I noted in my review of Mad Men’s season 7 premiere that compared to Mad Men, shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are less thematically driven and more story oriented. This generalisation does something of a diservice to the way Benioff and Weiss shape the individual chapters of their Game of Thrones saga. Undoubtedly Mad Men doesn’t have the same narrative drive and sprawling scope of Game of Thrones, but neither is Game of Thrones simply a series that moves characters from A to B (very slowly) in order to fulfil the endgame of a complicated narrative structure. In the moments between the beheadings and wedding ceremonies, Game of Thrones episodes are cleverly composed to create, if not thematic unity, then at least a sense of cohesion that stops the show from becoming a series of disparate vignettes that just happen to take place in the same universe.
I was too lazy to write up an individual review for episode 3 ‘Breaker of Chains’, so I’ve decided to create 2 mini-reviews (okay they’re not that short) for episodes 3 and 4 ‘Oathkeeper’.
Episode 3: Breaker of Chains
It is early in the episode where Tywin asks the question that rest of the episode attempts to consider, if not answer: What makes a good leader?
Naturally Tywin suggests for his own benefit to king-to-be Tommen, that it’s someone who listens to his counsel on matters that are beyond his reserves of knowledge. But we see Tywin’s question and assessment applied to all this episode’s featured characters.
Danaerys would probably fare best under Tywin’s criteria. She’s compassionate but fierce. She’s level-headed enough to know not to send her wisest counsel (who she respects as Tywin would have it), nor her most important fighters into one-on-one battle. But she’s curious and open enough to allow Daario, a strong fighter, the chance to prove his mettle and win her favour.
Jon would come next on the ladder. He’s also compassionate but level-headed enough to know that sometimes doing the right thing can become the wrong thing when the stakes are too high. He picks his battles and he’s become respected, if not popular, amongst his brethren. Sam, on the other hand would not make a great leader. He’s too compassionate and lacks the confidence to know where to draw the line between protecting someone and removing their agency.
Tyrion was an effective leader in season 2, but Tywin’s return has cut off his wings. He now has little to no power or connections in King’s Landing. Also after a season of powerlessness and child brides, Tyrion has lost much of the cunning that defined his character in earlier seasons.
It’s hard not to talk about this episode without referencing Jamie’s rape of Cersei. Let’s face facts: that scene should not be there. It’s a controversial moment for the sake of a controversial moment. It completely undoes the strides Jamie has made to become a more sympathetic character. It’s an even more heinous crime because I don’t believe it for a second. It’s not that Jamie has absolutely no motivation for forcing himself upon his sister like that, it’s that what little motivation there may be isn’t convincingly expressed. Jamie goes from depressed sympathy, to bewilderment at Cersei’s desire to kill Tyrion, to angry horny, vile beast in a manner of seconds. It’s a horrible, misguided moment that I fear won’t even be a particularly resonant one, except in the sense of how it colours our once-ameliorating opinion of Jamie.
Maybe I prefer contemplative thematic unity in my melodramas, because this episode felt pretty slow and uninvolving, given what it had to play with following such an exciting episode in ‘The Lion and the Rose‘. Only the beautiful and epic last five minutes where Danaerys, always with a flair for the dramatic, puts forward her argument for rebellion, does the episode really engage.
Overall rating: 7 pissing contests out of 10.
Episode 4: Oathkeeper
I love Brienne, but man, Oathkeeper has to be the lamest sword name ever bestowed upon Valyrian steel. Then again, Brienne’s utterly sincere sense of honour is part of her charm.
This episode moves a lot faster than the previous one. The mystery of who had Joffrey killed is seemingly solved and almost every character has moved one step forward from a narrative perspective. I always liked the Tyrells, and if they are indeed the responsible party for the beloved Joffrey’s death, I respect them even more. Older characters are often overlooked on a popular series in favour of appealing to the 16-39 demographic. It’s great to see that in Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell, the series has crafted two of the most effortlessly intelligent, powerful and poised characters on the show (they’re also my personal favourites). The show also makes a point of showing that it’s often the sneakiest characters like Baelish who tend to do well in this universe, while the noble and strong at heart, like the Starks are punished for their otherwise commendable traits. Random note, Aidan Gillan’s accent as Lord Baelish really shits me but I guess that works well with his ‘love-to-hate’ characterisation.
While the previous episode looks at leadership and the lengths we go to protect our loved ones, this episode tackles the idea of justice and what that means in the Game of Thrones universe. For Danaerys, justice and vengeance aren’t easily distinguished. Of course, her acts aren’t selfish and therefore don’t represent a personal vengeance, but it’s clear that her eye-for-an-eye mentality isn’t supposed to be unambiguously championed by the audience. I’m enjoying the moments we have gotten with Danaerys this season, but it still leaves me wondering whether or not her character will be stuck in this slave-freeing mode for the rest of the season or whether she will actually use her power to contest the Iron Throne.
The idea of doing what is just is also carried out through Jamie Lannister and Jon Snow. I have to say that I’m very disappointed the writer’s barely acknowledge the rape in the previous episode. There is an evident facade of insincere formality to the conversation between Jamie and Cersei, but it barely hints at the previous episode’s transgressions. This is all well and good if we are supposed to hate or fear Jamie, but the rest of the episode demands that we rejoice at his improved fighting skills and be moved by the departure of his loyal companion and the gifts he bestows upon her. It’s hard to engage with ‘Jamie the Oathkeeper’ who serves justice and visits his brother in jail, while also wrestling with ‘Jamie the sister rapist’.
Jon Snow has a more old fashioned sense of justice. He’s not serving some grand sense of karmic retribution like Danaerys, he’s simply doing what he feels is the honourable, ‘Stark’ thing to do. He has what Jamie wants to have and occasionally allows himself to have (in the moments where he’s not raping his sister – nope I’m not letting that go even though the show seems to be). Jon Snow is allowed to go on his mission of brotherly justice due a political technicality. Thankfully this time round, Jon’s trip up north should prove to be a little more interesting. I’m glad that Locke has been able to finagle his way into Jon’s mission squadron because I always enjoy seeing Noah Taylor on screen, and also because it adds tension to their mission. Is it time for another (half)-Stark death?
Oh look Bran and his crew look like they’re actually getting somewhere after more than an entire season of walking. Yaaaaa….oh shit, they’ve been captured. Come on!! Sure this will allow him to reunite with Jon, but I would like Bran to actually achieve something so that I don’t feel his presence in season 3 was a total waste of time.
Even moreso than the last episode, ‘Oathkeeper’ ends on an epic and beautifully creepy moment as we see the White Walker convert Craster’s final baby into one of their own. It’s totally wordless scene that relies on some gorgeous framing and use of focus and perspective to create atmosphere and tell it’s 2 minute mini-story.
Overall rating: 8 underage seductions out of 10.