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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Game of Thrones 4x09: The Watchers on the Wall



Opening Credits Map
King's Landing -> Moat Cailin -> Winterfell -> The Wall -> Braavos -> Meereen

The Wall
We start the episode with Sam and Jon keeping watch on the Wall. Sam wants to know want sex is like. He figures that he's about to die a virgin so he'd at least like some insight. Instead of giving Sam a warm pie and telling him to find out for himself, Jon Snow says all it was like two people becoming one but that all it ever really got him was an arrow six inches from his heart.

Meanwhile, the Night's Watch are actually the knights watched. A wildling warg is spying on them with an owl. Ygritte is sharpening her arrows and awaiting the chance to use them. She also really isn't interested in hearing Tormund Giantsbane's tales of bear fucking.

Styr interrupts the proceedings to taunt Ygritte about her “crow lover” Jon Snow. Ygritte brags about how many “crows” she has already killed. She also announces that if Jon Snow is alive she wants to kill him herself. None of that has to do with Ygritte's ginger minge which was also discussed.

Back at Castle Black Sam is reading a book. He is interrupted by Maester Aemon who wants to know what Sam's up to. I figured Sam was looking up more loopholes regarding physical intimacy with women but, instead, he's just reading about the dastardly deeds of the Wildlings.

Maester Aemon thinks Sam should stop fretting about the woman he loves. Sam declares that he doesn't love Gilly. Maester Aemon, speaking for the audience, knows that's bullshit.

Speaking of Gilly, she appears at the front gate. Pyp, however, won't let her in. A few curse words from Sam changes his mind, though. Once Gilly is safe inside Castle Black, Sam promises never to leave her again. Just then a horn blows letting everyone know shit is going down.

Mance's army is preparing to attack from the rear. Ygritte's crew, via the warg, know it's time to attack the the front. The undermanned Castle Black prepares its defenses.

Ser Alliser and Jon Snow look over Mance's army. Alliser is like, “you may have been right about sealing the tunnels.” Jon tries to be polite by saying it was a tough decision. Alliser says he's fine with his decision because a true commander never second guesses themselves. Which, to me, is as stupid as the people who say they live their life with no regrets but...whatever.

Sam takes Gilly to the safety of the kitchen. Which I guess is fine but if Castle Black falls it won't matter much. Sam is about to leave but Gilly wants him to stay. Sam says his duty is to help defend the castle. Sam promises to not die (which is an oft heard promise by people who have little control over keeping said promise) and then gives Gilly a big kiss before heading out.

The armies begin to march on Castle Black. Ygritte and her camp run towards the front gate. From the back comes Mance's huge army; including giants riding on mammoths. Which, I mean, c'mon, where has this been all series? I know Game of Thrones is popular in its own right but if it was changed to “Giants Riding Mammoths” is there any doubt the viewership would double?

Anyway, Alliser tells his archers to nock. The archers draw instead and other men accidently drop a barrel of oil off the cliff. Ser Alliser is unimpressed.

Ygritte's army attacks the southern gate and there's yelling and flame arrows and death. Ser Alliser is made aware of this development and decides he needs to go to the front and leaves the ever competent Janos Slynt in charge. Janos responds to this news by looking like a deer in the headlights. Janos does manage to get out the order to shoot more arrows, though, which is something.

The battle wages on as Alliser arrives at the southern gate. He gives a rousing speech about not wanting to be eaten by cannibals. The rest of the soldiers are on board with that idea. Personally, I was just waiting for a giant shark to rise up behind Ser Alliser and eat him.

Soon enough the wildlings bust through the southern gate. A lot of swording occurs but Ser Alliser is holding his own. The wilding Tormund is kicking some serious ass too, though.

Meanwhile, back at the northern gate Janos is mumbling about how undisciplined Mance's army is…or the Night's Watch is? I'm not sure which. Jon thinks they should do...something...but Janos has faith in the north gate's 4 inch thick cold rolled steel. Jon is like, “Uh….Giants…RIDING MAMMOTHS! Have you not noticed?” But Janos doesn't believe in giants.

