* This story contains spoilers
Robert Smith (has read every book, watched every episode, owns several T-shirts, and possibly has a George RR Martin shrine in his bedroom):
With a vast cast spread across two continents, Game Of Thrones episodes are usually bouncing between various scenes, juggling a dozen different plotlines at once. Spending an entire episode on one location is a welcome change, and while this latest episode was not as strong as the last time that happened, it still had plenty of spectacle - giants riding woolly mammoths, a lethal giant scythe on the ice wall, and Tormund Giantsbane going proper berserker. It also gave the episode enough space to sell the sad end of Ygritte's story - Rose Leslie's fiery passions will be missed - and let some honoured brothers of the Knight's Watch stand against the dark. It might not have had the depth of the Battle of the Blackwater, and it lacked the conclusive ending to the battle that the earlier episode ended on, but no other TV show has this much ambition, and this episode proves Game Of Thrones still delights in going balls to the wall.
Chris Schulz (has watched every episode, is halfway through book one, and has a not-so-secret obsession with Brienne, the Maid of Tarth):
Those guys behind Game of Thrones really love doing disgusting things with heads, don't they? After the Red Viper's, er, explosive end last week, last night's episode saw yet another grisly death with a hammer jammed into the head of a marauding cannibal. But that was a rare spot of indulgence in an episode that provided a welcome change of pace: instead of the plot jigjagging all over Westeros and beyond, The Watchers on the Wall boiled things down to one epic Lord of the Rings-style battle scene - complete with woolly mammoths, towering giants, imposing walls and a giant swinging pendulum knife. It worked a treat, but it's left me hoping desperately that next week's finale doesn't fizzle into a talkfest like previous seasons. Still, it's worth replaying the best scene from last night over and over again, a majestic sweeping shot that has everyone comparing it to that six-minute one-take sequence from True Detective:
Cameron McMillan (a Thrones trainspotter who can always be relied upon for up-to-date statistics and random factoids):
Is Game of Thrones getting soft? This isn't the show we've got to know and cringe. Last week, the Red Viper, a supposed good guy and underdog, got his head crushed and along with it the final hopes of many viewers that maybe, just maybe, someone we cheer for will have their day. But then this week, with the exception of fans of the feisty red-headed Ygritte and giants, that's just what happened. Since coming to terms with the show's shock deaths I'm now expecting the worst in each scene. So in my mind there was no way Sam was making it through the battle of Castle Black. But the rotund, disowned Tarley did a great job in re-loading crossbows and letting a direwolf free. Not exactly Medal of Honour stuff but at least he didn't hide in a corner like Janos Slynt. John Snow vs Ygritte had to end with each being stabbed in the back by the other. What eventuated wasn't exactly a fairy tale ending, but it did get a little bit sappy when in her last breaths, Ygrette reminisced about their steamy day spa moment north of the wall. The lesson is: don't get romantically involved with any of Ned Stark's sons. It was a brilliantly shot episode with many great moments setting up another thrilling finale. But has the underdog had his day?
Russell Baillie (may possibly be hate-watching the show, we're not entirely sure where his allegiances lie):
Well, as a GoT non-participant until now, I had wondered quite why Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) was considered such a big deal in all this. This past season hadn't really offered much to support his status as a pivotal character, apart from his dire warnings to anyone who would listen about the forthcoming invasion from the north. Well he certainly made up for that in this penultimate episode of season four. Snow and the rest of the Night Watch had the whole show to themselves as the hordes finally arrived at the Wall and flung themselves upon it. Once it got started, it a show that was pretty much one long fight sequence. Albeit one with neat visual touches - like the 360 degree shot around the fighting in the inner keep of Castle Black - and inventive special effects-powered weaponry like the woolly mammoths and the giant scythe which scraped the climbing invaders off The Wall.
On a related matter: I'm still not convinced about the speed of the staff lift the Night Watch uses on their side of The Wall, given the technological era. But yes, yes, yes ... fantasy and all that and no doubt, the eventual Castle Black Lego set will put me right.
Anyway, this all-action sub-zero instalment sure was a nice break from all that talky politics and sunshine of the past season. Though it still came with plenty of character touches - stout Sam and his beloved Gilly again won the prize for Game of Thrones Characters Who Would Seem Viable on Coronation Street.
They lived to bicker another day but this was the last stand for many. That included Ygritte, Snow's angry ex, who was just about to put yet another arrow in him but got one herself from a kid whose village she and the Wildlings raped and pillaged a few episodes back. Styr, the baddest of the crazy baldhead cannibal wildlings got a fatal hammer blow to the noggin (hoorah!) while plenty of fine fellows of the Night Watch went down fighting.
Snow, of course, proved his mettle in battle and is now on a one-man mission behind enemy lines to stop the invasion. With only one episode to go - in this season at least - he'd better work fast.