Hello fellow Westerosians and men of the Night's Watch! Game of Thrones is well known for pulling out all of the stops in their 9th episodes. Season 1, we lost our protagonist Ned Stark. Season 2, Neil Marshall came in and directed the hell out of the Battle of Blackwater. Season 3, TV fans were introduced to the Red Wedding. This season is capping off the most intense book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and has been flooded with crazy episodes and moments. But alas, they may have topped Blackwater with this episode and they gave us The Battle at Castle Black (directed by Marshall again)! It was, in short, amazingly produced with a TV sized budget. Now, the Night's Watch/North story is not necessarily the most interesting storyline for fans of the show but it's incredibly important for where this story is headed. And trust me, if you're still looking for twists and turns and a "9th episode" feel for this season you may get a few of them in the finale! I've been saying for a couple years now that book 3 of the series was jammed packed with plot developments and was an amazing read. Anyway, I can keep rambling on here or get into the recap of this battle!
My note on spoilers is always the same. I don't intentionally seek to spoil non-book readers (granted, teases like I did above are hard to contain). If I am going to write something spoilery, I will save it for the comments and note it with a huge spoiler warning. That said, if a plot does happen on the show that resembles something from the book, I do like to compare that in my write-up. Now that we have that out of the way, let's dive in!
As always, with these big episodes EW has lots of coverage for us to read:
- The amazing directing that is being praised for this episode was the ability to keep us geographically aware of what was going on. There was the raid from the south with Ygritte, Tormund Giantsbane and Styr (leader of the Thenns), Mance's armies from the North and of course the shifting of strategies to defend the castle and the Wall within Castle Black.
- Let's get this out of the way. Gilly and baby returned to the wall undetected by the Wildlings, and we had lots of scenes about Sam fawning over her and wanting to know more about intimacy with women. I did like his dissection of the Night's Watch oath that he gave to Jon about how it never says they can't "do stuff" with women. There just has to be some kind of birth control! Anyway, it's been obvious for awhile that Sam loves Gilly but they had some sweet moments in this episode. He professed to protect her and never leave her again and locked her in some basement area that should be safe from battle. There was some smooching too! Ooooh Sam, I'm telling!
- With the timing of everything being different in the book, we basically had Ser Alliser Throne and Janos Slynt (former Commander of the Kings Landing City Watch, betrayer of Ned Stark and sent to the wall by Tyrion in season 2) leading the remaining crew of Castle Black. They actually showed up as reinforcements in the book. But, it makes sense that they use characters we know. It was an impressive feat that they got us to actually root for Alliser during the raid. We always knew that he had the best intentions for the Night's Watch when he trained the new recruits and that he would be ready for battle should anything come. But, it was also clear of his disdain for Jon Snow. They had him confess to Jon that sealing the tunnel was a good idea, but being a leader you can't question yourself or you're all dead. We see Jon take that advice later when he heads north of the Wall.
- Sam gets to be heroic in this episode and explains to Pyp that when he killed the White Walker he didn't think about being Sam Tarly. He didn't think of anything, he just did. He had to protect Gilly. We see him showing some great courage in this episode when defending the south raid. Pyp was nervous for battle, and eventually hit a wildling and had he and Sam had their "I GOT IT!!" "Don't get cocky kid" Star Wars moment. But sadly, that was their last moment as Ygritte got Pyp with a flaming arrow. Dan and Dave are getting pretty bold with their book changes. Pyp is still alive and ticking in the books! But, with battles like these the stakes have to be real and there need to be casualties of characters we know. They've been doing well with the adjustments they've made previously so there's no doubt in my mind they can handle this. Pyp is a minor character, but he was with Jon Snow since the beginning of the series. And he had quite the send-off. RIP Pyp!
- It was fun seeing Janos Slynt not be prepared for battle when he finally had to lead the archers on the wall. Grenn did a good job getting him out of there and then Jon Snow got to show some leadership skills, that have pretty much been on display all season. He made key decisions for the strategy on the wall, and to lead the charge against the wildlings in the Castle.
