It wouldn't be a Game of Thrones recap without SPOILERS! Don't keep reading if you aren't caught up to Season 4, Episode 9 of the show. Also, keep the book spoilers to yourself please!
Full disclaimer: Jon Snow is my favorite character in the "Game of Thrones" story (or "Song of Ice and Fire" if you want to be nitpicky).
Is it because we both share a first name? Yes, that's exactly it. But even more so, I've always connected with Jon Snow as a guy who is always under-appreciated. As a bastard, as a crow and even as a fake wildling, the guy is always fighting the battles to save the world while the rest of Westeros and Essos are caught up in their bickering over a throne.
Thus we have an entire episode dedicated to The Night's Watch. It's an episode that is heavily reminiscent of the Battle of Blackwater back in Season 2, which centered around King's Landing for an entire 50 minutes.
The ninth episode of every GoT season features an intense climax (Ned Stark's death, Blackwater, the Red Wedding and now this), and "Watchers on the Wall" fully delivered thanks to some key performances by mammoths, giants and giants with arrows.
But before we can get to the action, we have to take some time and talk like real bros, which is what Sam and Jon did in the very beginning of the episode. In typical Tarly fashion, Sam came to Jon with questions at the most inappropriate time, though it's understandable that the guy wants to know about sex on his possibly last night on--er--GoT Earth.
He asked Jon about what sex was like with Ygritte, though I don't remember Jon ever telling Sam about the cave (he must have off-screen). We learned that Samwell is a foot kind of guy, as one of his first questions was about how pretty her feet were. Whatever Sam, you redeemed yourself later on.
Jon got into some Shakespearesqe poetry about his first time, which would lend a lot of extra weight to the scenes that would come toward the end of the episode.
Later, we caught Ygritte, Tormund and Styr the Thenn also talking about sex, though Tormund kept the topic strictly on sex with bears because the show obviously needs another boundary to cross. Ygritte spoke for us, the audience, when she got the guy to shut up, but the real moment came when she declared that Jon Snow was hers to kill.
Sam had a quick chat with Maester Aemon, who revealed to Sam that he is one of the Targaryen's and humble-bragged about how he could have totally been king. Of course, even he talked about sex with some unknown character (any theories on that?), which he gave up for the Night's Watch.
What I'm wondering is why this guy is so vocal about who he really is considering he told Jon Snow back in Season 1 for pretty much no reason (back when King Robert was alive and still despising Targaryens).
Also, Sam is working pretty hard to find some loopholes in the Night's Watch vows, and technically, he's got a good case. The vows say the watchers can't take a wife or father children, but it says nothing about...intimate relations (even with bears).
It wasn't long before Gilly showed up at the gate of Castle Black right after narrowly escaping the Mole's Town Massacre. Pyp wouldn't let her in, but Sam had his first awesome moment of the night with his "Open the (expletive)ing gate, Pyp!" line.
He hid Gilly in the meatlocker 5 minutes after saying they'd never be apart again. "I didn't mean in the same room!" he argued. But Gilly didn't complain because (GASP!) Sam got to first base after planting one on her.
Anyway, the battle finally began with a fun "I told you so" moment between Jon and Alliser Thorne, who was begging Jon to just rub it in his face. But Jon Snow is too classy for "I told you Snow" moments, and of course, Alliser got on his case about second guessing himself because he is the Dr. Cox of this show.
Mance's army of 100,000 wildlings "arrived," though it was really just the first wave meant to test the defenses of the wall. And what a wave it was. We saw giants riding mammoths and...well nothing else that really compares to that. Alliser commanded the wall while Sam, Pyp and just a handful of archers guarded the south gate against Tormund, Ygritte and the Thenns.
Eventually, Thorne had no choice but to abandon the wall to command Castle Black, putting Janos Slynt in charge, which made every Ned Stark fan roll their eyes.
It's been a while, but Slynt is one of the men who betrayed Ned Stark for a few bucks in Season 1, when Ned confronted Cersei and Joffrey over the throne. Technically, Littlefinger is the one who paid Slynt off, but still...Slynt is one of the big jerks of the story, and "Watchers on the Wall" put his real character on display here.
I had almost forgotten, by the way, that Tyrion sent Janos (who was commander of the guard in King's Landing) to Castle Black back in Season 2. I know in the books, no one really respects the guy because he's the son of a butcher and becomes lord of Harrenhal before being sent to the Black, but I honestly can't remember if they pointed that out in the show.
Regardless, Slynt showed his true colors after being unable to command the wall. He was stuttering nonsense about giants not even existing until Grenn thankfully lied to him that Thorne needed him at the South Gate. And so Jon Snow took command (finally).
