Game of Thrones Review: Just Enough Story to Get on with the Battle

Though you'd think the ranks of the Night's Watch being filled with murderers would guarantee a few people with a certain...skill set to do well here.

It's one thing to bash someone in the head for sleeping with your wife, another to fight a giant cannibal with a two-handed axe. So far, the only person who has shown any aptitude for battle (that wasn't trained in a castle) was that cutthroat from Flea Bottom. Heck, the only reason most of these people are here is because they weren't very good at killing; you notice how nobody sent the Mountain to the Wall, despite all his rape and murder?

OT: I agree that this episode felt a little lackluster. I was really hoping that they would leave Ygritte's death ambiguous, a body to be discovered after the battle like in the books, but I can see how people might think the character was getting cheated. Still, compare her death to Oberyn's, and there's the definite sense that his was a true GoT death -violent, sudden, horrifying, and important- while hers feels like it came out of a Spielberg film.

I liked the Ser Alliser moments too, made me more sympathetic to the guy than the books ever managed. He had courage, made it clear that he places duty before his own grudges and was obviously a skilled fighter despite his age and lack of recent combat experience. After this episode I have new found respect for him.

At first I was unsure if my feeling that this episode lacked something was because the episode itself lacked the "GoT-magic" or because I had recently gone through Vikings, a show which really catches the energy and ferocity of combat. The more I think about it and read others opinion, the more I become convinced that this particular episode just wasn't very good.

It is overly formulaic, Pyp dies so that Sam can console him, Jon has to prove his mettle and Ygritte dies before his eyes and it never really catches me like the Oberyn/Mountain duel, the red wedding or the Blackwater did. It just kind of lumbers on in the most formulaic way possible, dutifully taking us between scenes while a bog standard staged Hollywood battle of "everyone duels in the background" plays on without any real sense of urgency, chaos or energy. Not to mention that the 100,000 wildlings beyond the wall more felt like fifty guys, one mammoth and two giants, totally failing to give me as the viewer a sense of how vast the wildling horde is.

So far, this episode has definitely been the low water mark of the show.

The giants were the best part of this episode, and that giant flail on the wall. And I felt that the CGI was actually really good, especially the Giants, again.

"The blind and ancient old man tells a tale of how he was quite the catch back in his day and not to worry. "
I'd say everyone I talked to about this was WAY more into; "He could have been king and maybe is fire proof? Hunh...."

It's really stupid how the whole story plays out (infinite wildlings... and they send like a few hundred. Then suddenly fall back for no real reason. The dumbest tactic ever; send a few crows to the fort at a time, instead of, you know, start off with as big a force as possible to minimize casualties.), that made me cringe a lot more than the individual bits.

It's directed great by the awesome Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, The Descent !!!), but the script was just *made* of pure weaksouce.

Kenjitsuka:
"The blind and ancient old man tells a tale of how he was quite the catch back in his day and not to worry. "
I'd say everyone I talked to about this was WAY more into; "He could have been king and maybe is fire proof? Hunh...."

It's really stupid how the whole story plays out (infinite wildlings... and they send like a few hundred. Then suddenly fall back for no real reason. The dumbest tactic ever; send a few crows to the fort at a time, instead of, you know, start off with as big a force as possible to minimize casualties.), that made me cringe a lot more than the individual bits.

It's directed great by the awesome Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, The Descent !!!), but the script was just *made* of pure weaksouce.

Sorry, in advance, military tactics is something I really like to get into.
But what this was (and it was stated to be such in the show) is a probing attack. A test of the enemies defences.
Besides, sending a massive force to such a small gate would maximize casualties rather than minimise them, as that way your opponent doesn't even have to aim anymore and will just get to put a few volleys in which will almost always hit their targets in the mass of people attempting to get through such a small bottleneck. Immagine a tight mass of people all pushing at one another to get through that gate and then one of those barrels falls in...

But enough about that. Because in my humble opinion the attack at the front gate wasn't the main offensive and rather a distraction to lure the defenders away from the lower castle which was very nearly taken by the assault from the rear.

