Monday, April 28, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 4 "Oathkeeper" Review

After Daenerys went full Cobra Commander in this episode by displaying a giant black-and-red-CGI-flag over a CGI pyramid in a CGI background over Meereen, we have nearly reached the end of the “A Storm of Swords” storyline for Daenerys; only the “I will stay to rule” line is pushed in episode five or six. In contrast to the battle of Yunkai, the capture of Meereen played pretty straight: without the need for Jorah to prove himself, Grey Worm enters the sewers alone and gives what amounts to a rousing speech in a secret slave meeting, where the old slaves counsel caution (not exactly without cause).
Crashing through the night, comes a fearful cry: Targaryen! Armies of the night, evil taking flight! Targaryen! Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, panic spreading far and wide






Before, Grey Worm had a little chat with Missandei, learning reading and the common tongue. When Missandei asked him whether he didn’t want to go back to his home, he answered that he wanted to “kill the masters” instead. The latter one becomes the rallying cry of the Meereenese slaves, but it left a chilling impression – given that Grey Worm is much more of a character in the show than in the books, him having an agenda of his own and a real thirst for vengeance makes it likely that he’ll clash with Dany at some point during her ruling of Meereen, a setup that is very interesting (more so than the “I do what you ask”-approach from the books).The subtle shifts in characters open up interesting combinations for later, as always, and I’m puzzled as to how long will they have Jorah around – will Tyrion in the end be the one to rip his mask off? His presence in Meereen will make for some really interesting clashes over good government, I’m certain.

In King’s Landing, meanwhile, Jaime makes good for his rape last episode and remembers that he wants to become a little more of a good guy. Cersei obviously doesn’t want him to become the trusted brother and lover and shuns him with the old “Lord Commander”-line that worked well for Tywin before, and Jaime finally goes to visit Tyrion (after being pushed by Bronn after yet another hilarious fighting lesson), where he tries real hard to let the sunny boy shine but fails utterly. His question of what he could do and Tyrion’s plea to get him out are also a nice setup for things to come, setting up his character arc for the episodes to come. If they don’t omit Jaime and Tyrion for an episode or two, things should descent into the trial and conclusion pretty soon.

At least, we got a heart wrenching goodbye between Jaime and Brienne. Like in the book, he gifts the sword to her, although here, the naming is done by Brienne to the visible pain of Jaime. Jaime also gives her an armor (nice move) and Podrick (even nicer), setting them up as the next buddy show in Westeros, which might usher in the end of Arya and the Hound’s, since we really don’t need the same thing twice every week. Ah, Pod, I hope you will get the chance to teach Brienne the Meereenese knot or something. That would be hilarious.

Littlefinger in the meantime is having some quality time with Sansa, teaching her not to trust anyone, especially not him (sounds familiar?) and pointing out that, yes, she’s more or less in the boat with him (no pun intended), whether she likes it or not. Like every good villain, he makes his underlings part of the plan, so there’s no turning back and “I didn’t know anything”. Incidentally, Olenna Tyrell does the same thing and explains her part in Joffrey’s murder to audience and granddaughter, as a visibly shocked Margaery Tyrell is explained that, yes, her friendly smiling grandma just killed her husband.

That’s as straight as the show plays it this episode. On other fronts, we have witnessed the perhaps most drastic deviation from the source material yet.

This also begins in King’s Landing. Margaery is quickly schooled about the need to sweep little Tommen to the Tyrell side of things, and she goes at it like the pro she is. You can understand in this scene why they swapped actors: the little boy from season 1 and 2 would have been really strange here, and you need someone with acting chops since they seem to plan to expand Tommen’s role a bit. At least he will be more than the petulant little boy from the books, which makes another actor a necessity. Guess they didn’t plan for that direction back than; they will need an older Myrcella as well, when the time comes to visit Dorne. The scene itself is grandiose, with Margaery really walking a fine edge without falling off, hinting at promises and getting at the boy (what is he? 11? 12?). Nicely played.

