After eight episodes of heavy-handed, slow-moving plot development, viewers were finally rewarded for their commitment to The Wall with this episode’s epic showdown.
With the haunting sound of a warning horn, one of the most action-packed episodes of the series kicked off as an army of wildlings began to advance on the vastly under-resourced, unmanned walls of Castle Black.
It seemed like a surefire massacre for the Crows and those who haven’t read the books probably started planning their “farewell Jon Snow” Facebook status or Twitter update then and there. If they didn’t, the image of giants riding mammoths in the willing army would have done the trick.
But then, something brilliant happened. The men of the Night’s Watch pulled it together and some dark horses came out of the woodwork to take control.
The first was Samwell Tarly. Spurred on by the unexpected (and unharmed) return of his beloved Gilly and her baby, Sam transformed into a confident, assured leader. His levelheaded guidance of less experienced members of the Watch was surprising, and may have something to do with his face-to-face encounter with a White Walker.
As Sam explains to Pyp, when faced with pure fear, a man “becomes nothing”, enabling him to do what needs to be done. Sadly, we lose Pyp, but not before he’s able to shoot a willing straight through the heart.
Thankfully, Sam takes his own advice and heroically shoots an arrow through the head of a hungry advancing member of the Thenn tribe. Was anyone else’s lounge room filled with loud cheering?
Alliser Thorne also reminds us why he’s the current leader of the Night’s Watch. On a good day, he’s arrogant, unable to listen to Jon Snow’s wise counsel and immature in his management methods. However, when faced with real combat, he holds his own and proves his worth, managing to take out several wildlings before retiring due to a pretty major wound.
He’s not the only one. Edd takes control atop the wall, throwing barrels down on advancing wildling rock climbers, and Grenn successfully holds the gate against an angry giant, but pays for it with his life.
Watchers on the Wall was the series’ most expensive episode to date, and it shows. The CGI is flawless, The Wall is suitably massive and the sheer number of extras involved is impressive in itself. However, all of that is eclipsed by the simple yet heartwrenching death of feisty Ygritte.
After Jon Snow plants an axe into the head of Styr (more cheering, anyone?), he turns to find his former love crouching with an arrow aimed directly at his head.
Bless Ygritte, she was never going to do it. Her lingering gaze proves that she will never quite move on from Jon Snow, just as we all expected. Her death is swift and heartbreaking, as the youngest member of the Night’s Watch (who watched his parents get murdered by wildlings only weeks earlier) exacts his revenge on what he thinks is the enemy.
The image of our favourite redhead dying in Jon Snow’s arms is one of the most memorable moments on the show, as are her apt last words: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
But it’s by no means a happy ending. While the Night’s Watch now have Tormund captive, Mance Rayder’s army is huge and relentless and the only hope the Wall has left lies with Jon Snow, who is now a broken, hopeless man. The episode ends with him leaving the relatively safe confines of The Wall to face Mance man-to-man.
With only one episode to go (I know, I feel it too), the writes have a lot of loose ends to tie up.
Where’s Bran? Is Tyrion doomed to die? And what on earth happened Gendry?
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, you have your work cut out for you.