Last night's Game of Thrones, "The Watchers on the Wall," was the most expensive episode of the entire series thus far and yet despite all of the stunning visuals and another beloved character's death, it was still a little...blah? Oh, my god, GoT. Have you finally desensitized us to violence and destruction???
It cost $8 million to produce the first official clash between the Night's Watch and the wildlings and it's no wonder where all of those HBO bones got spent. Neil Marshall, who helmed the incredible Battle of Blackwater in season 2, returned as director for an episode packed with giants, woolly mammoths, dire wolves, fire and an incredible gigantic scythe that slaughters anyone who dares to scale the Wall. Because so much time was devoted to showing off fancy action shots, not a lot really happened by way of plot
But even with all that time devoted to bloodshed, they still managed to sneak a theme that wasn't "it hurts to be stabbed" into "The Watchers on the Wall" — and that theme was love.
"Love is the death of duty," Maester Aemon — the blind, anti-Dumbledore — tells Sam when he catches the younger man up late worrying over the fate of Gilly, the woman who he continues to deny is love for even though the evidence is all there. In this way, he and Jon are one in the same. Jon, too, denies any love he felt for Ygritte, choosing instead to focus on the sex they had and (bloody) disagreements that ultimately followed. And yet it's her and Gilly — not strategy — that the two boys find themselves discussing on the eve of the battle because, as Maester Aemon points out, "Nothing makes the past a sweeter place to visit than the prospect of dying."
As it happens, both Jon and Sam are about to be reunited with their lady loves — Gilly (thanks to a moment of compassion by Ygritte) manages to escape a wildling attack and make it back to the Wall where she has Sam promise that he won't leave her again. Sam, emboldened by the danger to come, finds courage both in love and on the battlefield. He finally kisses Gilly, then heads off to fight bravely, proving Maester Aemon wrong. Love is not the death of duty. For Sam, love and duty are the same thing and admitting such brings out the best in him. In a strangely un-George R.R. Martin move, his open-heartedness is rewarded. He, unlike most of his brothers, survives the first night of the fight and is able to return to Gilly and her baby.
Not all lovers are so lucky. Ygritte and Jon reunite during the battle right after Jon kills Powder by smashing his head in with a hammer. (BFD, Game of Thrones. Last week, you showed brains so at this point, a mere skull cracking does little to move me.) Ygritte, filled with rage over Jon's betrayal, has her arrow trained on him. It's the moment she's fantasized about since he abandoned her to rejoin the Night's Watch. He's hers to kill, but then something unexpected and dangerously sweet happens. Jon sees her and smiles, comforted by the sight of her and distracted — however fleetingly — the terrible carnage that surrounds them.
She's emotionally moved, as well, and unfortunately, that single moment of unguardedness is all the time it takes for an arrow — shot by some little Zelda/Link motherfucker — to shoot straight through her heart.
"Do you remember the cave? We should have stayed in the cave," she tells Jon as he holds her dying body. He tries to comfort her by saying that they'll go back to the cave where they spent their most loving moments, but she isn't fooled. She replies with her signature "You know nothing, Jon Snow." And with that, she dies.
Sad to see her go. Not so sad to see the death of her catchphrase.
(Here's where I took a 20-minute break to watch some of the Tonys. I preferred the action over there, tbh.)
The Night's Watch wins the battle, but just barely. Their numbers are decimated and the wildlings will attack in even greater numbers the following night. And it's with that that Jon decides that the only thing to do is go to kill King Wildling Mance Rayder on his own. Okay, dude. Best of luck.
NARY A NAKED BODY FOR THE ENTIRE EPISODE.