Remember the episode "Blackwater" two seasons ago, which showed Game of Thrones could be Peak Television Quality if it were to focus on a single location for the entire episode? Well, what happens if they try again except instead of focusing on multiple plot threads they narrow down to one, amp up the supernatural, and even stuff more action into it?
Episode 39: "The Watchers on the Wall"
Unfortunately, lightning is not caught in the bottle twice.
This episode begins well enough with him snow and Sam on the wall, with Sam wondering what it's like to lose his virginity. Jon can't quite explain so he then tells Sam to get some sleep. Sam then goes to the library and talks to the blind Old CrowMaester, the Targaryen, who basically tells me to stop reminiscing and fantasizing and go to sleep.
But the problem is that there is an owl on the wall, and one of the cannibals is seeing out of the owl's eyes. It is revealed that the Wildling Army is not very far away.
Fortunately, before all the action happens, Mamacita and her baby reach the wall. Sam promises her wherever she goes, he goes, and that he'll always be with her. He locks her in the cellar where she'll be safe.
Then the horn sounds as the army of Wildlings is spotted.
So basically the rest of the episode is the siege of the wall. I will admit the action is choreographed very well and there are a lot of decent moments but there is a giant problem, and I don't mean the actual giants.
The problem is, unlike the battle at the capital, we have no reason to care about either side. the Wildlings are a bunch of cannibals and animalistic wild men, while the Survey Corps is trying to prevent the Wildlings, who have already gone south of the wall, from taking the wall and going north, or something?
Plus, the people of the wall take skepticism to an unhealthy degree, The Crowmander claims giants don't exist while two of them are right in front of him. Another Crowmander hides in the very same cellar that Mamacita is in. Stuff happens. People die.
With the exception of Sam and Jon, we do not know these characters enough to care about the dying people. Sure we know that the Crowmander is a jerk who wants Jon dead, but we really don't know why. Likewise there are a lot of familiar faces who end up dying but I can't even remember what these people were supposed to memorable for.
"Blackwater" worked because it weaved several character and plot threads with the battle. Everything here is Jon Snow's plot thread.. So far Jon Snow has been the least interesting character in the show so far even though he's been given a potentially great plot, but fumbled horribly in execution.
It's telling that Jon Snow's direwolf only gets a fanservice brief scene in this battle. is it cool? Yes. Does it connect with anything? No.
For instance, there is a boy who is about 9 or 10 whose job is to operate the lift to take people up and down. this boy becomes important not only for this but because he is forced to pick up a bow to defend himself.
Merida, who is with the company that breached the wall, has a couple of opportunities to kill Jon Snow, but does not take them. She is instead killed by that boy, and Jon gets some time within all of the chaos around him to cradle her body. Apparently whether or not she's pregnant was irrelevant since she was going to die anyway.
It is not all bad as there is some very good choreography. The siege is planned well and it has to be seen to believed. On the action front it is pretty good but the distinctiveness deficit still plagues it. Sam sees one of his fellow soldiers die right in his arms, but while this moment is obviously sad I can't connect to this person supposed to be.
In the end, the lead cannibal was killed, and the red-haired dude is captured, so they hold the fort for the night but they're still thousands of Wildlings out there in an army.
Jon instructs all the bodies to be burned. He then says he will head outside the wall to speak to Manx and leaves Sam his sword.
Now this is where I got confused again because I thought Manx was the guy who they captured. so Manx is Nanook of the North?
Again, there is no reason for an audience member to the care about most of these characters. With "Blackwater" where every single character's motivation was firmly established and even if you did not know the names of the characters you knew what their intent was. There was also character growth shown in that episode. Here the screentime was more focused on the action and the "cool" elements like Donkey Kong barrels taking out Titans.
For once I have no notes.