Often, Game of Thrones struggles with keeping its seasons balanced, which means that many of the episodes in between the major shocks can feel like filler. "Oathkeeper" should technically fall into that category, with the wheels for various plots being set in motion as the aftereffects of Joffrey's death ripple out across the Seven Kingdoms, but instead, it's the kind of tightly plotted episode that reminds viewers that sometimes, the political scheming is just as compelling and attention-grabbing as all of the bloodshed.
We do, however, begin "Oathkeeper" with some of that bloodshed, and the promise of much more to come, as Daenrys and her army finally take Mereen. Grey Worm convinces the slaves of the city to rise up against their masters, and rise up they do, fighting back against their captors until the city belongs to the Mother of Dragons. Still, there's something about the victory that feels a bit lackluster, as Dany's story has fallen into a rut of "travel to city, free slaves, repeat." Even her speech about answering injustice with justice feels like a pale imitation of one she's given so many times before. Her story is a difficult one, as it's just as inconsistent, plot-wise in the books, but it seems like show's decision to make up for that by having her capture and free city after city might not be the best solution anymore. She has her army, she has a population of dedicated servants, and she's proven herself a force to be reckoned with. It might finally be time for her to put that army to use.
Meanwhile, on the complete other side of the world, Jon Snow is also raising an army to march on Craster's Keep. Sure, it's a small, rag-tag army made up of a few Brothers who volunteered for the job, but it's an army nonetheless, and Jon's got enough conviction to more than make up for what he lacks in men. He's still struggling against the authority of the Nightswatch, as nobody seems to take the threat of a Wildling invasion seriously, but his time North of the Wall has helped Jon grow into his own confidence and connect more with his brothers — which is good, considering how heavily it's hinted that he might soon be Lord Commander.
But first, there's the issue of Karl and the rest of the Mutineers to deal with. Since we've last see him, Burn Gorman's former Brother has become truly terrifying, slurping wine out of a skull and abusing the many wives of Craster. It's an uncomfortable sequence that seems to drag on for far too long, one that seems to revel in its twistedness just for the sake of reminding viewers how messed up the show can get. And while it does achieve that goal, it's even more disturbing in the aftermath of Jaime and Cersei's encounter last week, which isn't mentioned at all in "Oathkeeper" (but we'll get to that in a moment). Though Gorman throws himself into the role in a creepily entertaining way, drawing out every curse and swanning about like the most horrifying king imaginable, it's not until Bran, Jojen and Meera are captured that his scenes gain some purpose.
Their capture, with Jon Snow hurtling his way North to meet them, was written specifically for the show, which makes the whole thing a lot more exciting. It's one of the few instances where fans who have and have not read the books are on the same page, and with a character like Karl involved, it's truly impossible to predict what will happen next. Although, with Locke tagging along on Jon's mission, a happy reunion between brothers doesn't seem to be in the cards.
The siblings in King's Landing also seem to be headed for trouble, as Jaime bounces between his brother and sister, struggling with choosing which oaths to honor and which to disregard. It's a strange episode in the wake of last week, one that would otherwise seem to mark Jaime's redemption as a character, but instead just seems to highlight the jarring differences in the way Jaime is handled from episode to episode. There is no mention of what happened in the sept, although Cersei doesn't seem to have any affection left for her brother, who still refuses to prove that his loyalty by killing Tyrion and Sansa. Lena Headey plays every drunken, bitter moment perfectly, and its clear that something in their relationship is broken beyond repair, but it's disappointing to have her verbal attacks be the only hint we get at the aftermath of Jaime's assault.
It seems that the last episode was intended to be a way to balance out the goodness that Jaime showcases this week, but if that's the case, it's a clumsy and ineffective way to mess up Jaime's redemption arc. Becuase he does redeem himself otherwise, promising to help Tyrion as much as he can without setting him free and sending Brienne off to honor their vow to Catelyn Stark. These last few episodes really do show how much Game of Thrones has come to rely on Tyrion and Peter Dinklage, as his back and forth with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was the highlight of "Oathkeeper." Tyrion is at his best when he's scheming, and so keeping him locked away deprives the show of those brilliant moments, although Bronn's "real talk" does help to make up for it somewhat.
As does the idea of Brienne and Pod hitting the road together. Brienne's scenes with Jaime were genuinely moving — even if I'm a little conflicted about them, considering recent events — but it's clear these two care about each other immensely, and seeing Jaime treat Brienne like the knight she should be was touching. Sending her off to honor her vows to Catelyn is an important development, as it shows that Jaime understands Brienne enough to know how important keeping her word is, as well as signalling that there is something broken between him and Cersei. Jaime's honor has become more important to him as of late, and losing his hand seems to have made his earlier sacrifice of honor seem less important by comparision. Brienne is the character who best represents traditional chivalric values on Game of Thrones, it's appropriate that he sends the most honorable person he knows off to attempt to regain a tiny bit of his own.
It also hopefully means that we will get some wonderful scenes between two of the show's best characters, Brienne and Pod, as they travel the King's Road together. If the writers want to drop any one of their plots in favor of a road trip storyline with these two, I would be completely okay with that.
Meanwhile, the show finally reveals the people behind Joffrey's poisoning: Petyr Baelish, who is currently heading off to the Vale with Sansa, and Lady Olenna, who is high-tailing it back to Highgarden. Both these scenes are a delight, as truly, few people know how to play the game better than Olenna and Petyr. He and Sansa have a wonderful bit of banter where he reveals how she was unwittingly implicated in the plot, and Sansa quickly starts putting the pieces together as to how he murdered Joffrey, although she's unable to read him well enough to determine why. That's what makes Petyr, as creepy and traitorous as he is, such a great character, becuase with so many alliances and possible motivations, it's always difficult to figure out what he's going to do next.
Margaery, however, needs things spelled out to her a little more clearly, which is a bit surprising, considering how adept she's proven herself to be a politics and scheming. If we had any doubts that Olenna pulled off the crime of the year, they're dispelled the second she fiddles with her granddaughter's necklace while convincing her to "do what needs to be done." And what needs to be done, apparently, is to start winning over Tommen as soon as possible. The scene between him and Margaery in his room is a wonderful study in manipulation - she has, after all, proved time and again that she knows how to make those Baratheon boys putty in her hand — but it's an incredibly uncomfortable scene to watch, as Dean-Charles Chapman looks about 12 next to Natalie Dormer, so their interactions have an additional layer of creepiness to them.
As far as "filler" episodes go, "Oathbreaker" is a great example of how to find the right combination of shock, suspense and exposition to tide us over until the real action kicks off in the upcoming weeks, even if we do feel the need to take several showers after watching it. That one-two-three punch of Petyr, Margaery and Karl creepiness is enough to haunt even the heartiest of fans.
Episode grade: B, or two scavenging Ser Pounces. Ser Pounce truly is the Game of Thrones equivalent of Lil Sebastian, and we hope he is held in the same esteem.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.