The words people say are taken very seriously in Game of Thrones. In most cases they are life and death mission statements in a pre-Facebook Westeros. Every character is defined by how strongly they honor the promises they make. Imagine for a second if every Facebook invite you responded to were bound by an oath. You’d either go to every get-together, trivia night, or improv show in existence, or you’d be labeled an oathbreaker and then damned by the Gods. You’d probably weigh your decisions much more heavily, right?
That is the mentality of the people on Game of Thrones: everyone is bound by oaths and the type of person you are is measured by which ones they keep.
“So many vows. They make you swear and swear… Defend the king, obey the king, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But what if your father despises the king? What if the king massacres the innocent? It’s too much. No matter what you do you’re forsaking one vow or another.”
―Ser Jaime Lannister (book version)
Episode three– a slightly slower paced episode than the previous two– focused on the exploration of oaths and what they mean in the context of each of the five highlighted plots.
Each character in Game of Thrones has sworn one kind of an oath or another. The fallout from the decision to keep or break an oath is what keeps pushing the show forward. More so than any show on television, the consequence of one’s actions come home to roost in a big way every season.
Brienne swore an oath to Catelynn Stark to protect Arya and Sansa. The vast majority of her storyline is directly related to this promise. The Red Wedding– arguably the most shocking moment in the show to date– was a double-dose of oathbreaking. Robb Stark violated an oath of man by refusing to marry one of Lord Walder Frey’s daughters, and Lord Walder Frey violated an oath of the Gods by killing Robb’s entire army while they were at his castle.
This was a violation of Guest Right– a Westerosi tradition that means once you are a guest in someone’s house, they must protect you. Of all the dastardly things done in in the names of Gods and men, Guest Right seems to be the most universally observed tradition and only a the worst type of person would violate it. By violating Guest Right, Walder Frey signed up for vengeance against his house of biblical proportions. This is a big one in Game of Thrones and it’s going to get paid back in full ten fold. Just you watch.
Game of Thrones is a epic poem about what it takes to deal with a world that is changing around you. Both the show and book versions of Westeros are steeped in tradition guided by the oft referenced old songs and stories each character heard growing up. Now, engulfed in events that will someday be it’s own bedtime story told to Westerosi children, we’re seeing that the heroes aren’t always good, the villains aren’t always bad, and the amount of work that goes into keeping an oath may not be worth it, especially when those around you are on the opposite side of the vows that need to be upheld.
The instances of when oaths get murky is where this episode, entitled “Oathbreaker” picks up.
THIS POST IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS
Via HBO: Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) meets her future. Bran meets the past. Tommen confronts the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). Arya (Maisie Williams) trains to be No One. Varys (Conleth Hill) finds an answer. Ramsay gets a gift.
THE WALL: Jon Snow swore an oath to The Night’s Watch to serve for life, but technically his life ended when four conspirators killed him last season. Now that he’s back from the dead, is he still under oath? A better question is, is he still Jon Snow or are we watching the birth of Jon Stark?
Jon was the first character to deal with the reality behind ‘the songs’ when he took the black to become one of the brave swords who would defend the realms of men. Since he was a child, he wanted to be like his uncle Benjen– a Ranger in The Night’s Watch riding off into the great frozen white waste to fight wildings and anything else to scary to mention. He believed his destiny was to be one of the few, the proud, the watchers on the wall. He has been dealing with the murky and muddled reality of black cloaks and white walkers ever since.
And now, with his watch emphatically ended, and having bequeathed the homie Dolorous Edd his title of Lord Commander, Jon _____ is riding out to face the great unknown again. He, more so than any other character, is in the boat with the audience– there is no stray thread from the book is pulling from here. We out here beyond the wall… literally.
VAES DOTHRAK: Which oaths are Daenerys bound to and why? By marriage, she is/was a Dothraki Khaleesi. By force of will and a ton of conquering, she is the Queen of half of Essos and the Breaker of Chains. By birthright, she is the Mother of Dragons and the last known Targaryen, whose house words are Fire and Blood. In all of a Game of Thrones lore, more so than any oath sworn to Gods and men, are what each character is destined to follow. To thine own words be true. Dany’s story is not nearly over and all of these quick glimpses would lead me to believe that hers will be the one that pushes this season along the farthest.
