June 9, 2014 - 11:35pm
BY ALEX INTNER
Alex: In the way “Game of Thrones” structures their seasons, the ninth episode of the season is where the show puts its biggest action piece or most important plot twist of the season. Following this tradition, the ninth episode of season four, “The Watchers on the Wall” features a huge battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildings. Director Neil Marshall, who directed the huge battle in “Blackwater” two years ago returned, and put together an episode that definitely brought visual spectacle. There were a few strong emotional moments, but this episode was all about amazing CGI effects. The show liberally spent HBO’s money to create some dazzling long shots of the Wall and some scary looking giants and mammoths.
Akshay: Yup, this penultimate episode charged in with most audience members reeling from last week’s disposal of fan favorite Oberyn Martell and ready for an extensive, drawn out battle for Castle Black. Marshall, with the same slate of beautiful CGI carnage he introduced to us last season, billed behind the most expensive GoT episode to date (without a single shot of any dragons), certainly didn’t disappoint. But I can’t help but feel that what really made this chapter interesting is the transformation of Jon Snow finally realized on screen. He started as a discarded adolescent, and finally, is now recognizable as the visibly hardened commander we remember in Ned Stark. So much of “The Watchers on the Wall” was about that sudden shift from boyhood to manhood - in every character we associate with The Black.
Alex: Absolutely. Jon Snow has completely changed from even the bastard who was sent to the Wall at the beginning of the series. He was acknowledged as someone who could actually lead a group, after being ignored for so long by Ser Alliser, completing his transformation from stableboy to commander. The poise he shows during the battle might have made Ned proud. He fought with the conviction and skill of a much older man, and the Watch was able to push them back because of his actions and his leadership. As you said, everyone at Castle Black was forced to grow this week, and that includes Samwell. In this episode, we saw confidence from him that I don’t think we’ve seen before. In this episode, he was forced to gain courage and fight in order to ensure the survival of the castle (which he stated in a literal way to Gilly before the battle).
Akshay: And it was the way he chose to tackle the prospect of death that really stuck with me. He started out with that wonderful line stating the only reason he was able to kill a Whitewalker was because, at that moment, he realized he had nothing to lose. The growth came after he described why, in the case of the Battle For Castle Black, things were different - he had a responsibility to Gilly and her son. But bravery and duty demanded he go out and fight anyways. I was taken aback by how concisely yet convincingly the episode was able to put it, reflected in that scene toward the end where the Crows screamed their oaths in an effort to reinvigorate themselves as a giant ran toward them.
Alex: That was an extremely powerful moment for me in the way, as you said, it summed up the reason why each member of the Night’s Watch was willing to die for their cause. Even with a literal giant walking towards them, they were still willing to sacrifice their life for the sake of the Night’s Watch. And they ended up losing their lives in performing their task. Their death is treated with respect because of their actions. On the other hand, the episode didn’t give much time to those for whom the prospect of death is too much. Janos goes to hide in a storeroom., and the only shot we see of him after is him cowering in the corner. The vows of the Night’s Watch clearly mean something to those who live there, and the episode shows that.
Akshay: And we CANNOT get through this entire recap without talking about the centerpiece of 50 minutes filled with flaming arrows and giant, willing-killing scythes - Ygrette’s mission to put a hole in Jon Snow’s chest, thereby proving she has no feelings for him. She kept repeating, I think more for herself than the people she was talking to, that she be the one to finish Lord Snow but when the opportunity finally arose, she hesitated. And that hesitation was all that was needed for her to meet her end, though more importantly, reinforce what we’d been seeing the entire episode - the survival of duty over love. I think Maester Aemon put it best: “Love is the death of duty.” It seems in this case the concept also works in reverse: Duty is the death of love.
Alex: That does seem to be the case with Jon and Ygritte. This is even the second time that duty overpowered love. When they last saw one another (before the battle), Ygritte’s duty to the Wildings overpowered her feelings for Jon when she shot him with all those arrows. Those feeling still existed, but their duty to the other party came first, and Ygritte died, but not without reiterating her famous “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” This was probably the most powerful emotional moment in the episode for me. Also, with Ygritte’s killing came another case of a Night’s Watch member maturing because they don’t have a choice, as she is killed by the young Ollie. Jon and Ygritte wasn’t the only romance put front and center in the episode, as Sam finally kissed Gilly, and affirmed his love for her. His vows might prevent him from marrying her, but they won’t prevent him from loving her. It led to Sam questioning his vows. In an episode where duty had a major place, Sam questioned that part of his duty to the Night’s Watch.
Akshay: The greatest reaffirmation of what that duty can mean came from an unexpected place - the mouth of Ser Allister Thorne. We, along with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have spent pretty much the entire season shitting on him because, quite honestly, he was the most readily available toilet seat, painted as a cruel, clumsy leader who often threw up unnecessary hurdles for our beloved Lord Snow to jump over. So much of Castle Black and The Night’s Watch has played a significant role in piecing together Snow into the man we know he can be, and I think Ser Allister’s final speech about the importance of decisivness in leadership is perhaps the most integral part of that final collage. Snow’s ultimate decision to seek out Mance Raydar in an attempt to end the siege is a reflection of this leadership.
Alex: As I said in an earlier recap, he filled a role similar to the role that any head of CTU filled in “24”: ignoring our hero and making what we know to be incorrect, boneheaded decisions until they’re proven wrong by the actions of the hero. And this episode gave him a redemption that was better than “24” gave any CTU head, with him giving that speech and dying with dignity. Also, it looks like Jon’s story is going to an intriguing place, with Jon taking the battle with Mance into his own hands. As we said earlier, Jon has grown a lot over the course of the show, and that growth has led to this moment. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to kill Mance, but it should be a great moment for the character, allowing his growth to come front and center in a new way.
Alex: That’s it for this week. Thank you to Akshay for filling in for Chloe this week! She and I will be back next week to discuss the season finale, “The Children”.