GAME OF THRONES Recap: Penultimate Fighting

This is a recap of what happened on Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 9 (The Watchers on the Wall). So, you know, there are MANY spoilers. DUH.

Well, Thronians, the end is almost upon us. Only one more episode to go until our watch ends. Repeat after me: I am the sitter in the darkness. I am the watcher on the couch. The teaser for next week makes it look like they’re packing a lot of different storylines in the finale, but tonight was about one thing and one thing only: the battle at the Wall.
 Neil Marshall, director of the “Blackwater” episode of season 2, is back to bring us an equally epic battle this week. We got hand to hand combat, arrows from afar, fire, burning oil, giants, mammoths, a huge swinging Wall scraper, you name it. The battle sequences and special effects were all well done, as we’ve come to expect from Thrones by now. But in the end, of course, it’s the human elements that bring it home. By far the best part of tonight’s episode was the return of Sam the Slayer!

We open with Sam and Jon taking their turn at watch on the top of the wall, and having a heart to heart about love, Ygritte, and Gilly. Sam’s middle may be flabby but his brains are not; our shrewd fellow points out that while their vows do specifically say they can take no wives and father no children, they don’t actually technically say anything about being in love and getting’ it on. Smart man, our Sam!

Elsewhere south of the Wall, Ygritte, Tormund, the Mangar of Thenn, and their crew are awaiting the signal to attack Castle Black. Ygritte is a redheaded woman scored, so a double threat to Jon Snow, and she’s got a pile full of arrows to shoot some crows. She promises one of those arrows will end up in any wildling that gets in her way by trying to kill Jon Snow before she can get to him.

Back at the castle, Sam and Maester Aemon share a heart-to-heart about young love. Aemon may not have his sight, but he’s far from blind — he knew Sam loved Gilly from the first. Returning to his quarters, Sam hears a commotion at the gate; it’s Gilly, alive and well! Pyp is on guard duty and has orders not to let anyone in, but he’s no match for Sam the Slayer! When he tells you to “open the fucking gate,” you open the fucking gate. Sam and Gilly are so adorable! “From now on, wherever you go, I go too,” promises Sam. Where’s a kleenex when you need one??

Alas, there’s little time for our lovebirds, as the wildlings are coming. Sam locks Gilly and the baby into a safe room for the duration of the battle, but refuses her entreaties to stay; he has to fight because he’s a man of the Night’s Watch, and “that’s what men do.” And he kisses her!!! And promises not to die! That’s right, ladies and gents, Samwell Tarly just might be the new heartthrob of Game of Thrones (RIP Red Viper). Where are those damn kleenex???

Finally, the battle is joined. Ygritte’s band has come from the south and stormed the walls of Castle Black itself, while Mance Rayder’s army is trying to breach the gate and the Wall from the north. Pyp and Sam are a crossbow team in the castle, while Jon and Grenn man the top of the wall. Much fighting, dying, and CGI giants and mammoths ensue. The high points: Ser Alliser leaves command of the wall to Janos Slynt because his sword is needed at the castle; Ser Janos is unless and Grenn gets rid of him with a fake order for him to go to the castle (where he promptly runs and hides with Gilly); Jon commands the Wall until forced to go down himself and fight, leaving command to Dolorous Edd; Ygritte offs Pyp with an arrow to the neck; Jon sends Grenn and a team to hold the inner gate since a giant is bound to get through (they kill the giant but all die); Sam the Slayer actually manages to off a Thenn with a crossbow; Sam lets Ghost loose and the direwolf starts ripping out wildling throats; Jon Snow is kicking ass on the ground and fucks up the Mangar of Thenn; Tormund is captured, full of arrows but alive.

That about covers it until Ygritte gets Jon in her sights and has an arrow ready to fly. An exchange of anguished looks; Jon is defenseless and makes no move away. She hesitates; will she or won’t she shoot? We may never know, because her hesitation costs her life, in the form of an arrow through the heart from the kid who operates the lift (eat my family, will you? HA!). Hopefully you found those kleenex by now; keep one handy as Jon holds Ygritte in his arms. If only they had stayed in those caves! We get one last heartbreaking “you know nothing, Jon Snow,” and just like that she’s gone. (Come on, it wouldn’t be GoT if GRRM didn’t kill off someone you like.)

As the day dawns, the castle holds — for now. They’ve held off the wildlings on both sides, but for how long? Mance has tested their strength, but he’ll be back, and the Watch has lost a lot of men. With Ser Alliser injured and Janos outed as a coward, Jon formulates his own plan; he’ll ride out to meet Mance, and kill him if he can. Tune in next week!

Of course, lots of things here differ from the books, most of them in ways most people don’t care about (Slynt is in command, not Thorne, and doesn’t desert; it’s actually Slynt that sends Jon to treat with Mance, hoping Mance will kill him; Gilly wasn’t ever in Mole’s Town, Jon never sees Ygritte until he finds her dead body after the battle, etc.) A big difference is that in the books, Pyp and Grenn don’t die. I don’t think this really affects the plot in any major way, except that now the show version of Jon has two less friends to defend/support him. Romantic Slayer Sam is also an HBO invention, but another one of which I approve.

Anyway, it was kind of refreshing to have only one location/plotline to follow in this episode. Based on the teaser for next week, it looks like they are going to try to cover a LOT. There’s still a ton of material left in books 4 and 5 to cover, so I’ll be interested to see how far they get next week. I thought I caught the tiniest glimpse of a certain highly anticipated event (did you see it??), which I won’t spoil for non-book-readers. (But I will tell you next week if I was right.) Anyway, never fear; there’s still plenty of ground for HBO to cover next season, even though it’s still probably another eon before GRRM releases book 6.

Until next week then, fellow Thronians: sleep tight and dream of large, romantic men.

Boob Count: no boobs, just blood

Death Toll: too many to count

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