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 4 Episode 8

got4After a week’s hiatus, the episode that fans of the GOT series eagerly awaited finally aired this past Sunday. And true to form, it all came down to the most anticipated fight scene of the season – between Prince Oberyn Martell (aka. The Red Viper) and Ser Gregor Clegane (aka. The Mountain). And having just watched it, I can honestly say that it was a perfect example of everything the show has done right and wrong this season.

You know what, let’s not drag this out. Plenty of time to praise and criticize this episode after I’m done recapping it!

The Mountain and the Viper:
got4_8_1
The episode opens in Moletown, where Gilly is struggling to fit in with her new surroundings and companions. During a night of drunken festivities, she hears a noise coming from outside, and knows to be afraid. Within minutes, the Wildling party consisting of Ygritte, Tormund, and the Thenns attacks and overruns the entire place. Gilly manages to hide beneath the floor boards while the others die, and Ygritte takes notice of her, only to spare her and tell her to keep quiet.

At the Wall, news of the attack is received with anger and grief. Sam suspects that Gilly was killed and blames himself for sending her there. However, his brothers console him by telling him that Gilly has seen worse, surviving both Craster’s abuse, the forced march south, and an encounter with a White Walker before making it to the safety of the Wall with him. The brothers are angry that they cannot ride out to stop it, and Jon estimates that Mance’s army is nearing them.

got4_8_2In Slaver’s Bay, Missandei and Grey Worm appear to be experiencing a budding romance. After seeing her naked and washing in the stream, Grey Worm comes to apologize, only to learn that Missandei does not feel offended at all. Meanwhile, Ser Barristan recieves a copy of Jorah’s royal pardon from Robert, proof that he was conspiring with the Iron Throne to spy on Daenerys. When news of this is brought to her, she banishes Mormont from her court.

In the North, Theon is tasked by Ramsay Snow to go to Moat Cailin as Theon Greyjoy and deliver his terms of peace. In exchange for their surrender, the Ironborn – who are sick and dying in Moat Cailin – are promised to be received mercifully. They accept, but Ramsay promptly has them all flayed. He then presents the standard to his father Roose, who renames him Ramsay Bolton and designates him as the proper heir to their house.

moat_cailinIn the Eyrie, Baelish is entreating with the lords of the Vale after Lady Arryn’s death. He claims her death was a suicide, but they are unconvinced. They bring in Sansa, whom they believe to be his daughter Alayne, and ask for her version of events. She confesses that she is in fact Sansa Stark, and claims that Lady Arryn committed suicide out of jealousy for her. Baelish asks her why she did this, and she claims it was out of personal interest and self-preservation.

Impressed with her, Petyr takes Robin into the Vale to learn how to be a lord after securing permission from the other lords to do so. Sansa, who now appears darker and more confident, goes with them. Nearby, Arya and the Hound are seen entering the Vale and are stopped at the Bloody Gate. When the Hound asks for permission to enter and speak to Lady Arryn about having her niece in his care, he is told that Lady Arryn is dead. Arya begins to laugh uncontrollably at the news, though the Hound is hardly amused himself.

OberynIn King’s Landing, the trial by combat finally begins. Tyrion talks to Jaime beforehand, and then goes to the ring. Oberyn is dressed in light raiment and armed with a spear, whereas the Mountain comes in full armor wielding his giant sword. Oberyn is supremely confident, and puts on a display of skill by wielding his spear around in front of the crowd. The fight begins, and he tells Gregor who he is and why he has  come – namely, to kill him for murdering his sister and her children.

Oberyn proves equal to the Mountain and outmaneuvers him at every turn, all the while taunting him with the same lines over and over: “You raped her. You killed her. You murdered her children.” Soon, the Mountain gets enraged, is stabbed, and begins to falter. Oberyn finishes it with a powerful stab to his chest, and then demands he confess before he dies. Clegane manages to trip up Oberyn and then smashes his face with his bare hands, and then falls back down again. Tywin declares Tyrion guilty and sentences him to death.

