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The Best of This Week’s Game of Thrones Recaps: ‘Oathkeeper’

After last week's episode, people couldn’t stop talking about the controversial rape scene between Jaime and Cersei and speculating about its possible repercussions. But as Vulture recapper Nina Shen Rastogi wrote yesterday: "The creators don’t just avoid using that scene to complicate Jaime’s new sensitive, good-boy aura; they’re actively doubling down on that persona." This week, our critics expressed their frustration with the return of nice-guy Jaime; they also looked beyond King's Landing to analyze the threat of the White Walkers, Dany's abandonment of big-stick diplomacy, and what it means for the plot to diverge so radically from the books. Your recap of the recaps:

"Brienne's knack for conveying heavy all-the-feels-itude through a mask of stoicism has never had a better showcase, especially in the moment when she sees the armor that Jaime's had custom-made for her. She vows to find Sansa (or die trying, which is, let's face it, the more likely outcome). And until then, perhaps her designated squire Podrick and his legendary…swordsmanship…can help Brienne get over her longstanding crush on Jaime (who, let's face it, totally did not deserve her anyway)." —Previously.TV

"With Jaime turning back into a mensch this week, it makes his rape of Cersei beside Joffrey’s corpse last week that much more puzzling from a narrative standpoint. “Game of Thrones” is full of people doing hideous things to one another — the question is what purpose they serve in the story. Many commentators took the scene in the sept as further evidence that the show is distressingly cavalier with its use of sexual violence as a storytelling tool. (This week’s episode won’t help there.) Was the scene simply a way to illustrate the twisted push-and-pull of the twins’ relationship? Or to end it once and for all? Or to remind viewers that Jaime is still rotten, despite his more recent turn toward the light? Or that people are complicated? If so, it seems pretty cheap, especially considering that the sex was more clearly consensual in the book. " —New York Times

"For a show that prides itself on its foundation of moral quicksand — no one is all good, and no one is not sinking — Daenerys’s abolitionist banner stands apart. It’s awfully easy to root for someone who is against slavery, just as it’s pleasing to root for people triumphing over illiteracy (in this sympathy match, Grey Worm bests Ser Davos 2-1). But even on the (slightly) more enlightened shores of Westeros, where chains are used only for reasonable tasks like controlling direwolves and shipping wizards, I can’t say I’ve seen much evidence of freedom. Whether it takes the form of a solemn oath or the kind of white-hot fury that sharpens into a knifepoint called “revenge,” every character on this show is yoked to something. Tyrion can’t escape his family. Bran can’t escape his visions. Hodor can’t escape Hodor. It’s a wildly entertaining, pretty-depressing-if-you-think-about-it cycle of pain, death, and suffering that makes for excellent television but an awful life." —Grantland

""Game of Thrones” is now deep in a story that does not happen at all in the books, in which Ramsay Snow’s murderous henchman Locke infiltrates the Wall to try to try to track down Ned Stark’s heirs, while Bran Stark and his protectors have fallen into the clutches of the very mutineers Jon has gone off to fight. And we saw something that never shows up in Martin’s novels: a gathering place for the White Walkers, deep beyond the Wall. We are off book — off the map, even — and I love it ... These diversions do what they have always done, of course: deepening our understanding of the story Martin first laid down for us. In Missendi’s language lessons with Grey Worm, we learn more about the trauma of the people who were sold in Slaver’s Bay, and about the impulses that will guide Dany’s tenure as Queen. Dany may enjoy being greeted as “Mhysa,” but what binds men like Grey Worm to her so deeply is her impulse to crucify the men who enslaved the Unsullied and call retribution justice." —The Washington Post

""Game of Thrones" is asking you to look at a world filled with chaos and violence and narcissism and greed and journey with each character through that landscape. It’s asking you to ask yourself what you would do in any of these situations, what you would be forced to do, how you would treat others. It’s asking you to see in your own reactions to its horrors your very own tendencies to condemn and punish. There’s a reason that each chapter in Martin’s book is narrated from one character’s perspective—so we can empathize with the Theons and Aryas and Danys. So we can learn that the world is much more complex than we thought, not much more simple." —The New Republic

"We haven't seen an awful lot of the Walkers over the run of the show, despite the obvious threat they pose. (The most likable/compelling moment Stannis has ever had on the show was when he briefly seemed to recognize that everyone in Westeros needed to stop playing games and deal with the danger coming from the North; now he's gone back to burning people and moping about how his birthright has been stolen.) But the show keeps returning to them for a reason, and it's obvious that they are something very different and mysterious compared to either Dany's army or Mance Rayder's. They have powers, and also motives we don't understand, and they're capable of turning the dead back into living weapons, and turning an innocent baby into something far scarier and more tragic." —HitFix

"The mother of madness and the mother of dragons have a lot in common on this count: In preparing her punishment for prisoners captured in the siege of Meereen, Daenerys declares “I will answer injustice with justice.” Cersei must be pushing similar thoughts through clouds of grief and red wine, resolute in her stance that someone must pay for the loss of her son—doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter if it’s actually the killer. Each is absolutely cutthroat in this wish, and it’s fascinating to see how “Oathkeeper” demonstrates that a thirst for vengeance affects those who are ascending to power as well as those who are drunkenly stumbling down the stairs toward the end of their courtly life. From low-born to high-born this week, so many characters want to see a sense of equilibrium restored. Fat chance of that happening any time soon. " —A.V. Club

"And this is a series where, in the span of about 90 seconds, an elderly lady cheerfully tells her granddaughter about how she (a) seduced her intended husband’s brother so she could marry him instead and (b) helped arrange the murder of the king—during his wedding to the granddaughter in question. For a moment, it was possible to believe that Margaery Tyrell was morally offended by these disclosures, but soon enough we saw her creeping into (very) young Tommen's bedroom, willing to do whatever it took to hook him on the idea of making her his wife. (Thankfully for the audience, it only took being nice to his cat, Ser Pounce!)" —Vanity Fair

