Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
It may seem redundant to call any episode of Game of Thrones “dark,” but is it just me, or did this one ratchet the unpleasantness up a notch or two? Off the top of my head, here are the ten most disturbing things we saw in “Oathkeeper,” from least to most disturbing.
10. Grandma telling granddaughter how good she was at sex back in the day.
9. A sellsword slapping a cripple with the cripple’s own hand
8. A mature woman seducing a boy who has maybe (?) gone through puberty (at least she didn’t give him a lapdance, I guess…)
7. A sister dead set on murdering her brother
6. 163 screaming men nailed to signposts as an act of “justice”
5. A man who uses the c-word quite a bit drinking wine out of a man’s skull
4. Petyr Baelish’s voice
3. Everyone pretty much ignoring Jaime’s rape scene from last week
2. All kinds of new rape
1. Dead creatures killing a baby
Even by Game of Thrones standards, that has to take the cake, right? And we didn’t even see Ramsay the Thing-Slayer! (Questionable nickname, I know, but I had to try.)
So, wow, where to start? We now know officially that Joffrey’s death was a collaboration between Littlefinger and Lady Olenna, we know they have been insanely successful in hiding their involvement, and we know that Littlefinger plans to marry Lysa Tully as the next step in his power grab.
To me, though, for the second episode in a row, the most compelling action happened in the far north. And before we continue lauding the Jon Snow renaissance, let’s take a quick second to praise Burn Gorman, ie Karl, ie the psychopath at Craster’s Keep who has established an obscene kingdom and likes to drunkenly challenge all comers in the midst of his profanity-laced rants. It was a singularly creepy performance from Gorman, who is also great in the so-so new AMC Revolutionary War drama Turn, and he’s becoming one of my favorite character actors. And while his conversation-with-the-skull scene wasn’t quite Hamlet, it was darkly funny enough to serve as a perverse kind of homage. I know Karl is probably destined to die, but he definitely belongs in the group of TV villains who are so dynamic that you really wish they’d hang around a bit longer. Here’s hoping we get a showdown with Jon Snow before the curtains fall on Karl.
Speaking of Snow, GAH, Locke has infiltrated the Night’s Watch and is closer than ever before to Bran and Rickon! Jon has no idea who the newcomer is, and only vaguely admires his fighting style, but he’s leading him right to the younger brother who, to be fair, isn’t exactly in better hands at the moment. This conundrum of Bran’s is a major departure from the book, which is always fun for me because it introduces a new element of uncertainty. Clearly we’re moving toward a clash between Jon Snow and the mutineers, but how will Locke handle things? The last thing Jon Snow needs right now is an assassin in his midst, but even with the respect of his peers, his enemies only seem to multiply.
If the best action was in the north, though, I thought the best lines belonged to King’s Landing. The exchange between Jaime and Tyrion was the highlight:
Tyrion: Are you really asking if I killed your son?
Jaime: Are you really asking if I’d kill my brother?
The Starks may be upright and interesting in their own way, but nobody talks quite like a Lannister. Their only rival in cunning is the Tyrells, and I absolutely loved Lady Olenna’s revelation to Margaery: “But I do know. You don’t think I’d let you marry that beast, do you?”
So, are you with me on the darkness of this episode? What did you think of Dany’s decision to forgo mercy? Is Cersei the most idiotic character in the GoT universe? In a show full of awesome pairings, is Brienne-Poderick one of the best yet? Over to you, sir.
This was certainly a dark episode. It was also one of the most linear. After we leave Daenerys crucifying the Maesters of Meereen, almost every scene ties directly into the next—unusual in the Game of Thrones world where dozens of story lines often progress on their own. Bronn tells Jaime how Tyrion “knew you would ride day and night to come fight for him,” and then we move to Tyrion’s cell. Tyrion tells him that Sansa couldn’t have been involved in the regicide, and then we’re on the ship with Sansa and Peter Baelish. Baelish talks about killing Joffrey as a thoughtful gift to a new friend, and then we see Lady Olenna and Margaery. Olenna warns Margaery that Cersei will try to turn Tommen against her. After a quick glimpse of life at Castle Black, we see Cersei and Jaime and then Margaery sneaking into Tommen’s room. Jaime responds to his sister’s wish that he go kill Sansa by sending Brienne with Valerian steel (and Pod!) to find Sansa and take her somewhere safe. Even the scenes in the north get tied together. Jon Snow gathers volunteers to go after the mutineer rangers, and then we’re at Craster’s Keep with Karl holding crazy court and sacrificing Craster’s baby boy to the White Walkers. Bran and his companions hear the baby crying and Summer gets trapped. They go to investigate and are caught themselves. And then we learn what happens to Craster’s boys when they’re taken, something we hadn’t yet seen in George R.R. Martin’s novels.
And the events at Craster’s Keep are among the show’s biggest diversions from Martin’s writing. In the books, Samwell Tarly keeps his oath that he’ll not tell Jon Snow that Bran is still alive. Unlike The Walking Dead which has veered wildly off the path of the comics, Game of Thrones has hewed closely its source material—a necessity when retelling epic tales whose threads weave into an intricate tapestry. But it is fun to have at least one area where you don’t know what happens next.
Still, while the novels aren’t meant for prudes, it’s starting to feel really weird that the two latest differences in the show involve graphic rape scenes. It’s become comical how HBO goes out of its way add sex scenes just to prove its freedom from the FCC, but as many comedians have learned the hard way, there’s not much funny about rape. And it’s painful to watch the torture of Hodor. Here’s hoping a pair of direwolves eat Karl and the rest of his renegade rangers soon.
