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!

New Trailer: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_Teaser_PosterWhile I have yet to see the first installment, and generally disapproved of Peter Jackson’s decision to release this comparatively short story as a trilogy, I would be remiss if I didn’t post about the new trailer. And as you can from see from this 2 minute spot, the next installment promises plenty of action, adventure, and some serious divergences from the source material.

In the last movie, the characters had just survived their encounter with the cave Orcs, Bilbo found the One Ring and “won” it from Gollum, and the company was on its way to Mirkwood. In this installment, things appear to climax when the band of merry dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard reach Smaug’s lair. Some serious changes are showcased with the addition of Legolas (who wasn’t even in the first book), mini battles that didn’t happen, and lots more portentous talk that connects it all to the original trilogy.

And word around the campfire is this is what Jackson really has planned for the rest of the series – Game of Thrones-like diversions from Tolkien’s text that are clearly designed to sex the material up, hint at what was to come with the War of One Ring, and make the whole thing feel like a fantasy miniseries instead of a single story. While I’m sure I’m going to catch the entire trilogy at some point, I might sit the theatrical version out again…

But that’s just me! Enjoy the trailer and, if you’re so inclined, the movie on the silver screen!

LOTR: The Return of The King

At long last, the third and final installment in the Lord Of The Rings series! It feels like such a long time ago that I read this book, and going over the salient points makes me want to re-read the entire series. By this point in things, I felt myself becoming so immersed in Tolkien’s mythical universe that I felt both saturated yet wanting. There was so much there to absorb, and yet the greater mysteries of his world still seemed unknown. No wonder I picked up the Silmarillion and devoured it shortly thereafter. Man that book was dense!

But of course, that was after the third and final installment. As I said last time, the second book really impressed the hell out of me. But it was tempered by the fact that the greatest battles and climaxes were yet to come. Frodo and Sam had yet to reach Mordor and Mount Doom, Gollum’s true role in the Quest was yet to be revealed, and the battle for Gondor and Middle Earth was yet to truly begin. I awaited on these with eager anticipation…

And then it came! The Battle for Middle Earth was joined! The War of the Ring came to its grand climax and was resolved for all time. And here’s the pertinent stuff and what I thought about it…

Plot Summary:
The book opens where the last left off, with Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas returning with Theoden to Edoras to rally their forces and plan for the enxt phase of battle. Though Saruman has been thoroughly defeated, there remains the danger from Mordor, where Sauron is still amassing his armies of Orcs, Southrons and Easterlings and preparing for his assault on Gondor.

At the same time, Sam must find Frodo and rescue him from the grasp of the Orcs. In the wake of Gollum’s betrayal, their Quest has hit a sort of intermission. Until he finds Frodo and returns the Ring to him, it cannot resume, for only Frodo is the true Ringbearer.

Book V: The War of the Ring
Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minis Tirith to speak with Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, and warn him that an attack on the city is imminent. Denethor announces that he knows of Boromir’s death, and Pippin enters Denethor’s service as a repayment for the debt he owes to his son for saving his life. Now in the service of the tower guard, he is given a view of the fields of Pelenner and is able to bear witness to the approaching war.

Meanwhile, Osgiliath falls to the advancing Orcs and Denethor begins to fall into a dark mood. He orders Faramir, the lesser of his two heirs in his mind, the task of retaking it with his forces. Unfortunately, he is mortally wounded and his riders return broken. Denethor falls into a deep, dark state and believes his son is dead. He orders a funeral pyre built for the two of them and asks that they be burnt like the Kings of old as the city becomes encircled by a host of 200,000 Orcs.

To the north, Aragorn and his companions have traveled to the White Mountains to find the Paths of the Dead, a mountain hall where the oathbreakers from the War of the Last Alliance still dwell. Helped by his companions, Legolas and Gimli as well as the “Grey Company” – a group of Rangers from Arnor in the north – he sets out to recruit them.

As Aragorn departs on his seemingly impossible task, King Théoden musters the Rohirrim to come to the aid of Gondor. Merry, eager to go to war with his allies, is refused by Théoden several times. Finally Dernhelm, one of the Rohirrim, takes Merry up on his horse, and secretly rides with the rest of the Rohirrim.

At Minas Tirith, under the leadership of the Witch King of Angmar, the forces of Mordor break through the city’s gates. However, the Rohirrim show up and begin to ride them down. Gandalf arrives in the King’s Hall to confront Denethor and stop him from burning himself and his son.

Denethor cuts the cushion from his thrown and reveals the Palantir inside, and says he has seen visions of the battle which show their ultimate defeat with the arrival of a Corsair fleet from Umbar. Gandalf and Pippin manage to save Faramir from the fires but Denethor is consumed.

The battle appears is poised as the Riders of Rohan are engaged with Orcs and the Southron war Oliphants when the Corsairs arrive. Sauron’s forces initially rejoice at their appearance, but then realize the ships have been commandeered by Aragorn and the host of the Oathbreakers. With these ships and additional troops added to the fight, the host of Sauron is outflanked and near defeat.

