I'm pretty sure you all know the drill by now. Spoilers run rampant like an angry Wildling horde in this review, so read at your own discretion.
After over a season of teasing, plotting, and pillaging, the Wildlings finally reach Castle Black. Instead of continuing to expand and explore the show's many character arcs, the penultimate episode of season 4, “The Watchers on the Wall,” keeps the spotlight on the brothers of the Night's Watch and their scruffy foes. This change in structure may annoy viewers who were counting on catching up with other notable players, especially after last week's horrifying cliffhanger. However, director Neil Marshall (the man responsible for Season 2's spectacular “Blackwater” episode) returns to deliver one of the most impressive action sequences in modern television. Yes, we are all dying to see what happens to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), but the showrunners definitely provide us with some great stuff to chew on while we wait one final, agonizing week for the season finale.
For three seasons, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) has been presented to us as a quiet, brooding man with a burning desire to prove himself. Now, though, he has earned the respect of his peers and has become the bona-fide action hero of the Night's Watch and, to some extent, the entire show. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Sam Tarly (John Bradley) and his growing role as someone who's more than just the sidekick. Tarly finally has his own storyline and his own struggles, and it's about damn time! He's a prime example of a character who needed to come into his own, especially since his isolated act of heroism last season turned out to be a highlight of the series. Thankfully, there's plenty of Sam Tarly in this week's episode, suggesting that the show has finally decided to utilize his potential as a character. The gentle, kind, bookish Brother of the Watch has come quite a long way from the timid man we all knew from the first three seasons.
A handful of prominent supporting characters kick the bucket, the heartbroken Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and the crow-hungry Styr (Yuri Kolokolnikov) being the most notable players who meet their ends. Ygritte's death hits closer to home, mainly because she has a slightly more legitimate motivation for indiscriminately murdering people than Styr does. But what really twists the knife is when a dying Ygritte gazes up into her former lover's battered face and whispers, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Man, that's heavy stuff!
Game of Thrones has hired some incredible directors, but none of them possess the ambition or the meticulous attention to detail that Neil Marshall brings to his projects. The man was born to film this battle, which unsurprisingly turned out to be the most expensive set piece in the show. From giants firing arrows that send men rocketing into the sky with startled shrieks to Wildlings hacking into Castle Black's defenders with brutal efficiency, there are plenty of stunning visuals to drink in here. There's a breathtaking shot that starts at one end of the battle and quickly darts from one group of fighters to another before switching frames. It's shots like these that excel at giving viewers a sense of the scope and breadth of the battle.
While not the strongest episode of the season, “The Watchers on the Wall” definitely takes the cake as the most exciting and most explosive entry in the show's nearly 40 episode run. Check back in with STARBURST for your daily entertainment needs, and be sure to stop back by next week for the season finale, titled “The Children.”
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