While most of the men can't roll their eyes hard enough, Grenn decides to take action. He tells Janos that he got word from Alliser that Janos is needed at the front. Janos reluctantly leaves and nobody is really sad that Jon Snow is now in charge on the northern side.

Now it's Jon Snow's chance to command the archers to shoot more arrows. I'm starting to think I could be the commander! Some of Mance's raiders make it to the cliff. They begin to climb but Jon's not worried. He knows how tough a climb it is. One of the giants launches a super arrow from below and sends a dude flying all the way the southern gate.

Janos arrives at said southern gate and sees the carnage. He pretty much says, “Nuts to this!” and runs off to lock himself in the kitchen where he comes face to face with Gilly.

Pyp manages to crossbow one of the wildlings and is pretty pumped. Sam says to celebrate when the battle's over. But the battle IS over for Pyp because he gets arrowed by Ygritte. Instead of getting the hell out of there like I would, Sam stays and comforts the dying Pyp.

At the north gate the giants hook the mamoth up to that cold rolled steel gates. They attempt to pull the gate down. Jon tells Grenn to go below with some men and hold the gate. He then reiterates that they must hold the gate. Grenn agrees.

At the south gate Alliser and Thormund begin to battle. Alliser is injured and incapacitated. While being dragged off he order his men to hold the south gates.

Sam leaves the southern area and heads up to the north gate. On his way up he tells Olly, the kid whose parents were killed by Styr in front of his eyes, to grab a weapon and fight.

At the north gate Jon Snow commands the men to drop flaming oil on the mammoth. This causes it to flee and one of the giants run after it. Apparently, the Night's Watch have super arrows of their own and use one on the running giant. This, however, gets the other giant PISSED. He hulks up, lifts the gate himself and walks into the tunnels.

Sam arrives at the north gate. He tells Jon Snow how dire things are at the southern end. Jon heads for the south gate leaving Edd in charge. Guess what? Edd orders the archers to shoot more arrows.

In the tunnel, Grenn and his team are understandably freaked about the giant. The giant begins to charge them. The soldiers chant the Night's Watch oath as the giant heads straight for them. There's a big crash.

At the south gate Sam wants to help Jon Snow. But Jon thinks his puppy would be more useful than Sam. So Sam leaves and releases Ghost who begins feasting on the jugulars of the wildlings.

Eventually Jon Snow and Styr do battle. It's pretty evenly matched but Styr seems to get the better of Jon. But, right when it looks to be the end for our favorite bastard, a well-placed hammer to the skull ends Styr instead. I'd say Jon should have then eaten him but, strangely, I think Styr would've wanted it that way.

Naturally, right when that fight ends Jon turns to find Ygritte pointing an arrow at his heart. She, of course, waivers, so young Olly puts an arrow through her back. Olly nods to Jon Snow in solidarity but Jon can't return the nod.

Jon runs to the dying Ygritte. And thus, Jon Snow comforts and mourns the woman who nearly killed him and successfully killed many innocent villagers as well as Jon's own Night's Watch brethren. I guess this is supposed to be sad but Ygritte's last words are “You know nothing Jon Snow,” which really just makes me glad she's dead.

At the north wall the climbers are getting to high. Edd orders the scythe to be dropped. So this huge blade on a chain comes swinging down and cuts through all the climbers. It's pretty bad ass! Edd declares that Mance's army has had enough for one night. After that I would have had enough too!

So the battle's over. The Night's Watch is victorious at least on this night. Thurmond has been Boromir-ed pretty badly but he lives and is taken into custody. Sam checks on Gilly. She's fine but Sam's surprised to find a cowering Slynt in the kitchen as well. Frankly, that's a fair sight better than I thought Sam might walk in on.

The next morning Jon declares to Sam that to kill a snake you have to cut off its head. He's planning on going off into the north to kill Mance. Sam points out that nobody gave Jon that order. Jon points out that there's no one around to give orders at the moment. Sam points out that going north of the wall to kill Mance is a suicide mission. Jon agrees and waits to hear a better plan. There, of course, is none. Thus, Jon relinquishes his sword to Sam and walks through the northern gate.

