Film, News & Commentary

Game of Thrones – season 4, episode 9, ‘The Watchers on the Wall’

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The Watchers on the Wall was a non-stop, action packed extravaganza of swords and gore that further raised Game of Thrones’ already impressively high bar for visual scale.
Director Neil Marshall made his return to the show, his only previous instalment being the similarly epic and stunning season two centrepiece Blackwater. He made his presence felt, utilising the impressive visuals of flaming arrows tracing across pitch black skies with CGI mammoths and giants. An extended tracking shot that pivoted around the carnage of Castle Black was a particular highlight.
Yet if the episode has a fault it was the lack of conclusion. One of the many reasons why Blackwater was so effective was that it was a self-contained 55-minute film with a clearly defined resolution. While The Watchers on the Wall effectively set up what should be a thrilling series conclusion next week, it lacked the climactic pay-offs that have become a staple of penultimate episodes for the show.
While the episode was primarily a visual spectacle, there were also some key character developments. Jon continues to evolve as an effective and inspiring leader, marshalling the forces atop the Wall. His most efficient decisions were geared towards prioritising targets to defend the Wall (noting the climbers were not an immediate danger) and redistributing forces to protect the gate and then the castle below.
The breakout character of this episode was Ser Alliser Thorne. While he has excelled previously for yelling at Jon, snarling at Jon and generally disagreeing with anything Jon said, he finally spread his wings a bit further beyond drill sergeant thuggery. In a moment of humility he acknowledged his fault in not sealing the tunnel, but also provided Jon with a lesson in leadership, rousing the troops in the face of a wildlings attack.
The episode also dealt with a rare theme for Game of Thrones: love. Sam spends a great amount of effort nit-picking the fine print of his vows for loopholes while making some misguided promises to always protect Gilly. “Father no children” may not technically forbid physical intimacy, but Sam is surely grasping at straws.
Game of Thrones has, to my mind, never quite excelled at romantic storylines. With all the matrimonial murders taking place it’s probably no surprise, but the closer you get to loving someone in this world, the more likely they are to end up dead.
Sure enough, the fiery affair of Jon and Ygritte reached a head when Jon watched Ygritte die before his eyes. It was a dutifully sad moment that was the true emotional climax of the episode.
Mance did promise “the biggest fire the North has ever seen”, and while his bonfire was considerable it didn’t appear to be an obvious contender for all-time incendiary significance.
But I digress.
Jon’s apparent suicide mission to take out the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder, seems desperate and (whisper it) foolish, but against the innumerable forces of the wildlings he has few options. He is astutely aware that the only real thing holding the myriad tribes of wildlings together is Mance. The already paltry number of members of the Night’s Watch has been further reduced, while the hordes of wildlings have plenty left in reserve. After already breaching the tunnel once, there is no reason to assume they would not be able to do so again soon.
After the sacrifices made by his fellow members of the Night’s Watch, particularly Grenn, whom he asked to hold a giant at bay, Jon’s act is another act of sacrificial leadership. And following closely in the wake of Ygritte’s death, he is in fairly depressed mental state to welcome it.
More than anyone else, Jon realises that differences between the wildlings and the Night’s Watch are predominantly superficial. Through his time with Ygritte and the wildlings last season, he began to really understand the root cause of the bitterness between the two. The Wall is in many ways an arbitrary dividing line between the two, which the wildlings have come to see as a symbol of impingements upon their natural freedom; for The Night’s Watch, over time the distinction between the wildlings and other enemies beyond the wall has evaporated.
If Jon Snow has any hope of winning over Mance’s trust it will be by emphasising the greater enemy they share: the White Walkers.

2 responses to “Game of Thrones – season 4, episode 9, ‘The Watchers on the Wall’

  1. Has anyone figured out why HBO isn’t showing each episode in cinemas? I know plenty of people who pirate the episodes who would instead be happy to watch in a movie theatre (say, the day after the US tv release) and we all know the cinematic style of the show would be great in a cinema. I think they’d make a killing.
    This episode had better battle scenes than most epic films, and who wouldn’t want to see a giant riding a mammoth on a movie screen!

  2. Hi DailyReview,
    Is there any point to these ‘recaps’ besides click-baiting and riding off the success and ubiquity of Game of Thrones?

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