You Know Nothing, Jon Snow
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Tonight was a magnificent hour of Game of Thrones, with just a couple of flaws that kept it from being great. The season for some reason did not include a single scene with Mance Rayder (I’m assuming Ciarin Hinds was busy and Mance won’t be back until next week) and we only saw the wildlings in episodes 1, 3, and 8. On the Night’s Watch side, our main avenue was basically Jon Snow trying to prove that he indeed knew something and the Night’s Watch leadership ignoring him. It is understandable that David and Dan didn’t want to simply have the wildlings committing raid after raid after raid, but more scenes with them and the Watch would have been helpful in setting the stage to how vital this battle is for the future of the Seven Kingdoms. The impact would certainly have been felt much more. What this episode tries to do is become what Blackwater was to Season 2, but while King’s Landing is so essential to so many of the series’s story lines, the narrative at Castle Black has been as equally peripheral, to where it seems like Daenerys’s narrative on Essos. Nevertheless, The Watchers on the Wall was a truly astounding installment of the HBO hit (which after last week’s The Mountain and the Viper surpassed The Sopranos to become the channel’s biggest hit) that spent the entire hour up at Castle Black. A record only five series regulars appeared in the opening credits (Kit Harington, Rose Leslie, Kristofer Hivju, John Bradley, and Hannah Murray), giving us a clean signal of what awaited.
Visually this episode was stunning, an absolute masterpiece of technical mastery and it’s easy to see why this was the most expensive episode of the show to date. Neil Marshall is at his absolute best again, with his most brilliant shot going from one end of the battlefield over the castle and towards where Mance is waiting. With one shot (that took seven shots to complete, according to Marshall), the full geography was laid out in a way that made the castle more clear than ever before. Once the battle gets going, stunning shot after shot after shot are compiled and it’s a complete melt in a great way. The mammoths and the giants atop them were brilliantly compiled, and how badass was it when the giant shot his arrow and destroyed a Night’s Watch fortification by himself? Flaming arrows are a weakness of mine and Marshall’s camera brilliantly goes up and down in the best of ways as the arrows make their marks in the icy, frigid landscape. A great shot by Marshall: a wildling yelling and making fists at the wall and then he gets shot with an arrow in the midst of his jubilation. There was a frigid crispiness to how the colors interacted, the gold of the flickering flames melting in perfect unison with the inhibiting ice all around it. The mammoths looked incredibly and despite being one of the few things that was purely comprised of CG, it looked as real as possible. The production design by Deborah Riley is fantastic and gives the audience a better look at the complexities of Castle Black than ever before. The scythe loosed towards the end was a mammoth sight to behold (pun intended) as it burst out of the wall (amazing work in that shot) and drowned out a dozen wildlings in one big swoop as blood splattered into the air, mixed with the snow. The giant single-handedly turning up the gates was a sight to behold, as were the handful of Night’s Watch members reciting their vows as the giants charged at them with Ramin Djawadi’s epic score bursting through the wall. Truly amazing work over the course of an hour here.
The first fifteen minutes are roughly quiet, but with enough zesty material that they looked fine in all respect. Ygritte has a fun moment at the wildling camp, where she shuts down Tormund and has more balls than any other man to stand up to Stry and stare him in the face as he mocks her relationship with Jon. Samwell really comes into his own here, hiding Gilly and Sam and getting a kiss (GO SAMWELL! GO GILLY!), but understanding that as a sworn brother of the Watch it was his duty to honor the vows he had made. He had to fight. Outside of Sam, the hour is largely focused through Jon Snow accepting the mantle of leadership after Slynt is presumed dead and Alliser is injured in a fight with Tormund (the latter is captured at the end). His hammerhead moment with Styr was great. To avoid forty minutes or so of wildlings and crows just charging at each other, David and Dan along with Neil craft intricate moments that feel united yet incredibly different from each other, taking advantage of the different locales within the battle zones. When Ygritte is hunting inside the castle, for example (she knocks out it seems a few dozen crows just by herself), the camera switches to her point of view and everything slows down for a second. It’s brilliant work. Pyp and Grenn are our two favorite Watch members who have been around since the beginning and were brutally killed off at the end of the hour, Pyp by Ygritte’s arrow and the giant opening the gate, respectively. Rest in peace, you two. Even Ghost gets some awesome dire wolf throat-ripping action here. Story wise, the episode was thinner than the previous installment, but the character beats were enough to keep us going. The first attack by the wildlings was a rout, but a savage and brutal one. And now Mance knows one key thing that he did not before: the Castle is hardly fortified.
The leadership here is presented primarily through Janos Slynt and Ser Alliser Thorne. Slynt is as usual a coward and finds himself locked in out of fear with Gilly. Ser Alliser had a great episode, where he was able to show that despite being an asshole most of the time, he’s actually not that bad and deserves the job that he has. He is a leader to his bone, fighting and leading the men even after he’s wounded by Tormund. He admits to Jon that his plan was better but also that one cannot be an effective leader when subordinates constantly second-guess you. As those two fall, it’s up to Jon to handle the mantle and he does it effectively, helping to at the very least hold the first stage of the wildling attack off. He rides to kill Mance Rayder, hoping that his death would cripple the unity of the 100 wildling tribes. We’ll resolve that next week, I presume.
Ygritte dies. At a certain point, piling so many deaths one right after the other feels unnecessarily cruel, and it really is. It is known that Westeros is a cruel, cruel world. But there really was no necessity on a personal level to kill Ygritte off. I understand that the story needed resolution, but Ygritte is 1,000x the character Jon Snow is. In a series where so many characters are formidably complex, Jon is far too close to the pure good to be terribly compelling. His most memorable moments were when he rode to join Robb after Eddard’s death, he failed to kill Ygritte, and when he had sex with her in the cave. All three of them involved him breaking his oath in a manner of speaking (although Samwell will argue that sex is not breaking an oath), and that’s not just a coincidence. With this battle, I fear that Jon is getting too close to pure good again, and I don’t know how much more of exasperated Snow I can take. His small smile when Ygritte comes back in front of him spoke volumes about that relationship, just as much as when Ygritte, in spite of her tough talk earlier, couldn’t bear to kill him. Just as she smiles back, Oliver’s arrow pierces through her and she gasps, collapsing in Jon’s arms. “We should have stayed at the cave,” she whispers. “We can go there,” he replies quietly. Ygirtte smiles sadly. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she whispers a final time. The camera rolls back as Jon cradles Ygritte’s body in his arms and I shed tears. The battle continues next week and in what is set to be the best episode ever of the series in which audiences will learn a great many things. But for now, let’s lay down the gauntlet for a great episode and the death of one of the best characters in the series. Rest in peace, Ygritte.
Title: The Watchers on the Wall
Written By: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Neil Marshall
Image Courtesy: FanSided, Winter is Coming, Movie Pilot, The Los Angeles Times, Tyrion Lannister @ FB