RA Bartlett - The Comics Corner
This week's episode, was some matter of consternation amongst fans. Not for the usual reasons, like fan-favorites being brutally killed off, or the dicey sexual politics, but because a substantial number of viewers found it anti-climactic.
"Watchers on the Wall", did something unusual, if not unprecedented for the show. It focused soley on the events of the Night's Watch defending Castle Black from an invasion of the Wildlings, the tribal people living north of the Wall, something that's been simmering for more than two seasons. The last time the show did something like this, it was "Blackwater", where Joffery and Stannis's forces met head-on at King's Landing. That episode featured some of the major characters and cast members. By contrast, the only "core" member of the cast was Kit Harrington's Jon Snow, although Ygritte has her fans. (And a well-known catchphrase) Some episodes are considered better than others. However, "down" episodes are usually seen as important set-ups to later payoffs. "Watchers on the Wall", on the other hand was intended to be the big epic build-up at The Wall between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings, to the point it is the series's most expensive episode to fate. Why was this showdown received much less strongly than "Blackwater"?
Viewers, or at least a vocal segment of them, aren't as big into the adventures of Jon Snow. While rather popular in the books, he and his fellow Crows don't seem to translate as well onscreen. Partly, I think, is due to the youth of the actor Kit Harrington. Older actors are usually better, or at least possess more gravitas. They pick up skills and life experiences, to the point even the once-ridiculed Matthew McCounaghey can win an Oscar to little dispute. It should also be mentioned that as you get older, you're more likely to be cast for your skill than your looks. It should be mentioned that the even younger Bran also gets complaints that his narrative arc is all about the wheel-spinning, and he's even younger. (And venturing around the same geographic region, which I'll get to later)
You're probably asking "But what about Daenarys? Sansa? Arya?" Well, it should be mentioned that Sansa has been interacting with the Lannisters, who engage in he sort of hedonism and court intrigue that make the show so famous. (And she's kind of a disputed character) Arya has likewise been interacting with some of the more interesting characters on the show--Tywin, the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Hound...although I do think Maisie Williams possesses an intensity rarely found in actresses her age. Daenarys also has a reliable support network, not to mention dragons. Most of all, I think it's down to how genders work. Some biology, some institutionalized sexism, we seem to prefer women younger and guys older. Actresses as a rule tend to be younger and get away with it, to the point Robert Downey Jr and Michelle Monaghan play high school classmates in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang". I know we praise Jack Gleeson for his portrayal as Joffery, but it's much easier to resent than root for him anyways.
There's something to be said the environment, too. The problem with effectively depicting a narrative about being trapped in a tedious, unending wasteland is that audiences feel such things are tedious, unending stories. It's why we tend to not have a lot of hit movies about the French Foreign Legion or traversing the Klondike. (Which the Night's Watch chapters are essentially a combination of.) I have a friend who had to do humorous recaps of "Lord of the Rings", and found the parts with Frodo and Sam to be unpleasant to write about, because it was marching and starving and being miserable, and wanted to get back to the parts about the studly men hitting things with swords. "Game of Thrones", is one of the handsomest shows on TV, possibly ever.The architecture, the costumes, that sort of thing. However, the Wall is considerably less pretty, with the utilitarian fortress and drab uniforms. Ironically enough, back in the day, a person wearing black would look absolutely badass and striking compared to the fluffy Ren-Faire attire of those around him. However, as this is medievalfantasy , historical accuracy is something like an open marriage. Costumers only have to be inspired by the period, and can make dress look a cool as possible. Subsequently, the monochrome uniforms look a bit drab.
It's not all aesthetics, though. There's also a deviation from the books. I'm going to spoil it a little bit here, because it's possibly not out of the question to happen later, and I just want to be careful. So skip over this paragraph if you're just a show-watcher, okay? Come on, I'm being serious. Listen, you can't keep reading this and then get mad when I get spoiled. It's not even that big a thing, but I know people really hate it, it's the trials of people being glued to a weekly TV series based on books that have been around since before most of the naked breasts seen on the show have existed. Okay, we're all clear now? At the end of the battle, Stannis and his company show up. It's a triumphant moment, and well-earned, unlike a lot of deus ex machinas. Here, they seemed to have removed it. I don't know if it's because they wanted to save his arrival for later, because of the show-runners (as some have accused) disliking Stannis, or they feel it would have been too similar to "Blackwater"'s ending. On that last point, I feel was a mistake. While repeating the same thing over and over again can be a problem, I find this could have been a powerful bookend. Stannis lost his siege due to a last minute-intervention ends up being the savior himself. It's an interesting reversal, and a rather hopeful one. After all, the show had to work a lot to make sure Joffery being overthrown wasn't something to hope for--putting Tyrion and Sansa's lives at risk. Here, his arrival would be almost unequivocally good. In an attempt to make sure that it wasn't "Blackwater", they've succeeded in making it..no "Blackwater".
But I don't want to be too hard on it. Some of the moments were very powerful. For one thing, I think the show did a tremendous job in illustrating how absolutely terrifying it must be to have a giant knocking down at your door. (Something the "Harry Potter" movies, with their big gooey giants failed to do) The pan around Castle Black was very exciting, and I marveled at how they must have pulled that off. The reunion between Sam and Gilley was touching. And Jon's "They held the gate" was a powerful, bittersweet moment. I value the Night's Watch aspects of the story, no matter how unglamorous they might be. One only has to look at works like "Mortal Instruments" or "Eragon" to see how bad fantasy fiction can be when you cut out all the potatoes and vegetables and leave just the sexy parts. But I do think if you're going to recreate the "one arc this episode" trick, you shouldn't subtract elements from the story you're adapting.