"Game of Thrones" Season 4, episode 9, "The Watchers on the Wall" focused entirely on the Battle of Castle Black and did not disappoint fans, even if it meant waiting another week to learn about Tyrion's fate. The Battle of Castle Black was a huge spectacle which featured plenty of action and emotion, including another shocking death.
Warning: Full "Game of Thrones" Season 4 spoilers ahead.
The Battle of Castle Black
Fans knew the Battle of Castle Black in "Game of Thrones" would rival the Battle of Blackwater in Season 2. Both episodes were directed by Neil Marshall and his command and understanding of action made "The Watchers on the Wall" an exciting episode that never felt repetitive.
Marshall directed a multi-stage assault which started off at long-range but evolved into a sprawling, close-range battle. While many could choose spectacle, there was plenty of storytelling that was woven throughout the action. The Battle of Castle Black featured several acts and there was a natural progression as each side unleashed a new tactic. Marshall handles all the layers of action, from siege tactics, group battles to one-on-one combat with ease, carefully guiding the viewer along the chaotic scene. The battle had plenty of casualties, including Pyp and Grenn, and accidents occur during war and those mistakes are costly.
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I also enjoyed how Castle Black was divided into strongholds and territories. The Wildlings were able to take control of different sections of Castle Black which were used to launch more men into the assault or as place for archers to pick off the Night's Watch.
The duel between Styr and Jon was the prelude to his final meeting with Ygritte. Throughout "The Watchers on the Wall," we see her as the deadly archer and a Wildling but her hesitation in seeing Jon again quickly reminds fans of her humanity in "Game of Thrones" Season 3. With an arrow poised, she threatens his life but is killed by Olly and the couple share one last moment with Ygritte's final words being "You know nothing Jon Snow."
As the Battle of Castle Black ends, Tormund is captured and there is no sign of Mance Rayder and the rest of the Wildling army. All the fighting was just the beginning and a feint to see what the Night's Watch had to offer.
Jon Snow is off to visit Mance and the "Game of Thrones" Season 4 finale will barely have any time to take a break as there are several major storylines to wrap up and a new season to tease. "The Watchers on the Wall" was really enhanced by the singular focus, there were no character breaks or jarring transitions. Tyrion's fate, Arya's journey, Bran's journey to the three-eyed raven, Stannis and Daenerys are just a few storylines that will be featured in "The Children."
Telling Stories as War and Death Approaches
"The Watchers on the Wall" starts at the top of the Wall with Jon and Sam standing watch. Despite the odds and the dramatic stakes, the show adds some levity, much like the cousin Orson story from "The Mountain and the Viper." The two old friends trade stories and Sam is preoccupied with some troubling thoughts. Sam is not worried about his impending death or the fall of the Night's Watch to Mance Rayder's Wildling army; Jon and Sam talk about love while death looms. Sam wants to know what love is but Jon is not a poet but that leads to a few more stories to share.
Ygritte does not want to hear Tormund Giantbane's "Sheila the bear" story. It seems like Ygritte has heard the story more than once and deprives fans of the tawdry conclusion.
I enjoyed how Sam decided to run to the stacks in search of answers on love, which leads to another great moment between Maester Aemon and Sam. "Thousands of books with no eyes to read them. Old age is a wonderful source for ironies if nothing else," quips Aemon who reminds Sam of who he is, Aemon Targaryen, and how turned down the chance to be king.
Sam The Slayer Returns
While fans knew Gilly was safe, poor Sam thought she was dead but she managed to reach Castle Black and the two are reunited. Sam and Gilly share a great moment that has to be interrupted by that horn and the start of the Battle of Castle Black. Sam stows Gilly safely away and joins the battle, serving as Pyp's backup and reloading his crossbow.
Sam’s kiss may be the bravest thing he has done on the show. His slaying of the White Walker in "Game of Thrones" Season 3 lacked the planning and preparation necessary for bravery. Sam's instincts kicked in and he managed to kill the White Walker to save Gilly, the baby and himself whereas the kiss was premeditated and probably required a few moments of nervous thought before sticking with the plan. In his chat with Pyp, death causes men to reflect on their lives, making them look deep into their souls to find some buried and unknown truth about who they are and what their life means.
Sam the Slayer returns as he manages to put a crossbow bolt into the head of a charging Thenn.
Ser Alliser Redeems Himself, Janos Slynt Does Not
While the acting Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and Jon have not seen eye-to-eye throughout "Game of Thrones" Season 4, Alliser redeems himself in "The Watchers on the Wall." It turns out Alliser is a brave leader who could have been a great character but ego or pride got into the way. Alliser knew he was wrong to not listen to Jon but, according to him, leaders are used to upstart know-it-alls. Throughout the Battle of Castle Black, Alliser leads the Night's Watch into battle, stepping up to fight and challenging Tormund in a one-on-one battle that leaves him wounded.
Janos Slynt, the disgraced commander of the City Watch of King's Landing, proves himself to be nothing more than a coward. He cannot command the Night's Watch stationed at the top of the Wall, refuses to believe there are giants and finds the quickest way to avoid the battle. He ends up locking himself away in the same room as Gilly and is later discovered by Sam.
Giants and Mammoths
While there were only two giants and one mammoth, they did not disappoint. The giants were tasked with breaking through a gate and they proved to be formidable adversaries. The bows used by the giants were awesome, destructive weapons that can destroy fortifications, launch a man into the sky and impale him in the ground below. While the giants look to make short work of the gate they are thwarted by a few bombs sent from above. Grenn is tasked to defend the gate at all costs and he does so but loses his life to keep his promise to Jon Snow.