TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 4 (The Watchers on the Wall)

The Watchers on the Wall by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Warning: Major Spoilers!

This is a rarity. Only one other episode focuses on one storyline (Blackwater and the battle between Stannis and Tyrion) and here we have a second. The battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wilding horde, including a group on this side of the wall. Your enjoyment of this episode will entirely depend upon how much you care about the characters on the wall i.e. Jon Snow, his friends Sam, Pyp, Grenn and Edd, and the watch’s commanders Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt. On the other side? Ygritte is the main Wildling anyone cares about (love or hate her), although their leaders (on this side of the wall at least) Styr and Tormund, both get a lot of screentime. Jaz really got into this episode and was clearly backing the Watch all the way – and there are several moments where she (and most first time viewers) probably thought they’d had had it.

I don’t often comment on the direction in Game of Thrones, but in this episode it’s unavoidable. Neil Marshall (returning after directing Blackwater in season 2) is outstanding here, and he gets to use a vast range of techniques. The long establishing shot that drags over the wall and shows us the action on both sides, the 360-camera pan mid battle, the camera following Jon Snow in the breath-taking moment when Jon sees the Wilding army and the vast expanse of forest they are burning behind them – it’s all brilliant, and really adds something to the episode – i hope they bring Marshall back in later series.

Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack gets the pulse racing as well, indeed between the music, directing, acting and action sequences everything slots into place perfectly. The CGI giants and Mammoths hold up well (showing the special effects can do other things apart from Dragons!). The standout scenes? Well after viewing a few last conversations between Sam, Jon and Maester Aemon, and a last threatening meal with Ygritte, Tormund, and the Thenns led by Styr, the action kicks off and the pace never lets up from there. There are good character moments; Alliser Thorne reluctantly admitting he should have listened to Jon and sealed the tunnel through the wall, Sam and Gilly’s first kiss (Awww) and Jon and Ygritte’s fateful reunion.

But it’s the battle itself that will hold your attention – a lot of minor and major characters die here (including some still alive in the books!). The battle is (in my view) a significant improvement over the book version inserting great scenes, such as Tormund and Alliser locking swords, that never happened in the books. Other great moments; Grenn and five soldiers chanting their vows in the tunnel as they are charged by a giant, the brutal fight between Jon and Styr (me and Jaz cheered when Jon slung a hammer into his skull), Edd using a giant scythe to kill several Wildlings scaling the wall – i could go on and on. But there’s one scene that needs commenting on; Ygritte and Jon finally coming face to face. Jon is defenceless after his fight with Styr, and Ygritte points her bow at him. She hesitates. And then she is shot in the back by the boy who survived the village attack earlier in the season (poetic justice as Ygritte shot his father dead). After showing her continued love for Jon ‘we should have never left that cave’ she dies in his arms. Heartbreaking, and great work from Kit Harington and Rose Leslie (I’ll miss her). The episode ends on a cliffhanger, as Jon realises that while they’ve fended off the Wildlings, they can’t hold out much longer. So he’s walks out of the wall and heads to assassinate Mance Rayder, the Wildling leader, knowing it’s a one-way trip. Now that’s a suicide mission…

Overall a magnificent example that television can do great battle scenes, and a heartbreaking conclusion to Jon and Ygritte’s storyline.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: Arya’s travels with the Hound come to an end, Jon confronts Mance Rayder and the day of Tyrion’s execution is at hand…

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