Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall

Not much to say this week, at least from the “feminist fiction” angle. A bunch of guys (and Ygritte) fought an epic battle for an hour. There were some good character moments, a couple of gasp-inspiring battle tactics, lots of tension, and one truly awesome continuous shot across the whole battle, but it was somewhat lacking in female characters to discuss.

Of course, that also means it lacked random pointless nudity or rape scenes, so I suppose that’s a plus. Good to know that the show’s capable of leaving those out, at least in an episode where the only female faces onscreen are a girl with a newborn baby and a wilding warrior who’s somewhat busy killing things.

Still, Ygritte got some good moments, although I wish that she had been the one to save Jon’s life in his fight, considering her previous declaration that she’d kill anyone who tried to kill him. The confusion of “no one else can kill him but me” and “I can’t let anyone kill him” would have made for an interesting moment, and would have actually given Ygritte something to do beyond making arrows and shooting at mostly nameless extras. Of course Jon and Ygritte were going to meet, leading to a dramatic standoff and emotionally revealing moment, but the show definitely missed an opportunity for bringing them there.

Luckily, the actual standoff was really effective. The notched arrow, the pause, Jon’s smile, the tension over whether one would kill the other… and then the arrow out of nowhere. The huge emotional dilemma was stolen from them, in true Game of Thrones fashion. It was a powerful moment, even though the emotional death scene was ruined somewhat by the fact that they’re pausing and getting all misty-eyed in the middle of a deadly battle.

Except not. Because somehow, the battle then seemed to be over.

The show did an excellent job of showing how outnumbered the Night’s Watch are and presenting their almost futile struggle, raising the tension to epic levels, but then it just seemed to end, without any sense that the Night’s Watch had been winning. The battle died with Ygritte, as though she were the leader of the wildlings and everything fell apart once she was dead. Apparently Jon’s appearance on the ground level was enough to immediately change the battle and kill off all wildlings attacking from the south side, while Ygritte’s death heralded the north side army just giving up for the night. First we were told the wildlings wouldn’t try to climb the wall until dawn — then dawn comes, and they decide it’s too late to keep trying? I’m not an expert on battle strategy, but it seems flawed to have an entire “weaken them by attacking from both sides” plan and then only use it to test their defences, find them lacking, and go home to celebrate their temporary loss until tomorrow. The show was so successful at making the battle seem epic, with impossible odds, that the Night Watch’s sudden victory was almost impossible to believe.

This is particularly a problem because this battle is one of the most conventional fantasy scenes in the books. Things happen pretty much as you would expect. The heroes win, our main protagonists survive, Jon’s main antagonist dies after a bonding moment between them… it’s a very expected fantasy narrative. And when we contrast that with last week, when the expected narrative of Oberyn winning the dual was turned on its head, it becomes even harder to believe their victory was anything more than “they won because they’re the heroes.” Which is the precise narrative that the show is supposed to subvert.

Still, I found it a surprisingly compelling episode considering my complete lack of interest in anything Jon Snow or Night’s Watch related. Dramatic, emotional, with some fantastic visuals… basically all you might expect from a battle episode involving very few main characters. The only concern now is next week. Even if Sansa is done for the season, they still have two major plotlines to conclude with Tyrion and Jon, along with time for Arya, Daenerys, Bran and (I’m hoping) Brienne. Is next week going to be an extra long episode? Because I think they’re going to need it.

10 comments on “Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall

  • Jane , Direct link to comment

    I’m a tad bit disappointed with your articles on Game of Thrones. I was expecting so much more and your work on the first seasons was very good but now it seems forced and doesn’t bring any new element of thought. You were reviewing whole episodes with an interesting point of view but somehow nothing happend…

      • Richard , Direct link to comment

        There’s no need to be sassy, Jane just wants you to know that your writing could be better. You don’t have to review an episode just because you think you have to.

        • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

          I’m not being sassy. It wasn’t me (the author) who commented. And I think Jane has a right to her opinion.

  • voodooqueen126 , Direct link to comment

    THis was basically a good episode, because it had no women in it. D& D seem incapable of writing women, because they do not realise that women are like people.

    • Fur Que , Direct link to comment

      That’s because the Night’s watch is a male order and, as for the wilding side, battles are fought by men bar the odd exception of a main character like Ygritte.

  • Lars Sjöström , Direct link to comment

    One of the reasons commanders throughout history have avoided pitched battles are that they are so unpredictable, same goes for sieges. Sometimes a commander have negotiated during a war gambling for a stronghold to hold or fall. That the Watch won without anyone realizing it is what happens. Especially from your part of the battlefield were you are alone or back to back and attempting to survive without knowing what is happening anywere else. That is also a reason why people might fight uncoordinated, especially so undisciplined warriors as the free folk. The reason the Thenns were used for the siege are their greater discipline.
    Either the show wanted to show us how unexpected everything turns out, how little you know from your point of view and the difficulties to coordinate an attack and do everything as planned, or I just covered up for them.

    But I don’t like Ygritte’s Jon is mine to kill, that is traditionall storytelling, but in a battle you can’t pick and chose among your enemies, you need to fight whoever gets in your way.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      That’s really interesting! I know pretty much nothing about military history/tactics, so that was good to learn!

  • shayma , Direct link to comment

    i really was disappointed by the disposal of the characters from mole’s town in episode 8 – because if i remember correctly from the book, the night’s watch offered them protection and those who wished to helped defend castle black. so we lost an opportunity to see the male and female residents, including the sex workers, help prepare for the southern attack and fight. but i guess d&d think prostitutes can have only one role in the show/we needed to see sam mourn his lost potential-gf or something..

What do you think?

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