It had to happen eventually. After setting a near-breakneck pace for the first three episodes, Game of Thrones finally pumped the brakes and slowed it down a bit. Unfortunately, the show-runners also pulled the emergency lever, as the fourth episode came to a grinding halt, sacrificing momentum in favor of meticulously setting up the future. The good news? They tossed out the books as they went, committing a solid fifteen minutes of run-time to brand new material that was sure to throw George R.R. Martin devotees for a loop.
We open with Danaerys fulfilling the promise made at the end of the last episode, as she completely abolishes slavery in the city of Meereen. After boning up on his letters, Grey Worm leads a full-on Y.K. Kim ninja team through the sewers, bringing the gift of fine steel to the servants stowed away in the city’s dungeons. “Kill the Masters” is tagged on the walls of Meereen, but before the targeted can shield themselves, an uprising leads to much stabbing. With an almost terrifying swiftness, Danaerys claims the city and delivers “justice” to the masters by crucifying them along the city walk, again making her character walk the line between generous liberator and cold-hearted dictator.
In King’s Landing, Bronn sets Jaime straight regarding Tyrion, leading Jaime to pay his brother a visit in the dungeons. Their brief chat convinces Jaime even further of his brother’s innocence, as there is just no way that Tyrion would murder his son (no matter how much he despised the little shit). Cersei is not going to hear any of that nonsense, though. With a few flicks of her scorned tongue, she casts her brother away from her chambers, commanding him to beef up Tommen’s bedtime security.
Meanwhile, on Littlefinger’s ship, Sansa is able to put her finger on the mystery while Baelish begins to stroke her uncomfortably. He did have the hots for Catalyn Stark, after all, and though he confesses to wanting the world and everything in it, it seems as if he’d be completely content schtupping her eldest daughter. Littlefinger admits to masterminding Joffrey’s murder in order to please some “new friends”, though he’s quite coy (as usual) as to who they exactly are.
Smash cut to Margaery Tyrell and Lady Olenna strolling through the King’s Landing garden. Olenna is glad that the “little beast” Joffrey is dead, yet realizes that Margaery is going to have to marry another (probably better) Lannister. Margaery takes heed of her grandmother’s words and sneaks into young Tommen’s bedroom that night (awakening Ser Pounce!), and all but ignites the soon-to-be boy king’s burgeoning sexuality without even touching him. Their nighttime trysts must remain a secret she tells him, and Tommen is eager to agree, should a pretty girl keep climbing through his window at night.
The scenes with Jaime are undeniably the clunkiest of the episode. The ugly assault on his sister last week is never adressed, and all of his moments are played with the same sad sack tone as his introduction this season. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to completely foget what happened beside his son’s corpse, thus rendering that scene even more disturbing in that the showrunners don’t really seem to be using it in the service of a storytelling endgame (at least not one that’s readily apparent yet). In the most egregious Jaime Lannister bit of faux civalry, he presents Brienne with a new suit of armor and his Valyrian steel. The mission he sends her on: to find Sansa Stark and keep her safe, all while being accompanied by Podrick. As is her way, Brielle accepts, naming the sword “Oathkeeper” (GET IT! IT’S THE EPISODE TITLE!), and after a truly out of place confession to her liege, rides off into the wilderness of Westeros.
At the Wall, Ser Allister tries to punk down Lord Snow. But the Bastard Son just isn’t having it, causing Allister to question just how unpopular he’s become (and, in turn, just how beloved by the men Snow now is). In hopes of finally ridding himself of the rival, Allister and Janos Slynt conspire to send Jon Snow to Craster’s Keep, on a mission to kill Karl and the remaining mutineers. However, Jon is able to channel the charisma of his father, Ned Stark, summoning a veritable army to accompany him on the raid with a rousing speech.
Beyond the Wall, Karl sits on Craster’s “throne”, holding his own Tour de Franzia from a man’s skull as his men continue to rape Lord Mormont’s wives/daughters (resulting in a weird, gross series of out of focus assaults that I doubt anyone is going to get worked up over, unlike last week’s act of incestuous impropriety). As is ritual, Craster left behind one last son and the baby is left in the woods — a gift to the White Walkers. Bran, Hodor and the rest of the Mystery Team hear the weeping infant and, upon investigation, also discover Jon’s direwolf locked in a pen. Yet before they can rescue it, Karl ambushes the small band and takes them captive.
“Oathkeeper” ends on a truly weird high note. A White Walker rides his zombie steed, carrying Craster’s youngest child to an iced over lake. In the middle of the lake — an altar, where the baby is placed and then picked up by a kind of White Walker high priest. It touches the baby’s cheek, turning the child’s eyes ice blue before we cut to black.
Though incredibly sluggish, Michelle MacLaren continues to be the gold standard for TV direction. Having already refined her eye and delivered some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad (To’hajiilee) and The Walking Dead (Pretty Much Dead Already), MacLaren proves yet again that it’s time for her to finally helm a feature. The episodes she directs dwarf almost all other TV, her utilization of the frame feeling truly cinematic and sweeping. So, if we’re going to have a bit of a slog on our hands, at least it looks as cinematic as possible.