However, the Witch King still manages to wound Theoden mortally before Dernhelm intervenes. Dernhelm is also wounded, and then saved when Pippin sticks his sword in the Ring wraith’s leg. Dernhelm removes her helmet and reveals that she is Eowyn, who then strikes the Witch King dead.

The siege is broken, but at a heavy cost. In addition to the death of many warriors, Theoden is dead, Eowyn and Pippin are both seriously wounded, and Faramir himself is still facing death. On top of all that, they know that Sauron is not yet defeated and they will not be able to thwart another attack.

Aragorn is called upon to heal them as well as Faramir. They recover, and Faramir and Eowyn become acquainted as they both convalesce. In time, she forgets her infatuation with Aragorn and learns to embrace Faramir’s gentle and wise nature.

Knowing that it is only a matter of time before Sauron attacks again, and that they do not have the strength to thwart him a second time, Aragorn and Gandalf propose a bold plan. They will attack the Black Gates in order to draw out the host of Mordor, thus clearing the way for Frodo and Sam to reach Mt. Doom unnoticed.

Upon their arrival, they are approached by the Mouth of Sauron, chief amongst his dark emissaries. He dictates punitive terms to the army of Men, and backs it up by claiming that Frodo is dead and shows them his effects as proof. They begin to despair, but Gandalf refuses to believe it, claiming that his is just another of Sauron’s deceptions. Were he in possession of the Ring, says Gandalf, he himself would be coming forward to meet them.

Having been refused, the Mouth of Sauron returns to the Gate and the host of Mordor falls upon them. They appear to be getting overrun, and Pippin is pinned under the body of a Troll after it is killed. All seems lost, just as the Great Eagles begin to come in and fight off the Ring Wraiths…

Book VI: The Return of the King
Sam finds Frodo’s body in the tower of Cirith Ungol. After fighting off his captors, Frodo awakens and takes the Ring from Sam. They descend the stairs into the land of Mordor and steal some Orcish armor and vestments so they can blend in with the host. However, they find the land largely empty as the armies are being called away to deal with a threat at the Black Gate.

Sam and Frodo are absorbed by the host temporarily, but manage to break away and make for the Mount Doom. With the land all but emptied and the eye fixed on the Black Gate, they make their final approach on the mountain itself. They pause temporarily to look back on all they’ve accomplished and the vast distance they’ve crossed, and realize that their Quest is almost over.

Once inside the mountain, and ready to cast the Ring into the Cracks of Doom, Frodo finally succumbs to the power of the Ring and declares he’s keeping it for himself. However, Gollum appears suddenly and tries to take it from him. He bites off Frodo’s finger and claims it, but loses his footing and falls into the Cracks, which consume him and the Ring together. Sauron and the Ring are at last destroyed!

At the Gates, Sauron appears as a dark shadow who tries to reach out and attack the Army of Men. However, his shadow is blown away by the wind, and his forces flee when they realize their master has been destroyed. The Southrons and Easterlings surrender and are given mercy, and the Great Eagles are flown in by Gandalf to pluck Frodo and Sam from the side of the mountain.

Back at Minas Tirith, Aragorn is crowned King and takes Arwen as his Queen. Faramir takes Eowyn as his wife and is given the title of Prince of Ithilien. The White Tree, which has been dying for some time, blossoms and begins to show signs of life. All of Gondor begins to sprout with trees after Aragorn plants and ancient seed, and Gandalf indicates that the Northern Kingdom, where Aragorn’s ancestors used to rule, will be reclaimed and rebuilt.

Frodo, Sam,  Merry and Pippin and are honored as heroes during the coronation ceremony. After a series of goodbyes, they return to the Shire, only to find it in ruins. They learn that Lotho Sackville-Baggins, one of Frodo’s relatives and usually referred to as “The Chief” or “The Boss”, has been oppressing the locals, but himself is being controlled by someone named Sharky. This man has imposed a program of deforestation and industrialization which has left the Shire scarred and near ruin.

After rallying the locals, they confront Lotho and Sharky’s men at the Battle of Bywater. Victorious, they march on Sharky’s hideout and confront Sharky himself, who turns out to be Saruman, accompanied by Grima. Apparently, the name Sharky is an Orcish word which means “old man”, which his Uruk-hai used to refer to him. Obstinate in defeat, Saruman abuses Grima and turns to leave. However, Grima stabs Saruman in the back and is himself felled by many arrows.

Time passes and everyone appears to have settled down happily. However, Frodo is unable to overcome the injuries he sustained at the hands of the Witch King. Eventually, he departs for the Havens where he meets with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and many Elves, ending the Third Age. They sail into the West, to the lands of Aman, the “Undying Lands”, while Sam returns to the Shire where he is greeted by his wife and daughter, Rosie Cotton and Elanor, and delivers his final spoken words of the book: “Well, I’m back”.

