Game of Thrones: “The Watchers on the Wall” Season 4 Episode 9 Review

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For the second time ever, Game of Thrones took an episode to focus on one storyline and gave us an epic battle. Welcome to the ninth episode folks. As usual, it didn’t disappoint.

The Watchers on the Wall is the climax of Jon Snow’s Season 4 storyline. With the whole season hinting at us where this was going to go, the battle for Castle Black was one hell of a good time.

With Gilly quickly making her way to the Nightswatch home base before the mayhem begins, we had a slow build and some strong character work with Samwell. He and Jon both had great moments of leadership in this episode.

Meanwhile, Ygritte and her band of wildlings south of the wall are biding their time for wildling leader Mance Rayder to make his attack on the north of the wall. Tension is built as Ygritte threatens to kill anyone who tries to kill Jon Snow before she does. Their reunion seems inevitable.

But first, we have the start of a war as giants, wooly mammoths, and thousands on thousands of men begin their attack. With the Nightswatch only consisting of about a hundred men, there is little hope for the crows. The scope was made clear as the camera swooped up and down the wall where flaming arrows struck down wildmen.

It makes for a perfect opportunity for the wildlings on the south side to attack as well. This is where the episode’s sword clanging came from. There was barely any score as Ygritte shot down crows and the wildmen killed everyone they could. Samwell manages to sneak up the elevator to bring Jon down for the smaller, more intimate battle.

Jon gets to be an action hero even before the elevator comes all the way back down, jumping out and swinging his sword at the nearest enemy. Of course he got to fight one of the largest men, who manages to bloody him up before Jon delivers a hammer to his skull.

Then came our inevitable reunion. Ygritte takes aim but hesitates. Jon just smiles, as if he’s happy to see her. There was no one everyone was going to make it out of here alive. Ygritte takes a fatal arrow, telling Jon that they never should have left the cave they made love in before dying in his arms.

Ygritte’s death was honestly one of the most effective the show has ever pulled off. I look back on Ned’s and the Red Wedding, some of the most shocking deaths in television history. At the initial moment, however, it’s too surprising to really feel what’s happening. Don’t get me wrong, the Red Wedding is a terrifying, heart-wrenching scene, but there was something so sad about Ygritte’s death that this show just hasn’t quite done before.

Last week, I complained that it was impossible to feel Oberyn’s death because, while likable, we really had no emotional stake in him. Ygritte’s was the total opposite. She and Jon had one of the most believable romances on the show, way more powerful than Robb Stark and his wife, who’s name escapes me.

Let’s face it, Ygritte was never a safe character, which is partially why her death was felt so strongly. By being slightly prepared for it, we have time to react and truly feel sadness in the moment she dies. Whereas, I had to rewatch the Red Wedding right after it aired because I simply didn’t believe what I saw. Regardless, Ygritte’s death was was one the most well-done deaths on the series yet, and that’s impressive considering she is minor compared to Ned, Robb, and Catelyn.

The Nightswatch manages to subdue the wilding threat for the night, with the anchor swing being one of the coolest things the show has ever done. Now Jon has a new mission: kill Mance Rayder. His methods seems a little impractical though as he marches off into the wilderness by himself. Oh well, it likely means we’ll get to see the great Ciaran Hinds, who plays Mance, on screen once more.

The Watchers on the Wall was the best episode of the season. Like Season 2’s masterpiece Blackwater, this episode proves that Thrones works incredibly well when it hones in on one group of characters and tells a big story. It was fun, action-heavy, and very emotional. Can’t ask for more. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

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