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

Last night was another single-setting episode of Game of Thrones a la “Blackwater,” but while “The Watchers on the Wall” crammed a lot of action into its short-for-Game-of-Thrones length (it clocks in at just 49 minutes) I don’t think it’s as successful as “Blackwater” in terms of actual, you know, storytelling. Because it’s basically one huge event, I won’t do my regular lengthy recap. This week, I’ll just do a list of what I loved and what I hated and what I would have liked to see done differently. I’ll also do some predictions at the end of what I’d like to see and what I actually expect to see in next week’s finale, title “The Children.”

As always, spoilers under the cut for the episode and for book-related commentary and speculation.


What I loved:

  • The long shot moving through the battle. The coordination and technical expertise it must have taken to achieve this is truly impressive. Kudos to Neil Marshall for directing this.
  • The fight choreography was excellent.
  • Ygritte’s death, even after all the character assassination she’s been subjected to this season, made me tear up. Jon’s smile when he sees her just about broke my heart.
  • Kit Harington really excelled as the leading man in this episode. I’m not really a Jon Snow fan, and he’s not a big talker, so Harington often just sits around looking pouty with beautiful hair, but this episode proves that he definitely can act.
  • I liked the giants and the mammoth a lot.
  • Sam stuff. It was nice to see Sam being useful throughout the battle. I also rather liked his scenes with Gilly, although I think maybe it’s not a great decision to progress that relationship farther along than it was in the book at this point. I also really liked the scene with Maester Aemon, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time.
  • The scythe. That thing was brutal, and a hand and forearm dangling from the wall was one of the most gruesome images of the episode.
  • Tormund Giantsbane. Definitely my favorite Wildling character after Ygritte, and I actually had started to suspect he might get killed in this episode. But he’s not. Just captured. Probably we won’t see him again until season 5, but I’m glad we’ll see him again.
  • Grenn’s death. I knew we weren’t going to get Donal Noye at all, but I didn’t really expect Grenn to die in his place. This worked well, and it was suitably heroic and sad.
  • In general, I liked that there really was a sense of real danger in this episode. I never felt like Jon or Sam was going to die, although that could just be because I know that those two characters at least can’t die yet because I’ve read the books. However, I honestly felt throughout the whole battle that death could come for anyone. I think this sense of real danger is something the show has struggled to convey without it turning into heavy-handed foreshadowing, but the deaths of Grenn and Pyp in particular were almost entirely unexpected and therefore shocking and emotionally moving.

What I hated:

  • Sam and Jon moping at the beginning of the episode.
  • Gilly’s return. I love Gilly, and I love Gilly and Sam, but their being reunited this way was just too predictable. I never liked the whole Gilly going to Mole’s Town story to begin with, and it still feels like contrived drama meant to kill time throughout the season. As with the Craster’s storyline, it doesn’t actually add anything to the story, and all the pertinent characters are basically in the same situation before and after.
  • The ending of the episode. I hate this so much. Game of Thrones seldom does true cliffhanger endings, but this is kind of one of them, and it’s the worst. Being a book reader and sort of knowing how this story should go, this is maybe the most frustrating possible ending to this episode. Especially given that the episode is such a short one, I seriously feel cheated by this episode ending. It means that Jon’s conversation with Mance and the arrival of Stannis will both have to happen in next week’s episode, which will already be jam-packed with important stuff. The arrival of Stannis, in particular, should be a hugely epic moment, and it deserves to be the final scene of an episode, but if it’s actually the last scene of the season I will lose my shit.
  • 49 minutes?! This is absurd. With the sheer volume of source material they are working from, every episode should be 56+ minutes long and bursting at the seams with stuff going on. I understand the desire for these huge, penultimate episodes, and I can see how the battle at Castle Black was a tempting sequence to give the same treatment as the Battle of the Blackwater, but it’s pretty much just a battle. I don’t watch Game of Thrones or read ASOIAF for action. I watch/read it for wonderful characters and fascinating stories. I think the show runners are doing the viewers a disservice by focusing on action and cool CGI at the expense of character and  plot. This episode in particular could have been improved by adding an extra 10 minutes of material to it.

Looking forward to next week:

  • We will definitely see Mance. I will be fucking furious if we don’t see Dalla and Val.
  • We will definitely see Bran and company arrive at the creepy tree. I am still feeling sore about the omission of Coldhands from the show, but this is finally when Bran’s story starts to be interesting to me in the books.
  • We will definitely be getting some more of Arya and the Hound. Arya needs to be on a ship to Braavos before the end of the episode, in my opinion. As much as I love Arya and the Hound, I think they’ve put off their parting for long enough.
  • We will definitely see Jaime spring Tyrion from jail.
  • Which means that we should also definitely see Tywin’s death and Shae’s death and Tyrion’s flight across the Narrow Sea.
  • Hopefully we will see Brienne and Podrick. I’ve seen some speculation that they will cross paths with Arya and the Hound, but I hope that’s not the case. The Lady Stoneheart reveal absolutely needs to happen in 4.10, and if it doesn’t I think it will be an enormous failure on the part of the writers/show runners.
  • Judging from the synopsis available of the episode, we will be getting some Daenerys next week. I don’t really know what that will be. Yawn.
  • Honestly, I think 4.10 needs to be a two-hour episode to cover all the material they seem to be trying to shove into it, but I don’t think that will happen. I expect it to be frantically paced and to not give any of the storylines the time/attention/care they deserve. We’ll see.

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