Granted though it wasn't what I would have done had I been in command. I'd have sent more climbers to either side of the Watch's defenders atop the wall, far enough from the gate to avoid being seen while I arrayed my forces in front of the gate (just out of arrow range mind you) in order to keep the defenders forcussed on what they would then percieve as the main threat. Then when the signal is given the watch would come under attack from four sides at once. The climbers atop the wall on two sides, the assault force in the rear and the door breach unit from the front. The climbers would keep the defenders from raining too much death upon the door teams and prevent too many reinforcements from heading back down to face the assault force. The wall would have been breached for sure ;p.

More on the topic of the episode though. I actually liked it better than the last one, simply because it was more focussed. The action scenes were quite nice but Ygritte's death at the hands of the potato boy and her last words were dumb though, I have to agree with that.

Honestly I loved this episode. After the first few scenes I was constantly on the edge of my seat, I swear I even felt a little shaky once the episode was over.

I found that lil Olly killing Ygritte had some nice karma (since Ygritte was the one to kill his dad) and her death scene didn't really bother me since it thankfully didn't drag on too long. I also surprisingly found myself really liking Thorne in this episode, he can fight, he can command and he can make good speeches, what more could you want from a leader?

I do feel kinda cheated on the whole fight with the giant in the tunnel, though I guess they couldn't fit it in the running time. Also, who the hell put those cooks into the stewards!? They seemed like the only competent fighters in the entire castle.

All in all, I think this was a fitting penultimate episode and that I'm hoping the director is brought back at least once for season 5.

Sorry, but as far as reviews go this is pretty poor. It reads exactly like you went into the episode with a cynical outlook, expecting it not to be good then cherrypicked elements (out of context) and described them with incredibly negative spin to prove your preconceptions. Maybe that's not what happened, but to me that's how it reads.

By far the bigger crime, however, is neglecting to mention the frankly fucking fantastic direction and cinematography in this episode.

Yes, I can understand that cutting away from seriously tense set ups for beloved characters and staging a whole episode around characters and a setting the series has admittedly struggled to make as engaging and important as they are in the book will turn a lot of show only fans off. I can understand people not liking this episode as much as its ridiculously good predecessor, and I would be the first to argue that the pacing of the Wall storyline has been stuttering and inconsistent throughout the series, which definitely puts a damper on what should have been a simply awesome moment.

BUT I really hope most people can appreciate what a visual treat this episode was. Think back to, say, Ned vs Jaime or Drogo vs Mago in season 1, or even The Hound vs Beric in season 3 and then compare those with Alliser vs Tormund in this episode. The choreography has improved tenfold over the run of the series, and that little one-on-one was not only believable and tense (especially as neither of them were under book immunity, both of them being elsewhere at this point in the books) but framed beautifully with some nice wide angle shots and lots of movement. Jon dropping out of the elevator and kicking ass was likewise a high point for GoT's fight direction.

Slightly narmy last words aside, Ygritte's death scene was likewise beautifully composed and it was nice to finally get some emotion out of Kit Harrington. His genuine smile at seeing Ygritte, despite everything around him, was a brilliant character moment and for me will probably stay almost as striking and memorable as Oberyn's death - for it's effective simplicity more than anything else.

The giants were simply spectacular, especially when the fire barrels are dropped. It's already been considered as a high point, but the dude getting shot off the top by the giant-fired spear was seriously next level as far as TV scene transitions go - beautifully edited.

Yes, it wasn't perfect. I'm not happy with some of the diversions from the book (why was Tormund there? There was absolutely no reason because they brought Styr in anyway!) and there was waaaay too little Ghost. After reading a theory that suggested it was Alliser Thorne being set up to take Donal Noye's place in the tunnel, allowing a hated character to redeem himself with a badass death and finally getting over his hatred of Jon Snow enough to give him the Wall, I was seriously disappointed it didn't play out like. I feel like that would have actually been an improvement on the books. I even thought the scene where Thorne admits they should have sealed the tunnel was icing on the foreshadowing cake, but alas, Thorne yet lives.

And yes, I am absolutely gutted Grenn is dead in place of that. One of my favourite characters in the books, and charmingly portrayed in the show. That said, him leading the chant of the Watch's vows as the giant charged was chillingly good - one of my highlights of the season so far - and I am appalled that wasn't worth even some grudging praise in this review.

