The next to last episode of Game of Thrones aired last week, and in addition to being one of the only episodes of the series to take place entirely in one location, Jon Snow's battle atop The Wall was also the most expensive episode to date.
The Wildling assault on The Wall has been foreshadowed all season, and with so many battles and deaths across the last four seasons, HBO set aside the entirety of last week to the night-long invasion by Mance Rayder’s Wildling army. It was bloody, action-packed and, of course, included a number of surprising moments for book readers and show-watchers alike. Here are some of the key moments from Sunday’s Wildling vs. Crow Ultimate Throwdown.
While Lord Commander Alliser Thorne placed his bowmen atop The Wall and prepped his men to defend from above (after denying Jon Snow’s advice to block The Wall’s tunnel), Tormund Giantsbane’s Wildling infiltrators attacked Castle Black from the rear. At the same time, the full force of the WIldling army hit The Wall head-on with giants, mammoths and thousands of men and women.
The ensuing battle spread across the entirety of Castle Black and so director Neil Marshall had a field day using his camera to show just how widespread the fighting was across the battlefield. These are the biggest sets we’ve seen at The Wall before, and Marshall covered that ground by using some sweeping camerawork, including a breathtaking extended tracking shot that catches Jon, Ygritte, Styr, Tormund, and Sam each caught up in their own individual melees, leading up to the release of the much underused Ghost.
The action of the battle was so chaotic that a lot of specific moments may have passed by in a blur, so here are some of our favourite sequences:
Hot Potato Atop The Wall: When Alliser Thorne relinquishes command of The Wall to defend the grounds below, he appoints renowned slimeball Janos Slynt to lead the Watch’s archers. His “command” lasts only a few minutes before Grenn draws him off the top of The Wall to prevent Slynt from single-handedly losing the battle. It’s here that we finally see Jon Snow take the leadership role, stepping in to take command (Rather being appointed in the books, a small but nice change). Unfortunately Jon has only a brief stint in command himself, before being pulled down to the ground by Sam to help fend off the Wildlings who’ve broken through. Jon designates a third commander in maybe five minutes before he goes, giving the reins to the unlikely Dolorous Edd, who looks surprisingly good in the role.
The Deaths of Pyp and Grenn: HBO is still peppering surprises into the series for book readers, and while Pyp and Grenn don’t have particularly important roles in the story it hurts to see two of Jon’s only friends eat it in this episode. Pyp takes an arrow through the neck right in front of Sam’s eyes, while Grenn takes five men to defend the tunnel from a single, rampaging giant. The six men are successful in killing the beast, but don’t make it back out from below. In the books the task is given to Donal Noye, Castle Black’s one-armed weaponsmith. The Giant who storms the tunnel in A Storm of Swords is also Mag The Mighty, a King of Giants of sorts. Noye manages to kill Mag in the tunnel, but the giant crushes his spine in his death throes. It makes sense to supplant Grenn for Donal Noye in the show, as a familiar face is much more important than introducing Noye for this scene alone, but that doesn’t make Grenn’s sudden death any less painful.
An Appearance By Three-Finger Hobb: Hobb is another character who hasn’t been shown in the HBO show. As the castle’s cook, it makes sense that the producers would excise him from the bulk of the show, but when the Wildlings break into the kitchen partway through last week’s episode there’s a particular focus on a specific Night’s Watch man calmly going to town on enemies with a butcher knife. All signs point to this being the fan-favorite fingerless cook:
The Scythe: When Jon gives Edd The Wall near the end of the episode, he refers to something called the ‘scythe’ which made little sense to watchers and readers alike. But as the Wildlings climbing the wall neared the top, Edd called for its release and what came was an enormous metal pendulum that cleaved through the wall and turned a handful of unsuspecting Wildlings into red mist. The scythe also works by causing a massive ice-fall, presumably knocking any other attackers below it to fall to their certain death. The scythe is a massive hidden weapon which looked a lot like overkill against a group of men – This could be indication that the Watchers on the Wall of old needed to defend against much larger, more formidable foes.
Ygritte and Jon: Compared to some of the other major deaths this season, Ygritte’s may have come across as somewhat anti-climactic, but it’s still a devastating loss for Jon. The two lovers have a brief silent exchange that broke our hearts, and it looks like in that moment the two understood that this had to be the way it would end. But just before Ygritte looses her arrow she’s pinned with a shot herself (By the Wall’s youngest new recruit, who likely expected a happier reaction from Jon for the assist). For pacing and story purposes, HBO fiddled with the death scene a bit, and it was handled well, but we can’t help but gush over the painfully sad exchange as it’s written in the book. In A Storm of Swords, Jon doesn’t find Ygritte until the battle has already ended, allowing much more time for the two to talk:
“Jon Snow, is this a proper castle now? Not just a tower?”
“It is.” Jon took her hand.
“Good,” she whispered. “I wanted t’ see one proper castle, before … before I …”
“You’ll see hundred castles. The battle’s done. Maester Aemon will see to you. You’re kissed by fire, remember? Lucky. It will take more than an arrow to kill you. Aemon will draw it out and patch you up, and we’ll get milk of the poppy for the pain.”
She just smiled at that. “D’you remember that cave? We should have stayed in that cave. I told you so.”
“We’ll go back to the cave,” he said.” You’re not going to die, Ygritte. You’re not.”
“Oh.” Ygritte cupped his cheek with her hand. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she sighed, dying.”
The Promise of More To Come: As is mentioned at the end of the episode, this was only the first night of an ongoing attack. The Night’s Watch has seemingly done the impossible, pushing back thousands of men with a mere 102 of their own, but they are tired and many are injured, and The Wildlings have reinforcements to spare. It will take nothing short of a miracle to prevent the eventual loss of Castle Black, and if the Night’s Watch should fail, The Wildlings – and things much more evil – can march on Westeros unchecked. With the War of Five Kings still raging in the South and growing ever more complicated by the day, a Wildling invasion could devastate the entire realm.
Season four ends this week with a 66-minute long finale. There is a lot of ground to cover, with characters even more spread out and isolated than ever before, but with an entire episode devoted to the events at Castle Black it’s unlikely we’ll get a large chunk of time set on the fallout of last episode. This means we may have to wait until 2015 to find out what happens to our favorite bastard.