KINGS LANDING: King Tommen is dealing with a lot, right now. His girlfriend is locked away in a tower, his is having a hard time connecting with him mom, and his only friend is a cat named Ser Pounce. He should be in his room, filling notebooks with bad poetry and poorly written songs to be performed by the post-emo-hardcore or boy band he should be looking to start.
Oh and there’s a prophecy afoot that says he is going to die a terrible death and his mom is yet to tell him about it. It’s not looking good for the king.
There is no more tragic figure in Game of Thrones than Tommen Baratheon. Despite coming from a terrible family, his heart is good– he would be a great king, if only anyone was willing to counsel him. He is an impressionable puppet in a world full of manipulative puppet masters all vying to pull his strings.
His wife only wants to be the queen; she didn’t marry him for love– she married him because he was the king. He swore an oath to honor and protect her at all costs because he was told he had to do so by people he doesn’t know to mistrust. His mother has surrounded him with a small council of yes men so she can rule the kingdom in his name. Even his faith is manipulating him; the Pope of Westeros is trying to appeal to his good nature to unite the faith and the crown to rule the Seven Kingdoms under God(s) for the first time in generations. He’s not doing that because he wants Tommen to be the best king he can be, he’s doing it because he can see this kid is outmatched, out-witted, and ripe for the picking.
His strings are showing, they are string-of-Christmas-lights level tangled, and no one is stepping in to help him.
WINTERFELL: There is no better example of the role that oaths play in post-War of the Five Kings Westeros than what is happening in the North. These characters are no longer living in a world where tradition and relationships bound by words mean anything. As pointed out by Lord Umber, Ramsay killed his father to take control of the Stewardship of the North. The Karstarks betrayed the Starks despite being bound by blood. Political alliances aren’t bound by marriage or fealty anymore because those words don’t mean anything anymore. We’re living in a world where loyalty is determined by convenience.
The Umbers are afraid that the Wildings are going to raid their lands, so in exchange for protection from the rest of the great Northern houses, they’re giving Ramsay Ned Stark’s youngest son, Rickon. At the end of season three, Rickon and Osha were sent by Bran to stay at Great Harbor with the Umbers for protection from the Lannisters. As it’s no longer convenient for the Umbers to keep him, they traded him in for help from the Boltons. And they killed his dog.
I’m not sure I like this show anymore.
That’s going to come back around, through. It will because it always does. The North Remembers… hopefully.
RIP, Shaddydog. I hope Ghost avenges his brother big time.
THE TOWER OF JOY: We got another installment of Bran Stark’s tree VR simulation, which is the best thing about this season so far. Bran’s involvement in Season Six is largely to connect all the dots for the audience that hasn’t read the books. We’re inching closer and closer to answering one of the biggest questions of the show; I cannot wait for this.
This battle happened at The Tower of Joy– a pivotal moment in Robert’s Rebellion and a defining moment for Ned Stark. As mentioned by Bran, he had heard this story a thousand times, but the reality of the situation didn’t seem to jive with what he had heard. His father won the battle because his opponent was stabbed in the back. Bran’s reaction would lead us to believe that part got left out of the retelling.
Ned Stark was the straightest arrow in all of Westrosi history– or at least that’s the story we had all been told.
The Three-Eyed Raven/Old Man in the Tree is toying with us, and I both love and hate the fact they are drawing out the answer to the most popular fan question in all of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire lore.
VARYS IN MEEREEN: There are going to be flocks of little birds flying very, very soon both from Meereen and Kings Landing. I wonder whose song they are actually singing…?
SAM AND GILLY’S BELOW DECK ADVENTURE: This. Does. Not. Bode. Well. For. Anyone.
Sam was banished to the wall by his father because Lord Tarley thought his son was a tubby nerd. This tells the audience that Randall Tarley is not a good person. Now after being abused by his dad for his entire life, he’s bringing his girlfriend and step-son to his father’s house. Isn’t this guy supposed to be the smartest character on the show?