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Episode 9 - The Watchers on the Wall

6 April 2015

Credit HBO

Synopsis: Gilly makes it to Castle Black while Ygritte promises to kill Jon. A large section of forest is set on fire north of the Wall and an attack begins both on Castle Black and the Wall. Alliser Thorne is killed defending the Castle while Janos Slynt hides with Gilly. The attack on the Tunnel is repelled despite many casualties. The attack on the Castle is too but Ygritte dies in Jon's arms. Giantsbane is taken prisoner and Jon heads out of the gate to kill Manse.

The Good: If I was grading on production values this would be as good as it gets. The whole episode looked spectacular and the various attacks on and from the Wall including the mammoths and giants were very special. Inside the Castle things were generally staged well and obviously I applaud the decision to give the whole hour over to one epic battle.

I was surprised just how sad I was when Ygritte died. I think credit has to go to the actors on this one. The story turned out to be exactly what you would have predicted. Ygritte hadn't stopped loving him and couldn't pull the trigger when she saw him. But her performance throughout was strong and I still think her flirtatious introduction in Season Two made a real impact. The dynamic between them was good too, the one sparky and defiant, the other reserved and dedicated. Whatever combination it was their mini-Romeo and Juliet story was pretty effective and once more left you wondering how much better life would be without all these wars. To underline that feeling it's Olly who shoots her. In the story of his life this moment is justified revenge for the murder of his family, regardless of Ygritte's true nature.

I enjoyed the pre-battle buildup. Sam discussing the specifics of their vows with Jon felt like a conversation I heard many times when growing up in church circles. While the gentlest of explorations of Maester Aemon's blindness was enough to make his chat with Sam feel emotive. During the battle there was plenty of opportunity for individual moments too. I liked that Alliser was shown to be a competent and brave man when the time came. I was equally pleased that they got full comedy value out of Slynt's cowardice with the expression he pulled when Sam discovered him. You knew someone had to kill the lead Thenn in a satisfying manner and Pyp and Grenn both died heroically.

The Bad: There were only two moments where I felt the staging let the characters down. Both surrounded the attack on the Tunnel. The Nights Watch seemed to just stare at the Mammoth as it was harnessed to the outer gate. They only dropped pitch on it after it had already begun to weaken the structure. Similarly when the Giant makes its way into the tunnel I was suprised that no one had brought a bow and arrow to shoot at him. The line was there to suggest that it had already withstood a number already. But surely a few more couldn't hurt. It was a climactic moment for Grenn to once again call on the order's oath to imbue his comrades with courage. But it was slightly awkward that they stood right in front of the gate as they did so. If the Giant had smashed the gate off its hinges then surely he would have squashed them all right there?

The Unknown: Those really are minor issues in an otherwise very well structured episode. I was tense throughout most of the attack although not nearly as severely as I was during the Purple Wedding. The difference in feeling reflects certain interesting wrinkles in the story. Jon Snow (along with Dany) seems like the character who is least likely to die. In part because there are so few truly good people left but more because of the mystery surrounding his birth. So despite the two Weddings and Oberyn's example it still seemed likely to me that Castle Black would not fall. In order for it to do so Gilly and Sam would have had to die or been captured. Despite all the shocks the show has delivered I still couldn't countenance the creation of two total innocents only to serve them up to slaughter.

All of that is to say that this succeeded at being a more traditional action movie-like episode. The Nights Watch clearly deserved our cheers (even if the Wildlings are not totally villainous) and they came through. It made for good television and a satisfying episode. But it does lead to a scenario very similar to the one I faced after "Blackwater." This battle, like that one, doesn't seem to have delivered much in the way of consequence. Perhaps that's an unfair way to phrase it. But it still feels like the fate of Westeros hangs on something off screen rather than on it.

If the Wildlings were to attack another part of the Wall they would make it over fairly easily. Even if they attacked Castle Black the next night they might break through. Therefore something has to intervene to protect those innocent or unkillable characters from certain death. Before the episode it seemed like those two things would be either Stannis' army or the White Walkers. Now I suppose we have Jon himself heading out to attempt assasination. It's hard to know how to feel about that. If Manse lets him get anywhere near him he would be a total fool. But does the idea of Jon going through the same treatment that Theon faced seem likely? On this show who can say. Jon remains a tough character to feel much for. He is such a straightforward, almost dull, hero. It's not hard to like him but I don't feel for him the way I do for Tyrion. Again though it feels like the real narrative is off screen. It feels like Jon's fate and the fate of the Nights Watch rests on something not present in this episode. That's a slight drawback for me.

