If the theme of Season 3 of “Game of Thrones” is betrayal, then there is only one place to start: on the matter of oaths. After all, to betray someone is to break a vow of some kind, whether vocalized or internalized. Tonight’s episode, “Valar Dohaeris” examines the various characters at play, the oaths they have taken and the oaths they have broken in order to bring us up to speed as to where each character is present.
The show starts with two brothers of the Night’s Watch who appear to have failed at their duties. The first, poor Sam Tarly, could be excused given everything he’s experiencing – left behind to face off White Walkers in the snow. But he is the steward in charge of the ravens, the man tasked with sending out the warning signal to the brothers at the Wall and everywhere else of the incoming army of the dead. And he’s failed at that. Meanwhile, Jon Snow, apparently betraying his oath as a Sworn Brother, convinces Mance Rayder that he is truly ready to defect to his side. Mance sees through his lie and it’s not until Jon uses the truth of his disgust at Craster and at the Lord Commander that the lie can sink in. But having now sworn himself to Mance, which oath will he keep? Which one will he break?
The oath to serve is what drives poor, half-dead Ser Davos Seaworth to return to his king, even as his friend rescues him and tells him the dark tales being told of King Stannis and Lady Melisandre. It’s what drives him to attempt to kill Melisandre, even though he is half dead. As he tells Salladhor Saan, he’s failed in his oath as a father to protect his son – who died on the Blackwater. He won’t fail Stannis, who he was sworn to serve as Hand. Likewise, the oath of servitude is what keeps Shae and Ros by the side of their highborn masters, Sansa and Baelish. But what’s interesting is that Ros betrays her master’s trust to warn Shae about Baelish and his intentions for young Sansa.
Meanwhile King Robb finds himself in a tough spot. He’s taken oaths to protect his people. But as he walks through the ruins of Harrenhal, that oath appears failed. His men have been tortured and butchered. Worse for him, the lords who raised him up to King in the North as well as the men who follow his banners are questioning his willingness to hold to that oath given the situation with his mother, Lady Catelyn. What good is a king if he can’t keep his promise to protect his people? A king who cannot hold to his oath is no king.
In perhaps the shrewdest move, Lady Margaery is quick to one-up King Joffrey in that regard. As they’re moving down the streets of King’s Landing, she stops her carriage, gets out and seeks out the orphans of the Battle of Blackwater Bay. She hears the stories of children, brings them food and charges their septa to seek her out personally for further aid. Margaery understands the oath that a king takes to protect people. She also understands that, in order for her union with Joffrey to work, she must start undoing the hard work Joffrey has done to turn everyone against him. But perhaps most importantly, she is being calculating and deceptive – win the heart of the people and get them cheering for House Tyrell and they’ll slowly turn against House Lannister. Joffrey’s failure to keep his oath can be a wedge – at the right time.
It’s not like House Lannister isn’t known for disregarding its oaths. After all, while they might say “a Lannister always pays his debts,” they are also known for being devious, deceptive and, in one instance, oath breakers. In the coldest of moments, Lord Tywin manages to both break an oath and make one. Tyrion pushes forth his claim for inheritance of Casterly Rock, their ancient seat of power. His brother Jaime, whom Tywin still hopes can ascend to that position, cannot inherit by virtue of his position as a member of the Kingsguard. He cannot inherit. He cannot marry. He cannot continue a family’s legacy. But the thought of turning the legacy that he is building over to Tyrion is untenable to mighty Lord Tywin. The son who took his wife. The son who shames his family. The son who brings ridicule just by his presence. Such a choice is beyond Lord Tywin. In one fell swoop, he breaks the unspoken vow between a father and his son while also promising to hang the next whore he finds in Tyrion’s bed. Some reward Tyrion’s getting for saving King’s Landing.
Far to the East, Danaeris Targaryen is coming to the conclusion that she needs an army to take King’s Landing, as her dragons aren’t ready to battle. The Unsullied of Astapor are the best – eunuch slaves who’ve had all independent thought trained and tortured out of them. But as Ser Jorah tells her, they will have a better life under her rule than they would any other warlord or conqueror. He is speaking of that unspoken promise that Danaeris carries with her – to be the queen that others have not been.
It is this promise that brings her a new champion: Ser Barristan Selmy. A member of the Kingsguard for both her father and for Robert Baratheon, Selmy has known nothing but oaths and service. But he too was betrayed by the Lannisters when they saw no further need for him. Rather than turn around and sell his sword, he crosses seas and mountains to track Dany down in order to swear his sword to her. He arrives just in time to save Dany from a trap from the angry warlocks of Qarth – a vow to strike her down in response for her actions at the House of the Undying. It seems that a lot of oaths are being made and broken on and for Daenerys.
And this is where Season 3 starts us off. The War of the Five Kings rages in Westeros. Mance Rayder brings the whole of the Frozen North upon The Wall. The White Walkers march. Daenerys Stormborn is looking for an army. As each of these pieces in the game of thrones moves towards their goals, each of these characters will make promises and break promises. They will seek alliances and friendships and partners. They will try to unite causes or break others asunder. This says nothing, of course, of the natural interactions between people who love and hate one another. However, this is where we start: with oaths, vows and promises. After all, betrayal starts when you put your trust in someone else and they make an oath to hold your trust. The breaking of that trust comes later.