‘Game of Thrones’: Love and Arrows

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Kit Harington in Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 9 Game of Thrones: Love and Arrows

[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 4, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.] 

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With ‘The Watchers on the Wall’, Game of Thrones continues its biannual tradition of saving the ninth episode of the season for a highly cinematic gesture that focuses solely on a single location and a smaller, select group of characters, in order to depict one incredibly dramatic event as it unfolds in its entirety. Of course, season 2 featured the visually impressively battle of Blackwater, in which Tyrion and his strategic use of wildfire was instrumental in saving King’s Landing from the invading forces of Stannis Baratheon. That episode, helmed by Neil Marshall, demonstrated what the series was capable of in terms of delivering large-scale action in a linear narrative – and so, it is fitting that the wildlings’ raid on Castle Black would bring the director back to depict a stylistically similar event.

The battle of Blackwater and the attack on Castle Black are similar from at least a militaristic point of view. While in each episode Marshall was tasked with illustrating a character’s rise to prominence (which will likely be short-lived), the thematic differences become significant enough that they highlight each episode’s strengths in different way. In that regard, ‘Blackwater’ was very much about Tyrion coming into his own and overcoming the tremendous odds against him not only in terms of besting Stannis, but also in demonstrating his worth as a Lannister. Sure, he wound up with a nasty facial scar for his trouble, and his path since then has been nothing but a precipitous drop all the way to the bottom, but he’ll always have Blackwater.

In comparison, ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ also had that “I told you so” moment for Jon Snow, but, thematically speaking, the wildlings’ raid on Castle Black was tinged with something as rare on Game of Thrones as a wedding without casualties. That is: The notion of actual romantic love, you know, the kind that produces a couple born of something other than greed or political necessity or incestuous lust. Now it’s safe to say the romance between Jon Snow and Ygritte lacked a certain fairytale spark, but the continual need for the narrative to flip fantasy conventions is what gives the story its most distinctive quality. Here, the prototypical princely character was pursued and seduced by his alleged enemy – and their relationship served, if nothing else, as a potent demonstration of the inefficacy of tradition, honor, and lifelong declarations in a world that seems to value exactly the opposite. And so, it would come as no surprise, then, that the reunion of Jon Snow and Ygritte would be one marked by the narrative’s continued effort to steer clear of standard conventions – which, at this point means the narrative is steering headlong into the nihilistic conventions of the George R.R. Martin model of storytelling.

John Bradley and Kit Harington in Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 9 Game of Thrones: Love and Arrows

That creates something of an interesting challenge for ‘The Watchers on the Wall’, as the episode is tasked with achieving a similarly affecting high as ‘Blackwater‘ but must do so without the aid of the emotional anchor that is Tyrion (or, more to the point, Peter Dinklage). Which is perhaps why the episode wisely uses Samwell Tarly as the proxy for the audience, while Jon Snow takes the next step in fulfilling his destiny of becoming a leader of men. And yet, in a sense, it is Sam who experiences a more fulfilling growth to a certain degree, as he finds in Gilly a reason to take a more decisive role in his duties, which ironically brings him to a place where he too is tasked with inspiring others to take up arms and defend Castle Black. The difference being Sam’s charge is an orphaned child who winds up killing Ygritte – continuing the season’s trend of children enacting revenge on those who killed their loved ones. But it also eliminates the need for either Ygritte or Jon to make a dramatic choice in terms of dealing with their competing ideologies and the conflict of their complex feelings for one another.

In the end, the battle is won, and Marshall, with his lengthy, multi-tiered tracking shots of men in close quarter combat, certainly achieved a high-water mark in terms of visual flourishes and the series’ use of special effects. But it was also an hour dominated by moments telegraphed to a degree that perhaps the element of surprise gave way to a feeling of inevitably. And while ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ may not have been as emotionally rousing as ‘Blackwater’, it certainly succeeded in terms of underlining the importance of Jon’s lack of choice, which further establishes the idea of him embarking on the archetypal hero’s quest, or that his arc is driving towards some greater destiny.

And so, with Jon Snow walking out into the wild of the North to face his destiny (or at least some portion of it), Game of Thrones finds itself at another crossroads – one where a primary character will be tested against the conventions of fantasy and the conventions of a series that revels in throwing constructs like the hero’s journey into the same delightfully nihilistic disarray as it does everything else.

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Game of Thrones will air the season 4 finale ‘The Children’ next Sunday @10pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:

Photos: Helen Sloan/HBO

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  1. A great episode, a little surprised they killed off Grenn and Pyp though..

