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