Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 9
The Watchers on the Wall
Adam O'Brien

As a rule, I don’t really watch “next week on _____” segments. There’s never anything of substance, and I’m happy to spend the next six days and twenty-three hours in affable ignorance about what’s in store. It’s only there to get the viewers excited and to spend the next week talking about it around the water cooler (or whatever the kids have now). As Angela Kinsey once said on The Office, “I hate being titillated.” And so I had no idea that this week was going to be dedicated entirely to the war on the Wall. I heard whisperings that this episode was going to put “Blackwater” to shame, but I didn’t pay much attention. Maybe I should have.

For all their importance to the story, the Night’s Watch hasn’t had too much going on the last few episodes, and it looks like it was mostly to save up for this. The episode’s focus is a little tighter than Blackwater’s, and understandably so, since there are fewer key characters in the mix. There was the opening act where everybody is tense and Aemon gives Sam some grandfatherly advice, the battle itself, both atop the wall and in the training yard, and a brief view of the aftermath, with no wasted or unnecessary scenes.

Jon got to try the big boy shoes on for an episode. He didn’t do a half bad job of commanding the assault from the top of the wall, and it was almost heartwarming to see him getting along with Ser Alliser. Maybe this means Jon has won back the respect of the Night’s Watch as a brother and perhaps future leader? And does Thorne respect him now as well? It’s hard to guess, but I get the feeling that Janos Slynt isn’t finished making trouble yet.

Ygritte’s death was hard, but I think it was pretty obvious that it had to happen. There was no way for the plot to reasonably resolve with her alive. Moreover, in a much larger sense, it’s important for Jon’s story for him to experience this kind of loss. I’ll say this: in a show of frequent and unheralded death, the way Jon holds Ygritte as she dies was such a bittersweet moment.

Personally, what I took harder were Pyp’s and Grenn’s deaths. I didn’t see them coming, except in that immediate way where you see somebody put his head up to shoot several times in a row, and you know that one of those times he’s going to take an arrow. They’re certainly still alive and kicking in the books. But again, a major theme of the series is that war is hell, and everybody loses ones they care about. (Further reading: in the book, one of the saddest casualties was Donal Noye, an infinitely admirable, one-armed blacksmith who died killing the King of the Giants in the Wall’s tunnel. Still, Grenn did a man’s job in filling that role.)

The whole episode flowed so well, I was both amazed that it was all done in only 50 minutes and disappointed that it wasn’t a bit longer when it ended. Season finale next week. Where did the time go?

Grade: A-

Other Thoughts:

-This was the right decision. King’s Landing needs time to cool off and settle after last week’s trial by combat.

-Goddamn Maester Aemon. As far as I’m concerned that man cannot have enough screen time.

-I’m no great fan of Kit Harington, but I have to admit, the kid can move.

-That Thenn guy, Styr, was possibly the most stereotypical villain on the show so far, and had a fitting stereotypical end. Eh.

-I guess Jon learned his lesson from that defector about spitting in someone’s eye to throw them off in a fight. What an awkward but somewhat satisfying touch.

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