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“Helm’s Deep” “The Watchers on the Wall”

Not much for me to do here, really – you saw it.  And if you didn’t, you certainly shouldn’t be reading this post.

The 9th episode of any Game of Thrones season can pretty much be assumed to mean one thing – epic.  This is the time of big events, of spectacle, of “Blackwater”.  And Benioff and Weiss turn to the man who directed that episode, Neil Marshall, to helm (no pun intended) “Watchers on the Wall”.  Marshall is a fairly big name (he wrote and directed Dog Soldiers, among other films) and he’s pretty much a sure bet for this sort of large-scale showpiece.  The episode looks every bit as great as you’d expect it to – the CGI and physical effects are top-notch, the camera work superb, the blood very red and the terrified faces of the dying boys on the Wall very white.

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It’s always a bit of a change of pace for GoT to spend an entire episode at one location, but I don’t really see that they had much choice here.  As with “Blackwater” it would have felt absurd to cut away from these events to see Dany playing Goddess or Arya and Sandor bickering like an old married couple.  For most viewers I don’t think there’s as much emotional investment in the Wall as there is in King’s Landing, and I wouldn’t put this episode on a par with “Blackwater” in terms of overall impact.  But it’s nice to see the Wall – and it’s inhabitants – finally get the glamour treatment.  This is one of the settings that’s been a bit shortchanged by GoT as opposed to A Song of Ice and Fire.

There’s not a whole lot to interpret in WotW, and I don’t want to turn this into a list of likes and dislikes – and while I will touch on some of the changes from the book version, as always that’s dangerous ground.  I’ll just point out a few things that stand out, starting with every scene with Aegon.  He’s a wonderful character, and his conversation with Sam was one of the best moments in the episode.  Indeed for all the spectacle and gore, the quiet moments among the young men – effectively society’s castoffs – as they wait to die far too soon are what really stand out for me.

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I also liked seeing Ser Alliser Thorne reveal that in crisis – while he never stops being an arrogant prick – has balls of steel.  He admits to Jon his mistake in taking the threat too lightly, reminds him that he loathes him, and sets about trying to do a job he knows is probably hopeless but must be done anyway.  When the chips are down he takes on the suicide mission of defending the South Gate from Tormund’s army and does so with both skill and courage – making a stark contrast with Janos Slynt, who he unwisely leaves in charge of the Wall.  He proves himself to be utterly useless and a craven coward, and when Grenn concocts a story to get him off the Wall so that Jon can take command, Slynt goes off to hide (in the hidey hole where Sam has stashed Gilly and the baby, miraculously alive after all – thanks to Ygritte).

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As for changes, boy, there sure are a lot of them – some of them in the parts of the story I’ve already talked about.  There are a couple of deaths here that certainly weren’t here at this point in ASoIaF, and they seem to have entered on the wings of butterflies – that’s going to be interesting to watch play out.  Not among them was Ygritte, who died more or less at the same moment she did in the book – but the manner of her death was quite different, in what I think could be a very significant way.  Here, the honor is given to Olly (you knew when Sam told him “Find a weapon!” something was going to happen), the boy whose family was murdered by the Wildling army now ransacking Castle Black.  In the books (and I don’t consider this a spoiler because it’s already happened in the book version by this point, but just in case…)

As we leave the story, the Wall and Castle Black both have fought their attackers off for one night.  Tormund is alive but captured – Thorne wounded and possibly dead.  At this point Jon takes it on himself to try and change the course of events, because he knows that this was only a test run for Mance, yet the Watchers have survived by the skin of their teeth.  His plan?  Go off and kill Mance Rayder himself, since he’s the only thing holding the Wildling army together.  “It’s a bad plan.” he admits wryly to the protesting Sam.  “What’s yours?”  Upon hearing no answer he enters the tunnel where Grenn and five other men have died defending the gate on his orders, pauses long enough to order their bodies burned and proceeds to walk out into the wilds North of the Wall, where an amy of giants, mammoths, 100,000 men and one King await him.

Rest assured, next week’s episode is going to be anything but boring.  I certainly don’t know exactly what’s going to happen now and what will be saved for (sob) next March, but it appears as if the episode is going to focus on children (and their parents) which should give you a pretty good idea of what sort of themes we’re going to be seeing.

