Game of Thrones – Season Four Episode 9

got4This 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:
GOT4_9_1The 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.

GOT4_9_2Under 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.

GOT4_9_4Hearing 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.

GOT4_9_3This 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.

got4_9_5Up 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.

Summary:
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!

Game of Thrones – Season Four, Episode Six

GOT4_6_1To quote Tyrion Lannister: “I’ve decided I don’t like riddles.” Well, much the same applies to me and how this season is turning out. Between the way they have been choosing to skim things down, leave things out, and make serious changes from the original text, I’m beginning to find Season Four rather disappointing. And this week’s episode reinforced that in many ways. Basically, I’ve decided that I don’t like it, at least not nearly as much as the previous seasons.

To be fair, this week’s episode promised some serious elements – i.e. trial of Tyrion Lannister and the many machinations and intrigues it brings to the fore – which it did deliver on. Watching it was certainly enjoyable, I liked what they did with it, and it was largely true to the original material. However, highlights like this have been few and far between this season, which otherwise seems to be made up of filler and diversions that serve little purpose except to keep things going at this point.

Basically, I am waiting eagerly for this season to wrap up so we can finally see the cool stuff that the latter half of A Storm of Swords provided. And then, maybe they can get things back on track with Season Five, which will have two books as source material, and can be parceled out in a decent fashion, without the need for lots of filler and needless changes. Alas, here’s what happened this week…

The Laws of Gods and Men:
GOT4_6_2The episode opens in Bravoos, where Stannis and Lord Davos arrive to meet with representatives of the Iron Bank. After tallying Stannis’ own assets and his chances of taking the throne, they refuse to back his claim. However, Davos tells them that Stannis’ is the only one who is likely to settle the Throne’s debts since Tywin will die someday and no one trustworthy is fit to replace him. He then shows them how Stannis took each of the fingers on his right hand to the first knuckle, as payment for his years of smuggling.

Davos finds Sallador Saan, his old pirate friend, in a brothel and gives him his pay, letting him know that he is once again in Stannis’ employ. They set out to Dragonstone again to continue plotting the war. Meanwhile, Yara Greyjoy arrives at the Dreadfort to rescue Theon, who is being kept by Ramsay in the kennels with his dogs. In the course of trying to rescue him, Theon refuses to go, thinking its another one of Ramsay’s tricks, and Yara is chased off by Ramsay’s dogs.

got4_6_3In Mereen, Daenerys’ is settling into her role as queen and is busy taking requests from supplicants. She learns that her dragons are causing trouble in the countryside for herders, another indication that they are growing uncontrollable. She is then is met by Hizdarh zo Loraq, an old Ghiscari noble, who implores her to let him bury his father, one the master’s she had crucified. She obliges him, giving him permission to bring his father’s remains down and bury him in the Temple of the Graces.

At King’s Landing, the high council meets and discusses Daenerys’ ongoing campaign and the Hound’s appearance in the Riverlands. Shortly thereafter, Tyrion’s trial begins and he is brought before his judges – Lord Tywin, Lord Mace Tyrell, and Prince Oberyn. The witnesses speak against him, beginning with Ser Meryn Trant and Grand Maester Pycelle, the latter of whom accused Tyrion of stealing poison from his stores, and shows them the necklace used to administer it.

GOT4_6_5Cersei follows, and tells them of the threats Tyrion made to her and her son before the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Varys is next, who claims that Tyrion not only threatened Joffrey at a meeting of the Small Council, but that he openly expressed sympathy towards the northern cause and Robb Stark’s death due to his marriage to Sansa. Tyrion tries to sway him, reminding him of how Varys told him he saved the city, but to no avail.

During a break, Jaime pleads with his father for Tyrion’s life, and offers to leave the Kingsgaurd and become his father’s rightful heir. Tywin agrees, and claims that when the guilty verdict is rendered, he will give Tyrion the option of joining the Night’s Watch. When the trial resumes, Shae is brought forward and speaks against Tyrion, saying that he Sansa planned it together. Tyrion becomes enraged by this, and demands a trial by combat.

Summary:
I’ll start with the good points. Tyrion’s trial was well done, with Peter Dinklage once again capturing the pain and angst that Tyrion so often bears, but which was especially poignant at this part in the story. And they certainly covered the bases, showing how at this point, everyone was lining up to turn against Tyrion, either for their own personal reasons, or because they knew full well that Cersei would see him dead no matter what.

They changed a few things, like in how they gave Shae additional motivation for turning on him (how Tyrion spurned her). Also, Tyrion did not ask for a trial by combat out of anger. It was something that was prearranged at this point in the trial because he knew he was going to lose. And Jaime never tried to sway his father’s judgement by offering to leave the Kingsgaurd. But this really didn’t matter, as it didn’t affect the flow of things or reduce the impact of it.

GOT4_6_6But outside of that, there was little about this episode I liked. To start, Stannis never went to Bravoos to implore them for money. An arrangement was struck between them later, but that’s two whole books from now. The only reason to do it now was to keep Stannis and Davos in the story, since otherwise, they would have nothing to do. And once again, Daenerys’ part seems like mere window-dressing, with her doing day-to-day stuff and only hearing about major developments.

Basically, they’ve run out of material for her after all her major battles, so now they are just panning to her from time to time to show that she’s still relevant. But these were all minor issues compared to the confrontation between Yara Greyjoy and Ramsay Snow. While Asha (that’s her real name, once again changed to avoid confusion) did meet up later in the story, it was not at the Dreadfort and it wasn’t as a result of a rescue attempt.

Westeros_Castles_NamedWhat they did in the show, by comparison, was completely superfluous and insipid. One, this never happened in the books. Like just about everything else they are doing this season with Stannis and Jon Snow, it’s just to keep the characters involved and off script. Two, the Dreadfort is an inland place on the other side of northern Westeros – which would make it unreachable to Yara (Asha) unless she had been at sea for months and sailed all the way around the south and back up (see the map at right).

In reality, Asha was at Moat Cailin at the time, which is reachable from the Iron Islands, and stayed there until much later. She had no reason to go forth to the Dreadfort because eveyone assumed Theon had died in the siege of it. Ramsay was keeping Theon as a prisoner and torturing him, but did not castrate him, nor send the remains of his “favorite toy” off to threaten the Iron Islanders. What began as an attempt to keep him in the story has become totally superfluous.

But above all was the ridiculous way the confrontation ended. After sailing halfway around Westeros, storming the Dreadfort and killing a dozen or so guards, Asha turned tail and ran because… Ramsay let loose a bunch of dogs? And then she just runs back to her boat and says her brother is dead (hurray for metaphors)? C’mon, really?! The Iron Islanders who put it all the line to rescue their prince and their honor ran away because said prince was freeaking out and because a pack of wild dogs?

And I thought the bit where Bran, Hodor and the Reeds showed up at Craster’s Keep at the same time as Jon and then avoided him completely was contrived. But this was way worse! It wasn’t just contrived, it was stupid, and about the weakest way to end this totally unnecessary thread. The only saving grace is that it seems like these threads – Stannis looking for money, Theon’s captivity, and Jon Snow looking for his siblings – are coming to an end. I hope so, at least!

Okay, just four more shows to go. And one can only hope they’ll stick to the script and keep to the stuff that’s actually interesting. Not only is this trial going to end on an exciting note (and result in some pretty serious shit going down) there’s still the Wildling’s coming assault on the Wall, which . Please tell me we’ve covered the filler from this season and are moving on now!