Game of Thrones – Season 4 Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall”

This episode is the second last of the season. Traditionally, the ninth episode has been the biggest and brightest of each season, boasting key events such as a number of significant character deaths, and one giant battle. Will this ninth episode live up to the standards set by the others? Read on! But please beware of spoilers if you haven’t seen the episode yet – they are everywhere!

A big hint for the content of this episode – only actors from the Nights Watch and a number of wildlings were in the credit sequence (still no Eyrie – I’ll stop complaining about this soon). So it looks like this episode is centred entirely on Wall business! I have to say that this recap/review/reflection (still not entirely sure what I’m doing here) might be a bit more truncated when compared with my other ones. I’m not a fan of Wall stuff, even though I was looking forward to this episode. Even during the books I found the Wall storylines frustrating because I wanted to get back to other characters. But I digress.


We begin the episode on top of the Wall where Jon Snow and his BFF Sam are serving night duty, watching into the great expansive North beyond the Wall. They have an awkward chat about love and sex and Sam wants to know what it’s like to be in love with someone; Jon tries explaining but fails, and admits that he isn’t a poet. Well said, Jon. Sam leaves to go downstairs to have a sleep, at Jon’s suggestion. But there’s a sneaky owl watching them, and we haven’t seen too many owls hanging around at the Wall before. I wonder what that’s about?

Surprise! One of the Thenns from the wildling pack that made its way over the Wall has warged into that owl for the purpose of observing the Nights Watch. Over a cosy campfire Tormund is bragging about having sex with a bear (WTF). Ygritte gets into a tiff with the Thenns who criticise her for not killing Jon Snow when she had the chance, and she vows to kill Jon when she sees him next. A hooded figure holding something sneaks past them and into the distance.

Now we get to see where Sam got to – he’s in the library, reading something. Maester Aemon sneaks up behind him and tells everyone something we know already: Sam is hopelessly in love with Gilly. This is not so much of a surprise to us because Sam’s entire storyline this season consisted of him whining about her, yet he insists that he’s not in love. At this point my partner actually yelled out, “BORING!” and I promised I would include it here. Aemon reminds us that he’s a Targaryen and was in line for the Iron Throne at one point. Then Gilly returns through the door of Castle Black and Sam actually swears at someone to get her inside. That was great. Sam vows to stick with Gilly – whereever she goes, he goes too.

Then, a warning horn begins blowing. A big fire in the North can be seen from atop the Wall. Mance Rayder’s wildling army have presumably lit it to let the Nights Watch know that they’re coming for them, and to let Ygritte and friends know when to attack Castle Black. Jon Snow looks worried (surprise), and Alliser Thorne approaches him to tell him that he was actually quite right and that they should have plugged up the tunnels into the Wall to stop wildlings from coming through. He says that when one is in charge, there will always be young upstarts who think they know everything and tell leaders what to do. Alliser says that he probably should have listened to Jon Snow, which was quite satisfying to hear, but also reinforces the fact that he actually hates Jon very much.


Back down below, Sam decides to hide Gilly in Castle Black with the frozen meat, where no one would think to go during a big battle. Gilly wants Sam to stay with her but he can’t because he has to fight with his sworn brothers. They share a kiss, which was nice, but he still has to go. He promises Gilly that he won’t die. Even though this paragraph only consists of a couple of sentences so far I just had to put the picture above, it’s too sweet. Sam doesn’t need to ask Jon about love and ladies, he can figure that stuff out himself!


Outside, wildlings are attacking Castle Black and the Wall from both sides. Ygritte and her wildling pals are attacking Castle Black, whereas the wildlings on the other side of the Wall are attacking the Wall itself and the people atop it. The wildlings on the other side of the Wall have giants and a big mammoth, both of which are very nicely animated and pretty wonderful to behold (I just wish there were more of them because that would have been amazing). There’s some amazing direction here – the camera pans from one side of the Wall to the other, from Castle Black, to the men on top of the Wall, to the action beyond the Wall. The music is pretty great here as well, however yet again it reminds me of the Inception (2010) soundtrack.