"Just when you thought “Game of Thrones” couldn’t get rapier … it goes and gets more rapey. It’s really unfortunate how shortsighted Team Throne Games was about the avalanche of outrage that would meet the amazingly poorly executed rape of Cersei (Lena Headey) last week (sorry, nope, Alex Graves, you can’t just switch from nonconsensual to consensual sex in the middle of the act, and if that’s what you were going for, it’s not what you pulled off). This week’s episode featured a gruesome scene in Craster’s Keep with a ridiculously gratuitous portrayal of the rape and abuse of women. To make matters worse, my book-reading 'GOT' watch party pals informed me that this entire section wasn’t even in the book at all (much like the notable difference between the icky, but consensual sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in the books and what we saw on screen last week). Therefore the only ones we have to thank for this are HBO, the showrunners, and unfortunately, director Michelle McLaren." —The Playlist 

"The White Walkers—or the Others, if you prefer—were even less of a presence in the books as they are in the series, an idea more than an actual presence. And so when the episode cut to the icy wastes far North of the Wall, it was a shock not because any of the information present was entirely new—we knew the White Walkers took the children, we knew they probably did something with them—but because this is something that books had not primed readers to expect. And it comes at a fascinating time for the show, over an entire season since we last saw the White Walkers and without any clear warning ahead of time. It was as though the writers decided that to return to the idea of the White Walkers—the “gods” according to Craster’s wives—required a more sustained glimpse, as we see their equivalent of a Small Council meet in the ice to transform the child into one of them." — Cultural Leanings

"In many ways, “Oathkeeper” was about forms of loyalty: loyalty to family (and contradicting claims of loyalty by different family members); loyalty to oaths; loyalty to principles; loyalty won through seduction and insinuation. Loyalty may often travel in the same lane as goodness, but it’s not the same thing. It’s a way of securing good-adjacent behavior, or at least to fend off anarchy. Get rid of loyalty to oaths, for instance, and you have the hellish rapists among the oath-breaking mutineers against the Night’s Watch at Craster’s Keep. You have the Red Wedding, which broke a sacred vow of protection to guests who have taken your bread and salt. Like laws or mottoes–”The Lannisters always pay their debts”–loyalty is a way of securing predictable behavior in a world that tends to chaos. Jaime’s kingslaying is both the best thing he’s done and the greatest stain on his name–secretly preventing a mass murder, through the greatest violation of loyalty that his society knows." —Time 

"In light of last week's most controversial scene – and arguably the most divisive one in the show's history – it's best to start with the Lannister siblings as they make their way through the post-Joffrey world. Whether you thought it was a bracing exploration of this world's systemic misogyny or a thoughtless contribution to our own, Jaime's rape of Cersei (because that's what it was, the crew's series of confounding and contradictory statements to the contrary) was the elephant in the room. True to the proverb, no one addresses it directly." —Rolling Stone 

"There's something weirdly soothing and calm about the White Walker, who wraps this episode up for us—while the mutineers are base and evil, the much more frightening White Walker remains an ambiguous figure. Yes, he turns a baby into an ice zombie. That's objectively a scary thing to do. But that might be a far better fate for the poor kid than the dumb human lives everyone else in Westeros is subjected to. The sight of poor Hodor being tormented, Jojen collapsing into an epileptic fit, and Meera and Bran with knives to their throats was almost too much to bear. Happily, Jon is on his way north to sort everything out. Unfortunately, he's got Roose Bolton's man Locke (Noah Taylor) with him, another character invented for the TV show, and one with very bad intentions towards the surviving Stark offspring. Put it this way: anyone who's relied on their knowledge of the books to know what's coming next is freaking out right now. God knows what misery awaits everyone north of the Wall." —The Wire

"And what then of Dany? We are used to viewing the young Khaleesi as the de facto heroine of this tale. Despite my occasional quibbles it's hard not to be moved by her stirring speeches and growing army of liberated slaves but if the philosophy of Game of Thrones can be boiled down to one theory it's this: there are no heroes and heroines, merely survivors. And so, given a choice between "mercy" and "justice" this week Dany chose justice, ordering 163 masters to be crucified in memory of the child slaves murdered the same way. There may be some who feel she was right in this decision – an eye for an eye as the saying goes – but I think Barristan was correct to state that greater strength comes through mercy." —The Guardian 

"On its most fundamental level, Game of Thrones is about which forms of leadership are most likely to win the “game,” in the long- as well as short-term: honor and rule-following (the Starks, Stannis Baratheon), overwhelming force (Robert Baratheon), subterfuge and punishment (the Lannisters), or quiet deal-making and soft power (the Tyrells). Daenerys is trying to find her way through this thicket as well. The reason that her storyline is generally less interesting is that she has no meaningful foils or adversaries. While the competitors for Westeros are plotting against one another, she’s basically on her own in the East: Her victories against the masters of Slaver’s Bay are the victories of a one-player game, not victories over other players." —The Atlantic 

“Like the most polarizing man of the evening: the far from perfect (I mean, clearly) Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Jaime Lannister. Our gold-handed boy did look to be getting a bit better with his swordplay, but all that focus on his fighting skills hasn’t exactly made him a king in the social department. Turns out he had yet to visit Tyrion in the dungeons before Bronn forced his hand on that. Tsk, tsk! It was nice to see the boys have a laugh over the fact that their sister Cersei wanted Tyrion killed at Jaime’s hand, even if we’d would have much preferred it if Jaime had tried to help his brother escape, sisterlover be damned.” —Nerdist

Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO