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Game of Thrones: The Watchers On the Wall

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Game of Thrones The Watchers On the Wall

Roughly every two seasons, Game of Thrones takes an entire episode to focus solely on a single epic battle. This was one of those episodes. There are Wildlings at the gate.

I love it when Game of Thrones narrows its focus like this. This is probably a drum I’ve beat too often, but this show’s biggest weakness is a tendency to bounce all over the place trying to sample from each of the many, many plotlines it’s juggling. That can often cause important scenes to get short shrift, like Jorah Mormont’s exile last week. So it’s a special treat when everything is set aside for one key, massive, awesome event.

The situation: a small group of especially violent, vicious Wildlings have been south of the wall raiding towns, waiting for Mance Rayder’s signal (a huge fire) to time an attack on Castle Black. Rayder has an army of 100,000 Wildlings, give or take, massed north of the wall, ready to storm it and try to get over it or through Castle Black’s gate. This army includes giants and mammoths and giants riding mammoths.

Game of Thrones’ epic fantasy roots were on full display here. No real intrigue to speak of, just an army, a hopelessly outnumbered band of heroes, and a big-ass wall of ice. This was basically Helm’s Deep. There were “game day montages” of the troops readying for battle, ranks of barbarians peppered with flaming arrows, spectacular fireballs, tragic defeats, stirring battle cries, it really had it all. Those giants and mammoths looked and sounded amazing.

In terms of how it was shot, there was a nice combination of clear establishing shots and fast, chaotic battle scenes. This gave you an easy to understand view of what was happening, using huge CGI overhead shots to show the locations of the castle, the wall, and the two invading forces. Even the combat scenes themselves were very coherent, depicting chaos and speed without ever losing track of things in time and space. By battle’s end, you actually have a fairly good idea where everything is Castle Black. How great were Ygritte’s arrow fighting scenes? Very realistic and gritty, dodging and firing shot after shot.

It really becomes apparent this week how much Jon Snow’s story parallels Tyrion’s. Outcasts from their families, placed in positions where their competence makes them stand out, both their efforts end up being thankless tasks, and both all caught up in a doomed romance. Is there any story in Game of Thrones more gothic than Snow’s love with Ygritte? Such a tragic end. “You know nothing…Jon Snow.” We know that was a hard moment for Snow since he couldn’t explain love to Sam without resorting to Van Halen lyrics. She asks him at one point, “Do you remember that cave?” What, the one where you and he had sex all afternoon, the only time in his life he’s had sex? Ygritte, I can pretty much guarantee he hasn’t gone five minutes without thinking about that cave since then.

No one really loves Ser Alliser Thorne, of course. But it has to be said, when the hammer fell, he made a great goddamn battle speech, killed the crap out of a ton of Wildlings, and even admitted to Snow he was wrong about sealing the tunnel. “Tonight we fight! And when the sun rises I promise you, Castle Black will stand! The Night’s Watch will stand! With me now! Now with me!”

Meanwhile Janos Slynt was doing his best Captain Queeg impression. It was kind of funny how a succession of leaders kept abandoning the top of the wall, leaving someone else in charge. Eventually there’d be no one up there but that skinshifter’s owl.

How cool was The Scythe? Very cool.

In what was easily the most metal episode of Game of Thrones ever, the most metal moment was the gang holding the inner gate against the charging giant, singing out the vows of the Night’s Watch the whole time. “I am the watcher on the walls.”

In the end, the attack was repulsed, but everyone realized there were still thousands of Wildlings out there, and the castle wouldn’t hold forever. So Jon Snow decides to venture north of the wall to try and assassinate Mance Rayder, the only force holding the Wildlings together.

Did you notice how old Jon Snow looked at the end there?

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Posted by on Sunday, June 8th, 2014. Filed under Dark TV, Headline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.