This post makes generous reference of Game of Thrones, s4/ep9 (The Watchers on the Wall). So, if you haven’t seen it, there are spoilers below.
I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read all of the books yet, but the HBO show is my absolute favorite thing on television right now.
This past Sunday’s episode The Watchers on the Wall was especially good. Instead of darting back and forth between different characters and settings, we stayed fixed on The Wall for the entire episode. We wouldn’t be teased by Jon Snow and then whisked away to colorful, sunny Mereen or treacherous King’s Landing for a few moments of differing drama or comic relief only to get sucked back to the North. There was no respite.
The entire episode was grim, ugly death.
While watching, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on back in those other places and with those other characters, especially given the dramatic ending of the previous episode. The men of the Night’s Watch, underprepared and grossly outnumbered were there in the dark, holding off a massive army many times their size, all to protect the warring and distracted factions far away to the south who were completely oblivious to what was going – in their name – at The Wall.
For the Night’s Watch, the battle is their only reality as they struggle to keep back the horde, at least for the night. They are not distracted by the trials of captors going on back home – they don’t have that luxury. For them, victory in battle offers no escape. It simply means preparing for the next watch.
The day after watching that episode, its residue still lingering in my mind, I was struck by how that “stuck” feeling I got while watching it felt similar to what a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan feels like. When you are there, you are there. There’s this feeling of doing something gravely important but coupled with a dark knowledge that it is completely unimportant and uninteresting to those back home, the feeling that they are completely oblivious to what is happening – in their name.
There’s no escape, either. You fight, sometimes for no other reason than because you are there, spurred on in moments of weakness facing giants by memorized oaths. And when the fight ends and the smoke dissipates, you collect the dead, rebuild the defenses, and prepare for the next battle.
Through the entire episode, my mind kept slipping to King’s Landing and other places, thinking that they need to send troops to counter the invading force. Maybe one day, but I remembered that in Westeros, The Wall is a distraction, a side-show. It is where factions send their trouble-makers and irreconcilables.
There is, of course, a nagging memory of why The Wall exists and why the men of the Night’s Watch are important, but it’s not important enough to warrant straying from the daily drama of trials and intrigue that captures court life in the capitals.
It all seems a little too familiar.