‘The Watchers On The Wall’ was a single-location episode all about the battle for the Wall, once again directed by Neil Marshall, the man responsible for the similar ‘Blackwater’ from season 2. Marshall’s direction was certainly the highlight of this entry: the pacing was flawless and we got some very beautiful shots along the way, particularly the long take around the middle of the episode. Some neat effects work also made the giants attacking Castle Black standouts, big gruff creatures that posed a real threat to the Wall’s defenses. What didn’t quite work though was the fact that the first part of the episode was quite slow, simply calm before the storm, the show holding off on the spectacle to build up tension. The problem was, however, that everything we’ve seen of Castle Black and the Wildlings this season was buildup already. We got little bits of Jon, Sam, Ygritte, and now ‘The Watchers On The Wall’ started off with these little glimpses at what everyone was up to once again. The purpose of these is understandable but it felt very repetitive and Sam’s swooning for Gilly has never been particularly interesting since her character isn’t developed at all. When we did get to the action though, it was a joy to watch, because we’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.
The siege on Castle Black was thrilling to watch and well-structured: the show left us guessing which side was going to win this battle, and the final outcome really didn’t feel telegraphed at all. In the end the Night’s Watch was able to hold their fortress for now, but like Jon Snow said himself the problem is that this battle was essentially the result of a small scouting party attacking the Wall; Mance Rayder has the armies and manpower to attack over and over again until everyone holding Castle Black is dead. That’s why, in the end, Snow went out to track down Mance and kill him, eliminating the glue that holds all the Northern tribes together. Before leaving the Castle though, Jon was largely responsible for the fact the men lasted through the night: he took command, slayed Styr and managed to capture Tormund. Additionally, less of a victorious moment for our hero, he watched on as Ygritte got shot and then died in his arms. It was a well-intentioned moment, but the lack of screen time of her this season and the fact that these two character didn’t really get a “confrontation” before her death, made it feel strangely unimpactful. It also doesn’t helpt that, ever since Jon and Ygritte broke up, she turned into the cruel Wildling stereotype Westeros’ people usually talk about. A shame since we learned there was much more to her than that.
Other good moments included the six men holding down the gate under the Wall, which effectively turned into a situation with six men vs. one giant, or the moment when the men of the Night’s Watch dropped an anchor down the side of the Wall, which obliterated everyone who tried to climb up at that particular moment. After a while though, battle fatigue set in; there really wasn’t much to complement the fighting, which made the episode lack in emotional depth and intrigue. ‘Blackwater’ proved to be such an interesting outing because there was much at more at play during the battle (the assassination attempt at Tyrion, for example), but ‘The Watchers On The Wall’ was a very straightforward bulk of action instead.
While ‘The Watchers On The Wall’ offered some thrills, beautiful shots and good fights, it didn’t have much depth to offer. Additionally the lack of screen time this season dedicated to this location and its characters, made for a lack of emotional involvement. It was a good episode, but nowhere near as good as the far superior ‘Blackwater’. 7/10