With the penultimate episode of season four upon us, Game of Thrones appears to be concentrating all of "Watchers on the Wall" to one event: the long-time-coming clash between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings.
So there's a battle in store. A battle for Castle Black. The last time we battened down these particular hatches, it was for the battle of Blackwater Bay, and it's not just the preview here that should have you thinking about comparisons to "Blackwater." That penultimate episode of season two was near-universally praised as a crackerjack hour of expertly filmed action and high drama. That episode's director, Neil Marshall, is back for "Watchers on the Wall," only his second Game of Thrones assignment. So it's hard not to see this as a spiritual sequel. Marshall's best feature films — The Descent and Doomsday — have trafficked in suspense and a kind of dreadful spectacle. That tendency fits right in on a series that has seen children, pregnant woman, and dashing bisexuals all slain in increasingly horrifying ways for Sunday-night entertainment.
So who's gunning for the the title of Head Warrior in Charge this week? We've got a few contenders.
What has ol' knows-nothing actually done this season, actually? He made it back to Castle Black, warned the Night's Watch about the Wildlings, and aside from his little off-book sojourn to Craster's Keep, it's just been a whole lot of waiting. Up until now, Game of Thrones has showed itself to be utterly uninterested in any other aspect of Jon's life but what lies north of the Wall. Not his identity as Ned Stark's son, nor much about his concern for his living siblings. Content to continue teasing the audience with Stark reunions that will never come (see Arya getting turned back at the Eyrie last week), Jon's whole life is the Wall. As a wise woman and her corporate hit-making machine once told us, some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this, and it appears Jon Snow has been building up to this clash, particularly as it pertains to his lady love and furious ex, Ygritte.
Everything we talked about last week with regard to Ygritte still holds. Yes, she took a time-out from rampaging through Mole's Town to show some mercy to Gilly and her baby, but that doesn't mean that Ygritte has suddenly cut ties with her resurgent barbarian ways. It would seem obvious that Jon and Ygritte will end up meeting on the battlefield ... or it would if Game of Thrones had any kind of track record for giving us the blowoff battles we've been waiting for. Ned Stark was offed before being able to avenge his best pals Jon Arryn and Robert Baratheon. Robb Stark's clash with Tywin Lannister never happened and never will. How many of us wanted Catelyn to throw down with Cersei? Arya has a whole list of people who seem destined to get killed before she has the chance. Even last week's Mountain vs. Viper clash ended as a case of "you can't always get what you want." Unless what you wanted was ... that. In which case: bye.
Super great decision to stash Gilly in Mole's Town, Sam. That really worked out for you. Worked out for her too. Sam's always been one of those side characters who are too meek for the world of Westeros, which should elicit our sympathy and fondness. Hey, it's worked for Tommen so far. But Sam's innocent nature has thus far been combined with a dithering, neurotic disposition that is just infuriating. Which is totally in keeping with how Sam is received by almost everyone else on the Night's Watch. The battle of Castle Black will give Sam no end of opportunities to prove himself a hero.
There's been a lot of talk of the King Beyond the Wall this season, and particularly the army he's assembled. Thus far, we've only seen the latter. Time for the king to ride in and show he's worthy. Now that the battle is upon us, will Ciaran Hinds make his Game of Thrones return as Mance?
The best thing about having the Thenns prominently featured in this episode is that any viewing parties can have a number of people-themed food options. So everybody thank the Thenns, before they start slaughtering everything in sight.