That last scene, though! Baby White Not-Yet-Walker! I want to see White Toddlers. And teenaged White Slouchers. The walker who turned Craster’s kid into one of his soldiers looked like he was either king of the White Walkers or he was walking the Bart Simpson hairdo. Part of the reason I’m so anxious for Martin to finish the series is so I can better understand the mythology of Westeros, and how the Children of the Forest, the old gods, the Drowned God, the Seven, the Lord of Light and the Walkers all fit together. All signs point to a grand encounter between forces, but it’s not clear what motives or morals those entities might carry.
As to your questions, Daenerys is clearly more about justice than mercy. Really, Barristan Selmy is rare in the world of Westeros or Essos in even recommending mercy as an option. But it was the Maesters’ killing of 163 slave children to spite Dany that took compassion completely off the table. As Grey Worm says, “Kill the Maesters.” Cersei might not be the most idiotic, but she is the most spiteful, and she’s blinded by her hatred. And I can’t wait to see the Adventures of Brienne and Podrick, though I still don’t think anyone can top Arya and the Hound. That was the one thing this episode was really missing. Aside from a few quips from Olenna and Bronn, there was very little wit to lighten an episode full of death, torture and rape.
So you’re a fan of psychopath Karl but not psycopath Ramsey Snow. And I thought Locke was impressive infiltrating the Night’s Watch—plus he looks Noah Taylor reminds me of the Six-Fingered Man from The Princess Bride (but maybe it’s just the goatee). So among the hundreds of villains in Game of Thrones, who are your favorite? Give me a Top Ten.
All I really ask for in a villain, much like The Governor in The Walking Dead, is to be evil in a way that seems semi-believable, and also charismatic. The actor playing Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon) has a range that extends from “creepy smile” to “creepy rage smile,” and no further. But Burn Gorman is incredible, and, to be fair, the writing for his parts was way better. For me, it’s little things, like the way he says, “I was a legend!” Those moments are little windows onto a character’s humanity, and ego, so that you can start to infer the events that brought them from some original state of semi-innocence to true evil. Ditto for his resentment of nobles; beginning to end, I just loved Karl’s scenes. You could argue that Ramsay Snow’s psychopathic behavior was at least intensified by his bastard status, but Rheon rarely seems like he’s trying to tap into that turmoil; instead, it’s all caricature, and evil is much more terrifying when it has roots in real human behavior; it’s comfortable to see ‘badness’ as a wicked other separated from our existence, but in real life, we know all too well how relatable it can be.
That being said, George R.R. Martin is an expert at depicting shades of gray, and there are very few characters who you can point to as truly evil. Jaime Lannister is the poster boy for how perceptions can change, sometimes from week to week. In the TV universe of GoT though, I have to say that my top 10 mostly irredeemable baddies are Joffrey, Karl, Cersei, Tywin, Alliser Thorne, Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, Viserys Targaryen, Theon Greyjoy, and Melisandre. That’s quite a list, but of those 10, all of whom exist beyond even the likes of Jaime Lannister and Petyr Baelish on the villain spectrum, each were played by actors who touched base with his or her character’s human core. They were rotten, but they had depth. And of all the great exhibitions of rage and venom, I have to place Karl’s from last night near the top.
You hinted at Grey Worm’s scenes from last night, and I thought it really brought life and vitality to the adventures of Daenerys for the first time in a while. We got to see some of the humanity behind the fierce Unsullied facade, and as you might guess, what little individuality is left is largely molded into hatred for the “masters” who made him a captive. I enjoyed the scene where he inspired the slaves in Meereen to revolt, as well. My question remains the same—when are we going to see some real military adversity for Daenerys? Maybe it won’t happen until she returns to Westeros, but at the moment the force she’s amassed seems too mighty for anyone to conquer.
Totally agree with you about HBO’s insistence on forcing sex down our throats. It reminded me of a quote from Nic Pizzolatto, writer of True Detective, who said on the issue of nudity in his series: “I’d be happy with none.” Not to be prude-ish, of course, because in a series like Game of Thrones, there are obviously times when it’s appropriate. But it’s a little like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in the sense that when the nudity is so extreme and grotesque so routinely, we start to think of it as a weird joke rather than an artistic choice we should take seriously. Nudity of any kind becomes a cue for rolling our eyes, because we know something comically extreme is probably happening. It’s like an angry teenager’s idea of sex, all sharp edges, rather than any kind of real depiction. But that’s the way it goes; maybe HBO has an audience of sex-starved men who watch only for the occasional glimpse of naked females, and who also apparently don’t have the Internet.
So, what can we expect from Brienne and Pod? And how great are the Jaime-Bronn training scenes? I could watch an hour of those two sparring, with Bronn being unnecessarily violent just because he can.
That’s a great list. Glad to see Walder Fry on there—architect of the Red Wedding and creepiest patriarch in a world where Craster marries all his daughters. Viserys’ ego was even bigger than Joffrey’s and led to what’s still one of the most memorable deaths on the show. And The Hound doesn’t seem quite so irredeemable these days. What’s most impressive, though, as how different all those villains seem from one another. Martin doesn’t just stop writing at “evil.” There’s a depth and humanity to most of these characters that goes beyond typical TV villain. Power is generally the corrupting force, but it knows endless ways of corrupting.
The scariest thing about Brienne teaming up with Poderick is that they’re two of the most guileless characters in the land. Loyalty meets loyalty, and this is not a world that rewards those humbly trying to do the noble thing. We got a glimpse of their rapport, though, as Pod struggled with the “ser/m’lady” question.
And yes, the Jaime/Bronn scenes have been fantastic. It’s like if Sawyer from Lost came across another castaway who started giving him insulting nicknames. I hope those training sessions don’t end anytime soon.
Please don’t die, George R.R. Martin.
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