The North where it’s very cold
And Sam and Jon are very cold on the very cold Wall during the very cold night in the very cold wind. I think Jon’s face may have frozen into a pout. They discuss Ygritte and the exact interpretation of their vow of celibacy (or “no wives, no children” which is a different kettle of fish and has some big loopholes) and lots of moping.
The Wildlings (also in the north, also very cold) are having their own discussion – not about having sex with bears (thank you Ygritte for cutting that story short), Ygritte talks about killing everyone while the creepy Thenn taunt her about having sex with Jon the Mopey. She declares Jon is hers just so we can be more dramatic about it.
Back at Castle Black, Maester Aemon deals out some wisdom to Sam – about how all the nasty stories told about Wildlings and what they do to people are probably no worse than the stories the Wildlings tell about the Night’s Watch before going into lost loves, nostalgia and more ominous forbodings about death
Consider me properly forboded. Please get to the stabbing already.
And Gilly isn’t dead! She’s at the gate with baby Sam. Sam forces Pip to let her in and insists that he’ll go with Gilly if they try to force her out. Very touching. Now can we get to the stabbing?
An Alarm Horn sounds (stabbing time! At long last!)
Lots of fires are lit (dramatic!), weapons are prepared, Ser Alliser has a little “you were right but I still hate you” moment with Jon and Sam has a big moment with Gilly about how he has to fight.
The Wildlings make their move (Actual stabbing time!), Ygritte looking all angsty. They have giants and they have mammoths. The battle begins – Alliser drawn away from the wall to try and deal with a sneak attack on the south gate (led by Ygritte’s band) while his deputy handles the important Arrows vs Dramatic Posing part of the fight (arrows are more effective)
As Ser Alliser leads his dramatically speached-men against the South Gate attack, the main Wildling force decides that fighting is probably a good idea and move in. Alliser’s useless deputy is dumped quickly so Jon can lead that flank
The fighting is dramatic and bloody and well rendered and exciting with all the named major characters killing loads with lots of epic heroism. A blow by blow recounting of the battle is unnecessary – it’s dramatic and epic and well rendered and shiny. Jon kills the head of the Then, Ygitte kills Pip and eventually confronts Jon Snow (who still knows nothing). She struggles whether to shoot him or not – and Oliver, a little boy, inspired by Sam, shoots her in the back. Jon ignores the fighting all around him to run to her; touching death scene is made slightly silly but much much better by her dying words being “you know nothing, Jon Snow”. Because they had to be.
The first night of battle is over, the Wildlings pull back their attack (not that it’s over, they still outnumber the Nights Watch a thousand to one) and the only living Wildling in the Castle is Tormund, with several arrows in him. He insists on keeping fighting so Jon shoots him again. Not killing him but giving them chance to chain him and question him (I’m not sure how useful that will be “what are your plans?” “To charge you with a gazillion men and kill you all!” “Damn we never expected that!” “Also, mammoths. In case you missed them. Because they’re subtle.”)
Sam returns to Gilly (who has been cowering in that room for the whole night of battle and only looks for an improvised weapon in the last minute? Oh Gilly).
Sam thinks the fight was a victory but Jon sees the reality – Mance tested their defences with a fraction of his forces and nearly won. The Nights Watch can’t win this war – Jon decides to find Mance himself since he’s the only thing that welds the disparate Wildling forces into an army; it’s a bad plan but it’s all they have. They also find Grenn’s body, he and his 6 men died holding off a giant – sent there by Jon with them both knowing it was a suicide mission.
Jon’s epic plan, of course, involves going off alone.
This episode is clearly meant to be a second Blackwater and, in a way, it is. Except my problem is that I really don’t care about any of the characters. Sam and Gilly, and Jon and Ygritte bore me rigid; let alone the 8 gazillion wildlings and Nights Watch I care even less about (this may, just possibly, have been apparent from my recap). None of them have particularly appealed to me so all this build up to their possible death didn’t quite work for me… honestly I felt less tension about them maybe dying (and this is Game of Thrones any of them can die) and more a… quiet hope that some of these excess characters could be culled.
Still it was dramatic. It was epic. It was shiny and full of little moments of awesome – particularly all the little men of the Nights Watch, untrained and largely incapable, stepping up. There was some nice speeches about courage and selflessness and ultimately giving up of self which is the very essence of what the Nights Watch is about – giving up all personal hopes goals and dreams for the sake of the greater good.
Sam stepping up and being brave was good – because it didn’t come with magical skill because Sam doesn’t have that. But he can be brave. He can be effective in his own way. It shows how far the character has come. I also like that Ser Alliser was somewhat capable and inspiring – sure Jon Snow hates him and for good reason, but he is acting Lord Commander and he attained that rank for a reason; not for being incompetent or a coward or unskilled.