Giants and mammoths and spears, oh my!
What a corker of an episode. That guy getting shot off The Wall by that giant’s massive spear arrow, am I right? And that huge steel anchor swingy thingy slicing through those Wilding wall climbers, am I right? And then the heartbreak, oh the heartbreak, am I right?
Yeah, of course I’m right.
Beloved Throners, it is so good to be back with you. I mean, as fantastic as the Great Wall of China is (clang), it’s nothing compared to the proper Wall - you know, the one that would actually be visible from space.
A big thank you to my friend and mentor John Birmingham for keeping the home fires burning last week, and again JB, I appreciate you returning my Official Game of Thrones Recappespondent Uniform freshly washed and pressed. I hope the thong didn't chafe too much.
For those of you who may not have seen it, I did manage to catch Episode 8 while in the PRC, and you can go and see my take on Oberyn’s headsplode before reading on if you like. I’ll get into my chafey thong while you wait.
OK, all good? Brilliant. Now after last week, everyone was wondering what manner of horror would await us in the notoriously awful Episode 9. Because of course, Ned Stark, and of course, the Red Wedding.
But we forgot about Season 2, where Episode 9 was devoted entirely to the Battle of Blackwater Bay. That was a big set piece of an episode, where there was still plenty to talk about, but the regular recap format didn’t quite fit. What I did then (oh yes, the Raven On recaps were birthed before joining forces with the Fairfax juggernaut last year) is what I’m going to do again right now - the Top Ten Moments of the Battle of Castle Black.
So man the gates, draw your arrows and get ready for this season’s penultimate Raven On Game of Thrones recap.
Reminder: spoilers will be included below, so only read on if you’ve seen the episode. We’re discovering the storyline through the TV series (reading the books after each has finished), so no dropping important future plot points in the comments, or we’ll have you trampled by a mammoth. Totally mampled.
Let’s Talk About Sex, J-Sno
There could not be a more awkward conversation.
With the air around Castle Black thick with impending doom, Sam has good reason to be convinced he’s going to die, and wants nothing more than to know what the sweet touch of a lady feels like.
Jon fumbles for a reply more clumsily than he fumbled for his pants back in that cave.
Sam still thinks that Gilly died in the raid on Molestown and is mourning, but that doesn’t stop him bringing up a technicality about the Night’s Watch celibacy vows; namely that certain “activities” could be allowed as long as there was no official marriage or children.
For Jon, those “activities” didn’t get him anything more than an arrow "six inches from his heart". Come on Jon, don’t be modest, I’m sure it was seven or eight.
Meanwhile Ygritte is working off all of her pent-up sexual energy by carving arrows she intends to shoot into Jon Snow’s chest.
Freud would have a field day with that kind of symbolism, the ekelerregend alt dummkopf. Then there’s Tormund’s alleged ursine assignation - that’s certainly not a conversation Ygritte is willing to bear (Yes! Perfect pun! Boom!).
That freaky gross Thenn chief accuses Ygritte of lacking the ovaries to shoot Jon Snow as she’s pledged. There’s some talk of her ginger minge, which makes me wonder if we should actually be writing “minge” on a reputable website? Is that OK?
Anyway, the point is, Ygritte reckons the Thenn dude is just keen for some auburn action himself, but her focus is on the impending battle, and anyone who gets in her way can expect a short sharp shock to the sternum.
Aemon Targaryen’s Secret Girlfriend
We already knew that Maester Aemon could have become a Targaryen king but chose instead to give it to his younger brother, resulting in the eventual rule of Mad King Aerys. Choice move, bro.
But it turns out wily old Aemon wasn’t always a blind, tottering old man. Who knew? Certainly not Sam, who listens to Aemon’s stories about being in love with a girl a long time ago (but probably not in a galaxy far, far away).
Now, all we know from his description that this girl had eyes and a nose, which doesn’t really narrow the field. His line about some of the girls being very forward made me think immediately of Lady Olenna, but surely she would be a bit too young. Perhaps Aemon's ex was an old Stark, Tully or Lannister ancestor? It wouldn’t have been mentioned if it wasn’t important, so thinking hats on, Throners.
