The ninth episodes of previous seasons of Game of Thrones have held epic battles, gruesome deaths and emotional shockers. This week, critics agree that this was a technically excellent episode hailing back to “Blackwater.” However, this crop of reviews also seems to be one of the most diverse in opinion this season.
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This was Game Of Thrones’ big battle episode, and it featured huge set pieces. HUGE. But you know what was really huge? The characters, and their incredible defining moments. There was sex, love, heroism, cowardice… and lots of killing.
For all the hardening experiences the young men at the Wall have been through, they retain some of the boyishness of their former lives. It was at its worst when the show served up a reminder that while David Benioff and Dan Weiss relish presenting us with the physical violence of Westeros, they sometimes shy away from the emotional violence that makes George R.R. Martin’s novels so striking.
B; “The Watchers On The Wall” is a technically impressive piece of television craft that seems designed almost explicitly to show off all of the various tricks in Game Of Thrones’ arsenal. On a purely technical level, this is maybe the series’ finest achievement yet. On a storytelling level, however, it mostly left me cold.
Writers/showrunners David Benioff & Dan Weiss and returning “Blackwater” director Neil Marshall made the best of an interchangeably black-clad and bearded situation. Giants and mammoths aside, the warring parties were far more poorly equipped than the clash of kings, so there was nothing quite as spectacular as the wildfire explosion. Instead, there was simply an object lesson in memorable action-filmmaking, one in which the individual beats of the battle had such clear and obvious consequences that the action helped sell the character work, even if you came in un-sold.
More book readers and Unsullied recaps, reviews and reactions under the cut
“The Watchers on the Wall” was an episode of Game of Thrones in which there was a hell of a lot of action and yet very little happened.
“The Watchers On The Wall” wants to be “Blackwater.”
While a visceral piece of action filmmaking and a spectacle worthy of “Blackwater,” it proves less a climax so much as long-delayed rising action to finally bring The Wall into play in the season’s narrative.
Like “Blackwater,” the second-to-last episode of season two, “The Watchers on the Wall” features two clashing armies, one defending a structure and the other battering it with all its might. But the anchors of this episode, its spine and its heart, are Jon and Sam.
“The Watchers on the Wall” was a triumphant, epic entry that – most of all – worked to reinvigorate one’s interest in The Wall storyline. By going bigger and bolder than “Blackwater” it almost over-delivered on the violence in order to make up for such a lengthy climb. And it was filled with many charged, excellent moments that I didn’t expect would give me goosebumps.
Neil Marshall once again proves himself the master of bringing epic action sequences to the small screen, as “The Watchers on the Wall” attempts to outstrip “Blackwater” in the action and visuals departments… and succeeds handily, marking the best episode of the season. The unique dimensions of the battle on two fronts matched with Marshall’s assured direction and exceptional set pieces creates a thrilling piece of television.
“Blackwater” is probably still the series’ high point, so you can’t blame Benioff and Weiss for trying to replicate it here, but the parallels can’t be exact…That said, Benioff, Weiss, Marshall and the entire production team seem to have recognized that they were working with less important raw material, and that they needed to compensate with something else: spectacle.
“The Watchers on the Wall” delivered all the dopamine-soaked CGI thrills of a $200 million summer blockbuster in half the time (and, presumably, less than half the cost). To see something so visually stunning and so relentlessly, unfathomably, occasionally uncomfortably huge…was both astonishing and deeply gratifying.
GO READ THE WHOLE THING!
[Another recap to read in entirety; great appreciation for all the macros]
This was my least favorite episode of the season, to be honest. However, the awesome Dire Wolf attack edges it into more positive territory. I give “Game of Thrones” S04E09 three surviving Crows out of a possible five… and I can’t see how there could possibly be more than five.
A shame, really, since “The Watchers on the Wall” was such a hugely ambitious episode. I just felt like the emptiest one of the season for me.
A-; “The Watchers On The Wall” has an exciting rhythm, alternating furious action with slower moments, conducting the different sections of the fight like an orchestra—only here that means a break to see mammoths and giants methodically prepare to tow the outer gate, instead of a drop-in with Cersei and the girls.
Episode 9. In the realm of “Game of Thrones,” it’s basically become code for “get ready.” Every season of the show has treated the penultimate episode (and not the finale) as the true climax, providing the definitive moment that kept people talking all summer.
Would an episode focused solely on The Wall and its related storylines and characters…rise to the occasion and captivate us like the next-to-last episodes of previous seasons? Almost, but not quite…Aside from the major moment with Jon Snow and Ygritte it was hard to feel too emotionally invested in anything that happened. And as visually exciting it was to watch everything unfold, the ending was surprisingly unfulfilling.
The episode conveyed the chaos of hand-to-hand combat without lapsing into the sort of dizzying, throw-everything-in-a-blender-and-set-it-to-11 cinematography that turns so many blockbuster action scenes into visual mush. In addition to the expected frenetic collages of swords and battle axes making splattery contact and the immersively depicted flaming-arrow onslaughts, there were other arresting moments small and large.
Unfortunately, Castle Black is not as well stocked with characters we love or love to hate as The Red Keep was, so the action in “Watchers on the Wall” wasn’t emotionally rich or compelling as that widely adored ep.
The power of “The Watchers On The Wall” is that, after 38 episodes of being told again and again that good people are weak because of their codes, we are finally shown hope in the most unlikely of places.
I am tempted to say that…“The Watchers On The Wall” is actually the best episode of the series. It’s at least the best of season four and is certainly a thematic milestone.
It can’t stand alone in greatness, since the bleak outlook of every preceding episode is necessary for it to be truly cathartic, but it most certainly is the tightest, most affecting piece of storytelling showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have managed with the Song of Ice and Fire source material.
Please do not discuss probable events in episode 10 in comments without using the spoiler highlight! This week more than ever is hard to discuss without looking to next Sunday.