Game of Thrones delivered a stunning conclusion to the episode of “Hardhome”. After fan complaints about season five being too slow, “Hardhome” ended with a 36 minute sequence ripped right out of a zombie apocalypse movie. In a series known of impressive action set-pieces, the end of “Hardhome” was one of Game of Thrones‘ best. In fact, it was not only one of the best visual spectacles on HBO’s Game of Thrones but TV in general.
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Zombies Done Right
When talking about the end of “Hardhome” it’s impssible to avoid comparisons to The Walking Dead. Though Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead couldn’t be any more different, there are definite comparisons in the White Walkers attacking and the zombies attacking. The Walking Dead has long since fallen off my radar because the zombies stopped being threatening. I no longer care about who lives or dies by a zombie attack because I no longer care about the characters. Game of Thrones doesn’t suffer from this problem. All the tension in the Battle of Hardhome derived all from characters.
This compassion for characters wasn’t all for Jon Snow, a fan favorite and one of the few truly heroic characters left in the series. The compassion came from all corners and character, even new ones. The wildling mother and chieftess played Danish actress Brigitte-Hjort-Soresen was introduced in “Hardhome” but was the emotional center of the battle. Her character of Karsi was instantly likable and defined. It is an incredibly achievement that Game of Thrones was able to establish such a strong character in such a relatively short period of time.
Karsi was more developed in her brief appearance in “Hardhome” than Jon Snow’s friend Edd who has been here for four plus seasons. Karsi meeting her doom because she was unable to fight against zombified children was heartbreaking. This emotional investment needs to be there in an action scene. Action can be visual delight but if the characters in peril aren’t defined then it’s meaningless.
David and Goliath
The emotional weight wasn’t all on the shoulders of Karsi though. Jon Snow’s involvement in the struggle upped the audience’s investment more than a few notches. No one is safe on Game of Thrones, but it’s hard to imagine Jon Snow dying in this scene or any other. This doesn’t mean that his one on one battle with a fearsome White Walker wasn’t enthralling. Star Wars fans know Luke isn’t about to be chopped in half by Darth Vader but that doesn’t make their duels any less compelling. There’s a reason why the classic David and Goliath story endures, it’s thrilling.
Jon facing down the White Walker was a brutal fight that was perfectly choreographed and directed. Jon was outmatched from the first second of the fight and his struggle to maintain the upper hand gave the contest the heart pounding stakes it needed. This is not even to mention the White Walker’s design which is the stuff of nightmares.
All of The Resources Available Were Used
While the battle in “Hardhome” was more than just a jaw-dropping display of special effects, it was a jaw-dropping displays of special effects. Game of Thrones has more than the average budget of a TV show, Daenerys’ dragons are (not quite) living proof of that fact. Game of Thrones poured every ounce of that budget into the ending sequence of “Hardhome” and it paid off.
The White Walkers have been seen before but it’s been very brief glimpses and often at a distance. This was the most intimate look yet and it was the most terrifying. It didn’t matter whether it was the skin and bone drones or the blue-eyed Night King, these were some expertly designed monsters. Though there was undoubtedly some kind of CGI or SFX assistance but it didn’t translate on screen. The wights that attacked the wildlings and Night’s Watch in “Hardhome” looked horrifyingly like-like.
Understanding the Importance of Building Tension
The biggest success was perhaps how the action unfolded. When the mysterious mist descended over the crowd of wildlings it was frightening but mysterious. It was unclear what exactly was going to happen but there was foreboding tension in the unknown. Once everything was revealed the action was relentless. It was chaos but beautifully executed.
It was like a excellent fireworks display where everything was given its moment to pop. The tracking shot where Jon fights his way across the field to reach the hut with the dragon glass is a stunning achievement from a filmmaking perspective. It was able to give the scope of the battle whilst showing the intimacy of one character’s struggle. Whether Jon or the giant Wun Wun or a legion of wights falling over the cliffside everything was given the proper focus. It was organized chaos and it all resulted in horrifying orchestra of destruction that was captivating to watch.
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Why “Hardome” is Different from “Blackwater” or “Watchers on the Wall”
It’s not that the other action set-pieces in Game of Thrones didn’t have all these elements. They just didn’t do them as well. It also can’t be discounted that this sequence was so amazing because it was so unexpected. When it comes to other big battles in Game of Thrones history, there was a season long build up beforehand. The confrontation at Hardhome was a complete surprise for audience and characters alike.
If the White Walkers are the ultimate force that needs to be defeated by the time Game of Thrones comes to an end, this sequence proved why that’s the case. They’ve been mentioned enough but have only been dealt with on a personal level. Sam has gone up against a White Walker and lived but that was solo duel. The White Walkers have never been seen on a such a grand scale before “Hardhome” and there is no doubt in the audience’s mind that winter is coming and it won’t be pretty.
But what do you think? Was this the best battle that Game of Thrones has done? Or did you prefer Blackwater or the Wall? Or something even more isolated and personal?
Game of Thrones season 5 airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)