Giants. Dolorous Edd. The Wall. Samwell Tarly. Mammoths. Jon Snow. Scythes. Grenn. Crows. Tormund Giantsbane. Wargs. Ser Alliser Throne. The Night’s Watch. Pyp. Oh, and did I say The Giants?!
And this, my friends is why the North is the most interesting, the most thrilling storyline created by GRRM. Who ever says otherwise “knows nothing.” Granted there was no Bran but still what a magnificent episode this was, perhaps even one of the best episodes so far, which will, without a doubt, be topped by this season’s finale. Or so I hope. But first comes first, I think the standing ovations for the brilliance known as Neil Marshal are in order. * stands up *
If some viewers, like me for example, have felt that Jon Snow and the wildlings have been neglected up until now, then fear not, this week remedied all of that. The Watchers on The Wall entirely focused on the wildlings’ double attack on Castle Black – and what a battle it was! (I had chills even on the third viewing). The sheer scale of the fighting was more than impressive, as the action flitted between the Brothers defending the south gate and stopping more enemies from breaching The Wall. And did I say giants?! Although this episode can easily be compared to the Blackwater (but not top it), The Watchers of the Wall is the most filmic installment of Game of Thrones to this date. The crane shots, the performance, the CGI, the music, the writing. I don’t even know where to begin.
THE TRUE NATURE OF A MAN
After so many scheming done this season the actual battle (we have anticipating since the last year) happening seemed like the breath of fresh air. Patience is a virtue and we have been finally rewarded. As we already know, so much of the power in Westeros unfortunately belongs to those who send others off to die in their stead, or those who scheme and lie…. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we actually found ourselves cheering for the similar types of characters. We cheered for Ned Stark who wanted to win justice with his honor. We cheered for Robb Stark. We cheered because the King in the North fought battles and he won them, on the battlefield, against all odds and against the much more experienced Lord Tywin Lannister. By comparison, Renly Baratheon called himself king but did little to nothing at all to stake his claim. Stannis, on the other hand, fought, but he lost to Tyrion’s wits.And even Tyrion went out onto the field (forced in truth but nevertheless he did) and barely made it out alive. So many of the schemers in Game of Thrones play entirely from the shadows: Littlefinger, Varys, Cersei, the Queen of Thorns, Tywin, Lysa and so on, that rooting for Ser Alliser Throne came as a shock.
When a man, no matter how vile or arrogant, is pressed with the immanent danger of death, tasked with fighting and protecting the realm as well as his fellow men, we see a new side of him. In last week’s episode we saw the new side of Ser Alliser Thorne, the acting commander of the Night’s Watch (taking Jeor Mormont’s place after he had lost his life in Night’s Watch mutiny). Thorne is the polar opposite of LC Mormont, he is petty, his pride stands in the way of the potential good leadership and wise decisions, he is full of resentment and, more or less, a hard character to like or root for, God forbid. However, I did. God forgive me, I did. Despite all of his flaws, when pressed in the battle, Thorne prevails, and then some more. He fights alongside his men, he is able to inspire them and lead them, and despite all of his flaws, he fights with courage and bravery. He is the true brother of the Night’s Watch, worthy of that name.
There are men like Sam, men that grow from cravens to heroes, able to inspire men around him. Sure, he owes a lot to Gilly, who gave him the reason not to be nothing anymore, but nevertheless, we have finally seen Samwell Tarly grow into a man.
There are men like Jon Snow, who in the hopeless, seemingly insurmountable situations find the strength to rise from inexperienced, unpopular, bastard steward to the status of Lord Commander (without having the actual title) capable of taking the charge of the defense a top the Wall. Kit Harrington is getting better in this role, I’ll grant him that, but he is still Kit Harrington, a dull, pretty face with the ability to turn one of the most interesting and compelling characters into a yawn.
There are men like Edd, who follow orders and take the hold of command amidst the chaos without question asked.
