Look Ma, No Filler: "Game of Thrones" Book Readers' Edition - 'The Watchers on the Wall'
Welcome to the book readers’ edition of recapping Game of Thrones! As we established last week, if you haven’t read all of the books (yes, all the way through A Dance of Dragons, it’s been just shy of three years on that count, so it’s fully in play) kindly either depart gracefully or accept that there will be spoilers in what follows.
I just don’t know what to say. Fifty minutes. No filler. I mean, even Gilly didn’t annoy me. I must be getting soft.
The catch is that I have very little to say, we got a battle scene. It was, to my eye, a relatively well done battle scene, but that’s all the episode was when all was said and done. Did you like it? Did you not? Either way, I feel like there’s little to conversate about, especially with regard to specifically how it interacts with the books, except for the Stannis angle. But we shall persevere.
One way that I thought the show might change up the book, and I thought might have worked better on screen, would have been to combine the arrival of Stannis with the battle at the Wall. Let Jon’s finest moment be rallying his ever dwindling men, give a speech about dying well as all hope disappears, and just as they prepare to charge the impossible enemy, Stannis’ horns sound on the horizon. That would have been rather nifty, and I could have seen that as definitely working a bit better on screen. But since we close out with Jon walking out to the Wildlings, I wonder if we’re going to get Stannis at all this season. Or perhaps, just his arrival as a cliffhanger.
But the episode’s weakness wasn’t really in the episode itself so much as the way they led up to it all season, or rather didn’t. One reason the Battle of Blackwater worked so well is that it was built up, the characters were built up, for most of a season. And they showed constant action and maneuvering over the course of that season so that the battle itself was so effective because it contained within it resolution of a bunch of different plot lines that had been running for the entire season. All the plans, all the schemes, all the stratagems to win, all came to head.
Nothing came to a head at the Wall on Sunday night, we just finished waiting out the season until something bloody well finally happened. And so the episode, while well shot and directed and effective on a superficial level, amounted in a way to one extended special effect. Yes, it looks cool, but it doesn’t have much heart behind it to make the spectacle matter other than for its own sake.
Case in point is Ygritte. They stretched the storyline far past the breaking point. In terms of episodes, she and Jon were apart almost as long as they were together, so the emotional impact was just drained entirely. And leaving the Wall all this time to simmer, with little but checking in every week to make sure everyone was still complaining, was just infuriating. They spent the show time on the Wall, but failed to ever spend it actually building up to this battle. Which undermines the battle itself, since I don’t really care if the Wall falls, within the context of watching the show. They have done a terrible job of reinforcing why we should care either about these characters, or even about the broad plot implications of the Wildlings winning. So the Wildlings could get south of the wall. Well, they already could before by climbing, so what’s the worst that could happen now that the North has seemingly been depopulated of anything we care about? They eat Ramsay before he flays them?
In addition, I’m terribly disappointed at the show’s idea of “command” which apparently means occasionally yelling “keep shooting arrows” and charging to the frontlines to fight yourself. No strategy, no tactics, no sense of anything more than a couple of mobs interspersed with each other in an orgy of violence.
The scythe was fairly impressive. If only there was someplace else on the Wall that they could climb up. Oh, I don’t know, like the other three hundred miles of it. But that’s silly, it’s not like any of the Wildlings have explicitly already thought of climbing the Wall someplace else.
Look. You want to take Castle Black, Mance? Instead of sneaking a few dozen over, sneak over a few hundred. Do it on either side of Castle Black, maybe a dozen miles or so away, leaving a hundred atop the Wall on either side. And do not under any circumstances raid south of the Wall. Be ghosts so that the Watch has no idea that there is a force to its south. Send a token attack at the gate with your other 99,000 men. Hit them from either side on top of the Wall at the same time. Once you take the top of the Wall, turn the defensive weapons to the other side of the wall against Castle Black itself. Now here’s the key, wait a good hour or so, until the Watch is committed to trying to retake the wall. And that’s when you hit with your mobile force in waiting that they should have no idea even exists. Throwing a pile of screaming men at either side is just not using your head. This isn’t fucking Sun Tzu. It’s just appraising the situation. Hell, Tyrion’s beetle story involved as much strategic thinking as this battle.
So all in all, it’s a solid episode of action, but one that could have been so much better. But at least it wasn’t filler.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.