TV Review: “Game of Thrones” – “The Watchers on the Wall”

Written by Spencer Sterritt June 10, 2014

The Watchers on the Wall, Jon Snow

After being fairly absent from this season of “Game of Thrones,” the wildling army from the North that was such a focus in season three has finally returned in “The Watchers on the Wall,” a visually spectacular but thematically underwhelming penultimate episode.

Much like season two’s “Blackwater”, which is considered a series high point, “The Watchers on the Wall” is focused solely on one battle and only a few characters. In the North, Mance Rayder’s army of wildlings, giants, and mammoths approaches the Night Watch on top of the Wall, while Ygritte and Tormund finally make themselves useful by attacking Castle Black to the South.

“Love is the death of duty.”

Neil Marshall helmed both “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall,” and it’s clear why David Benioff and David Weiss brought him back. This episode is designed to be spectacular, and Neil Marshall knows what to do with a limited budget. All this season there has been a notable lack of dragons, mostly so that more money could be spent on grand shots of the 700 foot tall Wall.  There are giants and mammoths, and giants riding mammoths! It’s fantastic and awe-inspiring to see, especially when a giant shoots a huge arrow with such force that it impales a man, sending him flying to the ground on the other side of the Wall.

The Watchers on the Wall gif

For all the splendor though, “The Watchers on the Wall” is lacking. Season four has been the tightest season thematically and it’s a shame to see the important penultimate episode be wasted due to it’s minimal thematic significance. There’s a lot of talk of men and honour, but it’s all a rehash of conversations at the Wall from previous seasons. The only significant outcome of this episode is that poor Ygritte bites the bullet, or rather the arrow, but her and Jon’s romance was so long ago that her death scene does not make much of an impact. Sure it’s sad, but it’s not moving, and it’s quickly moved on from.

Game of Thrones, Watchers on the Wall

As much as I like Kit Harrington, he can’t pull this moment off.

Unfortunately “The Watchers on the Wall” feels like a breather between the epic trial by combat last week, and the sure to be brutal season finale. When your episode is one huge battle, though, it certainly shouldn’t feel like a breather. “Blackwater” wasn’t, and this episode shoots itself in the foot by trying to make the comparison. “Blackwater” had a huge and impressive battle, but it also had legitimate stakes, and there was a good amount of time spent with either side of the battle. When Mance attacks the Wall in this episode, however, it never feels like he has a legitimate chance to conquer it. There’s very little tension, only cool battle moments.

“No such thing as giants.”

I don’t want to tell the writers how to do their job, but I can’t help but feel that this episode could have been handled so much better if it was spread out, or at least if there was more preamble. After looking back on episodes four and five, I’m really annoyed the show didn’t better use it’s time to set up this huge conflict instead of giving us a pointless Arya or Brienne scene. The whole battle at the Wall takes place in one day, and then doesn’t even end, instead whiting out as Jon leaves the shelter of the Wall to go confront Mance Rayder (who hasn’t been seen on the show since episode four of last season).

The Watchers on the Wall, mammoths

Normally it’s difficult to fit discussion of an episode into only 600-700 words, but it was no problem at all this week with “The Watchers on the Wall.” It’s a nifty and well-shot episode, and it has some super cool deaths of nameless wildlings. Other than that there’s very little going on underneath all the swords and arrows. This is unfortunate given how deep this season of “Game of Thrones” has been so far.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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