Other Thoughts
So, like Blackwater, this episode all took place in the same location. I liked this episode more than Blackwater, though, mostly for its increased action.

I hope Gilly liked Sam's kissed. Part of me worries that now she views him as "just another horndog guy." But I don't think that's the case.

Ser Alliser kind of concedes that he should of sealed the tunnels. On that note, why don't they just collapse the tunnels after the battle?

A lot of flaming arrows were used during this battle. Apparently the Night's Watch haven't heard of the benefits of night arrows.

Speaking of arrows. I really feel like Mance's army didn't take advantage of the giant's super arrows nearly enough.

The sweeping shot of the southern gate battle that panned from main character to main character certainly was impressive. At the same time, it had a little hint of showboating to it.

It really seemed like the wildlings were kicking ass at the southern gate. I was surprised when the battle suddenly finished in the Night Watch's favor. Maybe Jon Snow and Ghost were just that awesome?

During this episode I came to the realization that Ygritte is/was probably my least favorite Game of Thrones character. All she did was annoy me and not in the good Joffrey way. She wasn't the kind of villain that you love to hate. She was just an annoying character with confusing motivations.

It's a good thing the wildling climbers were climbing in a straight, horizontal line!

I'm a little confused at how that giant/Grenn and crew battle went down in such a way that no one survived.

Why didn't Jon take Ghost with him when heading into the north?

In the end, this was mostly just an action heavy episode. There isn't too much to analyze. That's not a complaint, it's just a statement.

We got a rather happy ending this episode which is rare in Game of Thrones. However, I'm probably not as happy as I should be. I did want Jon Snow, Sam and Gilly to survive, which they did. But, beyond those characters living, I really don't care if Castle Black falls. Who in Westeros don't I want to see overrun by Mance's army?

Jon Snow: And you...for a little...for a little while you’re more than just you. You’re...well I don’t know. I’m not a bleedin’ poet!
Sam: No, you're really not.

Maester Aemon: Thousands of books and no eyes to read them. Old age is a wonderful source of ironies if nothing else.

Pyp: Sam!
Sam: Yeah?
Pyp: I think we're going to die.
Sam: If you keep missing we will!

Season 4 Totals
Boob Count: 28
Full Frontal Count: 4 (3 Female, 1 Male)
Butt Count: 10 (8 Female, 2 Male)
Coitus Count: 4 (I don't think kissing counts, but I'm sure Sam enjoyed it!)
Main Character Death Count: 6 (Joffrey, Karl, Lysa, Oberyn, Styr, Ygritte)(Shockingly, no real heroes died this episode. I didn't count Grenn or Pyp as "main" characters. Styr is borderline but I went with it.)
Hodor Count: 40

11 comments:

  1. I probably liked Blackwater better, just because I cared about the fate of those characters more (ie Tyrion surviving and Joffrey and dying), but this was definitely a better episode in terms of action and fight choreography and effects work and whatnot. As much as Blackwater was a big battle episode, it was still a lot of "watching people watching other people fight", whereas this episode had some actual (and enjoyable) fight scenes.

    I'm torn on the ending and scale of the battle too. This wasn't the huge army we'd heard about, it was a few hundred guys. Two giants and a mammoth is cool; hundreds of giants and mammoths would be even cooler. But the episode made it clear this was just a testing offensive, meant to probe the castle's defenses. Which explains the smaller scale of Mance's troops.

    Except...this was supposed to be the season's (and arguably series's) big battle episode. And while it was more action-packed than any other episode, it was, my its own admission, essentially just a small skirmish. Which would be fine, except I have little confidence we'll ever actually see that big battle with thousands of wildlings and hundreds of giants.

    In other (cruder) words, I feel like the show shot it's wad on a skirmish, instead of committing to showing us the real deal, and that's a bummer. Because this is probably the biggest scale, action-wise, the series can handle.

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  2. Alliser says he's fine with his decision because a true commander never second guesses themselves.

