In the penultimate episode of Season 4, a historically bloody chapter in every season thus far, “The Watchers on the Wall” features the long-awaited battle between the wildlings and the Night’s Watch. Like the ninth episode of the second season (“Blackwater”), this one focuses solely on one location, culminating in an epic battle sequence that takes place over the course of a single night.
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins… I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
But this episode is more than just a well-choreographed and well-shot action film. It makes us care about characters whose names we could never quite remember, like Pyp and Grenn, and characters we may have actively disliked, like Ser Alliser Thorne. It ruminates on duty, love, leadership, and masculinity, all while delivering intensely fun visual spectacles (like the giant arrow piercing the man over the Wall or the huge scythe shaving the climbers off the Wall).
It’s amazing that no one else on the continent knows that this battle is taking place, since there is so much at stake for them should a hundred thousand wildlings succeed in breaching the Wall. As the oath says, “I shall wear no crowns and win no glory.” The men of the Night’s Watch fulfill their duty in spectacular fashion– for now.