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13 comments

  1. Z

    Definitely impressed with Ser Thorne's skill and fortitude but yeah, we all knew that Janos Slynt was useless ever since Tyrion had him kicked out of King's Landing.

    I kept thinking throughout the episode that they were royally screwed, and they still are, no Tywin Lannister to the rescue this time.

  2. d

    When I heard Jon order the boy to take a weapon, I thought no good could come of this– most likely the boy will get killed.

    As Ygritte was shot, the pan to Olly with Jon looking up signaled to me an 'Oh no' moment of regret, since it was his order that caused it and thus his responsibility.

    I was really happy Jon smiled when he saw Ygritte. He seemed to feel ok if she shot & killed him, because then he might be in her arms at least once more as the passion between them still held high. I seemed to think in Jon's mind, "At least I can die happy seeing Ygritte once more". He had to run, but he still loves her

  3. U

    It was Sam who orderd him to get weapon. But still there was a regret that it ended that way.

  4. w

    Speaking of Lord of the Rings.. I was totally expecting a Frodo/Sam moment between Jon and Sam there at the end. "I'm going alone, Sam." "Of course you are! And I'm going with ya!"

    I was pretty sad to see Pyp and Grenn go down. The Kha-tet is now only three :( Jon and Allister both deserve serious props for their duels with Tormund and [name] Thenn though. And Tormund for being alone, alive and fighting the next day.

    I also think the time apart lessened the emotional impact of Ygritte's death a bit. I expected it, but I wasn't as sad as I thought I would be .

  5. U

    It was much more spectacular than "Blackwater". Seems the budget is now significantly higher. The battle was movie tier – maybe not Lord of the Rings level but really close. For a TV show that's damn good. I'm not pleased with every change they are making and sometimes I like to bitch about some parts but here I really have nothing to say. Great watch.

  6. m

    Hahaha I love the Helms Deep reference. I always meet up with my sister to watch GOT and we both were joking about how much it resembled LOTR. I'm glad they devoted a whole episode to this battle, but it feels like there might not be enough room left to devote to a legit season's end of this storyline and the others.

  7. U

    Well, there are 3 things that need some conclusion in final episode of the season: wall, Tyrion and Aria + Hound. Most likely they will add something about Daenerys (and I don't really care about this) and… There isn't anything of significant importance right now. Maybe something about Bran.

  8. m

    Bran's story appeared in the preview, and does need to hit a season ending point. I agree Danny's story can be stopped where it is, and Stanis' could end with him planning his next move. Aria + Hound needs to hit a point, likely intersecting with Brie + Pod. The problem is Tyrion's would need at least half an ep before you can have his execution, and Snow's/that battle could easily get another full ep. I just don't see enough time being available to hit legitimate season ending notes without feeling rushed. They could just put off Tyrion's execution for next season without it being a problem. Hopefully they wrap it up neatly enough.

    They do kill characters off so quickly in GoT that I wouldn't be surprised if they rush through some things. It's a strange sense of realism in the way many main characters have been killed off. Not realism as in you could see it happening in real life, but in the sense that no one is too big of a character to be killed off quickly and unceremoniously. They don't always force deaths to be this grandiose events. Many times it's just out of no where and over before you have time to grasp what's happened. I like that aspect of the show a lot, even when they do it to characters I really like.

  9. As someone pointed out on another board, while all the main characters are consumed with politics and personal drama, it's really only Bran and Jon that are actually working on the real problem.

    I know basically what they need to cover next week, and I'm confident of where things will end up. The preview for the episode should give you an idea of which arcs will be in focus, but if people are expecting a quiet and reflective episode without anything major happening, well…

  10. M

    That was very impressive indeed (that tracking sequence was simply spectacular). I got a Helm's Deep vibe too. They predict to top this episode with "The Children" which seems hard to imagine but doubtless they will.

  11. And then the long worry about how the hell they'll pull off next season (book readers will understand) begins.

  12. M

    Hmmm yes, I've heard. Some readers say it will be an improvement on the books??

  13. Who knows? At this point the books begin to take on a very unorthodox structure, and the series will be starting to reach the stage where if they're going to continue with certain arcs, they'll need to go original.

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