This past weekend, the penultimate episode of Season Four of GOT aired, and an event which was a long time in coming was finally showed. Yes, after two seasons of build-up, the Wildlings under “King” Mance Rayder’s leadership, assaulted the Wall. Strangely, Mance was nowhere to be seen during this assault, but from the way they ended the episode, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him soon enough. And as usual, I got some bones to pick with the writers, but not the same reasons others have.
After this weekend’s episode aired, a common thing I noticed from the critics was the statement that the attack on the Wall was no “Blackwater Bay”. Much like Season Two’s smash-up where Stannis and his armies lay siege to King’s Landing, the entire episode was dedicated to this one battle and those involved. And while it didn’t exactly have the same epic scope and grandeur as that battle, I think this is an unfair comparison.
One cannot expect a massive siege every season! It’s just not cost effective. No, in the end, I felt this battle fell a bit short because of the way they changed things around in the story, not to mention the way they shot the whole thing. By the time things really got started, I wasn’t sure if I was watching GOT or Lord of the Rings. Somehow, it felt like Peter Jackson was at the helm and not George RR Martin. But first, a recap…
The Watchers on the Wall:
The episode begins with Jon and Samwell standing atop the Wall and discussing love. Sam asks what it was like being with Ygritte, while once again lamenting the fact that he left Gilly at Moletown, where he suspects she died. Jon sends Sam below to get some rest, but he instead goes to the library to learn what Wildlings are known to do to their captives. Aemon finds him and they spend the time talking of lost love.
Going back outside, Sam comes to the gate in time to see Gilly knocking at Castle Black’s gate and asking to be let in. After convincing the Brother guarding it to let her in, he tells her they will never be apart again. Their reunion is interrupted when they hear a horn sound. From atop the Wall, Jon and the other brothers spot a massive forest fire looming in the distance. Mance’s signal to attack is issued, and thousands of Wildlings, giants and mammoths form up.
Under the command of Ser Alliser Thorne, the Brothers begin preparing their defenses, and he takes a moment to let Jon know that he will be equal to the task of leading them. The mammoths move forward to the gate while other Wildlings begin scaling the Wall. Sam places Gilly in a chamber below and locks the door, telling her she must hide and he must stand with his Brothers. He kisses her goodbye, and she makes him promise he won’t die.
South of the Wall, Ygritte, Tormund, the Thenns and their raiding party are preparing to make their assault. While they wait for Mance to send the signal – “the biggest fire the North has ever seen”. When they spot it, they launch their attack on Castle Black’s gates. Sam and the others let loose on them with arrows, but are quickly overtaken as the Wildling party moves in and scales the short walls that guard the southern approach.
Hearing of the attack on the Castle, Thorne goes below to organize the defense, leaving Slynt in charge. Below, two giants lead a mammoth to the gate and hitch ropes from its harness the doors, intending to pull it off. Slynt quickly proves unequal to the task of leading the defense and begins muttering about how it was so much easier commanding the Kingsguard. Grenn then tricks Slynt and tells him he’s needed below too, which leaves Jon in charge.
Relying on the lessons he learned during his time among them, Jon has his archers fire arrows onto those scaling the Wall and drops barrels on those at the gate. Below, the battle in Castle Black’s courtyard turns bad. The brothers lose many men, Thorne is injured and incapacitated, and Slynt runs and locks himself in the same room as Gilly. Jon decides to go below with Grenn and some others, and orders Eddison to unleash fire on the mammoths.
This he does, which kills most of the Wildlings and sends the mammoth running. One of the two giants is then killed by a Scorpion up on the Wall, sending the other into a rage and leading him to begin prying the gate open with his bare hands. Jon arrives below and tells Grenn and the others to get to the gate an hold it at all costs. He then has Sam unlock Ghost from his cage and begins fighting his way through the Wildlings.
