The opening scene of Oathkeeper is perhaps one of my favourite moments in this season so far. It's such a simple one; Grey Worm is being taught to read and speak the Common Tongue by Missandei and through the process, the audience learns more about their backgrounds and the system of slavery in this world without heavy-handed exposition. The subsequent attack on Meereen is also brilliantly shot, with director Michelle MacLaren utilising the claustrophobic underbelly of the city to evoke the hellish slavery conditions before contrasting this in the wide shots of Dany as a conqueror looking over her new city. MacLaren is one of the best directors working on the show currently and this episode's strength lies with her. Even the scenes I wasn't particularly enamoured with were beautifully shot and composed.
The closing scene was also a sequence of note, the heavy blues contrasting sharply with the fiery oranges of the episode's opening. Any time the white walkers are seen in Game of Thrones, it's a reminder that, whilst everyone may be squabbling over the Iron Throne, the real threat is largely beyond the Wall and their numbers are growing. In a big surprise, it turns out that White Walkers can turn babies in a stunning final scene that saw poor Craster's son's eyes turn icy blue. Even us book readers didn't know they could do that (though it's obviously part of Martin's wider plan; I can't imagine the writers would be able to throw something like that in without him noticing).
Other strong scenes included a revelatory moment between Margaery and Olenna, in which her part in the killing of Joffrey is revealed (well done to people who called that one). The female Tyrells are a wonderful creation, endlessly spiky and difficult to control. The only sad thing is it's likely we won't see much more of Diana Rigg with Olenna returning to Highgarden. She's been absolutely marvellous from start to finish and I can't think of anyone else who could have played the Queen of Thorns with such attitude. Margaery also proved her worth with her late night visit to Tommen's room, in which she met Ser Pounce and demonstrated to the audience exactly why they've made Tommen a bit older in the series.
And then there is the rest of the episode, which I'm just not all that enamoured with. With the theme of keeping oaths across the episode, it's not surprising that Jaime became one of the main focuses but, first of all, let's deal with the one-handed elephant in the room. The director of last week's episode insisted that that scene in the sept was meant to be consensual (which somehow makes the entire situation worse) and so the thread of that narrative continues . For a show that has done so much right, Game of Thrones has dropped the ball in a big way on this one, not even anticipating that sections of their audience might interpret that scene differently. Even David Benioff has stated that it was Jaime 'forcing himself on her', which is a further example of this disconnect. If the creative team have differing opinions on this, where does that leave the audience? This episode is clearly working with the angle that it was consensual because in fact, it feels like that scene didn't even happen at all. Jaime's back to being his usual slightly-heroic complex self whilst Cersei returns to her dry, cynical view of the world.
It makes any scene with Jaime in this episode troubling to say the least; for those of us in the audience who saw rape, we're suddenly being asked to consider Jaime as one of the complex heroes of the show again (which he has clearly been positioned to be, given his redemptive arc in the previous season and despite the pushing of Bran). His one scene with Cersei shows that their relationship is over in what is barely a blip in the wider narrative of the episode. Instead, Jaime's focus is on the oaths he made and his honour, both to Tyrion and to Brienne. Both of his scenes sparkled with the kind of witty dialogue that we've come to expect when the Lannisters are involved. Before last week's debacle, the scene with Brienne would have been something I would have lavished praise on. Now, it just makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
Elsewhere in the episode, pacing was once again a bit of an issue. It's another filler episode in which everyone is repositioned for the next Big Event and which begins to deviate a fair way from the book in question. I've been accommodating of the changes made in adapting the books so far, because largely they have made sense and streamlined the narrative to make it more coherent. However, in this episode, it feels like it has gone another way. With the expansion of the mutineers at Craster's Keep, it just feels like its starting to play for time rather than continue to take the story forward. We had even more filler this week with numerous scenes on the Wall in which we're reminded that Jon Snow is fighting prejudice in the ranks, the wildlings are really dangerous and Castle Black is under a great threat. Which is exactly where we were at the last time we were there.
Now, however, we get to see more of the oft-mentioned mutineers, the ones who betrayed Lord Commander Mormont last season. It's another one of those scenes in which exposition takes place whilst naked women are raped in the background and men drink out of skulls. Burn Gorman was suitably odious in his role but the scene dragged interminably and there was still no actual attack on Craster's Keep (despite Jon talking about it for two episodes and finally assembling a team to go and take them on). It was largely here to remind us that a) the mutineers are Really Bad People (which we sort of knew already) and b) to set up the big final scene of the episode with the White Walkers as Craster's last child, a son, is sacrificed to them.
Alongside these events, we had Bran warging with Summer and getting trapped at Craster's Keep, seeing Ghost trapped himself in a cage. The warg effects are nicely simple and yet effective and any scene with the direwolves is immediately 20% better. By the end of the episode, Bran's crew are trapped with the mutineers (who they don't encounter like this in the books) and it seems to be heading towards a Jon-Bran reunion. I'm intrigued to see how they play this in the coming episodes, because part of Jon's plight is that he believes that his entire family are dead. To receive confirmation that this isn't the case would throw up an interesting new dynamic for the character.
The first half of any given Game of Thrones season is always largely set-up for the revelations that get thrown up in later episodes. For Oathkeeper, this was certainly the case, though this is the first time that it felt like it was dragging. I'm hoping that now the pieces seem to be in place, we get a little forward momentum in the next few episodes because, at the moment, it feels like aspects are stalling.
You can read Becky's review of the previous episode, Breaker of Chains, here.
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