No mention this week, by the way, of Arya and the Hound, Theon and the Boltons, still AWOL Yara Greyjoy or Stannis Baratheon. Instead, as I already predicted, we get the Wall and the events beyond. And this is where things are getting really interesting.

At the Wall, we see the duo infernale of Ser Alliser and Janos Slynt work together. While Slimy Slynt seems as uncomfortable as ever, Alliser obviously likes himself as the bastard drill instructor and commands everyone around by virtue of rank. Both of them hate Jon Snow, but they can’t really get at him. The whole Wall politics are short-circuited, with the main fight between next possible Lord Commander Janos Slynt with running mate Alliser Thorne and frontrunner Jon Snow. He’s handled as the favorite of the upcoming elections from the start, based on his popularity, instead of being treated as a dark horse candidate like in the books. This is a change I like, not because it’s better than in the books but because it works really well in the show’s universe. It’s simpler to understand and doesn’t require a host of supporting characters no one saw before or heard of (looking at you, Mr. Mallister and Mr. Pyke).

Slynt, being the politician he is, makes a suggestion to Thorne, who obviously lacks such skills: send Jon Snow to Craster’s Keep, the mission he’s lobbied for since the last episode, and get rid of him in the process. Plus, revealing real political savvy, make it a volunteer-only mission – thereby getting rid of Jon Snow’s most vocal support as well. Clever move, Mr. Slynt. Would’ve served you better back in King’s Landing, but then, against Tyrion you were kind out of your league.

Also at the Wall: Locke. His teleportation there really threw me off. I can’t remember him announcing loudly to go there last episode, and suddenly here’s there with the recruits and straining suspension of disbelief really, really hard: not only does he teleport to the Wall, he also claims to be from the Stormlands (yeah, sure) and to be a poacher, while standing there in his ringmail and beating guys to the ground with his sword like he was born to it. And Jon swallows all of it and becomes best buddy with him.

I have felt that this character setup was a real interesting one from back when they announced that Locke would be at the Wall in season 4, but I somehow think it would have been way more interesting had he been sent there in earnest and become one of Jon’s supporters – it would’ve been less black and white in who supports Jon (the good guys) and Thorne (the bad guys), but he will do a good job as the hidden antagonist out to kill Bran. However, it also makes his days a littlebit numbered, since Bran has to meet Bloodraven until season’s end and Locke…well…he’s not even in the books. Not exactly a fair fight if you ask me.

Which brings us to another fair fight: at Craster’s Keep, the mutineers have built up a real hellhole. Qarl, the leader of the mutineers, drinks wine from Mormont’s skull and announces that Craster’s women should be “raped to death” (in case you got confused as to who the bad guys where). Rast, in the meantime, is looking all gloomy, possibly setting up his redemption when Jon arrives. When a women brings the last of Craster’s sons, the horror ambience is even amplified: all the women are starting a chorus, demanding the offering of the boy to the gods. Qarl, well knowing that this means the White Walkers, complies and brings the child to the usual place he somehow knows, where a Walker quickly picks the boy up.

Bran, in the meantime, wargs into Summer and spies out the situation since he hears the baby crying (conveniently, their path brought them to Craster’s). After spotting Ghost in a cage (wtf?!), Summer falls into a trap, and the rest of the band is quickly captured as well. This of course sets up heightened stakes for Jon’s rescue mission: Locke now will find Brandon, and the fight at Craster’s Keep will become very chaotic indeed. Can’t wait that to play out, I have to admit. Bran’s only chance at rescuing the rest of his band (Hodor is tortured outside in a callout to Bran’s story from “A Clash of Kings” how he got lost in the Winter Town once and was surrounded and attacked, again reinforcing the evilness of the mutineers) is to reveal his secret identity as a Stark, and for the moment, it works. The whole scene is terrifically done.

