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Game of Thrones Season Four, Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall” Review

(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)

****

It is a Game of Thrones tradition that episode nine, the penultimate episode of each season, has been the crown jewel. Season one saw Ned Stark’s beheading; season two featured the Battle of Blackwater, and season three shocked audiences with the Red Wedding. Needless to say, expectations were high for “The Watchers on The Wall;” the ninth episode of the best season yet, and the most expensive episode of the series so far. And who better to helm this instalment, than Neil Marshall, the same man responsible for the triumphant, epic “Blackwater”. Truth be told, “The Watchers On The Wall” is less a plot-advancing episode, but… it features spellbinding moments, big battles, raw emotion, and pure poetry. All honour and praise are due the visionaries behind the project. Marshall and his crew, deliver something operatic and beautiful – striking an ideal balance of combat and camaraderie. “The Watchers On The Wall” is such a crowning achievement, such a pure spectacle, that it can be enjoyed even by those who have not seen a single episode of the HBO series. This is 50 minutes of total mastery, with extended, epic battles handled with flourish and coherence. Like “Blackwater,” “The Watchers On The Wall” has an exciting rhythm, and leaves viewers gripping their seats right up until the closing credits roll. This episode is everything a fan could want and possibly more. Can you tell I’m a fan?

“The Watchers on the Wall” is everything a fan could want and possibly more

“The Watchers on the Wall” isn’t just action. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss make plenty of room for some good character moments as well, and the attention to the small things really gives this episode its stature. Take, for instance, Sam and Jon Snow’s talk about sex, vows, and the women in their lives. Or how about Sam’s conversation with Maester Aemon in the library, who reminds us, that he’s actually Aemon Targaryen. Not only does the identity of his one true love set up a mouthwatering mystery, but these quieter moments are all well written, good-natured and emotionally engaging. And then there is Ser Alliser Thorne, who is finally given something to do besides snarl and glare. “The Watchers on the Wall” fires on all cylinders, and if we can put aside the giants, mammoths, and wildlings, these simple conversations between these wonderful characters, make the episode even more compelling. Aemon’s words of wisdom to Sam, Sam’s promise to Gilly, Pyp stuck by Ygritte’s arrow, and Grenn holding the gate are for me, the moments that really stand out. Sure the secondary characters die and the main characters seem unstoppable, but that’s ok. I mean how often can the series kill off its principle leads, before the unexpected soon becomes habitual? “The Watchers on the Wall” finds time to slow down, and it does so elegantly. When Ygritte and Jon finally come face-to-face, we know one of them will die, but we are never quite sure who until that arrow goes bursting through her neck. And credit to Rose Leslie for her wonderful portrayal of the show’s best female character yet. Her death is yet another gut-wrenching moment, as is the moment Grenn and his colleagues sing the oath of The Night’s Watch, just as the giant charges through the gates. “The Watchers on the Wall” is an experience of epic scope and grandeur, a profoundly moving and deeply satisfying entry that will not soon be forgotten.

In size and scale, Marshall has brought new meaning to the word epic. From a purely visual standpoint, “The Watchers On The Wall” may be the most accomplished episode Game Of Thrones; one that seizes your attention, and holds you through the action-packed hour. There is a cast of hundreds of extras, loads of practical effects, and brilliant use of CGI to flesh out the backgrounds and expand the universe. Castle Black is hit from all sides, and the geography is ever so clear. Notice the expert camera work as the actors are clearly visible battling through the wreckage; and what about those beautiful POV shots of Ygritte firing at her targets. For one hour, “The Watchers on the Wall” entertains, enthralls and awes.

Just a few more highlights I need to mention: Alliser fighting Tormund – Edd dropping that massive anchor scraping alongside the wall and killing the ascending wildlings – Jon Snow killing Styr with a hammer – the giants riding mammoths – the giants firing off their giant longbows – the 360 aerial shots of everyone fighting – and the stunning long-take as the camera sweeps across Castle Black and over the Wall.

– Ricky D

Other thoughts:

Jon Snow: “I don’t know — I’m not a bleeding poet.”

How great is it to see Samwell Tarley at the centre of the action?

Written By

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the Sordid Cinema Podcast and NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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