Last week’s episode, The Mountain and the Viper, did what Game of Thrones does best and left us completely shocked by killing off another wonderful character. With only two episodes left until the end of season four we were glad to get away from King’s Landing this week.
If you haven’t seen episode nine of Game of Thrones and don’t want anything spoiled then please stop reading now. If you are up-to-date and want to relive the action then keep on reading.
The Watchers on the Wall is the ninth episode of the season. It is written by showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss with Neil Marshall taking to the director’s chair for the first time this season. This will be only his second time directing Game of Thrones with the first being Blackwater which was the ninth episode of season 2. Marshall did a great job with the Battle of Blackwater so he seems a perfect choice to direct this battle-heavy episode.
Most Game of Thrones episodes jump around all over the seven kingdoms in order to keep you up to date with all the main characters. This week’s episode tells a single story of the Night’s Watch trying to defend The Wall against all manner of enemies. With the Night’s Watch outnumbered 1000 to 1 we couldn’t wait to see what happened.
The episode opened up atop the Wall with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sam (John Bradley). While on watch they are chatting about Jon’s relationship with the wildling girl Ygritte (Rose Leslie). After talking Jon sends Sam inside to get some sleep while he keeps watch.
We see an owl at Castle Black before seeing that it is being controlled by a Thenn Warg who is checking out what is happening. At the camp we see a mix of Thenn and Wildlings who are preparing to raid Castle Black. Ygritte is making arrows and is provoked by Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Styr (Yuri Kolokolnikov). They think she won’t be able to kill Jon Snow if they come across him but she tells the group that she will kill him herself and no one else should touch him.
We see a figure in the darkness passing the camp headed towards Castle Black and wonder if it’s Gilly? Back inside Castle Black we see Sam and Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan). Aemon may be blind but he tells Sam that he knows he is in love with Gilly. He tells Sam that love is the death of duty.
Soon after Gilly and the baby arrive at Castle Black which means the Wildlings camp must be very close. Sam has the gate opened to let her in and then the horns start blasting to alert the brothers to the impending attack from Mance Rayder’s army. Back at the top of the wall with Jon we see the army approaching with a massive fire burning.
The brothers prepare for battle and Sam takes Gilly to shelter in the kitchen. He promises to never leave her again but says he must go and help his brothers. She makes him promise not to die which he does before kissing her.
Ygritte tells the camp that the entrance to Castle Black isn’t heavily manned so the group decide it is time to attack. Up on the wall Ser Alliser (Owen Teale) is commanding the archers to fire volleys at the incoming army. Suddenly the horns sounds again and it becomes clear that the Wildlings are attacking from the other side of the wall leaving the Night’s Watch to defend two simultaneous attacks!
Ser Alliser decides he needs to go down to help defend the other attack and passes command on the wall to Janos (Dominic Carter). It’s clear he’s got no clue so Grenn (Mark Stanley) tricks him into leaving his position. He tells him that Alliser has requested his aid. This finally leaves someone who knows what he is doing in charge – Jon Snow.
Had Jon been put in charge earlier the Night’s Watch would have been far more prepared. Jon gets to work on organising his men. Down below as the army advances it we see that they have also brought a woolly mammoth and giants. The giants are capable of shooting arrows to the top of the wall and they can take some serious punishment.
Back on the other side of the castle Ser Alliser gives a rousing speech to his men. They then set about trying to defend the entrance. The Wildlings and Thenn use grapple hooks to get over the walls. It’s the first real action that many of the Night’s Watch have seen and many of them are cut down with ease.
Sam and Pyp (Josef Altin) make their way around the ramparts with Sam reloading crossbows while Pyp fires them. Ygritte is working her way into the Castle using her trusty bow to take out the brothers. Elsewhere most of the fighting is done hand-to-hand with melee weapons. Tormund is like a man possessed as he slices his way through the defenders like a hot knife through butter.
Ser Alliser takes on Tormund and finally manages to give him a decent fight. As they do battle Tormund wounds Alliser and he is able to get away. The speed the Night’s Watch are falling is very worrying. Suddenly Ygritte spots Sam and Pyp and fires an arrow straight through Pyp’s neck. Sam holds him as he dies before rushing off across the courtyard to head to the top of the wall. On his way he is confronted by the Thenn Warg but manages to shoot him through the face.
Despite the best efforts of the watchers on the wall the giants make it to the tunnel’s gate. The hook up a mammoth and try to pull it down. Meanwhile the first attackers have started the treacherous climb to the top. Jon’s men continue to fire arrows and drop barrels of oil. As the gate starts to buckle they manage to explode a barrel of oil killing one giant and setting fire to the mammoth which runs off.
The remaining giant sets to work on the gate himself. Jon dispatches Green and five men down below to try and protect the inner gate should the giant be successful. When Sam arrives back up top he tells Jon the news of courtyard. Jon passes command to Edd (Ben Crompton) and he and Sam head back down.
The giant manages to lift the gate and gains entry into the tunnel. Gren and the men stand at the inner gate ready to take him on. As the giant charges we head back to the courtyard. As Sam and Jon arrive back at the bottom Jon gets ready to fight. He sends Sam off to release his direwolf Ghost.
Ghost wastes no time in ripping out the throats of the attackers as Jon cuts a path towards Styr. As they clash weapons we suddenly realise we’re a bit worried for Jon. Skilled as Jon is it becomes quickly apparent that Styr has a huge strength advantage. He pummels Jon and we wonder who if anyone will come to his rescue. Finally Jon gets the upper hand and smashes the Thenn’s skull in with a hammer. Phew!
Before he has time to recover Jon finds himself in the sights of Ygritte and her bow. He looks happy to see her but she’s definitely thinking of killing him. Thankfully she pauses a second too long and takes an arrow herself. She dies in Jon’s arms as she tells him they should never have left the cave. A final ‘You know nothing Jon Snow’ and she’s gone.
The courtyard battle is over as an arrow riddled Tormund is captured and taken away for questioning. On the other side of the wall the army appears to be withdrawing for now thanks to the efforts of Edd and his men. In the tunnel Jon finds that Grenn and the men managed to kill the giant but it also cost them their lives.
The Night’s Watch have survived another night but Jon knows that Mance’s army will be back. He announces that he will head north in an attempt to track down and kill Mance to stop his army. Before departing he gives his sword to Sam and asks that he burn the bodies of the fallen.
It was another incredible episode with battle scenes that would rival most big budget films. We were glad to see Jon and Sam survive and wonder what the season finale will bring.
Let us know your thoughts on The Watchers on the Wall in the comments below as well as your hopes for the season finale. No spoilers though please!
Game of Thrones continues at 9/8c Sundays on HBO in the US and at 9pm Mondays on Sky Atlantic in the UK.