    I didn't take it that way - I saw it more as Alliser saying "yeah, you were right and I was wrong, but that's what happens when you're in command: everyone second guesses you. Have fun with that, and maybe you'll understand my position better someday".

    I did totally love that Alliser fessed up to Jon being right, which is probably the closest thing we've ever gotten on this show to comeuppance for a jerky character.

    Personally, I was just waiting for a giant shark to rise up behind Ser Alliser and eat him.

    Heh. That would have been awesome. But seriously, I was totally expecting him to get an ax in the head or something at that moment, because this is Game of Thrones, and rousing heroism usually ends in some kind of fatal head wound.

    He hulks up, lifts the gate himself and walks into the tunnels.

    I suppose we can chalk it up to giants not being smart/listening to orders, but once he had the gate up, why not hold it up to let more troops in? Or wedge something under it if it was too heavy to hold up?

    Frankly, that's a fair sight better than I thought Sam might walk in on.

    Yeah. At that point, I was expecting Sam to either find Gilly slain by Slynt, or for Sam to get stabbed in the back by Slynt. Because Game of Thrones.

    Thus, Jon relinquishes his sword to Sam and walks through the northern gate.

    I get leaving that sword behind with Sam, but maybe bring a sword with you on your mission to penetrate a massive enemy army and kill its leader? Or, as you say, Ghost.

    On that note, why don't they just collapse the tunnels after the battle?

    Presumably it takes some time, but why not get started? Any headway would probably slow down Mance's army at least a little longer.

    During this episode I came to the realization that Ygritte is/was probably my least favorite Game of Thrones character.

    I think I liked her a bit more than you, mainly just because she was a saucy redhead. I certainly didn't love the character, and won't miss her (aside from her saucy redheadedness). As you say, she had too many conflicting/ confusing/ill-defined motivations to really get a good handle on her. I never knew if I was supposed to be rooting for or against her, and while that's usually a good thing in a character, she wasn't developed enough to really appreciate that conflict.

    We got a rather happy ending this episode which is rare in Game of Thrones.

    Indeed. Given the show's past, I was fearing Sam would be forced to watch someone rape Gilly, then be forced to eat the baby before he was killed himself. Or something like that. So huzzah happy ending!

    That said, like you, I'd have loved to see the castle fall (with Sam, Gilly, Jon surviving), just because the castle falling would have been a great "suck it, Lannisters & Boltons!" moment. So even in giving us a rare happy ending, the show still manages to be less satisfying than it could have been.

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  3. Also, "Feasting on Jugulars" is my new band name.

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  4. This wasn't the huge army we'd heard about, it was a few hundred guys. Two giants and a mammoth is cool; hundreds of giants and mammoths would be even cooler.

    There's an interview with Neil Marshall where he says the original plan was to have about a dozen giants, but they just couldn't make it work budget-wise and time-wise.

    In the book version of the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion uses a giant chain to keep Stannis' ships trapped in the bay while they are burning. They had to cut that for budget reasons, so I liked that they decided to throw in a giant chain here to make up for it. You can't have a battle in Game of Thrones without a giant chain of some sort.

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  5. I was kind-of disappointed that the opening credits weren't limited to the Wall, save for maybe just a quick fly-by over King's Landing and other points south for perspective. Given that there were so few names it was actually more jarring to have the standard opening visuals than an edited version. Kit Harrington probably won't be first name again unless/until the show offs Tyrion, Jaime, and Cersei, at minimum.

    // He is interrupted by Maester Aemon //

    Did we know that Maester Aemon was Aemon Targaryen? I was under the impression that there were no other Targaryens left.

    // young Olly puts an arrow through her back //

    I did not realize that the kid was named Olly. Which totally makes him the Green Arrow of Earth-Thrones.

    // So this huge blade on a chain comes swinging down and cuts through all the climbers. It's pretty bad ass! //

    That it is. And the wildlings didn't necessarily have to climb in a line straight across for that massive scythe to get them.

    // got a rather happy ending this episode //

    My suspicion is that many folks who wanted to see those crazy kids Jon and Ygritte work it out somehow feel differently.

