Well wasn’t that just incredible?
The great thing about The Watchers on the Wall is its singular focus: no distracting sublots or a dozen characters vying for our attention, just Jon Snow and the gang fighting to stay alive at Castle Black. Just like his impeccable direction of season two’s iconic Blackwater, Neil Marshall is utterly astounding here: capably realizing the intense battle sequences and enormous scope to bring something truly special to life.
The cinematography in this climactic hour is especially phenomenal. From the haunting shot of the burning forest with Jon in the foreground, to that epic 360 shot of the battle inside Castle Black, the entire thing is worthy of a Hollywood production. Even the CGI is solid, with thrilling shots of the giants and mammoths causing immense destruction at every turn.
The brutality is also on display in the fight choreography. Alliser and Tormund’s skirmish is exciting, but it’s Jon and Styr’s fight that proves spectacular. It’s a riveting battle that culminates in Jon smashing the savage’s face with a hammer in one of the show’s most satisfying moments. The darkness is then cleverly contrasted with the heartbreaking reality of Ygritte’s death in Jon’s arms after she hesitates to kill him. It’s outstanding really that so much story and emotion is packed into an hour that doesn’t spare any expense when it comes to action. Wow!
Speaking of contrast, the episode’s ending is an elegant bookend with Jon walking into the light to kill Mance (not before giving Longclaw to Sam). It’s gorgeously filmed with rousing music that perfectly brings the hour to a close.
Bits & Beheadings
– So amusing: Sam saying the Night’s Watch vows are open to interpretation and asking Jon for details about sex.
– I love that they don’t really emphasize the Thenn Warg as he watches Castle Black through an owl.
– How tough is Ygritte standing up to Styr and all the men in the Wildling camp on her own?
– The fact that Sam discusses ladies with Maester Aemon. The latter also reminds us that he’s a Targaryen. Hmm…
– Badass Ygritte moment: grabbing the flaming arrows and shooting them back.
– My favorite moment of the hour: the giant shooting an arrow into a crow who flies off the wall and crashes all the way below onto a spear. Mindblowing!
– How clever is Grenn telling Slynt he’s needed down below so Jon can start making decisions? Also, the fact that Slynt hides in the kitchen with Gilly is hilarious!
– Pyp’s death is pretty shocking: he’s shot in the neck by Ygritte of all people.
– Sam killing the Thenn Warg at the last second was awesome!
– The most cheerworthy moment: Ghost getting released and attacking the Wildlings. It’s a moment that really feels earned.
– Insane moment: the giant chasing the mammoth which has been set on fire and getting shot in the back.
– Goosebump sequence: Grenn and his men chanting the oath as the terrifying giant opens the gate with his bare hands and charges at them. As we learn at the end, no one survived including Grenn.
– Ygritte tells Jon one last time that he “knows nothing”. The shot of her dying in his arms surrounded by chaos and fire is just stunning.
– The scythe being dropped and killing a slew of Wildlings while leaving a hanging arm is also an unforgettable sight.
– Tormund is taken prisoner. I’m glad he wasn’t killed off!
– It’s fascinating that Olly is the one who kills Ygritte with an arrow, as she’s the one who shot his dad in Breaker of Chains. Talk about symmetry!
Kings & Quips
Sam: So what’s it like?
Job: There’s this person, this whole other person. And you’re wrapped up in them and they’re wrapped up in you. And you…for a little while, you’re more than just you.
Alliser: Do you know what leadership means, Lord Snow? It means that the person in charge gets second-guessed by every clever little twat with a mouth. But if he starts second-guessing himself, that’s the end… for him, for the clever little twats, for everyone.
Sam: I wasn’t Samwell Tarly anymore. I wasn’t a steward in the Night’s Watch or son of Randyll Tarly or any of that. I was nothing at all. And when you’re nothing at all, there’s no more reason to be afraid.
Pyp: But you’re afraid now?
Sam: Yes, well… I’m not nothing anymore.
Tormund: I should have thrown you from the top of the Wall, boy!
Jon: Aye. You should have.
An explosive and action-packed pentultimate episode that’s memorable in every way.