TL;DR: Yes, I can understand this episode may not have delivered for those left cold by the show's lacklustre depiction of the Night's Watch, but I still think there was a lot to love about this episode and that, visually at least, it easily rivals Blackwater (seriously, you complain about only 100 Wildlings making up the first wave but say that it doesn't live up to Stannis charging the beach with, like, 12 dudes?)

Speaking of the Stewards doing well in that fight. Sam shot more Wildlings than most of the damn rangers.

Overall I'd say the 'Stewards' did more than their part in the battle. They basically carried the team with their crossbows and frying pans.

Love pretty much everything about the episodes it just flew by. The only minor complaint I could think of would be that the build up to the battle in past episodes wasn't exactly exciting. But then I remember that giant shooting that guy right off the wall and all is well :P

Congratulations random member of The Night's Watch, you now hold the award for Most Unbelievably Awesome Death. A fine achievement especially in a series dedicated to killing even its main characters off as unceremoniously as possible.

I'm sure there's valid criticism to be made about this episode, but when the giant riding a mammoth rumbled across my screen, my brain-dial got stuck on PURE AWESOME, and didn't come down.

...Except for a dip into eyeroll territory at Ygrid's last words; trite and cliché even by Hollywood summer blockbuster standard. I'd have much preferred it if Jon had found her body after the battle, one more casualty of war. Which is how the book goes I believe? Been years since I read it.

Dan O'Halloran:
Can we get back to multi-thread storytelling now??

Frankly, I really liked that they just focused on one group of characters for a change. As much as I like the dozens of characters and intersecting plotlines, you do run into the problem that most of the characters only get a handful of minutes per episode, which means their stories don't go anywhere fast. Like Blackwater before it, this episode fared a lot better for cutting out everything which wasn't directly relevant to the battle, and I thought it was a fantastic episode.

Dyan:
Honestly I loved this episode. After the first few scenes I was constantly on the edge of my seat, I swear I even felt a little shaky once the episode was over.

Yup. Like I said above, I loved this episode, and I've generally thought this season was below par by Game of Thrones standards. Probably the best of the season: there have been other episodes with standout sequences (Tyrion's trial, the trial by combat last week) but none that were as consistent as this.

UrinalDook:
Yes, I can understand this episode may not have delivered for those left cold by the show's lacklustre depiction of the Night's Watch, but I still think there was a lot to love about this episode and that, visually at least, it easily rivals Blackwater (seriously, you complain about only 100 Wildlings making up the first wave but say that it doesn't live up to Stannis charging the beach with, like, 12 dudes?)

Honestly, I think I enjoyed it more than Blackwater, largely because it just felt so much more epic. The massive horde north of the Wall, the smaller but still considerable one to the south, and the arena the battle took place in was enormous, even if most of it was CGI. As you said, as much as I liked Blackwater, it was hard to shake the feeling that the entire battle took place at one 20-metre stretch of city wall. Also, that tracking shot through the castle courtyard was a thing of beauty.

I loved this episode, and the multi-thread constantly-moving-plot thing is what undermines this show in my opinion I wouldn't mind them slowing down more often.

I liked it, it was suitably epic and felt like it belonged in a Game of Thrones feature movie.

I like these sort of episodes, and I felt like it suitably demonstrated the dread of 100 men having to face off against an army of 100,000.

I found it to be a welcome break from a season that had a lot of pacing problems. Everything happened way too quick and it felt like the show was trying too hard to top the Red Wedding. I find the enjoyment to be in the buildup, I like how the show is (or was) methodical, it took its time to set up all the pieces whilst keeping you in the dark, to then violently pull the rug from under your feet.

This episode felt more like what I feel the show should be like: focused, well paced and concise. It's why I don't like the Denaerys sections: they feel more like she is faffing about rather than preparing to wage a war.

But in short; good episode, really liked it, the action highlight of the series so far for me.

Game of Thrones is at its best when it focuses on one group of characters for an extended period of time. Episodes such as this one, Tyrion's trial and Joffrey's death are clear proof of that. As much as I love Game of Thrones I hate the mid-season episodes that just feel like they're checking off boxes by giving 5 minutes to each character.

Plus, Game of Thrones finally gave us a large, kick-ass battle scene. Sure Blackwater was great, but it looked like each army was made up of a few dozen guys. Remember how in Season 1 all of the major battles took place off-screen? Glad to see that their higher budget is being put to good use.

