So this is what it’s like to be surprised by this show again.
For a lot of viewers, Oathkeeper will be a great return to form after last week’s somewhat-middling episode – but for book-viewers specifically, it will go down as an episode verging on obscenely significant. For the first time, they were the ones being spoiled on the events that have yet to unfold in the remaining books in the series, and it made this episode exciting in a whole new way.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Oathkeeper picked things up right where they left off with Dany & Grey Worm triggering a slave uprising in the city of Mereen and I genuinely felt like this was Dany’s strongest episode so far. Although it still struggles from this recurring problem where Dany’s whole chunk of the episode takes up five to ten minutes when it could be made to feel a lot more meaningful and significant if it was stretched out/broken up – as satisfying as it feels to watch Daenerys take all these cities, it’s undermined in a bunch of ways by just how easy she makes it look.
I also found the visual design and architecture here to be really interesting. I wasn’t quite how I imagined Mereen to be when I read the books but it definitely captured a very distinct sense of place. Barristan’s attempt to dissuade her from crucifying the masters was something absent from the book but also great to see and dead-on for his character. Hopefully more of this moral ambiguity starts to creep into Dany’s plotline as the season goes on and we start to see her discover, just like Robb Stark and Robert Baratheon before her, that being a good conqueror doesn’t make you a great ruler.
Given last week’s debacle, it was nice to see Jaime back on track here. Although there was some unavoidable dissonance between how he acted in last and this week’s scenes, Nicholaj Coster-Waldau nailed his scenes this week. There were plenty of great lines to be had in his sparring with Bronn and his catch-up with Tyrion. The latter was quite brilliant since despite the pair barely having a scene together since the first season, they still managed to perfectly capture the relationship between the two brothers. That said, the highlight of Oathkeeper was by far the sequence where Jaime charged Brienne with finding Sansa and Arya, gifting her not only a new set of armor (which for a moment there I thought would be an Iron Man-style power suit) and his Valyrian sword (appropriately named Oathkeeper) but also a companion for her journey – Podrick!
Part of me wishes that this episode’s scene with Littlefinger was in last week, it would have rounded out the direction his and Sansa’s plotline is taking and while the reveal that Joffery’s demise was his and the Tyrell’s handiwork was intriguing to see, the straightforwardness with which the murder-mystery was resolved (for the audience, at least) felt a bit underwhelming. That said, the transition here from Littlefinger’s monologue to Olenna Tyrell’s was very smooth and her scene with as usual, she and Margaery played off each other marvelously. Olenna’s line about marrying a Targaryen “being all the rage back then” was particularly funny and given that she’s due to be heading back to Highgarden any day now, it’ll be a shame to see her go.
This episode also gave us another look at the kind of king that Tommen is going to be now that he’s snuck out from Joffery’s shadow. Margaery’s midnight visitation scene was definitely a bit weird and creepy – something unavoidable given the age difference between the pair – but I think it understood that, and it managed to make it work by portraying even Margaery as a little uncomfortable with the whole thing. This episode also included the long-awaited debut of Tommen’s pet cat, Ser Pounce, and we can only pray to the old gods and the new for paw-erful appearances from him in future episodes.
While things are beginning to cool down in Kings Landing, things are (ironically) beginning to heat up in the North. Jon and Alliser Thorne had some frosty words this week and it was interesting to see Jon handle being taken down from the badass he’s been the last few seasons now that he’s back at Castle Black and without Mormont’s protection.
While the impending threats of both Mance’s attack and the Mutineers were both at the forefront of the story, this episode also saw the first rumblings of The Watch’s need to elect a new Lord Commander and the re-introduction of Locke. His attempts to foster a friendship with Jon were unnerving to watch given the past brutalities we know he’s capable of and it’s pretty clear that he’s not going to be trekking up to Craster’s Keep for the nicest of motives.
Burn Gorman does a great job as the leading man of the ex-Brothers of the Night’s Watch hanging out at Craster’s Keep, Karl Tanner. Between the borderline-absurd amounts of rape shown in this part of the episode, the mistreatment of Hodor and the capturing of Bran, he did everything in his power to make us hate him – and damn, given how eager I am to see Jon arrive, free Ghost and deliver some swift Stark justice.
And now we come to the Night’s King. This final stretch of the episode was absolutely chilling to watch and the muted scoring here definitely brought the vivid sequence to life. While book-readers have long suspected there was some sort of organized force behind the White Walkers, this episode was both a confirmation of that and the first glimpse at the leader of the Walkers confirmed by HBO as the Night’s King. The Night’s King was a commander of the Night’s Watch who went rogue, married a female White Walker and had his name stricken from history for his crimes. The books have mentioned the Night’s King in stories on a number of occasions but the reveal of him as potentially the direct series antagonist is a pretty world-shaking one for the book-fans. It’s the first time that the show has potentially spoiled the final two books and as we get closer to the end of the series published material, it won’t be the last.
Given that the editor and writer of the episode was the same guy behind Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things and What is Dead May Never Die, there should be very little surprise that this episode was a stellar one and given the implications of the final scenes, Oathkeeper is one that won’t be soon forgotten.