There are men like Grenn, who surprisingly turned into an excellent tactician when he tricked the craven Slynt into leaving the Wall, letting the defense fall entirely onto Jon Snow, who took the opportunity to shine with open hands. But not only that. Grenn ended up being the ultimate hero of the story when he, against all odds (and a Giant) held the gate. He knew what would happen if the gate is breached. He knew it would be over. He also knew that holding the gate meant giving up on his life and he made sure to remember and remind his fellow brothers to their sole purpose as he recited the oath. “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. 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 “. He pledged his life. He held the door. And now his watch has ended.
And then there are men like Janos Slynt, former Commander of the City Watch, who disobeyed a direct order from Ned Stark (The Hand of the King), which resulted in Ned’s arrest and death (the reason why Tyrion sends him to the Wall), who killed innocent babies (Robert Baratheon’s bastard children) on King Joffrey’s command, who let innocent girls (Sansa) be publicly humiliated and beaten and so on. Faced with an immanent danger of death Janos Slynt does not inspire men around him, he doesn’t lead the charge, he doesn’t even believe in what is clearly in front of his own eyes (There is not such thing as Giants), instead Janos Slynt flees the battlefield and hides with the only woman and baby currently present in the Castle Black. This is the slight deviation from the book, which in a long run might affect the development of my favorite moment (hopefully not) but make no mistakes, Janos Slynt is a coward, a spineless, vile creature not fit to be the Brother of the Night’s Watch.
DOWNFALL OF THE EPISODE
What bothered me and what always bothers me about the North storyline is that there are always, no matter what, some clear missed opportunity to add certain depth through subplots. Is this done on purpose to undermine the depth of the story? I fear so. The perpetually underdevelopment of Gilly is driving me crazy. Also, we get no real sense of what the battle feels like from her perspective. The same goes for Maester Aemon, who, strangely, disappears the second there’s any actual danger present. Those are clear opportunities to depict the experience from the perspective of a character who isn’t a trained brother of the Night’s Watch or a fit Wildling, and to expand the scope of a typical fantasy story in a way that Game of Thrones generally does so well like it did in the Blackwater episode. Instead, we follow a straight line of the Wildling attack with relatively predictable deaths along the way. Pyp, Ygritte and Grenn.
Pyp and Grenn have been with us since the first season, but their deaths come with far less impact than Oberyn’s, because Game of Thrones has never really bothered to give them personalities that extend beyond “Jon and Sam’s friends.” These two characters, however, do not die in the books. They are very much alive and while I anticipated Pyp’s death ever since they announced how one of the characters that is alive in the books will meet his end near the end of this season. But Grenn came as a shock to me. And I should be ashamed. For a book reader I should’ve known. I should’ve seen it coming. Who else would fill in the shoes of the missing Donale Noye, a one-handed blacksmith that died fighting the Giant?! Who else but Grenn? At least one character got to die an honorable and heroic death, a rarity on this show. Dear Grenn, you will be missed.
And then there’s Ygritte, whose death should be a major moment, for both audiences and for Jon Snow. Instead, it isn’t. Ygritte and the rest of her wildling bunch have barely appeared this season, which lessens the impact her death should have had. She pops up with just enough time for her to deliver one last, inevitable “You know nothing, Jon Snow” before she dies in his arms. This is the downside of Game of Thrones‘ narrative: The feeling that some stories, no matter how well staged, simply matter less than others. For a character that was with us for almost three whole seasons, Ygirtte deserved more, but alas she is not Khal Drogo.
Things I liked:
– Light the fuckers up! I am so hyped about Edd’s upcoming scenes it is not even funny. Edd, Fetch me a Time Machine!
Things I didn’t like:
– Cut in the middle of the bloody battle! Needless to say, it was the biggest TV anticlimax of the century. If only some scenes were shorter and if only some were cut out. But they were not. To what end? Oh well, three words and you will hear them on Sunday.
Thorne: I said nock and hold you cunts! Does nock mean draw?
Men: -no sir
Thorne: Does fucking hold, mean fucking drop?
Men: -no sir
Thorne: You all plan to die here tonight?
Men: -no sir
Thorne: That’s very good to hear!
Text written by: Monika Ponjavic