Monday, February 20, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.7: "Mockingbird"

4.7 “Mockingbird”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alik Sakharov
Commentary by Aiden Gillen (Petyr), Kate Dickie (Lysa), Bernadette Caulfield (Executive Producer), and Chris Newman (Producer)

We’ve reached the seriously-ramping-up stage of the season, wherein all the setup starts to snowball toward the big huge shocks of the last two episodes. Once again, there doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme besides “shit is about to hit the fan,” and frankly unless one of the episodes does have one of these themes, I probably won’t even mention it again.

In King’s Landing, stuff’s ramping up for the trial by combat. Jaime spends some time yelling at Tyrion for being so damn impulsive, especially since Jaime can’t be the one to fight for him. Tyrion wonders aloud who Cersei will get to fight for her, which is a really stupid thing to wonder—both at all and now. Sure, Tyrion’s demand for a trial by combat was impulsive rather than calculated (as it was at the Eyrie), but he has to know exactly who Cersei would get.

Cersei finds Gregor Clegane working out or practicing or something by indiscriminately murdering a bunch of people who can barely protect themselves. There’s a lot wrong with this whole scenario, and a lot of it is emblematic of how the show treats the “smallfolk” overall. Martin does a lot of work to show how the non-nobility are disenfranchised during times of war and how they respond to said disenfranchisement. He also shows how much power they actually have over the nobility by sheer force of numbers. The Small Council is constantly worried about how their decisions will look to the smallfolk and how they’ll react. Joffrey is a liability because he has a habit of mocking the starving smallfolk from the battlements, threatening them (on at least one occasion, killing them) with his crossbow, and telling them to eat their own dead. The show cuts the smallfolk out almost entirely, using them only when they’re necessary for specific plot points—the riot in King’s Landing, Margaery visiting the orphans, Cersei’s walk of shame—and ignoring them the rest of the time. In Martin’s Westeros, Clegane just slaughtering random smallfolk as part of his workout regimen—in King’s Landing—would not fly. Especially not with Tywin right there. Out in the Riverlands, he can obviously get away with a lot more because there aren’t any nobles immediately available to a) stop him or b) worry about how his actions will affect their standing with their own smallfolk. Instead, the showrunners decided to show how big, strong, and utterly amoral Clegane is (all of which we already knew) by showing him slaughtering a bunch of random people.

Now, if they’d established that these are prisoners, for example, or that there’s some other reason why nobody would protest this treatment, that would be different. But they don’t, because Benioff and Weiss are really bad at writing politics.

Bronn also comes to visit Tyrion, because Tyrion’s hoping Bronn will step up for him again. Bronn basically laughs in his face and tells him there’s no way Tyrion can outbid a castle and a noble wife (Lollys Stokeworth, who’s apparently important enough to mention twice but not important enough to prevent the near gang-rape of Sansa by actually appearing in the show before now) and he really doesn’t want to die.

By this point, Tyrion’s out of ideas and he’s pretty much given up. Oberyn to the rescue! He saw right through Cersei’s little chat with him about Myrcella, and he shares a story about seeing Tyrion when he was just a baby. Cersei hated him even back then because of the loss of her mother, but Oberyn saw just a baby, not a monster. Oberyn recognizes that Tyrion is just as much a victim of the Lannisters as Elia was, and that he can kill two birds with one spear, as it were, by defending Tyrion. He can kill Gregor, and he can rob Cersei of something she wants desperately. So he offers to fight on Tyrion’s behalf in the trial by combat, and Tyrion breaks down crying in relief.

Out in the Riverlands, Arya and Sandor come upon another casualty of the unchecked chaos happening out here: a man next to an overturned cart, dying. They discuss death, dying, and mercy for a bit before Sandor grants him a quicker death than the one he’s currently suffering. He then turns it into a lesson for Arya—“that’s where the heart is.” Then out of absolutely nowhere, Rorge and Biter show up and Sandor gets bit on the ear. Sandor kills Biter and Arya recognizes Rorge, so Sandor asks if he’s on her little list. She says he can’t be because she never learned his name, so as soon as he tells her, she puts Needle through his heart, just like big brother Sandor taught her. (That might be a bit snarky, but I still absolutely love their relationship.)