Best Moment: Ygritte wishing that she and Jon could have stayed in the cave. So sad.

Conclusion: A spectacular looking episode that delivered a very satisfying battle with loads of enjoyable moments.

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  • A great episode that brought the focus on the Night's Watch and showed us why they are important and what is ultimately at stake if the Wall falls. We also had some well-liked characters dying in tragic ways that brought an emotional component to this and this is also a battle where both sides have a point, which makes it difficult to root for one side specifically. Not to mention the wonderful special effects and the music. Kit Harrington keeps getting better with Jon Snow and Samwell has become quite a nuanced and changed character over the seasons. The showrunners have said that episodes 8-10 were meant to be one giant climax and this episode did definitely live up to that notion.

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Great Eagle, 05/04/2015 10:18pm (2 years ago)

  • Some post podcast comments:

    Early in the podcast feedback you mentioned about Selmy that somebody said he was a traitor. I believe you were referring to me, if you were I never said he was traitor, more that Selmy was hypocritical for not sympathising with Jorah, even for bit. After all, Selmy changed allegiance, pardon or not, why he can't consider that Jorah could do the same? Also, Dany screwed up by exiling Jorah instead of using him as a double agent and spy on what's happening in Westeros.

    Regarding consequences between Blackwater and The Watchers on the Wall, if we are judging people getting presumed dead or severely injured like Alliser Thorne then you have to count Davos being blown away in the Wildfire explosion and Tyrion getting his face sliced. We know they made it out alive in future episodes, but if we are just counting the episode as a standalone, we don't necessarily know that. If we're including consequences that don't include deaths or near deaths then I feel Blackwater has the edge because the end of Blackwater brought the Lannister-Tyrell alliance and we know from seasons after it's anything but with Olenna involved in Joffrey's death and power struggle with Cersei and Margaery.

    Posted by Dave, 13/06/2014 3:09pm (3 years ago)

  • I'll say what everyone appears to deny. Worst episode ever! All that time spent on characters that are the least likable or those who no one cares about.

    Had I written the story line for Sam (as he cradling Pyp as he was dying) an arrow would have found it's way to the middle of Sams forehead followed by 10 more to insure his story line was over

    And Gilly would have been bashed in the head with a frozen mutton chop by the coward Slynt. Slynt then would take that annoying baby to the white walkers.

    Why don't the White Walkers go just to the left or right of the gate and penetrate the ice wall around the door jambs?

    Ygritte comes back as a White Walker in season 5 and says again "You know nothing Snow).

    Credit to the "Wall" scenes and the giants with the mammoth..nicely done

    So much wasted time with so much to do yet. a reluctant 40

    Viewer score: 40 / 100

    Posted by vore01, 12/06/2014 1:54am (3 years ago)

  • Even if there were 100K total Wildlings, I think there should still be hundreds of them capable of scaling the wall in numerous locations. I remember on rewatch Ser Alliser said there 80 men on the wall at the start of the battle and then he sent a large number down to the castle once the Wildling attack was detected at the Castle Gate (including himself to lead the attack). That still leaves a very small number of men to repell hundreds of attacks over 300 miles, which is a loosing battle on top of the wall.

    Posted by Fluids, 11/06/2014 10:46pm (3 years ago)

  • "The Wildlings are fleeing the White Walkers, so it's fair to assume that the 100k count includes children, the elderly, giants, the incapacitated, and others that may not be able to scale the wall on their own." When Mance said he had 100K I took that to mean he had 100K troops. I added 300K more to that in my head to account for women, children and old folks or men that couldn't fight. If 100K includes all Wildlings that has not been made clear. I also am assuming the folks not fighting are in a camp still in the Frostfangs that Jon Snow was lead to in an earlier episode.

