(Note: to help clear up the discussion thread congestion, we’re publishing two Game of Thrones recaps this season, one for book readers and one for non-book readers. Doing it this way means those who have read A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows don’t have to begin every conversation with “SPOILER,” or those who haven’t won’t need to worry about learning something they shouldn’t.)
In the ninth episode of season one of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark lost his head. In season two, “Blackwater.” Season three, “The Rains of Castamere.” Now we have “The Watchers on the Wall,” the show’s most expensive episode yet, and probably the weakest of The Penultimates (any excuse to use that word). There was a lot to like, but ultimately, it all comes down to Jon Snow.
Compared to Arya and Tyrion and Davos and Jaime and pretty much every other main character, Jon is fairly bland — he looks and acts like he was designed by Tumblr, and the planning stopped there. He’s got a interesting back story to draw upon, but so much of his time on-screen is spent either moping, or unconvincingly yelling at people to do things; he’s a drip of a hero. That’s why viewers responded so positively to Ygritte, because not only is Rose Leslie awesome, but she’s a wild spark, someone whose mere presence made Jon Snow more interesting. But now she’s gone, and her last scene didn’t have the emotional weight it should have. One of my minor complaints for this season has been knowing that Ygritte’s death was coming, and the show spending so little time with her. I think she was on-screen for longer in her campfire showdown with the Thenns than she was this entire season.
But! There was a lot of stuff I loved in “Watchers,” too, especially Neil Marshall’s directing. He once again found a way to make a TV show budget look like a movie. The scope of the Wall, the giants, the mammoths, the brutality of the violence, it was a great, well paced episode to LOOK at, especially when the camera circled around the action, checking in on the individual fights, and the direwolf POV. Shots from atop the Wall are neat, but when you’re looking way down or way up, it’s less about the inherent drama of people fighting for their lives than it is the visual, and “Watchers” was too often all visual.
Ultimately, this was a technically impressive episode that felt hollow. Even Jon admits this was a tiny battle, especially when compared to what happened in “Blackwater,” which affected nearly EVERYONE on the show. (It helps that “Blackwater” also had a definitive ending, not Jon looking for Luke on Hoth — the battle in the books ended very differently.) I loved the spectacle of “The Watchers on the Wall,” and especially the motherf*cking giants riding motherf*cking mammoths and OMG a scythe, but I’m not sure I’ll ever have the urge to watch it again. Jon’s too much of a know-nothing.
More thoughts on the next page.