My gods has Games of Thrones made me a pessimist. I’ve mentioned a few times that the Night’s Watch is a very dumb organization, so I expected the worst throughout The Watchers on the Wall.
Last week’s crushing defeat was another nail in the coffin of optimism. After seeing how lightly defended the front gate of Castle Black was, I could only imagine the episode ending with the Night’s Watch destroyed and the horde of Wildlings marching south to take on the despicable Boltons.
The worst did not happen, depending on your perspective (it’s kind of tough to root for the side that actively employs cannibals). The Wildlings and everything they bring with them are an interesting lot. The area north of the Wall has so many foreign ideas compared to the rest of the Westeros. You have the free folk, who live without title or rank, or at least they did before Mance Rayder joined them together. There are giants and mammoths, fantastical elements that hang on the fringes of George R.R. Martin’s universe. There’s also the White Walkers, who drive this conflict as they (ever so slowly) claim the snowy lands of the north.
This foreign feel is similar to how Daenerys Targaryen’s storylines always feel separate from the rest of the show. The concepts of freedom and fantastical elements are key in Dany’s quest. The comings and goings in Mereen tend to be a bit more of a slog than the struggle at the Wall, but there’s still a disconnect. Even mopey old Stannis Baratheon forgot about it after it looked like he was going to march right up there and help the blue balled men of the north in their fight against those artistic ice zombies. An entire episode concentrating on the conflict between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings felt a little off.
This episode was basically a Game of Thrones side movie. It focused solely on one storyline, like season 2’s Blackwater. The CGI was among the best I’ve seen on television. The aforementioned fantastical elements looked terrific. You felt the menace that the giants and mammoths brought with them; the only true threat to bringing down that gate. The Watchers on the Wall had some of the best action set pieces in the entirety of GoT, although I’m still disappointed that we didn’t get to see that fight between 6 men and a giant.
The one thing that particularly stuck out was Ygritte’s Omar-like demise. It was far more cinematic than a number of the deaths on GoT, as she died in the arms of her former lover turned enemy. She even got one final chance to get her god damn catch phrase in. This was the opposite of Oberyn Martell getting his head squeezed like a tomato.
Maybe the off feeling comes from the character of Jon Snow. There’s too much of his father in him for his own good. He’s too dutiful to be fun. I like Jon Snow well enough, but he’s insanely dedicated to the Night’s Watch. The show teased him running off with the free folk of the north, but you knew he was never going to. We’ve gotten used to rooting for so many murky characters, and Jon Snow is as much of a clear cut hero as there is in Westeros.
Now, Snow goes off on his own to try and cut off the head of the Wildling horde. I can’t imagine how close he can get to Mance Rayder (who might be a Jedi master with a name like that). But really-
Oh screw it. If I can’t enjoy an hour of medieval siege warfare with giants and Hannibal style war mammoths, then I can’t enjoy anything. We got Ghost on the hunt cam! How about that big hook dealie that swept the Wall clean? Badass. The Jon Snow vs. Styr fight was great. Sam killed a guy!
Sometimes I just need to grab the damn popcorn, sit back, and relax.