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.