Last night’s Game of Thrones was so action-packed, it felt like a few episodes crammed into a single hour. Additionally, by the end of “Oathkeeper,” both book readers AND non-readers alike were left stunned by revelations about one of the more mysterious elements of the show. As someone who has read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire — the fantasy series the show is based on — twice, I had to rewind my television to confirm that the showrunners were, in fact, covering material that has yet to be released. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, little doves. On to the recap!
Grey Worm started off the hour as we caught up with him learning the common tongue from the luminous Missandei. The two most interesting aspects of this are the passion with which he utters his new favorite phrase (“Kill the Masters”) and the moment he reaches for her hand, after they discuss their respective childhoods. Missandei pulls away from the tentative eunuch, and the scene becomes another reminder of all the Unsullied give up to become the bad-assed warriors they are.
The lesson is then interrupted by Daenerys Targaryen, who lilts, “It’s time.” Time for what? Oh, for Grey Worm to infiltrate a large group of slaves having a debate over whether they can trust their proposed savior, Daenerys. When one slave mentions that there is no way for them to turn on their keepers, in part because they lack weapons, Grey Worm and company drop large bundles to the floor, and unfurl their wrappers to reveal swords and daggers, which the slaves regard with wonder as they realize that freedom really is possible. It’s no surprise a few minutes later when they converge on a slaver who has just seen the phrase “Kill the Masters” scribbled on a wall like blood red graffiti. They attack their Master from every angle and next we see a familiar sight — brown faces and arms outstretched as freed slaves call out, “Mhysa, Mhysa” to their liberator.
She is pleased by their love, but also steely-eyed about what she has seen. She asks for a reminder of the number of children crucified in the last episode and then signals to Grey Worm that the Masters they’ve rounded up are to meet a similarly brutal fate. Ser Barristan Selmy tries to intervene, telling his queen to answer injustice with mercy. She imperiously disregards his plea to her better nature and announces that she will answer “injustice with justice.” And that justice involves 163 crucifictions. The way Selmy looks at her with trepidation makes me wonder if he’s seen that brand of wrong-headed conviction before, perhaps with her father, the Mad King.
The scene ends on a powerful image, with the camera panning up to Daenerys at the top of the pyramid in Meereen with only one thing above her: a giant black flag with the Targaryen sigil draped across the vanquished harpy. They say that every time a Targaryen is born, a coin is flipped between genius and madness. Are we seeing the first signs of mental instability with Daenerys’ “eye for an eye” brutality? Who knows, now it’s time for Bronn and Jaime!
The two skilled fighters are practicing sword play, to help Ser Kingslayer learn how to fight with his new golden right hand and his suddenly necessary left one. As they take a break, Bronn calls out Jaime for avoiding his abandoned baby brother, reminding him that earlier in the series — when he was imprisoned in the Eyrie — Tyrion named Jaime as his champion because he believed in him. The guilt trip works; we’re still with Jaime only now we’re in Tyrion’s squalid cell under the Red Keep. Jaime fills Tyrion in on how their sister Cersei is doing, pointing out that she watched her son choke to death on blood in her arms.
“Her son?” Tyrion asks his incest-is-best-believing brother, pointedly. Jaime flat out asks Tyrion if he did it and Tyrion denies it, though he mentions that if he had killed Joffrey, they could call themselves “The Kingslayer Brothers,” maybe take their shtick out on the road. Tyrion then stands up for Sansa, insisting that there’s no way she could’ve done it. It’s a touching scene, underscored by the couple’s loyalty to each other; the next moment we see Sansa onboard her rescue ship with Littlefinger, and she’s telling him the opposite, that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey, either.
Sansa’s voice may tremble, but we are starting to see the beginnings of steel underneath all that silk. She’s getting smarter, too, parrying with Littlefinger and showing him that she’s no naive child. Perhaps seeing this new, more capable side of Sansa convinces Littlefinger that the girl can handle a few pretty huge revelations: 1.) they’re on their way to her Aunt Lysa and the Eyrie, 2.) Lady Olenna was the one who murdered horrid Joffrey, and 3.) — worst of all — Sansa played a part in the regicide by wearing a handy poisoned necklace, which was suddenly missing a stone just before the King started to choke on his putrid, cruel, cowardly life. She challenges Littlefinger about betraying the Lannisters, a family that has given him plenty, and he mentions that men without motives are rarely suspects. He tells Sansa that he’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants. And what does Littlefinger want? The way he replies “everything” while looking at Sansa hungrily makes it clear that he wouldn’t mind having her, on top of everything else. Littlefinger’s delivery is as cringe-inducing as it always is, but it was extra cringe-y because one of the last things he mentioned were the words “grow strong.” Oh, are we peppering our speech with family words now? Do make sure to answer Sansa’s next trembling question with a ham-handed, “Winter is Coming.”
