“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.” The wildlings attacked the Wall, and clashed with the diminished forces of the Night’s Watch. Now that you’ve had a chance to check out “The Watchers on the Wall,” and assess the damage, check out our readers’ recap and share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Spoiler Note: This post is for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. As such the post itself and the comments will contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the books yet, you can discuss this episode in our non-book-reader recap. Thanks!
After a season-long buildup and an incredibly sparse lineup in the opening credits this week, the time has come for the wildling army of Mance Rayder and the men of the Night’s Watch to battle.
On the eve of the battle, Jon and Sam converse as they patrol the Wall. Believing he’s lost Gilly in the Mole’s Town raid, Sam quizzes Jon about Ygritte and being in love. The men discuss the possibility of Sam and Gilly having had a relationship. Attempting to justify his feelings, Sam brings up the interesting point that their vows don’t actually forbid sex- only marriage and fathering children. Jon fails at communicating what he knows about love, and sends Sam below.
Not far from the Wall, the wildlings wait, with Tormund regaling his companions with the tale of how he became the Husband to Bears, while Ygritte seethes. Styr antagonizes her, believing she still has feelings for Jon because she failed to kill him, but Ygritte asserts that she’ll be the one to kill Jon when it’s time.
At Castle Black, Maester Aemon finds Sam in the library, and the older man offers his thoughts on the subjects troubling Sam this night- love and the one he’s lost. Aemon points out that love is why Sam has left his post atop the Wall to come read below, reinforcing the notion that love is indeed the death of duty. The maester recalls his days as Aemon Targaryen, and how he fell in love with a girl he remembers perfectly to this day.
Outside the doors of Castle Black, a very much alive Gilly turns up, to Sam’s incredible relief. He vows to never leave her side again, no matter what.
But the time for fighting has come. The Walls are manned, barrels of oil rolled out, and torches lit while Ser Alliser Thorne oversees the process. He admits to Jon Snow then, as they see the vast wildling army beneath them, that they should have sealed the tunnel when Jon recommended it.
Sam escorts Gilly and the baby to safety inside the castle but she’s reluctant to be parted from him so soon. He remains firm that he has to fight as a man of the Night’s Watch, but he kisses her before they part. Gilly asks for his promise that he won’t die, and he gives it.
Sam rejoins his brothers outside, and finds Pyp shaking as they prepare for the battle. He’s terrified, and doesn’t know how to handle the weapons. When Pyp points out how brave Sam was, killing the White Walker, Sam explains how he felt in that moment when it happened: “When’re you’re nothing at all, there’s no more reason to be afraid.” But he is afraid now, he acknowledges, because he’s “not nothing anymore.”
The wildlings including Tormund, Ygritte and Styr run for Castle Black. The army north of the Wall advances with giants and a mammoth aiming for the gate. Far above, the men of the Night’s Watch are as ready as they’ll ever be. Arrows notched and lit, they fire. Bodies fall on both sides, wildling and Night’s Watch both, with arrows flying. Thorne heads down to defend the Castle Black gate and leaves Janos Slynt in command atop the Wall where Jon is stationed. Sam and Pyp are situated on the bridge, firing crossbows at the climbing wildlings. Thorne reaches the courtyard and speaks to the Night’s Watch men, rousing them with his call to arms as the front gate falls and chaos breaks out.
On the Wall, Janos Slynt cracks under the pressure, and Grenn sends him below, leaving Jon in command. Wildlings are scaling the Wall now as Jon once did; archers take aim, dangling over the edge, at the climbers, knocking some off with flaming arrows.
In the courtyard, the wildlings are dominating, with Styr and Ygritte bringing men down left and right- though they miss young Olly hiding underneath the stairs. Slynt escapes down below the castle, into the very room where Gilly and the baby are stashed away.
Pyp and Sam use their crossbows to take out more men around the courtyard but when Pyp stands again, one of Ygritte’s arrows find its way into his throat.
The giants with their mammoth target the gate on the northern side, prying it open. Seeing the danger they’re in, Jon sends Grenn below to defend the entrance with several men. In the center of Castle Black, Alliser Thorne and Tormund Giantsbane go head to head, with Tormund wounding the other man. Thorne falls off the side of the walkway and is dragged to safety by his brothers, while nearby Pyp dies in Sam’s arms.
Taking up Pyp’s fallen crossbow, Sam kills a Thenn and has the young boy Olly send him to the top of the Wall in the lift. Sam’s last order to the boy is to grab a weapon and fight the wildlings. Olly obeys, picking up a bow.
