Does everyone remember "Blackwater," the big battle episode in Game of Thrones' second season, where so many of the conflicts that had been brewing over the past year came to a head in an epic, gory, multi-stage set-piece? Compare that to "The Watchers on the Wall," which spent an hour on the opening salvo in the battle between the Wildlings and the Night's Watch and ended up resolving very little indeed. No doubt there were some memorable moments, and "Blackwater" director Neil Marshall (who's made great films like The Descent and Doomsday) brought back his instantly recognizable technical verve, showing off with wolf-POV and a long tracking shot taking in every layer of combat at the giant Castle Black set.
But what really happened in "The Watchers on the Wall"? The wildling invasion force was Ygritte's raiding party, attacking from the south, and a smallish detachment that attempted to scale the wall and smash through the tunnel, using a couple of (very awesome) giants and a wooly mammoth. The resolution of this battle was left dangling after an hour; with the Night's Watch decimated, Jon is marching north to treat with Mance Rayder, which is an acceptable cliffhanger (next week's finale will be something special) but left me a little unfulfilled. It's really just the difficulty of matching "Blackwater," high expectations that I'm sure only die-hard fans had anyway.
The biggest moment in "The Watchers on the Wall" was the necessary and nicely-handled resolution of Jon and Ygritte's relationship. As we've seen throughout the season, Ygritte is basically irredeemable—while the Wildling concerns might draw some sympathy from viewers, she's a merciless soldier who killed her share of innocents and Night's Watchmen. The question was whether Jon would be the one to off her or not; instead, she fell to an arrow from little Olly, who survived her raid on his village, a cruel little wink from a show that specializes in that sort of thing.