As has been discussed in the annals of the Internet for a generation, it’s very hard to adapt thousands of pages of an epic story like The Lord of the Rings, the Marvel universe, or Game of Thrones to a concise visual medium without changing a few things. Adaptation is not a one-to-one retelling, after all, but a reimagining. That said, the latest episode of HBO’s fantasy series goes farther off the tracks lain by George R. R. Martin’s story than ever before, but I’d argue the changes are what the story really needed, especially north of the Wall.
As always, be warned that this article will contain spoilers for the events of “Oathkeeper”, as well as possible spoilers for the books written by Martin. Read at your own risk!
Daenerys’ plotline across the Narrow Sea starts the episode with Grey Worm learning a new language with Missandre. It’s a nice scene that offers some desperately-needed screen time for these minor characters, and it’s easy to think that finally the situation in Meeren is going to get some interesting development. Sadly, the action quickly jumps from the intimate tent with Grey Worm to a slaves’ gathering in the city, and ends with what feels like a horribly rushed rebellion sequence. Sure, we get a wonderful sweeping shot of Dany at the top of a pyramid, but it’s just eye-candy with little substance. In less than seven minutes, Daenerys crucifies some slaveowners and is suddenly queen of Meeren. She even has a fancy new dragon banner.
I completely understand the series has a lot of storylines to pay attention to, but I was really hoping for some more time spent with these characters. The opening does a lot to humanize the treatment the Unsullied went through to make them such effective soldiers, but the complicated issues of mercy and justice did not receive the debate it deserved. Was Daenerys right to answer the murder of slaves with more murder? I don’t know. I was never given a chance to really think about it. In Meeren, Dany must learn to be a ruler, not just a vicious conqueror. I hope that’s not glossed over as much as her conquest was.
Back in King’s Landing, Bronn and Jaime fight in some of the worst fight choreography I’ve ever seen. It’s clear even to an untrained eye like mine that Jaime absolutely sucks at fighting left-handed. At least we understand why Bronn was given the role of the cripple’s sparring partner over Ser Ilyn Payne: so he could drop some truths from that scene in the Eyrie in the first season. I still think it would be interesting to hear what Jaime has to say to himself rather than what he does to Bronn. Maybe then we could get him talking about why he raped his sister.
That particular miscue by the show’s creators seems to have at least one repercussion – Cersei now hates her twin. The scene in which she summons Jaime, only to treat him like one of her underlings and to ridicule his devotion to Tyrion, not to mention his oath to Catelyn Stark, feels like the end of their relationship. Still, she acted much the same to Jaime in the books even without the forced intercourse in the Sept, so I don’t think the rape really impacts anything, making it all the more problematic. If it didn’t mean anything, the why was it directed that way? I do particularly enjoy how much wine Cersei is drinking now though. She no longer takes solace in sex with her brother or Lancel (remember him?); the grape is all she needs to love now.
The rape also makes one of the more pleasant parts of this episode much less enjoyable. Jaime meets with Brienne and gives her the Valyrian steel sword from his father, a suit of armor thankfully devoid of breast bumps, and a squire in Podrick Payne. It’s all very nice, and the tears in Jaime’s eyes when Brienne names the sword “Oathkeeper” could have been earned. But all I’m thinking about looking at Jaime’s face is the words “I don’t care” as he thrusts into his sister. How does that guy also get tears in his eyes when a woman elegantly chooses to keep a promise? As predicted, this tender moment with Brienne was ruined by the shoddy directing/editing of last week’s episode.
The show is quick to reveal a lot of things the books kept as mysteries for a long, long time. “Who killed Joffrey Baratheon?” is no “Who shot J.R?” In this episode, Littlefinger all but admits that he had Sansa wear a necklace which just so happened to be missing a stone after the wedding. And Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, very easily admits to Margeary that she was never going to let a monster like Joffrey marry her beloved granddaughter. After watching “Oathkeeper,” it’s crystal clear that Littlefinger and Olenna worked together to kill the boy king with poison delivered to her by the necklace, when there were pages of readers debating this very point on message boards for years before the show aired. The question of what exactly Joff choked on, and whether Tyrion was actually involved in the murder, is demonstrated for the audience before the Imp’s trial even begins. This could remove all the drama from the proceedings, or allow the malice of the court of King’s Landing to come in full effect. We’ll have to see.
Speaking of cruelty, the specter of Joffrey still hangs over his younger brother Tommen. That’s evidenced by the hunting trophy hanging on the wall of the King’s bedchamber that still has a bolt from Joffrey’s crossbow in it, and Joffrey’s threat to gut Ser Pounce and feed it to Tommen without the boy knowing he was eating his beloved pet. Margeary’s ploy to sneak in and talk to Tommen like a real person is genius, and he will quickly latch onto her over his smothering mother. It was also genius for the show’s creators to re-use the actor who previously played Martyn Lannister –
the lordling Jaime killed to get out of the Stark prison (sorry, as pointed out in the comments Martyn Lannister was killed by Rickard Karstark in response to Jaime killing his sons, my error). He looks the part spectacularly, and his pleasant face is believable as the sweet Tommen.
In the North is where the plot is the most changed, and I’d have to argue that it’s for the best. In the books, I dreaded reading the chapters from Bran’s point of view because they were boring as fuck. He, the Reeds and Hodor wander through the woods forever, being cold and having weird visions. It’s basically Jojen Reed telling Bran the lore for about three books, but in the most uninteresting way possible.
In the show, the small party gets close to Craster’s Keep, where the mutineers of the Night’s Watch are holed up, raping and monologuing to the camera. The whole concept of some of the men who killed Lord Commander Mormont surviving is wholly new for the show. Rast was already shown to be a bit of an asshole in the training of Jon Snow, and his emergence as an antagonist, as well as Karl Tanner, is a real joy to behold. Well, not really a joy per se, but it is serving well as a plot point for Bran’s party, Jon Snow’s foray north, and the inheritance of Winterfell in general. Dealing with this threat – Bran and Jon’s direwolves captured, the hostage situation with the Reeds and Bran, and the horrible treatment of the nicest guy, Hodor, and the presence of Locke in Snow’s party – is going to provide a great sense of connection between stories that were kept largely separate by Martin.
Finally, this episode reveals some information that we’ve never been privy to in reading all of the books and even voraciously consuming everything Martin has ever said in an interview or a book tour. The Others, the White Walkers, were assumed to take the male babies of Craster and do … something with them. The last sequence shows a Walker riding a dead horse, possibly the same individual shown in the finale of season two, taking the child and going to a place that looks suspiciously like Icecrown Citadel from World of Warcraft. The squalling babe is placed on a ceremonial block of ice, and a Walker puts a finger on its cheek turning the eyes blue.
What? We received proof Craster’s sons are somehow changed into the powerful ice-wraiths able to raise undead armies. How? We have no clue, but there’s certainly something to be gleaned from what Martin calls his series of books – A Song of Ice and Fire. The Lord of Light R’hllor worshipped by Melisandre and Thoros seems to be in direct conflict with the White Walkers beyond the wall. The conflict between these two forces is also most likely responsible for the odd long seasons the world is burdened with, possibly due to the sorcery involved in building the Wall to prevent the Walkers from passing south.
The HBO show is clearing up mysteries all over the place, and it is improving the story-telling employed by Martin – unintentional rapes aside. George R. R. Martin’s comments on his blog last week about the “butterfly effect” of a lengthy adaptation are apt. The show is now even more a complete and different piece of art than the books and while people like me will always be comparing the two – I can’t help it! – it is getting harder and harder for me to believe that’s a terribly useful enterprise. The two versions inform each other, and fans should take from both of them what they can.