The first three episodes of Game of Thrones’ thrilling fourth season have been punctuated by a troika of kairotic moments. Arya Stark slowly guiding Needle through the neck of Polliver after The Hound was denied his fucking chickens. King Joffrey Baratheon ingesting poison and transforming into a bloodied ghoul during the Purple Wedding. Jaime Lannister raping his sister, Cersei, beside the dead body of their incestuous love child.
“Oathkeeper,” the fourth episode, didn’t boast a “wow” moment, but rather treated us to a farrago of deceit and duplicity.
The action opens with a telling scene between Missandei and Grey Worm, commander of the Unsullied (the warrior-eunuchs of Astapor), sharing their life stories. Grey Worm, who looks like baby Barack, says he has no history before he lost his twig and berries, and only lives by one mantra: “Kill the masters.” So, Grey Worm arms the slaves of Meereen, who outnumber the citizens three-to-one. “No one can give you your freedom, brothers,” he says to them. “If you want it, you must take it.” Before long, Dany and Co. have taken the city, and Dany exacts vengeance against the slave masters, who nailed 163 children to mileposts leading up to Meereen. “I will answer injustice with justice,” she says defiantly, before crucifying the child-killers.
Lysa Arryn, the largely forgotten widow of the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, looms large here. After Jaime Lannister gets schooled in the art of swordplay by Tyrion’s henchman, Bronn, the latter persuades the former of Tyrion’s innocence and harkens back to the events of Season 1, when Tyrion was accused by Lysa of the murder of Jon, but was subsequently freed after Bronn killed Lysa’s champion, Ser Vardis, in “trial by combat.” Bronn claims that Jaime was Tyrion’s first choice for his champion.
“He named you for his champion because he knew you’d ride day and night to come fight for him,” Bronn tells Jaime. “You’re gonna fight for him now?”
What follows is a touching scene between brothers Jaime and Tyrion in his prison quarters where his “champion,” Jaime, becomes convinced of Tyrion’s innocence, despite Cersei’s machinations.
“Are you really asking if I’d kill your son?” asks Tyrion. “Are you really asking if I’d kill my brother?” responds Jaime. “How can I help you?”
The only way is to jailbreak him, but the one-handed Jaime’s fighting skills will need some serious sharpening if this is ever going to come to fruition. It’s a tremendously acted sequence; a carousel of tender, desperate, and rich glances from the gold-handed Kingslayer to the Imp.
Later, aboard a dark vessel sailing toward The Eyrie, the Karl Rove of Westeros, Lord Baelish, confesses to Sansa that he plans to marry Sansa’s aunt, the aforementioned Lysa—before revealing it was he who poisoned Joffrey during the Lannister-Tyrell nuptials, and that the evil boy-king’s once-betrothed was wearing the poison around her neck (the necklace given to her by the late Ser Dontos, which was missing a stone after the feast). But why, Sansa asks, would Baelish do this when Joffrey had made him the Lord of Harrenhal?
“A man with no motive is a man no one suspects,” says Baelish. “Keep your foes confused. If they don’t know who you are, or what you want, they don’t know what you plan to do next.”
The goateed pimp proves, once more, that he’s the slickest, shadiest Westerosi around and he can play the game better than anyone.
But he had a little help. It seems Littlefinger was hired by Olenna Tyrell, the sage-like grandmother to Margaery, who was set to spend the rest of her life with the sadistic Joffrey.
“You don’t think I’d let you marry that beast, do you?” she tells Margaery.
And then, in the most deliciously fun part of the episode, Olenna shares a revealing story from her past. As a young woman, her sister was promised to Luthor Tyrell, while her betrothed was a Targaryen. But alas, she hated his “ludicrous silver hair” so, the night before Luthor was set to propose to her sister, she happened upon his chamber.
“The following morning, Luthor never made it down the stairs to propose to my sister because he couldn’t bloody walk,” she says matter-of-factly. “And when he could, the only thing he’d wanted was what I’d given him the night before. I was good. I was very, very good. You are even better…”
Is there anything better than a saucy Dame Diana Rigg, aka Emma Peel, bragging about her skills between the sheets? Then, she orders the Machiavellian Margaery to call on Tommen Baratheon, Joffrey’s younger brother and the boy who would be king. So the stunner sneaks into the tween’s bedroom and goes all Mary Kay Letourneau on a mesmerized Tommen, playfully seducing him with a purr and a smile (and acting out every pubescent Westerosi boy’s fantasy). Margaery is the most throne-thirsty gal in the Seven Kingdoms, and she’ll marry anyone—a gay, a psycho, a boy—to be crowned queen.
