Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall

game-of-thrones-season-4-episode-9-the-watchers-on-the-wall-wildlings-hboPreviously on Game of Thrones: Jon Snow kept warning everyone at Castle Black that a massive army of Wildlings was on its way, but nobody, particularly those in charge, seemed to care. Elsewhere, a massive army of Wildlings made its way towards Castle Black.

Jon and Sam are doing their punishment watch late at night. Sam asks Jon what sex is like, and though Jon’s a bit coy to begin with, he finally tries to tell his poor, virginal buddy that it’s both great and transformative. Sam points out that their Night’s Watch vows don’t explicitly forbid sex, apparently that’s just the tradition, or something. They chat about the impending battle, which Sam isn’t too stressed about, because he figures death is less horrible than losing Gillie. Jon sends him below to get some sleep while he takes the watch.

Meanwhile, in the Wildling camp, Tormund regales everyone with the story of how he once had sex with a bear, until Ygritte, who’s in a seriously pissy mood, tells him to shut up, because they all know it never happened. She’s really getting herself worked up about the Crows hunting the Wildlings down, but Styr the Cannibal Creep reminds her that when she had a chance to kill one, she didn’t, probably because he was hot and good in bed. She says that won’t be the case this time and insists that Jon Snow is her kill, and she’ll take out anyone who tries to go after him before she gets there.

Maester Aemon surprises Sam in the library, where he’s trying to do some last-minute research into Wildling attacks, because he wants to know what probably happened with Gillie. Aemon calls him out on being in love with Gillie, though Sam tries to deny it. Aemon knows all about love, having once been in love himself, many, many years ago. Sam heads off to bed, but just outside he hears someone—a woman—at the gate, begging to be let in. It’s Gillie, of course, but the man at the gate—Pyp—won’t let her in, because he’s under orders to keep the gate shut. Sam shouts at him and Pyp jumps to, opening up. Sam apologises to Gillie, who begs him not to send her away again. He promises to stay with her, no matter what. Awww, I hope these two crazy kids can make it work. But since they’re kind of touching, surely at least one of them is doomed.

There are two blasts of the horn. The attack is coming. On top of the Wall, Jon sees a seriously massive bonfire to end all bonfires. You could roast marshmallows from a mile away on that thing. The Night’s Watch scrambles to get weapons in order and get ready for the oncoming fight. Jon reports to Thorne, who’s looking out at the conflagration and invites him to basically say ‘I told you so,’ but Jon’s above that. Thorne insists this won’t be the end for them, as long as the Night’s Watch boys hold the line. And once it’s all over, they can go back to hating each other. Deal!

Sam takes Gillie and little Sam to a meat storeroom deep underground, promising she’ll be safe there. She tries to get him to stay with them, but he tells her he has to go and help his brothers in arms, because it’s his duty. He made a promise and has to keep it, because that’s what men do. He kisses her and she tenderly asks him to promise not to die. He does. Promise, that is. He doesn’t die. Yet. Thankfully.

Topside, Sam finds Pyp trying not to completely lose it. Pyp feels incredibly ill prepared for this and admits he’s terrified. Sam says he is too, which Pyp can’t quite believe, because Sam once killed a White Walker. Sam says that was essentially dumb luck, and also he was driven by a need to protect Gillie and the baby.

Ygritte returns from a scouting mission and reports that most of the guards are up on the Wall, leaving Castle Black itself rather thinly defended. Everyone gets ready to go kill some crows. They march on the Wall, accompanied by their allies, the giants, some of whom are riding wooly mammoths, because what else would giants be riding? Seriously, that actually makes some sense and is a pretty awesome visual. The Night’s Watch sees this approaching army and attempts to not shit themselves.

Thorne calls for everyone to get arrows ready. They do, but someone fumbles and Thorne shouts at them to pull themselves together. They do. Thorne heads down to the castle, leaving Slynt in charge on the Wall.

Wildlings reach the Wall and some of them start to climb. Pyp’s firing off crossbow bolts but can’t manage to hit anyone. He tells Sam he thinks they’re going to die. ‘If you keep missing we will,’ Sam duhs.

Thorne reaches the castle and gives a rousing speech, reminding the men that Thenns are at their walls and they don’t want to fill the belly of a Thenn, do they? They do not. As Wildlings burst into the castle, they throw themselves into the fray with singular ferocity.

