Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Game of Thrones" Season 4, Episode 4: Oathkeeper

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 10:47 PM

First, apologies for the late blog. I was trapped north of the Wall (a.k.a. Canada) and the proprietor of the inn at which we stayed led me astray. I was told we would have HBO, and yet we did not. Given this flagrant violation of guest’s rights, I can only assume that the downtown Toronto Hilton is owned by none other than Lord Walder Frey.

Anyway, Sunday’s episode was arguably slow, but it was packed with interesting moments that advanced a great many storylines. And it also included what I think was a crucially important end sequence that gave us far more insight into The Big Bad than anything we’ve ever gotten on this show, or even in the books that inspired it.

I’ll try to get through this as quickly as possible, as there really is a lot to cover.

-In Essos, Missendei is teaching Grey Worm how to read, but what they are really both learning is how to love. Aw. Truly, these are two extremely tertiary characters, so the fact that they’re building up a romance between them is sweet, but given all the other arcs that need to be juggled… The scene did help to humanize Grey Worm, which was important since he led the assault on Meereen. This went down differently in the show than it did in the books, but the basic gist is that Grey Worm snuck into the city and gave the slaves a pep talk about rising up against their masters. Oh, and he gave them many, many knives. The revolt happened quickly, and Dany responded to the dead child signposts left by the Meereenese masters by nailing an equal number of the masters up around the city. Sir BarristanSelmy cautioned against this course of action, instead advising mercy. Sir BarristanSelmy is a wise man…

-Littlefinger and Sansa had a little boat chat en route to the Eyrie, in which Littlefinger continued to underscore that he, as well as Sansa, was complicit in the murder of King Joffrey. But it also served to show us that Sansa has learned quite a bit about guile and manipulation since she first arrived at King’s Landing. The naïve Sansa of Season 1 would never have been able to hold her own in this scene, whereas a post-LannisterSansa has been well schooled in the literal game of thrones. And don’t think that Littlefinger doesn’t know it -- or that it doesn’t excite him. This scene was important because we got a taste of Littlefinger’s limitless ambition. But in the books, these interactions happened in his homeland, an exceedingly modest pile of rocks covered in seabird shit. That helped to put Petyr in perspective. He has come from basically nothing to a man who can help murder the king and literally sail away with it. He is truly one of the most dangerous characters in the series.

-Meanwhile, the other conspirator in Joffrey’s death, Lady Olenna, had a great moment with her granddaughter, Margaery, in which she revealed her role in the deed. Olenna is leaving King’s Landing (BOO!) and wanted to make sure that Margaery was well on her way to truly becoming queen. That meant encouraging Marg to visit new king and instant Tiger Beat Westeros poster boy, Tommen. First, the new Tommen is great, and he’s just the right age to make Margaery’s late-night visit titillating for middle-school boys everywhere (Natalie Dormer should probably avoid “Thrones” slashfic for a while…), yet not creepy in a pedo-tastic way. Their shared scene was oddly sweet and hopeful, especially since it was 100 percent motivated by greed and manipulation. And that is why we love Margaery.

-After another sparring session with Bronn, Jaime finally visited Tyrion in prison and the two started planning their amazing brother act, The KingslayingLannisters. Kidding. In reality, Tyrion proclaimed his innocence, and Jamie believed him. Not that there is really anything Jaime can do about it, especially since Cersei continues to spiral into insanity, demanding four knights on Tommen’s door at all times and that Jaime bring her the head of Sansa Stark. Jaime reacted by giving Brienne his kickass Valyrian steel sword, a fancy new suit of armor, and also Podrick Payne as a squire, and tasking her with finding Sansa and keeping her safe. I wondered if the show was going a different route with Brienne, but this is very much in line with her book arc. Bringing Pod in now instead of later is actually a more elegant solution. The way everything was juxtaposed this episode also made it clear that Jaime sent them on this mission in part to keep them both out of Cersei’s crosshairs. Well played, show.

-But the big action of the night happened north of the Wall, where several storylines veered toward an intersection. The current command of the Night’s Watch turned down Jon Snow’s request to go to Craster’s Keep and silence the rogue Watchmen before Manse Rayder could pump them for information on the Watch’s defenses. After seeing how beloved Jon was by the men, they changed their tune, and decided to send Jon off to be killed by the bad brothers. And hey, they aren’t assholes -- Jon could take whoever volunteered to go with him. That included hot piece Grenn, some other guys, and Locke, a new Night’s Watch pledge who is played by the same actor who played Vargo Hoat -- the dude who de-handed Jaime back in S3. But I’m not sure if he’s actually supposed to be Vargo. He definitely doesn’t seem like he can be trusted.

