59° Good Afternoon
59° Good Afternoon

'Game of Thrones' recap, 'The Watchers on the Wall:' What's love got to do with it?

Kit Harington plays Jon Snow in

Kit Harington plays Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones." Photo Credit: HBO

So Sunday night's "Game of Thrones" ("The Watchers on the Wall") was about love: Love of honor, of duty, love of tradition, love of the very wall itself. And most of all love of love: Sam of Gilly, Jon of Ygritte.

Love? In "Game of Thrones"? Yes, love, and that's what made Neil Marshall's direction of this penultimate episode so satisfying and so powerful. The table -- so to speak -- was set with something both unexpected and which made the carnage not less meaningful but somehow more meaningful, if that's at all possible.

This wasn't all some distant reflection of Tyrion's distant memory of a cousin who smashed beetles -- carnage stripped of meaning in a world stripped of meaning, which Tyrion's musings certainly suggested.

This was Tyrion's Lord of the Beetles' speech with a slightly different spin: If love can survive, then maybe, just maybe, so can the world.

Love may not be unknown in the Seven Kingdoms -- the inhabitants, after all, had to come from somewhere - but you would agree no doubt that it's largely absent in "Game of Thrones," which depicts a world so Hobbesian as to leave little or no room for something like romance. Appropriate that Samwell Tarley is the everyman who is best equipped to explore matters of the heart and always has been.

"What was she like," he asks Jon Snow in the very opening seconds -- of Ygritte. The question is practical, he explains, because everyone is going to die, and it'd be good to know the best thing about life before it ends... What's love like? 

Or, as Sam completes the thought, "you're the closest I'll ever get to know it..."

He's talking about sex, certainly -- no shortage of that in Westeros or "Game of Thrones," by the way - but he's also referencing something deeper, a more abiding part of the human spirit. He wants to know... what's it's like to be in love.

Jon knows, certainly. Please share the secret, Jon, won't you...?

Sam even retreated to the library to read up on the matter - even though Maester Aemon, in an extended sequence played so memorably by the great English character actor Peter Vaughan -- correctly observed that Sam was actually just researching what would happen to Gilly after having apparently fallen into the hands of the free folk..

"Love is the death of duty," sternly begins the lecture of the blind old man, who then promptly retreats into his own sweet, sad distant memories of the one who got away.... "I can see her right in front of me. She's more real than you are. We can spend all night in tales of lost love..."

But of course, they do not have all night. An army of 100,000 (give or take) wildlings is converging on Castle Black. Not one of them is remembering that time when they were young and gay, and the birds sang and the bees buzzed and they were as one with their soul mate...

(Maybe the giants were -- the chap who lifted the wall certainly found strength fueled by the fury of his dead friend -- or lover; hard to tell which with giants.)

Ygritte is of course the exception. She was thinking only of Jon -- those sharply fashioned arrows primed to pierce the heart of "crows," save one arrow that would pierce the heart of Jon's.

The very image of Ygritte -- a beauty amidst a foul besmirched army of wildlings -- almost in that instant conjured up the anti-Cupid.

Rose Leslie and Kit Harington played the final scene about as perfectly as could be played, and Marshall commanded the moment, as if to say: This is what it's all about tonight, viewers, and for all time. Pay close attention.."

The noisy, crowed, fetid, bloody, chaotic world of Castle Black faded away in that one instance -- sounds drifted away, time stood still, and if you listened very carefully, you could hear the beatings of just two hearts, or maybe thought you could.

They looked into each others eyes, and in Ygritte's you saw, or fancied you could, the truth: That she would never have killed Jon Snow with The Arrow that Had His Name on It, nor he her.

One of them had to die in that moment, and it was to be her because (of course) her failure to kill him (much as her refusal to kill him last season) was her doom writ large.

"Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you The doors of breath...Thus with a kiss I die..."

That's neither Jon nor Ygritte of course, but Romeo at his death - but what were Jon and Ygritte if they were also not star-crossed lovers?

Marshall's direction was magnificent throughout the night -- better, I think, than the second season's penultimate episode "Blackwater," which felt just a little more confined, a little less urgent; you certainly knew Baratheon's forces would fail. It was not always entirely evident Mance Rayder's would last night.

Marshall pivoted two diametrically opposite effects -- the intimate and the cosmic. He's an extremely effective director with darkness and shadows, as fans of "The Descent" -- his horror flick about human-flesh-loving swamp creatures that live in the bowls of a cave -- would attest.

But even in the dark night of "Watchers on the Wall," he found grand sweeping shots, of the wall, and the roaring fire beyond the wall, and the great line of wildlings and allies as they advanced, and of the desperate battle in the castle below.

He had one 365-degree tracking shot that took the whole thing in -- and I imagine took away a few million breaths at the same time. Superb...

And now we await the end of the fourth season next week without worrying whether we will be "satisfied," per se. We already are that: This entire season has been immensely satisfying and "The Watchers on the Wall" simply reaffirmed our -- what's the word? Ah yes, it reaffirmed our love.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment