Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall

After last week's episode where the bad guys just kept getting the upper hand, and one of my favorite good guys was dealt a crushing defeat, I expected nothing but the worst on The Watchers on the Wall. I prepared for Jon Snow and Sam to die. I expected the Wildlings to burn Castle Black to the ground. And I expected the Thenns to feast on dead Crows. To my utmost surprise, none of that happened, and I got to save my adorable cat videos for another day.

The episode was pretty straightforward. The men of the Night's Watch fought off the Wildling attack from both sides, brave Crows died defending the gate against a giant, Ygritte died in Jon Snow's arms, and it's all just a reprieve because the Wildlings are going to attack again the next night. Let's run through the episode's most memorable moments.

Note: I haven't read the books so any commentary I make is completely based on the show.

Sam's Maturity

Not really one specific moment, but throughout the episode Samwell Tarly really stepped up, much like another famous Sam, namely Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings. Neither Sam's are stars but they both shone brightly and provided support when needed. In this episode, Sam protected Gilly by stashing her in a locked cellar. While he was out, he calmed down Pyp multiple times, helped him reload, and even kept up with the witty one liners. After Pyp died, he killed a Thenn, and motivated Olly to fight, all without seemingly breaking a sweat.

Ser Alliser Thorne's Leadership 

Thorne: "Those are Thenns at our walls! They eat the flesh of the men they kill! Do you wanna fill the belly of a Thenn tonight?!?"
Theoden: "Spears shall be shaken! Shields shall be splintered! A sword day... a red day... ere the sun rises!"

Ser Alliser is still a douchebag, but he's a badass douchebag who can fight! And he can motivate his men just as well as Theoden, King of Rohan can. Theoden had a larger army and a movie budget to work with, but Ser Alliser did just fine. And he held out as long as he could against Tormund Giantsbane.

Janos Slynt's Cowardice

With Ser Alliser going down to Castle Black, he left the former City Watch Commander in charge of the Wall. Bad move. The dude folded faster than Superman on laundry day. Even though he was staring at giants, he kept refusing to believe they existed. Thanks to some quick thinking by Grenn, Slynt had his exit strategy and this fool retreated to the cellar where Gilly was hiding. The same cellar that Sam left to fight with his brothers. Even Gilly was more willing to fight than this coward. How in the hell did this guy become Commander of the City Watch at King's Landing?

The Giant's Arrow

That wasn't an arrow. It was a whale harpoon! But it's the first instance where you realize just how powerful these giants are. And the arrow landing with an impaled Crow on the other side of the Wall was really kind of comical.

Grenn and Company Do Their Duty

"I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

When Jon ordered Grenn to go down and "hold the gate," I thought of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Thine Own Self. It's the one where Counselor Troi takes the Bridge Officer Test, and one of the things you have to do is order a colleague to his death if it saves everyone else. It's a common theme, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. But it's a great scene where Jon basically says goodbye to a friend he's had since season one and has supported him all this year. I thought Ser Alliser had a great speech, but Grenn takes the motivational crown getting his Crows to recite the Night's Watch vows. You don't get to see the fight, but you see the aftermath. And they did indeed hold the gate.

That Long Continuous Shot

At about 39 minutes into the episode, right when Jon Snow gets off the elevator, a long continuous panoramic shot begins and pans around all the fighting at Castle Black with no cuts for about 45 seconds. I thought this was achieved digitally with some creative editing, but according to the director, it's a real panoramic shot that took seven takes to get right. Considering how much was going on, this is really a remarkable technical achievement.

Ghost Feasts

When Sam let's Ghost loose, we get a first wolf's view of him charging into battle. If the episode hadn't spent all their money on the Giants and mammoths, maybe we could have seen more of Ghost's attacks.

The Scythe

Climbing the Wall seems like a flawed plan to me. Scaling 700 feet of ice and when you get to the top, would you even have the energy to fight? But the Crows had an ace up their sleeve. They dropped a giant chained scythe which took out every Wildling climbing up the Wall. It was one of those "Oh shit!" moments and you realized where the CGI budget went in the episode.

Jon Snow and Styr Fight

Best fight in the episode. All that training for Pompeii didn't pay off for the movie, but it certainly paid off here. Styr managed to get the upper hand, and for a second I thought Ygritte would have killed him for engaging Jon, but Jon Snow fought back and brought the hammer down.

Ygritte's Death

Remember way back in episode 3 when the Wildlings attacked that village and Ygritte put an arrow through some poor guy's head? Well that guy was Olly's father, and Olly is the one who put an arrow through Ygritte's heart. So yeah, karma's a bitch. I kind of soured on Ygritte this season with her death wish for Jon, so despite her tenure on the show, her death didn't have the impact that Oberyn's did last week or even Grenn's this week. But at the end, she revealed her true feelings by not killing Jon. She even got to say, "You know nothing Jon Snow" one last time.

So where are we now? The Night's Watch is still screwed as they're down even more Crows than before. And Jon's plan to assassinate Mance Rayder isn't a good plan, but it's the only plan they've got. I've got my adorable cat videos cued.

In the preview for next week's episode titled The Children, Bran makes it to the heart tree, Arya & the Hound are on guard, and Jon Snow and Mance Rayder have a chat.

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