And yes, I know, it has nothing to do with the books. They invented a complete new storyline to keep the attack on the Wall for the finale of the season and to give Bran and Jon something to do, and I think it works just fine. You can easily accept the urgency of protecting the lie from Mance Rayder as sufficient for bringing out Jon, and putting Bran in the mix makes for some interesting material as well. It’s also nice that Sam told Jon about his meeting with Bran; it makes for more drama, and Jon won’t leave the Watch anyway, so I don’t really get why he wasn’t allowed to tell in the books anyway. Works fine here.

And then, the scene. You know what I mean. The White Walker rides his zombie horse into what I think is the Heart of Winter (too bad we never got Bran’s vision, would have played nicely here) and puts the child on same altar, when what I guess is the King of the Others (the Night King?) appears and transforms it into a White Walker. Thanks, Craster, for actively helping to create those. The scene is shot in parts from the POV of the child, which makes the horror aspect again stronger and obscures much of what’s going on – a smart move that saves on CGI budget and keeps stuff mysterious. I quite like what I see.


By the way, io9 has a pretty conclusive theory that it is actually the Night King (since the Other is credited that way) and that this means the stories and legends are true, making said Night King an undead Brandon Stark – an interesting matchup for the later confrontation with a broken but pretty much alive Brandon Stark. 

The show is generally doing a better job in keeping the threat of the Others alive in the reader than the books do, and while I get that it is intended that way in the books, in the context of the show, this clearly works better. We know what the stakes are, and the culmination of this season will be really satisfying for it. “I mean to have [every castle] garrisoned again within the year, and nightfires burning before their gates.” Cut to Lord of the Rings Soundtrack and a montage of burning fires.

9 comments:

  1. Nice review Stefan. Totally agree, though stunned as a book reader, I look foward to new storylines and surprises.

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  2. Really disagree about Sam telling Jon about Bran being NBD. This is going to have big changes for Jon's storyline. It will dilute the urgency he feels to go rescue Arya from Ramsay, and he is not going to be really tempted by Stannis' offer to become a legitimate Stark and lord of Winterfell. Also if Jon is helping Stannis, he will probably now tell Stannis that Bran is alive. This will really change Stannis' strategy to win the north and install an ally in Winterfell, he is going to want to find Bran if he knows he is alive and suddenly makes wooing Jon a lot less important... also has big ramifications for how Stannis decides to deal with Theon.

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    1. Technically, you're right, except one thing, but in the end, it won't matter that much. I strongly disagree about the urgency thing because I think it's a really stupid argument, like that Catelyn's hurt over Robb's death is diminished by the knowledge that Bran and Rickon might yet be alive. Why should Jon not still want to rescue his little sister from the likes of Ramsay Snow, just because he has a brother left? That's no reasonable thought at all.
      As to Stannis' offer: if Bran meets Jon and is either announcing his intent to never to return (for some reason) or if Jon gets the impression that Bran died at Craster's, we have no problem. The Winterfell offer is too strong a moment for Jon, and we will get it in some way. Let's wait and see how it turns out in episode 10.

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    2. Also - we don't yet know how this will play out. Perhaps the writers constructed it in such a way that in the end, Jon *thinks* Bran and Rickon are dead.

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  3. The major event this season is the war at the Wall.

    Mance Rader once told Jon that to bring together all the wildlings he told they need go south to runaway of the White Walkers.

    So, the "game of thrones tv" needs to show/remind to audience how dangerous the white walkers are, and this is what made all the wildlings united and march to the south (north in westeros)

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  4. Is there a chance in the show that Coldhands comes to Craster's Keep and kills the mutineers before Jon and the rest gets there? I know he doesn't rescue Bran from them in the book but he does kill them himself. Honestly, I just am very disappointed with the show for cutting out Coldhands as of now.

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    1. They didn't cast Coldhands for season 4.

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  5. Maybe Grey worm and his thirst for vengeance while be the substitute for the Shavepate?

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