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Recap / Game of Thrones S4E9: "The Watchers on the Wall"

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The action takes place entirely at Castle Black. Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly are manning their posts atop the Wall. Sam is still torn about Gilly's possible death and he asks Jon about Ygritte, noting that he will most likely die before he ever experiences sex. Jon wonders if Sam and Gilly ever... Then he reminds Sam about their vows and that they signed up for celibacy when they joined the Watch. But Sam points out that their order only forbids marriage and fathering children but leaves room for interpretation regarding actual intercourse. Jon tells Sam that Ser Alliser wouldn't care for any interpretations. Yet, at his friend's urging, he tells Sam about his short but passionate relationship and gets caught up in the moment of describing being literally a part of someone else, being, at least for a little moment, more than yourself before finally confessing, "Well I don't know, I'm not a bleedin' poet!" Sam jibes that he certainly isn't and that even if the Wildlings shoot them full of arrows; they've already done the worst thing they can do to him, they killed his woman. Sam heads down while Jon stays above; suddenly watched over by an owl.

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Said bird is currently under possession of the Thenn's warg; conducting reconnaissance. Tormund, Ygritte, and the Thenns discuss the upcoming attack. Ygritte is sharpening arrowheads while Tormund talks about the time he went down on and fucked a she-bear while drunk only for Ygritte to get fed up at the blown-up tale and tell him to shut his cake-hole. Styr then asks Ygritte if she has it in her to kill her crow-lover. Ygritte, fearless of the creepy cannibal, answers his challenge and then tells everyone that "Jon Snow is mine;" and that anyone who tries their luck against the bastard will have to answer to an arrow from her.

Samwell is in Maester Aemon's library, only to be surprised by the elderly blind man. Aemon knew it was him (who else would waste candles reading in the middle of the night?) and he asks him what he's perusing. Sam regales him with Maester Fall's texts regarding how wildlings treat prisoners of war, but Aemon reminds Sam that Maester Fall never even met a wildling. He then tells Sam that he once warned Jon that "love is the death of duty" and confronts Sam about his feelings for Gilly. Sam tries to deny it but Aemon states he could hear it in his voice and that he abandoned his post to read about these atrocities because he was more concerned with the possible fate of the girl he loves than the possibility of his own death. He reminisces to Sam about his old days as a Targaryen Prince, giving insight into what he left behind to serve at the Watch. As a Prince and potential future King, Aemon caught the eye of several highborn women and one woman especially tempted him. Sam is surprised at Aemon's recollections before the old Maester points out that the threat of imminent death makes anyone nostalgic and tells Sam to suck it up and go to bed.

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Sam leaves the library only to hear a familiar voice. He sees Gilly and her baby being kept out of the castle by Pypar. Sam asks, then orders him to "open the fucking gate!" and a stunned Pyp can only comply and let her inside. After a tearful reunion for both of them, during which Sam promises to never leave Gilly again, it is time. We hear two horn blasts pierce the air.

At the top of the Wall, Ser Alliser directs the troops as Jon Snow rushes forward to see a terrifying money shot, an inferno lighting up within sight of the wall among the trees, burnishing the horizon orange. "The biggest fire the North has ever seen", which Mance Rayder had promised and now delivers. Alliser looks at Jon and for once cools down and even asks Jon to go ahead, say I told you so, but Jon refuses to take the bait and tells Alliser that blocking the tunnel and drowning it was a hard decision either way. Thorne tells Jon that being a leader means following his instincts and sticking to his guns rather than second-guessing his decisions. He tells Jon that after the battle they can go back to hating each other, but for now they need to put their mutual disdain aside for however long it takes to beat the wildlings back. Jon concedes the point and stands beside Thorne as he orders the brothers beside him to prepare siege defenses, including barrels of oil.

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Sam keeps Gilly hidden in a large storeroom with her baby. When he makes to join the battle, Gilly tells him to stay, reminding him he said he would never leave her. Sam says he didn't mean that literally and tells her he cannot abandon his fellow brothers for her and that even though he is no warrior, he must defend the Wall and keep his vows. Because that's what men do. He kisses her and promises to return alive.