Personally, I would rather the show start focusing more on the Wall/the North as opposed to the myriad of pointless King's Landing/Daenerys scenes we've been getting in the past 2 seasons.

I'm surprised you didn't mention that in that "pointless" scene with Measter Aemon it was revealed that he was a Targaryan. Seems important enough to justify having that conversation.

SacremPyrobolum:
I'm surprised you didn't mention that in that "pointless" scene with Measter Aemon it was revealed that he was a Targaryan. Seems important enough to justify having that conversation.

We learned that earlier, but one could be forgiven for forgetting it.

SacremPyrobolum:
I'm surprised you didn't mention that in that "pointless" scene with Measter Aemon it was revealed that he was a Targaryan. Seems important enough to justify having that conversation.

That was revealed in series 1 when Jon Snow wanted to leave Castle Black.

No, Dan. No. Bad recap is bad and you should feel bad.

Item 1: "The large force north of the Wall burn the forest to...uh, announce their arrival? I suppose it's to signal the smaller force south of the Wall to coordinate their attacks."

Well, yes. That's exactly what the fire is for. Do you know how I know that? Because I actually watched last season. Mance LITERALLY says "When it's time I'm going to light the biggest fire the North has ever seen."

Item 2: "Sam then has a fairly pointless scene with Maester Aemon discussing his love of Gilly and fear of impending death."

Master Aemon's conversation wasn't pointless because it causes the admission that Sam loves Gilly. We knew it, Aemon knew it, but Sam wouldn't admit it to himself. It's what gives Sam the courage to drop the F-bomb on Pyp, override an order from Ser Alliser and then kiss Gilly minutes later.

Item 3: "Janos is also sent down the Wall to deal with the Wildlings and Jon has to face the Giants breaking through the gate to the underground tunnels."

No, Janos is (willingly) tricked into going back down the Wall because he was busy pissing himself and insisting that giants were imaginary. Jon then takes command (and note that the other Crows willingly follow) and repulses the attack.

Item 4: "But the dialogue that follows is exactly what you expect it to be and that is quite disappointing. Ygritte mutters her catch phrase and dies in Jon's arms. Bah, I expected something better."

"You'll see a hundred castles," he promised her. "The battle's done. Maester Aemon will see to you." He touched her hair. "You're kissed by fire, remember? Lucky. It will take more than an arrow to kill you. Aemon will draw it out and patch you up, and we'll get you some milk of the poppy for the pain."
She just smiled at that. "Do you remember that cave? We should have stayed in that cave. I told you."
"We'll go back to that cave," he said. "You're not going to die, Ygritte. You're not."
"Oh." Ygritte cupped his cheek with her hand. "You know nothing, Jon Snow," she sighed, dying.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 55.

Can we get Greg back to doing the recaps now?

They screwed around for 7 episodes and try to cram everything into the last 3.

The first season had great pacing, big events actually happened in a reasonable amount of episodes, then following seasons just dick around until episode 9's "huge event". Stretching tyrions trail the entire season was just rediculous.

This is pretty paper thin reviewing here. I know it's more of a recap but still.

Aside from not liking an episode taking it's whole time in one place what more is there to take away from this.

I think this kind of episode is needed every now and then. A full scale battle royale. I generally prefer the way the battle at castle black panned out in the book (mainly because they wasn't all the fucking around beforehand) but having 10 or 15 minutes here or there cut across multiple episodes wouldn't have had the same impact. The Battle of the Blackwater hung together better but still... fucking giants!

The ending was quite annoying and essentially guarantees that

but my main worry was that they'd over-condense Jon's ASOS storyline in this season and they haven't really.

Also the Ygritte death scene was really good. I know there are plenty of people who automatically cringe at that kind of thing but it was done really well. Plus how would you expect better when it was pretty much lifted straight from the book?

I'm a little torn on this episode though I come down on the side of liking it in the end. This fight really was a desperate one and I thought the show captured that fairly well. What it really lacked was more context and perhaps some more memorable characters outside of Jon, Sam and Ygritte.. We spend so little time at the wall that it's hard to focus on just how little all of the parlour games being played in and around King's Landing really matter at the end of the day. If the wall were to fall, it would mean the end of Westeros regardless of which person was sitting on the Iron Throne at the time. The show hasn't done enough to develop that sense of danger so the episode ended up feeling a little flat.