Even though the wildlings are all the way down at the bottom of the Wall, the Nights Watch kids on top of it are inexperienced. They freak out and forget how to fire arrows in an organised fashion. It’s clear that after so many years of ‘peace’, and after only practicing fighting skills on each other in Castle Black’s courtyard, they don’t know how to function in an actual battle. The Night’s Watch is cracking under the pressure and Janos Slynt is cracking with it after Alliser leaves him to give orders atop the Wall. Grenn pretends that he’s needed downstairs so that Jon Snow can take the reins. Thankfully he’s a pretty capable leader and knows how to organise and motivate a bunch of people. In one of the episode’s more memorable moments, one of the giants from below shoots a massive arrow which impales one of the Nights Watch with such force that he is launched over the Wall and gets speared into the ground over in Castle Black. Full on.


At this point in time there’s a lot of fighting going on but it’s difficult to tell who’s who because everyone’s wearing dark clothes. Maybe that’s the point though. All this indiscriminate killing (plus Tyrion’s wonderful beetle speech from the last episode) is coming full circle. Then a whole bunch of stuff happens. Ygritte picks people off with her bow and arrow like a sniper from a protected vantage point. Janos Slynt is a super coward and hides with Gilly and the baby in the meat storage area. Lots of violent fighting happens at Castle Black, beloved Pyp gets shot through the neck and dies in the arms of Sam, the giants and mammoth try to get through the tunnel in the Wall, Alliser Thorne fights with Tormund and gets a big slice on the stomach, Sam kills a Thenn because he’s a not-so-secret badass, and all the while Jon is in command atop the Wall.

Sam orders a little boy named Olly to fight the wildlings. He has a bow and arrow. All book readers at this point are like, “Ohhh shiiiit”. Then there are some cool explosions. Sam visits Jon at the top of the Wall and gives him information about what’s going on down below. Jon gives command atop the Wall to his good friend Edd so that he can fight downstairs. He has given command to Grenn and a couple of other Nights Watchmen to hold the gate downstairs as a giant’s trying to get in, and they do so whilst chanting their Nights Watch vows. Lots of solidarity in the face of adversity here.


So Jon goes downstairs and starts dominating enemies and fighting like a boss. There is an amazing pan across the scene, from Jon kicking ass, to Ygritte shooting arrows, to the Thenns killing people, to Tormund doing the same, to the Nights Watch fighters, to Sam, and then ending up with Ghost’s point of view as Sam lets him out of his cage to feast on a couple of wildlings. Jon Snow starts fighting a big Thenn which is a great scene, and ends with him smashing the Thenn’s head in with a hammer. After this fight, stunned by having been dealt a couple of blows himself, Jon’s eyes fall on Ygritte, who has been sniping people nearby and now has an arrow trained on him.

It’s at this point in time I must reflect on the episode a little bit before continuing. You might be able to tell that I’ve been a bit blasé about this episode. I’ve skipped over a bunch of stuff and haven’t made much of a personal connection with things that have happened so far because, as aforementioned, I find Wall stuff kind of boring. Lots of little things have been happening this episode, connecting to one big thing – the fight between the Nights Watch and Mance Rayder’s army, which has been building up this entire season. It was at this point, where Jon’s and Ygritte’s eyes finally met, that I actually started connecting with this episode.


Jon and Ygritte end up in front of one another, and her arrow is ready to fire. But she doesn’t fire it at him, despite vowing to the Thenns earlier in the episode that she would be the one to take his life. He looks at her and smiles, and she seems to almost smile back. But young Olly from earlier shoots her in the back (with a hilarious nod to Jon as if he’s saying, “Yep, I just killed your one true love, what of it?”). Jon Snow takes her in his arms and she asks him if he remembers the cave back in season three where they got to know each other better. He says they’ll go back there one day, and she murmurs, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”, dying in his arms. This moment was surprisingly emotional! This scene made me feel really sad despite knowing it was coming. Plus the sound design was great, with the sounds of the fighting around them disappearing and then reappearing as Jon cradles Ygritte’s dead body.

