There’s a protective streak running through this week’s episode, “Oathkeeper,” though it was rarely about love. But when it was, unlike Meatloaf, the inhabitants of Westeros would do anything — even that. This week's headline is the revelation that Joffrey’s death was a team effort of strategic conspiracy and (grand)parental concern. Ah, “Game of Thrones,” where no alliance is too far-fetched.
Missandei, Daenerys’ translator, is moonlighting with the Unsullied leader Grey Worm, teaching him how to read and speak the common tongue, presumably in preparation for their siege of King’s Landing — before they’d even taken Meereen. To that end, Grey Worm leads a small band into the city to a secret gathering of slaves, where they debate the merits of joining an uprising, which several in attendance had done before and all to the same gruesome end that changed nothing. But Grey Worm and his men brought some brave words — “A single day in freedom is worth more than a lifetime in chains” — and, more importantly, weapons; the slaves make their move the very next day.
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When the coup is done, Daenerys is welcomed into the city with another round of “Mhysa!” (“Mother!”) chants. Ser Barristan Selmy suggests there are times when injustice should be met with mercy. “I will answer injustice with justice,” Daenerys says, the faces of the 163 children strung up as mile markers on the way to Meereen blazing behind her eyes. She orders the slaveowners similarly half-crucified along the city streets.
Across the Narrow Sea, there’s a new odd couple. Jaime seems to be getting the upper hand (if the show is not above missing limb puns, neither am I) in his latest sparring match with Tyrion’s bodyguard, Bronn — that is until he whips off Jaime’s golden prosthetic and backhands him with it. To save face, Jaime changes the subject to Tyrion’s guilt in Joffrey’s murder. Bronn doesn’t even have to think about it: “He hated the little twat, sure, but who didn’t? Poison’s not his style — or murder, for that matter.” After Bronn tells the story of being Tyrion’s second choice to Jaime as champion during his trial at the Eyrie, knowing his brother would ride through the day and night to defend him, Jaime sacks up and pays a visit to Tyrion.
In the bowels of the Red Keep, Jaime tries to lighten the mood by reminding Tyrion that his dungeon digs are a dream compared to being tied to a post for months. This doesn’t have the desired effect, and while they’re talking anyway, Tyrion looks Jaime in the eye and says, “Are you really asking me if I killed your son?” Oh, and he’s aware Cersei would prefer to avoid a trial, sham that the proceeding would be anyhow. But Tyrion doesn’t think his wife had anything to do with Joffrey's murder, either. “Sansa’s not a killer — not yet, anyway.”
Cut to Sansa very much contemplating whatever she has to do to keep herself safe in the “care” of Lord Baelish’s not-so-tender mercies. He confesses to framing Sansa for Joffrey’s death with the poison concealed in the necklace given to her by Ser Dontos; Sansa reasonably points out the folly of making an enemy of the family who finally gave him power, land and a title. Littlefinger prefers his allies more predictable than the volatile Joffrey Baratheon: “If they don’t know who you are or what you want, they can’t plan what you’ll do next,” he says, adding that the Lannisters had no idea what he really wanted — which seems to be Sansa, even as he’s set to wed her aunt, Lysa Arryn, in the Eyrie. If he's willing to marry that crazed woman with reverse Oedipal complex, then he might just be the one who wants the Iron Throne most.
Ever the ladies man, in his strictly business way, Lord Baelish’s co-conspirator in Joffrey's murder is revealed to be Olenna Tyrell, who loves Margaery above politics and wouldn't see her married to the cruel boy. Not above some unorthodox maneuvering to get her man, she tells the saucy story of getting out of marrying a Targaryen by sleeping with her sister’s would-be fiancé. She’s telling Margaery to take a hint … and seduce Tommen Baratheon, the new would-be king and all of 12 years old? But after sneaking into his room for a late-night candlelit chat and bonding over his cat (Ser Pounce!) they just might have something special. As one person in my viewing party put it, “That was the appropriate amount of seduction for a 12-year-old,” and then immediately disavowed his words.
Cersei’s wine goblets are getting larger as she spirals down into a dark, obsessive focus on her only remaining son, Tommen. She’s fitting Sansa’s head for a spike, too, but Jaime refuses, saying he swore to protect Catelyn Stark’s daughters in exchange for his freedom. But instead of saddling up himself, he gives Brienne of Tarth his new prized Valyrian steel sword (which she christens Oathkeeper, especially appropriate since it was forged from Ned Stark's weapon), a new suit of armor and Tyrion’s squire Podrick (who's in danger because he won't testify against him) for a mission to find Sansa “and get her somewhere safe.” Jaime and Brienne both look in danger of expressing an emotion as they part ways.
At Castle Black, Jon Snow is neglecting the chamber pots to teach the Night’s Watch anti-Wildling fighting techniques. Seeing the writing on the wall for the upcoming vote to appoint a new lord commander, Allister Thorne decides to grant Jon’s request to go to Craster’s Keep and deal with the mutineers who took over the harem of sister-wives. Jon’s hoping to intercept his half-brother Bran Stark on the way; Allister hopes he meets more than that, though his plan is stymied when the best swordsmen of the Night’s Watch volunteer to go along. Sorry, Allister, but no one can resist those soulful brown eyes.
They can’t get there a moment too soon. The Night’s Watch mutineers have made the situation at Craster’s Keep even worse, and Bran manages to get his group captured and reveals his identity under duress, between some wanton cruelty toward Hodor and Meera.
But the episode saved the best for last. The mutineers keep with the tradition of offering up Craster’s male babies as a “gift for the gods” — the White Walkers. His last child is taken to the Westerosi equivalent of Stonehenge, where a White Walker turns the infant into one of their own with a single touch. What was that about dragons being the scariest creatures in the Seven Kingdoms?
Next week, Daenerys sets her sights on King’s Landing, Cersei will throw down with Margaery over Tommen, Arya forgets that chainmail deflects swords, and Jon Snow gets to prove he knows something about swordfighting, at least.
Points for keeping the plotlines zipping right along, some terrific acting by the peerless Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) andNikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) and, finally, some good parenting. Deductions for gratuitous cursing and cruelty, even by "Game of Thrones" standards.
For such a dark episode, “Oathkeeper” had more humor than most. Jaime gets Best Delivery, while Tyrion, as usual, claims Best Quote with the most casual conversation about Cersei’s ordered hit. “Now that you mention it, she did ask,” Jaime says oh-so-casually. “I’d hate for you to do something inappropriate,” Tyrion deadpans.
There aren’t many people left in Westeros whose conscience is weighed down by murder, but Lord Baelish is even more blasé than most about his role in Joffrey’s death to solidify his alliance with the Tyrells: “Nothing like a thoughtful gift to make a friendship grow strong.”
Tyrion bequeaths his axe from the Battle of the Blackwater to Podrick for his mission with Brienne. Podrick has to fight back the same surge of emotion as the rest of us.
Lord Baelish and Sansa are on course to run into Arya and the Hound, who plans to ransom her to Lady Arryn. Meanwhile, Jon Snow is on his way to rescue Bran and co. Could the tattered remnants of House Stark finally reunite? And what does that mean for Roose Bolton and Ramsay Snow, who are working to consolidate their claim to the North?