I’ll be on a plane while this episode airs, so the full episode review will be delayed. In the meantime, I’ve got some preliminary thoughts below, and you can share your reactions to “The Watchers on the Wall” here.
Episode and book spoilers after the jump. Be careful.
There’s a danger to playing one’s cards too close to the vest.
This season of Game of Thrones has seemed especially disjointed as almost every damn character is spread out in what feels like every damn city in the Seven Kingdoms and Essos. Most of the big plot events have taken place in King’s Landing—Joffrey’s wedding, Tyrion’s trial, and last week’s bloody fight between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane. And while plenty is going on elsewhere, I’ve largely been dismissive of the Wall segments because they’d warrant only a couple of lines per episode review.
Except for that one episode where I thought this show might have some real guts and deviate significantly from the books, pissing off and surprising the multitudes of book readers.
So, I can’t feel wrong in saying that Jon Snow’s romance with the wildling Ygritte seems like ages ago because it kind of was, in TV years. Since we haven’t spent much time with Jon and his feelings over betraying his lover and since we’ve mostly just seen Ygritte terrorizing innocent smallfolk with her raiding party, last week’s blink-and-you-miss-it attempt to make her more likeable by not killing Gilly and her baby didn’t do much to endear her to me. Not that I don’t totally emphathize with the wildlings’ fight. I do think they have just as much of a right to move South to escape the Others as anyone.
But killing innocent smallfolk and threatening to eat the smallest of the smallfolks’ parents is pretty bad. No one roots for the Thenns, okay?
So by being so sparing with any in-depth character development at the Wall, and entire episode devoted just to the Wall seems like a recipe for boredom. Only we were promised giants and mammoths and Jon finally coming face-to-face with his old lover. Only I don’t feel the weight of last season’s passion and broken vows behind this attractive couple anymore. It doesn’t feel quite earned.
An odd analogy for Tor.com, but medical soap opera Grey’s Anatomy just did a weeks-long lead-up to the departure of Sandra Oh’s character Christina Yang. This included a penultimate episode where she ran into the man who left her at the altar several seasons ago and it felt like a gut-punch. And I think this was because viewers were there with Christina in the post-almost-wedding emotional wreckage.
While Game of Thrones definitely can’t devote a whole season to the aftermath of a painful breakup because this show isn’t being written by Jorah Mormont, it could have been doing more to really show how distance and circumstance have changed Jon and Ygritte and build up more anticipation before they lock eyes once more.
But maybe it will be more emotionally satisfying than I’m giving it credit for. Maybe the mammoths will be huge and the giants scary and Maester Aemon will be wizened and dispensing great quotes and I’ll shed a tear or two before the surprise of the last act that might just mirror Tywin swooping into King’s Landing at the end of “Blackwater.”
I’ll be on a plane while this episode airs, so the full episode review will be delayed. In the meantime, share your reactions to “The Watchers on the Wall” here.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm ET/PT on HBO.