by Grace Crawford

game of thrones poster

All Game of Thrones images courtesy of HBO.

4×09: “The Watchers on the Wall”

For an entire episode, we followed one single storyline: the battle between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings. It was the story of Samwell Tarly and of Jon Snow, and it was everything I possibly could have hoped for.

There’s tension on top of the wall as the crows wait for the wildlings to descend. But Sam’s distracted, because his thoughts are on Gilly and all the things he would’ve liked to do with her (and to her, and on her, etc.). And knowing full well he won’t get the chance, he asks Jon what sex is like.

Jon tries to go into detail, and he does very well by saying, “it’s like being wrapped up inside someone and they’re wrapped up in you,” before getting all flustered, because boys and feelings apparently aren’t a good mix (as any high school girl could tell you), so Sam’s left to his own thoughts.

Even with the battle looming ever nearer, Sam’s thoughts are still with Gilly and how she might have died. He researches the wildlings and what they do to their victims, essentially torturing himself over the thoughts of what might have happened to her. Then there’s a knock on the door downstairs. And it’s Gilly. He’s worried about her safety again, so he stashes her in the men’s quarters deep in the keep where she’ll be safe. Then this happens. (I tried writing it and couldn’t do it justice, so just… just watch it, okay?)

When we first met Sam, he was a self-professed coward. He was the worst at everything, and that stayed the same right up until he stabbed a White Walker to protect Gilly. Everything good that he’s done up till now has been because of her. So it’s not surprising that once he gets the girl, he immediately goes out, shoots a Thenn right in the face, and starts awesome-ing all over the place.

Sam’s come a long way in the last four seasons, and I love that about him. He’s not a coward anymore. The writers actually did a really nice contrast with Sam and Janos Slynt, the former commander of the King’s Landing city guard, who fled to the men’s quarters as soon as the battle began. For all that Slynt was supposed to be a battle-hardened leader of men, he just cowered in the corner while better men died outside.

True, Sam is just as afraid as he’s ever been, but instead of letting his fear control him, he uses it to stay alive. Samwell Tarly is wise beyond his years, and in this episode, he was near-unrecognizable. I’m just so proud of how far he’s come, and I can’t believe I’m probably going to have to wait another year before I see him again.

Then there’s Jon. After all his time spent on the Wall, after all the abuse heaped on him for being a bastard, after betraying his brothers to join the wildlings, after betraying the wildlings and Ygritte to return home, after not being believed when he said all of this was coming — after all of this, Jon Snow has his moment of glory. With Alliser Thorne out of commission and Janos Slynt hiding in the barracks, there’s no one else to take command of the Wall. So Jon does.

And to no one’s surprise, he does a great job. He tells the men atop the Wall what to do, tells his friends to hold the gate below — even though it’s being attacked by f*cking giants riding mammoths — and promptly hightails it downstairs to join the melee. He catches the attention of the Magnar of Thenn and a pretty gruesome fight ensues, ending only when Jon buries a hammer in the Thenn’s skull.

Then he sees Ygritte.

Ygritte is still just as hurt and betrayed as ever, and she’s vowed to put him in the ground, which is why she’s got an arrow trained on him. But there’s this moment, this incredibly sweet moment, where the two of them see each other. They’re in the middle of a bloody battle, and yet they take the time to almost-smile at each other. Because in spite of Jon’s betrayal and the fact that Ygritte filled him full of arrows, they still love each other just as much as they ever did. But the fight we were expecting doesn’t come. Another crow shoots Ygritte, and she dies in Jon’s arms.

"You know one thing, Jon Snow."

“You know one thing, Jon Snow.”

When all’s said and done, this could’ve so easily been just another action-packed episode full of stabbings and brutal dismemberment and CGI wildlings. It could have been about the Night’s Watch holding firm, even as outnumbered as they were, and holding off the first invasion. But it wasn’t.

This was a story about Sam finding his courage and about Jon realizing the cost of victory. He lost a lot of friends in a single night, and he lost the woman he loved. It’s clear from the look on his face when he finds Grenn’s patrol down at the gate, all of his brothers dead but only after they took a giant with them, that he understands the burden of leadership and how much pain it will cause him if he takes it on.

And he does it anyway, heading out to meet Mance Rayder and put a stop to the attack once and for all. Because, in the words of Samwell Tarly, “That’s what men do.”

Final Grade: A+

Final Thoughts:

  • I love that Sam tries to justify sleeping with Gilly. But the funny thing is, I didn’t think that was new information. Haven’t the crows been sleeping with the Mole’s Town hookers this whole time?
  • I like that Ser Alliser admits, even in his coldly roundabout way, that he doesn’t want Jon to die.
  • Maester Aemon, I don’t think Sam is grossed out because you’re old and were once in love. He’s grossed out because now he’s picturing it.
  • I have no idea why, but for some reason it’s super adorable when Sam says, “Open the f*cking gate!” WHY IS THIS SO ADORABLE.
  • Why didn’t they let Ghost out any sooner? I feel like he would’ve been helpful in the tearing-out-throats department.
  • The only thing I didn’t like about this episode was that the attack took place at night, making it really hard to see what was going on because my TV was so dark. #firstworldproblems #thatisall

<<Previous Episode: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Next Episode: “The Children”>>