Up on the Wall, Slynt sneers at the Wildlings for having no discipline. Jon points out that, despite that fact, it’s probably a bad idea to just let them attack the gate. Slynt, sounding pretty out of it, reminds him that the bars of the gate are four inches thick. Jon says giants are a pretty good match for that. ‘No such thing as giants,’ Slynt says flatly, despite all evidence to the contrary. Grenn steps in and lies that Thorne needs Slynt down below. Slynt immediately leaves, and now Jon’s in charge up on the Wall. He calls for the archers to load up and fire. They manage to take some out. Jon notes the men climbing the Wall and says they won’t make it to the top until dawn, so they have a little time to deal with them, at least.

Down below, one of the giants launches a harpoon-sized arrow that explodes a part of the Wall’s upper defenses.

At Castle Black, the fighting’s fierce and dirty. Styr hacks his way through the place while Slynt reaches ground and immediately goes to hide in the same storeroom as Gillie. Sam continues to build up Pyp, until poor Pyp gets an arrow to the neck, courtesy of Ygritte, who does not bother to take Sam out as he tries to comfort his mortally wounded friend.

Barrels of exploding…something or other are unleashed on the Wildlings rushing the wall. The giants are unconcerned and get two mammoths in position to pull the gate down. Jon sees this and tells Grenn to take a handful of men and go downstairs and hold the gate, stressing how important it is. Off Grenn goes.

Thorne starts going hand to hand with Tormund, and does some pretty fancy fighting before getting taken out. As he’s dragged to safety, he shouts for the men to hold the gate.

Sam takes the crossbow, checks out the fighting in the castle courtyard, and manages to get the crossbow loaded and fired just in time to take out a charging Thenn.

Sam assesses the situation, then makes a dash for the lift to the top of the Wall, which is being operated by Olly, that lone survivor kid from the village attack a few weeks back. He’s terrified, but at Sam’s urging, he gets the lift going. Sam calls back to the boy to fight and Olly turns to look at the little bow his dad was teaching him to use before he got slaughtered.

The giants are still working on the gate, but the guards at the top of the Wall send down some exploding barrels that spook the mammoths and send them running. One of the giants goes after them and is then brought down with a huge arrow fired from above. The other giant roars in rage and starts just lifting the gate by hand, like it’s a garage door.

Sam reaches the top and finds Jon to tell him the Wildlings have breached the castle and Thorne’s down. Jon leaves the guy who looks distractingly like Bronn in charge on the Wall and heads down, grabbing his sword and a few men.

Grenn and his men reach the inner gate just in time to see the giant lifting the outer gate. One of his men starts to panic, so Grenn leads them all in chanting the Night’s Watch vows, which gives them all the steel spines necessary to face down a now charging giant.

On the way down in the lift, Jon hands over the key to Ghost’s enclosure and tells Sam to get his wolf. Handy to have a direwolf on your side in situations like these. As soon as the lift hits the ground, Jon comes out swinging, taking out several attackers as the music gets very menacingly minor key and we get a really nifty tracking shot through the castle, showing various battles taking place. I think this is the most we’ve seen of Castle Black since the series began. Sam lets Ghost out and we get a Ghost’s-eye-view for a minute of the wolf finding a Wildling to take out.

Styr sees Jon and immediately goes to take him on. Wow, I never realized how huge that guy is. I mean, Kit Harrington’s not tiny, as far as we know, but he’s dwarfed by the actor playing Styr. Styr manages to disarm Jon, but the fight has caught Ygritte’s attention and she loads up an arrow. She can’t seem to bring herself to fire, though, even when she has a clear shot of Jon. Styr slams Jon’s face against an anvil, somehow not knocking all his teeth out or rendering him unconscious. Jon spits a mouthful of blood in Styr’s eye and manages to get his hands on a hammer, which he plunges into Styr’s skull. Yay!

Jon barely has time to recover before he turns and finds himself facing Ygritte’s arrow, from about two feet away. She still can’t fire, though, and her hesitation costs her, as an arrow ends up embedding itself in her chest. Jon looks around, bewildered, and sees Olly standing on a nearby staircase, holding his bow. The kid gives him a: ‘got your back, bro,’ nod. Jon leaps forward to catch Ygritte as she falls and thus begins an embarrassingly clichéd exchange: Its not so bad—Do you remember that lovely place where we were happy?—We’ll go back there, I promise. In the midst of the battle, he cradles her dead body and weeps and somehow doesn’t get killed, which strikes me as being a little bit unlikely.

Back up on the Wall, Bronnalike shouts an order to his men, who cut loose a massive anchor that sweeps along the Wall, taking out the Wildlings climbing up it, leaving one hand dangling. Niiice. Bronnalike tells them to haul the anchor back up, guessing the Wildlings have had enough for one night. But he’s not celebrating with the others, because he knows they still outnumber the Night’s Watch 1000-to-one.