I also found Ygritte's death to be both well done and stereotypical, but that's not really something I would say is unheard of in GoT. I mean, just last week we had the apparently triumphant combatant getting trumped by the loser in the end because of deciding to boast rather than take guaranteed victory. That's a pretty stereotypical moment too and it's only the context that made it seem more than that.

TripleDaddy:
-Snip-

Ouch, scathing. Extremely scathing. But unfortunately true. I wasn't a huge fan of this episode, but this was not a good review/recap of it.

Trillovinum:

Kenjitsuka:
"The blind and ancient old man tells a tale of how he was quite the catch back in his day and not to worry. "
I'd say everyone I talked to about this was WAY more into; "He could have been king and maybe is fire proof? Hunh...."

It's really stupid how the whole story plays out (infinite wildlings... and they send like a few hundred. Then suddenly fall back for no real reason. The dumbest tactic ever; send a few crows to the fort at a time, instead of, you know, start off with as big a force as possible to minimize casualties.), that made me cringe a lot more than the individual bits.

It's directed great by the awesome Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, The Descent !!!), but the script was just *made* of pure weaksouce.

Sorry, in advance, military tactics is something I really like to get into.
But what this was (and it was stated to be such in the show) is a probing attack. A test of the enemies defences.
Besides, sending a massive force to such a small gate would maximize casualties rather than minimise them, as that way your opponent doesn't even have to aim anymore and will just get to put a few volleys in which will almost always hit their targets in the mass of people attempting to get through such a small bottleneck. Immagine a tight mass of people all pushing at one another to get through that gate and then one of those barrels falls in...

But enough about that. Because in my humble opinion the attack at the front gate wasn't the main offensive and rather a distraction to lure the defenders away from the lower castle which was very nearly taken by the assault from the rear.

Granted though it wasn't what I would have done had I been in command. I'd have sent more climbers to either side of the Watch's defenders atop the wall, far enough from the gate to avoid being seen while I arrayed my forces in front of the gate (just out of arrow range mind you) in order to keep the defenders forcussed on what they would then percieve as the main threat. Then when the signal is given the watch would come under attack from four sides at once. The climbers atop the wall on two sides, the assault force in the rear and the door breach unit from the front. The climbers would keep the defenders from raining too much death upon the door teams and prevent too many reinforcements from heading back down to face the assault force. The wall would have been breached for sure ;p.

More on the topic of the episode though. I actually liked it better than the last one, simply because it was more focussed. The action scenes were quite nice but Ygritte's death at the hands of the potato boy and her last words were dumb though, I have to agree with that.

The thing about the wildlings is that they are unorganised and undisciplined. I can't remember how much the show goes over it, but the books make a point out of describing how difficult it is to get the wildlings to band together, as most of them hate each other - Only Mance Raydar has been able to do it - And he's not exactly the best at tactics.

Some elements, I loved: the giants, the panning shot of the battle, the bird's-eye-view shots, Ser Alliser being a badass.

But I agree, I left the episode feeling as if it had fallen short of the mark it was aiming for. They've kept all the plot developments for the last episode, leaving this one battle-rich but without much plot.

This episode crystallised something for me that I've noticed in small doses, here and there. But here it was unmissable.

Martin, I'm convinced after reading the books, likes to lead people on by setting up storylines that start out looking like the common storytelling tropes that we all identify with as consumers of fiction. Then he can throw us for a loop simply by taking things in a different direction. The show writers, on the other hand, will give us our more "traditional" fix if they can.

The case I'm referring to here is that of Sam Tarly.

When reading the story of Sam Tarly, subconsciously I'm pigeonholing him as the Coward Who Discovers His Inner Hero.(I'm sure there's a tvtrope for that but I don't know what it's called.) But for all that he goes through, and he DOES have his fair share of big moments in the story, he never actually grows a pair. He remains an uncoordinated craven throughout.

Compare that to the events of The Watcher on the Wall, in which he lives up to the trope to a tee. He shouts Pyp down for Gilly, gives her a big speech about what it is to be a man, kisses her, then goes out and fights semi-bravely, even providing motivation for scared brothers. Compared to book Sam he is fucking Rambo.

