'The Watchers on the Wall' Round-Up: Heroes, Heartbreak and Hope

By Katie M. Lucas

"This is the most intense piece of filming I've done for 'Game of Thrones,' " actor Kit Harington declares about the Battle of Castle Black. The episode's velocity resonated with critics: Entertainment Weekly calls 'The Watchers on the Wall' "an intense rousing hour of heroism and heartbreak that set a new bar for what this show – and TV – can do." The Daily Beast cheers: "Sunday’s installment of 'GOT' was the best hour of action filmmaking I’ve seen so far this year – in theaters or on television. The reason why is simple: It never once forgot to make its action human." 

Most notably, that humanity is demonstrated by Jon Snow and Sam Tarly. "Each young man traces a heroic arc throughout the hour, and their love for Ygritte and Gilly prove the turning points of each," New York Magazine notes. In an interview with HBO.com, actress Hannah Murray shares her reaction to Gilly and Sam's first kiss: "I thought, 'They're really letting Sam be the hero.' "

Jon Snow's reunion with Ygritte proved more bittersweet. Their tragic farewell featured one of David Benioff's "favorite shots of the series," the series creator says in this week's Inside the Episode. "It was the only slow-motion shot I put in," director Neil Marshall tells the Hollywood Reporter. "It was to emphasize what was going on in their world versus what was going on around them."

Film School Rejects praise the hour's direction: "The episode never feels too fast or too slow, but just right with its pace, cuts and camera movement. It’s like watching a serene patch of ocean breached by a monstrous whale – except the whale breathes fire and eats several tourist ships in the process."

Relive the larger-than-life charge on the Wall – including giants and mammoths – in the clip below: 

Mag the Mighty works overtime when fighting Grenn for the gate. "The mind-boggling size and strength of the giant barreling toward them makes for a tremendously cool visual effect and creature-feature moment," Rolling Stone assesses, "but it also charges the words of the oath Grenn and his men recite with real, life-or-death power." The Washington Post comments on the moment: "Their poignant recitation is the essence of ritual, silly when it is not necessary, but of vital importance when you need to transform yourself into the most powerful form of that 'nothing' Sam became when he killed the White Walker." 

Entertainment Weekly points out another layer to the scene: "That tunnel is where we first met 'Thrones.' The opening shot of the series was the gate opening; we were all so innocent then, still believing in the songs like Sansa." Time maintains that despite the carnage, "if someone as decent as Sam can make it alive through this battle, maybe this isn’t a story in which everyone you care about dies horribly," adding, "Sam gives us something that’s been in short supply: hope."

Icing on the Lemoncake

·         In an interview with New York Magazine, actress Rose Leslie details the wrap gift she received from the crew: "Ygritte's bow, and they changed the left handle with a strap with a sort of a plaque that said, 'Kissed by fire.' "

·         You've seen them in battle, but how well do you know the Night's Watch? Take the quiz.

·         In preparation for the battle scene, the Hollywood Reporter catalogued GOT's five best battle speeches.