Slynt later ran through the battlefield and hid in the meatlocker with Gilly. I was paranoid during this moment because I was expecting Sam to find Gilly raped and murdered or something (I really dislike Slynt), but it looks like Slynt just cowered in the corner the whole time.
One of the first big character deaths was Pyp, who was shot by Ygritte. He died in Sam's arms, but it was the moment that propelled Sam to beginning his reign as the new and improved Samwell Tarly. He proceeded to grab to Pyp's crossbow and kill a Thenn on his own.
Meanwhile, at the wall, Jon and his crew unleashed barrels of oil on the wildlings trying to climb the wall and break through the gate. At one point, the giants (finally) started unleashing giant-powered arrows that managed to fling one of the crows over the entire wall. Why wasn't this their entire strategy?
It took them awhile, but the crows finally lit the barrels up and managed to explosion the heck out of those wildlings. Only one of the giants survived, and he managed to get himself through the gate. As a result, Jon commanded Grenn and a few crows to hold the gate...and we knew what was coming.
In what was one of my favorite moments of the episode, Grenn motivated his company by reciting the oath as the giant came barreling toward them. Sure, it would have been awesome to see the scene unfold, but some things are better left unseen.
At the South Gate, things started looking pretty bad for the Night's Watch. Thorne had his big fight against Tormund, but he was severely injured and taken out of the battle. We didn't see him die, so I'm fully expecting him to show up next week or season, but I doubt he's keeping both legs.
It seemed like an insignificant moment, but Sam motivated Olly (the boy who lost his parents earlier this season and now pushes the elevator) to stop hiding and get in the fight...well, after pushing Sam up to the wall. Olly obeyed and eyed a bow in the corner.
Sam met up with Jon and let him know that Thorne was injured and things were falling apart. So Jon relinquished wall duty to Edd, who really came into his own this episode (I'd argue he did a better job than Jon in some ways...maybe).
Jon Snow finally entered the fray and showed off good old Longclaw (his Valyrian steel sword passed down to him from Ser Mormont). Sam freed Ghost, who proceeded to do awesome direwolf things, though I don't understand why they waited so long to let him fight (I'm guessing it was Thorne's call since he's the one who had Ghost locked up in the first place).
My favorite fight was Jon Snow versus Styr (leader of the Thenns). Even though Styr managed to fling Jon's head into an anvil (which would have been fatal if done by THE MOUNTAIN if we're being honest), Jon managed to do Styr in with a well placed hammer.
But Jon didn't have time to bask in his victory (or even reposition his banged up nose). Ygritte spotted him and readied her arrow for the kill. Once Jon spotted her, he smiled, as if to say that he was glad she would be the one to kill him. Or he just missed her.
Before she had a chance to strike, however, she was struck by an arrow from none other than...Olly!
In the end, Ygritte's mercy is what did her in. She spared Olly after killing his parents. She spared Gilly, who motivated Sam to be awesome and motivate Olly into fighting again. And of course, she spared Jon Snow, who was the reason she found herself hesitating long enough to be killed.
Jon held her in his arms looking for ways to set her up for that famous catchphrase that would (obviously) be her last words. "Remember that cave? We never should have left." she said.
I agree considering that cave was the only part of Westeros that looks like a lot of fun.
Back on the wall, Edd unleashed the scythe, a secret weapon that swiped the climbing wildlings off of the wall in what was my absolute favorite moment of the episode. I'm only disappointed that it doesn't have a cool nickname, like "Unleash the Grim Reaper!"
With Ygritte and Styr defeated, it wasn't long before the wildlings were crushed, leaving Tormund as the last fighter. Jon had him sent to the dungeons, rightfully pointing out that Tormund should have killed him ages ago.
Jon and Sam went through the tunnel to find that Grenn and the other crows held the gate, but they lost their lives in the process. Forget Ygritte, this was the toughest character death for me.
So Jon's new plan is to assassinate Mance Rayder. Sam lets him know that the plan is pretty stupid, which he should have reiterated when Jon left the wall without a horse, food, Ghost or Longclaw. What's the plan Jon?
What I'm wondering is whether or not Mance knows Jon betrayed Tormund's band of wildlings. He wasn't there to see Jon commanding the wall, and it's not clear whether or not Tormund was communicating with Mance from the other side. If Mance doesn't know about Jon's betrayal, then Jon can sneak back into the camp as a presumed ally, albeit with his crow uniform still on.
Still, it's tough to say for sure because how else would Tormund have kept track of Mance's movement on the wall? They had to communicate if they wanted to attack the wall at the same time.
Next week's preview shows that we'll be seeing Jon Snow again, though you can probably expect something brief. The season finale has a ton of ground to cover since the aftermath of "The Mountain and the Viper."
Anyway, what did you think of "Watchers on the Wall?"