Sam and Gilly and awwww
Sam hears a ruckus at the castle gate, and hooray and miracles, it’s Gilly and her baby. Sam orders Pyp to “Open the f---ing gate!” like a boss, and tells him he’d better get used to the swearing. Yeah, baby.
He promises Gilly he will never leave her again, but is then forced to flip flop like (insert politician joke here) after stashing her in a storeroom and making off to fight with his brothers.
It’s all about manning up, you see, a particular form of bravery that I believe women are as capable of as men, but you never hear the term “woman up”.
Of course, as soon as Sam makes Gilly the even-more-hard-to-live-up-to promise that he won’t die, and seals the moment by planting his food flaps on Gilly’s face, I thought he was doomed.
It was like George R.R. Martin’s huge god finger had just drawn a big red X over Sam’s face.
Eventually, thankfully he makes it back to her with a jaunty “Told you so”. It’s all really very sweet. I swear if Sam dies I will actually lose it.
Ser Alliser Shows He’s Kind Of All Right I Guess
The Lord Commander was always like an '80s movie jock, one of those characters who springs into existence purely to make life hell for the hero and never seemed to have any other motivations.
Well, finally, Ser Alliser Thorne earned his position.
He expressed some humility before J-Sno, accepting that he probably should have sealed the tunnel under the Wall as a protective measure.
But he didn’t apologise; because leaders have to make decisions and back themselves, and that’s what he did.
It’s also what he keeps doing, cursing at all the Brothers stationed on top of the wall but nevertheless, getting them moving.
He tells J-Sno that if they work together on this for victory, they can go back to comfortably hating each other. It’s nowhere near mutual like, but it does engender some mutual respect.
Ser Alliser proves himself a competent leader, and is even inspiring in his rallying cry to the soldiers on the ground as wildlings start pouring into the castle.
“Tonight we fight, and when the sun rises, I promise you, Castle Black will stand! The Night’s Watch will stand!”
How could you not fall in behind him and start hacking away at the free folk? And Ser Alliser is a formidable fighter, something we’ve not seen him do before outside of training. He’s almost a match for Tormund Giantsbane, who is like a demented cross between Tom Baker and Brian Blessed.
But a slice across the belly fells him; it didn’t seem to me like he died but he certainly wasn’t around when it was all over.
Jon Snow Takes Command and Looks Damn Fine Doing It
It was Grenn who got rid of the “I’ve Lost My Bottle” deputy Janos Slynt from the top of The Wall, leaving Jon to do what he does best - command.
It’s a pity he didn’t have time to get his shirt off, but damn, even the straightest of you fellas out there must have felt a little tingle at the straightening of J-Sno’s back and the steely resolve in his voice as he yelled very sexy commands like “Knot! Draw! Loose!” My heart was certainly racing, and those barrels of oil weren’t the only things with a rising temperature. Phew, I am all a-flutter.
He also did what good leaders do and delegated - putting Ed in charge of the archers and oil-droppers and giant swingy thingy to go and help his Brothers on the ground. Oh, how I wish I could delegate my face onto his abs.
Giants and Mammoths and Gruesome Deaths Galore
Once again, the GoT production team saved all its spending money for this episode, wheeling out the giants, the mammoth, and some truly spectacular deaths. Remember when you thought the crucifixion scene in The Silence of the Lambs or the bloke falling through the propellor in Titanic would probably be as good as it gets when it came to crazy onscreen deaths?
Then Game of Thrones has a giant shoot a spear bolt up a wall, through a dude’s gut, which blastst him backwards off the wall and impales him with a thud on the ground below, and you’re like “OMG that’s horrendous but also totally awesome”.
The poor mammoth got the rough end of things - literally a rough end, with half his backside being set on fire by that oil drop explosion. One of the Night’s Watch spear-throwers manager to skewer a giant, sending his fellow on a gate-lifting rage.
Later, Ed manages to regain control by deployed the huge swingy thing, cracking part of The Wall itself away to dispatch wildling climbers, then letting it shear away the surface to collect the others, like an enormous pointy feather duster. The image of one dismembered hand dangling from a rope? That’s going on my Christmas card this year.
I’m also sure that the logistics of organising the epic hand-to-hand ground combat are mind-boggling. Yes, there was effective cutting and editing, but I would suggest this episode would have required more fight choreography than the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
RIP Pyp and Grenn
While it’s likely a lot of you are thinking “Oh, THAT’S what their names were!” (don’t worry, I had to look it up as well), there was a lot of goodwill and affection for Night's Watchmen Pyp and Grenn.
