Game of Throne Revisited: 4.04 Oathkeeper
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO’s programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with season four's Oathkeeper...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven…
The interesting thing about Oathkeeper, the fourth episode of Game of Thrones season four, is how much it subverts character expectations. After her triumphant, rousing speech to the slaves last episode, Daenerys' demands for justice see her seek bloody vengeance against the counsel of mercy. Having raped his sister last episode, Jamie's redemption arc takes another step forward, turning against his sister to aid those in need. Even vile Locke, the Bolton right hand man who sadistically cut off Jamie's hand last season, plays the 'good guy' as new ally to Jon on the Wall, though this is likely all an act.
This episode takes its time to spend focused attention on each location without flitting back and forth between stories. It's a measured, well paced approach that gives great attention to each character in turn. It opens with Mereen and a delightful scene between Grey Worm and Missandei as she teaches him to read; it's a lovely bit of character interaction and the start of the connection between two of Daenerys' most loyal allies before the episode leads into the conquering of the city.
Moments of joy and horror mark the fall of Mereen and the high point in Daenerys Targaryen's story. It is the slaves that free themselves, opening the gates for their new Queen to enter. The slavers meanwhile face the ultimate judgement. There is real fire in Daenerys as she demands an equal number of slavers are crucified for all those children they hung in display during her long march to Mereen. Justice is served but there was something deeply uncomfortable about the scene too; she refuses the words of counsel from Barristan Selmy and the screams ringing out over the city as she stands proudly at the top of the great pyramid, watching out over the people below is a mix of triumph and darkness. It tarnishes the hope and glory of Breaker of Chains' climax and hints that perhaps she is not the great and benevolent ruler that should sit on the Iron Throne by the end of the series.
Jamie's humility and compassion is keenly felt this episode; he starts the episode training with Bronn (the start of another terrific double act to come) and all his former skills as a swordfighter and lack of a second hand cannot measure up to the former sell sword. It's this defeat that allows him to listen to reason, visiting his brother Tyrion in prison and sharing stories of his own, chained up in his own shit from season two. It's a lovely moment of brotherly love that has sadly never had enough screen time over the seven seasons. It's that act of compassion that puts him in conflict with Cersei, who is continuing to drink herself away to escape the pain of losing her son.
Turning against his sister and lover, Jamie's decision to give his Valyrian steel sword to Brienne and send her on a quest to find Sansa and keep her safe is a noble one. It's wonderful to see how their relationship has developed since the end of season two and the unspoken performance between Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie as they bid their farewells was a gorgeous moment of respect and friendship without the need of words to say how they felt. A hint of love too perhaps, though that has never been explored. Podrick joining Brienne as her squire will make for another fun partnership as the show progresses.
Talking of partnerships, we saw more of Littlefinger and Sansa's new alliance as his ship ferried them to the Eyrie to marry her aunt. Aiden Gillen's ability to give nothing away continues to make for an utterly absorbing character, whose motives are never once clear to the audience. Diana Rigg and Natalie Dormer also continue to delight as Olenna shares her own tales of seducing Margaery's grandfather and bidding her to do the same with new king to be Tommen. There was something both sweet and disturbing as Margaery visited Tommen in his be chamber, manipulating the innocent young boy to her will.
Things are getting really interesting further North as the war with the wildlings starts to gain more focus ahead of the season's dramatic ninth episode. Sam worries that he left Gilly in danger at Mole Town (which he absolutely did) while Jon continues to battle against the arrogance of Alliser Thorne and his continued attempts to exude power at Castle Black. There was a certain satisfaction seeing Jon rousing men to his cause to travel to Craster's Keep and seek revenge for Jorah Mormont's murder; his assumptions that Jon's speech would fail was another step in his eventual undoing. Also interesting was the scheming Locke, who found himself at Castle Black after torturing Jamie and Brienne last season. On re-watch I cannot remember how this plays out but his play at being Jon's new ally and friend is surely all an act.
Finally we have the cliff-hanger at Craster's Keep. After killing Jorah Mormont a whole season earlier, we see Burn Gorman's Karl Tanner in all his villainy, drinking wine from a cup fashioned out of the skull from his former leader. Along with Rast, these former Night's Watchmen have reverted to their criminal pasts, with Tanner perhaps the most disturbing. Bran and company inadvertently wandering too close to the camp is a definite case of terrible timing; the attempts to free Ghost find poor Hodor chained like an animal, with Bran, Meera and Jorjen held in Tanner's grasp. It makes for an effective cliff-hanger, with Jon's mission the glimmer of hope in the episode ahead.
Oathkeeper is a calmer episode than those that have immediately preceded it, but no less effective. Season four is the strongest of Game of Thrones yet and this episode continues that trend; Daenerys becomes a heroic liberator and a merciless judge, jury and executioner. The events in the North kick up a gear and Jamie takes a step back on the path to redemption. It's the king slayer's journey that really stands out, a far cry from the arrogant man we saw in season one.