Published on April 30th, 2014 | by Duke Of Havoc0
Game of Thrones – Season 4 – Episode 4 – ‘Oathkeeper’
The concepts of justice, honour and the taking, breaking or keeping of sacred oaths weave seamlessly through tonight’s episode. These are all issues at the core of the series, and the malleable question of what constitutes honour and justice in this complicated world rears its head for nearly every character at one point or another; no more so than in “Oathkeeper”.
The character with arguably the most righteous claim to the throne of Westeros, Danerys kicks off the theme of justice, dealing it out in a like-for-like fashion. In her lieutenant Grey Worm, we see another character coming to grips with the power to communicate with your allies, echoing last week’s scene with Ser Davos and his entreaty to Braavos. He has been studying his queen and is learning how to win the hearts and minds of his fellows, even quoting a past line of hers “No one can give you your freedom”. He makes a convincing case for the justice they deserve, and it is as violent as you might expect. In the aftermath of the sacking of Meereen, Ser Barristan (a true knight, if ever there was one) councils mercy – an honourable path. But turning the other cheek is not Dany’s style, and the lack of discipline I lamented in the season opener is rectified in a noisy and unforgiving way here, as she allows her capacity for brutality to ‘shine’ through.
More honourable speechifying is to be found later on at Castle Black, where Jon Snow must rally his loyal brothers of the Knights Watch to join him on a mission beyond The Wall. This is really Snow’s wheelhouse – he’s at his most comfortable when making hero moves. It almost seems like a nice departure from his father’s style of stubborn, honour-for-honour’s-sake (which gets you killed), as it also serves a tactical purpose – the treacherous deserters need putting down, not just for the Knight’s Commander, but because their own safety depends upon it. I say “seems” because it doesn’t look like Jon Snow has noticed Locke’s wolf in sheep’s clothing yet. It remains to be seen whether political savvy and honour can co-exist in a character in Game of Thrones. I’d say Varys, but I don’t want to have to eat my words one day.
Which characters are with or without honour is a matter of perspective and alliance, as we see from Littlefinger’s conversation with Sansa regarding Joffrey’s assassination. Whilst I wouldn’t claim for a second he has honourable motives, it is tempting to posit that his justifications and explanations are to some degree “honest”. However to trust Littlefinger is to swim in murky waters – you’ll probably drown. He has made similar statements about his ambition before, and while they ring true, I always get the niggling feeling there is more to Littlefinger than a craven desire for power at any cost. We shall see..
It came as little surprise that Olenna Tyrell masterminded the offing of Joffrey; she acts as a political animal with a matriarch’s protective eye. That Margery was innocent of these machinations gives an insight into her role within the family – she is more of a valuable pawn at this stage, while her training for the seat of power continues. She obviously lacks her grandmother’s ruthless streak, but her drive grows with every episode. Her mission this week? To ingratiate herself to new heir Tommen, and begin the subtle manipulations required to win his trust.
The scene with uber-newb Tommen strikes a delicate balance between the predatory and the innocent; Margery is a cool customer and she avoids the obvious misstep of making the hunt apparent to her future-husband. Ser Pounce (which any future cat of mine will now undoubtedly be named) reeks of subtext, but Tommen is too green to notice. His youth and inexperience give the scene it’s uncomfortable undercurrent, as does her “our little secret” line. However, Margery plays her hand slowly, planting both a courtly kiss on his forehead, and the seed of discord between Tommen and Cersei with a smile and a wink, leaving with both their ‘honour’ in tact.
With age comes baggage, and the more complex dynamics between Cersei and Jaime. Before I continue, I must reflect upon the events of last weeks episode and the online aftermath. As a person who has not read the books, I didn’t realise the departure the show had taken from the perspective the book gives on the scene in the Sept, where apparently it did not play as rape. This is perhaps partly due to the chapter being from Jaime’s perspective, but also a lack of the book’s clarifying dialogue from Cersei muddies the water further; in fact, her repeated protestations pushing it to be read more clearly AS rape. A lot has been made, justifiably, of this difference, with many outraged critics of another unnecessary and non-canon rape scene. Having read the episode director Alex Graves’ take on the topic – to précis wildly, he says it started non-consensually and became consensual – if our concerns are not assuaged, we at least have a better understanding of motivations and their take on the scene. The performances were distressing at best, and what we are left with this week is a cold and horrible void between our characters (understandable from either perspective).
In the scene, a drunk and venomous Cersei by turns attacks Jaime for his weakness and inability to protect their son, then attempts to appeal to his honour as a knight to right the wrong she believes Tyrion has perpetrated. One telling moment, where she accuses him of pitying their brother for his sad position in the family, almost made me think Cersei only believes Tyrion murdered Joffrey because she thinks his probable cause is valid! Is her subconscious trying to make a break for it or is it simply sarcasm? It is a credit to the infinite nuance in Lena Headey’s performance that her Cersei is so compelling – another actress might maul the Queen Regent into Cruella de Ville, but it is far more interesting to be able to feel for Cersei, to believe her capable of the compassion she so fears in her self. There is also no hint of the victim here, maudlin as she is in her cups, and whilst I shake my head, I also salute her!
Where their exchange is brittle and sad, Jaime’s moments with Brienne (where he bequeaths the Valerian steel sword his father made for him to a real knight), and his allying her with the thoroughly trustworthy Podrick, seem to be attempts to redeem Jaime after last week’s horrors, or at least to further imbed him in an anti-hero’s role. As the Kingslayer, he can never truly reclaim his ‘honour’; the complicated truth of that monumental event in his history is only acknowledged by Brienne, which lies at the heart of their bond. But Jaime can rebel against his sister’s merciless requests, entrusting an important missions of justice to the people he believes in, and there is some valour in that oath-keeping.
Since we cannot speak of these themes without mentioning the family most buggered up and blighted by their sense of honour, in true Stark fashion, Bran’s need to do what’s right gets him and everybody into a heap of trouble at Craster’s Keep. (side note; whoever stabbed Hodor is cruisin’ for a bruisin’) On the other end of the scale, amongst the oath-breakers, the dude from Pacific Rim makes a play for new Best Petty, Short-Term Baddie, chewing the scenery as the leader of the deserters. Frankly though, he’s no Joffrey and doesn’t even give Ramsey Snow a run for his money. No, our villain card remains un-marked – at this stage it’s anyone’s game.
Which brings me to the superb ending; a new titbit of White Walker information! The chilling undead serve as the ultimate foe in our tale, and their Jaws-like illusory quality has made them all the more horrifying. In “Oathkeeper” we discover that Craster’s sacrificial sons have indeed been feeding the Walkers ranks for years. But not to be devoured. The ritual of turning the baby boy is the darkest discovery yet and one with vast repercussions for the fate of the seven kingdoms and beyond. This enemy is without the lowly concerns of mankind. But perhaps they fight for their own kind of justice; for the utter annihilation of the species which tried to eradicate them, centuries before, like some sort of mystical Cylons. Now that’s a villain I can get behind!