    // Who in Westeros don't I want to see overrun by Mance's army? //

    Good rhetorical question. One that also makes me realize I have no recollection of why the wildlings want to invade south of the Wall. Are they escaping the white-walkers or there some prophesy/destiny thing at work or do they just escaping an even colder-than-usual north now that winter is coming?

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  6. @Teebore: // but maybe bring a sword with you on your mission to penetrate a massive enemy army //

    If there's one thing Jon Snow's good at, it's penetrating the enemy.

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  7. @Jeff: There's an interview with Neil Marshall where he says the original plan was to have about a dozen giants, but they just couldn't make it work budget-wise and time-wise.

    I saw a similar interview. He referred to the process of adding more giants and mammoths as "difficult", to which I thought, "gee whiz, I'm sorry if your job is hard", but I get his point. :)

    In the book version of the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion uses a giant chain to keep Stannis' ships trapped in the bay while they are burning.

    I JUST read that (I'm working my way through the books behind seasons of the show)! It was a cool technique, but I'm not surprised it was cut from the show.

    @Blam: Did we know that Maester Aemon was Aemon Targaryen?

    I did, but I can't remember if I knew that from the show, or from reading (most of) the first two books. At any rate, he's essentially Dany's great uncle (his nephew was the Mad King, Dany's father, whom Jamie killed before the series started - my book-reading brother had to clarify that for me). I think from the perspective of Westerosian politics, there are no Targaryen's left, except for Dany, since becoming a member of the Night's Watch essentially strips you of all rank/title/claims/etc.

    Are they escaping the white-walkers or there some prophesy/destiny thing at work or do they just escaping an even colder-than-usual north now that winter is coming?

    Notions 1 and 3, I believe, with a bit of "we're pissed off at being forced to live up here and not going to take it anymore!" tossed in.

    If there's one thing Jon Snow's good at, it's penetrating the enemy.

    Oh man, that about killed me. Bravo!

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  8. @Teebore: // I can't remember if I knew that from the show //

    Over at Nikki's she mentioned that we found out when he told Jon Snow at the end of Season 1, but her husband had the same reaction I did. Per a Google search, Maester Aemon in the novels is actually not King Aerys' uncle but a really, really, really old dude who is an ancestor of the Aemon who is King Aerys' uncle, and he joined the Night's Watch so long ago that nobody remembers he's a Targaryen; the Aemons were conflated for the TV series. Unless I've misread, since I get very myopic looking for stuff I think I'm supposed to know on the Web so I don't spoil myself.

    I do get the sense that I'd be Braavosi if I lived in the World of Ice and Fire.

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  9. I also liked this episode better than the Blackwater one, mainly because the Blackwater ep had all those annoying Cersei scenes among the good stuff. This ep was pretty much all good stuff.

    Also, I agree with you guys regarding Jon not bringing Ghost and some other, less valuable sword on his mission. I'm curious how long he'll be gone for. Is this going to be another thing where he's wandering beyond the wall for like the whole of next season? I mean, the show is pretty much setting it up so he'll become the Knight Commander, right? (I have no idea if this is the case in the books; it's just the feeling I get from his arc on the show.) Can't they just hurry up and make that happen??


    So apparently there are like, recurring characters at Castle Black besides Jon, Sam, Pyp, Maester Aemon, and Alliser? I was watching the little featurette they do after the episode, where the producers said they felt they needed some casualties in this fight, so they chose to kill Grenn, who has been around since the beginning. And who I have no recollection of prior to this episode. Is the beard new or something?

    Also, previously I really thought Alliser was a dick, but he redeemed himself a bit here. I was impressed that he chose to go straight to the front line and lead a charge after giving that rousing speech. He's simultaneously a terrible leader and a great leader at the same time.

    Lastly, despite the gravity of the situation, I cracked up at the cocky pose and nod from Olly after he killed Ygritte. It was really funny. (Also, I'm with Dr. Bitz in not caring much for Ygritte. I won't miss her.)


