Hello, friends and bannermen. On Sunday's Game of Thrones,the wildlings stormed the castle, and the Night's Watch did their best to defend the Wall. How did it match up with the books? How did it differ?
This weekly chat series is for fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books, upon which HBO's fantasy drama is based. It's meant to be a safe haven to discuss spoilers and changes from the novels and how they have played out or will play out in the TV series. Hanh Nguyen and Sadie Gennisare longtime fantasy fans of varying levels of geekiness who will sound off on all things Westerosi (and beyond!).
[Warning: If you're a Game of Thrones fan who has stumbled upon this chat and haven't read the books yet, begone! Instead, check out our postmortem of "The Watchers on the Wall" for a spoiler-free discussion.]
Hanh: How did the battle at Castle Black measure up to other seasons' ninth episodes? Ain't gonna lie ... I felt it was the least engaging of the previous three, but there were some definite highlights. My favorite parts were the giants and mammoths. The close-up shots of the mammoth Uggs while walking filled me with such anticipation!
Sadie: I was so excited for this episode, but instead of getting caught up in the action I just felt... bored. Truly and extremely bored. There were so many moments that were clearly supposed to be OMG-worthy, but when you have a ridiculous death or so every other minute they're no longer ridiculous or impactful. They're just repetitive. Overall, the whole thing felt like it was trying to hard to hold up to the ninth-episode standard.
Hanh: Right, so let's break it down and see why it didn't work. There's no way it could complete emotionally with Ned's beheading (Season 1) or the Red Wedding (Season 3 — which were works of art -- despite the deaths of Pyp, Grenn, and Ygritte. Part of that is they tried to cram too much into one episode... but would a two-hour Castle Black battle have been just more tedious? Also, we didn't really get much time with any of them this season. Ygritte and Jon's relationship took place in the previous seasons, so her death didn't really resonate that much. Although I am glad that they got a farewell, unlike in the books. Not quite sure how I feel about that little sh-- Olly taking her down though. She deserves better.
Sadie: We never really knew Pyp or Grenn well, so their deaths didn't hit me at all (beyond the fact I'll mourn them as eye candy). And Ygritte's death felt a little too Nicholas Sparks, for me. This is Game of Thrones, where sh-- just goes wrong and you never get what you want. To have Jon and Ygritte get such an emotional goodbye seems very out of tone. Also, the battle was still going on! Why was no one attacking Jon as he just sat there and cried?!
Hanh: Cue rain and a lifted-up kiss! Oh that was totally a fakey "movie" moment, which is why I think this episode felt tonally different for me, not just that part, although that's the most egregious. Maybe Olly was picking them off? "Hey, now that I've killed your wildling lover, I'm no longer afraid! See me pose heroically on the steps? 'Sup?"
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Sadie: I just felt like the whole battle was a bit of a waste of time. In the books, when the wildlings first attacked the Wall was also when Jon really stepped up his leadership game. He did it a little here, but there wasn't the same character development driving the battle and making it more engaging.
Hanh: Good point. I expected more Jon the leader from the outset. It was odd that Dolorous Edd got a little leadership moment when I thought he would die. And then instead of Jon stepping up, they actually gave Alliser Thorne more heroism during the battle. He faced off against Tormund... I felt that Jon should've been the one to face his old wildling friend (sort of a parallel of him having to kill Qhorin Halfhand). And if we wanted Olly to get justice and all that jazz, he should've killed the Magnar of Thenn. His hammer to the skull death was jut meh. Ooh, or have Ghost treat the Thenn like direwolf chow!
Sadie: Yes! Exactly. And then Jon decides to go off on his own and kill Mance? What the heck is that?
Sadie: What was the point in bringing Thorne and Slynt back before the big battle if not to order Jon to kill Mance? Jon is such a negotiate-first type of guy. I was just not buying it.
Hanh: Yes, or when Jon asked Sam if he had a better plan, Sam actually should've spoken up about negotiations/treaties. That would be in keeping with his reading/researching ways. Sam got more character development this episode than anyone...
Sadie: Which really did not help pique my interest. I love Sam, I do, but this was not the episode to devote so much to him. Let him shine next season when he leaves. This week should have been all about Jon.
Hanh: Right... maybe Episode 8 and 10 would've made more sense for that stuff. Character-building bookends to the action. Well, obviously the emotional side didn't work, what about the action side? The pacing and "everything but the kitchen sink" sort of directing didn't work for me. This was no Battle of Blackwater (Season 2). Same director (Neil Marshall) both times, but I wouldn't have known it. Maybe it was the writing? I did enjoy some of the visuals though. Yes to the mammoth and the giant (especially the one advancing on Grenn as they chanted the Night's Watch oath) and the side of the Wall coming down. Seven hells!
Sadie: There were definitely some great visuals and the mammoths definitely did not disappoint. But hands down, slicing off all the Wall climbers was definitely my favorite.
Hanh: The side coming down was awesome. The red/pink slush and that hand left behind were nice touches. More of that, please. Bloodthirsty Hanh thanks you.
Sadie: However, I'm a little sad they cut the turtle, just because I was curious as to how that would look.
Hanh: Right! I kind of wanted more clever warfare, you know? That was what was so fascinating to me while reading it. This felt kind of cheesy. Did you notice both Jon and Ygritte did mid-battle rolls?! Or maybe I just noticed it more because I wasn't quite as engaged and engrossed as I should've been. I wonder if non-book fans enjoyed this more.
Sadie: One of the most interesting parts about the battle in the books was seeing the different strategies the two sides used. And even though the wildings are far less advanced in terms of weapons and civilization, it was great to see how they utilized their strengths and knowledge into good battle techniques.
Hanh: Yes, I wanted more wildlings behind-the-scenes action, not just the bit with Ygritte. After spending so much time in previous seasons emphasizing that the free folk have a legitimate point of view, to make them just the enemy here was giving them short shrift. They're people too!
Sadie: Also, the ending was so much less climactic. When the wildings attacked at the Wall in the books, they ended up scattering and the Night's Watch was able to get a nice victory. There was no win here. There was just fighting and more fighting until Jon abruptly left.
Hanh: There really isn't that much more to dissect, I guess. I kind of want to write this episode off in my mind and just get to the finale. So many things to look forward to! One of my favorite Game of Thrones directors Alex Graves is back (he did Purple Wedding and Viper-Mountain fight this season) for Tywin's epic toilet death. Game of "Thrones" indeed!
Sadie: I am flush with anticipation!
Hanh: Haha! OK let's see if our fair readers are in line with us this week.
Were you as underwhelmed as we were? How does this rank alongside past Episode 9s? What were your favorite bits? Be honest: Was that Jon and Ygritte scene just too schmaltzy or what? Tell us how wrong we are!
Game of Thrones' season finale airs Sunday at 9/8c on HBO. Rewatch "The Watchers on the Wall"here.