Meanwhile, at Craster’s Keep, things have gone from awful to “Apocalypse Now: Medieval Times Edition.” The rogue brothers have gone basically feral, raping and beating Craster’s daughters. One of them, a character whose name I didn’t catch and who I’m not sure we ever saw before, seemed to be ruling the roost, boasting about his assassin’s cred and also DRINKING FROM THE SKULL OF JEOR MORMONT (that whole bit was ridiculously over the top, and I hated it). They had Ghost, Jon’s direwolf, kept prisoner, which is so off from the books that it makes my head spin. When one of Craster’s daughter-wives presented the Bad Boys of the Night’s Watch with Craster’s final son, the Brando wannabe sent forever bottom bitch Rast to do what Craster always did: leave it for the White Walkers.

The crying baby in the wilderness attracted the attention of Bran and his doom patrol. He warged into Summer to check out the action, and discovered Ghost in a cage just before Summer himself was caught in a trap. In short order, Bran and the rest of his entourage were captured by the mutinous Watchmen. Poor Hodor was stabbed by spears, Bran confessed his identity to the head crazy, and the Reed kids were deemed expendable. Jojen had one of his seer fits (aside: I read a great theory about Jojen and his physical weakness, and I am desperate to see if it turns out to be true). And then it was end scene.

A few notes on all this: absolutely none of this happened in the books. Jon and his group never returned to Craster’s Keep that I remember. Bran and his crew are never captured. The fact that Bran and Jon could conceivably see each other in the next episode or two is fascinating to me (same is true of Sansa and Arya, both of whom are on their way to the Vale). And I can’t say for sure that it won’t happen, because at this point they’re changing things considerably from the source material.

Like, say, that final, horrifying sequence in which a White Walker picked up the abandoned baby and took it on a dead pony ride to what can only be referred to as Ice Mordor. There the baby was placed on an altar surrounded by a ring of well-groomed ice-looking people -- possibly The Others, which are different from the White Walkers. One stepped forward, picked up the baby, pricked it in the face with its fingernail, and the baby’s eyes turned brilliant, crystalline blue.

That was SO interesting. The books have never showed readers too much about The Others/White Walkers. We just know that they come from the north, are ice-powered, and are effing terrifying. The show has just informed us that they aren’t just mindless zombies -- there is a civilization of some sort. They have a base of operations somewhere beyond The Wall. They don’t need people to be dead to transform them into…whatever the hell it is they become.

This is strictly speculation on my part, but I’ve long suspected that the real end game of the books (and the show) will have very little to do with King’s Landing, or the Iron Throne, or Dany and her dragons, or even The Others and The Wall. I think it’s really about two warring gods: R’hllor, the Lord of Light, and a yet-to-be-named god of ice/water/darkness. When you look at the large-scale conflicts or mysteries in the series, many of them can be tied to one or the other. All the fire magic -- what’s practiced by Melisandre and Thoros, the dragons, anything related to Valyria -- is linked to R’hllor. The Others, White Walkers, greyscale, is all linked to the ice/water god, which I suspect is probably the same one worshipped by the Iron Islanders (“The Drowned God”). I think the struggle between those two forces ultimately is what is shaping the “Game of Thrones” world on a large scale -- the seasons that can last for decades, the destruction of Valyria are all signs of a push and pull between those two powers. (And the book series IS called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” after all.)

The characters we follow are all teeny, tiny pawns in the grand cosmic scale, which I suppose is true of life in the real world. And obviously they will all play into the inevitable outcome of the story (I have another theory that we will eventually have contemporary analogues for every member of The Seven, weaving in that religion, which is all about the power of people).

So it was exciting for me, as a reader of the books, to get this glimpse into stuff we’re still waiting to see from George R. R. Martin. And we’ll apparently continue to wait, as a recent Rolling Stone article indicated that we won’t see Book 6 any time soon. Part of me wonders if that end sequence wasn’t a shot across Martin’s bow, underlining that, yes, the show really will go ahead and finish telling your story if you can’t be bothered to do so yourself. I would be very curious to know how he reacted to that end scene. I bet he wasn’t happy about it. But I sure was.

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