“The Watchers on the Wall”
Whoa. Giants, woolly mammoths, severed limbs, blood everywhere and more deaths than anyone could keep up with. It was a savagely gruesome feast for the eyes -we haven’t seen combat like this since the battle of Blackwater in Season 2. And directing this gory spectacle is none other than “Blackwater” director Neil Marshall.
This brutal episode opens on Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly, manning their posts at the Wall. Dwelling on their impending doom, all Sam can think about is dying a virgin. So he pesters Jon about his relationship with Ygritte, “What was she like?” Refusing to indulge his brother Jon replies with “she had red hair.” Mocking his answer Sam cops an attitude back, “oh, how big were her feet?” Obviously annoyed at this line of questioning about a relationship he’s still smarting from Jon says “well what do you want me to say?” So Sam lays it all out on the table, “I want you to tell me what it was like to have someone. To be with someone. To love someone and have them love you back. We’re all gonna die a lot sooner than I’d planned.” Once a coward who feared a fight, Sam now faces his fate as bravely as any other.
With the wildlings preparing an attack on one side of Castle Black and Mance Rayder’s army on the other side of the wall the men of the Night’s Watch will have to fight for even the slimmest chance of survival. As the night’s battle commences Ser Alliser Thorne, Commander in Chief of the Night’s Watch, briefly acknowledges that Jon Snow may have been right. They should have sealed the tunnels. Fat lot of good that does them now. It’s a backhanded acknowledgement, as Alliser makes the point that he’s too important to listen to underlings — even if they happen to be right.
What Alliser lacks in wisdom he makes up for on the battle field. He runs his sword through as many wildlings as possible, but not before he places Janos Slynt, former commander of the City’s Watch, in charge of the archers on the Wall. Practically shaking in his boots, Janos tries to convince himself that the approaching army cannot win, after all they have no discipline and no training. He’s no leader, and quite possibly the worst man for the job. A point made abundantly clear as he stares at the approaching giants with a slack jawed gaze and says, “no such thing as giants.” A Jon Snow supporter to the rescue! One little fib and Janos scurries away to the battle below at what he believes is Ser Alliser’s request. Instead of joining the fight, Janos hides in the same cellar Gilly and her baby are tucked away in. The cowardice he displays is shameful. Hard to believe this guy once commanded anything, much less the City Watch.
Meanwhile Sam is fighting to both keep a promise to Gilly and also to be worthy of her at the same time. Sam shines in this episode, he’s really come into his own. Where a cowering fat boy once stood there is now a man willing and able to fight for what is right. Sam the coward is no more. It’s Sam the Slayer now. Or perhaps it’s Sam the crafty. He’s figured out how to have his cake and eat it too. As he shared with Jon at the beginning of the episode, he’s determined a way to both keep his vows and have Gilly. “Our vows never specifically forbid intimate relations with women. I shall take no wife, yes, that’s in there. There’s no denying that. I shall father no children is very specific, but what our vows have to say about other activities is open to interpretation.” Always thinking that one is.
Love and war are the great themes of this episode, but why? Perhaps Master Aemon sums it up best when he says, “we could spend all night trading tales of past loves. Nothing makes the past as sweet a place to visit than the prospect of imminent death.” Even Jon Snow faced his love once more, only to have her die in his arms. It was a crushingly beautiful moment. Ygritte was poised to kill him, but the smile on her face betrayed her aim. For all the pain he caused her she still loved him. Her pause gave Olly, a young boy, just enough time to prove himself worthy of defending the wall, by killing the red haired wildling. Her arrow was pointed at Jon Snow’s heart. That boy did what he thought was right. And, who knows, maybe he did save Jon Snow? Because as Ygritte dies in his arms, she says, for the last time, “You know nothing Jon Snow.”
Perhaps that is where Jon Snow draws his strength from. He does not know what will happen, he only knows something must. He’s leaving the Wall to find and parlay with Mance Rayder. Sounds like a suicide mission. As we all know, no George R.R. Martin character is safe, so anything can happen. It’s a bad plan, as Sam points out, but no one seems to have a better one. Castle Black has reached its limit, without the resources for another night of fighting they’re sure to lose tomorrow’s battle. One victorious night is not enough to win this war.
To spend an entire episode with the Night’s Watch at the Wall was a bold move that paid off in spades. It was a fast paced adventure full of loss, love and sacrifice. Rose Leslie who played the ginger wildling and first love of Jon Snow will be missed. I only wish her character had more time to grow. The men of the Night’s Watch are a nameless bunch to all those they protect within the realm. They gave their lives for people that will never fully appreciate it, as lamentably happens during a time of war. “The Watchers on the Wall” was a story that needed to be told.
Aurora Snow Says