Kevin McFarland offers a spoiler-filled review of the latest episode of Game of Thrones, where violence against women and the oppressed–and its consequences–lurk in the background of every power play.
As played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jaime Lannister is a dashing, compelling screen presence whenever he shows up; And Jaime is also a man who raped his own sister in the Westeros equivalent of a church beside the body of their dead son, a product of incest.
What then to make of the Jaime Lannister in "Oathkeeper," the man who spars with Bronn by the sea and cracks wise, handsome as ever; the man who gets along cordially with his brother even as he laments his trapped-but-free state, out of jail but unable to smuggle Tyrion out of King's Landing; the man who is now called simply "Lord Commander" by the sister he raped, forever widening a distance between them that may never close again; the man who gives Brienne of Tarth the Valyrian steel sword that gives the episode its name, an impressive new set of armor, and Podric for a squire. Jaime beseeches her to seek out Sansa Stark, to keep his oath to Catelyn that her daughter will be safe. "Oathkeeper" presents many shades, from victim-haunting rapist to indecisive brother to touching friend. It tries to argue that it should be impossible to fully hate or fully support the Kingslayer.
Perhaps because of all the pain inflicted upon her—by Tywin, by Robert, and now by Jaime—Cersei remains ignorant when it comes to Joffrey's murder and unsympathetic. Blinded by grief and rage, she harps on Tyrion as the culprit when all logic points elsewhere. But in a situation where no suspect can be apprehended, Cersei (and Tywin, by extension) seem content to quell their bloodthirst by finally ridding themselves of Tyrion.
In his scene with Tyrion, Jaime could conceivably do something to help his brother, but instead he's paralyzed and defers to the trial being convened. It's a wimpy play, no doubt about it. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some kind of spark still inside him. (That scene also contains my favorite exchange of the episode: "Are you really asking if I killed your son?" "Are you really asking if I'd kill my brother?")
The best side of Jaime is probably in his interactions with Brienne, the woman he trusts. But he has to know her devotion to him, which is probably part of the reason he insists that she take all the gifts and depart on a mission he can't take on himself due to his Kingsguard duties, but more because he hasn't reached the point where he's going to break with familial duty completely. Cersei wants Jaime to find Sansa and put her head on a spike, so foolishly sure is she that the Stark girl had a hand in Joffrey's murder. Again, Cersei is foolhardy about this issue. But he's also only seeing through his oath by proxy, which is symbolically why the sword passes to Brienne, and why the name Oathkeeper has such a resonant meaning.
Jaime's complexities contrast with the actions of the mutineers of the Night's Watch, who have taken over Craster's Keep and turned it into a villainous pit of rape, murder, and lawlessness. Karl (Burn Gorman, notable most recently as one of Bane's henchman in The Dark Knight Rises) led the mutiny that took the life of the previous Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont—and now he drinks from the dead man's skull. Craster's Keep is even more dangerous that it was previously, which makes it all the worse that Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor end up kidnapped there at the end of the episode. The conditions at Craster's are dire for everyone who isn't Karl, a former assassin from Gin Alley who brags mercilessly about his killing prowess.
Which is why the political maneuvering at Castle Black is so frustrating. These are men charged with protecting the realm from the mystical dangers north of The Wall, and yet the only way the new Lord Commander will acquiesce to Jon Snow's utterly logical idea to take out the mutineers is when another brother presents it to him as a savvy move to protect his leadership. Jon is popular—enough to be elected Lord Commander after wartime subsides. He's training other brothers and earning the friendship of Locke, the man who took Jaime's hand last season. But should Snow die assaulting the mutineers, the Lord Commander would have no opposition.
This is the fate of the world at stake, and these knuckleheads are worried that a young, charismatic kid may have the leadership edge on them. It's pitiful and frustrating, especially in comparison to the masterful politics down in King's Landing, where Olenna and Baelish's self-interest coincided perfectly with that of the people.
And as if there was any doubt, Baelish and Olenna Tyrell each make it clear that they hand a hand in Joffrey's death. Baelish, while coveting Sansa in the bowels of his ship bound for the Aerie, draws her attention to the necklace from Ser Dontos, and the one missing stone during the feast. Olenna says almost as much about the plot to Margaery, telling her that, as the Tyrell matriarch, she'd never allow her granddaughter to be trapped with such a fiercely cruel tyrant as Joffrey.
But in the same conversation as she shows just how powerful her politicking can be, she also impresses upon Margaery that the bedchamber is where women's power lies in this world. Olenna was good enough in the sack to steal the man who was to be her sister's husband—and she knows her granddaughter is even better. Sorry. Margaery, now you have to seduce Tommen—and make him want you so badly that even Cersei's rage can't stop him.
And then there is, of course, Daenerys Targaryen, Mother Of Dragons. (It's funny to me that even when an episode begins with her part of the story, it falls to the tail end, because what happens to her right now has next to nothing to do with the intertwining events in the west.) "Oathkeeper" presents Daenerys the Liberator once again, triumphantly worshipped by the third city of freed slaves around Slaver's Bay. It's notable that among Game Of Thrones characters, Daenerys is the one who has men practically throwing themselves at her feet to do her bidding. (But hey, even if she's the queen at the head of the army, Daario did end last week's episode literally holding his member in a display of masculine power.) But all she's had to do is take the most powerful army and walk down a conquering path. She can exact painful justice upon those she views as amoral, such as setting the masters up like the dead children used as mile markers on the road to Meereen—nailed into place like lopsided crucifixes. But now that there are no more immediate enemies, she has to get down to the business of actually ruling a throng of free people that she doesn't culturally understand.
The last time she didn't have much to do, in the second season, she spent most of the 10 episodes screaming about her dragons while her plot went nowhere and meant nothing. I'm willing to bet that watching the platinum blonde girl with the blood of Old Valyria try to rule over people like her Unsullied captain Grey Worm and handmaiden Missandei, who talk of being torn from home with no memory before slavery. Daenerys only hates these injustices in the abstract, and she's never had to actually control a population past the point that she could earn their respect and adoration through brute force. This is where the racial politics of Game Of Thrones can finally come into play, hopefully showing Daenerys just how hard it's going to be to keep the peace and remain a beloved ruler from atop those pyramids built by the hands of slaves.
• So yeah—the White Walkers and the male babies that Craster sacrificed. That's not ominous at all. Those blue-eyed monsters are creepy as all hell.
• Tommen has a cat named Sir Pounce. That kid has clearly never seen boobs before.
• Michelle MacLaren, who also helmed some utterly fantastic episodes of Breaking Bad, directed this episode. Somebody get her a film-directing gig now.
• That opening scene between Grey Worm and Missandei might be the first time two minority characters had a conversation with each other on this show. I'm not positive, but it was still a great moment that revealed just enough about both of them and how different they are from the rest of the people surrounding Daenerys.