I had a hard time writing this one, probably due to all the action and less story, but it was a bitch… so you’re welcome. In “The Watchers on the Wall” we finally see the Wildling attack on the Wall in all its glory, well actually we only see the preliminary assault but it still has its epic moments. This fight has been building over the past three seasons and therefore required a full episodes attention, much like “Blackwater” in season two. With plenty of action, including giant archers and some of the best sword fighting we’ve seen so far, episode nine is definitely a crowd pleaser. Budget and time constraints were still apparent, as Mance’s full army was never shown and we only saw one lonely mammoth, but all the action and intensity made up for it.
Before things get crazy Sam and Jon are standing watch on top of the Wall, waiting for the inevitable horn blasts. Sam has a few questions about Jon and Ygritte’s “activities” and even found a loophole in the Night’s Watch’s vows. Jon is not in the mood to talk about Ygritte, the pain of betraying her (and being shot by her) is still too fresh, instead he tells Sam to get some rest. Sam, still regretting his dumb decision to leave Gilly in Mole’s town, chooses to study up on Wildling torture methods for a bedtime story. As much as I love seeing and hearing from Maester Aemon, this scene felt unneeded. Largely because Aemon basically walks in and starts to tell Sam a couple stories but never really finishes any of them and then curtly sends Sam to bed as well.
A bit south of Castle Black, Tormund is telling his own bedding story; he doesn’t get to finish but it’s about him banging a bear. After snapping at Tormund Ygritte gets in Styr’s grill about her and Jon, apparently the ridiculous amount of arrows she fletched wasn’t convincing enough for them…
While all the Wildlings watch the pissing contest Gilly is able to sneak by without being seen, she and Sam Jr. make it to the Wall just in time for the battle. On orders from Ser Alliser, Pyp refuses to open the gate for Gilly, until Sam becomes uncharacteristically forceful (and vulgar) and orders Pyp to let her in. Sam gets a decent amount of growth this episode, not only becoming more assertive but exhibiting actual bravery for a change. This being Game of Thrones, Sam’s transformation and his popularity with fans only made his vow to return to Gilly harder to swallow… this show gives me trust issues. Also after Sam promises to never leave Gilly again the horns sound, Sam leads Gilly to a storage room and leaves her there.
As with a lot of this episode, the greatest fire the north has ever seen came off a bit anti-climactic… but everything looks small from on top of the Wall so I can forgive that. As they watch Mance’s army approach, Thorne admits to Jon that they should’ve sealed the tunnels when they had the chance. Thorne also speaks about what it means to be a leader, and while there will never be any amity between the two, they come close to a mutual respect. Ser Alliser and Sam both really shone this episode; Sam rising to the task and actually inspiring others, and Thorne kicking as much ass as possible. As the lower defenses are falling Pyp finally makes his first kill, with a newfound confidence Pyp takes aim again and BAM… Ygritte’s arrow takes him through the throat and he dies in Sam’s arms… That’s what you get when you make the audience like you. Ser Alliser decides he’s needed downstairs so he leaves the Wall to Janos Slynt and heads to the elevator. Once down, Ser Alliser shows us why he is the master-at-arms of Castle Black; he delivers an inspiring speech before leading his men against the Wildlings and killing every one in his path. Thorne’s moment of glory culminates in a duel with Tormund Giantsbane. The two are evenly matched and this is some of the best fighting we’ve seen in a long time, Thorne eventually takes an injury and is rescued by some of his brothers, albeit against his will.
Back on top Slynt is shell shocked at the sight of the giants and a mammoth and Grenn smartly relieves the commander. Grenn tells Slynt he’s needed at the bottom and Slynt leaves without a word to his men. Rather than joining the fray in the yard Slynt holes himself up in Gilly’s room, proving just how cowardly he always was. Left with no other options Jon takes the command on top of the Wall. The Night’s Watch rains down arrows and barrels on their enemies but the giants still make it to the gate. Also one of the giants has a bow that just obliterates some dude and it’s seriously the best part of the episode. Jon orders barrels of oil and pitch dropped by the gate and they do their job perfectly; killing the wildlings and sending the mammoth running away. After watching his giant friend die, the second giant goes into a rage and opens the gate himself. Jon chooses Grenn to take five men with him and hold the gate at all costs, and Grenn dutifully carries out this task. As the giant bears down on Grenn and his men they recite their oath and stand their ground against the rampaging behemoth, its later revealed that they all laid down their lives but held the gate as commanded.
After Pyp dies, Sam manages to make his way back to the top to recruit more men. (Stopping along his way to encourage the little boy to find a weapon). Jon himself heads down with some men, leaving the Wall under the command of Dolorous Edd. Edd releases the next, and probably coolest, of the Wall’s defenses; a gigantic anchor that, when released, swept the Wall clean of climbers and left only a couple bloody limbs.
When Jon arrives at the bottom he asks Sam to release Ghost and then joins the melee. Eventually Jon comes face to face with the Magnar and they also have a pretty sweet duel; matching Jon’s bastard sword with Styr’s war axe. Styr almost gets the better of Jon, stripping the sword and smashing Jon’s face into an anvil. Luckily Jon grasped the nearest likely weapon, a hammer, and embedded it in Styr’s skull.
Unarmed, beat up and out of breath Jon turns to find Ygritte with her bow trained on him. Ygritte’s confliction causes her to hesitate a bit too long and she takes an arrow through her chest from that stupid kid. I know something had to happen but that kid just randomly picking up a bow ad nailing her from the other side of the yard was a bit much, as was his nod to Jon afterwards. Whatever, all that aside Ygritte’s death was done well; dying in Jon’s arms she remembers the cave and how she wished they hadn’t left.
Regardless of his allegiance her death is still heartbreaking for Jon and takes a lot out of him. The next morning Jon sees that the watch cannot hope to defeat their enemy, (which has been said all season) so he decides to go out alone in order to talk with/assassinate Mance Rayder. It’s obviously a bad plan and Jon admits as much to Sam but they don’t have another option and Jon’s disregard for his own life has never been higher so he heads out.
As a book reader I thought the battle should’ve been much longer and larger, the attack seemed feckless compared to what we were told would happen, and the siege in the books. Granted the battle is not over, it just seems like Jon gave in to easily. Without the literature, though, I can see that this was a great episode, tons of action and excitement. The only other issue with doing a bottle episode that’s essentially “to be continued” at the end is that next episode is going to have to be much busier just to tie up some of the lose ends, but oh well.