The ninth episodes in “Game of Thrones’’ aren’t just regular television shows. They’re events. Ned Stark losing his head, the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding … those events that caused social media to have a shadow baby, they all took place in the ninth episode of the prior three seasons. Game two of the NBA Finals? The Tony Awards? Forget it, the world’s got “The Watchers on the Wall’’ to view.
Man, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a wonder. I didn’t think that any episode could surpass the bloody small-screen warfare spectacle of “Blackwater,’’ but thankfully, I was wrong. Let’s make a rule that every TV show should have GIANTS RIDING MAMMOTHS from now on. Hell, you could put GIANTS RIDING MAMMOTHS on “Keeping up with the Kardashians’’ and I’d probably watch, especially if one or the other stomped on Kim.
Oh man, that was too cool. But let’s back up to the start, before the GIANTS RIDING MAMMOTHS come in. Like “Blackwater,’’ this episode takes up some valuable time before the battle popping in and out of the men and women who are about to fight. Jon and Sam have a deep heart-to-heart at the top of the Wall, followed by another deep heart-to-heart between Sam and Maester Aemon, with the old man picking up on Sam’s deep Gilly-related feelings and imparting some long-ago love stories. “Nothing makes the past a sweeter place to visit than the prospect of imminent death,’’ he tells Sam. Happy thoughts.
Well, the current quickly becomes a sweeter place for Sam – Gilly is alive and well at the Wall, only taking a well-placed and forceful f-bomb from Sam to get her into Castle Black, that new backbone of his growing larger every minute. Gilly’s not in the Castle for five minutes before the horn blows – the wildlings are here, having set the treeline on fire in spectacular “Apocalypse Now’’ fashion. With the battle about to kick off, Sam hides Gilly and her son in the kitchen and basically gives her the “I promise you I will never die’’ line from “Team America’’ before stealing a pre-battle kiss. It’s so damn romantic that it even melted my cynical heart. Of course, when sweet things happen on this show, beheadings, eye-gougings, face-smashings and general terror happens soon afterwards, so I’m trying to harden that melted heart. But please don’t ever leave us, SamGill.
The ablaze treeline is the signal for the second part of the wildlings’ plan, as Ygritte, Tormund, those terrifying Thenns and the rest of the southern-raiding expedition are ready to roll on the other side, planning to attack the wide-open Castle Black as the bulk of the army tackles the Wall defense. Ygritte is in full hell-hath-no-fury mode at Jon and the rest of the Night’s Watch. Ruh-oh. Bodies are about to fall. Here we go.
Neil Marshall (who also lensed “Blackwater’’) directs with supreme visual flair and a wonderful touch, seamlessly transitioning between both battlefronts. The Mance Rayder side is all “Lord of the Rings’’ Battle of Helm’s Deep spectacle, lit arrows lighting up the night sky and the torsos of wildlings army. The Ygritte side is down-and-dirty fighting – think the collision of the medieval armies from “Braveheart,’’ all swords clashing and gigantic slash wounds. Both are astonishing in their own right.
Only the Mance army has GIANTS RIDING MAMMOTHS though. Again, that’s GIANTS RIDING MAMMOTHS. The coolness factor in this battle is off the charts, and Marshall fills the attack with some truly Holy S%*!: moments – horizontal archers hanging over the Wall, a giant firing an arrow the size of a Sidewinder missile that blows one unfortunate Night’s Watchman from one side of the Wall to the the other, giants using a harness and a mammoth to try to knock down the gate, a massive anchor basically wiper-blading poor wildlings from the ice. You can have your “Lord of the Rings’’ battles. Just give me the creativity of this one.
Snow takes charge of the Wall during the battle, sending Donal Noye down to deal with the giants at the gate before heading down below to lend his sword to Castle Black. Poor Donal and the other four Night’s Watchmen – they’ve got to deal with a truly pissed-off giant, who’s just seen his mammoth and giant buddy flash-fried by oil from the top of the Wall. At least they go out with the Night’s Watch creed on their lips.
Back down in Castle Black, Alister Thorne takes charge of the defense. He’s generally a complete and utter jerk, but he’s a pretty damn good wartime leader, so we can’t really hate him. We can hate Janos Slynt, though, who freezes up at the Wall like the Lieutenant from Aliens and then hides himself in the kitchen with Gilly. This is all while Thorne is having a pretty sick sword battle (a draw, actually) with Tormund. Even Sam gets in a nice kill, crossbowing one of the Thenns right in the skull. He also lets Ghost loose on the wildlings, turning one of them into Alpo. Again, Sam’s the MVP of this episode. Once Jon arrives from the top of the Wall, the tide starts to turn for the Night’s Watch – he hammers Styr, that truly creepy Thenn, to death, only to turn around to see that Ygritte has him dead to rights.
She can’t kill him, of course. That brief love affair they had was too strong for arrows. Well, from her, at least. An arrow from that little kid that was operating the Wall’s elevator? You remember the one – the kid who was Scott Tenorman-ed by Styr? That arrow doesn’t care about love. In fact, it goes right into Ygritte’s heart. She dies in Jon’s arms, with “You know nothing, Jon Snow’’ on her lips. It’s super-sad and all, but Jon, damn it, you’ve got some other responsibilities – there’s probably only like 20 guys left in the Night’s Watch, and you’re milking this death scene for all it’s worth. Priorities, man.
Well, anyways, Ygritte’s arrowing effectively ends the Castle battle, and Dolorous Edd – the new chief at the top of the Wall – pulls out that anchor trick to send Mance’s first wave scurrying back to the treeline. The Battle of Castle Black is over. It’s a victory for the Night’s Watch, but at one hell of a cost. A mourning Jon (he’s got the outfit and the expression for it) departs from the Wall, meaning to seek out – and possibly kill – Mance Rayder, aiming to dissolve the wildlings’ unity. Doesn’t sound like much of a plan, as Jon himself acknowledges, but what else can he do?
We’re just left to wonder if they’ll check in again at the Wall before the season’s out. Can we get one appearance by Mance this season?
Other thoughts, as I hear my good-natured red-headed roommate cackling over a certain line in the show that I can’t repeat here:
– Understatement of the century: The Mountain is one strong dude.
– Re-watched episode eight right before this one. Remember that horrified reaction from my roommate I detailed last week? Just the audio from the squishy crunch of Oberyn’s head drew the same one. I almost got a pan thrown at me.
– Pedro Pascal, the talented actor who played Oberyn Martell, just absolutely killed it on Twitter and on Instagram after the episode. Someone get him in a Marvel movie, already. Couldn’t he play Dr. Strange?
– We’ve got one more week left. Next week brings the season finale, Episode 10, entitled “The Children.’’ It’s directed by Alex Graves and penned by Benioff and Weiss. Then begins the long, “Thrones’’-less winter. I’m already sad.