    • LOL I’m surprised they didn’t kill off Tarly and/or Jon Snow.

      • I really wish they had. Talk about awful characters.

  2. Cool visuals, I mean giants riding mammoths and the archer giant FTW, but otherwise a very meh episode. If the Black only had 102 men left, I think they lost just about every one of them last night. There were a lot of crow kill shots. I would disagree, Jon Snow did not get his I told you so moment. As Thorne stated, they were able to hold the tunnel.

    Lastly, I’m sure I missed it somewhere, but why not send the entire army the way of Ygritte’s scouting party? They breached the castle with very little effort. What did I miss?

    • The castle is defended by The Wall only on one side. Castle Black, which is a mostly wooden structure is open to the surrounding areas on the Westeros side of the wall. So the ability to breach the castle is heightened and with the majority of the men atop the wall, the few who remained to defend from the ground would have had their hands full.

      • I believe Taylor was asking why not send the entire army over the wall in secret like Ygritte did.

        Taylor, these are thousands of people who are not disciplined enough to fight properly or even climb a 700 foot wall. They use weapons they have made themselves or found. They wouldn’t have close to near enough climbing equipment for the whole army, and even if they did, the majority of the 100 thousand wildlings are children and elderly, and weak woman and men.

        Ygritte, Tormund and their group were some of the strongest most disciplined which is why they were tasked with that. Plus, they were a small group to not arouse too much suspicion. If the Nights Watch heard that 100 thousand wildlings were coming up the Kings Road to Castle Black then they would have turned all their defences to that side of the walls and would have been more prepared.

  3. Mad props to Jon Snow. Took that anvil to the face like a pro.

    • LOL! His nose was fine and he lost zero teeth. I wish I had such facial resiliency!

  4. I was a little disappointed that during the fight with the Thenn, Jon didn’t say “Stop!… Hammer time.” And then smashed his skull in.

    But that tracking shot of the whole of Castle Black fighting was simply amazing.

    • +1 that was an amazing shot

  5. Sorry Ygritte but it had to happen, thought Sam was gonna get it to when he said those famous last words to his girlfriend about coming back. I thought they were going to do him like they did Prince Oberyn. Every episode is great for me!

  6. Very nicely shot episode, but the true kickers has yet to come. Can’t wait for the finale.

    See what happens? See what happens, Ygritte!? This is what happens when you f*** a crow in a cave!

    • You sir, are awesome.

    • YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS LARRY!!?!?

  7. Wow, I’m surprised many people were let down by this episode! I found this to be my favorite episode of the series thus far. “the Watchers on the wall” was a full-scale epic. The cinematography was stunning. The choreography of the action was top notch. And that tracking shot? Dear god I loved it. For me, this was the most fulfilling episode to date. It may have not had the overall shock value others did, but damn. So good. I knew this was a standout episode as soon as one of the watchers gets shot twenty feet in the air when he gets his by the giants arrow (or human spear lol).

    • Yeah, quite a few people not liking this episode, I can’t imagine why; I thought it was top notch and I wasn’t even a big fan of the Blackwater episode. But I think they got this one just right and I was happy to spend the whole episode at the Wall. Also, very glad it didn’t all go to hell; sometimes I fear GoT is too intent on torturing us so that was a pretty big relief!

  8. Great episode!! GoT was due for another big sweeping battle. But, I was really disappointed to see Pyp and Grenn die. Great characters.

    Next week though… 2 huge moments that I know of. It will be a great episode 10.

  9. The episode was a bore. A few things about the review:

    “…continues its biannual tradition…”

    Funny. Smh.

    “…focuses solely on a single location and a smaller, select group of characters,…”

    Not entire true. Single location, maybe. But, not similar in scope. And, ‘Blackwater’ dealt with a clash between a few important or POV characters (as few as there has been in other episodes). Whereas, ‘The Watchers on the Wall’, focused on two characters.

    “While in each episode Marshall was tasked with illustrating a character’s rise to prominence…, but he’ll [Tyrion] always have Blackwater”

    What? So, did Marshall fail that task? Additionally, ‘Blackwater’ not only dealt with the “rise” of Tyrion, but also with the fall of Stannis, the rise of Tywin and the Tyrells, the cowardice of Joffery, the craziness of Cersei and also with Sansa. While ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ dealt with Jon’s victory and Samwell’s nothingness and romance.