At the Wall, Alliser is super mad that Jon made it back to Castle Black and makes him lock up Ghost as punishment for not dying. They also continue to ignore his advice about how to handle Mance’s oncoming army, which of course they do because as far as they’re concerned he’s a) a kid; b) a steward, not a ranger or builder; c) potentially a traitor; and d) super bossy for someone who’s not the boss. Once again, there’s a lot of nuance lost with this whole plotline, discarded instead for Jon Is Right and Everyone Else is Stubborn/Stupid. Because Benioff and Weiss are really bad at writing politics.

Daario continues being his forward self, letting himself into Dany’s room by climbing the pyramid to her window. He brings flowers that he claims he swam to an island a mile offshore to get, and she tells him not to do stupid stuff like that and by the way, these are her private quarters and unless you’re invited, stay out. Daario’s bored; he says he’s good for two things: fighting and women, and he’s not getting either of those here. So she tells him to take off his clothes.

There’s some stuff to unpack with this scene. On the one hand, we finally have a fully-clothed woman watching a man disrobe. On the other hand, Dany is still the object of the viewer’s gaze. The camera watches her looking at him; it doesn’t put the viewer in her place and allow us to see what she sees. Also, we don’t see any more of Daario than we’ve seen of any other naked man on this show. Now, I personally have no burning desire to see Michael Huisman’s bits, but it seems like they’re aiming for female-fan-service and missing because they don’t understand that the way they’ve framed this is still male-gazey. This isn’t throwing a little something in for the ladies, this is letting guys imagine themselves being the one Dany’s looking at like that. I am glad that we don’t get Emelia Clarke naked again (I understand that by this point she had refused to do any more nude scenes for the sake of nude scenes), but this is fairly emblematic of how the showrunners think they’re being feminist but they’re just managing the thinnest fa├žade of feminism that still services the male audience.

Jorah finds Daario coming out of Dany’s room the next morning, still putting his clothes back on. Dany assures Jorah that she doesn’t fully trust Daario, and in fact she’s sent him to essentially burn down Yunkai. Thus ensues yet another instance where one of Dany’s male advisors—because she doesn’t have any other kind—talks her out of doing something crazy and totally Targaryen by telling her stuff that she should already know or understand.  So she sends him to tell Daario there’s a change of plans and to send Hizdahr as an ambassador to the Yunkish.

There’s a bit with Melisandre and Selyse that I wouldn’t even bother to talk about if this image wouldn’t be important later for sheer continuity’s sake:

I strongly suspect (and will discuss more in season six) that nobody had any idea how important her necklace was going to be, and that they’re seriously all just making stuff up as they go along, stringing together bits of Martin’s story with their own stuff that may or may not make any gorram sense.

This brings us to the actual reason this episode is titled “Mockingbird.” Up in the Eyrie, it’s snowing, and Sansa is thrilled. She starts building a snow castle that turns into Winterfell and seems to be truly happy for the first time in a long time. So here comes Robin to completely ruin that.

Robin, like so many of the kid characters, was kind of ruined by aging him up. Also, they took away his actual disability and turned him into just a brat. In the books, Robert Arryn is possibly epileptic—he has some sort of seizure issue, anyway. He’s also a brat, but a lot of that is because Lysa is obsessively concerned about his health and shelters him to the point that he can’t handle any kind of adversity at all. I already talked about what Lysa’s problem is. So instead of a six-year-old boy with a seizure disorder (which the maesters treat by bleeding him) who is also weak because he barely gets any exercise and on top of that is spoiled rotten, we get an eleven- or twelve-year-old boy who’s just spoiled rotten.

Robin starts out okay, asking Sansa about Winterfell and bragging about the Eyrie’s Moon Door, but then he accidentally breaks part of the castle and then throws a full-blown temper tantrum when she scolds him. At which point, she slaps him.

