This week’s review comes as a little break in convention from my usual output. As you well know, I usually restrict my articles to those of feature length film productions, with the occasional TV series review thrown in if it’s a quiet week. However, with this week’s penultimate episode of the current Game Of Thrones season blowing our collective minds, a review of the individual episode is warranted, as it demands close examination. Obviously I’m about to venture into spoiler territory here, so if you’re not up to speed on Game Of Thrones, then you’d best look away now.
Part of Game Of Thrones episodic pattern is that the penultimate episode of a season always pulls out all the stops with regards to either drama or action. In other words, it’s either a battle or a murder, and the former always occurs in an even-numbered season. In season 2 we had the Blackwater Bay and the Westerosi equivalent of napalm. In season 4 we had the Battle for The Wall, with plenty of ice and fire to go around. And in this season, we have the Battle for Winterfell, which in terms of production design and viscerality I found to be highly reminiscent of Gladiator. The mud, blood and arrows all mesh together into an episode of unadulterated excitement. The use of stunts and camerawork is truly incredible, placing Jon Snow in the middle of chaotic carnage of a cavalry charge, whilst the crafty and deliciously evil Ramsay Bolton sits idly on his horse, watching the massacre like a Napoleonic marshal.
And massacre really is the word for it. Shield walls and long pikes, in a vividly accurate representation of medieval warfare, make mincemeat of Jon Snow’s forces, and the ensuing crush as they attempt to flee was genuinely terrifying. Such is the slaughter and grime and the literal piles of corpses that I often found it impossible to tell where the mud stopped and the blood began. But most poignantly was the feeling of hopelessness, which I had not experienced with the show since The Red Wedding. Given the show’s history with bumping off its most beloved characters, I knew that there was a very real possibility of all being lost. And it almost was until the heroes literally call in the cavalry and the Arryn’s show up to scythe down the pikemen from behind.
The final moments within the walls of Winterfell are absolutely excellent. Iwan Rheon, the Welshman playing Ramsay Bolton (now up there in my ‘Most Enjoyable Actors To Watch’ superstar tag-team), made the comparison with Hitler and his bunker, and that really stands out in his performance. Indeed the acting overall is sublime in this episode, from Rheon’s smug satisfaction and careful tactics to Kit Harrington’s raw physicality during the fighting and the hopelessness when the battle seems lost. I was yelling like a football fan when the final beating commenced, with Ramsay’s insane Joker-esque smile showing throughout, and his ultimate grizzly demise at the jaws of his loyal hounds was infinitely more satisfying than a thousand Purple Weddings.
I could spend hours talking about this episode, and I rate it as one of the best episodes in the series so far, not to mention the battle which is worthy of any historical epic you can name. I was on the edge of my seat and felt as taut as rope throughout, and I’ll be damned if any series has produced such a sensation in me for some time.