It’s no surprise when we are whisked to the same gardens in King’s Landing that we constantly see Lady Olenna gracing with her presence. What is surprising is the revelation that because trials are such tedious affairs she is leaving King’s Landing. She also throws in a story about how when she was Margaery’s age, she saw her “ferret-faced” Targaryen-intended and promptly seduced her sister’s Tyrell suitor so successfully, that he “couldn’t walk” the next day. Just when you’re ready to pick your jaw up off the floor from her blunt bawdiness, she casually admits to murdering Joffrey, to save her beloved granddaughter from ending up with the little monster. Margaery’s shock reveals that the show is positioning her as an innocent in all that regicide, and Grandma isn’t done breaking it down for the girl. It turns out that Olenna’s “I snuck into my future husband’s chambers and rocked his world” story had a point besides stunning us senseless. She’s advocating that Margaery do the same with impressionable young Tommen before Cersei poisons him against her. I will miss that acerbic, pragmatic old lady, I will.
Next, we find ourselves whisked all the way north to Castle Black, where Janos Slynt convinces Ser Alliser Thorne to give into Jon Snow’s proposal of a dangerous mission to root out the Night’s Watch deserters at Craster’s Keep, in the hopes that Snow won’t come back alive. Slynt points out that Snow is well-regarded among the men in black and with elections for a new Lord Commander coming up, eliminating rivals for that position would be a wise choice lest he want to answer to that bastard for the rest of his life.
Back to King’s Landing, where Jaime answers Cersei’s summons and finds an ice queen waiting for him. Last week, there was much outrage and conjecture about whether the scene in the sept between the twins was actually rape. Despite the show’s insistence to the contrary, I believe that it was, and Cersei’s frozen reaction to Jaime feels right, in the context of that. Jaime may have been forcing her to be close then, but the space between them after last week’s assault shows that they’ve never been more estranged. Cersei bitterly asks how many Kingsguard are looking out for Tommen and hisses when she finds out there’s only one person manning that post. She dismisses her former lover with formality and we see the blinders removed from Jaime’s eyes, as he slowly realized what his sister really is.
She has good reason to worry about intruders, because we see one in the very next scene. Margaery slinks into young Tommen’s room and bonds with him over his “handsome fellow” of a cat, Ser Pounce. Tommen reveals that Joffrey once threatened to skin the feline alive and feed him to his little brother and the two meditate for a moment on the dead king’s cruelty. Then it’s time for Margaery to leave, but not before asking for the encounter to be their special secret, something Cersei need not be aware of… and the way Tommen eagerly agrees to Margaery’s idea that she see him again under similar circumstances is surely something Cersei wouldn’t want to know, lest it break her poor, paranoid, shriveled black heart. The way he eyes Margaery hungrily before she leans in and almost kisses him builds extreme tension. Is something creepy about to happen? Is Margaery grooming Tommen the way pedophiles do? Will she kiss this child? At the last moment, she avoids his lips and chastely kisses his forehead. Whew.
It’s daytime and we’re suddenly with Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth whose eyes widen when Jaime presents her with a beautiful, priceless Valyrian steel sword that she insists she cannot accept. It’s the sword Tywin Lannister had made for him and Jaime wants no part of it. He convinces Brienne to take it by informing her that it was reforged from Ned Stark’s sword, and that she could use it to defend his daughter Sansa. He has another gift, too, and the look on her face when she beholds the bespoke armor he’s commissioned for her is filled with wonder. But wait! There’s more! His third gift is a smiling new squire named Podrick!
She protests this new addition to her quest, saying Pod will slow her down, but Jaime reveals that Pod is a dead squire if he remains in King’s Landing near his erstwhile master Tyrion and Brienne relents. Right before she leaves, Jaime says that all great swords have names, and Brienne decides to call this Valyrian gift, “Oathkeeper,” the title of the episode. The looks they exchange as Brienne rides away are full of longing and sadness. When you say good-bye to someone in Westeros, there’s always a good chance it may be the last time you’ll ever see them, and that hurts because these two were so wonderful together. She made Jaime a better man.