    “…which, at this point means the narrative is steering headlong into the nihilistic conventions of the George R.R. Martin model of storytelling.”

    Ok, so whose method of storytelling has this show been following before now?

    “…but must do so without the aid of the emotional anchor that is Tyrion (or, more to the point, Peter Dinklage).”

    Yup, Peter Dinklage should be in every episode. But, he can’t and so Samwell had to step in as his understudy.

    “…Sam who experiences a more fulfilling growth to a certain degree, as he finds in Gilly a reason to take a more decisive role in his duties,…”

    Are Samwell’s actions just due to Gilly? Or, a composite of his development up till now and him being part of the Night’s Watch? Gilly tells him to stay with her, but he says he can’t. He doesn’t hide as he’s done in the past. But, he also doesn’t become “nothing”, as he did to defend Gilly and her child by unwittingly killing a White Walker.

    “But it was also an hour dominated by moments telegraphed to a degree that perhaps the element of surprise gave way to a feeling of inevitably.”

    I wonder what you’ll say when Daenerys invades Westeros.

    • Jeesh…. lighten up.

    • @Tom Lopli

      Great points

      • Disagree solely because he thought the episode was a bore. That was about as action packed as you could get.

        • Agreed action was great but I think the best part was the cinematography, such great shots all throughout the episode. Perhaps the best I’ve seen in the entire series

  10. “You know nothing Jon Snow.”

    I thought for sure they’d reveal Ygritte was preggers. Phew! Justice was served by little Ollie. His nod to Jon was fitting. “I got this.”

    Super happy when the Thenn leader bought it and DAMN but it takes a lot to take down Tormund. Was it three or four arrows sticking out of his back when he was whisked away to be chained up?

    My favorite scene was between Sam and Pyp when describing killing the white walker. “I’m no longer nothing.”

    Awesome, awesome show.

  11. Good episode but I’ve never really favored the time we’ve spent at the wall and Castle Black.
    The battle sequences were cool though and the tracking shot was great.

    Now I’m ready to get back to Kings Landing.

  12. Ollies’s nod to Jon, the Giant Archer and Tormund vs the dude who hates Jon were my favorite moments of the episode. I knew Ygritte was gonna bite it..just didn’t know I’d miss her. A great actress.
    “The biggest fire the North has ever seen!” All in all a good episode. This season has been a little off to me. Like the timing in different locales doesn’t add up…

  13. Jon Snow for Dr Strange!

  14. Loved the episode. I’m not a book reader, but some book readers are on the fence about who shot the arrow that killed Ygritte. (Mild Ygritte death book spoiler) … In the book Jon accidentally kills Ygritte during a rampage of killing. He doesn’t notice the red hair until it’s too late. I like the show version better, it sets up better for TV. The TV version allowed them to have a moment and to really give Ygritte’s character a fitting goodbye. She could have shot Jon, she didn’t, she loved him, her wildness had been tamed by the one most powerful thing in the world, something rarely found… Crow wiener. :) Or maybe love. I don’t know – either way it’s beautiful. :)

    As for the irony in Ygritte’s death and the fact that Sam more or less gave the order… Ygritte spared the life of Gilly, only to eventually be responsible for Ygritte’s death… and Sam will never know.

    • Nope, Jon finds Ygritte with an arrow through her chest, he never killed her.

      • So all the people I’ve talked to the read the books are lying to me about Jon killing her on accident? Hmm.

        • I can remember the part in the books. Your friends are lying to you. He finds her with an arrow throuh her chest, and the feathers are a different colour than the ones he fires, that’s why he knows he didn’t kill her. Look it up if you want.

          • My friends are buttholes apparently. :)

            • Honestly there is a lot of things going on in the books at once, especially in an action sequence so it’s understandable if the mist it

  15. Loved the episode.

    Loved the giant w/the massive bow and arrow and the mammoths.

    Also the swinging cliff anchor of death. That thing was legit.

    I don’t read the books but they’ve got a buttload of loose ends to tie up next week. Hopefully they don’t just do a massive cliffhanger for all the storylines. I want some resolution g0d d@mn it!!

  16. A Giant riding a Mammoth > Optimus riding Grimlock

  17. Great episode, best of this series for me, who still hasn’t slept after watching Oberyn’s face explode last week.

    I can’t Remember exactly but I’m pretty sure John Snow doesnt’t go north of the wall on his own in the books?

