Oliver Davis reviews the ninth episode of Game of Thrones Season Four….
The Watchers on the Wall.
Directed by Neil Marshall.
Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
The usual format of these Game of Thrones reviews – a by-character breakdown, emulating the chapter perspectives of George R. R. Martin’s books – falters this week. For the first time since Season 2’s ‘Blackwater,’ this episode focuses entirely on a single storyline: the vast, yet undisciplined, Wildling army attacking the fortified, but few, Night’s Watch.
Episode 9 has a rich history in Game of Thrones’ plotting. Season 1’s saw the be-NED-ing of Eddard Stark; season 2 staged the aforementioned Battle of Blackwater Bay; and, most recently, season 3 cordially invited all to its Red Wedding. But perhaps after Joffrey’s death in episode 2 and Prince Oberyn’s ocular obliteration last week, ‘Episode 9′ was no longer the series’ determined highlight. Nope. It seems Benioff and Weiss are just cramming in more awesomeness.
Said awesomeness is mainly down to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). Despite suffering from ‘Hurley Weight,’ Tarly has located his courage. Not only does he swear for the first time in the show thus far, he also finally gives Gilly (Hannah Murray) a Samwell snog, after which he uttered the line, “I promise you I won’t die.” Which might as well be, “I’m literally going to die after the third adbreak.” But for some reason, the Big R. R. in the Sky deemed him worthy. Perhaps he saw himself in him.
Like the magnificently staged ‘Blackwater’ – Tyrion’s call to arms, the wildfyre blooming green across the Bay – ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ was directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday). Consequently, the episode ticks along like film. If a movie version was ever to be made of Game of Thrones, this is how it might appear: a bigger budget, a more focused plot, the BWAAAAARM noise on the soundtrack. Oh, and GIANTS RIDING MAMMOTHS. Which was epic enough until you saw a normal-sized dude fire an arrow (which was lame), followed by A GIANT FIRING A HARPOON. Seven hells, that was sweet.
There’s a lot of noise and fire and blood and people getting pulverized by a giant swinging anchor – but appearances can be deceiving. This is the first significant encounter after almost four seasons of the Wildings vs Watchers build. A monumental battle, with sacrifice in every hammer blow to the skull – but this isn’t where the true meaning resides. If you think that, you know nothing.
This episode – the entire battle – is about love, about Jon Snow and Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Everything that happens in the battle’s incomprehensibly large scale (try picturing 100,000 soldiers, or a Wall 700 foot high) is embodied wholly and more personally in their relationship. Enemies, then lovers, then enemies, then lovers again – divided only by this arbitrary construct they call Duty, symbolic of the entire of Westeros and Beyond. A macrocosm within a microcosm. And when Ygritte is pierced by that arrow, a fatality all the more heartbreaking considering its morally ambiguous source (a relatively innocent child who takes up arms), the wall of ice between kin melts away. Both sides bleed the same.
It’s an underlying message of which the Seven Kingdoms will soon become painfully aware. Once the White Walkers march, there are no Wildlings or Westerosi, Lannisters or Baratheons, Freys or Starks. There are only humans or them.
Oliver Davis is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors. You can follow him on Twitter (@OliDavis).