Oathbreaker – As Castle Black deals with the shock return of its Lord Commander, justice is served to its betrayers. Bran is shown a particularly interesting piece of his father’s past; Dany gets an unwelcome glimpse at her Dosh Khaleen future; Ramsay receives some surprise gifts; and Cersei’s drive for vengeance leaves the Small Council divided.
After the big revelations and faster pace of the last two weeks, Game of Thrones slows down somewhat for a middle ground episode. The majority is either aftermath and fallout of last week or the beginning of the new story arcs, which overall make it a bit less gripping than the prior episodes. However, there is an excellent central theme running through it, stemming from its title: tradition. Whether to follow it or give it the middle finger.
Across the map, we see characters conflicted or defiant as what is required of them conflicts with their personal agendas. From smaller cases of the new Lord Umber (Smalljon) refusing kneel and pledge his allegiance in the time of honored fashion to the biggest case of Dany and the Dosh Khaleen. Although she was married off to Khal Droggo against her will, Dany still embraced the role of Khalessi which came with a lifetime obligation of joining the Dosh Khaleen should she be widowed which goes against her desires conquer Westeros under her Targaryen birthright. It puts Dany in a very interesting story position when combined with the events back in Meereen (learning that the Sons of the Harpy are being funded by the masters of neighbouring cities). The only way she can retake control of Mereeen and Slaver's Bay is with these vast Dothraki ranks behind her but that will require one hell of a persuasive break from tradition. Despite the notions of defiance, there are also several really enjoyable counter-arguments towards holding honor and tradition. This is especially prominent in the climatic execution at Castle Black. We see Jon looking each of the four men (well three men and that little **** Ollie!), hearing their last words and swinging the sword himself just as Ned Stark had taught him by the old ways of their House. Similarly, Alliser Thorne’s acceptance of his sentence speaks of nothing but honor: that he believed in the righteousness his actions for sake of The Watch and will die for them with his head held high, “I fought, I lost and now I rest”. More than anything else in the episode, it speaks to honor and tradition still being a choice to matter what by showing them being followed by someone with nothing to gain by doing so in the imminently dead Thorne. Not to mention, forming a curious comparison between Thorne and Jon over the consequences of their actions as Jon reflects back to his Wildling parlay decision, “I did what I thought was right and I got murdered for it”.
One of the most notable elements in the episode is the ever increasing pushes towards the “Prince who was promised” prophecy;:a prophecy in the books originally written in Valyrian which does not gender-differentiate, leaving open speculation as whether it will ultimately apply to Jon Snow or to Dany. Here the show is less leading and more throwing us towards a season long reveal that Jon is said lost prince. When gazing upon the returned Jon, Melisandre directly references this, “Stannis was not the prince who was promised”.
Then we have the continued Bran flashback theater supporting the R+L = J theory; that Jon’s real parentage was Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) and Rhaegar Targaryen (eldest son of the mad King and Danny’s older brother). The Kingsguard state that Rhaegar himself ordered them to guard The Tower of Joy rather than fight in the battle of the Trident (at which Rhaegar was killed by Robert Baratheon). There are mentions of Lyanna being missing and we’re clearly meant to think that scream coming from the tower was her (most likely giving birth) despite that being saved for a future episode. Rather than being a required explainer, the Tower of Joy is unquestionably the highlight of the episode. Flashbacks are a relatively untouched technique for the show (only young Cersei in season 5 and last week’s young Stark’s scene) but they are proving highly-rewarding when used sparingly by desire rather than becoming a deteriorating obligation (Arrow, we’re looking at you). Although we are denied him wielding the legendary glowing meteorite sword, Dawn, we do get to see the fabled Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, in action. Like the season 5 glimpse of Barristan Selmy finally taking arms, it may not be lengthy but by God, it is glorious! The choreography is magnificent as Dayne takes on 5 while constantly feeling in control as swords clash and clang like a bizarre orchestra in one of the most thrilling combat sequences the show has ever produced. A worthy mention must also go to the casting of Robert Aramyo as the younger Ned Stark. He couldn’t look more the part.
The smaller features of the episode come with mixed results. Sam & Gilly is nothing but a dry catch-up but Ayra’s training Bravos continues to be excellent despite merely building up her character for events later in the season. There’s a great progression to her stick-fighting montage as her improvement comes at considerable pain while calling back to her greater position in the story. The mention of The Hound is particularly satisfying as Ayra confesses to feeling conflicted over his death. King's Landing also comes with several isolated rewards. Tommen’s confrontation with the High Sparrow continues the idea of the young King taking a more commanding approach and even cranks out a Joffrey-worthy, “I am the King!”. Yet he is still for now at least reachable by reason as the High Sparrow shows considerable admiration for Cersei’s love towards him being the driving force in her actions. Force and action look to be the key words too as inside The Red Keep, the Small Council stands divided, looking increasingly like Cersei will be making a hostile takeover to start enforcing her will.
Then of course, there is the heavy signposting towards a very large conflict in the North, with the Starks striking back at the Boltons (Melisandre has foreseen Jon fighting at Winterfell). What’s most interesting about her is the next generation feel to the conflict as each key player is now the child of a Lord that has died since the show began, a “teenage takeover” of sorts. That plays well into the almost angs- driven defiance of Smalljon Umber (his father Greatjon featured in the early seasons). The surprise returning faces look to be pivotal in any upcoming conflict but did anyone else get the niggling feeling that something wasn’t right here? Could this all be a double-cross in the making with the Smalljon pulling a great con? After all, the North remembers.
Yes, this is a slower episode than the last two but it does feel better handled than last week (now that the all too obvious Jon twist is out the way), with almost every stop on the journey coming with considerable intrigue. It brings just enough lighter breaks in its more serious tone with Tormund’s God analogy and Jamie’s almost 4th wall breaking zombie Mountain questions tying up for the biggest laugh. It’s an episode entirely about story positioning but does so while showing the great a direction the season is taking. Oathbreaker is a step back that still moves the show forward, and that deserves some acclaim.
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