Below, the men have gotten control of the castle, but Tormund’s still trying to fight, despite having at least five arrows sticking out of him. Jon disarms him and sends him off to be locked up. Tormund screams that he should have thrown Jon from the top of the Wall when he had the chance and Jon darkly agrees.

Sam goes to fetch Gillie and finds Slynt hunkered down in a corner of the room.

Dawn. As the bodies are gathered, Sam brightsides to Jon that this was a great victory. Jon doesn’t see it that way, because he thinks Mance was just testing their defenses, and he still massively outnumbers them. He knows he’ll be back soon enough, so now Jon’s off to try and take out Mance, singlehandedly. Sam points out that this is a really stupid, impossible plan, but Jon points out that there’s no alternative.

They go into the tunnel and find Grenn and his men, all dead, along with a dead giant, so they managed to hold the gate after all. Good for them. Jon quietly says they need to burn the bodies. Yeah, last thing you need’s a bunch of White Walkers running around. He and Sam continue to the outer gate, and Jon tells him to raise it, and lower it again as soon as he’s through. Before he goes, he hands Sam his sword, because he promised never to lose it again. The gate starts to rise and Sam urges him to come back. Jon gives him one quick, sad smile, and steps through the gate.

Well, that was exciting, and it should have been—apparently this was the most expensive episode yet. And yet I found it less interesting and engaging than the other big battle-oriented episode: Blackwater. It may very well be a personal thing, because I find myself not terribly interested in the goings on at the Wall and the Wildlings and pretty much the whole story involving Jon Snow. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not quite as fond of Kit Harrington as I am of some of the other actors and their characters, like Peter Dinklage and Aiden Gillen. I feel I should be interested in what’s happening at the Wall and the huge danger to the entire country Mance’s army poses, and yet I just don’t feel all that engaged in it, which is why I didn’t feel all that engaged in this battle. It doesn’t help that I keep forgetting who most of these guys are (which is probably my fault), so their deaths didn’t really hit hard at all. Even Ygritte’s didn’t. Maybe I’m heartless, but did anyone else feel this way? Is it a very different experience watching this if you’ve read the books (I’m sure it is)? I’d love to hear how others felt—comment below!

3 thoughts on “Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall

  1. So, I loved this part in the books. I think the Wall storyline was not done well at all on the show this season. King’s Landing has been far more interesting, but I think the Night’s Watch got gypped. Ygritte’s death is more touching in the book, and I think if the show had been better at giving the Wall its due moments on the show, as it has with KL, then I think a lot of people would have been more invested. In any case, I found this battle infuriating for two main reasons: the deaths of Pyp and Grenn. They were substituted for other characters’ deaths in the book, but ugh. They deserved better.

    Weirdly enough, the battle was way more epic in my head than it played out on screen. And this was their most expensive episode yet…go figure.

    I need to rewatching Blackwater. Everyone’s been comparing this ep to that one and I vaguely remember it.

    Also, I think you mistakenly refer to Styr as Slynt in the paragraph where he’s fighting Jon. I got confused for a sec, so thought I’d let you know 🙂

    1. Thanks for weighing in, HG. it’s good to hear that this part is more interesting in the books (which I do plan to read at some point, once my attentions are less divided between baby books and novel research!) I think the heavy focus on King’s Landing is in large part due to the popularity of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. I’m pretty sure if watchers of the show had to choose one character they’d rather watch continuously, it’d be him. He’s just more fun than the guys on the Wall. I look forward to getting a bit more out of all this once I start reading A Song of Fire and Ice.

      Ooops! Thanks for pointing out that error–sometimes when you’re trying to recap really busy episodes these slip ups happen. I’ll go back and fix that!

      1. Oh I totally agree, Tyrion and the Kings Landing arc this season was way, way more interesting. I think it’s the showrunners’ fault for not making the Wall arc more compelling, because it really is in the books. But it’s understandable because this book is HUGE and cramming it all in even two seasons is hard. I think they could have cut down on all the extra crap, like Bran, Jojen and Meera getting caught by the rogue Night’s Watch (ugh, I’ll try not to rant about that). Instead of adding random stuff, they could have had each episode with a little bit from each story arc…but I’m not writing the show 🙂

        I had a LOT of time after I got done with law school so I was able to sit and read all the books. A baby and other work (good luck on your novel research!) are definitely more pressing than ASOIAF. I hope you get time to read it at some point – the books really are quite enthralling and fill in so many blanks to the characters.

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