    Posted by Fluids, 11/06/2014 9:08pm (3 years ago)

  • Regarding your point that the Wildlings could attack elsewhere on the Wall:

    The Wildlings are fleeing the White Walkers, so it's fair to assume that the 100k count includes children, the elderly, giants, the incapacitated, and others that may not be able to scale the wall on their own. Also, we've seen that the Wildlings use ropes and metal hooks/spikes to scale the wall, these tools are probably in limited supply in the northern wilderness which would make it extremely time consuming for all 100k to scale and descend the other side.

    Posted by Runyan, 11/06/2014 7:41pm (3 years ago)

  • An above average episode with very few faults that has me eagerly anticipating the finale.

    Good:
    Some of the better fight-choreography that we've seen from GoT, combined with the great special-fx and the amazing 360 degree continuous shot made for a great battle sequence.

    Bad:
    At least four named characters perished in this episode, but I believe the gruesome death of the previous episode completely desensitized the impact for me. I thought we were heading towards another Oberyn moment when Jon got his head smashed on the anvil, but then he came away with little-to-no damage which was somewhat odd in itself.

    Unknown:
    There are tons of plots to wrap-up and setup for season 5, and episode 10 is the only episode submitted for Emmy consideration for the Best Writing category. I can't wait to see how it all ends.

    Viewer score: 77 / 100

    Posted by Runyan, 11/06/2014 7:22pm (3 years ago)

  • Robin and Roberto are you going to cover loose ends during either the recap or feedback podcast?

    There’s so many things to keep track of going into the Season Finale:

    • Continuation of the Battle of the Wall (cliffhanger?)
    • Tyrion’s execution, escape or retrial (cliffhanger?)
    • Resolving troubles at Yunkai
    • Balon’s response to losing men at Winterfell, Moat Cailin and the Dreadfort
    • Dorne’s response to Oberyn’s death
    • Arya and the Hound’s next move?
    • Brienne and Podrick’s next move?
    • Ramsay Bolton’s next move?
    • Roose Bolton’s next move?
    • Sansa’s next move?
    • Stannis’ next move? Examples: The Wall or King’s Landing again?
    • Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen at the Giant Weirwood
    • Cersei’s quest for justice for Joffrey
    • Tywin’s moves against Danaerys
    • Jorah’s journey (wherever it’s going)
    • Margaery and Tommen (he’s too young to marry for a few years right?)
    • Cersei’s wedding to Ser Loras
    • Tons of minor people who’s fates are unclear or importance is unclear:
    1. Ben Stark (Still alive?)
    2. Blackfish and Edmure (Still alive?)
    3. Gendry (Still alive?)
    4. Rickon Stark, Shaggydog and Osha
    5. Shae (Hung?)
    6. Brotherhood without Banners
    7. Ellaria Sands (heading back to Dorne with Cersei’s boat for Myrcella?)

    Do you guy’s have any thoughts about what could be concluded this season or what might be a cliff hanger until Season 5?

    Posted by Fluids, 11/06/2014 6:09pm (3 years ago)

  • Battles are boring to me. There, I said it. They are necessary to this type of story but I found myself fast forwarding through the stabbings, slashings, gruntings. It appeared Jon's head was smashed against an anvil, he pops back up and has no wound from the impact, REALLY?
    I also thought Gilly just got there far too easily but at least her story with Sam is amusing. I hope the Finale is chock full of dramatic dialogue and intrigue.

    Viewer score: 50 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 11/06/2014 12:40pm (3 years ago)

  • I agree with you on the ending, Derek. Say what you want about Blackwater, it had an ending while this episode's ending was lacking. Jon walking out with no sword or Ghost thinking he can go meet up with Mance like it's a casual stroll in the afternoon. My memory is fuzzy, I think the book had the gruesome twosome, Slynt and Throne forced Jon to go to Mance, so I fear for Jon's life more because he was forced to walk out there, whereas in the show, it's more, "well, I got my plot armor, might as well walk out there". Didn't make sense.

    As for consequences, people can point out, Pyp, Grenn and Ygritte died so there's your consequences in this episode. But it's really stretching to say they are main characters. If it was Jon or Sam that died then that's your consequences there.

    Posted by Dave, 11/06/2014 2:21am (3 years ago)

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