A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Game of Thrones excels at the portrayal of nuanced moral dichotomies, the complexities of the most basic of human emotions and reactions to a world in which individuals are reacting to the choices of others just as often as they’re making choices of their own volition. Existence in and of itself is arguably a byzantine labyrinth to navigate and when Thrones taps steadfastly into that comprehension, it has no equal (it’s notable missteps are when it strays from that complexity and into the realm of one-dimensional characterizations, which in turn spill unhelpfully into the narrative). Oaths are in a sense an ironic representation of that moral dichotomy, where the world splits cleanly into a house of black and white (pun intended) and there is no room left for nuance. There’s simply a promise, a swearing of fealty and one either keeps it or they break it. Never matter the complexities of keeping the oath or the severity of what the oath itself may be asking in the first place. Not agreeing to the oath is a mark of dishonor, a stain upon one’s character that can be incredibly difficult to remove. The consequences of breaking an oath can be even more austere, fatal even, the mouth that had sworn the fealty dropping onto the ground along with the accompanying head (unless your executioner follows the Lord of Light). Jaime Lannister of all people demonstrated the absolute folly that can result from oaths in season two, a prisoner of the Stark camp who lamented that he had never strayed from Cersei, even though that love itself was considered dishonorable, a breaking of the family oath. As he grew older, he accumulated more and more oaths until inevitably there was a clash. And upon the precarious precipice of that conflict, what oughts ought he have kept? Which ones ought he have discarded? The most infamous conflict for that character arrived during the War of the Five Kings and that decision became infamous, the driving of a sword through a king’s back before the dragon banners fell and the stag and lion rose. He broke one oath to keep another and he was stained forevermore.
The greatest oath broken is reveling at the beginning of the episode, the product of that broken oath rising from the table, naked and terrified as if he woke from a drowning. Davos’s gaping stare opened the episode, his shocked eyes looking upon the sight before him with a gaze of absolute shock. The magic of Melisandre had worked yet again, providing him with the most astounding miracle he had seen yet. But Jon is flummoxed from breathing again. He remembers acutely the feeling of utter breathlessness coursing through his veins, each and every single steely stab that shattered through his being reeking of immense betrayal. He remembers the feeling of nothingness creeping through his consciousness, the night walls of Castle Black fading around him. He remembers feeling the crushing guilt of his failure in uniting the Night’s Watch and the wildlings, although in all earnest honesty there is only so much xenophobic and traditional hatred one can deal with within the capacity of a singular individual. Most importantly, to note, he remembers dying. Melisandre gapes upon him as if he were a God, the singular most fantastic thing she had in all of her lengthy existence. She wants to know, as does everyone at some juncture in their lives, what he saw. When he slipped into the jaws of the one the followers of the Faith call the Stranger, what did he see? “Nothing,” Jon whispers in a terrified tremor. “There was nothing at all.” That realization is for one a smart move by the writers but on top of that a real driving force for Jon to realize the vitality of living, the importance of not allowing honor to trump the pragmatic realities of what must be done. When he told Mance Rayder he wanted to fight for the side that fights for the world of the living, those words meant to earn him the trust of the enemy become more relevant than ever. He thought he knew whom he was, but that identity was a falsehood of honor and it rewarded his faith with daggers in the flesh. Now having been through a cosmic shift where he had no identity, where he was for all intents and purposes No One, he realizes the importance of forging a path forward for life and the path begins with the execution of the four oath breakers, dangling from the nooses they had ostensibly created for their leader. Jon left his greatest oath behind and now his watch has truly ended.
