'Game of Thrones' Season 4, Episode 9: spoiler discussion

Gameofthrones_s4e093_1020

The night is dark and full of spoilers. Below we'll be talking about the HBO series Game of Thrones, up through and including tonight's episode, "The Watchers on the Wall." Discussion of future episodes — or information from the books — is off limits.

So this is the one they spent the VFX budget on.

Tonight was the night that Mance Rayder finally lit that great fire we’ve been waiting to see for most of the season: the wildlings attacked The Wall. And it wasn’t any minor skirmish, either; it was a massive, bloody battle that took up almost the entire episode, calling to mind the bravura fight at Helm’s Deep in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

But as it turns out, that actually amounted to very little in the way of spoilers. Without a single appearance from Daenerys, Tyrion, Littlefinger, or Arya, the show’s most compelling story lines were essentially put on hold. Of course, this is Game of Thrones, so even though Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch were able to hold Castle Black for the day, the show managed to work in at least one swift kick to the gut.

Ygritte was killed. By a child. Whom the well-meaning but eternally goofy Samwell Tarly had told to grab a weapon and fight. And it happened right when Jon and Ygritte first saw each other during the battle. Thanks, Game of Thrones.

However, none of that really mattered, because the real magic in tonight’s episode was the incredible portrayal of the fight itself. When it comes to those long tracking shots and the DirewolfCam, you can thank English director Neil Marshall. If you’re not familiar with his name, you should definitely get acquainted. Along with directing the Battle of Blackwater episode back in season two, he’s also written and directed a number of feature films. My personal favorite is the 2005 horror flick The Descent. It’s about a group of women who go on a spelunking trip, only to run into some horrifying subterranean creatures… and let’s just say things take several turns for the worse.

Lately, Marshall’s been making a name for himself in television. Along with his work in Game of Thrones, he recently directed two episodes of the pirate drama Black Sails along with the pilot for NBC’s anticipated Constantine series.

Next week we've got the season finale of Thrones, directed by Alex Graves — the guy that brought us Oberyn’s exploding head and Jaime Lannister’s horrifying assault on Cersei. Tyrion Lannister’s fate is still hanging out there, unresolved, but even if he finds a way to make it out alive we’re sure something miserable, depressing, or just downright gut-wrenching will go down.

Because, you know, it’s Game of Thrones.

Update: A previous version of this post stated that it was Jon Snow who told Ygritte's killer to pick up the bow, when it was in fact Samwell Tarly. We apologize for any confusion, and for assuming that Game of Thrones would go for the cruelest option possible. Though usually the latter is a pretty safe bet.