Summary:
Let me be blunt. The fight scene was the obvious highlight of this episode, and it was pretty damn badass! This scene was definitely one of the high points of book III, and also one of those terribly sad George RR Martin moments where he kills off a beloved character! Still, the way Pedro Pascal and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson portrayed “The Mountain” and “The Red Viper” (not to mention the fight choreography) was nothing if not spot on.

got4_8_endHowever, the entire episode up until that point was long, boring, and more often than not, unnecessary. All throughout, it was packed with material that didn’t happen in the books, was supposed to have happened a long time ago, was not supposed to happen until book V, or just served no real purpose. The only exception to this being where Theon and Ramsay traveled to Moat Cailin to deliver the terms of surrender, which actually happened in the book and was accurately conveyed.

Everything else was a repeat of all that they’ve done wrong this season. First, the attack of Moletown, for example, never happened in the book, and Gilly was never there to begin with. And Jon Snow and the brothers saying they can’t ride out to meet this threat because “it’s what they want” seemed quite dumb in light of recent events. In episode four, Jon is given permission to ride north to kill mutineers; but now, suddenly, he doesn’t want to move, and they are told to stay put and not venture out. Weak!

Second, there was no relationship between Missandei and Grey Worm in the novels and this seemed like nothing more than a pointless aside to shore up material for the Daenerys thread. And considering that the Unsullied have no genitals for exactly this reason, it really makes no sense that Grey Worm would be entertaining romantic notions about Missandei. And they even acknowledge this, but undercut it by having Missandei say that she actually doesn’t know if they take off the “pillar and the stones” when they castrate them. Again, weak!

Got4_8_3Third, the whole thread involving Sansa, Baelish and the Vale was vastly rewritten. In the novels, Baelish blamed her death on a court musician, who he knew had made a pass at Sansa. After having the poor boy tortured to within an inch of his life and his eyes plucked out, the boy confessed and was executed. Sansa went along with the story, but mainly out of necessity and fear. She did not lie for him so boldly and change into this darker, more sinister version of herself. Thought I have to admit, it was cool to see them doing this with her. I am guessing all her victimhood and crying was growing tiresome for viewing audiences.

Also, the way Daenerys learns of Mormont’s betrayal was something that was supposed to have happened much sooner. As I mentioned a previous review – episode three, “Breaker of Chains” – it was during the siege of Mereen that she learned that Mormont had been working for King Robert, and of Ser Selmy’s (who had been posing as Whitebeard) true identity. It was for this reason she sent them into the sewers to open Mereen’s gates so it could be sacked. After this, she pardoned Selmy, but exiled Mormont because she grew tired of his advances.

But that was a minor issue compared to the rest. Really, the fight scene was the high point whereas everything else was just a lot of boring stuff leading up to it. Even the part where Jaime and Tyrion are talking while they wait for the fight to begin, holy shit that was boring! What purpose did that long story about their simple cousin serve? The last time I heard such pointless dialogue was in The Expendables when Randy Couture needlessly drones on about an experience he had involving a college roommate talking about his cauliflower ear!

And all this is reminding me of what I was saying last season. You know, how changes in season two necessitated changes in season three? Well its the same now. Since they chose to cut book III – A Storm of Swords – in half and make two seasons out it last season, it has left them having to pad this season just to make ten episodes out of it. And to do this, they’ve either had to add stuff that didn’t happen or mine material from book V in order to get it.

It’s understandable, there was too much material for ten episodes, not enough for twenty. And I’m guessing they wanted to give George RR Martin more time to write. But if this means the highlights of this season are going to be things that don’t even fit into the context of the larger story or feel like afterthought to the main plot, doesn’t it make things seem kind of dumb? Ah, whatever, I’ve grown cynical and more than a little elitist with this show, I’ve found.

So perhaps I’ll just not review next season and go back to waiting for book VI – The Winds of Winter – to finally come out. Which, by the way Mr. RR Martin, when will that be???