loss of her son—doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter if it’s actually the killer. Each is absolutely cutthroat in this wish, and it’s fascinating to see how “Oathkeeper” demonstrates that a thirst for vengeance affects those who are ascending to power as well as those who are drunkenly stumbling down the stairs toward the end of their courtly life. From low-born to high-born this week, so many characters want to see a sense of equilibrium restored. Fat chance of that happening any time soon.
As Lord Commander of the Kings Guard, it’s Jaime’s duty to uphold what’s right and lawful—but there’s that little matter of the impropriety he committed last week. What happened between Jaime and his sister in the sept isn’t directly addressed, but the frosty interactions between the pair indicate the additional pain Cersei now bears. Of course, it could just be the mourning getting in the way, but the one scene of “Oathkeeper” that could’ve addressed That One Scene From Last Week plays things close to the vest. Placing Jaime at a crossroads and piling more sorrow on Cersei’s already sorrowful state, it’s looking like the assault in the sept has been cast deep into troublesome “rape as plotpoint” territory. That could prove trivializing, but given the slow manner in which “Oathkeeper” moves, it could be a while until any consequences are felt.
This complicates the aid Jaime gives to Brienne and Tyrion this week, making the misdeed less a mistake made by someone discovering his inner virtue, and more a tossed-off attempt at plotting a counterpoint to his recent string of good deeds. It’s just such a distracting about face, particularly in Jaime’s scenes with the woman who bears a chivalric torch for him. If Cersei and Daenerys are two sides of the same coin in “Oathkeeper,” then so are Brienne and Jon Snow. Separated by circumstance from those they care for, each character recommits themselves to a warrior’s cause this week. Game Of Thrones is a show that excels at depicting drama on scales personal and epic, but we’re only just starting to see characters make these kinds of moves in season four. I wouldn’t count Dany out here, because she’s been so tied up in laying waste and recruiting followers that the writers sacrificed her sense of self long ago; there’s a greater reinvigoration to Brienne and Jon rallying behind things bigger than themselves within “Oathkeeper.” Jon’s in for quite the surprise once he reaches Caster’s Keep—though Locke volunteering to accompany Jon’s party (and the ominous orchestral sting it prompts from the score) suggests there might be a surprise before they reach that destination.
That’s appropriate, because “Oathkeeper” is also a Game Of Thrones installment concerned with taking risks, of potentially exposing yourself to harm in order to get what you want. Or, as Olenna puts it after she all but confesses to executing Joffrey’s poisoning, to “You just do what needs to be done.” This might not be the most visually astute episode of Game Of Thrones, but it does choose its words wisely. “Oathkeeper” begins with Grey Worm struggling to master the common tongue, but in his speech to the slaves of Meereen, he knows exactly what to say. “No one can give you your freedom, brothers. If you want it, you must take it.” It’s an important step for this particular storyline (downplaying the notion that it’s Dany who’s doing all this work, and not the thousands marching behind her), but it ties in nicely with the rest of “Oathkeeper” as well. We can’t expect anyone to find justice for us; we can’t expect others to keep promises we made, either. Sometimes you have to remind yourself of that oath, reclaim ownership of it, and ride off into the sunset in pursuit of its fulfillment. Had “Oathkeeper” invested a little more in the pursuit and a little less in the ride, it just might have maintained some momentum heading into the midway point of season four.
- I love the shades of blue that both the Tyrells and Daenerys are wearing this season—but I can’t quite decode what they’re meant to symbolize. Until now, I like how they’re blues that could be royal purple—provided a certain amount of red is spilled.
- Tommen rests fitfully in his new room, which is adorned with reminders of the last two men who occupied (and then died on) the Iron Throne. There appears to be a boar’s head stuffed and mounted on one of the walls (a reminder of his dead “father”), with an arrow (courtesy of big brother?) running through its eyes.
- “Ser Pounce.” As we say in the common tongue, “Awwwwwwwwwww.”
- Burn Gorman—the faux Willem Dafoe (Willem Dafaux?) who plays mutinous crow Karl—is currently pulling Sundays-at-9 double duty, simultaneously appearing as a red coat on Turn.
- If Tyrion and Jaime ever want to form a band, they already have a kick-ass name for it. “The Kingslayer Brothers. Do you like it? I like it.”
- Olenna talks about trends in power consolidation as if they were Emma Peel catsuits: “Marrying a Targaryen was all the rage back then.”