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This has been a curious season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, in that there have been more than a couple of instances where the stories started to fall flat. And while the performances have remained almost unilaterally strong, the writing has stumbled more than once, occasionally veering into truly unpleasant and excessive areas. This week’s episode, “Oathkeeper”, is one such episode.
It was not a terrible episode overall, but it was an inconsistent, occasionally disappointing, and often frustrating one. It began in Meereen, after Danaerys had delivered her message to the city’s slaves. There has been an intriguing relationship developing between Grey Worm and Missandei, and the episode’s opening featured a solid little scene that finally built upon that beyond a couple of sideways glances and veiled comments. It was a clever way to give a bit more depth to two minor yet much-loved characters, teaching us a bit about the respective hells they’ve each had to endure. As for Meereen itself, for the first time a slave city falls from within, though without much spectacle. Grey Worm delivered a message of hope to the city’s slaves, yet that message comes with a gift of steel and blood. While I enjoyed that little moment, allowing Grey Worm to do yet more, the revolt itself felt almost too simple, too quick, too bloodless. On the other hand, its aftermath was a gruesome, cold-blooded affair, with Dany eschewing mercy for justice, even if that justice felt more like vengeance. Injustice for justice, she called it and she gazed upon the masters’ torment from beneath the banner of the dragon.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, we return to the story of Jaime Lannister, a character who took on a great deal of much-deserved heat after last week. There have been several pieces written about that scene in the days since, and I won’t pile on except to say that I didn’t care for it, I found it disappointing, and as I expected, the writers went forward without really addressing it. After all of that fallout, the fact that it is practically unacknowledged when Jaime meets Cersei (one got the impression that her bitterness was due more to blaming him for not saving Joffrey and for supporting Tyrion than anything else) makes me realize just how unnecessary and excessive that assault was, and we are now expected to simply go forward as if it never happened. Weirdly, I almost found myself doing just that, simply acting as if it never had happened, because I recognized how out of character and how poorly scripted that whole scene was. That is a strange position to put a viewer in, and it’s symptomatic of just how badly those characters and that scene was handled.
That aside, Coster-Waldau did some excellent work in this episode, in his scene with Bronn, where we saw some unexpected wisdom from the sellsword, and in particular his scenes with Brienne and Tyrion. With Tyrion, we were able to see more of what has been up to this point merely alluded to, which is that there is a genuine bond between these brothers, one that is often stretched and strained, but remains strong nevertheless. There’s a resigned bitterness to both of them — for different reasons — yet in the end that bond remains. In fact, it’s that fraternal fealty that helps lead to Jaime defying Cersei’s request and tasking Brienne with what is most likely straight-up treason. That scene, where Jaime bestows those most unbelievable of gifts (well, two out of three, anyway), was another excellent one, and another chance for us to realize that Brienne is one of the show’s few truly pure, honest, righteous people. She’s so noble it hurts sometimes, a stranger in a terrible world, someone who knows exactly how awful the world is, yet will never abandon her ideals or her oaths.
Also? I confess that I’m very much looking forward to the adventures of Brienne and Pod.
Unfortunately, I have little praise for the rest of the episode’s stories. When it came to the the scene of Sansa and Littlefinger and the truth of the necklace, the episode’s momentum ground to a halt. There are two problems with this scene — one is that it was determined to show us once again the mustache-twirling side of Petyr Baelish, and to demonstrate how Littlefinger’s ambition is truly bottomless — a bitter, cruel, starving beast that cannot be sated or stopped. The problem is that we already knew that, and there was something artless and unsubtle about this interaction. Similarly, having him tell Sansa about how the King was killed in such a straightforward fashion seemed just too obvious. Perhaps it’s the book reader in me, but I would have appreciated the resolution of that storyline much more if it had been allowed to play out in a more nuanced fashion, allowing the plot to percolate more. Instead, we’re simply given the facts without allowing for any sense of mystery or intrigue.
And then, we’re back at The Wall, leading to the moment where the episode lost me completely. I appreciated the interaction between Jon and Locke, made all the more unnerving by the knowledge of exactly who and what Locke really is — Roose Bolton’s killer, sent to find Jon’s brothers. Similarly, Jon’s “O Captain My Captain” moment in the dinner hall was relatively well-done, showing how there are some Brothers who are willing to eschew the petty politics and dislikes of their new acting commander. Yet that commander himself suffers from the same problems as Littlefinger — the character is so obviously evil and bitter and malevolent that it feels like too much. In a show that prides itself on the depth and complexity of its characters, ones such as those never quite ring true.
Yet where “Oathkeeper” truly fell apart was back at Craster’s Keep, where we were forced to once more witness the writers’ bizarre determination to show as much rape as possible. This was a hideous, unpleasant, and wholly unnecessary scene, and I’ll refer back to the books here, which is something that I rarely do. In the books, the mutineers at Craster’s Keep are not heard of again for quite some time, and when they are, it is merely a story told that tells of their fates (though their exploits are stated clearly). This large-scale rape and cruelty and horror is never so directly depicted. Now of course, this is not the first time that the show has diverted itself from the books, and generally those diversions have not been a bad thing. However, this is now the third time that such a diversion felt like the writers simply using it as an opportunity to throw more rape up onto the screen. It smacked of a level of laziness that was flat-out unacceptable. I’m not wholly opposed to using rape as a device to tell a story, but I do feel that it should be integral to the story itself somehow, and not just a way to show that a bad person is a bad person. We already knew that the traitors at Craster’s were terrible people. I didn’t need to watch women get beaten and violated repeatedly to prove the point.
There was more, of course — the strange courtship of Tommen and Margaery was actually quite well done, particularly Natalie Dormer’s seductive/innocent dichotomy. The ending was strange and terrible and rather beautiful. And there were some excellent performances throughout. But those moments at the Wall and at Craster’s were such a black eye that it’s hard for me to remember too much about “Oathkeeper” in a positive light.