Game of Thrones S4 E9
The Watchers on the Wall by Nikole Gunn
Wow. Just wow. Let me say that again, wow. So, that was pretty intense, gripping…(insert adjective here). I think I need a moment to breathe. Or maybe I need to hit rewind.
OK, so Episode 9 of Game of Thrones is traditionally the one that shakes things up, explodes in your face or leaves you feeling wretched: often all at the same time.
Season one gave us the demise of Ned Stark. Season two was the epic Battle of Blackwater, while season three was the infamous “Red Wedding”. So, what would happen in season 4?
The episode title gave an obvious indication where the action would be. The Watchers on The Wall could mean only one thing; the penultimate episode would take place in the bleakest of settings. The Wall.
After teasing us with only snippets in only previous episodes, we’d finally get some serious Snow-in-snow action. The fact that Neil Marshall was in the director’s chair boded well. He also helmed Blackwater, the most epic of episodes thus far.
We start with a ‘share and care’ moment between Jon and Sam as they keep watch on the top of the wall. It’s clear the Wildlings are gathering and the men of the Night’s Watch know that the end could be nigh.
So, there they are freezing their butts off, waiting for the axe to fall and all Sam wants to talk about is kissing girls and ‘doing it’. He’s living vicariously through Jon, wanting to know what “it” is like.
Bless him, now that Gilly is on the scene, he’s clearly given the matter some thought. He points out that their vows don’t say they have to be celibate, just that they can’t get married and have kids.
But, Jon Snow being a stoic northerner and ‘no bleeding poet’ can’t quite articulate what it’s like being in love and sends him on his way. Poor Samwell, still none the wiser and there’s a good chance he won’t be around much longer to find out the facts of life.
The Wildlings, on the other hand have no problem discussing sex. Ygritte is having none of it. She’s an angry, scorned woman and she’s intent on killing as many Crows as possible and one in particular. Her fellow wildlings may accuse her of wanting to serve Jon a ‘slice of ginger minge’, but she’s made it clear that she will be the one to kill Jon Snow.
It should be noted there have been no ‘boobs, bums or whatever’ so far in episode 9, but still we’re talking sex. This time it’s Maester Aemon talking about the good old times when he was a Targareyn prince.
He knows how Sam feels about Gilly, despite Sam’s denials. “Love is the death of duty” he tells Sam, while reliving his own first love. And then he adds, with an understanding of what lies ahead “Nothing makes the past a sweeter place to visit than imminent death”.
As Sam heads off to find his bed, there’s a pounding on the gate and there’s Gilly and her baby. They survived the Mole’s Town massacre and have fled to the safety of Castle Black, where Sam promises to never leave her again.
As he hides Gilly in the cellar, Sam the Brave has replaced Sam the Coward. No, he can’t stay with her while his Brothers fight and die. He’s a Man of the Night’s Watch and he’s given his word to defend the wall. With his promise that he won’t die, Sam earns his first ever kiss.
And then the horn blows, warning of the Wildlings attack. There are thousands of them gathering at the Wall. The Brothers scramble as the horn sounds again and again. Fires blaze and the Watchers on the Wall realise what they’re up against.
The pace of the show now changes. There’s now an element of desperation as the music swells. Lord Commander, Ser Alliser Thorne acknowledges that they should have taken Jon’s warnings seriously.
Yes, they should have. Moving on.
The Wildlings attack and they’ve got some pretty big allies. Giants and mammoths, oh my. So, that’s where their CGI budget went. Those attack-mammoths are impressive as they begin the assault on the Wall.
Then the killing begins and the action is frenetic. What follows is 25 minutes of intense hand-to-hand combat. There is no real let up in the action as one-by-one, familiar faces are killed off.
Pyp and Grenn are among the casualties. Pyp’s killed by an arrow to the throat, fired by Ygritte. Grenn dies defending the inner gate from a giant, he and his companions recite their oath as the Giant approaches.
Amid all the carnage, we see Jon Snow assume the mantle of leadership and become his father’s son. He is a Stark in all but name. He wields his sword and orders the Night’s watch to action. His direwolf is unleashed and attacks. He is a man possessed, trained in the art of warfare from the cradle.
And then he comes face to face with Ygritte. Her bow is drawn and she’s about to let fly, when she’s felled by an arrow. Jon holds his lover as she dies, her last words: “You know nothing, Jon Snow”.
The wildlings retreat and Castle Black still stands. The dead are burned to stop them coming back as Wight Walkers. Jon knows there can be no saving Castle Black and unless he kills Mance Rayder.
That’s his mission as he walks through the gate and into the snow.
While there are other contenders for ‘best episode’, Watchers on The Wall would have to be the strongest of the season, mainly because it didn’t flit around the Seven Kingdoms.
The unrelenting nature of battle would not have worked quite as well, if we’d been ‘stopping down’ to check-in on the other characters. This story needed to be the focus, as the Wall will continue to be a major story thread in the future.
So, with just one episode left in the season, there are still a few loose ends to tie up. Will Jon get back to Castle Black? Will Tyrion survive? What of Arya and the Hound? Sansa and Littlefinger? Will Dany finally turn her attention and her dragons to King’s Landing? And what of Hodor, Bran, the Reeds and Rickon? Oh, and Theon/Reek and Stannis too?
Thank old gods and new that there will be a season 5, 6 and maybe 7 and even 8. Until then, we’ll have to make do with episode 10: The Children.