    Blam & Teebore -- I do recall that a few years ago, Eamon told Jon he was a Targaryen. They had a little conversation while Aemon was getting ready to launch a raven for some reason. It's actually one of the few things from season one that stuck with me all this time. I really need to go back and watch those early episodes again. My brother is doing so right now, and he says the show makes a lot more sense with the hindsight provided by subsequent seasons.

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  10. @Teebore: "But the episode made it clear this was just a testing offensive, meant to probe the castle's defenses."

    Yeah, it seems that way. What's odd about that is that it seems ill advised to use the army that made it to the south in a battle where you're just testing defenses.

    "I was totally expecting him to get an ax in the head or something at that moment, because this is Game of Thrones, and rousing heroism usually ends in some kind of fatal head wound."

    Yeah, maybe him dying there would've been too obvious. I was surprised he (apparently) survived the battle, though.

    "I suppose we can chalk it up to giants not being smart/listening to orders, but once he had the gate up, why not hold it up to let more troops in?"

    And why didn't Grenn and company bring bow and arrows to shoot through the gate? It may or may not have helped but it certainly couldn't have hurt! And they don't even have lack of intelligence as an excuse.

    "I think I liked her a bit more than you, mainly just because she was a saucy redhead."

    I'm struggling to think of anything she has said that wasn't annoying.

    "Also, "Feasting on Jugulars" is my new band name."

    Fine by me. I obviously have dibs on "Giants Riding Mammoths."

    @Jeff: "There's an interview with Neil Marshall where he says the original plan was to have about a dozen giants"

    Maybe that's for the best? If they had dozens of giants I may have had to stop watching the show because I'd know it would be all downhill from there.

    "Tyrion uses a giant chain to keep Stannis' ships trapped in the bay while they are burning."

    That does sound cool. But I am curious how they got the chain in the water and such.

    @Blam: "I was kind-of disappointed that the opening credits weren't limited to the Wall"

    It would've been funny if they just stayed on the Wall for the entirety of the opening song.

    "I did not realize that the kid was named Olly. Which totally makes him the Green Arrow of Earth-Thrones."

    Crap! How did miss that?

    "My suspicion is that many folks who wanted to see those crazy kids Jon and Ygritte work it out somehow feel differently."

    You're probably right. But that doesn't mean they're right...

    "If there's one thing Jon Snow's good at, it's penetrating the enemy."

    Hey! No upstaging the blogger!

    @Matt: "Is this going to be another thing where he's wandering beyond the wall for like the whole of next season?"

    You don't think Game of Thrones would pad out a story with filler, do you?

    "So apparently there are like, recurring characters at Castle Black besides Jon, Sam, Pyp, Maester Aemon, and Alliser?"

    You remembered Pyp, that puts you one ahead of me! Yeah, the Night's Watch members that died in this episode certainly endeared themselves to me in this episode, but I took no notice of them prior to this episode.

    "He's simultaneously a terrible leader and a great leader at the same time."

    He's one of those characters where you may not like the decisions he makes but you at least know he's making them for the right reasons.

    "I cracked up at the cocky pose and nod from Olly after he killed Ygritte."

    It was typical Game of Thrones. A scene set up like a traditional "Hell yeah!" moment but a scene that doesn't actually play out that way at all.

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  11. @Matt: I really need to go back and watch those early episodes again. My brother is doing so right now, and he says the show makes a lot more sense with the hindsight provided by subsequent seasons.

    It really does. I haven't done a comprehensive re-watch, but the weekend of the season 4 premiere HBO was running the entire series non-stop, and the wife and I just happened to be home for most of the weekend, so we'd just have the show on in the background while we were doing whatever, dipping in and out at various times. So I caught most of the series again, and it really does make a huge difference watching stuff with hindsight.

    @Dr. BitzWhat's odd about that is that it seems ill advised to use the army that made it to the south in a battle where you're just testing defenses.

    Indeed. And there's a certain part of me that wonders, why not send a larger force over the wall and split your army in half, with one side on each side of the wall. Or, for that matter, go through the gates of one of the countless unguarded castles along the wall.

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