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‘Game of Thrones’ Heavy Metal Review – ‘Oathkeeper’

HBO

Another low body count on his week’s ‘Game of Thrones‘ episode, ‘Oathkeeper.’ But sometimes a not-very-metal interlude can be very metal.

This week, ‘Vikings’ had a full-on battle on a scale — if not style — that TV hasn’t seen since ‘Spartacus: Vengeance.’ So ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4, Episode 4 had to really deliver if it wanted to keep the crown as the most metal show on TV. And it didn’t. But that’s OK.

Time for real talk: Not a lot happened in this week. After nearly three and a half seasons, though, HBO’s crew has a good grip on how to handle an episode where almost nothing happens. Namely, by making sure a couple big somethings happen. Even if those somethings don’t translate to massive onscreen spectacle.

Here’s some big-picture talk, and we’ll get into the metal tallies in a minute. This week’s biggest action wasn’t heavy metal, but heavy meta — which is a TV-nerd term that translates to “the show wasn’t about what was happening onscreen.” ‘Game of Thrones’ is based on a series of 700-page novels collectively called ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ — and that title alone is metal as hell, right?

So far, the two versions have been faithful to each other. But this season, for the first time, the significant differences are piling up fast.

First, at episode’s open, across the sea, in the siege on the city of slavers, the TV show is cutting right to the chase. A whole bloody revolution happened, mostly offscreen, but with a solitary example providing a satisfying taste of a seismic spasm of violence. And if learning how to say “Kill the masters” in another language isn’t metal enough for you, and if secret soldiers sneaking through the set of a Morbid Angel video isn’t metal enough for you, then a dozen or so righteous onscreen crucifixions should satisfy your bloodlust for the week. And the nail session would have to slake your sanguine desires, because the body count stopped right there.

The rest of the episode’s numerous and brisk scenes set up future action, with tension accruing incrementally. In King’s Landing, narrative conventions and direct dialogue reveal the former king’s murder plot — and while it’s close to the books, it’s not a safe bet both versions of the story feature the same guilty party. This fan doesn’t think so, anyway.

Elsewhere, various players strategize, speechify, embark on new quests and gear up for battle. True warriors spar. A pinhead wields power. Lazy lords get fat while the people with real intestinal fortitude ride North, looking for vengeance, carrying sharp implements of justice. Siblings, once close, now have ample reason to distrust each other. In fact, in this world, by the time someone speaks the truth, nobody believes it, and wisely so.

All of which leads us almost as far North as the show has gone, to Caster’s Keep. This wooden fortress is a rare outpost of civilization — albeit an unspeakably corrupt kind — in the wild snowy wasteland beyond the Wall. One malevolent local tyrant has been replaced by another, and rebel soldiers have turned into a cadre of murderous rapists. And all metalheads who have seen one of their favorite bands take a turn for the worse can tell you: There’s nothing worse a dude in black leather seizing power and making bad judgment calls, which lead his once-admirable band of brothers down a dark, shameful path.

Craster’s Keep is where the parallel Songs of Fire and Ice converge, collapse and diverge in new, exciting ways. Brandon Stark — that’s the disabled kid whose eyes go white ’cuz he can project his spirit into his pet wolf (long story short) who has been wandering around the woods and not doing much for the past seasons, though he’s probably the hero of the entire saga. Anyhow, Brandon and his pals stumble into three storylines that are headed toward each other like a couple hungry direwolves headed toward the same wounded deer.

And for better or worse, this ugly scene is very metal, if only for its unflinchingly ugly scenery, and yet another slow build to bloody vengeance. Unsettling, bleak violence is what outsiders see when they look at metal. And if this is how they see it, regardless of whether they’re wrong, you can understand why they find it so disturbing.

Before the d—heads in black arrived at Craster’s Keep, the management wasn’t much better. Craster, the former master of the keep, routinely mated with his daughters. And when they bore him sons, he left their warm bodies out in the cold waste, where they were claimed by White Walkers, the stories’ seldom-present zombie menace, who did something with the kids — though we never knew what. Even if you’ve ready all five books to date.

But as the episode drew to a close, the show leapfrogged past the books for the first time, taking us to the Northernmost extremes yet: A zombie lord on an undead horse carried a babe through a white wasteland. And he delivered the young lad to a council of dudes who look like the guys from ‘Hellraiser.’ Who are they? That’s a great question. They sure look metal. We’re in uncharted territory now, longtime readers and new viewers.

So no, not a lot happened this week. But most classic albums have a mid-tempo tune or an instrumental track to keep the groove going. ‘Oathkeeper’ was all tension and no release — but that’s a sure sign that a badass pit is about to break out.

‘Oathkeeper’ Stats and Count of Assorted Metal Signifiers and Situations:

Onscreen Body Count: 1
Onscreen Crucifixions (and Certain Deaths): Approximately 12
Offscreen Crucifixions: We can safely assume 151.
Awesome Potential Names for a Metal Duo: 2 (“The Kingslayer Brothers,” “Kill the Masters”)
Awesome Potential Names for a Metal Album (Assuming It Isn’t Taken Already): 1 (“White Wolf in a Cage.”)
Dude Getting Pimpslapped With His Own Gilded-Steel Hand: 1
Boobs: At least four; it could be more, but that part was tough to watch, and it sure wasn’t sexy.
Dungeon: 1
Dude Drinking Wine From the Bashed-in Skull of His Enemy: 1
Vulgar Displays of Power: At least 6
Prick Kings Named Joffrey Who Are Still Dead, So Ha!: 1
Overall Rating: Moderately Metal, but this week was like the neverending buildup at the beginning of Slayer’s “Hell Awaits”: It is but a prelude to an imminent rain of blood. Next week, the snow runs red.

Song of the Week:  Metallica, “… And Justice for All.”

Next: Last Week's 'Game of Thrones' Metal Review

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