Summary:
Though not as exciting to me as the second book, I nevertheless loved the third and final installment. Naturally, many critics and readers over the years have cited some weaknesses in the book, such as the extended ending where Frodo and his friends return to the Shire to save it from Saruman. This felt like an added climactic moment which occurred after the big one, which can seem a little out of place for a story, even one as epic as this one.

However, it was intrinsic in demonstrating Tolkien’s views on industrialization and labor relations. In short, he was a man who delighted in the natural world, and saw the intrusion of industry and an industrialized workforce as oppressive. And hell, you couldn’t beat the references: “The Boss”, the corrupt workmen, the smokestacks and the ruined countryside. It was like a worker’s pamphlet and a description of 19th century Manchester all rolled into one.

There were several more asides in this book, something Tolkien was famous for. And although they seemed like third act additions, they all seemed to be of particular importance to the author himself. For example, the scene where Theoden and the Aragorn are having an audience with the leader of the Pukel Men in order to find the path through the mountains, this was important in that it showed Tolkien’s views on native peoples, how they have been historically used and abused and were deserving of more respect.

The fact they are asking the help of people that Rohan usually hunts and goes to war with was also an interesting allegory. Much like how the British, French and American colonists called upon their Native neighbours for help in the French and Indian War, the War of Independence, and the War of 1812, Rohan is calling on people it typically considers to be enemies for help against a greater foe. As such, I found the scene quite interesting; and rather than detract from the overall narrative, I felt it added to the richness of Tolkien’s world. An editor would have surely told him to nix it, but that was something else about Tolkien. He refused to let editors tell him what to do, beyond mere spell checks and grammatical corrections.

In terms of the film adaptation, I once again had some issues with how it was done. But to be fair, I was a full-blown Rings geek at this point and saw the book as something akin to canon, so any changes were likely to be seen as just plain sacrilege. Still, it was awesome to witness the battle of Pelennor Fields on the big screen, not to mention seeing Minas Tirith rendered in visual form. These were the big climactic scenes to the story and I approved quite highly with how Jackson rendered it all.

When it came to the battle itself, there was the same conveyance of hopelessness and the feeling that everything was lost, right up until the reinforcements arrive and the day is saved! And personally, I can’t get enough of the scene where the Riders of Rohan start riding down the Orcs! Seeing those ugly bastards get their ranks clobbered was so pleasing after all the people they killed and evil shit they pulled! But of course, the battle got a little hokey after this, as Legolas begins doing his acrobatics and the ghost men show up to the fight.

This latter part wasn’t in the book; the Oathbreakers having done their part to secure the fleet in the first place. Having them also destroy all the Orcs inside the gates of Minis Tirith also made it look like the forces of Gondor did very poorly in the fight, which was really not the case in the book. Granted, they were losing, but their contribution on the fields helped turn the tide of battle and ensured that they still had plenty of foces to send to the Black Gate at the end.

Oh, and that farewell scene between Theoden and Eowyn. All I can say is “Ick!” “I’ve got to save you,” says she, to which he replies “You already have…” Not only was this ripped straight from Return of the Jedi, but it made no sense. How did she save him? Sure, she killed the Witch King, but he’s dying. She didn;’t redeem him the way Luke did his father. So where did the saving come in? What, did she save him from his sexist views? Great, but… you’re still dead, Theoden! Luckily, the fight with the Witch King overshadowed all of that for me. Sure, he too was a bit of a ripoff of Darth Vader, but who cares? He was badass!

Of course, Sam and Frodo’s part in this book was rather truncated. It is for this very reason that Peter Jackson chose to take material from Book IV and place it here, where it could be used to pad their story. However, this worked quite well in the book in that we were brought to a veritable climax when the Book V ended at the Black Gates. With so much hanging in the balance, Book VI manages to carry things on and not keep the reader waiting too long before showing the resolution and tying things up.

That was one thing I didn’t really approve of in the movie, which was the amount of padding they placed in Sam and Frodo’s part. Those who have read the books will know what I mean. The fact that they kept the scenes from Shelob’s Lair for this movie made perfect sense, but the additional parts which didn’t happen in the book – Gollum turning Frodo against Sam, Gollum attacking them twice after betraying them, Frodo falling and getting a vision of Galadriel to help him up – all seemed like needless filler. Oh, and don’t forget the extra added scenes of Arwen looking on and crying, again!

But other than that, zero complaints! Kudos to Peter Jackson for taking on the task of turning one of the best stories of high fantasy and mythos into a full-length movie series, complete with battle scenes that were awesome in their size and scale! And an even bigger kudos to Tolkien, for giving countless generations something which they have been able to enjoy, draw inspiration from, and feel all the richer for having read. Few people have had the same impact as this venerated author, and very few works have ever come to rival its scope and influence.

If you haven’t read it, do it now! Even if you don’t generally approve of fantasy, you’ll find something to love here. I guarantee it!