‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4, Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall” Reaction

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This episode-“Blackwater” 2.0, was good bloody fun and a prime example of what makes Game of Thrones so unique as a series. Not just unique in the way that the show is special-it being of superior quality to almost everything else the medium has to offer-but unique in its very essence as a work of media-art. Game of Thrones the television series exists somewhere between cinema and television, blurring lines and creating new forms in the process.  It is in episodes like this that the series makes its mark. 

While certainly cinematic in scale, the “The Watchers On The Wall” and episodes like it are necessarily not cinematic in scope. This episode does not stand on its own, nor would it make a proper introduction to the series or the world it inhabits and exhibits. It is the culmination of multiple storylines over several years and pages of teleplay-hours and years of invested time by authors and audience alike. It works not simply because it’s well choreographed and gleefully violent but because we know the characters and have invested in them. We love Jon Snow, Ygritte, Sam, and Gilly (well, presumably, someone loves Gilly) and we realize for a certainty if we were unaware of it before that we love Pip and Grenn, Benioff and Weiss seeing fit to rip them from us in tragic and heroic fashion in a surprising if not understandable departure from the source text.

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It’s moments and decisions such as the killing off of Pip and Grenn that provide a direct display of the power of the show runners: they are in charge of this universe in a way that Martin is not. They are in no way bound by the strictures of Martin’s chosen medium or his narrative decisions. If the series is a ship, though it be a part of the fleet created by Martin, is an autonomous vessel; it has charted its own course and will stay afloat or not on its own strength. No amount of bitching from book fundamentalists will change that, nor should it be any other way. I love the books as much as anyone, but you will never, not ever hear any such bitching from me in life or in this space about departures from the book. The two coexist and stand on their own and to suggest otherwise seems to me to live on the border of ridiculous.

It would be redundant to say that a Game of Thrones episode was visually sound, but this one was especially so. As someone who feels an intense connection to the animals of the Ice and Fireverse as well as to elephants and their relatives, I was very much looking forward to getting a good look at the mammoths and they did not disappoint. It can’t be overstated how much this series has continued to step up in terms of creature design. I can’t think of one major misstep in that area.

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Beyond being completely fascinated by the concept of the Wall and the Night’s Watch, I thought this was a really focused and well-executed episode. Above all else, this episode stood as a reminder to me that the scale of the show increasingly continues to grow closer and closer to the scope of the narrative. We’ve simply never seen a series like this before on television.

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