In a pitch fight, Jon kills Styr (the leader of the Thenn party) with a blacksmith’s hammer and comes face to face with Ygritte, who has her bow drawn on him. She hesitates to shoot him, and is then shot with an arrow through the chest by Olly, the young boy who mans the elevator. She dies, repeating the same words she said to him, time and time again: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Inside the Wall gate, the giant breaks through and attacks Grenn and his brothers. They die holding the giant off.
Up top, Eddis sees that they only have the few Wildlings scaling the Wall to deal with, and orders that they drop the “Scythe” – a large metal blade at the end of a chain that combs the wall when released. This kills the remaining attackers, and the rest fall back. In the courtyard, Tormund is wounded and captured, and Jon orders him put in chains. Sam returns below to find Gilly safe, and Slynt cowering in the corner.
Surveying the damage, Jon tells Sam that this was just the first assault, and that Mance will break through before long if they allow him to continue. He then tells Sam that he will meet with Mance, during which time he will attempt to kill him so that the Wildlings once again become divided. They head to for the gate, where they find the bodies of Grenn, the giant, and the others who died holding it. Sam orders the gate opened and says goodbye to Jon.
Well, the episode certainly was fun and entertaining. One can’t deny that an incredible amount of time, effort, and good direction went into making it. And it did manage to capture the spirit, if not the letter, of the battle as it was described in the book. But as usual, there were some things that bothered to me that had to do with changes, not to mention how those changes affected the feel and flow of things. Here’s what they were, in chronological order…
First, there was no last-minute reunion between Sam and Gilly. She had been at the castle for some time, and a romance had not quite budded between them. Second, Tormund, Ygritte and the Wildling raider party had already assaulted Castle Black at this point in advance of Mance’s main assault. Having struck at Castle Black days before, they were thwarted by a great deal of ingenuity and booby traps, which were installed thanks to Jon’s help.
Third, there was none of this shuffling around of commanders in the novels. While it is true that Thorne and Slynt did not trust Jon, he was still put in charge of the Wall’s defenses since he had intimate knowledge of Mance’s plan of attack, and because Aemon on his Brothers vouched for him. It was not the case that he had it thrust on him because Thorne had to go below, or because Slynt was a coward. This last aspect they really played up, and it felt like it was just to give us someone to hate.
Fourth, two decidedly cheesy moments happened in this battle. The first was where Sam narrowly managed to get his crossbow loaded in time to take down a Wildling. The second – and by far, the worst – was Ollie going from a frightened little boy who couldn’t stand the sound of fighting to grabbing a bow and killing Ygritte with it. This more than anything was like a scene out of Jackson’s LOTR. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Legolas riding a shield down a set of steps like it was a skateboard, but still!
Fifth, Tormund was not taken prisoner during the battle. After losing his attack force south of the Wall, he fled north again and began rallying Wildlings later. Ever since, even as far as book V, he has not been heard from. And finally, Jon Snow did not decide to venture out and assassinate Mance once the battle was over. In fact, it was Slynt’s idea to send him out in the hopes that he would die while attempting to kill Mance.
You see, after the battle, Slynt and his allies were still nominally in charge since no new Lord Commander had been elected. And he would go on to be a pain in Jon’s ass since he didn’t trust him and saw him as a threat to his possible leadership. However, the way they’ve presented him here, as an incompetent coward, is melodramatic to say the least. It also kind of complicated the plot now, since Slynt disgraced himself for all to see.
In short, it felt like they were trying to sex things up from the original material; but really, I only felt like they dumbed it down. Many things they did get right, like the way the giants penetrated into the gate, or how Ygritte died with Jon standing over her and crying. They also captured the defenders sense of desperation, knowing that they were vastly outnumbered, but still protecting by the Wall’s defenses. And I have to say that this was one episode this season that didn’t bore or disappoint the hell out of me.
Still… where the hell was Mance this whole time? Has anyone else noticed he completely disappeared after his brief appearance last season? He better show up next week, as he’s kind of intrinsic to the plot!