“The Watchers on the Wall” was placed in a tough position as the paramount ninth episode of season four of Game of Thrones.
For that reason, my expectations were possibly too high for an episode that was going to be compared to season two’s “Blackwater” for obvious reasons. But when it comes down to it, this episode is the second large-scale battle experience for GOT viewers and as far as I know, not being a book-reader, it should have been just as big, if not bigger than the battle of Blackwater.
The episode did a great job of setting itself up, especially the change of Sam Tarley’s character. Sam has slowly developed over this season as a more confident individual, even in his times of woe about what he thought happened to Gilly, yet his decision with her was the second most confident thing he had done in the series. His moment with Pypar where he explains how when you are no one, you have no fear, was a moving display and could easily be Sam’s best during his time on the show.
As we move further, the episode gets closer to its climax where the wildlings begin their attack on the Wall. We see Ygritte showing off her bow-and-arrow skills early on and are given giants and mammoths to look at! But here are the main thoughts running through our heads as viewers: Which character we recognize is doing to die first? (Pyp), Will Yrgitte kill Jon Snow? And will the Wall make it through the night?
As an action sequence, the fighting was exception, especially the 360 degree view to give it a bit of a bigger feeling. Yet, I still felt a bit cheated by the size of the fight that was taking place. While it felt like the men on the Wall were outnumbered, I didn’t get the feeling of real odds they were facing. The scene where the men hold the gate (Grenn, who you had to know wasn’t going to make it), was tough to buy. As cool as it was to see those men say the Night’s Watch oath while the Giant charged, I guess it was hard to believe that everyone from the skirmish died. It would have been great to see that, but I guess there is a time limit!
The most emotional moment of the episode comes when Ygritte finally faces a bloody, defensive Jon and he shoots her a smile. She is then killed by the world’s cutest archer and utters her catchphrase before she dies. Again, as a viewer I did enjoy the scene for what it meant, but I never bought that she was going to be able to murder Jon. It is a shame that we wouldn’t get to see if she would defect mid-battle, but her death had to come at this point, otherwise the show would have had a romantic comedy vibe to it on the Wall.
The episode ends with Jon Snow going to parlay with Mance Rayder, perhaps with the hopes of assassinating him in what should make for a compelling final episode. I think where the episode doesn’t get enough credit is how it is setting up what will happen at the Wall in the coming episodes. There are still so many questions as to what, or who may come and help the Night’s Watch. Though many of us will be focused on Tyrion and the Vale, this past episode actually intrigued me more on what Jon Snow is going to face, and whether or not anyone is coming to save him and his men.