More Wall stuff happens, a huge chain dismantles from the side of the Wall and swings a big hook across like a pendulum, taking wildlings out who were climbing. Pretty great animation here. The wildlings begin retreating into the woods, and the Nights Watchmen atop the Wall celebrate. But Edd isn’t happy yet, because they’re still outnumbered by wildlings by a thousand to one. Back at Castle Black, fierce Tormund has been cornered and is still alive and kicking despite being punctured by a couple of arrows. Jon Snow advises his brothers to keep him alive for questioning. Sam goes to visit Gilly in the meat storage room and finds Janos Slynt hiding like a loser.


The next morning, the fighting is all over. Jon and Sam are discussing the fact that there are still more wildlings to defeat. They might have been victorious, but there are many more wildlings, giants, and mammoths left in Mance Rayder’s army; they can only last a day or two more if they keep fighting like they did this episode. Plus, who’s left to give the orders at Castle Black? There’s no answer to that question. Jon Snow makes the decision to head out beyond the Wall to have a discussion with Mance Rayder about their options and hopefully kill him himself. He goes out to meet him unarmed. What a great decision! Sam tells Jon to come back successfully, and Jon walks off, and the screen fades to white. The End.

My immediate thought about this episode is that it was a bit of a letdown. All of the previous ninth episodes of the series have been big ones with great emotional impact. It just feels as if there have been episodes before this one that have been much more impactful. This has been a season with lots of big events, and even though the battle at the Wall is a key event in the story development of the entire series, it just didn’t seem to have the same thrilling quality as other episodes have had. And yet it’s something that the entire series has built up to – fighting against an unknown threat beyond the Wall that affects literally everyone in Westeros, according to the myths and legends of the world. Can we please not have an unsatisfying cliffhanger at this stage of the game? Was that really necessary?


I don’t think this is the episode that people will talk about when discussing the best moments of season four. The fighting was amazing and there were some wonderful choices with the direction, but it just didn’t stick. It was all show and little substance. It didn’t match up to the stakes of the other episodes, even though it was a huge and significant battle. Which is a shame. They also skipped out on certain book things that I would have loved to see; however those changes are in alignment with a number of other stupid changes that have become the norm with a certain favourite character of mine. I won’t elaborate on that though, in case I’m spoiling something that happens in the next episode (AKA I’m holding on to any hope I have left). Anyway, in conclusion, it’s not that this was a wholeheartedly bad episode, it just wasn’t up to par with the rest of this season in my opinion.

Speaking of the next episode – here’s the trailer. Next week we’ll see Bran and friends on the way to their destination, Cersei and Tywin having a significant conversation about family, Tyrion post-trial, Arya and the Hound, and even more Wall stuff as Jon meets with Mance Rayder, the leader of the wildlings. We also get some glimpses of Daenerys and Varys, and some dragons as well. Fingers crossed that the finale is slightly better than this episode!

Episode rating: 3/5


  1. Ah, well, I can see why you’d be disappointed by this episode. To be honest, though, I found the singular focus quite refreshing! Sometimes I feel like each episode tries to fit in too many storylines. It was nice to focus on one area for a change. And Ygritte’s death was extremely sad!
    I couldn’t help but think that a lot of the battle scenes were pulled from Lord of the Rings. The great defense of the wall felt like a bit of a mash-up of the The Battle of Helm’s Deep and The Siege of Minas Tirith. Not that that’s an entirely bad thing.

    1. I agree with Alina. The one location was refreshing and it was all very Helms Deep. I loved every minute of it and it was great to see Alliser finally getting to kick ass. The directing was fantastic too and those giants were really scary!

      1. It was absolutely Helms Deep-esque! I think I liked pretty much everything about the episode except how idle and disappointed I felt whilst watching. I wish I could put my finger on the exact reason why. I think my inner book reader felt really disappointed and sad.

    2. Yeah, I tend to really like the singular focus episodes too. I think the Blackwater episode was just located in King’s Landing, and I loved that one. It would be super overwhelming to have a big battle plus all of the other drama. I feel sad that I didn’t like this episode as much as the others! I really think it’s the book-reader coming out, and normally I try not to make a comparison between the two mediums because I know it’s asking for trouble.

