There’s a lot to talk about in Oathkeeper, the latest episode of Game Of Thrones, but all I can think about is how much the second half of the episode is completely, totally new material. Like, stuff that’s not in the books and stuff that illuminates what is in the books. In a big, huge way.
Let’s get all the less-new stuff out of the way: Jaime is down in King’s Landing, still trying to become the kind of hero who gets pages of deeds written into that King’s Guard book. He gives Brienne the Valyrian steel sword, and she names it Oathkeeper because he has tasked her with keeping his promise to Catlyn Stark - to find and protect Sansa (they all assume Arya’s dead). That name is sort of ironic, as Jaime's best known as the Kingslayer, the man who broke his most sacred oath to his king - even if we know he did it for the right reasons.
While some think that last week’s rapey scene was unaddressed this week, I disagree. Cersei is filled with hatred for Jaime, a hatred that has a lot of sources but that certainly reflects what happened at Joffrey’s wake. There are a lot of people who seem to not realize that definitions of rape that make sense to us today probably didn’t make sense a hundred years ago, let alone in a medieval fantasy world; marital bed rape - which is what happened last week, where a man who has previously received consent assumes he has the right to sex at any time thereafter - likely wouldn’t be seen as ‘rape’ in Westeros. Rape in Westeros is what happens in the Riverlands when bandits come into inns and force themselves on innkeeper’s daughters. Jaime certainly doesn’t think he raped his sister. For Cersei the attack means she no longer trusts Jaime at all; he has broken the last bond of trust between them. And he’s undermining that trust further by looking to save Sansa, instead of killing her.
Meanwhile Daenerys has liberated Mereen (thanks to the badass tactics of Grey Worm), but she’s proving she may yet have a lot to learn about leadership. While crucifying hundreds of Mereen Masters on the road to the city is satisfying it is also not part of the progressive world she’s trying to create. It’s no mistake that our last shot of her this episode was from behind, and she’s elevated far above the city and all in it, and that the soundtrack is filled with the cries of the crucified. Where is the line between justice and cruelty? Joffrey probably would have approved of her decision.
But Joffrey’s dead, leaving Tommen as the new king. And Margaery is going to marry him. Her grandmother - who cops to poisoning Joffrey, undercutting the ‘mystery’ some blogs were trying to make out of this murder - advises her to go to the young king and win his favor. But she doesn’t do that by boning the kid; rather she hangs out and pets his cat. It’s a small bit of deviation from the source material, where Margaery is the one who gives sweet young Tommen Ser Pounce. In the books she gives him two other kittens - maybe they’ll yet show up. And spoilers for those who haven’t read the books but get worried: as of A Dance With Dragons Ser Pounce is alive and well.
So to the north, where everything that happens is new. None of the stuff in the north is in the books; the mutineers never capture Bran and Hodor, Jon Snow doesn’t get volunteers to take them down, and not only is Locke not sent by Bolton to kill Snow, he doesn’t even exist in the books.
This is all very good news. As the show progresses further along, it’s about to hit some real rough narrative patches - lots of boredom, characters being irritating in ways that aren’t entertaining (a lot of the changes in Cersei’s story are, I believe, setting up a different version of her events in the coming books), and lots of water being tread. By introducing plenty of new elements, including the increased importance of the mutineers (who just get killed off in the books, bothering nobody) and the looming threat to Jon Snow, the showrunners are proving they know how to keep the pot boiling even when George RR Martin didn’t.
The Bran stuff in particular is welcome; in the books Bran and company just keep walking north and are barely referenced for the longest time. The company’s adventures don’t change anything that’s coming up, and they make their journey more interesting. I suspect I know how they’re going to get out of this pickle, but I do hope that at some point the show allows the Reed siblings to do something that proves their worth.
And then there’s all the stuff with the White Walkers, which is not only completely new, it’s business that expands on lore that hasn’t been revealed in the books yet! We never knew what the White Walkers (known as The Others in the books) did with Craster’s kids, and we never knew how they bolstered their ranks. And more than that, we have never actually met the legendary, EIGHT THOUSAND YEAR OLD Night’s King, former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who married a White Walker and began a reign of terror that only ended when the King in the North and the King-Beyond-The-Wall teamed up to stop him.
Seeing the Night’s King in this episode is A HUGE DEAL. We keep wondering what will happen when the show catches up with the books - well, as of this episode the show officially outpaced the books. We never knew that the Night’s King was leading The Others. We didn’t know they had a keep or that they transformed humans into their kind.
Get excited. I think the show is going to up the ante on the White Walkers, a huge improvement on the books, which sometimes seem to forget they even exist. And for those who still worry that the rape will go untouched - the massive deviation from canon in this episode shows that David Benioff and DB Weiss are open to making big, big changes in the story, and that could include the way Cersei and Jaime's relationship progresses.