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Monday, 9 June 2014

Game of Thrones S4E9: The Watchers on the Wall.


Game of Thrones
S4E9: The Watchers on the Wall.


This is another Blackwater-style episode, focusing exclusively on one part of the world and a few viewpoints during a large battle. It's less effective than Blackwater, I think, because there's not the same sense of scale and danger, and because Blackwater had scenes with Cersei and Sansa that were a break from the battle. It's still a very good episode, and along with the last episode definitely a contender for the best of this series.

The episode opens on Sam and Jon talking about Ygritte, with Sam asking questions like 'How big were her feet?' because he's Sam and the boy knows where his priorities are. Sam's actor doesn't get enough credit, actually, because this scene shows that he can switch between gravitas-heavy 'this is our last night on earth' and comedic 'i'm reeeeeeaaaaaally a virgin' and back again multiple times without it feeling unbelievable. It takes a fair amount of talent to make those quick switches and not have it feel jarring or unbelievable, and he does it. Jon lets him go to sleep, and he goes take the watch.

Ygritte, Tormund and the wildlings are also discussing sex. Specifically, sex with bears. Ygritte interrupts Tormund to snap at him about how they all know he's never had sex with a bear, and is quickly confronted by Bald Cannibal, accusing her of being more bark than bite and still having feelings for Jon. She stares him down, despite him being a full head and a half taller and broader than her, because Ygritte is a badass, and informs everyone there that she will kill anyone that kills Jon Snow. 

One of the most badass characters.

We get a brief, peaceful interlude in which Sam, at the library, speaks with Maester Aemon, who points out that he wasn't always old, and he was a Targaryen once, and everyone wanted some of that sweet Targaryen something-something. It's meant to be a demonstration that when Aemon says that love is the death of duty, he knows what he's talking about, and yet every time Aemon reminds people that he's a Targaryen, it's like a switch flips in my brain that just wants to know: Is Aemon immune to fire? Has someone tried setting him on fire and seeing? Could someone, if they have a free moment? I like Aemon, I don't want him to burn alive or anything, I just want someone to stub a match out on his cheek and see if he looks annoyed.

Gilly arrives, and Sam demands she's let in. Their reunion is interrupted by the sound of a horn blaring. It's time, a wildling warg announces, but the wildling's signal to attack isn't the horn, that's coming from the Night's Watch. As Jon makes his way to the top of the wall, he sees the 'biggest fire the North has ever seen' that Mance promised: An entire forest beyond the wall set alight.

Well.

The White Walkers aren't going to be happy.

Evil Working Watch Commander – whose name is Alistair, I believe – admits that Jon was right and they should have collapsed the tunnel, and after a brief speech on the nature of leadership, says he sincerely hopes they both survive so that they can continue wanting them to die. Meanwhile, Sam and Gilly have a scene taken straight from the pages of the most terrible bodice ripper that George R.R. Martin could probably find at the time, and it comes off as actually very sweet and sincere. 

A Wild Night, a romance novel by George Martin.

The attack begins, and the wildlings on the south side of the Wall start to run towards one end, while the massive thousands strong army on the north side approaches as well, bringing with them plenty of giants riding adorable woolly mammoths. Or at least one, that I saw. Giants and woolly mammoths are taxing on a budget.

Exchanges of arrows start on both sides, with both sides also inexplicably using burning arrows. Obviously, the intention here is to make the arrows extremely visible for the audience in the relatively dark surrounding environs, but on an in-universe level, it doesn't make a huge amount of sense. Arrows that your enemies can't see are more effective, and arrows on fire aren't really any more deadly to a person than arrows that aren't.

Bonus acting points to the one extra playing a Night's Watchman who literally warbles his scream as he dies here. 

"WHO THE HELL IS SCREAMING LIKE A GOAT?"

The wildlings breach the southern wall – well, they climb over it – and after something like the fourth of many rousing speeches in this episode, the watchmen attack. There's swording, there's people dying, another person warbles. On the north side, you can practically hear the producers going 'We got the CGI for a giant and a woolly mammoth, goddamn we're going to use it.'

Janos has a nervous breakdown and a kindly watchman tells him that he's been summoned to the courtyard, leaving Jon to command the defence of the northern end of Castle Black and the Wall. They keep firing arrows, and I'm not sure what good it'll do. Arrows drift. Hell, bullets drift, and arrows drift even more. Fired at that height from that distance on what looks like a windy day, the chances of them hitting their marks seems absurdly low. I'm not an expert on arrows, so if anyone has a better idea of the efficacy of this strategy, by all means leave a comment.

Tiny Fuzzface Man gets shot and killed in the middle of a comedic line, and I struggle to muster any emotion for his passing. But on the bright side, giants have started breaking through the gate in the Wall.

(My friend asked me if there'd been any Wilhelm screams. The answer: Dear god, so many, so many Wilhelm screams. There is a Wilhelm in any Night's Watchman, and he was trying very hard to get out today.) 

If you cant your head, it kind of looks like Medieval West Side
Story.

After some kerfuffles with flaming barrels, the remaining giant starts to life the gate, Sam comes to get Jon, as they need him down in the courtyard. In the tunnel, the men sent to defend it find themselves facing a giant, and start reciting their oath as it barrels down towards them. It's kind of an epic moment.

Jon heads into the courtyard, and as we get a shot panning over the battle, we also get a neat minor key version of the main theme. In the Big Damn Wolf moment we were all waiting for, Ghost is released to join the battle. 

WHO'S A GOOD WOLF.

There's an excellent fight scene between Jon and Evil Bald Cannibal that ends with Jon burying a hammer in Evil Bald Cannibal's skull, much to – I imagine – Ygritte's satisfaction. Finally, we get the joyous reunion between him and Ygritte, seconds before she gets hit by an arrow. Somewhere, George R.R. Martin laughs. It is a cruel laugh.

I'm genuinely quite crushed by her dying, actually. Ygritte was great.

The battle draws to a close rather uneventfully, to be honest, with the wildlings retreating and Tormund being captured by a very weary and sad-puppy-faced Jon. The next day, while Sam tries to be cheerful, Jon is quick to dourly point out that Mance has more giants, mammoths and men, and will attack again soon. Jon says that he's going to find Mance, as without him the wildling army will disband. As Jon passes through the tunnel on his way, he finds the men he left to hold the gate, the ones reciting the oath earlier: They're all dead, along with the giant. Jon ventures out beyond the Wall alone, towards certain death. 

From this angle, that wolf on Jon's sword looks like a bird.

Honourable death mentions go to: Man hit by an arrow so hard that he goes flying from one end of the wall to another. Man with knife in his eye, warbling. Man on fire dragged by a mammoth while giving a scream that can only be described as the 'I am on fire and being dragged by a mammoth, how did my choices lead me to this moment' scream. Man blown up by his own exploding barrel. Man tackled out of shot by happy wolf.

Next week, we have this series' finale, and it'll be interesting to see what happens there. The title of the episode is 'The Children', I believe, so it's sure to be full of joy, rainbows, and childish whimsy. Such childish whimsy as we've never seen.

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