As far as the episode in general goes... I thought it was very good. Overall I thought the pacing was good, showing both pre-battle preparation both of tools of war but also of the mental side of going to war and how it affects people differently. I thought it was a very interesting choice to show Ser Alliser as being quite adequate as acting commander (thereby proxy a Commander) and appreciated the revelation he gave to Jon about how not supporting him on his idea was made out of personal feelings rather than military strategy (at least it appears to me that he was admitting not just the mistake of not sealing the wall but the manner of which he used to make the choice)... well done and is really a type of moment that happens a lot more than we'd all like to believe. I remember serving under guys I didn't really like at all, our Batallion Commander was a Lt. Colonel when I was sent to Desert Storm, I 'liked' him from a leadership point of view, he made good speeches that roused your beliefs and psyched you up, he was also a very smart and capable leader tactically, etc... but of course there were Sergeants and a few Lieutenants and even a Captain or two that didn't particularly like... but the point being that when the fit hits the shan you all operate as a team and put aside your personal feelings, you can't very well hate-on someone if your dead! But I thought that was a scene that happens a lot but isn't shown a lot so I thought it very well done.
The Ygritte death was pretty much so telegraphed even my grand-niece could've told you Olly was going to shoot her... but still a pretty well done 'scene' and a touching 'one last look at one another' moment for Jon and her as her life slipped away... sad times. I liked Ygritte, I'll miss her...
I liked the battle scenes for the most part and yes I agree with Sean of House Beard that it looked like a good 20-30 Night's Watchmen died which is a pretty significant amount but the action looked pretty well choreographed and the 360 degree pan really added a sense of the scope of the battle as a whole. I was expecting to see something with respect to a sabotoging of the switch-back stair, some sort of secondary goal of the Wildlings on the south side of the Wall, or even to gain control of the winch, but that didn't manifest. I did like the fighting between Jon and Styr although again just a small issue to me but Jon again gets disarmed, I know the fire affected his grip but I'm a little concerned on the show's portrayal of Jon as a swordsman. He ultimately 'wins' and as Aziz pointed out he even uses a lesson learned from Karl in this engagement by spitting in Styr's face. I really felt it was sort of Hollywood'ish for Jon to not have been gutted after having his head smashed on a freaking anvil for crying out loud... but I mean the fight itself was pretty good, good acting and all that I just wonder sometimes if Jon's prowess as a Swordsman is really on-par with any average troop you'd likely come across. It's like he's a god to people who have no sword training and a weaker opponent to all of the guys he's getting in sword fights with and I think there should be more significance to his training at play than what's shown is I'm getting at.
I also agreed with Aziz in that I wished they'd have shown just a little bit more of Ghost. He nommed on one guy. One. Of course we can guess that he nommed on more but show us a little flurry of a few different attacks. It just feels empty to have this moment where they risk injury to clear the way for Sam to free Ghost, and when Sam succeeds, Ghost rushes out and kills one dude, which is probably fewer men than they had to kill in trying to get him free... /sigh. Less in not more in this instance, it would have really made his impact feel more substantial, as it should... but whatever.
I really like how well they've done the Giants. The scenes with them were really interesting to me and I kind of wished we'd have seen the fight for the inner gate that Grenn died in defending, didn't have to be complicated, just thought it would've been a powerful scene to show as well as good scene to depict as far as having to fight hand-to-hand melee combat with a giant.
I see some have jumped into talking about what we'll see in the last episode and what will get wrapped up more than what but I'll just wait until the show airs to talk about it. I expect it to touch a lot of plotlines so I expect a lot of scenery changes but I do feel there's no need to show the Bolton storyline anymore at this point, nor really the Greyjoys either, I suspect that they can resolve Balon just as easily in beginning of a new season that's surely to have a bit more Greyjoy action than previous seasons (unless some plots are cut out altogether) than it is to have him in one scene of this episode which really look out of place by itself.
Edd, fetch me a block.