Now, I’m not saying Robin doesn’t maybe deserve to be slapped. He’s completely insufferable and needs to grow up. However, that Sansa is the one to slap him and not, say, Petyr is another instance of them changing Sansa’s character—for the worse, in my opinion. Book-Sansa is generally a genuinely nice person. She feels for others, even scary people like Sandor. She wants them to be happy and comfortable. Her diplomacy thing isn’t entirely about protecting herself; a lot of it is just that she aspires to be like the princesses of song, and they’re courteous and genteel. Sure, she’s kind of awful to Arya, but she’s eleven years old and doesn’t know how to handle a little sister who doesn’t share her ideas about ladylike behavior. Book-Sansa is frustrated and irritated by Robert, but she’s always nice to him because she understands that his illness and brattiness aren’t really his fault. She does what she can to help train him out of his patterns of behavior, but she’s still nice to him. Book-Sansa never physically harms Robert and even feels bad when she’s verbally sharp with him.

But “nice” isn’t something main-character women on Game of Thrones are allowed to be. Heck, even secondary-character women don’t tend to be nice. The only character I can think of who’s genuinely nice is Missandei, and she’s pretty much got no political or social aspirations at all. She just wants to serve Daenerys (that’s its own problem).

Petyr comes out and assures her that she won’t be in trouble for slapping Robin, and that he really should have been slapped a lot a long time ago. He gives her some more of his faux-philosophical babble about how sometimes in order to build a home you have to demolish the old one. She demands to know why he killed Joffrey—the real, honest-to-the-Stranger reason, not more of his prevaricating. He admits that he loved Catelyn, that Joffrey hurt everyone, and that under other circumstances, Sansa would be his daughter. Because she’s not his daughter, though, and because he has a seriously unhealthy obsession with Tully girls, he kisses her. Which, of course, Lysa witnesses.

Lysa’s temper tantrum is way more epic than Robin’s snow-castle-destroying one. She’s convinced that Sansa is one more in a long line of people who have tried to keep her away from Petyr, who she’s loved her whole life. Every one of those people—Hoster, Jon Arryn, Catelyn—is dead now, and she shoves Sansa at the Moon Door to make sure she’s also removed from Lysa’s way to happiness forevermore with Petyr.

That’s until Petyr comes in, calms her down for long enough to get close to her, then drops the bombshell that he only ever loved Catelyn, and shoves her out the Moon Door.

I feel like this scene didn’t have the impact it could have. Maybe it’s because of all the problems I’ve already talked about regarding the lack of nuance in Lysa’s and Petyr’s characterization and their relationship. Maybe it’s because viewers had to have seen this coming; nobody as loose-cannony as Lysa would be allowed to live for very long when the stakes are this high. Maybe it’s because Petyr was way more open with Sansa about his obsession with Catelyn than he was in the books, so even his last words to Lysa weren’t surprising to anyone. Maybe it’s a combination of a lot of things.

Random smallfolk
Lysa Arryn

Next week: Missandei and Grey Worm are awkwardly adorable. Theon takes Moat Cailin. Sansa’s plot starts to derail. Trial by combat.

Stills from Gif from

Monday, February 13, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.6: "The Laws of Gods and Men"

4.6 “The Laws of Gods and Men”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Alik Sakharov
Commentary by Byran Cogman and Alik Sakharov

Much like last week, this episode is made up of several big pieces, but the minor traveling character moments are missing this time. That’s kind of okay because we needed a lot of time for Tyrion’s trial.

Before we get to Tyrion’s trial, though, we get more faffing about from Stannis and Davos, who head over to Braavos to get a loan. I kind of dislike this whole sequence for two reasons: one, I feel like seeing the Titan of Braavos before Arya gets to Braavos steals a lot of her thunder; and two, I liked it better in the books when Davos is like “if you want to be king, defend your kingdom” and next thing we know Stannis is breaking the siege on the Wall and everybody—Jon, Mance, the readers, everybody—is surprised. This bit telegraphs the whole thing. I understand not wanting to have Stannis and Davos just disappear for a whole season, blah blah, but if they’re going to not show Bran’s story because it’s not “cinematic,” I would have been fie with them not showing this part, because frankly it’s boring, doesn’t do anything for character development (Stannis is stubborn; Davos believes in him; Salador is a pirate), and only kind of adds to the worldbuilding (we’d have gotten it later anyway).

Except that we get Mark Gatiss, which almost makes up for it.

