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Game of Thrones Review 4.04 - 'Oathkeeper'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.28.2014

How is it that Margaery Tyrell has managed to become my favorite character in King's Landing? It's a strange occurrence to me. Don't get me wrong; I've always had an appreciation for the character since the moment she appeared on the show. Natalie Dorner has displayed an ability to invest the would-be queen with humanity and charm, but also with the cunning and a bit of the treachery needed to not only survive in the most dangerous city in Westeros, but thrive. Still, she's always had someone to take a backseat in any place that she inhabits. In the Stormlands it was Brienne and Baelish; once she got to King's Landing it was Tyrion and sometimes Cersei when she was in the right mood. But slowly and surely, the shining jewel of House Tyrell has snuck up and snatched the spot of the character I love the most within the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

How does she do it, you may ask? It's simple. She takes all those traits--that charm and humanity, the cunning and savvy and the little sense of mercenary attitude--and she wields them more effectively than any assassin could a poisoned blade. (Or a poisoned necklace, as it may be.) Look at how easily she winds her way around Tommen in "Oathkeeper," for example. Sure, it's not too difficult for a breathtakingly attractive woman to get into the brain of young teenager. But the way she maneuvers her way past the Kingsguard and especially the way she works the kid shows her versatility. She handled Tommen in an entirely different way than she used to handle Joffrey; this is a woman who knows how to get to people, and she wraps her delicate coils around the boy's brain (and hormones) with ease.

In a lot of ways Margaery's scene--which, by the way, is wonderfully acted by both Dorner and Dean-Charles Chapman--with Tommen represents a lot of what goes on in "Oathkeeper." As I mentioned in last week's review, "Breaker of Chains" spent a lot of time, wrapping manacles around the wrists of Westeros' women. This week the women are using those very chains to bind the men to them. This theme is referenced and used by many of the characters. Cersei takes the fact that her brother assaulted her and uses it to be cold to him, which is something she can try to use in order to push him into murdering Sansa. Olenna tells Margaery a very pointed story about how she escaped from her intended marriage to a Targaryen and nabbed herself a Tyrell instead. These are all important plot threads and they play out with varying success, but the point is clear: in Westeros, the women don't just accept their lot in life. They do something about it, using their wiles against the men that they are set against.

It's hard to be the king-to-be, clearly. Yes, that's double-entendre.

Of course, while the women in King's Landing are all spinning webs in order to trap their flies it's important to see what the characters that go against that grain are doing, because it defines them and makes them stand out. There are two such characters this week: Sansa and Daenerys. Sansa doesn't get a lot of screen time in "Oathkeepers," but the time she gets is significant as we learn that Littlefinger used Sansa in order to get the poison into the wedding so Joffrey could be killed. Sansa isn't twisting anyone to her own ends; she's the twistee. This further exemplifies why she never would have made a good queen; she has the honesty of the Starks and as Ned learned in season one, that gets you killed. Still, she draws sympathy for two reasons. The first is that Sophie Turner makes us like her. She regularly gives one of the most understated performances on the show and it's always stellar. The second is that Sansa has been put in a situation she never should have been in and yet where others have fallen dead by the wayside, she has managed to survive. She's always in over her head in King's Landing, but she manages to avoid drowning.

As a side note, a lot of praise has to be given to this show for one thing in particular: characterization. It's an understatement to say that Game of Thrones' ensemble cast is enormous. With a group of characters as large as this, it's easy for the show to lose characterization and turn people into forgotten side notes. This is the problem that The Walking Dead often struggles with. Game of Thrones doesn't struggle; it excels. Look at the exchange between Grey Worm and Missandei that starts the episode. On any other show, these two would be stock characters who would be lucky to get a line. Here they get a full scene of conversation that reveals so much about them. Kudos to writer Bryan Cogman and director Michelle MacLaren for pulling that off.