At the base of the Wall, Sam and Pyp take positions on the overpass of the south gate; dipping arrows in pitch. Sam manages to calm a terrified Pyp with a sermon on fighting for more than yourself, divorcing your identity from the equation can control your fear to do what is necessary. Just as he did when saving Gilly from the White Walker last season. He looks over and out of the parapet's murder hole and Ygritte sees him from where she is spying on them. She rushes back to their nearby camp and relays to Tormund and Styr that the castle base's defences are weak enough to be overrun and they can attack with near impunity. "Let's kill some crows!" Styr shouts to his men and they break camp to do just that.

We see the wildlings emerging from the Haunted Forest with more bronze-weapon wielding, screaming barbarians than you can shake a stick at, but what stands out are the giants, especially the one riding on mammoth-back. Alliser gives orders to ready the barrel sluices and commands his archers to prepare themselves. But Grenn drops a barrel too early, provoking Alliser to spit: "I said nock and hold, you cunts!" He rouses them and inspires discipline as a true master-at-arms should when push comes to shove. "Do you all plan to die here tonight?!" Jon and his brothers shout, "no, Ser!" In unison. "That's very good to hear!" He snarks back at them.

From below, the wildling party assaults the southern gate, drawing Alliser's attention to their attack. At the top, the Night's Watch's archers loose flaming arrows at the oncoming wildling invasion. Thorne appoints the former lord Slynt in charge of the Wall and takes a small force down the lift to defend Castle Black personally. Being pinned on both sides, Sam and Pyp are hard pressed as Ygritte slays crow archers with their own arrows pulled from the road while grappling hooks are thrown onto the battlements, allowing Tormund and Styr to mantle up and over.

Alliser reaches the bottom and gives a rousing speech worthy of Tyrion Lannister at the Battle of Blackwater.

Ser Alliser Thorne: Brothers! A hundred generations have defended this castle! She's never fallen before! She will not fall tonight! Those are Thenns at our walls! They eat the flesh of the men they kill. Do you want to fill the belly of a Thenn tonight?!
Men of the Night's Watch: NO!!!
Thorne: Tonight, we fight! And when the sun rises, I promise you — Castle Black will stand! The Night's Watch will stand! With me! Now! NOW! WITH ME!!

The dishonoured Targaryen loyalist charges with his brothers at his back and starts stomping wild men into the dirt. Tormund does much the same with the schlubs along the gate's bridge, causing Sam and Pyp to wisely get the hell out of Dodge before the husband-to-bears finds them too.

Atop The Wall, Janos has frozen up. He stutters out that the Night's Watch has no discipline, no training, like the thieves the City Watch hunts down. Jon's advice that they defend the inner gate only gets a response from Janos wimbling that giants don't exist, despite them clearly approaching the Wall. Eventually, Grenn has had enough. He tells Janos that Alliser has called for him, him being the most experienced man here and all. Janos accepts the fake command dazedly and departs. Now in de facto command, Jon orders the archers to fire, but there are too many. Some wildlings start trying to climb up the Wall with ice picks, so Jon has several men rappel over the edge and shoot them off. Some of the free folk try to return the favor, but they don't have the draw strength to shoot seven hundred feet up. A giant, with a gi-normous bow of his own, shows them how it's done. His first projectile destroys a ramp. His second hits an unfortunate Watchmen dead in the chest, sending him up, up, up... and falling down, down, down to the courtyard below. What a way to go.

Janos Slynt arrives in the yard amidst a massive free-for-all. Styr hacks people to bits with his two-headed battle axe, having the time of his life. Ygritte drops dozens of poor fighting sods with her bow, and even three-fingered Hobb along with his cooking chums get creative and decide to butcher something other than poultry. Everybody seems to be killing somebody else. Scurrying about in a tizzy for a second, Janos runs inside, down the halls, and into the larder and locks himself inside. He comes face to face with Gilly, who stares at him quizzically.

