The Ninjabot

“The Watchers on the Wall” Defend the Realm – Game of Thrones Review

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 8:40 pm by Amanda Andonian

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Although it probably goes without saying, there are show spoilers (but not book spoilers) ahead in the following review. For those who have read A Song of Ice and Fire and know what’s coming next, please don’t jump the gun in the comments or pick apart this review based on knowledge of the books. It’s purposely written for those who have not read the books.

It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for since last season—the wildlings commence their attack on Castle Black, and the battle for the North truly begins. Unlike previous Game of Thrones episodes this season, “The Watchers on the Wall” focuses completely on just this part of the story, taking no breaks to check in with anyone else. We haven’t seen something like this since the Battle of the Blackwater back in season two, so you know that this episode is a pretty big deal. Roose Bolton might think that taking Moat Cailin makes him Lord of the North, but that title means nothing if the wildlings have free reign to rape and pillage throughout the land. It’s a thankless task, but the Night’s Watch must turn back hoards of giants, mammoths, and flesh eating Thanes if they want any chance of saving their own lives, let alone those of the people they’re sworn to protect.

Spoilers Ahead!

The episode opens in the lull before the storm as Jon and Sam stand watch over the Wall. In their heart-to-heart about love, it’s apparent just how little both men have actually experienced in life. Sam, whose father gave him the choice of taking the black or dying in an “accident,” can’t help but think on those experiences that he lacks, asking Jon about what it was like with Ygritte, questioning their vows and what they truly mean. Through the course of their conversation, we’re reminded that the Night’s Watch is made up of criminals and young men who’ve barely had a chance to live life themselves.

Despite that, the next several moments show everyone rising to the occasion when the going gets tough, or at least when they have 100,00 enemies beating down the door. Although he’d probably be the last to deny that he’s a bit of an asshole, Alliser Thorne shares a surprising moment of camaraderie with Jon on top of the Wall, admitting that it was a mistake not to seal the tunnels. In that moment, we’re treated to a rare glimpse of humanity in a character we’ve grown to despise. Yes, he’s a bullheaded jerk who’d like to see Jon dead, but he has his reasons for the decisions he makes, and they’re actually not terrible reasons.

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Alliser isn’t the only one who manages to rally himself. We see each man of Jon Snow’s ragtag group find it within himself to scrounge up the courage to fight without hesitation, pushing down the fear instead of letting it overwhelm them. Pyp might have started out as a terrible shot, but he kept shooting until Ygritte’s arrow found his throat. Grenn took the initiative, tricking Janos Slynt into going back down the Wall, effectively leaving Jon in charge to take over and supervise the defenses. Later, when Jon asks him to hold the inner gate, Grenn doesn’t hesitate, going down into certain death and uniting the brothers he took with him in the process. Grenn’s death in particular is poignant given his show of courage in the face of a stampeding giant, and it’s just too bad that we couldn’t see that fight ourselves in the time we had.

However, it’s Sam who undergoes the most change in his episode. Despite the dire circumstances, Sam not only takes charge of every situation he’s faced with, but he does so with the kind of intrepid daring that he never would have found within himself in the first season. Shouting at Pyp to “open the fucking gate,” he even surprises his friend by swearing for the first time in recent memory. It’s this new Sam who finds the balls to kiss Gilly before going off into battle, who keeps Pyp’s spirits up until his friend dies in his arms, and who urges the scared little boy, Olly, to man his post, take up a weapon, and defend himself. That last one was a bit of a mistake, but Sam couldn’t have known that the poor kid would kill the love of Jon’s life!

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Speaking of that, Ygritte and Jon have their final confrontation as well, and it doesn’t go as either of them planned. Determined to put an arrow through Jon’s heart, Ygritte discovers that she actually can’t deal the final death blow. His bewildered and sweet smile completely undoes her, and that moment of hesitation allows Olly to shoot her in the back. For Jon, it’s the worst thing that could have possibly happened, and everything fades away, including the urgency of the battle, as he holds her dying in his arms. When Ygritte breathed her last, I have to admit I was a little disappointed with her final words. Granted, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” has become something of a mantra where she’s concerned, but it was a little on the nose, in my opinion.

Trite death words aside, if only every episode of Game of Thrones could be like this! We got plenty of time with the characters, we saw Jon Snow finally step up and become a leader, and we got a ton of well-shot action and battle scenes. True to Game of Thrones form, episode nine is definitely the strongest of the season thus far. Presumably next week will go back to the plodding pace we’re accustomed to, but I hope that it ends the season on a bang because the Battle for Castle Black is going to be a tough act to follow.

“The Watchers on the Wall” – A

Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 9, “The Watchers on the Wall” aired June 8th, 2014 on HBO.

You can follow Amanda on Twitter at @reiko516 for more geek news.

Please Note – Due the nature of this show being inconsistent with the books’ timeline in terms of plot, we want to remind everyone that there is a zero tolerance policy regarding spoilers in the comments. Keep discussions relevant to the show only!

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