Pyp is the scared soldier personified; he’s never been in battle, he doesn’t know what to do, he shouldn’t be there.
It’s Sam who tells him that fear can be conquered when you become nothing, although the downside is that each victory makes that harder to do. Pyp and Sam form a somewhat effective crossbow duo - Sam loading them, Pyp occasionally managing to find his mark (“I got one!”).
So I gasped just moments after Pyp gasped his last - shot neatly through the throat by Ygritte. Sam gave his death dignity by staying with him, murmuring reassurances that Maester Aemon would be there soon to help him.
We didn’t see Grenn’s very last moments, but we did get to see him face death with honour.
Up against an angry giant barrelling towards the inner gate, Grenn tries to inspire a fellow Brother by reciting the oath of the Night’s Watch.
The rest join in, drawing their swords and sacrificing their lives to hold the gate.
“I need him more than I need you,” Jon tells Sam, handing him the chunky key to Ghost’s cell.
The sleek white direwolf’s red eyes gleam in the firelight and BOOM! He’s away. A fantastic moment.
Stop. Hammer Time.
Jon’s fight with the freaky Thenn chief is brutal. I thought for a moment that Ygritte was going to shoot the Thenn so she could have Jon for her own, but instead she watched as her former caving partner was disarmed and gut-punched.
J-Sno also had his head pummelled into an anvil in a moment that would make Wile E. Coyote deliriously happy. But Jon managed to get his hand around a hammer, which he smashed deep into the Thenn’s skull. Game over.
Ygritte and Jon Reunite and It’s Beautiful and Horrible
The moment we were all waiting for - Jon and Ygritte seeing each other again, with Jon proffering a beautiful smile. The pair realised that yes, they do in fact love each other, and that even if Ygritte could loose the arrow, Jon wouldn’t mind all that much.
But then… alas, cruel fate. Sam Tarly had urged Ollie, the scared young lad manning the elevator to The Wall, to find a weapon and fight them. He meant it to give Ollie confidence, and it worked.
While Ygritte’s back was turned and her guard briefly down, he shot her.
Ygritte. Oh Ygritte. That look on Jon’s face as the arrow pierced your furry exterior. We haven’t seen him look that intense since his arrow pierced your furry exterior. And that plea “We should have stayed in that cave,” the dying Ygritte tells Jon, this time with her own hint of a smile. “Yes, we should have,” agrees Jon.
It was a relationship that could not stand up to the greater forces of destiny that had other plans. All they could hope is that they had learned something from it. But of course, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”.
Victory and Beyond
Dawn breaks, and Castle Black stands, just as Ser Alliser promised.
Tormund Giantsbane has about 47 arrows in various parts of his hide (both human and animal), and is shackled for further questioning.
It’s not entirely clear how many Black Brothers fell in the battle, but by crikey it must have been a few. There were bodies falling everywhere - if there were only 102 of them, they must have lost at least 60 or 70.
So rather than take a breather, a drained Jon Snow makes for the tunnel, intent on seeking out Mance Raydar. J-Sno believes he’ll attack again and the only solution is to kill the King Beyond the Wall, breaking the unification of the tribes and scattering them to the winds.
The death of Ygritte has turned Jon Snow into nothing; he no longer has any fear for his own life. He even leaves Longclaw behind in faithful Sam’s care; Sam only entreats him to come back again.
Oh Jon, Jon, you wonderful creature. Before you go, let me comfort you. I know I’ll never be Ygritte but I’ve started colouring my hair auburn and affecting a Yorkshire accent and have even taken up spelunking. I’m just going to slip these handcuffs around you so you can’t leave, and you’ll be mine forever, Jon Snow. I am not a crackpot.
Next week - the season 4 finale. Wait, the finale?! Seven hells, it’s come up so quickly. What the hell do we do, Throners? We’re staring at a big fat empty 10 months. I mean, how else are we going to talk about boobs and gore legitimately? Maybe we can focus on energy on a project. George R.R. Martin’s offering to kill bespoke characters in the books for $20,000 for charity - maybe we should brainstorm a cheesy name then run a crowdfunding campaign?