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What kind of show can end an episode with one character's head being gruesomely caved in while leaving the show's main character's fate firmly in the balance, then not mention any of that in the next one? Game of Thrones can, and did so perfectly.
Pictured: Kit Harington, Yuri Kolokolnikov
Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
Coming off the incredibly built up - and awesome - fight between the Mountain and the Viper, which left Oberyn very, very dead, and Tyrion "guilty," the fourth season's penultimate episode shifted focus to the conflict at the Wall. The episode built up some tension, but once the mid-way point of the episode hit, it was non-stop action from there on out. And just like season two's "Blackwater" upped the ante with the kind of action we expect on a show like this, "The Watchers on the Wall" ups it even further, delivering the best action on the show yet.
The exposition parts of the episode are just as good as we've come to expect as well. Jon Snow and Sam share a rather one sided conversation about Ygritte that provides some of the best humor of the episode. Sam asks Jon what she was like, and what it was like being with her. Sam just wants to have experienced being with a woman, even it was vicariously through Jon. After Jon tells Sam to get some rest, Sam goes to the library and chats it up with Maester Aemon. Aemon more or less tells Sam that the fighting isn't worth it unless you're fighting for something, which they both agree is love.
The Wildling base camp is just outside of Castle Black. Gilly, with her baby in tow, hurries past them to try to get back to Sam. Sam gets her inside and scurries her to a closet deep within the castle. Immediately after he tells her he'd never leave her again, he tells her that he has to go back outside to help his brothers. She doesn't really seem to understand, but Sam kisses her before she can say anything else. A Warg Thenn comes back to his own body. The horns sound. Jon Snow looks over the Wall to see miles of forest on fire.
Ser Alliser got some time to shine in this episode as well, and was actually a likable character for once. He shared a conversation with Jon stop the Wall about how Jon was right, about everything. And that he's looking forward to going back to hating him once they defend the castle. When the lower gate of the castle gets attacked, Alliser goes down below, leaving Slynt in charge on the Wall. Slynt is refusing to believe that any of this is actually happening, and cowers when the fighting actually starts. He ends up hiding in the room with Gilly until it's all over.
With Slynt out of the picture and Alliser down below, Jon leads the charge on the Wall. His first task: deal with the giants and the mammoth that are trying to pull the gate down. Jon sends Grenn and a handful of men to hold the inner gate, just in case the giants get through. The brothers on top of the Wall literally drop bombs on the Wildlings attempting to breach the gate, setting most of them ablaze and sending the mammoth running. One of the giants runs after it, but is shot in the back with a giant arrow. This angers the other giant, to say the least, so it attempts to open the outer gate on its own.