Amid an epic battle, a tender farewell to ‘Game of Thrones’

Helen Sloan/HBO

It didn’t seem as though “Game of Thrones” could ever beat the “Blackwater” episode from season 2 for sheer spectacle. And then, last week, the makers of the outrageously good HBO series delivered “The Watchers on the Wall,” an even more compelling hour of action and imagery.

“Blackwater” may have contained plot material more relevant to the show’s ongoing political allegory, but “The Watchers on the Wall” was a more emotionally grounded pageant of sights and sounds, a vision of ice and fire that was dripping with feeling. It was both epic and intimate.

The mind-blowing scenes of the Wildings’ attack on the Night’s Watch came one after the other, particularly those involving the 700-plus-foot-high wall made of bluish ice. But, unlike most episodes of the show, they were all set in the same location. The narrowed focus was a nice shift for viewers, a chance for us to stop keeping track of who’s who and for the writers to dig more deeply into the members of the Watch. We got to spend sustained time with Jon Snow and Sam Tarly, both of whom have had an uncomfortable relationship with their vows of celibacy — or, at least, their vows to not get married or father a child.


And so as cinematic as that hour was, as swiftly as the barrels fell, the scene I’ll remember most is Jon Snow being reunited with Ygritte on the battlefield, holding his star-crossed Wilding lover as she died from another’s arrow, him promising her they’d be together once again in the cave where they made love, her uttering her final words to the world: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.