Game of Thrones S04

The best action set piece committed to film this year.

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I knew a big battle was coming to Game of Thrones, but I didn’t expect something so visceral and exhilarating. “The Watchers on the Wall” eschews the show’s usual multiple points of view across Westeros to offer us a continuous look at the battle at the Wall that feels both intimate and epic. Because these are characters we’ve been loving and/or hating for four seasons, and on both sides of the conflict no less, each individual battle feels gut-wrenching.

Add to this the fact that no character is ever truly safe in Game of Thrones, and you’ve got yourself an episode that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. This is a defining moment in television history, and further proof that TV shows can reach a level of intensity and character involvement that today’s Hollywood fare can barely touch.

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[do action=”moment” emo=”Heartbreaking” title=”On the eve of battle, everybody talks about sex.”/]

It’s an understated yet poignant illustration of the characters’ nervousness on the eve of battle that they all get talking about sex and love. There’s Samwell, bugging Jon about what it feels to make love; Maester Aemon who reminisces about young love; and Thormund, being Thormund, talks about fucking a bear. Nice.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Exciting” title=”‘It’s time.'”/]

After teasing us for an entire season about this battle, here it comes. Talk about building tension! I’m all hot and bothered about it. Even with the Wildlings on the horizon, there’s still an odd calm before the storm in Castle Black. Gods I love this show.

[do action=”moment” emo=”HolyShit” title=”Motherfucking. Mammoths.”/]

One usual “problem” with most fantasy settings is the fantasy arms race: even if you start with modest, nearly believable magical elements, it doesn’t take long that the fantasy elements pile up until your world is filled with crazy, insanely powerful stuff. Take True Blood for instance; you start with vampires, and soon you’re having werewolves and faeries prancing around in broad daylight.

All this to say, Game of Thrones has always shown restraint, and it’s wonderful when it pulls the stops. My reaction at seeing giants and mammoths walking towards the Wall was genuine disbelief, because the world has kept everything so low key thus far. I mean; mammoths?! Damn!

[do action=”moment” emo=”Triumphant” title=”Jon Snow takes charge of the defenses.”/]

Wow, did they ever build up to that moment for long! Yay Commander Jon Snow! I’m happy and stressed right now.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Shocking” title=”That giant and his bow got mad range.”/]

Did… Did that giant just shoot a massive arrow a vertical distance of 700 feet?! That’s not good!

[do action=”moment” emo=”Bloody” title=”‘You’re alright?!'”/]

Pyp, no!! Seriously, what a perfect little understated reaction from Samwell to his friend’s death. No screaming, no tears… Just “Are you alright?” as his friend lies with an arrow through the neck. It’s just the kind of stupid, silly thing you say in these circumstances.

[do action=”moment” emo=”HolyShit” title=”Ser Alliser versus Thormund”/]

Holy SHIT this fight was great. While Hollywood is busy giving us soulless CGI fests, here’s a pulse-pounding fight scene between two characters we care about. It’s fast, it’s exciting, and it makes sense. Even better: no shitty camera cuts that just confuse the viewer: everything is in plain sight. That is SO refreshing; thank you Game of Thrones.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Insane” title=”‘Night gathers, and now my watch begins…'”/]

I’ve got chills just thinking back to this scene of the giant charging the door while Grenn and his men repeat their Night’s Watch vows. This, to me, is a defining scene of the show.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Heartbreaking” title=”‘You know nothing, Jon Snow.'”/]

And so it comes to this. We all knew it was coming somehow, but seeing it happen is still a heartbreak: Ygritte finally catches up to Jon, but hesitates and dies in his arms instead. The cinematography was impeccable here, and it felt like time slowed down as the two lovers said their farewells. I keep thinking back to the look on Jon’s face as he sees Ygritte again, knowing he’s about to die. That defeated, relieved smile.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Heartbreaking” title=”Grenn and his men held the gate.”/]

I love that the show decided to leave this action scene to our imagination. The before and after sequences told us all we need to know about this impossible act of courage.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Hopeful” title=”Jon leaves on a suicide mission to kill Mance.”/]

I… Really, Jon? But you just proved you could command the Wall! Don’t go, please… Dammit. If this was any other TV show, I’d feel a slight tinge of worry, but would otherwise be fine with Jon chasing death. But on Game of Thrones? I’m worried the stupid man is gonna die. Please come back, Jon? Samwell and I need you.

Game of Thrones S04E09: “The Watchers on the Wall”

This may well be the best episode of Game of Thrones to date, and that's saying a hell of a lot. It's also possibly the best action set piece committed to film this year. Its character-driven, hour-long action sequence is filled with tension and perfect moments that I will remember a long, long time.


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