Game of Thrones Episode (4×09) Review – “The Watchers on the Wall”



Giants, Mammoths, and Lover’s Quarrels

As we near the end of the fourth season, Game of Thrones finally gives us the battle between the Wildlings and the men of the Night’s Watch that’s been building over the past several seasons. Directed by Neil Marshall who also directed the epic battle in season 2’s “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall” gave us a break from all of the other stories and delivered a very divisive action-packed episode. Looking around the Internet, many viewers didn’t see the point in giving this fight the whole hour, while others were thrilled to watch an epic battle. No matter how you may feel about the episode, it seems we all are dreading next week’s finale. The penultimate episode focused on the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch, two love stories, and the deaths of some characters we’ve known since season 1. So let’s begin!

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“Love is the death of duty.”

The episode began with Sam wanting Jon to tell him what sex was like, and Jon waxing poetic. This conversation was both sweet and foreshadowing to these two friends resolving their love lives. While Jon was of the belief that he was never meant to have Ygritte, Sam’s feelings for Gilly have grown so strong that even Maester Aemon can see it. In a surprising turn, Aemon doesn’t lecture Sam, but instead tells Sam of his first time. Later, Gilly returns to Castle Black and into Sam’s arms, while Jon watches Ygritte die from an arrow to the back.

All of this talk of love may have seemed out of place for a battle, but it served to develop Sam’s character more from being a sniveling coward to a man rushing into battle to honor his vows. Though I love him, Jon was mostly just Jon this episode, but it was Sam who was the most changed. No longer was he frightened of his own shadow, but Sam managed to save many lives, and even remembered to let Ghost out to claim a few victories of his own. Not even watching Pyp dying in his arms was enough to send Sam back in hiding with Gilly. Sam really stepped up, and hopefully this is a trend that will continue going forward.

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“Nothing makes the past sweeter to visit than the prospect of imminent death.”

There were many visits to the past this week. Aemon reminded Sam (and us) that he was The Man Who Could Have Been King and a Targaryen to boot. Not sure how important this is, but considering his niece? cousin? Dany is across the way raising three dragons with thousands of  men at her back waiting for the proper time to conquer Westeros, this just may end up being useful information down the road. Just a thought. Aemon’s story also served as a reminder that this Game of Thrones has been played for longer than we’ve been watching, and that no matter who wins, the game will never end.

Grenn and Pyp’s deaths served as a reminder (as we if we needed one) that no character is safe from dying. Though these two were not two of the most important characters in the series, they were Jon and Sam’s best friends, and may be foreshadowing for next week’s finale. Already this season has rid itself of characters great or small that we’ve come to know over the past four seasons more than any previous season, so it’s not a stretch to think prayers may need to be said as we head towards the final episode.

Sam: When you’re nothing at all, there’s no reason to be afraid.

Pyp: So you’re not afraid now?

Sam: Well, I’m not nothing anymore.

Episode 409 was really cool to watch. Creators/writers D.B.Weiss and David Benioff did a phenomenal job of making the battle look exactly like what book readers imagined in their heads. From the giants and mammoths, to the moment Ygritte died still saying, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” While there were some major changes to the character deaths between the books and the show, they were understandable. You needed to kill characters we really know and care something about to make their deaths have more of an impact. Director Neil Marshall did an excellent job of switching between the quieter moments of Sam and Jon talking on the Wall, Pyp dying in Sam’s arms, or Grenn and the others saying their oaths as a giant ran them down. Despite the similarities to the Helm’s Deep battle in Lord of the Rings, “The Watchers on the Wall” served as a reminder that this fictional world George R. R. Martin created is humungous, and there are bigger problems than who sits upon an Iron Throne.

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Questions… Comments…. Concerns…

  • Love that bookworm Sam took the time to read the fine print of his vows and found a loophole for the whole celibacy clause. Looks like he and Gilly can take their relationship further without Sam ending up in the stockade.
  • Wonder who Maester Aemon’s lady love was. Wouldn’t it be a gas if she turned out to be Olenna Tyrell? We all know the Queen of Thorns has major game.
  • Does Aemon know that Dany survived and is thriving across the Narrow Sea?
  • Will Janos Slynt get entombed in ice for his cowardice, or will we be forced to watch him cowering behind Gilly’s skirts in part 2 of the Wildling/Watcher battle?
  • What became of Ser Allister Thorne?
  • How are they going to get that giant out of the tunnels?
  • What do you think of Jon’s plan to pow wow with Mance Rayder? Yay or nay?