This review includes spoilers for all Game of Thrones episodes that have aired, including season four, episode four, “Oathkeeper.” Do not read any further until you’ve watched the episode. Don’t worry, we’ll wait…
Up to this point, the most fresh and original elements of the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire into the show Game of Thrones have made it more horrible. Adding unborn baby murder and turning mostly normal sex into rape scenes seem to be the limits of the chances show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were willing to take. That is until tonight. In this fourth episode of season four, the show went well off-book and took some hard left turns, leaving mouths agape of book readers and neophytes alike.
First of all, let’s talk about those final moments. We all finally learn what Craster’s thrown-away sons are doing. They are being turned into White Walkers in what we can only assume are the (insanely cool looking) Lands of Always Winter by some sort of White Walker Goblin King. This is by far one of the show’s most interesting and confounding visuals. It’s hard to have a lot of interest in the battle between Cersei and Margaery for Tommen’s affection when there is something this cool happening in the world. It’s a very cool left turn that will have all of your book reader friends reacting strongly. My only concern is whether or not the show will come back to this anytime soon. Or if like the season two finale/season three premiere, we will go away from the White Walkers and not come back to them for a long time.
But we should absolutely care about the affections of the next boy king. Because unlike Joffrey, who was old enough and cruel enough to take control himself, it appears as if the war for power will be waged around young Tommen. He seems like a nice young man, so it will be sad if he’s later pulled apart by his mother and a fruit of House Tyrell, who were very complicit in Joffrey’s murder, it turns out.
The episode doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling (or doing anything else nefarious) on Joffrey’s corpse, but it does spend enough time in King’s Landing to make a nice reveal: elderly spitfire Lady Olenna was in on the murder with everyone’s good friend Littlefinger (a character whose presence has been missed, as he’s such a fun little snake). We knew there was something we liked about Grandma Tyrell and it wasn’t just her wit. It’s a moment that shows the Tyrell women to be a much more formidable group than previously assumed. And Margaery is the most formidable of them all. Good luck keeping son #2 in line, Cersei.
Opening on the camp of Daenerys and her army of freed slaves seemed like the right thing to do, seeing as last episode cut us all off just as things were getting good. We watch as she uses strategy to win over Meereen, then ascends to her new throne on top of a great pyramid (with a somewhat silly looking CGI Targaryen flag — seriously, what is she, Cobra Commander?). It’s good to get resolution from last week’s big ending and see Dany move on, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Shouldn’t there have been more bloodshed? Perhaps there will be. For now, it’s safe to say that “unexpected” is what they were going for with “Oathkeeper.”
The titular sword comes to us in the episode’s most tender sequence, one that sends two very beloved characters off on an honorable quest. The hope is that we get more of Brienne and Pod, as they could be our new version of Arya and The Hound. This all comes after some honorable decisions by Jaime Lannister. It’s going to be hard to reconcile what he did last week with the character he’s become (and is 98% of the time), just like it took seasons for him to win over audiences after pushing Bran Stark out of a window in the pilot. Either way, he’s decided that his page in the Kingsguard book of legends will someday be filled with some good deeds. Do we like him? Probably not. Does he like himself? Not likely. Are we glad that he’s doing some good by sending Brienne to find Sansa and considering aiding Tyrion? Yes. There’s a lot to hate about Jaime Lannister, but there’s some to like, as well. It’s nice to see the writers continue to make him a nuanced character alongside the very nuanced (and still charming despite prison) Tyrion. To see Jaime part with the gorgeous sword and turn against Cersei’s plans to bring Sansa to justice is to see the realization of his internal struggle. It doesn’t forgive what he did last week, but he is wrestling with the same sort of emotions about himself that the audience is feeling.
Speaking of Bran Stark, here’s his chance to get interesting all of the sudden. Since being pushed out the window by the aforementioned Ser Jaime, Bran’s story has been a messy mix of things happening around him and then long bouts of nothing. Being held captive by a guy who is drinking from the latter Lord Commander Mormont’s skull (did you catch that? Ew…) seems like the sort of action that could make Bran’s story interesting again. He’s also on a collision course with Jon, it would seem. Both of whom will hopefully be reunited with their direwolves very soon. As well, there’s nothing quite so stimulating as following an episode where a fan favorite rapes his sister with a shot of a man drinking wine from (beloved) dead man’s skull, allowing his men to torture Hodor (poor Hodor) and shouting “fuck them ’til they’re dead!” I look forward to a long week of think pieces and Twitter outrage from that one.
As a book reader, this is an exciting episode to watch. It’s nice to be surprised by Game of Thrones rather than enthralled with its delivery of something I knew was coming. Credit to Bryan Cogman, the show’s story editor and writer of this episode. Just as he did with “What is Dead May Never Die” (Season Two), “Kissed by Fire” (Season Three) and “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” (Season One), he’s delivered a memorable and smart episode. And much of the intrigue happens north of The Wall, where he seems to be most at home with the characters.
It’s going to take an entire second article filled with book spoilers to explain why so much of this is exciting (stay tuned). Even if you haven’t read the books though, it’s clear that things are heating up. There’s a quiet confidence in this episode (up to the jaw-dropping final few moments) that shows complete control over where things are headed. Pieces are being methodically moved into place and details are being revealed, all with enough forward momentum to mask the fact that nothing really major happened. It’s a trick that Game of Thrones and its creators have mastered: the transition episode. One where new threads are set into motion (Brienne leaving, Jon Snow rallying troops, Dany taking Meereen quietly) without losing our immediate interest. It’s a calm episode in which we get to watch characters play the Game, rather than just waiting for the next shocking event. The quality scripting from Cogman and the deft hand of series regular director Michelle MacLaren are to blame as “Oathkeeper” is one of the finest transition episodes the show has delivered yet.
Those fascinating (and potentially monumental) final moments don’t hurt, either.