It finally happened – the battle for The Wall – and the showdown didn’t come a second too soon. As we’ve established, Game of Thrones’ perpetual opponent is time, and the show typically leaves the writers with little choice but to compress plots and leave certain storylines rough. For whatever reason, the folks at Castle Black are typically the unlucky ones whose storyline is sacrificed for the shinier plots and left a little half-baked. Throughout season 4, our weekly check-ins on Jon and the “crows” have felt like obligatory afterthoughts. Not this week!
Just as in season 2 battle episode “Blackwater,” this week’s Thrones stays trained on the matter at hand – the attempted infiltration/massacre of The Wall by the wildlings and Thenns. This bloodlust between the crows and wildlings (and on a smaller scale, the conflicts between Jon and his former wildling buddies) has been sitting for years now, and despite attempts in recent weeks to reinvigorate that plot, many of us have gotten a little tired of waiting. So, “The Watchers on the Wall” probably didn’t pack quite the punch it could have if the battle had aired a year or two ago, but it was still a fantastic episode in its own way – not to mention the show’s most expensive of all time!
For all its strong points, Game of Thrones’ specialty may well be its sweeping battle scenes. The combat is as engaging as it is brutal, never once slipping into the lull that ironically plagues filmed warfare so often. And man, those giants – probably my favorite Game of Thrones beasts to date.
After last week’s unorthodox butchery sent us reeling, “The Watchers on the Wall” offers multiple classic death scenes that work surprisingly well despite their lack of originality. We lose a lot of important people this week – Pyp and Grenn both fall defending The Wall (the latter exit is surprisingly upsetting despite measly character development), Alliser Thorne is removed from battle pretty early on, and countless other crows don’t survive the fighting.
The most rattling death, of course, is that of Ygritte. It’s her reluctant affection for Jon that does the redhead in. During a moment of hesitation before shooting her former love, Ygritte is nailed with an arrow fired by none other than Ollie – the poor kid whose father Ygritte shot and helped feed to the Thenns. The “I’ve got your back” look that passes between Jon and Ollie is pretty fantastic – what a loaded moment.
This episode is as heart wrenching as it is exhilarating – certainly not quite on par with last week’s Thrones, but an important and enjoyable one all the same. “The Watchers on the Wall” is a little slow in the beginning – there are some trite conversations to get out of the way – but as a whole, this week was absolutely necessary to remind us why we care about The Wall.
Photo Credit: HBO