Daenerys’s entrance into Vaes Dothrak (arguably the biggest beneficiary of the show’s increased budget so far this season) taps into that sense of breaking an oath, which is what Dany stands accused of by the Dosh Khaleen. Daenerys’s marriage to Khal Drogo was more than the two of them swearing an oath of partnership to one another. It was the swearing of an oath between Daenerys and the traditions of the Dothraki, a swearing in which Daenerys had absolutely no choice. She was simply sold off and she made the best of circumstances, rising far above what anyone else, certainly she herself, had any reason to expect. When she lit the funeral pyre of her husband, she was torching the oath that had existed between them. But when she moved forward with that remained of her loyal khalasar and through the Red Waste to the grand city of Qarth, she broke her oath to the Dosh Khaleen, an oath she may not even have been aware of but one she was assured was of the utmost importance to the traditions of this great culture. And she had broken it so it wasn’t simple enough that she would join the Dosh Khaleen. A Khalar Vezvhen would be called forth and they would decide the fate of the Khaleesi who had dared to go out into the world after her stallion had faded away into dust. It’s a strange parallel to the journey of one Arya Stark, who was given one primary oath by the House of Black and White and whomever may really be behind the man who is to us Jaqen H’ghar. She had to lose her individuality and become No One, an oath she broke by being unable to kill the Thin Man and slicing Meryn Trant apart like a block of parmesan cheese instead. She was punished for that oath with blindness, as this episode’s fairly effective training montage gets her through. But she gets that rare reprieve that Daenerys is still waiting for and will inevitably arrive. Her progress gives Jaqen some important faith in how sternly Arya and steadfastly progress forward, this time with her eyesight intact,
The most anticipated sequence was arguably the Tower of Joy, long the subject of all the fan theories that arose out a feverish dream Ned Stark had in Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The Tower of Joy is a fastidious, indomitable tower that dots the Dornish landscape and somehow has a real-life analogue in Spain. Knights are the individuals most obviously obsessed with the concepts and executions of their oaths, as the virtue of the storytelling proves throughout (the contrast between Brienne and the Hound is a prime example of this). The show’s retelling pares down the combatants from seven Starks and loyalists to six and the three Targaryen Kingsguard down to two but semantics aside, it captures the essence of the story not just from that specific segment of the page but of one of the defining themes of the series as a whole. History is often romanticized and brought forth with glamors that even Melisandre would be proud of and a part of that is the embellishment of what occurred in history to give rise to the legends of knights and their tales of heroism. The main three combatants here are the indomitable SerArthur Dayne, Ned, and Howland Reed, facing off together until only one remained, looking up at the tower from a cry. The thrilling choreography builds quietly to that moment when Ned breaks the path of the honorable and strikes Ser Dayne down. It’s an organic development brimming with cynicism for the show to execute but one that feels earned despite the Tower of Joy being dropped this episode to expectedly unsure Unsullied viewers. There was no honor in the way Ned Stark won. Ser Dayne took on four men and only left Ned up and about. His legendary fighting prowess is legendary and right there bran and the audience are able to see some of the teased amazingness the show can provide. But the key point remains that he did survive to tell the story. Howland Reed’s stabbing of Ser Dayne in the back is a story full of survival instincts kicking in, the type of singular intelligence that really would have buoyed his chances of success in the game of thrones fairly significantly. Perhaps the guilt over how he defeated the legendary swordsman kicked in, but the fact remains that Ned is decomposing steadfast under the dust and Jon is back, ready to carve another path forward for himself from a life he never really should have been given back, a life whose very birth was a symbol of breaking an oath and securing the freedom it left in its wake
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“The Prince That Was Promised.”
+“I did what I thought I was right.”
+“Now go fail again.”
+“I’m not a God.”
+“What kind of God would have a pecker that small?”
+“The Sword of the Morning”
+“I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.” Great paralleling with Mance Rayder, there.
+“And now it begins.”
“No. Now it ends.”
+Qyburn trying to win over Varys’s little birds
+“I am not a torturer.”
+“You’re a true liberator, aren’t you?” Biting, fitting line.
+Astapor and Yunkai, with Valentine friends
+“Margaery is the Queen. You are not the Queen because you are not married to the King.”
+“Things can get a little confusing in your family.”
+“The crown and the faith are the twin pillars of the world.”
+“The mother’s love transcends it all.”
+“It’s what the Gods want.”
+The Waif stoping at Walder Frey’s name. Am I sensing too much importance here?
+“If a girl is truly no one, she has nothing to fear.”
+Smalljon Umber brings Rickon, Osha, and the bloodied head of Shaggydog to Winterfell. I’m terrified.
+“You have Castle Black.” Lord Commander Dolorous Edd!
+Eddie Eyre, Luke Roberts, and Robert Aramayo slayed it (pun intended) during the Tower of Joy sequence.
Episode Title: Oathbreaker
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
Image Courtesy: Tech Insider