GAME OF THRONES SEASON 4 EPISODE 9 ‘The Watchers on the Wall’
From my notes: “Scene 11 WTF what is that? Giants? Elephants? Is that a wooly fucking mammoth? WHAT? Scene 12 WHAT? Ygritte shoots fire. Thenn. Nice speech.” It’s going to be very difficult to recap an episode containing so very much action, but here goes. Let’s rewind, to back before I saw so much and knew so little, to way back when I cued it up and pressed play.
HBOGO’s description of this episode says only ‘Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch face the biggest challenge to the wall yet.’ Does this mean the battle with the wildings that they’ve all been endlessly wringing their hands and chewing their nails about for the past few episodes is finally coming? As the advisories flash and I note that episode does not contain nudity, I’m going to say yes. I suppose this means that Jon Snow and Ygritte will not be having makeup sex. Drat. At least there will be graphic violence and adult language! That's some consolation.
We open with snow, and wind, and fire, and Snow, and Tarly. Jon and Sam are on the wall, watching, which is the first item in their job description. Speaking of no nudity, Sam wants to know what “she” was like. How big were her feet? You know what they say about women with big feet. I know, that was an obvious joke, but we were all thinking it. Sam is fretting about the fact that he’s going to die a virgin (although my sense is that because he is declaring that this will definitely happen, it probably won’t) and wants Jon to explain the act of sexual congress so that he can have some sense of what he has missed. To Jon’s credit, instead of saying “I don’t know,” which would imply that he knows nothing, he instead answers “I can’t say.”
It’s worth noting that Sam has found an interesting loophole in the vows of the Night’s Watch. He can’t get married, he can’t father any children, but that’s all the vows cover. There’s nothing about those compound words we discussed in last week’s recap, nothing about kissing, or hugging, or holding hands, so there you go—if he ever sees sweet Gilly again (just so you know in my notes there are hearts drawn around her name) well, it’s on. There will be hand holding.
An owl hoots! We know what that means! Sure enough, in the next scene one of the Thenn is showing the whites of his eyes, which means he’s inside of the owl, listening to Sam and Jon talk about chicks, while still being fireside with the wildings, where Tormund is also talking about chicks. This one’s named Sheila, she doesn’t depilate, also she has fangs, and “I know you never fooked a bear,” says Ygritte, annoyed. She’s tired of the bear story. I’d like to hear it, and further I would like to know how the bear came to be called Sheila. Did her parents name her that? Questions. Ygritte wants to whittle her arrows in silence, thinking only about killing Jon Snow, I mean any crow, but especially him. Styr, the main Thenn cannibal dude, wants to flirt, but Ygritte is not feeling it at all. In fact, she says she’ll kill him so much if he tries to steal Jon Snow’s murder from her. He will be so extra dead and she means it. Above them, there is a figure swathed in all kinds of clothes with a baby-shaped thing in its arms. Do you think that might be Gilly?
In the library at the imaginatively named Castle Black, Sam reads by candlelight. Maester Aemon comes in and they bullshit for a bit about what Sam’s reading and what might happen to them and how Sam’s totally in love with Gilly. “Love is the death of duty,” Maester Aemon says. So true. Sam goes all goggle-eyed and disbelieving about how the Maester might know anything about being in love. Duh, Sam. He was young once, and a Targaryen. Women were pelting him with their undergarments every time he left the house, of course he once fell madly in love. I am so dying to hear that the love of Aemon Targaryen’s young life is Olenna Tyrell, aka Emma Peel aka Diana Rigg, because go image search what she looked like in the ‘60s. Babe city. I mean she wouldn’t even really be able to wear undergarments under that catsuit she used to rock. Anyway! The Maester won’t tell us who exactly the young lady was because this show is annoying, but remember Olenna Tyrell was engaged to a Targaryen!
Meanwhile (<3) Gilly (<3) is at the gate pleading for entrance. Pyp tries to say no and deny her entrance but Sam isn’t having it. Open the fucking gate, Pyp! Sam is so in love with Gilly and the baby. I’m not going to say drunk in love. Remember that I didn’t say that. “From now on, wherever you go, I go too,” Sam promises Gilly. Two horns blow. Men shout to get ready, to arm the gates. The owl screeches.
“It’s time,” says the warg Thenn.
On the Wall, Jon Snow looks down at Mance Rayder’s fire.
