If you haven't been paying attention to director's names in television, now would be a good time to start. And one who should definitely be on your list is Michelle MacLaren, the woman behind this week's episode of Game of Thrones, "Oathbreaker," as well as The Walking Dead's "A" and Breaking Bad's "Tohajiilee." More than most Game of Thrones directors, MacLaren seems to understand that the show's stories aren't parallel plots in a common world, but cogs in a bigger machine that are all connected beneath the surface (credit to "Oathkeeper" writer Bryan Cogman for knowing that too; together, he and MacLaren make a great team).
Many of MacLaren's scene transitions in "Oathkeeper" started with pans left or right or up or down (and one simple voiceover that bled through from one scene to the next, revealing Joffrey's murderer); this gave the episode a sense of continuity, and prevented it from feeling like another section in the hopping-about-Westeros travel guide that Game of Thrones sometimes feels like when it's juggling multiple characters and latitudes.
And MacLaren's theatrical connectivity was timed perfectly, because OMG you guys it just feels like Game of Thrones is about to smash a whole bunch of new characters together, doesn't it? Margaery and Tommen, Brienne and Pod, Summer and Ghost! But there are even more important pairings and meet-ups ahead, some of which we've been waiting for since the beginning of the series. Sansa is off to the Eyrie as Littlefinger's hostage/traveling companion, and Arya is headed there too, as she's in the same boat with the Hound. Meanwhile, Bran has found his way to Craster's Keep, which is Jon Snow's current destination. For supporters of Team Stark, this is huge news, as the Stark kids haven't seen each other since early in Season 1. For all the awesome throne-jockeying maneuvers, thrilling scenes with dragons lighting slave masters on fire, and revealing moments where the White Walkers providing free colored contact lenses for babies that are currently happening on the series, part of me just wants to see Stark siblings hug it out when they're finally reunited after all the tragedy they've been through. And we're this close to that, which fires up the pilot light in my heart. Can't you just imagine Arya running up to Sansa in Lyssa's throne room and tackling her big sis with a big old hug? Or Jon picking up his little half-bro Bran and twirling him around in jubilation? Our television screens would melt. Though of course we can't get our hopes up too high, as they'll all probably die before that happens, because George R.R. Martin.
"Oathbreaker" carries the unfortunate label of "set-up episode," but it moved the pieces into place for something greater than Game of Thrones' next plot: a Stark family reunion! Hooray! Now fill your favorite hollowed-out enemy skull with some wine and let's discuss what happened.
"I will answer injustice with justice" —Daenerys "Breaker of Chains" Targaryen a.k.a. Mhysa
Well THAT was easy. After arriving at the gates of Meereen with thousands of soldiers, an armada of catapults, and three fire-breathing dragons, Dany's show of force and barrels full of symbolic inspiration was just motivation for the slaves within the city to do it themselves. Grey Worm and some buddies tunneled underneath the city and helped the captive Meereen workforce out with some simple math: three is greater than one, and since the slaves outnumber the slave masters three to one, this should be a layup. And it was! The sacking and reclamation of Meereen by the free people was exhibited in one scene when the numbers were more like 300 angry slaves to one helpless slave master. That was it! No dragon firebombs, or Unsullied slaughter, just a cut to a bunch of dark-skinned slaves pawing at their new pale-skinned overlord and muttering that ear-numbing "Mhysa" chant that makes me want to jump off a cliff. At least there was no crowd surfing this time because that sh*t was pretty dumb.
For as dainty and prim as Dany can look, she can also be a mean sonofagun, and she refused Ser Barristan's suggestion that she show the slavers mercy and nailed 'em up to sign posts half-crucifixion style just as they had done to the children of the city. And though I'm normally a man of compassion and leniency, GOOD FOR HER I say! Using children as signage was a waste of perfectly good child slaves. Think of all the sweaters those kids could have been knitting instead of showing the direction to Meereen to the exactly zero travelers that are moving across that hellscape. These dudes were very inefficient slave owners and got what they deserved if you ask me. But one has to wonder if this behavior by Dany—now arguably just in its eye-for-an-eye philosophy—could lead to something more dangerous. I get the sense that she's getting a little drunk on her power and she's surrounded by enablers except for wise old Barristan, who has been through this rodeo once or twice before. Sure it's freeing slaves today, but it could be genocide tomorrow!
And so Dany frees another slave city thousands of miles away from where the rest of the action is taking place. What's next for Dany? I have absolutely no idea. There doesn't seem to be any specific direction with her plot, and if she spends the rest of Season 4 emancipating another desert slave city, I may jump through my TV screen and rip out the tongue of the next person who says, "Mhysa." Come on, girl, get across that sea and into Westeros! It's called the Narrow Sea, for crying out loud, not the So Wide It's Impossible to Cross Sea! Have the Unsullied form a man bridge and just walk across. Maybe spend more time building boats and less time building catapults and giant Targaryen flags?
