Game of Thrones Series Blog: The Watchers on the Wall

For just the second time in the show’s history, an entire episode occurs in only one location. The first time this happened was for the Battle of Blackwater Bay back in Season 2. It is only fitting then that another battle set-piece gets central billing this time.

The episode opens with Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly talking about the impendingattack while  standing atop the Wall. When Jon bemoans breaking the Night’s Watch vows, Sam slyly points out that the vows only talk about wedding women, not bedding them. Perhaps he is getting ideas.



Over at the Wilding camp, Tormund Giantsbane is telling a far-fetched and seemingly popular story which a mopey Ygritte shoots down with the proverbial arrow while preparing a whole stock of real ones. She chillingly points out that Jon Snow is hers to kill. A cloaked figure watches them in the distance before scuttling off. We join Sam again, in Castle Black’s library, of course, when Maester Aemon enters. The two discuss Gilly and matters of love, with the aged Maester reminiscing fondly of his own youth but still reminding Sam of his current duties. When Sam steps outside, a frantic Pyp points him towards the gate where our mysterious cloaked figure has appeared.

When it turns out to be Gilly, Sam swears – swears! – at Pyp and lets her in. I don’t know about you, but I think Sam seems more self-assured all of sudden. Which is good for him, but a bit jarring given how his character had been consistently and almost endearingly afraid until now. Regardless of that qualm, the new Confident Sam hides Gilly in the kitchen and, after a sweet exchange between the two, promises to come back for her.

While they are talking, Mance Rayder has lit his gigantic fire, signalling the Wildlings on both sides of the Wall to attack. Ser Alliser Thorne begrudgingly admits his stubbornness to Jon atop the Wall as the Night’s Watch prepares for the assault, while Ygritte and her smaller group attack Castle Black by surprise. This forces Ser Alliser to leave command of the Wall’s defences to Janos Slynt in order to join the fighting below. This turns out to be disastrous as Slynt is incompetent and a coward, so Grenn tricks him into going down to Castle Black too, leaving Jon in charge.

Sam slyly points out that the vows only talk about wedding women, not bedding them. Perhaps he is getting ideas


Under his command, archers begin to successfully shoot down scores of Wildlings, but it does not look like it is nearly enough to make a difference. It becomes more complicated when giants join the battle, one of their arrows destroying an entire wooden platform at the top of the Wall and another skewering an unnamed defender like a harpoon. When one of the giants begins to pound down the gate, Jon orders six of his Black Brothers, including Grenn, to protect it at all cost. Slynt, meanwhile, hides himself in the same kitchen as Gilly and we are shown a brief second of humour as he freezes at the sight of a Wildling woman in his little hidey hole.



A sweeping shot of the fighting paints an impressive picture of the entire Castle Black sequence, all done with minimal CGI and a full set of actors and extras. Unfortunately, that is where any beauty ends as we see the Night’s Watch taking heavy casualties. Ser Alliser is badly wounded by Tormund while poor Pyp is shot through the neck by Ygritte. Sam manages to kill a Thenn but the last we see of Grenn is him rallying his small band of troops as the giant charges at them. You get the feeling it will not end well.

When Sam sees how badly things are going, he fetches Jon to join the combat below and is sent off to let out Ghost. The direwolf gleefully cuts through the Wildling ranks, while Jon engages in a brutal fight with Styr, the Magnar of the Thenns. He somehow manages to win but is cornered by Ygritte. As she hesitates to shoot, she herself is shot by Olly, the young boy from the village she had helped to raid earlier in the season. With a last whisper of “You know nuthin’, Jon Snow”, we are subjected to a major character death for the third consecutive episode, after Lysa in “Mockingbird” and Oberyn in “The Mountain and the Viper”.

The battle ends with a victory for the Night’s Watch, but they are ever more outnumbered than before. Alongside Pyp, we also see that Grenn and the other  five Black Brothers at the gate all perished while successfully killing the giant. Knowing that the Wildlings have many more forces that can easily be used to crush the remaining garrison at Castle Black, Jon Snow decides to trek to the enemy camp and assassinate Mance Rayder. He hands his blade Longclaw to Sam before heading into the unforgiving North once again.


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