  18. Awesome episode! Loved the giants and that anchor thing! Jon Snow is one of my favorite characters besides the midget…

    • !! BEWARE MASSIVE BOOK SPOILER BELOW !!
      —————————————

      • Many thanks for the warning

      • Yeah thank you. I should have thought of that rather than replying directly to that troll. I’ve somehow managed to avoid him thus far into the show

  19. In A Clash of Kings, Jon is assigned to a scouting party. When the party is overtaken by wildlings Jon is ordered to appear to betray the Watch and join the wildlings so he can discover their plans. Throughout A Storm of Swords, he travels with the wildlings and learns that they intend to invade the Seven Kingdoms in order to escape the Others. He also breaks his vows of celibacy and becomes Ygritte’s lover. After scaling the Wall and infiltrating the Northlands with Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane, he deserts them to warn the Watch. He helps defend Castle Black against the wildling’s initial attacks, and when he receives command of the Wall, he successfully holds it against Mance Rayder’s much larger force for several days; many wildlings are killed, including Ygritte, much to Jon’s grief. When reinforcements from the other castles arrive, he is arrested for desertion by Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt. Following Mance Rayder’s defeat by Stannis Baratheon, Jon is released. Stannis offers to legitimize Jon and make him Lord of Winterfell if Jon renounces his vows, becomes a follower of R’hllor and cuts down Winterfell’s heart tree. Before he can accept or decline the offer, Sam’s intrigues see Jon elected Lord Commander of the Watch. When Stannis heads south to take Winterfell from the Boltons, Jon informs him that he may find support among the mountain clans southwest of the Wall.

    Jon plays no active role in A Feast for Crows but it is revealed that he has sent away Maester Aemon and Rayder’s new-born son under Sam’s protection, to prevent them being sacrificed by Melisandre. Throughout A Dance With Dragons, Jon attempts to unite the Night’s Watch, the wildlings and the remainder of Stannis’ forces against the coming incursion by the Others. He allows Tormund to settle the surviving wildlings south of the Wall and tries to reinforce the Watch positions with wildling recruits. When several Watch officers openly revolt, he personally executes their chief agitator, Janos Slynt. While making preparations to rescue wildlings further north, he receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton claiming victory over Stannis and wanting revenge for the abduction of his bride. Rashly, Jon determines to lead a force of volunteers against Bolton but is stabbed by a member of the Watch. His ultimate fate at the end of A Dance With Dragons remains unclear; when asked by Entertainment Weekly “Why did you kill Jon Snow?”, author George R.R. Martin responded “Oh, you think he’s dead, do you?”

    • What in the 7 hells is wrong with you? Two words of advice if you’ve never done this before~ SPOILER ALERT.

      • Yeah man… not cool. Not cool at all. Holy crap dude.

        • This person is a complete troll. He did this in the comment section all last season as well and spoiled a lot of things including the Red Wedding. He does this during almost every review without a spoiler warning with his reason being that the books are out, so he is allowed to do this. Honestly, I just believe he gets joy out of ruining the show for people that haven’t read the books.

          Why ScreenRant hasn’t banned this user….I have no idea.

          • I second this. Ban this troll immediately.

          • Agreed. Thanks for the head’s up as well. ScreenRant should ban people like this, or at least lift their rules against profanity or personal attacks….;[

          • Yup, I caught on quickly so I didn’t read most of the comment but this is at least the second time this season alone that he’s done this.

            Like most trolls he’ll check in to see if he’s caused an uproar then claim that because the books have been out for years we are dummies for not reading them.

            He’s not even a clever troll. Just obnoxious.

    • It’s actually quite disappointing that Screenrant has once again failed to take it down.

  20. I’ll echo what a couple of others have said about not understanding why some felt this episode wasn’t as engaging. In terms of the review, I couldn’t disagree more that events in this episode had less emotional impact than “Blackwater.” That shot were Jon is holding Ygritt’s body with his face pressed against hers was easily one of the most emotional moments, not only in this season, but in the series. Nothing in “Blackwater” even came close. There was also Sam’s first kiss – showing the idea that while one love is dying another is starting to bloom – and his arc of becoming more courageous. And who can forget the hero’s death against the giant? All of these were highly effective emotional moments that actually surpassed anything in Blackwater (okay, maybe the Tyrion battle speech was up there). Or maybe I’m just a simpleton who doesn’t need to be constantly shocked by unpredictable events in the form of genre deconstructions and can still enjoy well-executed, even if somewhat conventional, storytelling.

