*CAUTION SPOILERS AHEAD*
Wow. From start to finish of “The Watchers on the Wall,” “Game of Thrones” masterfully shifts gears. In my opinion, “Game of Thrones” does this better than any other show.
Moreover, the varied shots and fluid cinematography really give the episode a nice, smooth cohesion.
The episode starts off with Sam and Jon Snow pulling sentry duty. Sam asks Jon what it was like to love someone and have them love you back. During this conversation, the two debate the semantics of the Night’s Watch oath. It ends with Jon sending Sam to get some sleep, but Sam, still haunted by the “loss” of Gilly, makes his way to Castle Black’s library instead.
While reading, Maester Aemon walks in on him knowing right away it is Sam because who else would spend their spare time in the library? The steward has been reading up on the torture tactics of the wildlings.
“Love is the death of duty,” Aemon told Sam.
He said he knew Sam loved Gilly from the moment he brought her to Castle Black. Aemon said that he, too, was once in love and reveals that he was a Targaryen along with the fact at one point he was in line for the throne.
“Nothing makes the past a sweeter place to visit than imminent death,” Aemon said.
As Sam is returning to his sentry duty on the Wall, Gilly is banging and pleading to be let in at Castle Black. Pip, not wanting to deviate from orders, doesn’t open the gate until Sam forces his hand.
Shortly after Gilly and child are let in, Mance’s army of wildlings sets a portion of the haunted forest aflame. Hoping to keep Gilly and her child safe, Sam quickly stows them away deep in Castle Black. As Gilly tries to convince Sam to stay with her, the two share their first kiss before he returns up top to stand with his brothers.
Atop the Wall, Ser Alliser Thorne admits to Jon that he should have followed Jon’s suggestion and sealed the tunnel. During this scene and the battle, I found myself liking this guy a little more.
As the battle begins, Sam encourages Pip who hasn’t ever seen combat before to stand strong. This is when the episode really gets interesting. The wildlings complete with giants and war-mammoths launch their attack.
First from the south, Ygrette and Tormund’s group attack. They scale the wall, and then it’s on like Donkey Kong. There’s plenty of close quarters combat. I feel like the producers packed as much combat as they could for this episode since this storyline has its roots reaching back to season one. Maybe it’s to get viewers more invested in the Night’s Watch storyline. Whatever their reasoning, I think it worked. Following his first kill, Pip is shot with an arrow by Ygrette. Sam, for the first time, is confronted up-close with the death of a brother of the Night’s Watch.
Because of the attack on Castle Black, Alliser puts Janos Slynt in charge of the Wall’s defense and heads to the keep.
Up on the Wall, Grenn tells an obviously shaken Janos Slynt that Ser Alliser needs him down at Castle Black. This lie lets Jon take command atop the Wall and enables Janos to go hide like a coward. Jon knows the outer gate won’t hold after seeing the giants move in, he then sends Grenn and five others to defend the inner gate.
North of the Wall and after firing an appropriately sized-bow, the giants hook the war-mammoth up to the outer gate. As they yank on the gate, barrels of burning oil rain down on the war-mammoth and wildlings. I chuckled watching the partially on fire war-mammoth run away. Not to be cruel or anything, I just thought it was funny — I’ve never seen a mammoth on fire before. As the mammoth is retreating, a giant follows suit trying to bring the war-beast back. During his pursuit, the giant is skewered by a bolt from a large crossbow shot from the top of the wall.
This enrages the other giant, who harnessing his rage, lifts the outer gate and makes his way inside the tunnel. Once inside the tunnel, the giant charges the second gate. As the behemoth rushes forward, Grenn talks sense into a shaken comrade through reciting of the Night’s Watch oath. It is particularly chilling because all six of the Crows must know that they are no match for the enraged giant – especially in such a confined space.
Shifting back to Sam, he works his way to the top of the wall. He tells Jon that Ser Alliser has fallen and that he is needed at Castle Black lest the castle be overrun. Jon puts Edd in charge of the top of the Wall’s defense.
When Jon makes his way down to the castle, he faces off with the cannibal Styr. It’s a well-shot fight scene, and the manner in which Jon vanquishes Styr (ball peen hammer to the head) illustrates that Jon has learned how to fight “dirty.” Not fighting “dirty” is what nearly killed him when he fought Karl at Caster’s Keep.
Immediately following Jon’s victory over Styr, he and his former lover Ygrette meet eyes. She has her bow drawn and looks ready to fire (although my wife disputes this). However during their stare down, Ygrette is shot by an arrow fired by a young boy named Ollie who survived a wildling raid earlier in the season. Ygrette’s last words were, fittingly, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the episode came when Edd gave the order to lose the scythe. The titanic tool of destruction skirted across the edge of the Wall obliterating all who were climbing. This act sent those attacking from the North, scurrying off quickly back towards the woods.
Down at Castle Black, the Tormund’s wildling attack party has been broken and the bearded wildling is the only one left. Tormund is taken prisoner and the Wall and Castle Black are safe for now.
Jon reasons that the attack was just Mance’s way of probing the Night’s Watch’s defenses before sending the main host. With the Night’s Watch having suffered heavy losses, Jon has only one course of action — he must parlay with the king beyond the Wall (and possibly kill him). As he and Sam are walking through the tunnel, they come across Grenn and his men who sacrificed their lives to protect the Night’s Watch. However, their sacrifice wasn’t in vain because the giant lay dead among the six men of the Night’s Watch. They had held the gate.
OK, I know I said last week’s episode was my favorite of the season, but this one supplanted last week’s. The flowing battle sequences, the scythe, the war-mammoth, giants, the valiant deaths of fan-loved characters and the loss of Ygrette meant this episode was filled to the brim with content. It was awesome to see a secondary storyline from the first season take center screen. I thought the pacing was frantic, but that added to the ambiance of the episode.
+ Noble deaths of Grenn and Pip
+ So long to Ygrette