Yara and the Ironborn make an attempt to rescue Theon, which fails miserably because Theon is completely broken and doesn’t want to be rescued. I really don’t understand why/how Benioff & Weiss restructured the whole Ironborn storyline, because it a) doesn’t make a lot of sense this way and b) takes away a lot of Yara/Asha’s character development. The show has a serious problem (that reaches a critical mass in season six) of taking away women’s power and handing it to the men in their lives, and having Yara wander around until Theon frees himself before actually setting in motion the Kingsmoot and Euron plots steals a lot of her thunder. While Theon’s off-page being tortured in the books, Asha’s visiting with her family (most of whom they cut from the show, including her mother and uncle) and working to consolidate support for her bid to the Seastone Chair after Balon’s mysterious death. Instead, Asha’s entire story revolves around Theon and it can’t move until Theon’s free of Ramsay.

Daenerys holds court and we see two of the 214 petitioners she has that day. The first is a goatherd bringing the burnt bones of one of his goats left over after Drogon torched his entire field. Daenerys, with the air of one conferring a great favor, promises to pay him three times what his goats were worth and then looks super pleased with herself when the goatherd is grateful. This ruling thing isn’t so difficult! Look at me nailing it! Then we get Hizdahr zo Loraq, who deflates her bubble a bit by asking for permission to take down the masters from the crosses, including his father, who spoke out against nailing up the children. She agrees to allow him to give his father a proper burial, and again there’s a bit of self-congratulation for being a kind and merciful ruler, though it’s not as clear as the earlier one. Missandei tells her she has 212 more people wanting her judgments on things, and she takes a deep breath and continues with the hard, drudgery part of ruling.

The entire rest of the episode occurs in King’s Landing, starting with a bit of power-jockeying and moving into Tyrion’s trial. First there’s a Small Council meeting, which Oberyn starts off by asking if he gets an actual title now, like Master of Coin or something. Varys demonstrates that he has eyes all over, even in the war-ravaged Riverlands, by giving an update on the Hound and then Daenerys. Tywin has a plan to break her before she can come to Westeros, but we’ll have to wait to see what that is.

Oberyn and Varys have a super interesting meeting at the throne that establishes that Varys was asexual even before being castrated, which Oberyn of course has no idea how to deal with. (Remember, Oberyn likes sex and hates Lannisters, and gods forbid that characterization gets complicated or expanded on at all.) One thing this scene does is contradict Tyrion’s constant insinuation that Varys is/was gay or a pedophile, as Varys denies ever having been sexually attracted to anyone ever. Now, some of this might be because he spent time as a sex slave and has some residual trauma, but it’s just as likely that what he tells Oberyn—that he never had any desire for anyone and witnesses how desire has broken entire nations—is the exact truth of it and Game of Thrones, of all shows, has a positively-portrayed asexual character.

Trial time! Tyrion’s chained, to his irritated disbelief, and hauled into the throne room, where Tommen recuses himself from the trial and leaves Tywin in charge. Tywin then proceeds to parade in a series of witnesses who talk about all the times Tyrion said bad things to or about Joffrey, as well as the times he hit him, all completely without context, of course, and often with just enough of a lie to make the testifier look completely blameless in any incident while Tyrion comes off as a monster. Meanwhile, Jaime clearly doesn’t understand why Cersei hates Tyrion so much that she wants him dead.

They take a break, and Jaime demands that Tywin put a stop to the trial because it’s clearly a farce and Cersei’s own personal vendetta, and nobody really believes Tyrion killed Joffrey. He points out that he also killed a king, specifically to save Tywin’s life, and this isn’t how he’d like Tywin to be using it. He says if Tywin will save Tyrion’s life, he’ll give up the Kingsguard and go back to Casterly Rock to be Tywin’s heir, which Tywin agrees to, though he’s not above rubbing Jaime’s nose in the fact that he already planned to send Tyrion to the Wall rather than have him killed. So everybody gets what they want, but especially Tywin.

