Genre: The Children
Watched: Episode 40 – June 15, 2014
Title: The Watchers on the Wall
Summary: Great ep, sad to be done for the year
This episode has a lot to wrap up. Pretty much every story line is in flux and it would make sense to visit them all and close out (or at least position) their position. I’ll break them down thread by thread for convenience.
Jon and the wall – picking up where last week ended, Jon wanders out through the field of corpses (including the giant being picked apart by crows). He wanders into the woods and surrenders in front of Mance’s tent without even being searched. They have a fairly civil discussion about his loyalty and Ygritte, and even toast to her and other dead companions. Mance wants to pass through the wall. Also, in variation from the books we never see Mance’s wife or child. Jon is contemplating making a suicidal bid at Mance when–
Stannis’ army appears out of nowhere, a giant sweep of cavalry. Where he actually got all these troops we may never know, but he pretty much lays waste. Stannis and Davos show and take Mance captive.
Later, Maester Aemon says the prayers for the dead Black Brothers and they burn the bodies. Stannis and family watch on, and so does Melisandre, peering at Jon through the flames. After, Jon goes and talks to Tormund. He doesn’t threaten him but asks if he wants to say anything over his bodies. They talk of Ygritte which leads to Jon taking her body north of the wall and burning it.
Bran – and crew trudge through a Blizzard. Jojen isn’t doing well but then Bran sees the tree. It is an impressive sight sunlit, red leaves the only growth in the forbidding Icelandic landscape. They approach and animated skeletons burst through the snow and attack them. That’s new! (at least by my reckoning). This results in a tense but slightly Sinbad battle in which Bran possesses Hodor again for some half-giant on skelly pummeling and Meera tries to defend Jojen. But the poor boy is stabbed by a wayward skeletal hand and the gang is saved by a fireball tossing little girl (apparently a Child of the Forest). They rush into the cave minus Jojen. I appreciate throwing in a little more action, but I have slightly mixed feelings about the scene (and particularly the fireballs). Inside, it’s covered with roots and bones, and is almost as creepy as that other HBO 2014 finale that included a rooty lair (True Detective). There, hidden in the roots is the three-eyed crow / root guy. Certainly he is related to The Green Man (a celtic mythological rendering). I’m not sure I felt he was “grown into the tree” enough, but the final exchange was good: “You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.”
Dany – Concluding her season of doing very little, Dany is in her throne room holding audiences. One old slave tutor wants to go back to being a slave, then a peasant comes in with a charred little corpse and claims Drogon lit up his kid like a torch. Dany discusses with her advisors and then lures the two smaller dragons (Drogon being missing, off on a joy flight) into the catacombs and chains up her wayward reptilian children. The catacombs, by the way, for those of us well versed in ancient buildings, are easily recognizable as the basement of Diocletian’s Palace in Split Croatia. Normally, this is full of tourist vendors, but they clearly emptied it out for the shoot. This is a cool place, and one of the better preserved structures from (late) antiquity.
King’s Landing – The Mountain lays dying, victim of not only a good stab or two by Oberyn but of “Manticore blood,” a horrible poisoning. Grand Maester Pycell pronounces him a goner, but Qyburn is all too happy to “experiment” with “cures” on Cersei’s behalf. I think Cersei allowed this in the books, but I can’t remember if it came to fruition (and Qyburn has some kind of Gregor Frankenstein monster).
Cersei is feeling the man of the hour, because she takes on Tywin over the issue of her marriage to Loras. When he insists, she threatens to tell the world about her incestuous relationship with Jaime. It’s not even clear if he believes (her or the incest), but he is certainly shaken. Charles Dance is fabulous as always and the hidden shake in his hand is great.
Next, Cersei and Jaime argue of Tyrion and she kisses him, claiming to chose “him.” They sleep together on the table in the Kingsguard meeting hall.
