I couldn't help thinking of Harris's words towards the end of "The Watchers on the Wall," and not just because of the Avengers-style tracking shot that formed the high-water mark of the wildling assault on Castle Black. Game of Thrones has spent two seasons hyping up Mance Rayder's attack on the Night's Watch, and as the episode's running time ran down and it became clear the battle would stretch into next Sunday's season finale, it was hard not to feel like a comic book fan flipping through the final pages of an issue, only to find that the real climax was going to come next week.
If I'm going to examine this sliver of disappointment, it's worth comparing "The Watchers on the Wall" with season two's "Blackwater," the previous "biggest Game of Thrones episode" ever. (As fans have been hearing all year, both episodes were directed by The Descent's Neil Marshall.)
Besides its chartreuse pyrotechnics, "Blackwater" saw the end of Stannis as a threat to Lannister hegemony, as well as the birth of their fraught alliance with the Tyrells. "The Watchers on the Wall," the death of a few dozen crows and wildlings (and one unlucky giant) aside, doesn't feel nearly as decisive, by design. Ygritte is dead and the Thenns are defeated, but Mance's army is still out there, waiting to attack the Wall – just as it's been since season 3.
Game of Thrones is often compared to a movie, but here was an hour that felt truly cinematic: Not just in the clichés, which gave us great action-movie tropes like Pyp the heartwarming redshirt and Gilly the heroism-hating girlfriend, and not just the cinematography, which borrowed a number of stylistic ticks that have popped up onscreen in recent years (most notably the quick zoom) – but also in the sheer scale of the thing, two battles separated by a 700-foot drop, united by the roving camera's crow's-eye view. (Or, given the preferred bird of the Thenn warg, should that be owl's-eye-view?)
Even the things we'd seen before held special weight. It was clear Alliser Thorne had a heart of gold (or at least, silver) buried beneath that gruff exterior, but the drill sergeant turned out to have the kind of leadership that made the c-word unexpectedly stirring. We knew poor Grenn (who, like Pyp, survived the battle in the books) was a goner as he led a brave last stand, but we never knew we'd grown so attached to him until he led a final, desperate recitation of the Night's Watch vows.
And we knew the doomed union of Jon Snow and Ygritte would come to an end, but we never knew they'd spend their last moments holding each other as the world melted away around them, just as they had before.
Next week brings the return of Ciarán Hinds's Mance and hopefully some sort of resolution at the Wall. We won't try to predict too much – as Ygritte might say, Game of Thrones is better when you know nothing.