Episode nine of a Game Of Thrones season has always been event television. This week set out to top the lot, with an action packed battle in the North; throwing Castle Black into chaos with an onslaught of giants riding woolly mammoths, hails of flaming arrows, ship anchors knocking icy chunks from the mountain wall itself and a two of the most bloodthirsty ginger people I’ve seen since I last survived a night out in Glasgow.
It promised to be epic; a well directed, special effect ridden fantasy movie on the small screen and there is no denying that it was spectacular viewing. It was like watching the Lord Of The Rings movie in television segment; but I am afraid that’s all it was. It was missing what Game Of Thrones so very often gets right – the characterisation and the heart. It’s the small scale, character-driven scenarios which this show nails. A good action sequence is all very entertaining, but an entire episode devoted to a battle didn’t quite work for me.
It could of course be down to the fact that I am openly no fan of the characters or stories going on in the North. Unlike in real life, when I see snow start to fall on Game Of Thrones, my heart sinks. I simply do not buy into Jon Snow as a hero and, while all characters in the series are flawed, I feel Jon lacks any real kind of backbone or sense to be considered as the warrior that he is. He changes his loyalty more often than Cersei sleeps with her siblings and his pained regret as Ygritte was fixed with an arrow drew little sympathy from me. His final decision to go out into the carnage and head to confront the Wildlings alone, leaving his sword behind, was also a ridiculous act, and one that I struggle to find any explanation for. Here’s a man who abandoned the woman he fell in love with, eventually leading to her destructive demise so that he could return to his Brothers at the Night’s Watch, and now he heads out alone, abandoning them at their point of armageddon when they could be attacked at any time, to lead an assault that there is no possible way he could win. Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t a twist in the offing that will help Jon to victory, but Jon doesn’t know that – he hasn’t read the books, after all.
The rest of the episode spent a disproportionate amount of focus on one of my other bugbears, Sam, who writers try a little too hard to make bumbling and loveable. Yes, he protects his girlfriend and baby by hiding them and promising he won’t die, he assures a friend that he is not scared of tens of thousands of Wildlings attacking because he now has purpose, he cradles a dying youngster in his arms and rescues the only child for miles along: we get it, Sam’s a good egg. It’s all a little forced, however, to the point that it gets nauseous.
Nothing was particularly resolved by this episode. For such a huge battle to take so much focus away from the army of other characters and stories ongoing, one would at least expect significant plot development. But apart from confirmation that yes, the Wildling army IS a threat to the Wall and the deaths of a couple of supporting characters we’ve barely glimpsed for the entire season, nothing really changed here. The Wildlings are still heading for Castle Black and intend to take over the Wall and the Night’s Watch appear to have no hope in staving off defeat.
The episode provided a spectacular feat in terms of visuals. As the series increases in popularity, so does their budget and ambition and it really showed here. But dazzling action sequences mean very little if you don’t care about the characters involved or the consequences that the bloodshed brings.
Compared to most television, this was still a triumph as Game Of Thrones always is. But set against its own high standards and heavy promises, it didn’t quite hit the mark.
However, I fully expect to be writing something different next week as the long-awaited finale is bound to deliver and make up for it
Do you agree or disagree? The episode, from what I’ve seen, has been divisive online. I’d love to know your thoughts below. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for further thoughts, reviews and news: https://twitter.com/Our_manPLA
Written By Our Man In The North