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 3 Premiere!

GOT_Season3_teaserWow, what a Sunday! The season finale of season three of The Walking Dead and the season premiere of season three of Game of Thrones, all in one night. Lucky for me I didn’t have to choose between watching one or the other, but unlucky for my followers, it has meant a bit of a delay in terms of both reviews. I can only hope people find my thoughts informative or at least agreeable.

Speaking of agreeable, I personally felt the season premiere improved considerably on last seasons. Though this one was also a bit of whirlwind introduction, it didn’t exactly feel rushed like that last one did. But of course, they also strayed from the text in many ways which I couldn’t help but notice. And as newly minted Thrones geek, believe me when I tell you, I will be griping!

So here is what I thought of this season’s opener!

Valar Dohaeris:
The episode opens exactly where the last left off, with Samwell Tarly running from the White Walkers as they attack the Fist of the First Men. After being rescued by John’s direwolf (Snow) and Lord Commander Mormont, Sam is told to join their party as they beat a hasty retreat south. The fate of the entire Realm depends on them making it back to the Wall…

got3_giantOver at the Wildling camp, John Snow gets a firsthand look at their army and sees a giant for the first time. Ygritte then brings him before Mance Rayder who asks him why he intends to join them. John tells them his reasons have to do with what he witnessed at Craster’s Keep. He says he wants to fight on the side of “those who fight for the living”, and Mance orders him a new cloak.

In the north, Robb and his army march on Harenhall, which they find abandoned. Inside the walls, he finds over 200 Northmen and their horses strewn about, and only one survivor, whom Talisa Maegyr (Robb’s new wife) begins to attend to. The sight of all this death angers his men even further that his mother let Jaime Lannister go, and he orders that she be arrested and restricted to quarters.

got3_tyrionAt King’s Landing, Tyrion has recovered from his wounds and is visited by his sister. Cersei naturally denies any complicity in his near shave with death, and demands to know why he has summoned their father to meet with him. He is then attended by Bronn, who naturally demands more money for his continued service. As the only friend Tyrion has left, he is forced to oblige…

Upon meeting with his father, Tyrion laments the fact that he is no longer Hand of the King and that Tywin did not come to visit him while he recovered. He then broaches the subject which is central to their meeting: his inheritance of Casterly Rock. After letting him know that he will receive a position befitting his name and title, he cruelly reminds him that would never allow one such as him to inherit the seat of Lannister power and sends him on his way.

got3_margaeryAt the docks, Sansa is met by Lord Petyr Baelish who begins discussing his plan for removing her from the capitol. He tells her he has a ship that will be leaving and she will need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and she is happy to agree. Meanwhile, Shae and  Ros – who appears to be Baelish’s chief madame – speak privately, and she warns Shae to watch Sansa closely, especially when she is in the company of Baelish.

On their way back from the Sept, Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell are being carried in their litters and she decides to stop and take a walk in Flea Bottom. In the back alleys, she speaks to a group of orphans and hears of how their fathers died in the battle. She promises that Joffrey will be a good king and will take care of them. She and Loras meets with Joffrey and Cersei afterwards, and the seeds of tension are sown.

got3_stannisIn the Narrow Sea, Ser Davos Seaworth is found after being washed up on a rock after the Battle of Blackwater. After identifying himself as Stannis’ man, he is taken aboard by his old smuggler friend, Salladhor Saan, and returned to Dragstone. Once there, he meets with Stannis and Melissandre and takes issue with how he’s burning men alive as sacrifices. Melissandre tells him she could have gauranteed them victory at Blackwater, and tries to pulls a knife on her. Stannis orders him arrested and placed in a cell.

Farther east, Daenerys and Ser Jorah Mormont are on a ship bound to Astapor. Her dragons are growing and hunt freely over the waters, and she and Jorah speaks of their plans to recruit an army of Unsullied to follow her. Upon their arrival, she inspects the garrison and is told of their brutal training. Afterward, an attempt on her life is narrowly averted when Ser Barristan Selmy shows up and declares fealty to her.

Summary:
Okay, first up, the things I liked. After waiting almost a whole year for a new season of this show, I found this episode fit the bill quite well. The setting, the actors, the portrayals and attention to details were all done to great effect and spoke of a serious commitment. It was almost like biting into a meal that took an extra long time to prepare, and then realizing where that time went.

The opening scene where a giant is shown, that was the first thing to impress me. While reading the books, I had a hard time visualizing what these characters would look like, not to mention their mammoths and other such beasts. So naturally, I was impressed with this rendition, and I was pleased to see Mance Rayder and other key characters – like Tormund Giantsbane = being brought to life.

And now for the downside. Like I said, they’ve taken to this intro with some serious changes, many of which were necessitated by changes in the previous season. And for the most part, I didn’t approve. This began with John Snow’s professed reasons for joining the Wildling camp. At no point in the book did he witness Mance’s child being fed to the Others, and this played no part in his staged defection.

Forced to come up with a good reason for why he’d betray, John told Mance something dangerously close to the truth. He told him that as a bastard, he had no place at Eddard Stark’s family, and wanted his freedom to make his own way in a world where that would not hold him back. Being so believable, largely because it paralleled Mance’s own reasons for deserting the Night’s Watch, Mance took him in.

What’s more, they never showed how John’s defection was pre-planned by him and Qorin last season, though they hinted that this was Qorin’s intent when he attacked John and let him kill him. So the entire plot arc of John’s time with the Wildlings is being played a bit more mysteriously, but unclearly. It’s like, is he really defecting? Hedging his bets? Just looking to stay alive until he makes it back to the Wall? All of this was central to his dilemma in the first half of the book, so how they play with it will be crucial.

Second, there was Robb’s march on Harrenhal which, again, never happened in the book. After campaigning in the west and picking up Jeyne, they returned to Riverrun to continue plotting the campaign. The Lannisters did not abandon it, it changed hands thanks to Arya and Jaqen Higarr, who opened the cells to free the Northmen who then took the castle. This facilitated her escape in book II, and allowed Robb’s army to take control of the castle.

But since they changed the means of Arya’s escape (Jaqen simply killed the guards at the gate), they had to find some way of explaining how Harenhall fell and Robb’s men took custody of it. But frankly, this seemed lame, much like John’s phoney reasons for going over to the Wildlings. Might sound like nitpicking, but the only reason these changes needed to happen because they changed things last season. Stuff like that can pile up after awhile, and it is certainly is here…

Ah, then there’s how Petyr Baelish is plotting to get Sansa out, which was not revealed in the book til much later. In the original, Sansa’s plans were made with Boros Blount, the drunken knight whose life she saved. It was he that planned her escape at Baelish’ behest, and upon helping her realize it, he was killed. Clearly, they’ve decided to cut out the middle man in order to save on shooting time and writing.

And the same holds true for Ser Selmy’s introduction. In the book, he was posing as old man who wanted to help out Daenerys, and only later was his true identity revealed, much to her chagrin. Not only that, but they seem to be leaving out Strong Belwas, a former pit fighter who was traveling with Selmy and also joiner her service. I do hope they’re just waiting for the next episode, because he’s an important character and I’d like to see who portrays him!

And that’s about all for the changes and weaknesses for this episode. Aside from these salient issues, I rather enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the season, with all that I know to expect! I also look forward to the climactic battle in this season, which I shall say nothing of since there are people out there who are not Thrones geeks and don’t yet know what to expect. But trust me when I tell you, if you had read the books, you’d be excited too!

Welcome back GoT!