After the Mountain made a brain puree out of Prince Oberyn, we’re set up for another classic ‘Game of Thrones’ battle — the Night’s Watch versus the wildlings. Can Jon Snow lead his brothers in black to a ‘300’-like triumph?
The many winding storylines of Game of Thrones usually force the show to hop from one character to another, from one corner of Westeros to the next. But for the first time since “Blackwater” in Season Two — arguably the series’ best episode — we fixed our attention on one plotline for the entire hour of “The Watchers on the Wall” — the battle for Castle Black.
‘Game Of Thrones’: Can The Good Guys Win?
In what was the most expensive GoT episode ever, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his 101 brothers in black were faced with fighting back Mance Rayder’s (Ciaran Hinds) 100,000-strong army of wildlings (and giants!).
It was another David and Goliath setup, much like Prince Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) duel against the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) last week. And though my idealism was pulverized along with the Red Viper’s face, I still couldn’t help but go into this showdown expecting Jon Snow to be the hero and score one for the good guys.
Perhaps Ned Stark’s head and Catelyn Stark’s jugular should have made me think otherwise, but I just couldn’t.
The war at The Wall takes plenty of time to begin — Sam (John Bradley) gets an unpoetic version of “the talk” from Jon, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) puffs her chest out about killing the crow she loved (or loves), and Gilly (Hannah Murray) returns to Castle Black. But when Mance’s bonfire begins, the calm before the storm ends.
The Battle For Castle Black
Game of Thrones once again did all-encompassing, intense battle flawlessly. It was a simultaneous, two-pronged attack by the wildlings, with Ygritte’s group taking Castle Black from the south, and Mance Rayder’s thousands approaching The Wall from the north, and the episode never let you forget how much was going on at the same time. Crows hung from harnesses to take down the wildlings climbing The Wall, giant’s fired giant arrows back, Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) was actually likable for a hot second, and Jon was finally able to become the leader he was always meant to be by commanding the men on The Wall.
For most of the episode things went as you’d expect a battle between 100,000 men and 102 men to go. Ygritte capped as many men of the Night’s Watch as she had arrows for, a giant lifted the gate with his bare hands, and that one creepy Thenn looked like he was getting more than enough to eat.
But when Jon unleashed himself, and Sam unleashed Ghost at the same time (explain to me why that took so long?), the tide turned. Which was good and bad. The good: an enormous freaking scythe demolishing the wildlings climbing The Wall, and Jon Snow taking a page out of Karl Tanner’s book by spitting in the face of Styr the Thenn before braining him with a hammer. The bad: Olly piercing Ygritte’s heart with an arrow as she hesitates to take down Jon Snow. “We should’ve stayed in that cave,” she heartbreakingly tells Jon before dying in his arms. Jon may be a man of the Night’s Watch, but she was his, and he was hers, and that death will stay with him (and us) forever. Especially since she tells him, one more time, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Ygritte’s death was Jon’s last step to becoming a full-on badass. Not only did he basically appoint himself as the leading commander of the Night’s Watch after the battle, but he also captured Thormund Giantsbane with a quick arrow to the leg and an authoritative, fearless attitude we had never seen before.
Jon Snow: The Showdown To Come
But the Night’s Watch only won the battle — not the war. Jon wisely (he is so wise, that one) determines that the soul of the wildling army is Mance Rayder — kill him, and the horde of free folk disbands into chaos. So as the gate closed on this episode, Jon was walking into the North, sans Valyrian steel, to meet (but mostly, also kill) Mance and end the war before it really begins.
Game of Thrones has developed a reputation for blowing its viewers away with their penultimate episodes — Ned’s death in season one, the Battle at Blackwater in season two, and the Red Wedding in season three — and this year was no different. I cannot believe how quickly that hour went by.
Let’s pour one out for those who lost their lives at Castle Black — Pyp, Grenn, and most of all Ygritte — and look forward to the Season Four finale.
What did you think of “The Watchers on the Wall?” Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
— Andrew Gruttadaro