“Game of Throne” IMAX Experience Sn4 Ep9/10

Sn4 Ep9 “The Watchers on the Wall”
Ep10 “The Children”

Excellent writing, an amazingly talented cast, beautiful location shoots used wisely, and great editing all combine for four seasons to keep this series one of the best I have watched overall. I strain my mind to think of a single weak link or bad episode and I cannot recall either one. With a Christmas gift sitting comfortably in my pocket I decided take in the grandeur and epic scale of Westeros remastered for the IMAX screen. I honestly have to say, for the most part I was pleased.

The “Game of Thrones” IMAX Experience encapsulated the last two episodes of Season Four. If you haven’t seen them, then I would stop reading now as I’m going to go into some detail and there will be spoilers. The first episode, Episode 9 “The Watchers on the Wall” is the second one directed by Neil Marshall and focuses on the night battle between the men of the Night’s Watch and forces of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds). Like his previous accomplishments in “Blackwater” Neil Marshall (director, “The Descent,” “Dog Soldiers”) manages a fabulous juggling act. The great bloody action is wonderfully choreographed and executed on two fronts with a fantastic mix of Wildlings, Wooly Mammoths, Giants, efficient archers and swordsmen, and men completely out of their element. Then there are the great moments that take place in the microcosm of the battle, the stories that make the battle matter. There is the struggle for order on top of the Wall, the passionate fury and love between Night’s Watch Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Wildling Ygritte (Rose Leslie), the beautiful developing romance between Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) and his journey from meek bookworm to intelligent, assertive, capable man. Like the “Blackwater” episode what makes this battle even more worthwhile and amazing is that both sides are complexly presented, we are given enough information to understand motivation for some arguments for the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings. The men of the Night’s Watch want to survive, protect their lands, and hold against what they believe (and in many cases actually are) vicious Wildlings. Whereas, Mance Raydar knows what danger is rising in the wilds of the North and is seeking refuge behind the massive Wall, yet knows that centuries of prejudice, hostility, and pride prevent asking.

“The Watchers of the Wall” is an episode that erupts on the IMAX screen. The Wall towers, the dizzying heights are made apparent as archers are lowered, giants dominate, and the stomp of wooly mammoths trembled in the powerful digital sound of IMAX. What didn’t work on the IMAX format that well, much to my disconcertment, were the show’s famous clockwork opening credits. It seemed that so much work went into remastering the actual show footage that the beautiful credits were an afterthought. The result was grainy, and came across like older filmstrip footage that was being pushed onto a screen too big and had already begun to degrade over years in poor storage. While it was still exciting to see Westeros spread out over such a large screen, it was tempered by the presentation.

The staging was rather strange as well. I knew walking in that I was going to see two episodes of “Game of Thrones” from the previous season. I had expected them to edit the two episodes together in a seamless film event. Instead what happened was the two episodes were shown like I would see if I were binge watching them on HBO On-demand. There were “Previously on ‘Game of Thrones'” which I found helpful, and then the end credits ran after each episode then the Season Five trailer ran. No complaints here, just not what I was expecting.

The second episode shown was Episode 10 “The Children” directed by Alex Graves, which picks up right after the battle of The Wall and brings tremendous closure to that event, and then chases down the storylines of our other major players like Arya Stark and The Hound, Khalessi and the city of Meereen, Brienne and Podrick, the Lannisters, Stannis, and finally Bran Stark, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor on their quest for the Three-Eyed Raven. We get an epic swordfight between Brienne of Tarth and The Hound, which should definitely rate as one of the greatest fights in the series. Not only does the choreography demand appreciation, but the brutality showcases the way in which Brienne is a force to be reckoned with and adapts to dramatically changing situations.

The many interlocking stories of the Lannisters dominate this episode for a reason: there are many and in this episode they all need to be addressed. Cersei and the now returned Jaime, the condemned Tyrion, Tywin’s demand to control all his children, and their rebellion against that control. These scenes are spectacular and world changing. Nothing in Westeros will be the same after this episode from Cercei’s incestuous confession to Tyrion’s explosive confrontation with his father. But to focus solely on the Lannisters and their fabulous dramas would do a huge disservice to another powerful family fighting back from the shadows: the Starks.

By now there aren’t many Starks left, but those remaining should not be underestimated. Arya Stark, with her trusty sword Needle and ability to find powerful allies Bran Stark, the boy who saw too much and inadvertently set in motion the events that led to the War of the Five Kings, now finds himself possessed of great powers. Each of these two younglings demonstrates how far they have come since the opening archery scene of Season One and now, standing on their on, with their own supporters, they move in different directions literally and figuratively.

Possibly the most beloved character in the entire series is Daenerys Targaryen. As Khaleesi she is finding it is much easier to liberate, than it is to rule, which is why so many leaders are successful and revered in their youth during the struggles, but fall into disfavor under the onus of the bureaucracy of leadership. Now that Khaleesi has liberated Meereen from the yoke of slavery she is having to deal with the realities of freed slaves, for it is one thing to say slaves are free and a completely different thing to change the social world in which they exist. Additionally, the Queen of Dragons is discovering that having three large fire-breathing creatures that fly and feed on flesh are problematic, for they do what they want, when they want, to whatever they want, and she is responsible for her three children. This forces her into an uncomfortable decision, one which I’m sure will have dire consequences for her later on in Season Five.

There are many shows that provide great excitement, unveiling fabulous surprises and amazing twists and turns. Unfortunately many of them, though wonderful to watch, often fail to deliver cohesiveness and maintain structural integrity. I’ve seen too many shows I love lose track of plot threads under the weight of so many twists and turns. I truly believe that this is due to the fact that these aren’t often thought out, instead they are just sprung, “hey wouldn’t this be cool?” then after time writers struggle to deal with the ramifications of so many of these surprises. “Game of Thrones” avoids this pitfall, attention to the myriad of storylines and characters is just one of the qualities that sets “Game of Thrones” high above all other shows.

The IMAX Experience presentation was an experiment and one I’m happy I took part in, Westeros is a world ripe for the IMAX screen. The towering Wall, the menacing Wights looming over Bran as he lays helpless, the immense city of King’s Landing seen from the dock, the sweeping aerial shot of the ride of Stannis Baratheon’s soldiers, and the voyage of Arya toward an uncertain future. I’d seen these episodes before, I had experienced these battles and betrayals before, but here they were still as fresh and raw and just as exciting and welcome. Tears were shed, fists were clenched, and I was tremendously glad I went. Especially when the thunderous Season Five trailer ran with all the epic action and drama packed into just a few minutes. The brutal moments that I knew would forever change the face of politics in Westeros are already display for all of us to see in this great trailer and so much happens so fast that some is hard to make sense of it all. I’m sure that if I were familiar with the texts I could decipher more, but I don’t want to over-read the pace of the series so I’m refraining from reading the books. The Fifth Season begins in April and it will be a long wait, until then I’m happy that this treat was offered up and that I took advantage of it. If they do this again I hope that they opening credits get the same amazing attention that the rest of the footage did during the restoration.


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