I figure that quite a few Game of Thrones fans may have been a tad disappointed with last night’s episode, as there was no mention of everyone’s favourite Lannister imp. The entire episode took place at Castle Black, and finally confronted the issue of the battle of the wildlings against the Night’s Watch. I, for one, was very happy about last night’s episode. This section of the book was really intense and very well written, so for quite some time, I’ve been curious as to how the show was going to handle it. I must say, I was impressed beyond imagining.
Let’s start off with Samwell Tarly. Resident self-professed “coward” of the Night’s Watch, Sam wasn’t such a coward last night at all. In fact, he displayed stones the size of the Wall itself. After fearing that Gilly had been murdered during the sacking of Moles Town, he was surprised and elated when she showed up the gates of the Wall, though Pip, who had been assigned watch at the Gates, had been ordered by Ser Alliser Thorne to not let anyone through. Well, Sam’s craven nature disappeared at that, and when he shouted at Pip to “open the fucking gate”, I do believe I swooned a little.
When Gilly finally entered, Sam apologised to her for ever having brought her to Moles Town, and promised her that in future, he would go wherever she went, despite Castle Black not allowing women to live there. He then took her into the cellars, where he instructed her to stay during the battle. An argument ensued between them, with her accusing him of already breaking his promise to stay with her, since he’d surely be killed in battle, while he tried to make her understand that, as a man of Night’s Watch, he was bound by oath to fight. In an effort to placate her, he leans in and kisses her, a move we all know that he’s been craving to do.
On this note, I must say that HBO has really upped the romance in this season between characters who aren’t necessarily portrayed that way in the books. I’ve already spoken about Dany and Daario Naharis in a previous post. They’ve also gone and made a sweet – yet fabricated – love arc between Missandei and Grey Worm, which is all kinds of adorable. Samwell and Gilly is slightly similar, but I can’t accuse HBO of making anything up between them, as the attraction between them is right there in the novels. I suppose it’s just more obvious when an on-screen adaptation is made.
In continuing his streak of bravery, Sam was also instrumental in helping Pip prepare psychologically for the battle. After noticing Pip’s hands tremble uncontrollably during preparation, Sam did an amazing job of comforting him. Though he admitted to being just as scared as Pip was, he was able to draw from his experience against the White Walker, whom he’d unwittingly killed, and assured Pip that, in the heat of a fight, you lose pretty much all sense of your identity. Up against an enemy, you aren’t your past, your family, or even your triumphs. You cease to be anything at all and, “when you’re nothing at all, there’s no more reason to be afraid”. Later, he gives strict command to Olly, a young, frightened Brother to find a weapon and man the lift.
Another character on whom a lot of attention was placed was Ygritte, the girl “kissed by fire”, with whom Jon had fallen in love during his time with the wildlings. Throughout the episode, it was clear that she had nothing but revenge and murder on her mind – revenge against Jon, who she believed had double-crossed her… and murder of anyone who got in her way, be it Crow or wildling.
When Ser Alliser Thorne finally admitted to Jon that Jon had been right about sealing the gates previously, we feel two things. Firstly, there’s a sense of vindication for Jon, who had only been shut down because those in command did not like him. However, the mere fact that Thorne even felt the need to admit to Jon that he’d been wrong, also makes us realise the depth of despair that he must feel about their odds against the wildlings. Still, despite his asshole nature, Thorne displayed exemplary leadership skills by never once showing weakness to his followers, and instilling bravery into them til the moment the wildlings first breached the Wall. Later, even when he is injured – after an impressive match – he screams orders to the Brothers.
Since a story about Castle Black wouldn’t be complete without Jon Snow, he was, of course, the star of last night’s episode. Though a good argument could be made for the fact that Sam was really more the main attraction, but that’s moot. After Thorne’s admission to Jon, the old jerk-off headed down to fight, leaving a bigger jerk-off, Janos Slynt, in his stead. Since we all know from his time at King’s Landing that Slynt has more ego than he does leadership qualities, we soon find out that in Thorne’s absence, Slynt is placed in a position far above his head, and he quickly calls shots that would have undoubtedly gotten them all killed. Using quick thinking, Grenn pretends that Slynt was requested below, causing the idiotic git to rumble off, effectively leaving command atop the wall to Jon. Slynt takes one look at the destruction occurring down below, and immediately deserts the fight in an attempt to find safety.
With his first real position of command of the Wall, Jon naturally remedies the situation by contradicting Slynt’s previous decisions. His command to the archers brings down a fair number of wildlings, and he later causes a most spectacular scene with a frightened mammoth.
A lot of fighting, and killing pretty much makes up the storyline for this episode, and there are many casualties on both sides of the battle. My absolute favourite scene of last night’s episode involved the beautifully fatal direwolf, Ghost. After being instructed by Jon that he needed the wolf, Sam frees Ghost, who immediately leaps (literally) into killing mode.
The most heart-racing portion occurs next, when Jon is forced to square against Styr, magnar of the Thenns, who was not only deadly, but took pleasure in killing. Between Styr’s strength, and Jon’s skill, the match was evenlt split, though Styr soon got the upper hand when he was able to smash Jon’s face into an anvil. Considering George R. R Martin’s proclivity to killing off beloved characters, Jon could very easily have been killed off right then and there, but for once the sadistic author gave us a break. Before Styr could finish him off, Jon was able to drive a hammer right through his skull, killing him instantly.
Just as he emerged victorious from that battle, Jon found himself face to face with Ygritte, her bow notched, and the arrow aimed directly at his head. Ever heard the expression “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that that’s what must have been going through Jon’s head as he crapped his breeches. For several agonising seconds, we watched the two old lovers face (and arrow) off, wondering what the outcome would be. Would she take pity on Jon, whom she clearly loved or would she let her anger get the better of her and let the arrow fly? We never found out, because before she could make her decision, another arrow seemed to materialise from nowhere, taking her right in the heart. The person responsible: Olly, the same young man who’d been instructed by Sam to find a weapon. As Ygritte fell to the ground, Jon rushed to her and held her in his arms. Pretty cliché, but no less emotional, I think. As she lay dying, she asked Jon if he remembered the cave (where they swam and made love) and told him that they never should have left it. Jon tearfully promises her that they would go back there and, in the most fitting last words that she could have uttered, she gently admonished him:
We deal with the aftermath of the battle from the following scene. Ygritte was obviously one of the most important casualties. Pip, was another, as he’d been shot through the neck with an arrow by Ygritte herself, and had died in Sam’s arms. Grenn also fell, having died while successfully holding the inner gate against a giant. All three of those were heart-breaking deaths, as those involved were all incredibly close to Jon.
Despite the victory, Jon knows that another attack would soon be mounted, and they would not be able to withstand it. As such, he makes the moronic firm decision that he should go speak with Mance Rayder, leader of the Free Folk. Under the belief that, with Mance gone, the wildlings would be unable to maintain their order and steam, and the war would be over, Jon decides that the best course of action would be for him to kill the ex-Crow. The episode ends with Jon walking out of Castle Black – unauthorised – right after Sam promises him to come back (i.e not die).
Next week is the season finale. We find out the outcome of Tyrion’s fate – which, I believe will shake quite a few viewers. We will also, if the writers stick with the storyline of the book, see Dany deal with the devastating results of having dragons. And, Jon’s encounter with Mance Rayder will have an ending that non-readers of A Song of Ice & Fire will not see coming.