“The Mountain and the Viper” sparked discussion about the bleak tone of Game of Thrones. Critics and bloggers wondered why continue to watch a show when potential heroes become victims; when innocent men lose the right to live because the potential hero lost, and because the politics in King’s Landing conspire to put those innocent man—or innocent man—to death. What once was daring and celebrated—the murder of Ned Stark—has become a drawback for those who thought the good characters would prevail. So, for those feeling sad and disenchanted, Game of Thrones produced “Watchers on the Wall” which flicks a little light throughout Westeros and through the TV at those feeling disenchanted and depressed with the violence, misery, and hopelessness that pervades the series—a light that flickers like the torches atop The Wall, barely distinguishable from a distance but bright and wild up close, as large as giants.
The Night’s Watch triumph over the wildlings one single night is faint and barely perceptible. Edd reminds his exultant brothers that the wildlings still out-number the Night’s Watch 1,000-to-1. Jon Snow knows Mance didn’t bother to start a full-blown battle. Mance wanted to test the defenses of The Wall; Mance will send more and more and more until he conquers The Wall and continues southward to the northern lands and then beyond to King’s Landing. The rest of Westeros seems oblivious to the threat north. The Night’s Watch barely made an effort to send word to King’s Landing. Of course, Westeros has no resources to send armies north. Jon does not celebrate the minor victory, the cost of which was dozens of brothers and the only love he’d known in his life. Leadership fails during the assault. Thorne falls to a wound, whether alive or dead is unknown, and his second-in-command hid with Gilly. Jon stepped into the vacant leadership role—becoming the unofficial Lord Commander. He commanded the troops along The Wall and then moved inside to where wildlings had broached the gate where he salvaged seemingly lost ground. For one night, the Night’s Watch kept control of The Wall.
“Watchers on the Wall” consisted of moments. The beginning of the episode had moments between Jon and Sam, and, later, Sam and Aemon, about the word known to all men. Sam wanted to know about loving and being loved, his mind focused on the loss of Gilly during the Mole’s Town massacre, and Jon couldn’t tell Sam what he wanted to know. Jon’s ability to convey what he felt for Ygritte and what she felt for him and how it felt was among the best writing in the show. Telling someone about love and its feeling is hard even for poets, so of course the Jon Snows of Westeros would struggle to capture the specific special details of love to another whose own sense of love and devotion to a woman may be different from his. Aemon’s words to Sam touch on the power of the past and sort of non-power of the humble present. Sam’s obsessed by thoughts of Gilly’s horrible death, only to find her alive and well at the gate; and then he’s devoted to returning to her and, also, fighting with his brothers. Pyp looks towards Sam before the hellish battle inside the gates erupts. He synthesizes what he wanted others to synthesize for him, i.e. to put into words, which is that before he killed the white walker he felt no fear because he didn’t like a nobody. If Pyp wants to survive, he should forget himself. Sam won’t, because Glly’s made him someone.
Besides the Sam spotlight for half of the episode, “Watchers on the Wall” spotlighted the watchers on the wall. Jon assumed leadership, because of course: he has Stark blood in him and he’s a prominent character. The concentration on Sam highlighted the character’s growth and progression since Allester Thorne dismissed him as ‘little piggy.’ The Night’s Watch consists of men who’ve been banished to The Wall for committing crimes, or for being a bastard, or for being the least favorite person in a family. The brothers of the Night’s Watch have been dismissed and sent away to a bleak landscape. The fight to defend The Wall and defend the kingdom showed bravery and courage very few south of The Wall displayed since Joffrey took off Ned Stark’s head. Prince Oberyn represented a rare gem in King’s Landing—one unwilling to tolerate brutal injustices—but he lost his life fighting that fight. The men of the Night’s Watch receive significant moments before dying: Pyp doesn’t miss, but then Ygritte shoots an arrow through his neck. Grenn, and five other brothers, hold the gate, sacrificing their lives to do so, against a pissed off giant that lost his giant brother. Dolorous Edd ran the top of The Wall like Pep Guardiola ran Barcelona. Thorne transformed from prickish dick into noble and brave Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Every significant brother of the Night’s Watch received a moment—whether bold and brave or meek and cowardly.
Jon Snow, though, knows whatever triumphs will be made meaningless when day turns to night. His bad plan involves approaching Mance Rayder, unarmed, Sam asks Jon to come back. Jon walked out into the whiteness of north-beyond-The Wall. And the episode faded to white. Yes, Jon Snow died.
No, I’m kidding.
-I thought it an outstanding episode—a very marked improvement from last week’s massively disappointing “The Mountain and the Viper.” I liked it more than “Blackwater.” Neil Marshall had a wider scope to cover in “Watchers on the Wall” and hit many key scenes with aplomb.
-Ygritte died in Jon Snow’s scene, remembering their romantic eve in the cave, and then reminding Jon that he knows nothing. Oh, Ygritte.
-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode. Neil Marshall directed.