    • I totally agree. It was an excellent episode right up there with “Blackwater” in both scope and emotion. My only complaint would be that they didn’t let Summer out of his pen early enough. Can’t believe season is almost over

  21. The giants were pretty cool. Especially that one arrow shot. And the big anchor thing. And the exploding barrels. And the hammer to the head.

    Good stuff.

    This site should delete any comments that have spoilers from the books. And anyone who posts them should be flayed alive.

    • Haaahaaa. Spoken like a true Bolton

  22. Some of the nicest stuff they’ve done, visually, by far. Djawadi delivered majorly, those are some of the best cues he’s ever done. It’s going to be a good soundtrack this year.

    Overall, I don’t think it was as good as Blackwater, either, nor was it the ep of the year. It was cool, though, very.

    rip to Pyp, we won’t get to hear “The Night is Dark and full of Turnips”, now.

    Some great moments, looking forward to the finale, but again.. too short a season!

    B

    • Perfect season length. It’s a classic rule in entertainment, “don’t overstay your welcome and leave them wanting more”.

  23. Did anyone else notice the trailer for this season before it actually started…. ?

    It showed the main action set pieces all of which are in the last three episodes. I mean come on people. The trailer showed a knight riding down a wilding… if you haven’t seen that yet this season wtf does that tell you.

    • That’s literally every trailer for every movie which is why I do my best to avoid them.

    • I saw the teaser trailer back in February and luckily, Sky Atlantic over here don’t show video previews of the next week’s episode so nope, I’ve never seen that shot of a knight and a wildling.

      I’d sarcastically thank you for the spoiler but I already knew what was about to happen anyway via Wikipedia last year.

  24. I think 13 episodes would be perfect myself, still sticking to the shorter season and keeping people wanting more idea but just a few extra episodes to flesh things out.

    The story (Books) becomes more and more complicated later on, with an awful lot going on and I do worry that ten episodes will not be enough. Still, the show runners have done an amazing job so far and are making some changes big and small from the books, which I like as it keeps us book fans on our toes as well! Cannot wait for the next/last ep!

    As for that thrice dammed troll, he can seriously do one, if you really love this story then the last thing you would want to do is spoil it for others, whatever medium they choose. What a sad creature..

    • The guy starts his essay with, “In a Clash of Kings…” and people read it expecting that there * won’t * be spoilers from the books? I’m sorry, and I genuinely don’t mean to troll, but in this case, it is really your own fault that things were spoiled for any of you who kept reading that post after the first few sentences.

      If you got to “Stannis Baratheon” and kept reading, seriously, you have no right to complain. Anyone who follows AGoT (the TV series) has seen the preview for this season in which armored knights are riding down wildlings. Anyone who saw the last few episodes knows that Stannis just got a pretty massive lone from The Iron Bank (which is in Essos), and therefore you know he and his army are at sea to the north east. Putting two and two together will get you to that “spoiler;” thus, if you kept reading you had to know everything following that future event would also be a spoiler. So, it’s your own fault.

      If you have all this time to read a wall of comments every week after each episode, how about you just pick up the books instead? I think people want to be spoiled, hence the continued reading, but when they learn of things to come, they get upset that they ruined it for themselves and get mad at someone else (because taking responsibility is way too hard).

      • “…and I genuinely don’t mean to troll…” That’s where I should’ve stopped reading and taken personal responsibility. I haven’t read the books and DO NOT spend my time scrolling through walls of comments. Believe me. There’s just things you don’t do in this forum and that’s one of them. An overwhelming majority of commenters agree. Good for you for sticking up for the little guy though. Heck, it’s probably you anyway

      • Why do you and the troll assume everyone here has seen the trailer for this season? Some haven’t, myself included.

        I knew about the Stannis stuff last summer but purposely avoid GOT trailers now and here in the UK, Sky Atlantic don’t show “Next week on GOT…” videos when an episode ends, they just show end credits then normal commercials before the next show starts.

        The sooner people start to understand those things, the sooner we can get away from this ridiculous “you should read the books if you want to avoid spoilers” comments.

  25. How very dare you Sir! ; )

    You do make some good points there, however this guy has been doing this a lot and it is all too easy while scrolling past his wall of comments, to catch a line here or there that completely spoils things for those who don’t know what is coming next.(other then Winter)

    I think a lot of people want to read the comment section on each episode to discuss each episode, without the risk of stumbling onto an upcoming event/death/major plot point, which is fair enough.

    The overall point I agree with though is be weary when reading the comments, it shouldn’t have to be that way but it is.

    Nice to see another Swine around here..