Game of Thrones: 409 “The Watchers on the Wall” Review
Reviewed by Thomas Firth.
Whenever episode nine of a season of Game of Thrones comes around, everyone knows there’s going to be something quite spectacular. In all fairness, Neil Marshall didn’t hesitate to show his awesome directing skills, and the mix of giants, mammoths, flaming arrows and a hidden scythe inside the Wall, it certainly was a strong instalment. However, the Watchers on the Wall didn’t have the strength to outdo the battle of Blackwater, by a substantial margin. This was mainly in consequence to the minor cast. Only five of the twenty-six cast members appeared, which almost doomed it from the start to be unfulfilling. Despite that, though, there was enough to make it an exciting battle, and some wonderful elements did rival Blackwater to some extent.
The opening scenes were eerie, and ultimately very good at leading us into the main battle sequence. Dialogue between Sam and Jon, and Sam and Maester Aemon were particularly poignant, and even humorous. Also included were some very symbolic gestures, like the Maester blowing out the candle. Intriguing was the dialogue between Ygritte, Tormund and Styr south of the Wall. Ygritte seems considerably annoyed with their distrust for her, but as viewers, we have witnessed her mercy towards Gilly in Mole’s Town. Will she show the same mercy to Jon when she meets him on the battlefield? Styr believes she will, and considering his size, Ygritte isn’t in the right place to argue with him.
Samwell Tarly was probably the character I found most enjoyable to watch during the episode. Internally, the character has had a significant transformation, owing to the threat that has drawn nearer to the Wall. Him cursing is quite disturbing, but in truth it’s him cursing himself for being so helpless for so many years. In this episode, he tried his hardest to become someone he wasn’t. Initially, it worked – he reassured Gilly, he held Pypar in his arms while he died, and he even killed a Thenn with a crossbow. Something very useful ignited within him, and it’s about time he showed what he was really made of (no ‘piggy’ anymore).
In terms of the battle itself then, there were some really sensational deliveries from Neil Marshall. The first sight of the Wildling army is quite cinematic, and allows us to really believe the Night’s Watch’s terror. On the southern side, the run up to the front gate of Castle Black is an exquisite sequence with only twenty men trying to fend off a hoard of Wildlings with flamed arrows. Following that, the sequence with the giants was inventive and the exchange between arrows was impressive to watch. There were some really original ideas about weapons, the most surprising being the concealed scythe in the ice. Once again, the vows of the Night’s Watch was used, this time to sustain the moral of those guarding the internal gate. Grenn died an heroic death with the tunnel held safe.
Perhaps the most anticipated events would be the deaths. Following last week’s horrific demise, it would’ve been difficult to top, and a number of fans were still trying to recover. The closest one was probably Ygritte’s. The pause is the first sign that she wasn’t going to kill Jon. As Tormund had said from the beginning, if Ygritte had properly aimed at Jon at the end of the last season, it would’ve been evident that she’d meant it, but it was never to be. What was shocking about her death, was that Olly killed her. If you remember back to episode three of the season, it was Ygritte who shot his father in the first place, and now he had his revenge. That’s what Game of Thrones does well, rounds its stories with a satisfying conclusion. But, for Jon, it’s heartbreaking.
Considering episode nine’s reputation in previous season’s, The Watchers on the Wall, as I’ve already said, didn’t match them. Whilst there were some wonderful character interactions, there wasn’t enough to really bring out the characters themselves. For the first time in a while, there were a few open ends to an episode of Game of Thrones. How did Gilly leave Mole’s Town without being seen? What happened to Alliser Thorne? Will Janos Slynt be punished for his cowardice? I’m sure there are a number of other questions to consider too. I just hope these are answered in the grand finale.
As usual, Game of Thrones tops almost every other television show there is, but in its own standard, this week’s episode didn’t reach its absolute best. What I am expecting though is for the season finale to be the pinnacle of Season Four. Ever so slowly, something has been brewing in every corner of the world, and it’s about time the dragon roared (pun intended). Sixty-six minutes is a long time, and a lot can happen. If the writers step carefully, the finale could be something rather special – but it’s only possible if all the elements of the season are brought together. If that is possible – then I might as well just give the episode a ten now.