- I know I'm all over the place! So there was some impressive imagery coming from north of the Wall. We had Giants (introduced last season), mammoths and lots and lots of wildlings and of course the biggest fire the North has ever seen! (promised by Mance last season) Lots of archer attacks, oil barrels lit on fire and exploding at the bottom of the wall. The coolest weapon the Watch used was that scythe that scaled the Wall and took out the climbers. That was an amazing effects shot. In the interview with Neil Marshall, he discussed that that was debated on if they really needed it. I'm glad they kept it!
- There was also the impressive shot where the giant had a large bow and arrow and it blew up some stuff on top of the wall then sent a guy flying into the other part of the battle. Awesome.
- The Giants and the Mammoth were set on tearing open the gate at the tunnel. Jon Snow sent Grenn and a few men to defend the gate no matter the cost. If the Giants got through, it was over. They were able to take out the mammoth and one of the giants with an exploding barrel (I think, it's all a blur in my mind!). But one giant kept on pushing. He was able to lift the gate. The rangers were freaking out, but Grenn under the leadership of Jon, was able to rally them and keep them ready for battle. They had a rousing rendition of the Night's Watch Oath and off-screen they held that gate as commanded. But, it did cost them their lives. And yet again we have another death of a character we've known since season 1 and he's still alive in the books. Grenn and Pyp fall in the Battle of Castle Black. Crazy. They were good minor characters on the show and will be missed! RIP!
- Meanwhile, Alliser Throne got injured while fighting Tormund and was taken away from battle. Jon Snow left Dolores Edd in charge of the Wall and went down to help out. And of course, we see Hero Jon go into action slaying everything in his path. And we have an epic showdown with Styr which he is victorious in the end.
- There is also Ollie, a made up character for the show who we've been tracking in the background since his town was raided by Ygritte and the wildlings. In that first episode, there is a clear scene where he focuses on Ygritte, so many speculated that it wouldn't be the last time we saw this kid. Sure enough, he is seen scared in this episode, helping with the elevator at the wall, getting an encouraging speech from Sam, and then eyeing up a bow.
- After Jon handles Styr, he ends up in Ygritte's crosshairs, but again she just can't bring it upon herself to kill him. Her hesitation ends up being her downfall as she gets an arrow through the heart courtesy of Ollie who basically gives Jon a thumbs up after helping him out of a messy situation. In the books we certainly do lose Ygritte in this battle, but it is unknown how she gets injured. But in both book and show, there is the tearful farewell between these 2 doomed-from-the-start lovers. It was nice to hear her say her signature line one more time as Jon suggested they'd go back to their cave. "You know nothing Jon Snow." RIP Ygritte. Rose Leslie did a great job bringing her to life on screen.
- Mance's armies fled round 1 of the attack, and the Night's Watch took care of the invading army from the south. They were granted a temporary reprieve. Jon knew that Mance was just testing. We certainly didn't see 100,000 men advancing towards the wall. Of course, it's not 100,000 soldiers. There are mothers and children too. We have to remember Mance wants to get the hell out of the North due to those little mythical creatures known as White Walkers rising.
- Anyway, Jon decides that he has to try and take out Mance. It's the only reason all of the forces of the North are united. Somehow Mance has found a way to rally them to this cause. This is a little different from the books. When Throne and Slynt arrive at the Wall, they arrest Jon for suspecting that he has joined the Wildlings. And then they end up sending him North of the Wall to take out Mance. But, due to the timing of book vs. show this made sense. Plus, it once again showed Jon making a leadership call. The episode ends with him walking beyond the gate and North of the Wall while Sam looks on in admiration and fear.
- Truthfully, I'm a little surprised where they cut this episode off. There are some key events, obviously, still to come in that conflict. My advice would be if you like to look up this stuff to see book differences after they happen I'd hold off on this one. There would be some big spoilers. Of course, due to the number of things that still need to happen to close up book 3, something tells me some stuff might get pushed to next season. Because, there's still tons of stuff to cover in the South next week!