The Night’s Watch atop the Wall fight off the attack at the gate with arrows and flaming barrels, managing to kill one of the giants- and enrage the other so he’s able to hoist the gate open with brute strength.
Sam relays to Jon just how dire the situation is in the castle, with Thorne fallen. Snow leaves the Wall to Dolorous Edd, and they head below.
In the tunnel beyond the gate beneath the Wall, Grenn and his brothers brace themselves. The young men are frightened but Grenn leads them in repeating the Night’s Watch oath in order to stand strong against the giant Mag the Mighty as he rushes the gate and knocks it down.
Jon jumps into the courtyard fray, while Sam frees Ghost from his cage. The direwolf takes down multiple men, tearing their throats out. Tormund Giantsbane is hit with several arrows, but Ygritte is going strong with her bow and arrow. Across the yard, she spies Styr and Jon engage, with the Magnar of Thenn seeming to get the upper hand on Jon for a while in a fight, Longclaw versus Styr’s longaxe. The cannibal knocks Jon’s sword aside and bashes his head against the blacksmith’s anvil, but quick-thinking Jon grabs the hammer and smashes it into Styr’s skull, killing him.
That’s when he sees her. Her bow in hand, Ygritte finds Jon, but he can only smile at her, as their eyes meet. She’s angry but teary-eyed, and she hesitates.
And then she’s pierced from behind with an arrow through the chest. The boy Olly, whose father she killed, driving him to the Night’s Watch, has shot her. Ygritte dies in Jon’s arms, lamenting that they ever left their cave.
Edd and the men on the Wall succeed in knocking the rest of the climbers off with a giant scythe. Mance’s army is huge but the force sent in this first wave has been defeated. In the courtyard, Tormund Giantsbane continues to fight despite the arrows in him. It takes another arrow, courtesy of Jon Snow, for Tormund to be captured.
The morning after the battle, Jon makes it clear to Sam the battle isn’t really over. Mance has more giants and mammoths and there will be another attack. He needs to kill Mance Rayder and cause the wildling army to scatter since Mance is the only thing uniting them. As they pass through the tunnel, they find the bodies of their friend Grenn and his cohorts. They died, but so did the giant, and so they had successfully protected the gate.
Leaving behind Longclaw with Sam, Jon Snow opens the gate and heads out to find Mance Rayder.
What I Liked
Kit Harington leading the way – Jon isn’t the easiest character to play, given that he’s not much of a talker (something we saw tonight with his love chat with Sam) on a show full of them, but Kit is making the most of his leading man time, and he carried the show tonight. His smile when he encountered Ygritte toward the end was heartbreaking.
The rest of ’em – Owen Teale, Rose Leslie, Mark Stanley, Josef Altin, John Bradley, Dominic Carter, Kristofer Hivju, and pretty much everyone brought their best game tonight.
The music – The music had me properly on edge at all the right times.
The technicalities of the vow and Aemon – Sure, Sam is just looking for an excuse to hook up with Gilly, but really it’s about time someone called them out on that vow. But then we also have Maester Aemon bringing it home: that marriage or no marriage, love is the real problem when it comes to serving well. The episode was about more than grand-scale slaughter. The center of it was Jon and Ygritte’s struggle, and the conversation brings it home.
Creative horrors – Like giant scythes knocking people off walls, the cook wielding a ridiculously large cleaver, Jon taking out Styr with a hammer, and more. Marshall is really great at this.
Sam & Gilly – We may be a little ahead of schedule, bookwise, as far as kissing, but it doesn’t bother me at all. It was lovely to have something good in all the carnage. I love these two together.
Chekhov’s Archer – For book readers, once Olly joined the Night’s Watch and started talking about what a great archer he was, some guessed this might happen, and it did. It worked for me.
What I Didn’t Like
The finish – I know that many were expecting the deus ex machina at the end of this week’s episode, and I was too, but it’s not actually a deviation for the show not to do that. It’s simply going to happen next week instead, because the battle did happen in multiple waves in A Storm of Swords. However, I did still feel like the finish was weak. After Ygritte’s death, the episode sputters out. Jon walking out the gate lacked punch as the finish to an episode as huge as this one.
No Ciarán Hinds? – I wonder sometimes if the Unsullied even remember what Mance Rayder looks like, or really believe he’s that important to the wildling cause. Because we haven’t seen him all year.