Speaking of those two...and then there's Dany. Dany's like the hipster of Game of Thrones: if the episode is moving in one direction, she'll charge in the opposite. Last week she was the person throwing shackles at the oppressors in Meereen while all the other characters were being chained down in some way. This week while the other ladies are using manipulation to get what they want, she gets blunt and sends a point. After she takes Meereen from the slavers who run it, she still has one thing on her mind (or rather, 163 things): all those children nailed to mileposts. Barristan suggests mercy, which is in this case a manipulation of a sort. Daenerys has that Targaryen ruthlessness, and she makes the point very clear: "I will answer injustice with justice." It's not the kind of thing a ruler might be wise to do, but Daenerys isn't Queen yet. She's still a conqueror, and even if she still has a lot to learn about ruling...well, it's hard-pressed to argue with her here.

"What do you think, Ser Jorah?
"Best. Scarecrows. Ever."

As to the rest of our stories this week, it's a wee bit hit or miss. Jaime's arc through this episode is largely in the hit category; his scenes with Bronn and Tyrion allow Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to really shine in his performances, to say nothing of his work opposite Gwendoline Christie. Jaime's arc this week is that of the episode title: "Oathkeeper." It's what Brienne names the sword that she is given, forged from Ned Stark's old blade. It's all compelling stuff, though I can't help but think that it might come off more natural if it didn't seem like the script was trying to hit the redemption arc extra-hard because of the rape scene in the previous episode. Last week we were starkly reminded why Jamie's a monster; this week we see him pushed so hard as a good man that it almost fails the suspension of disbelief test. Only Coster-Waldau makes us believe it.

Bran and his company find themselves in hot water in this episode, when they fall into Karl's clutches at Craster's Keep. Poor Hodor gets tortured while Bran, Meera and Jojen find themselves at the mutineer's mercy. Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about how there wasn't a pure black hat? He doesn't have the scope of power, but Karl seems to be racing Ramsay Snow for that brass ring. This was a necessary plot moment because it's going to raise the stakes narratively for Jon as he travels to Craster's Keep to slay the mutineers, but it fell a bit flat. There's no end to villainy in this show and I always appreciate Burn Gorman, but it was a bit over-the-top even for this show.

And then there's Jon, who is proving that he's more and more deserving of being a fan-favorite with each episode this season. I honestly haven't had much use for Jon up until now; he's always been the least interesting regular character to me. But now that he's back at Castle Black, he's delivering the hits on a regular basis. It's because he finally has some attitude and the ability to point it in the right direction. Sure, it's putting him in conflict with Thorne and Slynt, and Slynt suggests that at some point there will be a choosing. Thorne pushes the issue quicker than he intends by following Slynt's advice and sending Jon to deal with the mutineers, but only with volunteers. He gets no small quantity of them and the message is clear: Jon Snow has growing support among the Knight's Watch. That's sure to play out well.

Jon Snow finally knows something. Somehow I don't think Ygritte would be pleased.

Some Final Thoughts:

White Walkers apparently take babies so that they can turn them into White Walkers and raise them! From what I understand this is an entirely new (and potentially game-changing) revelation that isn't in the books. So, that'll go well. I loved it though.

Brienne and Podrick will be a lot of fun together. In fact, I think they need a spin-off as their own buddy comedy.

Bronn to Jamie: "That was me knocking your ass to the dirt with your own hand." I love that sell-sword.

I liked how they used a few simple scenes to convey the freeing of Meereen, but I have to say the scene in which the slaves charge at the Slave Master came across somewhat ineffectively to me. It was perhaps the way the slaves gathered all around him to overwhelm him and yet no one took a stab.

The 411: A lot of good work happens in "Oathkeeper," but it is in service of a greater whole that is simply good without quite reaching the quality of the previous episodes this season. And that's fine; you need episodes like this to pace yourself. The Bran stuff falls largely flat and a few other things don't quite work, but there's more than enough that does to keep you interested. And that game-changing final scene should make for a lot of wild speculation, which is never a bad thing.
Final Score:  7.5   [ Good ]  legend


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