The trial resumes with Shae being called as a witness and flat-out lying to the court about Tyrion and Sansa plotting Joffrey’s murder, as well as Tyrion forcing Shae to have sex with him. This whole thing just about breaks Tyrion, and he tries to get her to stop, but she throws his words about her being just a whore back in his face and the lies keep coming. It’s at this point that Tyrion decides—despite Jaime’s quick word with him about keeping his mouth shut and accepting sentencing to the Wall during the break—that this is all a bunch of bullshit and he’s not going to accept it. He demands trial by combat, because it worked once before. What could possibly go wrong?

Next week: Gregor (Mark III) returns. Arya crosses another name off her list. Dany takes what she wants. Brienne gets a lead.

All images from; gif from

Monday, February 6, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.5: "First of His Name"

4.5 “First of His Name”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Michelle McLaren

There are four major pieces in this episode and several smaller bits. I don’t know if you all have noticed, but right about the beginning of season four, the titles of the episodes completely stopped being indications of the theme of the episode, and the episodes have mostly stopped having unifying themes. At this point (and it gets worse in seasons five and six), Benioff and Weiss are hitting major plot points without bothering to try to explore the unifying themes behind those plot points or characterization or anything else.

The bit that gives the episode its title is Tommen’s crowning as he’s named king of Westeros. He and Margaery have developed a (creepy) rapport that Cersei notices, so she goes to feel out Margaery. As becomes typical in the show for these last three seasons, their interaction is catty and mean, just barely veiled behind innocuous-seeming comments (they get less innocuous later). In this case, Margaery implies that Cersei is old by asking whether she should call her sister or mother once she marries Tommen and Cersei marries Loras. The show clearly wants us to root for Margaery over Cersei, but this Mean Girls thing they’ve got going with Margaery makes me not like her very much. It gets worse later.

There’s a little bit of detail added in that helps explain some of Tywin’s motivation: he needs Cersei and Jaime to behave and put the family first because the mines at Casterly Rock have run dry. The Lannisters no longer have access to the kind of wealth they did before, and Tywin needs the alliance with the Tyrells to keep the Lannisters in power and flush. Too bad the only Lannister who might be able to manage that has been framed for murder and is reviled for no really good reason except being disabled (and sometimes kind of an ass).

Speaking of keeping power, Daenerys hears about Joffrey’s death, the overthrow of the council she left to rule Astapor, and Yunkai’s return to slavery and has to make a choice. Daario has captured the Meereenese navy, which affords enough ships to take her entire army back to Westeros right now. But she doesn’t yet have the confidence in her own ability to rule necessary to take that step. She knows she can conquer, but she doesn’t know if she can hold a city together, let alone seven kingdoms. So she decides to stay and learn instead of leaving for Westeros right away, which has every one of her advisors slapping their foreheads and groaning, probably. Now, on the one hand, learning to be a competent leader is important. Being queen of seven kingdoms isn’t a learn-as-you-go job. On the other hand, emphasizes her imperialist attitude—conquering and ruling Slavers Bay becomes practice for the “real thing” when she takes Westeros. It reduces the importance of the human lives she’s saved from slavery and the ones she’s ruling now. At any time, she could drop everything and just leave. This is something I’ve said about the books, too, and I don’t think it’s a problem with the way the story is being told, but a commentary on imperialism and colonialism. Where the show trips up a bit, I think, is in leaving out Dany’s comment that “her children” (the former slaves) need time to recover from being slaves and grow into themselves as people, and her dragons need time to grow up before they’re fearsome enough to help her take Westeros. The show makes it all about her and her abilities and self-doubt, which is again a paring-down of the many factors that go into every decision Dany makes and creates a severe oversimplification of her character and circumstances.

Petyr and Sansa reach the Vale, where Sansa finally feels safe for a few minutes; Lysa greets her warmly, Robin’s actually on his best (if a bit tactless) behavior, and she’s far, far away from King’s Landing. Also, she saw the Eyrie’s defenses and there’s no way anyone (without a dragon) is going to get in here to take her back to the Lannisters. When Lysa and Petyr are alone, Lysa insists on getting married right now—she even has a Septon waiting outside. She says they had their wedding night years ago, and Petyr makes a face like he doesn’t understand what she’s talking about.

