Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall
This week’s episode of Game of Thrones “The Watchers on The Wall” was entirely focused on the attack of Mance Rayder on The Wall and Castle Black. This is your warning, if you have not yet watched this episode and you keep reading I am not withholding spoilers.
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
The filming on this episode is possibly the most cinematic since the blackwater bay battle. It was extraordinarily well shot, and set. I couldn’t help but think of someone at HBO saying, “we built the entire Castle Black, we damn well better film the whole thing”, because that is what they did. They had long crane shots that panned over the entire castle showing the incredibly brutal battle. I only wish I could say they had built The Wall too, that would be unbelievably impressive, but like the giants, The Wall was all effects, and expensive effects at that. Visuals aside, it was among the most satisfying episodes this season, simply because it saw an entire series of events to their conclusion. It was not the best episode, simply the most complete. It was good to see the Night’s Watch finally doing what they are supposed to do, nearly four seasons they have watched, and waited, and withered on The Wall.
The episode begins with Sam and Jon keeping watch at the top of the wall. They discuss the impending fight, and girls. Sam, who is clever, outlines the loophole in their vows saying they are only sworn not to marry or father children, but not specifically from having relationships, including physical ones. It seems like he is trying to reassure Jon, and justify the relationship he wants to have himself. Things get a little weird when he asks Jon to describe what it was like to be with Ygritte, saying that he may soon die in battle and it’s the closest he will ever get. He may have a point, but still, Jon didn’t go for it. At a nearby camp Ygritte tells the group in no uncertain terms that Jon is hers to kill. While in the library of Castle Black, Sam and Maester Aemon discuss Gilly and the fact that Sam is clearly in love with her. Soon after that, Gilly shows up at the castle gate, having just escaped the slaughter at Moles Town. Gilly forces Sam to stay with her, no matter what, to which Sam locks her in the kitchens pantry to keep her safe. When she tried to object, Sam kissed her, and the audience cried in unison “it’s about time Sam.”
Now do you remember when Mance Rayder promised the biggest bonfire the north has ever seen? Remember when we thought that was rhetorical imagery intended to rile up his troops? What he actually did, was start the biggest bonfire the north has ever seen, and destroyed an entire forest. This was the visual clue everyone on the Night’s Watch needed to understand just how boned Jon Snow told them they were, well, the fire and the giants riding woolly mammoths. If the army matching on the wall was not enough to cause Ser Alliser to second-guess the dryness of his britches and his command decisions this is when the castle is attacked below the wall. Alliser leaves Janos Slynt in charge of the Wall defenses and joins the fight now within the castle walls. When several giants and their pet wooly mammoth approach and begin attacking the gate, Janos Slynt proves to be a cowardly and incompetent leader. Fortunately, Grenn informs him that he is inexplicably needed in the castle, and he all too willingly leaves the defense of the wall to Jon Snow.
In the castle, Janos Slynt quickly makes his way to the dangerous fight in the kitchen pantry where he finds a ham in desperate need of saving. He decides to stay there, to defend the food, with Gilly. While outside, Ser Alliser is wounded, and Sam manages to shoot a very large cannibal in the head with a crossbow before making his way back to the top of the wall, after telling little Olly to find a weapon and defend the castle.
At the top of the wall, Jon orders barrels of oil lit and dropped on the giants and the mammoth trying to bring down the gate. He orders Grenn and a few men to defend the tunnel, at all costs. When Sam shows up and reports the situation in the castle, Jon leaves Edd in charge and returns to join the fight on the ground.
After some good fighting in which Jon hammers Styr the cannibalistic wildling he find himself face to face with Ygritte. Jon Snow, knowing nothing, just stands there while she is ready to shoot him with an arrow, just as she did twice before. Fortunately, the Night’s Watch has Olly, defender of the north. He shoots Ygritte in the back while she was deciding where to shoot Jon. It was not a pretty death, and Jon didn’t take it very well, he didn’t even thank Olly.
While at the top of the wall, Edd continues to drive back the attackers and clears the wall of climbers with a brutal weapon that I simply cannot describe. Not much happens at the top of the wall. The remainder of the action takes place in the tunnel, where a single giant has gotten though the main gate, and meets Grenn and the four men he took with him. The battle in the Castle ends when Tormund is captured after being shot with several arrows, including one by Jon. The Night’s Watch defended Castle Black and The Wall, but just barely.
Jon knows they can’t withstand another attack, and so do we since we all know that Stannis failed to arrive with his army in time for the attack. Jon makes a decision. He tells Sam he is going north of the wall to attack Mance Rayder and kill him, but just before he passes through the gate, he gives Sam his sword. I believe he intends to attempt negotiations with Mance, or to challenge him to single combat. I’m not entirely sure what he plans, but given that, it is probably very stupid, it will work, or he will die a very horrible death.
This episode, as I said before was immensely satisfying, and knowing, as we all do, that the massive army that just attacked the wall is not really the threat from the North that Westros needs to fear, I look forward to some very big fights. However, we will have to wait a while for those, so I will just have to watch this episode again, and wait for the finale next week, when we witness the fallout from Tyrion’s trial by combat.