I enjoyed it viscerally, because I like Sam and he finally got what I had been waiting for for him the whole time. Yay Sam. However, I had believed that Martin was intentionally making a point with this character. He's likable, he has skills which most other brothers don't have and which are undervalued in this culture, but physically he's useless and cowardly, it's just the way he is, it's not going to just magically change just like he's not magically going to become stupid. Except in the show, he has changed. It really leaves me torn.

Dyan:

I found that lil Olly killing Ygritte had some nice karma (since Ygritte was the one to kill his dad) and her death scene didn't really bother me since it thankfully didn't drag on too long.

I thought this part was a bit naff.

You could see it coming from the scene in his village and from when he arrived at the Wall, saying he was the best archer in the village. I mean, I understand why they did it, it's neat and poetic that the only arrow he fired would pierce Ygritte in the heart but it's so predictable and boring, not something I want in my Game of Thrones episodes.

I don't want to be one of those people who goes on and on about the books but the show came up with the whole Olly storyline, as far as I remember, and it just seemed a bit forced and lazy.

Branindain:
This episode crystallised something for me that I've noticed in small doses, here and there. But here it was unmissable.

Martin, I'm convinced after reading the books, likes to lead people on by setting up storylines that start out looking like the common storytelling tropes that we all identify with as consumers of fiction. Then he can throw us for a loop simply by taking things in a different direction. The show writers, on the other hand, will give us our more "traditional" fix if they can.

The case I'm referring to here is that of Sam Tarly.

When reading the story of Sam Tarly, subconsciously I'm pigeonholing him as the Coward Who Discovers His Inner Hero.(I'm sure there's a tvtrope for that but I don't know what it's called.) But for all that he goes through, and he DOES have his fair share of big moments in the story, he never actually grows a pair. He remains an uncoordinated craven throughout.

Compare that to the events of The Watcher on the Wall, in which he lives up to the trope to a tee. He shouts Pyp down for Gilly, gives her a big speech about what it is to be a man, kisses her, then goes out and fights semi-bravely, even providing motivation for scared brothers. Compared to book Sam he is fucking Rambo.

I enjoyed it viscerally, because I like Sam and he finally got what I had been waiting for for him the whole time. Yay Sam. However, I had believed that Martin was intentionally making a point with this character. He's likable, he has skills which most other brothers don't have and which are undervalued in this culture, but physically he's useless and cowardly, it's just the way he is, it's not going to just magically change just like he's not magically going to become stupid. Except in the show, he has changed. It really leaves me torn.

I agree completely. What happens in the books is that Sam discovers his value whilst still remaining a coward with absolutely zero fighting ability, which to me is actually a more inspiring message.

Colour Scientist:

Dyan:

I found that lil Olly killing Ygritte had some nice karma (since Ygritte was the one to kill his dad) and her death scene didn't really bother me since it thankfully didn't drag on too long.

I thought this part was a bit naff.

You could see it coming from the scene in his village and from when he arrived at the Wall, saying he was the best archer in the village. I mean, I understand why they did it, it's neat and poetic that the only arrow he fired would pierce Ygritte in the heart but it's so predictable and boring, not something I want in my Game of Thrones episodes.

I don't want to be one of those people who goes on and on about the books but the show came up with the whole Olly storyline, as far as I remember, and it just seemed a bit forced and lazy.

What annoyed me even more was that a few minutes earlier this kid was cowering in the corner with his hands over his ears. Then Ygritte gets shot, and it cuts to him standing on the stairs in a heroic pose. And then he gives Jon the cliche action movie "'sup bro, just saved your life, don't mention it" nod.

I mean, it was obvious that he was going to be the one that shot her, from the moment she was the one who shot his dad, and that's fine I guess. I would've much preferred it if we'd seen him pick up the bow and fire it wildly at the wildlings, and just happened it hit her than the 'terrified little boy suddenly turns into this coolkid sniper' thing they gave us. Between that and what Sam was getting up to, it's like they're saying that the only good characters are the hard-fightin' badasses, and everyone else just gets to die like a chump (or have a panic attack and hide in the pantry).

 

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