Elsewhere, Sam is loading crossbows for Pyp to fire. "I got one!" cries Pyp. "Right through the heart! He's dead!" The builder gushes with exuberance. "Oh! Is it over?" asks Sam bluntly. Pyp pauses. "Well, then!" Sam says as he hands over another primed crossbow. Pyp stands up, takes aim... and Ygritte puts a shaft through his throat. Holding his profusely bleeding friend in his arms, Sam offers a few panicked words of comfort but it's quite clear that Pyp has been dealt a mortal wound.

From atop the Wall, Jon and his brothers are dropping barrels full of packed snow, pebbles and ice down on top of the invaders. The anti-infantry bombs decimate a wildling squad but the pair of giants, with the mammoth have made their way to the gantry. They hook a thick rope from the door to the mammoth's harness, and, using a crowbar as well as their beast of burden, they get to work on pulling it down. "The outer gate won't hold." Jon realises grimly. He turns to Grenn, and orders him to take five men down to stop them from getting inside.

Jon: Hold the gate. If they make it through...
Grenn: They won't. — Come on, Hill! And you, Cooper! You three! On me! Come on, you lazy bastards!

Down in the yard, Thorne is still killing fools like a boss and he rushes up onto the castle's balcony walkway to get into a Mano-e-Mano against Giantsbane. He holds his own for a bit, is even getting the better of his opponent, but Tormund rolls out of the reach of his longsword, then gets a low cut in, gashing his belly. Alliser avoids being dispatched, however, when he's beaten off the catwalk and onto a pile of hay. He's dragged inside, yelling all the while for the men to "hold the fuckin' gate!"

Pyp has bled out by this point. After staring at him in battle-shock, Sam grabs a crossbow and tries to get through the insanity that is the main yard. He catches the eye of the Thenn warg, who makes a bee-line for the plump crow. Sam fumbles a bolt onto his crossbow and gets it loaded in just in time to deal a head-shot. Grenn and the five descend to the yard just as Sam runs up. He screams that they need more men down here. Grenn shouts back that he should take it to Jon. Grenn's party runs off to carry out their mission, and Sam yells at the terrified Olly to get the elevator going. Seeing how scared the boy is, he has to cajole Olly into this. As he ascends, he also yells for the boy to grab a weapon and fight.

At the outer gate, the mammoth runs off, having been set on fire by dropped incendiary barrels. The second giant gets killed too, courtesy of a ballista bolt to the spine as he runs after his mount. Mag the Mighty, the other giant, bellows in rage, and starts to raise the entire gate up on his own. But the Watch's weapons aren't safe within either, one sticks to the slide and the pushing-pole releases the fluid. It detonates before it can be dislodged, sending several brothers plummeting to their doom, while others are embedded with flaming shrapnel.

Sam makes it atop the Wall, where he tells Jon that the castle won't stand much longer without an effective battle leader now that Ser Alliser has fallen. Jon gives command to "Dolorous" Edd Tollett. Then he draws Longclaw: "come, brothers! Now, fight with me!" to take Sam and a sizable party down with him in the lift. Edd injects some much-needed levity to the impossible battle they're all finding themselves in: "might as well enjoy our last night, right, boys? LIGHT THE FUCKERS UP! NOCK! DRAW!! ... LOOSE!!!"

Grenn and his lads have made it to the inner gates to witness Mag the Mighty begin to breach the tunnel. "How are we going to stop that?" Hill implores, pissing himself with fear. "He's got twenty arrows in him already!" Cooper retorts but Hill looks ready to flee already. "The Mother save me! Father, save me!" Hill moans, as the titan inches under. "The gods aren't down here," spits Grenn, "it's the six of us! You hear me!" The giant lifts the portcullis, makes it into the tunnel, drops it with a thunderous boom — and charges. Hill's courage breaks and he's about to run for it — but Grenn grabs him and shakes some bravery into his black brother by reminding him that he's of the Watch. That they swore to defend the realms of men. He starts to recite their oath as Mag bears down on them. The other four gradually join his prayer, drawing their swords as Grenn rallies them, they finish the creed just in time and scream their war cries as the giant shoulder-barges into the cold-wrought steel lattice before them.

