Game of Thrones: "The Watchers on the Wall" (Season 4: Episode 9) Recap/Analysis | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Game of Thrones: “The Watchers on the Wall” (Season 4: Episode 9) Recap/Analysis

HBO, Sundays 9 p.m.

Jun 09, 2014 Game of Thrones
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones, “The Watchers on the Wall,” then read no further.]

The Game of Thrones producers sure pulled a risky stunt by extending last week’s cliffhanger over one more week, but minutes into “The Watchers on the Wall” and Tyrion’s fate is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Like the penultimate season two episode, “Blackwater,” about Stannis Baratheon’s attack on King’s Landing, “The Watchers on the Wall” doesn’t sidestep from its primary narrative, the assault on Castle Black and The Wall by wildlings. It’s a 50-minute episode dedicated to a brutal battle. But within the swordfighting and bloodbath there are themes of regret and fixing past mistakes. After last week’s episode dealt with dramatic change for most Game of Thrones characters, this episode shows a few of them trying to reach back to better times, and undo their mistakes.

Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Sam (John Bradley) are both reunited with loves they once abandoned out of duty to the Night’s Watch. Jon is less vocal about his feelings, but when Sam prods him about what it’s like to be with a woman, it is clear that he still longs for Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Sam, on the other hand, takes a more pragmatic approach and logically deconstructs the oath they took as Crows and decides that loving and being with a woman isn’t strictly forbidden, as long as they don’t marry or father children.

The direction and staging of the battle is impressive, if even a bit tame by Game of Thrones standards. The tension remains high throughout, with Sam and Gilly’s (Hannah Murray) reunion carrying an emotional arch left void by Jon’s cold stoicism. Frustratingly, key scenes are left to the imagination, something very rare in a show known for gory death and sexposition. The giants storm the gates, but the shot cuts away just before they attack. Other scenes are left hanging for another episode. What was the point of Janos discovering Gilly in the storage room? And of course, the battle doesn’t even end here. The episode closes with Jon and Sam leaving Castle Black on a fool’s errand to kill the wildling leader Mance Rayder.

“Watchers on the Wall” still earns high marks for its consistency. While there were no tremendous shocks, it was a better episode overall than “The Mountain and the Viper.” But it reinforced the inevitability of change and destruction, even as the characters try everything they can to fight it. Kit Harrington (as Jon) pulls off the action hero, and when he finally sees Ygritte only to witness her death, he is truly heartbroken. But again, where Jon is a hardened badass, Sam balances the drama with a commendable performance of love and bravery. He and Gilly finally share a kiss this episode, and it was neither forced nor awkward amid such a grisly battle. Filming the epic war might have been more technically challenging, but this episode’s capacity to engage with themes of regret and longing are even more impressive.

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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November 9th 2014

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