Tales From Westeros – The Watchers on the Wall


HBO, and especially Game of Thrones, is known for penultimate episodes that deliver the biggest punches of the season. (See: Season 1, Ned Stark’s beheading; Season 2, the Battle of Blackwater Bay; Season 3, the Red Wedding.) Last Sunday’s “The Watchers on the Wall,” portraying the Battle of Castle Black, was no exception, and to be honest I have absolutely no idea how to write about it. It was an episode that nearly gave me a coronary—an hour of expertly choreographed, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, heartbreaking battle. To paraphrase Special Agent Dale Cooper, it was damn fine television.


As the hour opens, Sam and Jon are at the Wall discussing Jon’s relationship with the wildlingYgritte. It’s a conversation similar to one many young men have had throughout the ages, except these two young men are tangled up in a web of, shall we say, unique circumstances. Not only are they both men of the Night’s Watch and have sworn a vow not to marry (though Sam definitely put his formidable smarts to good use unraveling the logic on that one), but the woman in question is of the free folk and a sworn enemy. I think these things could eventually be overlooked if there weren’t a HUNDRED THOUSAND wildlings waiting to hop the Wall and do work on Castle Black. So yeah, a bittersweet convo because Sam just wants to know what it’s like to be with a woman, because he might never know. Jon displays his typical Northern gruffness as he tries to describe the deed, finally growing frustrated and declaring that he’s not a poet. Which was adorable, am I right?

Ser Alliser

Meanwhile, it seems the wildling equivalent of bragging about your sexual conquests is sitting around a fire and insinuating you had relations with a bear. Tormund Giantsbane has had relations with a bear. (Maybe?) It sure escalated quickly too—from hoarse braggery to a bunch of wildlings arguing over gets to kill Jon, with Ygritte fully winning the rights. A sneaky Gilly is shown creeping past them on her way back to Castle Black and her man Sam, whose candlelight reading is interrupted by Maester Aemon waxing philosophical at him. Whatever he said gave Sam some balls, because he finally grew a pair and planted one on Gilly when he saw she was alive. Another character doing something, well, uncharacteristic, is Ser Alliser admitting to Jon that he was wrong and should have taken his advice. Unusual situations will bring out a man’s hidden qualities, or in the case of the weasel Janos Slynt, not so hidden as he steals away from the fighting to save his own hide. Weasel.

Sam Gilly

The first quarter of “The Watchers on the Wall” works to cover some ground the rest of the season simply didn’t have time to. In the books, the Battle of Castle Black happens a bit earlier than how it’s portrayed in the series, which (I’m assuming) included the other Night’s Watch subplots to bridge the time gap and keep the action going. We spend some time with the Brothers, and it’s more evident now than it ever was that they (with the exception of a few) are just a bunch of thieves and miscreants (some with a heart of gold, etc) in exile from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. There are a little over a hundred of them facing siege against a hundred thousand wildlings, and no one in Westeros knows or cares, really. They’re terrified, and most will surely die.


And this is where my notes end, the bottom of the page simply scrawled with one oversized word: “BATTLE.” Neil Marshall, who also helmed the other huge episode-
long battle, Season 2’s “Blackwater”, directed “The Watchers on the Wall,” and his sense of detailed high drama was well served by the extra time he had to direct this episode (he only had a few days to prepare for “Blackwater”). So instead of talking about plot, let’s talk about the visual feast. There are many ways to film a battle, but Marshall (an avid scholar of martial history) aimed to recreate it as realistically as possible. He mentioned in an interview that he had the idea for the now-famous 360-degree shot once he walked onto the Castle Black set, which is basically an open courtyard. This is used to full effect during the long take, not only with the expertly choreographed swordplay, but all the other random fighting that took place—men barreling down stairs, through open corridors, across the courtyard. It placed us in the middle of the action in a very real way, the only distraction a constant nagging in our heads of “holy shit, this is an awesome long 360-degree shot wow dude.” (I can only speak for myself, but seriously.) The perspective changed frequently (the archers shooting at wildlings over the edge of the Wall is a good example), another trick to throw us in there. There was a lot of “OMG giants, OMG mammoths?!, OMG crazy ice picking wildlings” to satisfy you special effects lovers. In general, it was a pretty damn badass battle situation. Stamp of approval.


I feel that they could have emphasized the relationship between Jon and Ygritte a bit more in the previous episodes. The death of Oberyn Martell had a lot of people claiming the same thing, but I felt his character played a prominent part this season and was as fleshed out as it could possibly be given the restraints of a television show drawing from thousands of pages of material. In contrast, we’ve only gotten a bit of the girl kissed by fire on a mission to kill the one she loves, with a little reminder about a long ago day spent in a cave. There’s a fine line between love and hate (so they say), and she has evidently crossed it. But has she? Jon and Ygritte finally cross paths during the battle, and the immediate, love-lit smile that crosses Jon’s face when he lays eyes upon her is heartrending. They look at each other for a long moment; it’s unclear whether Ygritte will release the arrow or not—but she never gets the chance. She’s killed by the young boy whose entire village was annihilated by wildlings; you can’t fault him, but you kind of do as you watch Jon hold a dying Ygritte, trying to comfort her during her last seconds. “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” A thousand lonely tears. I wanted to fill entire mason jars like Allison in “Cry-Baby.”

Jon Ygritte

What did you think of “The Watchers on the Wall?” Did it fulfill your expectations? Can you even imagine going through all that and having to deal with the aftermath and possibly even more battling? It makes me feel like a lily-livered, couch-planting chump for sure. But you never know what your true mettle is until it’s tested…never thought I’d say this, but RIP Ser Alliser Thorne.

-Izzy Vassilakis Eden

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Posted on June 13, 2014, in Geekology, Tales from Westeros, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. A Twin Peaks and a Cry-Baby reference… <3

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