Note: The following review goes into detail about the episode. SPOILER ALERT! (For the show, NOT the books)
“Baelor,” “Blackwater,” “The Rains of Castamere.” The penultimate episode of each season of “Game of Thrones” has offered up a laser focused story jam-packed with dramatic moments, and “The Watchers on The Wall” was no different. Jon Snow’s troubles up north may be the most distant storyline from all the others, Daenerys included, but that didn’t stop them from delivering an absolutely epic hour of television.
We’ve known for a very long time now that there was a battle brewing between The Night’s Watch and the Wildlings, and watching it play out on such a large scale was quite satisfying. Once the action got going early enough in the episode, there wasn’t any let up until the very final moments. Crowd pleasing moments were peppered throughout as giants attacked the gate (with mammoths!), giant anchors swung through the air and Ghost was unleashed. It seemed like the writers were continuously trying to “one-up” the previous moment. Over the years there have been a couple of frustrating moments on the show where we would only get to see the aftermath of a big battle, understandably due to budget constraints but thankfully there was no expense spared here.
Jon and Sam came out of this episode standing even taller than they had before. Watching Jon take command of the situation and lead a successful (for now) defense of The Wall was a rare “hell yeah” moment in his story. Likewise watching Sam staying strong for the sake of Gilly and even killing a Thenn was great. Sam has been referred to as a coward several times in the past but he proved he was anything but, while a real coward, Janos Slynt, hid with Gilly and her baby.
There were always going to be deaths in this episode, and while they definitely weren’t as big as previous moments in the series, they still packed a punch. Grenn and Pyp bit the dust, killed by a giant and an arrow to the neck respectively. They weren’t the most standout characters on the show by any means but considering they have been with Sam and Jon every step of the way, their deaths carried a significant bit of weight. The biggest death of the week though was Jon’s kissed by fire soul-mate, Ygritte. Theirs was a relationship doomed to end horribly from the very beginning, and watching her die in his arms was tough to see. The fact that she died because she hesitated putting an arrow in Jon only made it that much more heart-breaking. Her final “you know nothing, Jon Snow” was perfectly fitting, as she slipped away in his arms.
I just want to talk a bit more about the action here though and how wonderfully executed it all was. From the opening salvos between the wildlings frontline and the archers on the wall, to the CGI giants assaulting the gate, it was visually brilliant. The standout shot came towards the end of the episode with a sweeping tracking shot that moved around the courtyard of Castle Black, briefly showcasing all of the main players in the battle. I recall “True Detective” employing a similar tactic earlier in the year and it was perhaps just as effective here. Jon showed off his formidable skills for the first time in a while here, while Alliser Thorne proved he wasn’t just a grumpy old jackass as he led effectively before getting wounded by Tormund. Speaking of Tormund, he survived the battle and now finds himself held captive. He’s been a great presence on the show so far so it’s great to see him survive.
My only tiny complaint this week is the absence of Mance Rayder. Now I’m not expecting him to be leading the charge on The Wall himself, but considering he hasn’t appeared in well over a year (since the third episode of Season 3) I feel it would have been good to have a small scene with Mance at some stage either in this episode or over the last few weeks. It’s a very small complaint though, and with Jon heading north of the Wall at the end of the episode to find Mance, I’m sure it’ll be remedied next week.
“Game of Thrones” delivered a blockbuster of an episode this week with the most action-packed installment of the entire series. Honestly, you could show that episode to people who have no experience with the show and I’m sure they could enjoy it as a short little action movie. The Night’s Watch remains standing for now, but with Mance’s army sure to return, they better pray that Jon’s solo mission is successful. There’s a whole load of stories to be tied up in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea in next week’s finale, so make sure you don’t miss it!
What was your favorite set piece this episode? What was your favorite action sequence? Let us know in the comments below. (PLEASE, NO BOOK SPOILERS!)
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