Game of Thrones “The Watchers on the Wall” Review (4×09)

8 Jun


“A hundred generations have defended this castle. You’ve never fallen before. You will not fall tonight!”

The Night’s Watch is about brotherhood, about fighting for one another, about courage when you’re faced with imminent death in the form of a giant. Even when you’re trapped in a tunnel, you’ll fight until your last breath, forever to be alongside your family.

“The Watchers on the Wall” is about that honor in battle, the honor that transforms boys into men and men into leaders. We see it in the journey of Samwell Tarly, someone who, at an earlier point, probably would’ve acquiesced to Gilly’s pleas to stay with her. We see it with Jon Snow, who proves himself as a leader and is certainly no longer the “boy” that Tormund Giantsbane refers to him as at the end of the episode. We see it with Ser Alliser, who rises up at the most necessary time and admits that Jon was right, then leads his men into battle. Meanwhile, Janos Slynt is running away, definitely not leading anyone and definitely not acting like the “most experienced guy [Alliser] has”.

Yet, in the midst of all that honor and masculinity are stories of love. Sam uses the time he has before the battle to ask about women and relationships and the oath finding room for love, and later kisses Gilly right before he heads off to fight (as every TV character seems to do). Jon and Ygritte’s story is one of love living on under the guise of hate, and it all ends with the latter taking an arrow in the chest and dying in the former’s arms. With love may come foolishness and childish actions and, in Ygritte’s case, an overwhelming desire to tie off that lost love herself, but in the end, it does have a place amongst the bodies.

Of course, thematically speaking, the episode sounds all fine and dandy, but the question is: how much do we care? Do we really care about the themes–which, admittedly, aren’t as resonant as the show wants them to be–mentioned above in regards to those specific characters? It’s a very common opinion that the Night’s Watch characters have been the least interesting thus far, so devoting an entire battle to that very locale seems like an awfully convenient way to attempt to build up something in one episode that hadn’t been built up enough beforehand. I must say that this episode gets me to care about this storyline so much more than it did before, but again, that doesn’t necessarily negate the earlier problems. Whereas “Blackwater”–and I won’t get too much into this, because I want to judge this episode on its own merits more so than on how it compares to “Blackwater”–was the culmination of a season’s worth of character moments, “The Watchers on the Wall” doesn’t feel like the culmination of much.

Frankly, it’s pure spectacle, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The character moments could be stronger, but what the episode lacks in that department it makes up for on a visceral, thrilling scale. Marshall and co. intend to portray a vicious fight, and that’s exactly what happens: the episode looks gorgeous, whether it’s the tracking shot through Castle Black or the shot beginning with the march on South Gate and ending with the folks riding in from the North. Also, that anchor. And mammoths. And giants. And a huge ass ice wall.

It’s an episode that’s far from perfect, but it’s thrilling in a way that not many shows can match. The battle on The Wall is finished for now, but Jon Snow is heading out, taking the fight straight to Mance Rayder. There are bodies and there is blood and there is heartbreak, but there’s also a wall.

The Night’s Watch, still watching.



-I think that the writers have done a good job with Jon Snow this season. He’s far from the most interesting character, but they’ve made an effort to shade him in a bit more, and he does well by this episode. The battle may seem a bit insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s actually a very big moment for Jon, and it’s a way to bring The Wall into the thick of things for the finale.

-Neil Marshall stepped it up this week. This is even more visually thrilling than “Blackwater” is, even if it’s not as strong as an episode.

-Also, meh at others who spend half of their reviews comparing this to “Blackwater”. I’m a bit guilty of it up there, but still, that episode has absolutely no effect on the quality of this episode. Thematic and stylistic comparisons are welcome, sure, but this didn’t have to “live up” to anything.

-Well, RIP Grenn and Pyp. Also, enjoy that hammer, Thenn.

-Later, Rose Leslie, and RIP, Ygritte. “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” (I kind of wanted Jon to go “Shut the hell up. Stop with the fan service, asshole.”) But seriously, it seems like their relationship was AGES ago, so that takes some of the emotional resonance out of their final scene together. Still, a very well done scene.

-The music complements the battle very well here. I really like the variation on the theme song during that tracking shot.

-When you have a badass direwolf, you’ll win battles.

-They should’ve cut away to a random shot of Arya laughing.

Spartacus seemed to have something like this every other episode. Just sayin’.

-Well, this finale is shaping up to be incredibly overstuffed, as well as the most exciting season finale the show has produced. Join me next week for my thoughts on that.

ETA: I won’t be getting around to a Veep review, so I guess this is as good a place to put it as any: I thought it was brilliant, and that Selina-Gary bathroom scene was one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen on television. Great season all around.

Photo credit: HBO, Game of Thrones

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: