Fans of ‘Game of Thrones’ should realize by now that the show does not climax in its season finale episodes. In each year to date, the proverbial shit has hit the fan in the penultimate episode. True to form, the series delivered a major action showcase this week. Does this one live up to Blackwater or the Red Wedding?
Personally, I don’t think so. Not that the episode lacks for epic action and violence, but I’m just not as interested or invested in the Jon Snow storyline to care all that much about what happens to him or the men of the Night’s Watch.
Episode ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ abandons all other storylines for a week to focus exclusively on the siege of Castle Black by the Wildling army, which attacks on two fronts. The bulk of the army, 100,000 strong, approaches from the north and sends giants riding mammoths to breach the mighty gate. They’re fended off by a handful of archers from above. Meanwhile, the smaller raiding party led by Tormund, Ygritte and their cannibal friends hits from behind, engaging in hand-to-hand combat on the ground with the majority of the Crows.
I took a lot of notes during this episode, but I don’t feel the need to recap every story beat here. What it boils down to is a lot of clanging swords and flaming arrows. Neil Marshall (‘The Descent’), who directed the Blackwater episode, returns to helm this one. Although I felt that a lot of the action was kind of repetitive and monotonous, he stages a couple of impressive set-pieces. One is a lengthy, elaborately choreographed tracking shot that glides through the battle, jumping from one character to another. The highlight of the episode comes when the men on top of the Wall unleash a massive scythe, which cracks free of the ice and swings down to smear the climbing Wildlings across the rock face. Also kind of cool is a mammoth fleeing from the battle on fire.
Commander Alliser is injured, and his second-in-command turns out to be an ineffectual coward. Unsurprisingly, Jon Snow steps up to lead the defense. By the time morning breaks, the dwindled number of Night’s Watch brothers have successfully held the line against the first wave of the attack – but just barely. Snow realizes that they will not survive another night. Unable to think of a better plan, he decides to exit through the gate on his own to seek out and kill Mance Rayder, hoping that without a central authority to unite them, the Wildlings will return to their infighting ways and disperse. I expect that we’ll pick up on this storyline in Season Five.
Misc. Story Points
- Before the battle, Gilly and her baby arrive at Castle Black and are reunited with Sam. He hides them in a meat locker. She begs him to stay with her, insisting that he’d be useless in the battle anyway, but Sam mans-up and leaves her to join his brothers. He plants a big kiss on her smacker for courage first, though. Ultimately, he survives the fight, and even kills a cannibal.
- Still pissed at her former lover, Ygritte vows to kill Jon Snow herself. She takes out many Crows with her bow, but hesitates for a moment when she encounters Snow. Before he can do or say anything, Ygritte takes an arrow to the back from a Night’s Watch weakling who only barely mustered up the courage to stay in the battle at all after a pep talk from Sam. Ygritte dies in Snow’s arms. Her last words are, “We should have stayed in that cave.”
- Sam unleashes Jon Snow’s direwolf Ghost to aid in the fight. He doesn’t get enough screen time, and I can’t understand why Snow doesn’t take the wolf with him at the end.
- The Wildling Tormund is injured and captured. Still defiant even with a number of arrows sticking out of him, Snow refuses to kill him and has him locked up instead.
While this is a good episode overall, it didn’t hit the heights of greatness for me – mainly because I’d rather spend more time following Tyrion first. I have a lot more inherent interest in that storyline. Judging by the preview for next week, it appears that we’ll rejoin that plot thread in the finale, but I doubt anything significant will get resolved.