"Game of Thrones" Season 4, Episode 4 Recap & Review
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss swung for the fences this week, ending with what was perhaps “Game of Thrones’” riskiest play to date in a show known for its compelling shock factor. With “Oathkeeper”, director Michelle MacLaren takes the audience much farther beyond Martin’s published work to date than “The Lion and the Rose” had when it showed dragons over King’s Landing in Bran’s vision. Fans of the television series and the “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels may have read or heard that writers Benioff and Weiss spent a few days with author George R. R. Martin at his New Mexico home discussing what Martin calls the “broad strokes” for the conclusion and direction of his epic fantasy opera in the event the show catches up to his published work. Westeros and Essos make an appearance this week, but HBO isn’t quite bold enough to venture into Sothoryos yet. We aren’t privy to Arya and the Hound, Reek and Ramsay, Davos, Stannis & Melisandre, or Shae this week. Every episode so far this season ended on a memorable sequence and “Oathkeeper” stays in that vein.
The episode begins on the eastern continent with Missandei teaching Grey Worm to read. Each performer gets a shot to describe their backstory before a band of Unsullied summon their general to infiltrate Meereen and subsequently assist the slaves in overpowering their masters. Daenerys then enters the city once the slaves have taken over their masters. The Unsullied army then begins to crucify 163 slavers as the Targaryen banner rises over the city. This is probably the weakest part of the episode because of the reliance on plot over performance. It’s an extended sequence with little action and without memorable lines. It even ends on a sour note between Daenerys and Ser Barristan.
Cut to Jaime and Bronn practicing toward Jaime relearning how to fight with a sword for the second time this season. Bronn proves yet again this week to be a much better trainer than Ilyn Payne from the novels. The relationship between the two characters can certainly run deeper and have a more interesting dynamic than anything with the King’s Justice. The two men discuss their mutual friend and the probability of his involvement with Joffrey’s assassination. Bronn suggests Jaime visit his brother which happens in the next scene. Jaime and Tyrion – “the Kingslayer brothers” as the Imp puts it—discuss all manner of killings and verdicts as the Lannister boys settle on a good note despite their current predicaments: Tyrion with his trial and Jaime with his charge from Cersei.
Right after Sansa’s name comes up between the brothers, the camera takes us aboard Littlefinger’s vessel where Sansa climbed aboard last week. He tells her about his intention to marry her Aunt Lysa following his stay in the Vale since he’s left King Landing. Baelish then admits to masterminding the Purple Wedding and describes his process to oldest Stark daughter. Who would suspect a seeming ally in Littlefinger? Not the Lannisters, which proves his talent for confusion and misdirection. “A man with no motive is a man nobody suspects.” Actor Aidan Gillen chews up the scenery, pumping out one memorable, powerful line after another. He really is the reason audiences stay tuned. As Sansa ponders who Littlefinger employed beyond Dontos, the Queen of Thorns becomes the new focus for the camera as Lady Olenna confesses her part in the Purple Wedding to Margaery. Olenna mentions how tired she is of her “leisurely strolls” in King’s Landing, but I suspect the show really pointed out its awareness to the jokes about “talks of betrayal in gardens” from “South Park” last year. Olenna declares her intention to depart the capitol, but not before she bestows some wifely advice on her granddaughter.
The next sequence involves Jon Snow training Night’s Watch recruits for battling wildlings. Kit Harrington takes the opportunity to branch beyond the moody Jon of whom everybody has become way-too-familiar in favor of a fearless leader that knows his enemy. Unfortunately Acting Commander Alliser Thorne shows up to rain on his parade. He belittles Jon as a “traitor’s bastard” who forgot his place as a steward—not a ranger. As Jon holds his tongue, a conversation between Janos Slynt and Thorne indicate that Maester Aemon will hold an election for the 998th Lord Commander and that Thorne isn’t a popular candidate. It should be mentioned that Ramsay and Roose Bolton’s main man Locke (Noah Taylor) popped in to infiltrate the Watch for surely sinister purposes.
