Oaths were kept, masters were killed, and eyes were turned blue. This episode was unified thematically; every storyline this week featured someone who entered into some type of promise, vow, or binding agreement. The episode was in large part about the costs of keeping those oaths and the consequences of breaking them.
For those who don’t know, the books are written from the third person of multiple “POV” characters (one chapter Bran, next chapter Dany, next chapter Jaime, etc.). So naturally, per the basic laws of narrative, we don’t necessarily get to see scenes play out on the page that occur outside the point of view of the POV characters. Given that, one of the great joys of the show as a reader of the books is that one gets the opportunity to view scenes that are either not in the books at all or that are only recounted second-hand or by here-say. The best example is Little Finger; he’s not a POV character in any of the books to this point, so he doesn’t get “his own scenes” for lack of a better term. The show turned him into a more central part of the ensemble with various monologues, exchanges, and moments all his own. It’s a brilliant device because it allows him (as well as Varys, Tywin, and all the other prominent non-POVs who get to shine on screen) to still play the role he does to the “main” narrative but have B and C type stories as well (if indeed there are such storylines as we usually understand them on Game of Thrones given how ensemble driven it is as a series).
This season and this episode in particular took full advantage of this method, most notably with the stuff featuring Margaery and Olenna Tyrell. It’s getting redundant to say how flawless the casting is on this series but it must be said that Diana Rigg is PERFECT for Lady Olenna and has done a spectacular job, as Dame Diana always does. Natalie Dormer and herself work incredibly well together and Dormer’s interpretation of Margaery (also not a POV character) has given her a spark and multi-dimensionality that doesn’t (or can’t) come across on the page of a novel.
Margaery’s scene with Tommen was just lovely. Its so much fun to see her so deftly use their age difference to her advantage in a process we experience in the books through Cersei’s Oedipal sniveling. Seeing it from the other side is fascinating, particularly because Margaery provides such a good counterpunch to Cersei.
Staying with non-POV additions to the series, the opening with Grey Worm and Missandei in their “common tongue”/ Westerosi/English lessons was really nice, as was Grey Worm playing Spartacus to the slaves of Mereen.
Noah Taylor makes a welcome addition to the Castle Black sequences, which can get a little repetitive at times, no matter how fascinated I am with everything to do with the Night’s Watch. Speaking of the Night’s Watch, I should also say that the last third or so of this episode deviated so far from the books that it was actually the first time I felt as though I didn’t know what I was watching. That’s not a complaint and I don’t necessarily mean it as praise either, it was just a strange feeling to have after so much time put in feeling the opposite. I do mean strange in a good way though; the material is engaging and credible within the universe of the series, that’s what’s really important in my opinion, not absolute fidelity to the books.
On that note, the shot in the final sequence with the baby sharp in the foreground and the line of White Walkers out of focus in the background with the single figure coming forward was absolutely beautiful. The endings have been really on point so far this season.
Lastly, and to my great chagrin, I have to say that the rape from last week’s installment seems to have been brushed over, narratively speaking, in its immediate aftermath. It loomed large in my mind as a viewer but as far as I could detect there was no real change in the tension between Jaime and Cersei. It felt as if they shot two versions of the aforementioned sequence from the last episode; one with a rape and one without and thought they could just use both versions interchangeably and everything going forward would work either way. It seems fairly apparent from their interviews that the show runners weren’t expecting the level of reaction they were going to generate with that decision. I find it hard to believe though, that they wouldn’t be aware of how severely it would alter the trajectory of Jaime’s development going forward.
Apart from that and overall, though, this was an evenly paced, well structured episode, with some good work by writer Bryan Cogman, whom I actually think is a little under-praised for his work on the show and by director Michelle MacLaren who’s done great work on Game of Thrones as well as some of the best work done by anybody behind the camera on Breaking Bad.