Now, there is one thoroughly confusing sequence in “Oathkeeper,” and it has to do with the interaction between Jaime and Cersei. In the previous episode, “Breaker of Chains,” we were treated to the most taboo-violating scene in Game of Thrones history: the rape of Cersei by Jaime next to their incestuous son’s dead body. But in analyzing the sequence, both the episode’s director Alex Graves and star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau claimed it wasn’t exactly rape, and the Internet backlash to the rape—which deviated from the books, where it’s more consensual—even provoked author George R.R. Martin to chime in.
If the follow-up scene between Jaime and Cersei is any indication, that highly controversial scene was not intended to be a rape. After catching wind of his visit to Tyrion’s cell, Cersei sends for Jaime, who visits her in her chambers.
“You sent for me, Your Grace?” he says. “Your Grace… how formal of you,” she replies.
And that’s it. That’s the only semblance of awkwardness between the two after a scene that very much depicted Jaime raping Cersei next to the body of their dead son. Instead of a reckoning, we’re treated to a wine-drunk Cersei in full-on fang-bearing mode (as is her wont) mocking Jaime’s apparent loyalty to the Stark clan and questioning why Catelyn decided to let him go, before demanding Sansa’s head.
“If I told you to find that murderous little bitch and bring me her head, would you do it?” she asks. She can sense his reluctance.
Instead, Jaime gifts Brienne with his Valyrian steel sword that’s been forged from Ned Stark’s, custom armor, and Tyrion’s loyal squire, Podrick Payne, who’s worn out his welcome at King’s Landing. “You use it to defend Ned Stark’s daughter… there’s still a chance to find Sansa and get her safe,” he says. “I’ll find her for Lady Catelyn… and for you,” she replies.
Brienne names her sword “Oathkeeper,” and the two share a pensive gaze—one rife with sexual tension (Brienne and Jaime have slowly overtaken Dany and Jorah as the two who most need to bump uglies). Jaime’s nobleness throughout Episode 4 seems so at odds with the big event in Episode 3. In the blink of an eye, he’s gone from a sister-rapist to sworn protector of Tyrion and Sansa. Then again, perhaps that’s just the cutthroat world of Game of Thrones—a realm devoid of morality, and one where most characters are a shade of gray.
One character that is undeniably good (so far) is Jon Snow. Here, we see hints of the great leader he’s destined to become as he impresses members of the Night’s Watch with his training regimen, before recruiting several volunteers—including the sadistic Locke, who maimed Jaime—for a council-sanctioned mission to travel 60 miles beyond the Wall to Craster’s Keep to kill the mutineers, avenge the death of his mentor, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, and hopefully rescue his diminutive half-brother, Bran.
Meanwhile at Craster’s Keep, Karl guzzles wine out of the skull of his victim, Ser Jeor Mormont, while the other traitorous ex-members of the Night’s Watch rape Craster’s daughters as he yells, “Fuck ’em ’til they’re dead.” They capture Bran, Hodor, and the gang and, in the most disturbing scene of the episode, sacrifice Craster’s bastard baby boy by leaving him outside in the snow as a sacrifice to the White Walkers. A Darth Maul-looking White Walker (there are different ones?) then transforms the baby into a demon with the touch of his claw. The baby’s eyes freeze over.
It’s episodes like “Oathkeeper” that cements Game of Thrones’ status as one of the best shows on television. Sure, it left many questions unanswered. What’s up with the White Walkers? Why is Baelish marrying Lysa? When will Jon Snow kick some ass? Will the real Jaime Lannister please stand up? But it’s also peppered with moments of quiet brilliance between its characters. Baelish’s reveal to Sansa. Olenna’s giddy plotting with Margaery. Tyrion and Jaime seeing eye-to-eye. No other show is blessed with such a wide variety of rich, layered characters, each of whom is given their moment to shine.