As the Wall's lift descends to the ground, Jon gives a set of keys to Sam, says that he needs him more than he needs Sam in the upcoming fight and leaps down before the contraption even comes to a stop and starts adding new kill notches to his belt. The camera pans over the chaos. Ygritte snipes every crow in sight, Styr executes anyone foolish enough to get near and Tormund leaps around the place like a red-headed wolverine, laughing like a lunatic. Sam makes it to the shed and releases Ghost on the wildlings, the albino direwolf chews out throats right left and centre, while his master carves up Thenn spear men. Tormund takes an arrow to the shoulder, proceeds not to notice and goes straight back to wrecking more people's shit up with his short sword.

The Magnar notices Jon cutting a swathe through his tribesmen and throws down the gauntlet. Jon answers readily, matching the much larger man blow for blow. Ygritte scavenges more arrows and witnesses their skirmish. Styr manages to disarm the young steward of Longclaw and chases Snow across the yard, looping his axe around crazily to cleave the bastard up but Jon retreats in time and arms himself with a length of chain from the weapons rack. Soon, Styr is relieved of his weapon as well, but the Thenn Chieftain pummels Jon, smacks his head into an anvil and throws him into the smithy, Jon flies across the furnace of red-hot coals, stunned, but Styr makes the mistake of trying to throttle Jon instead of shank him. Snow spits blood into his face, brings the Thenn to his knees by kicking out his right patella joint and buries a smith's mallet in the cannibal's cranium with a roar of victory.

He turns in exhaustion to see Ygritte pulling back on her draw-string. Jon can only smile in relief. She hesitates in turn, trying not to smile herself — and Olly puts an arrow through her back, avenging his father and devastating Jon. Ignoring the chaos around them, Jon runs to Ygritte's side and cradles her in his arms. Ygritte tells him that they should never have left their cave. "We'll go back there," Jon tries to comfort her hopelessly. "You know nothing, Jon Snow." She gasps, and the life of the fire-kissed wild girl is extinguished. Distraught, Jon holds Ygritte in his arms.

The climbers are now halfway up the Wall. Edd orders the defenders to use the scythe, which is a gargantuan anchor attached to a long, thick chain. This super-weapon of the Watch swings down like a pendulum, scraping off a swath of ice as it careens toward the invaders. One climber barely has enough time to scream before he and his buddies are obliterated by it, leaving an arm dangling from a rope. A cheer comes up from the defenders as the wildlings below retreat for the night... only for Edd to tell them not to rejoice so loudly. After all, they're still outnumbered a thousand to one, the team killjoy reminds them.

The Watch has won the yard. Jon tries to reason with a surrounded, not to mention bloodied Tormund Giantsbane. The latter's all for going out in a blaze of glory, but the former puts a crossbow bolt in his leg and kicks Tormund's machete out of his hands; finally allowing him to be taken captive. "I SHOULD'VE THROWN YOU! FROM THE TOP OF YOUR WALL, BOY!" Tormund roars as he's bundled away for interrogation. "Aye," Jon says to himself quietly, "you should have." Samwell makes haste to the larder, where Gilly is unharmed and joyous to see Sam alive as he promised, their reunion is somewhat soured when they find Janos Slynt, who is cowering in a corner behind the door.

Sam returns to the yard with Jon in the morning, who looks broken down; partially from Ygritte's death, but also from Castle Black being no less doomed. Mance tested their defences yesterday, he'll take the Castle tonight. He walks hazily towards the North gate. Mance Rayder is the only thing holding the army together. If Jon assassinates him, the army disintegrates. Sam quite reasonably tells him that this is insane: he'll never get close to him, and he'll be tortured to death if he succeeds. Jon agrees. But they'll all die either way and he has to try regardless. "You're right. It's a bad plan. What's your plan?" He concludes, and Sam cannot answer and Jon trudges off.