"I don't want friends like me." —Littlefinger
This is going to be one very long boat ride for Sansa because she's stuck in close quarters with Littlefinger's mustache twirling, cryptic pearls of nefariousness, and creepy shoulder touches. Remember, Littlefinger was in love with Catelyn Stark, and now he's off to marry her sister with her daughter also in tow. "I'd risk everything to get what I want," Littlefinger said, and in this case it's the next best thing to Catelyn and that's kind of gross. I kind of feel bad for Sansa. Her dream of being a princess and marrying some lord has become her nightmare as she's passed around from pint-sized terror to pinter-sized imp to a man who was obsessed with her mother. Poor Sansa.
In a fantastic sequence of events (again, all woven together by Cogman and MacLaren), the answer to the mystery of Joffrey's murder was all but presented to us on a plate in a somewhat subtle but also direct kind of way. Littlefinger copped to his involvement in the murder, revealing that he was part of the plan to poison Joffrey but that it was in partnership with some "new friends" who really wanted Joffrey dead. And as Littlefinger mentioned that there's "nothing like a thoughtful gift to make a new friendship grow strong," we were already starting a scene with Littlefinger's new friend, Lady Olenna Tyrell. Here's how we think it all went down: Ser Dontos handed Sansa a necklace made out of poison, and probably Lady Olenna Tyrell grabbed one of the stones and plopped it into Joffrey's drink. "But I DO know [that Tyrion didn't kill Joffrey.] You don't think I'd let you marry that beast, do you?" she told Margaery, which sounded like a confession to me.
Olenna! That cunning Queen of Thorns! Most women in Game of Thrones have relied on the power between their legs, to quote Cersei, but that power isn't the same as it used to be for Olenna for reasons I won't mention here and she's been forced to be more creative in shifting power. And she's using all the tools at her disposal, including her granddaughter Margaery. In many ways, the current struggle for the Iron Throne is between Tywin and Olenna, who are each using props (their grandchildren) to ensure their family name is better off down the line. Score one for the elderly! As Tywin said, wisdom makes a good king, and who is wiser than wrinkly old people pulling strings behind the scenes?
One more bit of wisdom bestowed upon Margaery was straight out of Olenna's wild days as a sexual dynamo humping her way up the royal staircase. Seeing that her sister was to wed Olenna's eventual late husband and take a seat of considerable power, Olenna crept into Luthor's chamber and gave his loins a carnal feast that would render his ambulatory functions useless and sway his affection towards her, hosing her sister out of regal standing. And in no short words, she suggested Margaery do the same to Tommen.
In my favorite scene from the episode, Margaery followed the Queen of Thorns' advice it was entirely uncomfortable, hilarious, and brilliant. Margaery entered Tommen's chambers and took on the role of sexy baby sitter, promising to be besties with her husband-to-be (provided the Lannisters approve the pairing) and teasing a smidgen of fulfilling Tommen's blossoming erotic fantasies that are sprouting up in his puberty-addled mind that's teetering away from innocence. This was a clinic on mental domination, and nothing seals the deal like saying, "Remember, our little secret," and then having a fake-out liplock move to a kiss on the forehead. Olenna's legs may be closed for business, but she can still run shop through Margaery's.
"That will be all, Lord Commander." —Cersei Lannister
Oddly enough, it was actually a quiet episode for the Lannisters. Heck, Tywin never even showed up at all. Jaime continued practicing with Bronn, and all we really learned was that Jaime needs to keep his golden hand screwed on real tight. Jaime visited Tyrion and their sibling kinship was reestablished while Jaime updated Tyrion on what was happening outside of his prison cell (Cersei wants Sansa's head). And Jaime and Cersei had another one of their cold-shoulder meetings so Cersei could say that Tommen needed more guards.
The most interesting aspect of these scenes had nothing to do with what was going on in them, but in dealing with the aftermath of last week's incestuous rape scene between Jaime and Cersei and the Internet outrage that followed. I'm not sure what to make of Jaime now, and there appeared to be no consequences for his actions (rape) from last week. Even his scene with Cersei seemed to pretend that nothing happened under Joffrey's corpse in "Breaker of Chains," as Cersei acted no different to him than she had been acting towards him before. Granted, that attitude was cruel with an underlying feeling of pure hatred, but that's how Cersei treated Jaime when he came back from his adventures, so it's hard to tell if this is a new kind of deep-seeded anger or Cersei's typical routine of pushing Jaime away to make him want her more. The fact that there was no clear-cut indication of anything leads me to believe that Game of Thrones really didn't mean that scene, which was definitely rape in my eyes, was meant to be rape at all, but angry pent-up sexual energy released at an inappropriate time and just more of Game of Thrones f'd up relationship building.
