Beyond the Wall: Where does Watchers on the Wall rank?

Game of Thrones the Watchers on the Wall Jon Snow Sam Tarley

“Watchers on the Wall” was a phenomenal effort on the part of the cast and crew of ‘Game of Thrones.’ How does it compare to the series’ other standout episodes? Spoilerphobes, don’t forget that Beyond the Wall is for readers of the books!

 

Each year, Game of Thrones’ ninth episode is generally “the big one.” Season one gave us Ned’s beheading in “Baelor,” two was “Blackwater” and last year was the Red Wedding. In the fourth season, we’ve already seen a King poisoned, Lysa sent flying and a Viper squashed … so when producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss said that episodes nine and ten would be equally as big, we had to know they were bringing out the big guns.

“The Watchers on the Wall” represents the first time since “Blackwater” that an episode has focused on a single geographical location — and thus story (I mean, only five names in the open credits is a record). Considering that and the nature of the episode itself, the two hours of television have been compared extensively online. Most of the talk has been that “Blackwater” is the better of the two, but one of our Clackers disagrees

If you didn’t think of Donal Noye when Grenn was sent to hold the gate, this post is not for you.
But before we get into that, our weekly SPOILER WARNING: Beyond the Wall is a column intended for those who’ve read (at least once … we know some of you are overachievers) the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin that the series is based on. So, if you didn’t think of Donal Noye when Grenn was sent to hold the gate, this post is not for you.

Ivey: So, Game of Thrones episode nine … the place on my schedule with the words “Shit’s gonna get real” pencilled in. I thought “The Watchers on the Wall” was phenomenal; it just might possibly be my favorite episode of the series. Sure, there’s a lot of great candidates, but there was something about the small moments this week that just rang true for me.

Ser Alliser proving that while he is a certified ass, he is nothing if not a Man (with a capital M) of the Night’s Watch. Sam and Maester Aemon’s quiet conversation about love before the battle began. Pyp and Sam. Janos the craven. Sam the slayer. Jon the commander. Edd the leader. And Grenn, poor Grenn, a man who knew he was being sent to die and nonetheless stood his ground.

Ivey: From the bird’s eye view of the southern charge to the mind-boggling 360 crane shot after Jon Snow entered the fray, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything better on television in a long, long time.
Plus the action was probably better than anything we’ve seen to date in the series. The flight choreography was top-notch. The writing and the editing worked so seamlessly to tell the story of the battle; we always knew exactly what was going on. Considering that it was a battle being fought on two fronts, that’s just incredible work. And that’s not even talking about the camera work. From the bird’s eye view of the southern charge to the mind-boggling 360 crane shot after Jon Snow entered the fray, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything better on television in a long, long time.

Bob: Wow. That’s very … emphatic. You think it might be your favorite episode of the show; I’m not sure it would crack the top 15 of my list. Not that it was bad episode, because it certainly wasn’t. It was great, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t watch this show for the action sequences. They may have been fantastic in this episode (and for my money the action was better than in “Blackwater”), but I much rather watch Varys blathering on about court politics than Jon Snow swinging Longclaw around. These big fights are fun every now and then, though, and they are a bit of a rarity on the show, so I have no cause for complaint.

As you say, the production was quite impressive during the episode, and I would be shocked if Neil Marshall doesn’t get an Emmy nod for his superlative work (though he’s going to have some real stiff competition in Cary Joji Fukunaga for his work on True Detective). As impressive as Marshall’s crane shot was, I have to give the nod to the Fukunaga’s amazing long shot in episode 4 “Who Goes There.” The visual effects were also top-notch in this episode too, from the giants to the sick-ass wall scythe, it all looked great.

Bob: As impressive as Marshall’s crane shot was, I have to give the nod to the True Detective‘s amazing long shot in episode 4 “Who Goes There.”
For me, the character moments from the episode were not as impactful as they were for you. I think a lot of that had to do with the amount of time we have spent with the characters to date. I wonder how many viewers (even book readers) knew Grenn as anything other than “Jon’s friend with the beard.” His death is supposed to be hugely emotional? Maybe if he and the other guys at the gate had fired some arrows at the rampaging giant instead of staring at him clutching their swords and reciting their oath, he would have made it through the defense … but now I’m just nitpicking.

Honestly, I’m a little disappointed the show decided to humanize Thorne a bit in this episode. I get that they needed to do something to get the audience to cheer for him and not Tormund in that fight (though Blackwater was ostensibly a fight between Joffrey and Stannis — talk about a lose/lose situation), but he’s one of the more hateable characters in the novels — in a good way. I’m a little afraid that he’ll be too soft of a character moving forward … if he’s alive, that is.

Ivey: Yes, arrows from Grenn and his brothers would have been so much more effective than the arrow the giant had already been shot with (in fact, Grenn even mentions that in the tunnel). You do raise a fair point though: if “The Watchers on the Wall” fails on any level, it is because Game of Thrones has spent a great deal less time with the secondary characters on the Wall than they have anywhere else. Pyp was left behind when most everyone else we knew went north for the ranging and Grenn took a bit of a back seat to Dolorous Edd in recent seasons.

Ivey: And there’s always young Ollie, whom we all knew in the back of our minds would avenge his father’s death in this episode.
But we’re not the average fans. We’ve read the books (twice in my case, I think more in yours). I also binged watched the whole series a couple of months ago. Despite the fact that Benioff and Weiss have done a lackluster job in making most audiences care about these two characters, I do care. Going into this battle, I knew there was going to have to be a cost to the Watch, and with no Donal Noye, that these boys were likely candidates. I mistakenly thought when Pyp fell, that would be the end of it.

There were, though, some great through lines that “Watchers on the Wall” paid off. Obviously the death of Ygritte and Jon’s loss. The burgeoning relationship between Sam and Gilly. The character arc that both Sam and Jon are going through; they’ve become men far different from the boys they were three seasons ago. And there’s always young Ollie, whom we all knew in the back of our minds would avenge his father’s death in this episode.

Bob: Yes, and while I think comparisons between this episode and “Blackwater” are a little misguided, I’m going to jump down that path anyway, as so many seem to be doing it this week. When you compare those character moments to Tyrion rousing the troops and embarrassing Joffrey, or Cersei cowering from the fight, worrying about her fate, I don’t think they hold up. Maybe that’s just me.

Ivey: This is far from the first time — and probably far from the last time — that you have called me misguided, but I guess that is my cross to bear. I like Tyrion, but I don’t think his pep talk was significantly better than Thorne’s (and simply not as good as Grenn’s). And while Cersei’s moment in the Red Keep with Tommen was great, once Tyrion loosed the wildfyre, I never really felt King’s Landing was in jeopardy. “The Watchers on the Wall” did, however, instill that tension.

Photo Credit: HBO

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