  2. I’m glad that chain swing worked perfectly even though they’d obviously never used it before and had no idea exactly where it would swing.

    1. Haha! Good catch. I wondered about that too. Nerd talk: the Wall was built something like thousands of years ago according to Westeros history, so the big chain thing probably hadn’t been used since the Wall was built. Only library nerds like Sam would know about stuff like that and there are hardly any library nerds at the Wall because they’re mostly illiterate criminals. Riddle me this, Game of Thrones!

  3. For me, it worked out immensely well… 9th episode lives up to its legacy in my opinion. Too bad same isn’t the case with you. It even looked like a half-hearted review, Anna, so I can understand.

    Plus, I absolutely devour The Lord of the Rings so it was great to see so many references here. And the music, especially that horn sound, was used to perfection… just created the right mood!

    1. Yeah, it was difficult to write this without being super cynical because I felt a bit deflated! I’m sorry it came across as half-hearted. I know for sure the next recap is probably going to be a million words long so hopefully it makes up for this mess!

      I love LOTR as well, and I could definitely see the influence here. Some of those panning shots across the Wall and throughout the big battle were brilliant. I feel happy that at least this episode was visually amazing! Music was great too, can’t wait to get the soundtrack so I can listen to it whilst driving my car and feel like a total badass.

  4. I enjoyed this for what it was (The Two Towers meets Return of the King), but agree that it’s certainly the weaker of the four episode nines so far. Not a bad bunch to finish fourth to though. The Jon Snow-Ygritte scene was definitely the most impactful. Excellent write-up!


    1. Thanks, Adam! 🙂 And true that, even if it’s last out of the four that still doesn’t make it a bad episode, it’s just that the others are almost insanely amazing.

  5. Personally I found this a thrilling episode. Perhaps not so emotionally engaging but consistently exciting and technically it was outstanding (as you mentioned, the CGI of the mammoths and the long, sweeping shot also blew my mind). But there we go!

    1. Definitely a technically and visually thrilling episode! They always know exactly which boundaries to push in battle sequences to make each one special in their own way, rather than just constant blood-and-gore fests. That bit with the giant shooting the arrow was awesome. The cynical book reader in my brain came out whilst watching this one for sure, they missed out on something huge that I was really looking forward to seeing, and probably would have made up for my disappointment!

  6. I thought this episode was fantastic until the ending. That was a huge let down for me, but I’m trying not to let it take away from all the other cool stuff we saw. I like Jon, and The Wall though. I can see why a lot of people (mainly ones that haven’t read the books) don’t care for them, though.

    1. The ending was a huge letdown! But yet I know the next episode will make up for this one. 🙂

  7. Can’t wait until I get to this scene in the book and figure out what you meant by the changes with ‘your favourite character’.

    1. I can’t wait until you get to it either! It’s so great. I think it’ll be an amazing scene in the show if they’re able to do it justice. I cannot wait to elaborate on this in my next recap because I just want to write so much about it.

    2. ME TOO!!! Anna knows all!

  8. Reblogged this on The Voices: FILM Saga | PART II and commented:
    Another week, Another great Thrones review by Anna.
    This weeks episode was the second to last of the season…
    1 more people.
    Read below!

  9. Great great great!!
    I agree, a bit of a bummer of an episode. Not loving what they are choosing to show us in the series compared to the novels story.

    I’ve only read summaries of the stories, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have taken book 3 and made season 3. Made it tight. There is a ton of wasted down time on screen.

    But, it’s the best thing on TV regardless.

    It’s remarkable visual storytelling.

    Can’t wait for next week!

    1. Thank you Wes! 🙂 I totally get that feeling. It’s puzzling how they’ve chosen to set up and portray the information from the books. There could have been so many more effective ways of putting together this episode to avoid the cliffhanger and make it a lot more punchy, not to mention include the bit that certain fans were really looking forward to seeing!!

      Agreed though – still one of my favourite shows (if not my favourite of all), and the visuals are always spectacular. Next week is going to be absolutely amazing!