The Iron Maiden video/battle between the Night’s Watch and the wildings begins with the Night’s Watch shoring up their defenses. The crows load barrels of oil, light fires of their own. Allies Thorne admits to Jon that he was right, they should have sealed the tunnel, then launches into a lecture about leadership. It’s pretty accurate: “Do you know what leadership means? It means the person in charge gets second-guessed by every little twat with a mouth.” That’s essentially this whole show. Oh well! We are about to see what Thorne’s version of leadership really looks like, and it isn’t too bad.
Sam squirrels Gilly away in a dusty, unused chamber somewhere depp in Castle Black. She wants him to stay down there with her, but he insists that he must go fight with his brothers “because that’s what men do.” He is a man, and he knows how to do things. He drops the hand holding idea and go straight for a kiss. Good move, Samwell Tarly. “Promise me you won’t die,” Gilly asks, and he promises. Which should mean that he does die, or maybe he’ll evade death long enough to smash his would-be killer’s head in. Who knows, in this world.
Pyp guards the south gate, preparing for the battle with shaking hands. Sam gives him a pep talk. The horns blow and blow and then the dramatic music kicks in. Outside, Ygritte, Tormund and the Thenns ready themselves to attack the south gate. “We’ll be up and over before they know what’s happened,” she says, and the battle commences.
The wildings on the north side march forward. There are giants. There are giants and prehistoric (or non-historic, in this world?) elephants. It is so AWESOME. The giants are huge, and take thunderous Godzilla steps with their giant hairy legs, and did I mention one of them is riding a wooly mammoth. AWESOME. There is no way to describe this battle without saying “awesome” so please, just humor me.
On the south side, Ygritte shoots fiery arrows and the Thenn wield giant labrys, hollow inside. Commander Thorne is called to the fray at the south side, leaving Jon in control of the Wall and the wildings marching on the gate below. The giants go to work on the gate, using the wooly mammoth and some towing gear that makes me think they might have had some success opening reinforced gates in the past. Jon sends men down to hold the gate. The giants have giant arrows that explode some of the crows’ scaffolding and a man plunges down to the bottom of the wall, where he is impaled. Kind of awesome. Slynt runs off to the chamber where Gilly is tucked away because he is a coward.
There are so many killings I can’t count them. Someone is arrowed! Another person is beheaded! Ser Alliser Thorne battles Tormund, because they know we want to see that.! Tormund gets in a good gut shot and Thorne is carried away! HOLD THE GATE! Ygritte kills Pyp! Sam is sad! I am sad! Sam kills a Thenn, just casual! Olly is petrified! Get a weapon, Olly! One of the giants is arrowed! The other giant roars! Dolorous Edd gets the wall! A barrel of oil explodes! The angry giant is past the main gate and to the inner gate! The men holding the gate recite their vows as the giant closes in! AWESOME!
Jon Snow joins the gray on the south side because he has to have some interaction with Ygritte and we’re running out of time. Jon passes Sam a key saying “I need him more than I need you.” There is some more very dramatic music and a cool panning shot and then Sam frees the direwolf Ghost. Ghost immediately rips someone’s throat out. AWESOME. Styr heads directly for Jon, a-swingin that battle-ax. Ygritte sees Jon, who’s getting well beaten by Styr. At one point both Jon and Styr lose their weapons and Styr has Jon by the throat, but Jon grabs a hammer that someone forgot to put away and smashes it into the top of Styr’s head. I’m not going to say hammertime. Please remember that I didn’t say that. Jon stumbles away, unfortunately into the path of Ygritte, standing right in front of him with an arrow at the ready. Her face is contorted, but she can’t quite let that arrow go. Who broke my heart? You did, you did. Bow to the target, blame Cupid, Cupid.
Jon Snow smiles, happy to see her, even though she’s about to kill him. But! From behind! An arrow! Right through her heart. Behind her, Olly the formerly paralytically terrified orphan boy stands behind the giant bow he’s commandeered and nods, calm.
“You remember that cave?” Ygritte asks as she’s dying. “We should have stayed in that cave.”
“We’ll go back there,” Jon says.
"You know nothing, Jon Snow," she says, for the last time.
During the last five minutes of the show the battle ends, at least for the night. The Night’s Watch takes an injured Tormund prisoner. Gilly is safe, and Sam knows that Slynt hid during the battle. Dawn breaks. Jon Snow realizes that they will never be able to win a war with the wildings, even if they managed to stay them for one night, and he decides to leave Castle Black to find Mance Rayder. Sam tries to talk him out of it, promising him that he’ll die a horrible, long, tortured death if he tries to find Mance Rayder.
“You’re right. It’s a bad plan,” says Jon Snow. “What’s your plan?”
And he leaves the castle. (Without his direwolf! What is that! Go get Ghost!)
One more episode left.