Happy Halloween! (Well, we’re close to Halloween, it’s due to arrive at some point, like a shambling undead horde…)
This post will be talking about HBO’s Game of Thrones, specifically events that took place during the fifth season episode Hardhome and how it relates to previous seasons. Hardhome was an amazing episode, possibly the best of the series, and if you’re not caught up I’d hate to spoil you on that experience.
Still with me? Cool.
Hardhome featured a battle involving the undead army controlled by the mysterious and mystical Others. The legendary White Walkers directed their wights to attack the fortified Free Folk fishing village of Hardhome, and corpses did so en masse, tearing through the Wildling and Night’s Watch defenders. To make matters worse, the human casualties were resurrected to join Team White Walker. Spoooooky!
It was a shocking event and a satisfying payoff to the horde of wights’ reveal in the season two finale, when the Night’s Watch ranging expedition that had bivouaced at the rocky Fist of the First Men were attacked by the walking dead.
We all remember that right? Season 3 started with a recap, showing Sam Tarly eyeballing an army of undead soldiers moving towards the rocky bluff of the Night’s Watch encampment.
Then there was an amazing battle, where the army of the dead scaled the sheer sides of the Fist of the First Men, butchering the Night’s Watch brothers and sending them fleeing back towards the Wall.
It was so crazy! Here’s an image from that battle:
Okay, I’m being a smartass. After the recap, season three presented us with a black screen and the sounds of battle, then the view resolved onto a windswept promontory.
MAYBE it was supposed to show the First of the First Men. With no humans left.
Then the scene cut to Sam Tarly running in the snow, pursued by a wight. Jon’s direwolf Ghost held it back and the surviving Night’s Watch brothers arrived and set it on fire. Mormont and his men looked dishevelled and had injuries, indicating that they had been in a fight.
And that’s all the clues that the show gave us that a fight between the living and the dead just took place, and that the forces of the living were on the losing end.
Some details get reinforced. In a later episode, Mance Rayder and a scouting force come to the Fist of the First Men, and discover that the horses used by the ranging expedition had been slaughtered and arranged in an artistic mandala.
This is kind of a visual signature of the Others, who did something similar with a band of Wildlings from the pilot episode.
The Living and the Dead: Which is More Consistent?
In the following seasons, viewers would occasionally wonder just where the White Walkers and their undead army were. They’d attacked the Night’s Watch, but then the army seemed to vanish, or at least wasn’t on the move to do anything else. Other than send a White Walker after Sam, or pick up a baby delivery at Craster’s Keep.
Eventually the hellish army came into view during the Hardhome episode, where the wights chewed through Wildling refugees with terrifying efficiency. This was probably the first time that the show really communicated the threat of the White Walkers, and that it was no joke that Winter was coming.
I’m not going to complain about how many seasons it took for the threat of the undead army to be felt to viewers. After all, the show gave us the chance to see how the Wall was under-defended by the skeleton crew Night’s Watch when the Wildlings attacked. How much of a chance would they have against an army made up of skeletons?
Hopefully we won’t have to wait seasons and seasons before we see the shambling horde again. They certainly made an impression on the viewers.
But did they make an impression on the Night’s Watch, the ones who survived the battle at the Fist and fled to Craster’s Keep? I think I would have expected Mormont and his men to have been a little bit more concerned about what drove them from their fortified encampment.
The survivors arrived at Craster’s Keep exhausted and dangerously desperate, but I wouldn’t have described them as terrified. 90% of their men had been killed by ghouls who had probably human-ladder-chained their way up sheer rock surfaces. I would have imagined those ragged survivors to be madly anxious.
After the mutiny at Craster’s with Qarl Tanner in charge, the mutineers settled in and seemed rather content.
Didn’t they remember an army of the dead attacking them at the Fist of the First Men? Osha the Wildling saw one wight, One Wight, and ran south, hopped over the Wall and maintained her running pace until she got captured in the woods around Winterfell. (Okay, the wight she saw was her zombie common-law husband and that must have been shocking, but still…)
It seemed to me that the men at Craster’s were a bit too complacent. At least they were still putting out human sacrifices to the appease the Others, as Craster had been doing. Maybe that gave them a feeling of security. But it still seemed so nonchalant.
Craster’s Wife: Oi, we have the last of Craster’s sons. Someone needs to follow the old ways and offer him to the forest.
Qarl: Whatevs. Rast, you take care of it.
Rast: Dammit. I hate carrying babies out into the snow. Shoot!
I’d think everyone at the keep would have been more motivated in making sure this got done, and done right.
A Second Look at Craster’s Keep
In the books, we readers don’t know what happens at the Keep once it falls to the mutineers. In A Storm of Swords, Jon Snow had only a brief time between escaping from Tormund’s raiders and their immediate attack on Castle Black, soon followed by the attack by Mance Rayder. No one really thought about the mutineers.
Since the show had played around with those events, a return to Craster’s was not too far out of left field. I felt it offered a chance for Jon to demonstrate some heroism, and I was not offended by the intersection with Bran and his group.
But from the perspective of a book-reader, I’m convinced that nearly all of the mutineers in the books were already dead. Undead, rather, shambling along with the Others’ horde.
I can imagine that the Others might have deliberately left a mutineer alive at the Keep with Craster’s wives, to make more sons for the White Walkers.
Speaking of Craster’s wives, we last saw them watching their old home burn, not planning on accompanying Jon Snow and his group to the Wall. Where did they go? Did they join up with Mance Rayder and his army? Or maybe the Night’s King and his army voluntarily?
After all, their sons are future members of the command structure, right? Maybe?
In general, I respect the work that the show-runners have done with the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire into HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Obviously the budget and expertise they have for large scale battles, particularly battles with supernatural elements, has increased over the seasons. But during season three, they just might not have been able to represent the terrifying battle of the Fist of the First Men (a battle we indirectly experience through Sam’s memories in the books) the way they did with Hardhome (a battle we don’t see in the books at all, but learn about from letters written to Jon.)
The budgetary reality was more likely the reason than them choosing *not* to portray an awesome battle.
Certainly, the impact of Hardhome was increased by the magnitude of the event, of the viewers really seeing the undead in action. We’d seen some aggressive wights previously, they’d been talked about, we’d seen the Others, but everything came to a head on such a scale at Hardhome, and the resurrection on the beach was epic.
If the showrunners deliberately underplayed the Fist of the First Men in anticipation of Hardhome, then bravo to them.
I don’t believe that’s actually what happened, but if they make that claim I’ll grudgingly give it to them with no evidence to the contrary.
But in my opinion, they really missed the opportunity to subtly reinforce the unseen terror of the Others.
Imagine how much more interesting things would have been had Bran and his crew not been captured by living mutineers, but instead witnessed the Others arriving at the Keep, to deal with the men who murdered Craster, their emissary in the human world.
Imagine if Jon had led an expedition to Craster’s, thinking to deal with living enemies, and instead found something more sinister? (But just not on the Hardhome scale. Don’t diminish that event.)
Luckily, the cat has been let out of the bag in regards to the supernatural menace, and unless there’s an unexpected thaw up North (no doubt caused by Stannis’ sacrifice of Shireen) we can expect the temperatures to continue to drop, but the action heating up proportionally in season six.
Dreaming of a Wight Christmas… no, that’s not right.
Nightmaring of a Wight Christmas? Is that even a word? It should be.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images are from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved