Game of Thrones season four is winding down in its final episodes in a very “David & Goliath” fashion. Okay, maybe Biblical metaphors aren’t entirely appropriate in the Seven Kingdoms, so we’ll go with a very “Imp & Dothraki” fashion. There–that’s more like it.
Last week we saw the small but nimble Oberyn Martell get turned into cranial goo at the hands of The Mountain–a sort of micro version of what this Sunday’s episode brought. Castle Black is outnumbered 1,000 to 1 by Mance’s Wildling army. Several warring factions united by the King Beyond the Wall with a single purpose: Breach the Wall and lay siege to Westeros.
Jon Snow knows it’s coming. He has given the council of the Knights Watch fair warning. His time with the Wildlings taught him of their strength and their numbers, but his alarm has fallen on deaf ears.
Episode nine opens with Jon giving Sam a very ‘Take the Black’ version of “The talk.” Sam argues that while their vows prohibit fathering children or taking wives, there’s definitely some grey area in terms of what you can or cannot get away with in your bedchamber. Apparently even sacred vows have loopholes. Had Mr. Tarley not been forced to join the Knights Watch by his less than caring father, perhaps he would have had a promising career as a ye olde attorney.
Sam’s all broken up, you see, because he’s convinced Gilly, Caster’s daughter whom he rescued, has been killed in a Wildling Raid just south of the Wall. But, in a rare happy moment on the show, she shows up with baby in arms alive and well. Sam hides her in a storage room and plants one on her. What a stud!
Don’t let these light moments get you too comfortable, though. The remaining ~45 minutes of “Watchers on the Wall” is pure hell in the north. With Mance’s army attacking from the north and Tormund’s contingent, along with Ygritte, sneaking in from the south, Castle Black is about to take a beating.
From there, it’s all nock, draw, loose and a whirlwind of flaming arrows, axes, swords and hammers. While Game of Thrones is no stranger to epic fight scenes, this is only the second full-on battle we’ve seen in the show thus far. Showrunners once again tapped ‘Descent’ director Neil Marshall to helm “Watchers on the Wall,” his second visit to Westeros following season two’s “Blackwater.”
With giants pounding away at the tunnel hoping to breach the Wall from the base, Wildling rock climbers leading the ascent and Tormund having reached Castle Black from the rear, this battle is being waged on all fronts. The brothers of the Knights Watch dropped oil barrels from atop the Wall and set them on fire hoping to slow the Wildling’s progress.
Come daybreak, Castle Black still stood. The Knights Watch prevailed, but Winterfell’s bastard son remained cautious to celebrate. They haven’t seen the last of Mance’s troops.
Between Joffrey and Oberyn’s uniquely brutal demises this season, it is unfortunate that the three fatalities from Watchers on the Wall might be overlooked. As sworn brothers of the Knights Watch since season one, Pyp and Grenn have been more than simple background characters on the Wall. We’ve seen them grow alongside Jon Snow and Samwell and they’ve been integral parts of the Castle Black subplot.
Perhaps even more noteworthy is Ginger-Wildling Ygritte’s death at the hands of a young square. Much like Jon, as an audience we’re not sure to love or hate Ygritte, but the complexity of their relationship has been the root of much drama throughout the last few seasons. Shakespearean, even!
In a show with as many locations and characters as GoT, this is only the second time we’ve focused solely on one plot for an entire episode, the previous time being the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Next weekend, during the season finale, expect to see fallout from Tyrion’s trial by combat, repercussions for Daenarys’ excommunication of Jorah the Andal, Sansa finding a place in the Vale and much more! Also, keep your fingers crossed that HBO’s streaming servers have been updated or prepare for the Twitterverse to demand heads on pikes!
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Kurt will spend the rest of the week planning the ultimate Westerosian finale party. Hurl insults of nerdom @theactualkurt