Jaime may have accepted Cersei’s illicit love, but he isn’t buying her judgement of their brother, because he lets Tyrion out of his cell, offering him a way out to Varys and a ship. But after a heartfelt goodbye, Tyrion is drawn away from escape and up the secret passage to the tower of the hand. There he finds Shae in his former (and now his father’s) bed. She goes for a knife and he ends up strangling her. As usual, Peter nails it, and the expression on his face and his postmortem apology is perfect. This scene always bothered me in the books. Here they manage to make Tyrion’s role in it perfectly in character and reasonable. He is caught with something unexpected, and reacts out of passion and in self defense. Now what I don’t and never did understand was Tywin’s role here. Shae maybe, feeling betrayed and out of options would sleep with Tyrion’s father. Maybe. But Tywin? He just doesn’t seem the whore type. And, to sleep with Tyrion’s whore? The idea would just gross him out.
Anyway, Tyrion grabs a crossbow and heads to the privy. There is Tywin apparently having skipped his Konsyl (because he’s in the bathroom a long time). Tywin as usual, tries to talk the situation down, but when he uses the “whore” word a second time, Tyrion puts a crossbow quarrel in him. Then another. Returning to the door, he finds Varys, who seals him into a crate and loads him on a cargo ship. In the background, bells toll out for Tywin’s death.
Brienne and Pod – loose their horses as they near the Eerie then come across Arya practicing with Needle. This is a new development from the books. They ask after the location of the Bloody Gate then when the Hound shows up, and Pod recognizes him, Brienne puts it together and recognizes Arya. Verbal sparring between Brienne and the Hound leads to a real battle. The dialog about “safety” is priceless. I think the Hound is actually trying to do what he thinks is right (protect Arya). This is a tough fight, and well matched. First with swords, then when Brienne gets the better of him, with fists and teeth and rocks. Eventually, the Hound takes a dive off the cliff. But Arya is nowhere to be found, and Breinne and Pod wander off looking for her.
Arya – hiding, goes down to the Hound. He’s funny (in his houdy way) as always. “Killed by a woman.” And to Arya at the idea of her going off alone, “You won’t last a day.” “I’ll last longer than you,” she retorts. Great stuff. He asks her to kill him. Tries to incite her to anger to do it, then begs. In the end, she takes his money and wanders off, leaving him to die.
Arya, having drummed up a horse? Rides up to a costal town where they make salt. She asks the Bravosi accented captain of a ship for passage to the Wall. He isn’t going there, only to Bravos, and has no time for her. Then she pulls out Jaqen H’ghar’s coin and says the magic words “Valar morghulis” (All Men Must Die). This buys her a cabin and passage. She is last seen sailing out to sea.
All in all, a great episode, with a lot going on. The writers took their time with the stories they had, and this has relatively few cuts and a lot of extended time in one or another view point. We do miss out on a few, like Sansa, who’s wrap up occurred in Episode 38. Other characters like Theon or Margaery are just left wherever they were last visited. Like in the book we never really get the scoop on how/why Stannis came to the wall. There are also a lot of changes from the books. The whole bit with the skeletons was slightly over the top. The new fight between Briene and the Hound makes sense. His book death is sort of senseless and her journeys seemingly pointless. This draws them together in a structurally more coherent way that is typical of TV (where avoiding new characters is a major concern — paper characters are much cheaper than actors). As usual, the body count was high among regulars: The Hound, Tywin, Jojen.
It’s been a great season. The problem from season 1 of “too small” has been fixed by production efficiencies and bigger budgets. The rushing problem of season 2 by the division of book 3 into two seasons. If I had any complaint, and it’s minor, it would be that structural issues between the threads have led to somewhat uneven emotional pacing. A major example would be the season long wait between Jon and Ygritte’s “breakup” and her death. But these are challenges brought forth by the source material and logistic considerations. Now the question is can the show runners make sense of the incoherence of book 4 and 5 and by reordering and welding them together make season 5 better than A Feast of Crows?
Oh, and what happened to Lady Stoneheart?