Monday, 9 May 2016

Game of Thrones - Oathbreaker

Contains spoilers.

The title of this episode is a direct parallel to the title of the fourth episode of the fourth season: Oathkeeper. I spent the whole episode wondering where this title stemmed from. Jon's death released him from his vows, but that is very different to breaking an oath. No other story touched upon any kind of oath breaking theme, so the only oathbreakers we have are Alliser Thorne, Olly and, erm, the other two. But, then, wouldn't that at least pluralise the title? Who is the titular oathbreaker? This question kept returning to me throughout the episode, but only in that final scene did I understand its true meaning. Olly is the oathbreaker. Granted, Ser Alliser broke his oath too, as did the other two, but Jon couldn't care less about them. When he awakens after dying, one of his earliest thoughts is of Olly plunging the knife into his heart. In that exquisite final sequence, Jon easily looks three of the traitors up and down, but he hesitates for a long time before looking Olly in the eye.

It's a simple touch, but it is effective. Kit Harrington gives arguably his strongest performance in years during this closing sequence, his anguish over what he has to do is felt but he also seems remorseless. He knows what he has to do, and he knows why he has to do it, but no matter how hard he tries he still does not want to do it. It hurts him a lot, but he gets the job done. It's also worth noting the impact that Jon's revival has on the supporting characters at the Wall. Much like the previous two episodes, Melisandre is given the best material. The look on Carice van Houten's face as she re-enters the room to find Jon alive is a seamless combination of amazement, pride, horror and hope. She had lost every ounce of faith in her Gods, but boy has that come flooding back to her. Seeing her ooze with confidence during the hanging scene at the end of the episode was a welcome return for one of the show's most consistently compelling characters.

The deaths of Alliser and Olly helped to move the narrative along at the Wall, tonight, but what really surprised me about "Oathbreaker" on the whole was how much plot it soared through without ever resorting to a big shock or cliffhanger. Daenerys arrived at Vaes Dothrak and immediately met the Dosh Khaleen, then learnt more about where she would head next. After their lack of presence in the opening episodes, we came to understand Sam and Gilly's direction for the rest of season - and the pair remain two of the most enjoyable characters the show has to offer. Varys learnt that the Sons of the Harpy are being funded by the neighbouring cities than Daenerys once left her mark on, opening up debate between himself, Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei as to how to approach this situation. "Oathbreaker" was perfectly happy to favour dialogue over action, but it did so in a way that still felt exciting. It's been a long time since the show focused on dialogue and felt just as rewarding as it does when it pulls out a sword.

And speaking of swords, Ned Stark returned to our screens for the second time this season, albeit this time for a sequence taking place at the culmination of Robert's Rebellion. It was thrilling to see Ned in action again, but the scene also worked to teach Bran a valuable lesson: sometimes history is very different to what people have told you. Elsewhere, we were treated to the most exciting Arya sequence in a very long time. Watching her finally advance in her training was surprisingly thrilling, and the sequence was masterfully edited: it chopped through shots like they were nothing, but kept the focus of the sequence very much foregrounded. Perhaps the episode's most shocking moment, though, comes in it's penultimate sequence: Lord Umber has presented Ramsay with Rickon Stark. It'll be interesting to see where this goes as the season develops, as right now the only purpose it serves is to give Jon yet more motivation to take an army to Ramsay's front door. Here's hoping Rickon doesn't simply become the new tortured Stark character now that Sansa is free.

"Oathbreaker" covers a lot of ground for one episode: I counted eight separate locations across this fifty minute episode. What is seriously impressive here, though, is the way the episode perfectly juggles the screen time for each given location. Places that only needed brief check-ins (Sam/Gilly, Daenerys, Tyrion/Missandei/Grey Worm) were given short but enjoyable sequences that moved things along perfectly fine, and this left room for more substantial sequences (Arya, Jon, Varys/Vala) to feel fully fleshed out. Last week's episode suffered from a lack of consequence and poor pacing, but "Oathbreaker" made up for both accounts pretty well. An awful lot of plot was covered here, and it seems like Game of Thrones' sixth season is edging closer and closer to that explosive frenzy we were promised in the build up for it. If the rest of season six can balance the multitude of stories as well as this one, then that explosive frenzy of battles could be quite thrilling indeed.

Notes - 

  • I didn't have time to mention it in the review, but I enjoyed all of the King's Landing stuff tonight. Well, almost all of it. Pycell's fart was rather unneeded.
  • That said, Lady Olenna can make up for pretty much anything.
  • "You are not the Queen, since you are not married to the King. I appreciate that this can get rather confusing in your family". I told you so.
  • Sam and Gilly's scene was rather lovely, wasn't it? I love those two. I want them to have a spin-off.
  • So, how long until R+L=J is confirmed in the show? We were inches away from finding out tonight, but that dastardly Three-Eyed Raven pulled Bran out of the vision. I'm quite glad, though. Jon and Dany aren't in relevant enough places right now for that reveal to stick the landing for us. I'm convinced we'll find out this season though.
  • If that really was Shaggy Dog's head then House Umber can go fuck itself.

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