Jaime and Cersei then share a forgettable scene about Tyrion’s guilt and Tommen’s protection which leads to a rather welcome and refreshing change of pace when Margaery Tyrell secretly enters King Tommen’s chambers and puts her grandmother’s wisdom to use. A non-murderous woman in King’s Landing is most welcome sometimes. I didn’t feel nervous once for Tommen. We shift back to Jaime Lannister as he charges Brienne of Tarth with finding Sansa Lannister/ Stark and returning her to King’s Landing. Before she departs, the Kingslayer gifts her a new suit of armor and his new Valyrian steel sword forged from Ned Stark’s Ice. The irony doesn’t get past Jaime and he mentions it. She names her sword “Oathkeeper.” Brienne is last seen leaving King’s Landing with Podrick Payne, who now carries Tyrion’s battle axe.
Jon and Sam have a best friends talk, mostly about Bran’s safety and the turncloak fiasco at Craster’s Keep. They then follow Locke up to the mess hall where Thorne gives Jon leave to go to at Craster’s Keep albeit with a caveat: volunteers only. Slynt makes his typical shit-eating grin as he expects no Watch brother to rise up to the call. Jon, however, gathers several men (the newly-recruited Locke included) to his cause. We’re then taken straight to Craster’s Keep (why is it still called that?) where Karl (Burn Gorman) has taken command, symbolized by his drinking from Lord Commander Mormont’s skull. Rape and drinking abound as Karl charges Rast with feeding Jon’s captive direwolf, Ghost. A woman then enters with Craster’s last child—a male, as fate would have it. After the daughter-wives shout “gift to the gods” several times, Karl then adds sacrifice to Rast’s honey do list. Rast then does as he’s told. Karl’s a much better leader than Mormont, right? Wrong. So very incorrect.
The camera keeps us in the North as Bran’s party falls upon Craster’s Keep after Summer gets caught in a trap after warging with Bran. As they wait outside, looking for a point of entry, they’re captured by the depraved men at Craster’s Keep. They tie up and torture Hodor as Bran, Meera and Jojen are brought before Karl. Karl immediately recognizes Bran as highborn, but Bran won’t admit it. Jojen begins foaming at the mouth and convulsing, but Meera isn’t allowed to help until Bran states his name for all to hear.
The next sequence has stirred up a lot of discussion between fans of book and television alike. A lone white walker rides on horseback across snowy wilderness and a frozen lake until he falls upon an ice crystal kingdom reminiscent of the Witch King’s lair from The Lord of the Rings films. (It’s no surprise Tolkien influenced Martin.) The white walker with scant clothing dismounts in a clearing, carrying Craster’s last son. He (bearded) carefully approaches an outcropping of medium-height icicles arranged in a circle around an ice altar. The baby cries unashamedly as a series of black columns in the background come slowly into focus, but never fully.
The thinly-dressed white walker no longer appears in the frame as one of the black figures approaches the child on the altar. Another white walker stands before the child. Are all of the figures in the series other white walkers? The darkly-dressed Other reaches for the child with a cold, bony finger and presses it to the baby’s flesh, turning its eyes wight blue and ending its sobbing. The controversy here is that it appears Weiss and Benioff have either surpassed Martin’s published work or deviated from the plot completely as many fans have anticipated the scantily clad white walker on horseback to be the show’s interpretation of Coldhands from the novels. However, Coldhands never got his own point of view and isn’t represented as the ominous, evil beings portrayed this week.
Who is he? HBO originally published on their website synopsis that this new white walker to be none other than The Night’s King from “A Song of Ice and Fire,” a character known from legends told within the story. Shortly after The Long Night, The Night’s King once took a cold woman from the Haunted forest and they ruled over the brothers of the Night’s Watch and sacrificed people (maybe children?) until the king-beyond-the-wall and House Stark teamed up to put him down for good. That happened thousands of years ago in Westeros and it would appear he’s still kicking. The cog here is that HBO later pulled any mention of “The Night’s King” from their synopsis, instead favoring mention of “a white walker.” This scene hasn’t happened in the books, but it appears to have confirmed the theory held by many. Perhaps this was the appropriate time to tell the story as the writers’ vision allows without the limits of paperback or hardcover. The jaw-dropping cinematography of the land of eternal winter and explanation of Craster’s boys certainly display that “Game of Thrones” offers surprises for readers as well. There were 14 dark figures standing and there are how many Fires of Valyria?