Here’s the thing: the entire plot was set in motion by Petyr yearning after Catelyn for years. He set Lannister against Stark to punish Ned for marrying Catelyn. He manipulated Lysa into killing Jon Arryn and sending Cat the letter that started the whole thing in motion. He believes that he had sex with Catelyn when they were young. The show never really disabuses us of that notion, whereas the books make it clear that Catelyn went to her marriage to Ned a virgin. This is supposed to be the aha moment that shows that when Petyr had sex with “Cat,” he was really sleeping with Lysa. That the show dropped the ball so hard on this moment takes away a lot of the impact of the whole subplot—Petyr’s entire reason for doing what he did was a lie! This was all for no reason. Also, without Cat’s interactions with her father, we don’t find out why Lysa’s so disturbed—she got pregnant when she slept with Petyr and Hoster forced her to abort, then married her off to Jon Arryn, who was like forty years older than her. This sequence ticks a couple of boxes on the plot progression chart, but it misses some serious nuance and emotional depth and ultimately Lysa just looks like a crazy person and not as damaged as she actually is.

Later Lysa pins Sansa down and demands to know exactly what her relationship with Petyr is; she suspects that Petyr’s only taking care of Sansa because she’s Cat’s daughter, and Lysa has always suspected that Petyr loved Cat more than her. Her demands escalate from fairly mild-toned asking to insisting and finally to a manic fever pitch as she asks whether Sansa’s pregnant with Petyr’s baby or if she knows whether Petyr had sex with his prostitutes. It rightly freaks Sansa right out, and all semblance of safety is gone. Then Lysa says she intends Sansa to marry Robin and be lady of the Vale, and poor Sansa feels herself once again being reduced to a marriageable object instead of being cared for because she’s a human being.

The fourth major piece is Craster’s Keep. Locke does some scouting and spots Bran, who of course is his primary target, so when he goes back, he tells the rest of them to avoid that particular outbuilding, claiming it’s holding some nasty dogs. Karl storms out to threaten Meera one more time, because we can’t finish this subplot without making sure one of the women is threatened with rape or raped. He’s distracted by the fighting outside and leaves; after some chaos, he runs into Jon, who kills him with the help of one of Craster’s women. Rast gets mauled to death by Ghost, and then Craster’s women set the keep on fire and prepare to hike back to Castle Black with Jon.

In the middle of all this, Bran once again wargs into Hodor in order to get free of Locke, who’s trying to kidnap him. This time it gets worse; Bran not only uses Hodor for his brute strength, but forces him to kill Locke. When Bran leaves Hodor, Hodor looks down at his hands and sees the blood and starts to freak out. So not only has Bran mentally violated Hodor yet again, he’s further traumatized him by forcing him to do something entirely outside of his character—kill a man with his bare hands. Then Bran doesn’t even a) notice Hodor’s distress or b) give him a minute to recover; he immediately starts yelling for Hodor to come untie him, then free Jojen and Meera. Bran then faces his last chance to turn back; he sees Jon and has to decide whether to call out to him and let Jon take him back to Castle Black or hide and continue his mission. He decides to continue heading north.

There’s a few small character moments that keep us clued in to the progress of the characters who are traveling or otherwise don’t have a lot to do in this episode. Arya and Sandor are still headed for the Eyrie. Sandor hears Arya saying her “prayers” and says hate’s as good a thing as any to give someone a reason to keep living. Then he finds out he’s on her list and his face is equal parts hilarious and really sad. Later, he catches her practicing her water dancing and yells at her about it being a completely useless way to fight and maybe if Syrio had armor and a real sword like a real warrior, he wouldn’t have died.

Pod turns out to be the worst squire possible; he can barely ride a horse, he can’t cook over a fire (he doesn’t even skin the rabbit first), and outside of the Blackwater, he’s never actually learned to fight. But he’s loyal to a fault and refuses to leave her even when she releases him from his vows. After they talk for a bit, she relents just a tad and allows him to help her with her armor.

Finally, Cersei and Oberyn have a moment wherein she tries to manipulate him (without sex!!!!) or at least kind of feel out where he is about Tyrion by bonding over their kids. She says that they’re in similar positions; he couldn’t save his sister or her kids, just as she couldn’t save Joffrey. She also asks how Myrcella is doing and he assures her she’s fine, happy, and enjoying herself in Dorne, because unlike the rest of Westeros, they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne. Cersei says they hurt little girls everywhere, and for one of the last times, I feel truly bad for her. This society hurts everyone, but women and girls get the worst of it, even highborn ones.


