Spoiler Warning: I’m playing fast and loose with this one, so if you haven’t read all the published novels, through A Dance With Dragons, be warned that you may want to sit this one out.
Gee, where even to begin with Oathkeeper? An ironic title, for starters, for an episode that so boldly abandoned the novels the series has thus-far followed so faithfully. Last week I raised hell over a deviation in the relationship between Jaime and Cersei that now seems minor by comparison. It also never occurred to me that the television series would start dropping book spoilers quite so soon, but we’ll get to that.
Going into this season, I wondered how the show would deal with Bran and his companions and their travels. At the end of Season Three they were already north of the Wall, and in the novels there just isn’t much between that point and Book Five. Unlike the novels, the HBO series can’t just ignore Bran for two seasons (actors age, after all, and they tend to find other jobs when they aren’t used) so unless the show intended to introduce Bran to the Three-Eyed Crow in the second half of A Storm of Swords, the show-runners had to come up with something else.
I can’t say that their solution thrilled me. For one thing, every time the show deviates substantially from Martin’s books, the writing suffers greatly. I understand why the Nights Watch mutineers need to be established as villainous, but their scenes are so over the top as to be laughable. They turned Craster’s Keep into something one-third Caligula, one-third Texas Chainsaw Massacre and one-third Lord of the Flies–and once again gave the show runners an opportunity to depict women being raped, which is becoming a troublesome thematic choice this season.
Then we have Locke, the show’s stand-in for Vargo Hoat, who’s made his way to Castle Black instead of being tortured to death by Gregor Clegane. I have the sense he’s being set up to pursue Bran and his companions, to add a sense of urgency to their travels much the way Azog the Defiler was added to the Hobbit movies–and we all know what an “improvement” that was. I really hope I’m wrong.
By moving Bran and his companions into Craster’s Keep, where Jon Snow and his force are moving, the show also seems to be setting up for a reunion between the (ahem) half-brothers. This would also be a major change–not one I’m necessarily appalled by, but one that would have significant ramifications in Jon’s story down the road.
As I watched the episode, with the flock of cawing ravens that preceded Bran’s capture and the way Karl kept monologuing, I thought Coldhands was about to arrive at any second. That didn’t happen, of course, because the showdown between Jon and the mutineers must be shown, and because Coldhands was apparently deemed expendable and cut entirely, the Tom Bombadil to Martin’s Middle-Earth. What that says about Coldhands’s ultimate importance to the series mythology is an interesting question.
On that note, let’s talk about the episode’s biggest reveal. A parody article that got popular recently pointed out how “some novelist has been publishing books full of Game of Thrones spoilers.” Ironic that, less than a month later, the show may have dropped a major spoiler on readers waiting patiently for The Winds of Winter.
Thanks to what looks to have been a clumsy error in HBO’s episode summary, we now know (or seem to know) that the Night’s King is alive(ish) and commanding the Others/White Walkers. Either that, or Darth Maul hung out on Westeros before getting his sweet facial tattoos.
We’ve seen, for the first time in book or TV show, the Land of Always Winter. We may also know how the mysterious and malevolent ice creatures have been rebuilding their ranks, though that part is less clear. The blue-eyed baby whose gaze ends the episode may have been a newborn White Walker, a wight, or some other creature with which we’re not yet familiar.
Some have made the point that there were fourteen White Walkers depicted in whatever ritual that final scene depicted, which matches the number of volcanoes known as the Flames of Valyria. I have my doubts about the significance of the number, especially considering the White Walkers lost one of their ranks to Sam’s dragonglass dagger.
In twenty-four hours since watching the episode, I haven’t made up my mind yet how I feel about it. Like many viewers who’ve read the books, I find myself in the unfamiliar position of not knowing what might happen next–which is both exciting and worrisome.
I understand that the TV show may continue to diverge from the novels. If that means more scenes with the splendid tension of Margaery Tyrell’s secret conversation with Tommen Baratheon, then I’m excited. If it means more Karl monologues and rape, I may fall out of love fast.