Game of Thrones 4×04, “Oathkeeper”: Slower than January molasses, and twice as cold


This week’s sojourn among the squabbling folk of Westeros finds little actually going on, but lots of talking.  The brief mystery of “Who Killed King Joffrey?” is solved quickly and with little fanfare, while everyone else just kinda twiddles their thumbs.  That’s how things go on this show, sometimes; it’s a lot like watching baseball — endless stretches of tedium checkered with brilliant flashes of importance.  Which makes for fairly uninterersting television a great deal of the time, but I mean we could do worse, right?  Instead of baseball, it could be like golf or cricket.  Or Antiques Roadshow.  Though, with all the huffing and puffing everyone does on this program about special swords and armors and heirlooms, the latter example can feel a little on the nose at times.  For example, early estimates had Sansa’s necklace guessed at being worthless, but a more careful second assessment revalued it to be worth an entire monarch!

source: HBO

source: HBO

IN THIS EPISODE: The slave rebellion in Meereen goes off as planned with little difficulty; Tyrion is still in jail awaiting trial; Sansa is still on the Princess Cruise with Littlefinger and learns that it was he (along with a midnight coterie of sinister allies) that was behind Joffrey’s poisoning; Olenna Tyrell admits to Margaery that she helped orchestrate the death of Joffrey to spare her granddaughter being married to Westeros’ biggest creep; Cercei lashes out at Jaime, first accusing him of murdering Joffrey, then accusing him of helping three different people murder Joffrey; Jamie gets shamed into helping Tyrion by his new buddy, Bronn; Brienne is sent away by Jaime to uphold her vow to find and protect the Stark girls, and is given some lovely parting gifts (as well as Ser Podric the Endowed) by her platonic boyfriend; Margaery Tyrell starts working on earning sweet Tommen’s affections before his bat-crazy mother can turn him against her; the Nights’ Watch leadership continues to be really freaking stupid; Jon Snow takes a band of merry men beyond The Wall to deal with the mutineers at Craster’s; Bran & Co. are discovered by the mutineers and held captive with the intent to ransom; we find out where the White Walkers take the infant Craster boys — a charming ice castle in the Minas Morgul tradition where they’re turned into more White Walkers.

NOT IN THIS EPISODE: Arya and the Hound; Stannis, Davos, and Melisandre; the ever-charming Bolton clan; the Greyjoys; Rickon and Osha; the Martells; Shea; Tywin Lannister; the Wildlings.

source: HBO

source: HBO

Dateline: King’s Landing — Cercei drinks herself into oblivion and works on her Lady MacBeth/Mrs. Havisham mash-up tribute, and freaks out at Jaime when he comes a’calling; oddly, not about, you know, the whole “hey, remember when you just raped me?” thing, but about the half-dozen conspiracy theories she actively has going on at any given time.  Today, it’s the notion that Jaime and Brienne are sleeper agents for the dead Katelyn Stark, or maybe Jaime and Tyrion are in on it together, or maybe Sansa did it after all, which in that case as a favor to his sweetheart sibling Jaime is asked to go kill her and bring back her head just in case.  The Kingslayer thinks this is kinda gross and sees that his sister is losing her ever-tenuous grip on reality, so he quietly sends Brienne and Podric off on a hunt for Sansa in hopes of keeping all three of them safe and as far from King’s Landing as possible.  Jaime gives Brienne a new suit of custom armor built just for her, as well as his new Valyrian sword, which she names “Oathkeeper.”  The two of them hold back tears as they part, and it’s clear at this point that this is probably the only healthy relationship on this program (Bronn and Tyrion’s bromance not withstanding).

So, let’s get into something kinda controversial: I’m not really digging at this point, four seasons in, the way power is expressed for women on this show.  You have a limited range of examples when women here wield their leverage, and their motivations are often petty and small.  Starting with Danaerys Targaryen, who this week cements again the origination of her march on Essos as her regaining her birthright; once the slave rebellion of Meereen succeeds, the liberated brown foreigners being paying their homage to “Mhysa” and the Targaryen crest is draped over the top of the massive pyramid at the city’s center.  Dany’s appropriated mantle as a shackle-breaker is noble, but she still plans to march on Westeros . . . . where slavery isn’t widespread, if any exists at all.  Her motivation in this is purely personal, born from entitlement and little else, and empowered by her being the “chosen one” to command the power of dragons.  What did Danaerys Targaryen, herself, do to be considered the heroine of this epic?  I’m still not sure.

source: HBO

source: HBO

The women of King’s Landing fare little better.  I’ve been over Cercei’s selfishness already last week, but this week we see how Olenna and Margaery extert their leverage: through subterfuge and sexual intimacy.  It can certainly be argued that these women have little other option left to them in this brutal patriarchal society, but whose fault is that?  Theirs?  Or George R. R. Martin’s?  In 2014, I find little subversiveness in forcing female characters into tired cliche roles where the only mechanisms of power available to them are those of magic, skulduggery, or those found underneath their clothes.  Without getting into a debate on the nature of altruism, there are only a small handful of women on this show who act out of a unadulterated sense of moral justice with thoughts of the wellbeing of others in mind, and I can only really think of two: Arya and Brienne.  The rest are either servants or self-centered or derive their abilities from magic, if not all three.  Meanwhile, we’ve seen many variations of forthright and honorable men of power on this show who act out of a sense of moral obligation and do not necessarily call upon birthright or supernatural ability to embellish these motivations.  Ned Stark was an honorable man.  His sons Robb and Jon became honorable men.  Varys is an honorable man, as is Jorah and Tyrion, while his brother Jaime is being pulled kicking and screaming into being an honorable man.

