'Game of Thrones' Podcast: A Tale of Two Battles

"The Watchers on the Wall" stands in the shadow of "Blackwater" in this week's 'Game of Thrones' podcast.
Helen Sloan/HBO
‘Game of Thrones’

[This story contains spoilers through seven seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones, and in particular focuses on "The Watchers on the Wall," season four's penultimate episode.]

The greatest fire the North has ever seen is somehow still smaller than the fireworks on the Blackwater Bay.

In this week's installment of "Winter Was Here," the Game of Thrones rewatch podcast collaboration between The Hollywood Reporter and Post Show Recaps, we reach the second big battle of the HBO series: "The Watchers on the Wall," season four's penultimate installment, centered entirely on the climactic battle between the Night's Watch and the Free Folk bearing down upon the great Wall of Westeros.

"Watchers on the Wall," like season two's "Blackwater," comes from director Neil Marshall, who narrows the scope of the sprawling series' story while expanding the scale of violence in grand fashion. It was an episode so massive that it warranted an Imax release in 2015, with viewers invited to see Jon Snow (Kit Harington) battle it out with the Magnar of Thenn (Yuri Kolokolnikov) on the biggest screen possible. 

The collision of wall watchers and wildlings alike yields an array of highlights, including but not limited to:

• Jon versus Styr, with anvils and hammers along for the ride;
• Owen Teale as Alliser Thorne, in what's easily the weary Night's Watch veteran's finest hour;
• Dominic Carter as Janos Slynt, the Paul Reiser to "Watchers on the Wall's" Aliens;
• Ghost-cam;
• the shocking demises of both Pyp and Grenn (Josef Altin and Mark Stanley, respectively), still alive through five editions of George R.R. Martin's novel series;
• the tragic death of Ygritte (Rose Leslie), and all the potential that died along with her;
• the absolutely nonsensical scythe that sweeps across the Wall, satisfying the book-reading crowd who lamented the loss of "the chain" in the show's depiction of the Battle of the Blackwater;
• and more!

Listen to the podcast conversation in the player below.

An elite episode of Game of Thrones, without question, albeit one that's inferior to its war-minded predecessor, "Blackwater." Even if the action itself is just as compelling, if not more so, there's a greater diversity of characters and perspectives in the King's Landing conflict than there is in the battle at Castle Black. Perhaps it's the opening 20 minutes, focused primarily on Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray), a sweet story on its own that still somewhat drags the ensuing action. The lack of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), one of the book's best antagonists who winds up wildly underused in the TV adaptation, is another obvious drawback, as it leaves the wildling army without a Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) of sorts. As amusing as it is to see Janos Slynt cowering in a corner, it pales in comparison to the similar but dramatically richer scenes in "Blackwater" focused on Cersei (Lena Headey) drinking the battle away, with Sansa (Sophie Turner) as company. 

In "Watchers on the Wall," Jon Snow enjoys moments of personal growth, albeit ones in which his actions speak louder than his words. In "Blackwater," Peter Dinklage's Tyrion delivers one of the single best speeches in the whole series, a rousing moment of transformation that's clipped in the face all too quickly. While the Castle Black battle has the more important ramifications for the story on a gander scale, it's the intimate nature of "Blackwater," while simultaneously so large in scale, that makes it the best episode of Game of Thrones yet — at least through this point of the rewatch, though its standing isn't likely to change in the face of the next episode of the podcast: "The Children," the season four finale.

Stay tuned to THR.com/GameOfThrones to keep up with "Winter Was Here" and all other things Westeros.