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.Follow @hollywood_com Follow @julesemm