Next week: The Iron Bank considers Stannis’ request. Yara tries to rescue Theon. Hizdahr smarms in. Tyrion goes to trial.

All images from

Monday, January 30, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.4: "Oathkeeper"

4.4 “Oathkeeper”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Michelle McLaren
Commentary by Michelle McLaren and Robb McLachlan (DP)

There’s a lot going on in this episode exploring how women rule or otherwise wield power, and not a bit of it isn’t somehow disturbing. There’s a tendency in this show to skim over the politics (which, for a show called Game of Thrones that’s ostensibly supposed to be all about the politics is kinda irritating) and boil everything down to archetype, stereotype, and otherwise lowest common denominator, and that’s especially evident in the way the show treats women. And I’m not just talking about the rape; the way women are written is just awful. The only ways women can obtain and maintain power are through sex and violence, and the show is really schizophrenic about whether it condones this behavior or not.

Daenerys, her army having convinced the slaves of Meereen to rebel and overthrow their masters, passes judgment on those masters by taking an eye-for-an-eye approach: she has 168 of them nailed up (alive) along the streets of the city, each pointing to the next as they did the slave children along the road to Meereen. Barristan tries to talk her out of it; after all, this is the kind of thing he saw while serving Aerys. Dany says something about answering injustice with justice, and Barristan clearly isn’t convinced. Now, while this incident did happen in the books, the context is vastly different, mostly because of how watered-down the politics are in the show. Daenerys is constantly trying to balance diplomacy with her sense of justice, and there are far more people vying for her attention and loyalty in the books than in the show. She also constantly second-guesses herself and has to struggle to make decisions; the show has her making snap decisions that are almost always violent ones. Late in A Storm of Swords she realizes that conquering is not the same as ruling and she’s been acting “more khal than queen” and needs to completely change her approach (Ch. 71, Daenerys VI). The show loses most of that balancing act, roughly three-quarters of the people who need things from her, and several advisors, along with adding several violent incidents that either don’t happen in the books or occur in an entirely different context.

In King’s Landing, Cersei’s freezing out Jaime. Now, this could be the emotional fallout I was talking about last week, but it could also be Jaime’s refusal to murder Tyrion for her. Graves said that the reason Cersei ultimately capitulated to having sex with Jaime was to try to manipulate him into killing Tyrion. That’s gross on a whole other level from the whole “accidental rape” thing, but also didn’t come across in the scene. Cersei totally uses sex as a weapon, but amazingly enough that got toned way down for the show, probably partially because, except for Lancel, all the guys she manipulated through sex were dropped—the Kettleblacks are nowhere to be seen, for example. So when it comes to sexual manipulation, so far Cersei’s been all talk. That means there’s no precedent for her actually using sex to manipulate Jaime, and the link between “kill Tyrion” and “okay fine let’s have sex” is nonexistent in that scene. Which means that the reason for the freezing-out is really unclear.

Meanwhile, Olenna is giving Margaery lessons in sexual manipulation. She admits to having done it herself back in her heyday, breaking up her sister’s relationship with Luthor by “accidentally” seducing him the night before he was to propose to Viola. She advises Margaery to do something similar to the very young Tommen. Tommen’s age is a whole other issue on its own; in the books, he starts out at seven and starts ruling at nine. They aged up most of the kids by about 2-3 years for the show, which still makes him nine in season one, and maybe 12 by the time he takes the throne. Obviously Dean-Charles Chapman is older than twelve, so maybe we could see fourteen, but not much older than fifteen if they want to keep the continuity they set up with ages in season one (that’s a big if). Margaery in the books is roughly sixteen when she marries Renly, which puts her at around seventeen when she marries Tommen. Her age isn’t established in the show, but Natalie Dormer is in her mid-thirties, and Margaery is probably meant to be in her mid-twenties.