  10. “Jon tries explaining but fails, and admits that he isn’t a poet. Well said, Jon.” — hahahahaha. Yes.

    Not for nothing, but I really want to punch Olly in the face. Ygritte and Jon in slow motion was incredible, and I really loved their scene, even though I was so, so sad about it!

    Sam had stolen the show until that, though, with his adorableness/bravery as he went to fight. After that, I… just… Jon! Poor Jon! It looked exactly as if he had gone out to get himself killed, I half-expected a line like “I’ve got nothing left to live for”, but it’s probably for the best that they didn’t go there. Harrington looked broken, instead of like a sad puppy in the ending in my opinion, and I really love him for it.

    It ended too soon, though. Just like Brittani, I thought it was a fantastic episode, but I would have loved a punch in the end, Thrones style. Nevertheless, somehow this is the first episode I want to revisit from this season, and I’ve been very bored with Wall stuff before.

    Really love your recaps, Anna, I’m sad they’re coming to an end after the finale. I think we should find you a summer show to recap now… Right? Right!

    1. Bloody Olly – I totally agree! That little nod was so infuriating. As if he was like “Sup bro, totally just killed ur gf, ttyl”. At least that’s how I imagined he might type on the internet. Dislike. I’m not normally a big Harrington fan because he sometimes just looks a bit dead in the face but he was great this episode. However, you’re right, Sam wins this episode. Between swearing at someone and finally kissing a lady he totally stole the show.

      Thank you Elina! 🙂 I’m sad that I won’t have the opportunity to rant about this show anymore! I’m thinking after all the episodes are done I’ll do a big summary post to end the recaps in style. Maybe I’ll do a recap series on season two of Orange Is The New Black! Do you watch that show? It is 100% amazing.

      1. I haven’t started yet, but definitely will watch it! If you start recapping, then I’ll watch it very soon. 😉 I’d love a conclusion to the Thrones recaps, too!

      2. Did you finish Season 2 yet??? Yes I am interested in hearing your thoughts too.

        1. Not yet, I got up to episode five and then some essays got in the way. But now my uni semester is over so I have all the time in the world to finish it! I can’t wait because I’m loving all of the episodes so far!

  11. The thing that we are waiting for definitely happens in finale but that decision to not have it during battle was such a punch in the face. They overreached, I’m honestly baffled as some are rating this episode 10/10

    1. Totally agreed, Sati. Still not over it!

  12. My husband was also annoyed with this episode. He didn’t seem to care much for it. He just kept laughing at me at the end and taunting me that he knows what will happen. Damn you guys! It was visually a very cool episode and like you, I am not always 100 percent into watching these Wall kids. But I am curious to know more about Jon and Sam, so this episode was good for that reason too. 3 more days and this will all be over. What are we going to do with ourselves?!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Yeah, I think even though I wasn’t in love with this episode, it did finally make me care more about Jon and Sam, which is a good thing! I can’t believe it’s all over in 3 days! Really, what are we going to do?! I guess we’ll have to find something else? I’m thinking of watching Rome, I’ve heard that’s a good post-GOT emotional rollercoaster!

  13. While I was sad to see Ygritte go, I thought the episode worked well. Like others have already pointed out, it did feel like a small screen version of The Two Towers…which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, I think the sequences with the giants will be the thing people remember most from this episode.

    1. Agreed, a week later I’m still thinking about those giants (and that kid’s stupid nod at Jon, still hilarious). They were used quite well, although I would have loved to see more because in the book there’s definitely more than just two.

  14. Great review! I think in hindsight it probably wasn’t the strongest episode of the season, but from pure entertainment value, I was all over it haha.

    1. Thanks Jim! I agree, even if it wasn’t the best of the season, there were some entertaining moments that served the purpose of distracting us from that fact!

  15. I actually really enjoyed this episode! Maybe not the best ep of the season, but it was kind of cool to stay in one place and only have a have one group to focus on. Lol that Jon Snow gif!! Basically, that can be applied to all of GoT. Haha.

    1. Yeah, I’m interested to see how I regard this episode upon re-watch! I wonder if I’ll be more kind towards it. Time shall tell! 😉

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