Westeros has a problem with female agency and leverage, but even more than that, I think George R. R. Martin has a problem with women.  He’s written a lot of roles for whores and damsels in distress, crazy mothers and chosen ones . . . but very few women of honor, power, and ability.  And I think that sucks.



Next week: Dany thinks about taking her roadshow to the overseas market, Jon takes on the mutineersat Caster’s loveshack, Littlefinger drags Sansa to loony Aunt Lysa at the Aerie, and the Cercei-Margaery cold war rages on.  Is there any chance we’ll see what happened to Edmure Tully and Uncle Blackfish?  I’m not holding my breath, but we can talk about it in the comments!

Atomika D.

is a writer and critic of TV and film since 2006, an alumnus of NYFA’s school of celluloid direction and production, and she once ate seven burritos on a dare. It was not pleasant. Read all about it on Tumblr.

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  • Bri K

    I’d have to disagree with your controversial statements. “Ned Stark was an honorable man.” Okay, yes, that was the point of his entire character: to be static, good, and then have him killed.

    “His sons Robb and Jon became honorable men.” Really? You think so? Robb broke a sacred vow. He promised to marry a Frey girl and selfishly decided to marry Talisa instead. Which led to his death. Though this is hard to fully understand because in our world breaking a promise to do something is as common and expected as hot days in summertime, but in Westeros that is a major no no. You can tell because even Joffrey, JOFFREY, said that he could not break his vow to marry Sansa in order to be with Margaery. (Which then is quickly resolved because Sansa is a daughter of a traitor… but if she wasn’t that marriage would have probably still happened). And Jon isn’t very honorable. He broke almost all his vows to the Night’s Watch. He slept with a wilding girl. That’s two major no no’s in the Night’s Watch. Again, this is seen as “not that bad” considering we live on Earth and the brothers of the Night’s Watch go to the brothel all the time, but it’s still a bad thing. I wouldn’t put Jon or Robb on Ned’s honorable scale. They act pretty selfishly.

    “Varys is an honorable man.” Wait, you mean the guy who worked his way up learning secrets and blackmailing people in order to find his way on the Small Council? He does everything “for the good of the realm” but I wouldn’t consider his ways honorable. He didn’t save Ned who is the most honorable man in the series because being honorable means putting your neck out there and having it cut off.

    “As is Jorah and Tyrion, while his brother Jaime is being pulled kicking and screaming into being an honorable man.” Jorah doesn’t do anything that he isn’t being paid to do. He’s incredibly selfish. That’s why he’s good friends with Tyrion. They understand each other. Tyrion is just as bad, he’s definitely changed from season 1 with his marriage to Sansa and saved Shae for her own good. But he needs his birthright and his money to be happy and he’ll do anything to keep it. That’s why he didn’t run away with Shae. He loves her, but loves the politics more.

    “Westeros has a problem with female agency and leverage, but even more than that, I think George R. R. Martin has a problem with women. He’s written a lot of roles for whores and damsels in distress, crazy mothers and chosen ones . . . but very few women of honor, power, and ability. And I think that sucks.”
    Of course, you have a right to your opinion and I can see where you think that, but I believe that all the characters “suck” and that’s what makes the show so great. They are not black and white, good and bad characters. They are all in a grey area. There are some that are more likable then others, but they all have strengths and weaknesses. Dany is just as hellbent on her birthright as Stannis. That’s the way Westeros works. No birthright, no right to claim anything. That’s why Petyr made his own sigil and his own house. Without it you cannot get far. It’s a miracle that Varys is anywhere near the political position he has without a last name.

    Okay, that’s enough typing. Haha. I love Game of Thrones (obviously) and I love discussing it. Sorry if anything comes across as harsh. I assure you, that is just the negative of communicating through text.


    • Atomika

      Oh, no worries at all! I like having well-articulated debates!

      To clear things up, I meant “honorable” in the context that they ultimately have the moral fortitude to serve those beyond themselves and their own immediate interests. Guys like Tyrion and Jon and even Varys act to keep themselves in their own place of status, but do so in order to further their moral prerogative, much like Ned did.

      From a narrative standpoint, it’s difficult (for me, anyway) to invest in a show that doesn’t give many characters to root for, especially females characters who are largely resigned to traditional archetypes.

      • Bri K

        Oh I see what you mean about honorable.

        Yeah, a lot of the characters are “bad people” but so are many people in life.

        As for the women. I just see this as a Medieval world. Back in the day women didn’t have any power. So it’s amazing that Arya and Dany are even in the running or respected. Brienne too. I don’t think the characters are resigned to traditional archetypes. Just as Stannis is proud and stubborn, Dany is proud and stubborn. Just how Ned was honorable and a great guy, Catelyn was honorable and a great gal. Just how Jon Snow makes stupid decisions, Sansa makes stupid decisions (but I’m holding out that they grow!!). Just as Cercei is in love with her kids and needs power, Craster was in love with his kids (the women, anyway) and needed power (he thought himself a godly man). Just as Margaery is manipulative and uses her charm (both seductive and friendly) for her gain, Petyr is manipulative and uses his charm (probably more friendly) for his gain.

        This is a man’s world, so it’s exciting to see which women are respected and which will fail. Just as it’s exciting to see which men will succeed and which will die. Because “All Men Must Die”