Just to refresh my memory, I went back and reread the Jon Snow storyline from A Storm of Swords this week. I was having trouble remembering exactly what happened and the order in which things happened. (Apparently I should've read more closely because I've been mixing up names all over the place. I blame the show for not making these characters significantly memorable, and also this.)
For the first eight episodes of this season, Game of Thrones really hasn't been giving us Ned Stark's bastard's story as written. This episode, "The Watchers on the Wall" was more of the same. The end result was basically as written, but the show took a different path to get there.
This episode was the first time since the Battle of the Blackwater in Season Two where an entire episode focused on one storyline. While I think the tactic worked very well for the penultimate episode of the second season, here the Battle for Castle Black felt somewhat too little, too late. The problem that the Game of Thrones writers face constantly is time. They have ten hours to fill, and seemingly countless storylines with which to fill them. Certain characters inevitably get short changed. This season, we spent very little time with, for example, Ygritte or Sam, so I'm not sure how invested we, the audience, were in their fates during this episode.
The show looked great, that's for sure. This was the most expensive Game of Thrones episode to date, and it showed; but will the "big death" in this episode produce the same water cooler buzz that last week's "big death" did? No, it won't. And, yeah, Oberyn Martell died in a spectacular fashion last week, but also, the writers and directors spent a lot of time developing his character, his presence. For Ygritte, we were supposed to draw on our old feelings for her, basically, and the fact that she didn't kill Gilly when she had the chance. It didn't quite add up to enough.
So, what did happen in the episode? I don't normally focus so closely on how the show deviates from the book, but let's do that this time. It's fresh in my mind.
Sam: He was not really involved in the battle in A Storm of Swords. I think the show is desperate to turn him into the Game of Thrones version of Neville Longbottom, the hapless kid who becomes a badass. I'm sorry, but that's not my Sam. Sam's a bookish dude. His strength comes from his brain, not his brawn. I mean, good for him for joining in the fight for Castle Black, but I'm not sure how believable his participation was. I liked him better chatting with Maester Aemon about lost loves than watching Pip get killed while defending the castle.
Sam is also really interested in hearing locker room talk from Jon Snow about what it feels like to bone a gal. He's looking for all the loopholes he can find in his vows so that he might one day penetrate Gilly's gates.
Janos Slynt and Alliser Thorne: In the books, these guys don't even show up until the end of the battle. They come from Eastwatch, another castle on the Wall, and march in like they own the place. On the show, they've been here for a while, laying claim to fallen Jeor Mormont's position as Lord Commander. Now Slynt has been found (by Sam) cowering in the corner of Gilly's holding room, subdued by a leg of mutton or something. And Thorne, who was injured by the dude with the red beard in the battle, is back inside Castle Black, presumably convalescing and not dead or dying.
In the books, post battle, their positions are strong. Not so much here. It will be interesting to see how things play out now that Jon's two biggest opponents have been neutered somewhat.
Grenn and Dolorous Edd: In the books, Dolorous Edd is not with Jon up on the Wall. He's fighting elsewhere. On the show, he's Jon's biggest helper, and showed great leadership and savvy during the assault on Castle Black.
Grenn in the books, basically plays the Dolorous Edd role and survives the battle.
Bowen Marsh Donal Noye is the one who gets killed by the giant down in the tunnel. So, basically, the Grenn character in the books is now a ghost. It strikes me as bizarre that one of the characters who lives in the books winds up dead on the show. I guess this means Grenn probably won't play a big role in saving the North from the white walkers, and he probably won't become king someday. Spoiler Alert.
Ygritte: It was kind of obvious that they'd need to make Ygritte's death a little more romantic in the show. In the books, she's shot and Jon doesn't see it happen. He finds her later with the arrow in her chest, they chat, and she says, "You know nothing, Jon Snow." He doesn't know who shot the arrow.
I like how this plays out on the show much better. It's less random. She sees Jon fighting that stupid Thenn. Instead of her killing the Thenn to save Jon (either for him to keep living or for him to live long enough for her to kill him), Jon kills him with a hammer through the head and winds up face-to-face with an armed Ygritte. She hesitates (which is really dumb, and maybe a little out of character on her part), and little Ollie, whom Sam had ordered to join in the fight, puts an arrow right through her heart. Lovey-dovey moment. She gone. Maybe now she can return to Downton Abbey.
Ghost: He's not part of the scene in the books, but I was glad to see him pop up on the show for a minute. Puppies!
Now Jon is headed north of the Wall to either murder or parlay with Mance Rayder. As you do.
- After all of Ygritte's boasting, she still balks when it comes time to kill Jon Snow. I know this was supposed to say something about how powerful and real their love for each other was, but it just came off like "women can't be trusted to get the job done on the battlefield."
- The giants' massive arrows were something to behold.
- So were the mammoths.
- So was that awesome anchor-type thing that swung out from the Wall and swept away all of the wildlings upon it.
- There was that big moment where John tells Sam that he "needs him more than I need you," and then Sam lets Ghost loose and it doesn't really amount to much, does it?
- I thought we'd actually get to Mance's camp in this episode, but nope. I'm guessing that Jon Snow's story will end with people shouting, "[Redacted]! [Redacted]! He's our man! If he can't do it, no one can!" That's not quite the end of Jon's story in A Storm of Swords, but I think it's where they'll end it for Season Four.
What did you think of "The Watchers on the Wall?"
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