The upshot of all of this is that Margaery seducing Tommen is super gross. Having already established that Tyrion won’t have sex with a fourteen-year-old girl because she’s a child, to then gleefully send Margaery out to use her wiles on Tommen without any discussion of the age difference is also super gross. And considering that when Margaery sneaks into Tommen’s bedroom to start the bonding process he clearly has no idea what sex even is, it all smacks of pedophilic grooming. Sure, it’s hard to believe that Margaery wouldn’t consummate the marriage if Tommen’s technically old enough, but they could have avoided the whole problem by not aging Tommen up as far as they apparently did and having Margaery manipulate him the way she did in the books—with kittens and assertions that as king, he has power that Cersei’s keeping away from him.

Not to mention that Olenna’s whole story undermines her as a deft political mind and turns her into someone who ultimately got where she is by using sexual manipulation—just like Cersei, who we’re not supposed to like for that exact reason. So, pick one, show. Is sexual manipulation smart, or bad, or does it depend on who’s doing it and how open they are about it? Because it seems like Cersei’s only mistake was saying out loud that tears and a vagina are a woman’s best weapons.

And then after all of this “sex gives women power” bullcrap, we get Craster’s Keep, where rape is just background noise to the actual action that’s happening in the scene. Karl has apparently taken a page from the Over-the-Top Villain Handbook™ and is drinking from Mormont’s skull and encouraging his men to “fuck [the women] til they’re dead.” Classy. He also plans to keep Craster’s deal with the White Walkers going once the women explain to him what it is, and has Rast take a newborn baby out into the woods.

This is how Bran finds Craster’s Keep; they hear the baby crying and go to investigate, then get themselves all captured, which of course means that Meera has to be threatened with rape, because that’s what happens in this show (and how you know the Bad Guys are Bad Guys except when they’re Good Guys with Tortured Pasts). It doesn’t take much of this treatment for Bran to up and tell Karl exactly who they are, and of course Karl immediately links him with Jon. My question about all of this has been—how in the world do people like Craster and Karl know all about Jon’s family? Mance, sure, he was a member of the Night’s Watch and snuck south of the Wall on at least one occasion. But who would tell Craster about the Stark family? When would anyone talk to Karl about Jon’s little half-brother (or cousin, considering his true parentage)? I’m not saying it’s 100% unbelievable that they’d know these things, but I’d love to see how they know them besides Plot Convenience.

Also appearing in this episode:
Everyone likes Jon more than Alliser and Alliser is Super Threatened by him, so he says sure, go kill the mutineers with way more volunteers than I thought you’d actually get, whoops. But also with Locke, who the Boltons sent up to get rid of Bran (priority one) and Jon (priority two).

Jaime sends Brienne out after Sansa and Arya with his Valyrian steel sword, a set of black enameled armor, and Pod. She names the sword Oathkeeper and they exchange looks, then she leaves. Which makes me wonder what they’re trying to do with this relationship. Obviously they love each other (whether that’s romantic or not isn’t relevant), but are they seriously trying to back Jaime’s development back up to the man he was becoming out in the Riverlands—you know, before he raped his sister? Are we supposed to be “shipping” this? Because no, sorry, I don’t ship Brienne with anyone with the kind of entitlement issues that would lead him to rape his sister. The narrative eye of the show clearly wants us to sympathize with Jaime, though, and this is also part of what I meant by emotional fallout. Jaime might not see what he did as wrong, but the overall narrative also doesn’t, and that’s a problem. If the writers claim that it’s rape, then they treat rape very lightly in this show (that’s pretty much been demonstrated) and that’s a bigger problem.

Jaime also visits Tyrion and they bond over not killing/having killed family members.

Petyr’s taking Sansa to the Eyrie and continuing to stand far too close to her and look at her in a way that makes me shudder. Sansa’s starting to get an eye for politics, which is great. Too bad they yoink that out from under her later.

The baby mentioned earlier gets scooped up by a White Walker, hauled way up north, stuck on an altar thing, and then poked on the cheek by the Night King, which apparently turns him into a baby White Walker. I have so many questions.

Some Great Masters (only one on screen; the nailed-up ones aren’t dead yet)

Next week: Tommen becomes king. Pod is the worst squire. Lysa is the worst aunt. Bran’s mind-rape escalates.