So what are we supposed to think of Jaime now? At this point in the books, he had the biggest character swing and most readers came around to loving him. And the show wants to put him on the same path, especially with the scene of Jaime giving Brienne his Valyrian blade, a new set of platemail, and Westeros' most amazing squire, Podrick Payne (aww!). But that road to redemption still has one giant rape-sized speedbump on it, and at this point I find myself wishing that scene never even took place because I'm not sure what it added to the story except a lot of outrage and muddled intentions. From reading the books (up to Book 3, A Storm of Swords) I feel like I know who Jaime really is. Jaime was purposefully placed in a position to get off on the wrong foot with readers and viewers when he pushed Bran out of the window. But deep down, Jaime is a man with a noble code. It's just that he can't help but break that code because of a crippling weakness for his sister's affection. "The things I do for love," he said as he shoved Bran to his supposed death in Episode 1. And those things are often stupid, but Jaime wouldn't be the first person in the Seven Kingdoms or even our world to do something stupid for love. My fear is that Jaime's actions in the rape scene were beyond stupid, and that could tarnish who the character was actually meant to be.
"Gift to the gods." —Craster's widow-daughters
The story around Castle Black and the happenings north of The Wall has taken its time to get interesting (how slow is Mance Rayder anyway?), but after "Oathkeeper" it arguably is the most intriguing thing currently going on in the show. Jon Snow wants to kill the mutineers holding down Craster's Keep to keep the truth about the diminished numbers of men on The Wall secret from the wildlings, Bran has coincidentally stumbled upon Craster's Keep in his journey up north, and Locke, Roose Bolton's lieutenant tasked with finding Bran and Rickon, is tagging along with Jon with the intention of handing Bran over to House Bolton in order to continue the eradication of the Stark line. Not good! I can't wait to see this play out.
But Locke might not be Jon's biggest problem because the mutineers might be the most despicable people this show has given us, and that's saying a lot. Their leader, a man whose name I can't seem to dig up (UPDATE: my mom has since informed me that his name is Karl, thanks mom!), was drinking wine out of Mormont's skull! And that headbone was picked clean, so either they have dermestid beetles up there or they gnawed off the flesh themselves. And the rest of the guys were just raping Craster's daughter-wives out in the open! It's like rape is so far not a big deal to this show that it can just happen in the background. How did that casting call for rapey extras go? The "consecutive episodes without a rape" sign stays at zero. Will we go for three-in-a-row next week? If we're being honest, I'm getting a little weary of all the rape in this show!
Another thing that's making me uncomfortable? All the baby torture! Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age and newfound parenthood has me off like a rocket whenever I hear a baby's cry, but watching Rast abandon a baby in the middle of the snowy forest as sacrifice for the white walkers was rough. The baby's wails caught the ear of Bran, who couldn't mind his own business and resist the urge to play noble k-niggut. So of course he and his team of children got captured by the mutineers. First rule of surviving in Westeros: ignore all pleads for help. They only get you in trouble.
But the HOLY MOLEY moment of the episode was saved for last, when we got a peek into the world of the white walkers in a chilling and mind-blowing scene. A white walker brought Craster Jr. Jr. Jr. back to his pals and their clubhouse, where the baby was placed on a pedestal inside a ring of Stonehengian rocks. There, one especially powerful looking white walker touched the baby's face with his ungroomed fingernail and the baby's eyes blue-iced over, adding another member to the army of frigid frights slowly heading south.
Each week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 4 from best to worst. But remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the comments!
This week: "Oathkeeper" was a slower episode that moved pieces around the board, but the promise of what could come from those moves is fascinating. The forces closing in on Westeros continue to get stronger, while Joffrey's death weakens Westeros from the inside. Something's gotta give soon. I'm probably in the minority for liking this episode a lot, but I'd still put it just behind "Breaker of Chains."
1. "The Lion and the Rose" (Episode 2)
2. "Breaker of Chains" (Episode 3)
3. "Oathkeeper" (Episode 4)
4. "Two Swords" (Episode 1)
– Ser Pounce is now my favorite character! Put him on the Iron Throne, I say! Also, I like to think that the symbolism of a kitty crawling into bed with Tommen just as Margaery was mini-seducing him was not accidental.
– Meanwhile, Missandei and Grey Worm had the least sexy bout of flirtation ever.
– What if Sansa had one of those nervous habits where she chews on her necklace? What then, Littlefinger? Hmmmmmm?
– One of only two Valyrian swords in King's Landing and Brienne named it "Oathkeeper"? Boooooooring. And classic Brienne.
– Another Jaime question: What is his motivation for sending Brienne to find Sansa? Does he really want to keep his oath, or does he want Brienne to find Sansa for Cersei?
– Okay, how exactly DID Margaery get past the kingsguard and into Tommen's room? I shudder to think.
– What percentage of the White Walker army is made up of Craster's inbred male sons? And how scared are we supposed to be of a White Walker baby? What is going there?
Please, no book spoilers in the comments!