Speaking of “better” men, we’re whisked back to Castle Black, where Jon is confessing to Sam that he was always jealous of his trueborn brother Robb Stark. Sam replies that he’s always been jealous of Jon, illustrating that no matter where you are on the ladder of life, someone is looking up at you. The scene is interrupted because Jon Snow has been summoned to the dining hall, where Alliser Thorne sanctions Jon’s proposed raid on Craster’s Keep, provided he only take volunteers. No one will be assigned to the suicide mission. This leads to an impromptu, Rudy-esque speech about getting their murdered Lord Commander Jeor Mormont justice from the mutineers at Craster’s, while preventing those deserters from informing the wildlings about Castle Black’s vulnerabilities.
After that, it’s no surprise when we’re thrust into a catalog of horrors at Craster’s Keep, where women are being beaten and raped in the background of each scene. It’s ugly and terrifying and things are actually about to get darker. Didn’t think that was possible? Well, you’re wrong! Because we find Karl drinking wine out of a skull, and we later hear him crow about whom the skull once belonged to — it’s Jeor Mormont’s. Karl is abusing Rast, who was abusing a woman, when one of Craster’s former wives stalks in and interrupts the scene. She has a male infant in her arms: Craster’s last son. At first, Karl looks like he’s going to plunge a knife through the baby boy, but the women all start muttering, “Gift to the Gods, gift to the Gods” and Karl is open to such suggestions, especially if it will shut the women up. “Give the Walkers what they want,” he says as he hands Rast the baby to feed to these monsters. At least, that’s what we think will happen when Rast leaves the baby out in the snow to go to Ghost, who to our surprise, is in a cage at the Keep. The baby quite understandably is bawling, and we know this because BRAN hears it. Wait, what?
Bran is near Craster’s? Since when?
Does this mean that he and Jon will be reunited when Jon Snow leads the anti-mutineer ranging party from Castle Black? This is exactly when book readers everywhere started muttering, “WTF, WTF, WTF” because we suddenly remembered the “butterfly effect.” If Jon has confirmation that Bran is alive, it forestalls certain important developments that occur later in the series. But everyone hates us readers anyway, so to one of the seven hells with us.
Bran wargs to investigate why the child is crying and we suddenly see the land beyond the wall through Summer’s point of view… and we’re right there when he gets trapped near Ghost, too. That snaps Bran right back into his broken body. The next thing we see is Meera, Jojen, Bran, and Hodor (Hodor!) peering at Craster’s Keep, trying to decide what to do. Meera is sent to help the wolves, and gets lightly bludgeoned for her heroism. They’ve been discovered by the deserters. Oh, no!
Then it’s on to another super disturbing scene that wasn’t in the books, as the scum at Craster’s Keep chain Hodor by the neck while they bait him, beat him, and stab him. The gentle giant is terrified and confused, and the whole moment is difficult to watch. Inside Craster’s, Bran gets propped up and inspected by Karl, who realizes that he now has something very valuable: highborn captives.
The moment fades to icy nothing and one of the last things we see is an Other on a very dead horse, clutching Craster’s last baby, who has been retrieved from the snow. The horse corpse slowly moves towards an icy stonehenge, where the White Walker lays the baby on an altar. Tension and terror build as we see the child through the ice below it. The camera pans out and there are 13 shadowy figures, one of whom slowly advances towards the squalling infant. But this creature is unlike the dessicated, long-haired husk we’ve seen Sam slay. He looks a bit like Darth Maul and when he reaches down and picks up the infant, you’re certain that he’s going to do something horrific, like eat it or drain its blood. What he does is worse; with one talon-like fingernail he starts to pierce the baby’s cheek, until the child’s eyes turn the telltale blue of the White Walkers. Or a White Crawler, in this case.
So that’s how they’re made?! And the man who has such power is actually the Night’s King? Yes, this is where the show went completely off the “book rails” and stunned readers and non-readers alike. That was a powerful feeling, because after watching Ned Stark lose his head, Robb Stark lose his, and Joffrey choke, readers felt armored with information. We couldn’t be surprised! We were prepared for shock and sadness, right? Wrong. We absolutely can be stunned, and this gift of an episode took us beyond the books to a frozen realm where otherworldly creatures steal humanity from innocents on an altar of ice. Now there is no difference between reader and watcher; we are equally malleable baby fat in the Game of Thrones’ omnipotent, icy talons.