Inside the tunnel, the giant is dead, surrounded by six bodies. Jon closes Grenn's eyes respectfully and tells Sam to burn their corpses along with the rest, they signal to raise the outer gate. Jon divests himself of Longclaw and gives Jeor Mormont's family sword to Sam to hold onto in case he doesn't come back. As he'd promised the Old Bear to never lose it again. The gate goes up, revealing a bright morning sun through the grey clouds overhead.

Samwell: Jon... Come back.

Jon says nothing as he smiles reassuringly at his friend, he then turns to the open gate with a grimly determined and wary expression before he walks out and into the light.


Tropes

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Before the battle, Sam and Aemon talk about the former's love for Gilly. Likewise, the shot of Jon holding the dying Ygritte as the battle rages behind them in Slow Motion.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The closing plan of Jon meeting with Mance to try and kill him was a Uriah Gambit set up by Janos Slynt in the books. Clearly if they had kept this it would've become a Running Gag since Slynt had the idea of sending Jon to kill the Betrayers hoping he would die in the process. Here Jon makes the decision himself.
    • Donal Noye was the blacksmith of Castle Black in the books, a one-armed man who took the black after years of service to the Baratheons and commanded much respect. Having been Adapted Out, his role is divided into Alliser Thorne taking over charge of the Wall's defenses, Grenn and his brothers final duel with the Giant, and a brief allusion in Jon's battle with Styr where the former smashes his head with a hammer in the smithy.
    • Also the other two castles of the Night's Watch, the Shadow Tower and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, have a role in the Battle with reinforcements supplied to bolster Castle Black's defenses.
    • In the books, there were two distinct battles: the Thenns springing a "surprise attack" from the south (which Jon spoilered), and Mance's army arriving some time later, where they continuously besiege Castle Black and are held off for several days before retreating. Here, both attacks occur at the same time and are compressed into a single night.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In the books, Jon has a flashback to a brief lecture from his lord father about how the castles of the Night's Watch were deliberately built without walls and gates to the south, so that Chronic Backstabbing Disorder towards the Seven Kingdoms would always end in failure. Given the simultaneous flanking attack showcased in this episode, such a layout is untenable, so Castle Black gets the curtain wall it's always wanted.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Ser Alliser Thorne proves himself to be far more than the conniving and bitter Master-At-Arms in the books, taking on characteristics of Donal Noye, leading men in the front and even gaining Jon Snow's respect.
  • Almighty Janitor: Even the Night's Watch kitchen cooks get in on the action, and surprisingly, they kick ass. Special mention goes to a cook who hits a wildling in the face with a pot of boiling water, then bashes his skull in the same pot, and another (whom astute book readers will recognize as Three-Fingered Hobb) who hacks a guy to death with a giant cleaver!
  • Ambiguous Situation: During the battle, Alliser Thorne takes a serious wound and is locked away, but by the end of the episode it's unknown whether he survived or not.
  • Annoying Arrows: Mostly averted, single arrows are shown to be effective at downing fighters. The one exception is Tormund, who seems ready to keep fighting on despite having half a dozen arrows in him.
  • Animals Not to Scale: Never mind the two giants — that was an enormous mammoth.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: After listening to Sam point out why his Suicide Mission is an awful idea, Jon asks "You're right. It's a bad plan. What's your plan?". Sam has no response.
  • Arc Words: From S1E9 — "Love is the death of duty." And from S3E9 — "Let it end."
    • Also what Ygritte keeps telling Jon Snow... all the way up to her death.
  • Arrows on Fire: Both sides use flaming arrows, even though they add very little to the fight, if anything. The Wildlings probably want to make sure that their enemies won't come back to haunt them as wights, but the Night's Watchmen are doing the same mostly for Rule of Perception.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • Alliser Thorne didn't earn his position as master-at-arms with his winning personality. He even goes toe-to-toe with Tormund Giantsbane for a while.
    • On the flipside, we see that leadership of wildling clans isn't at all arbitrary: Styr and Tormund prove their worth in their attack on Castle Black.
  • An Axe to Grind: It seems that the Thenns favor battle-axes. Styr prominently wields a huge one.
  • Badass Boast: Grenn invokes this by starting a bold recitation of the Night's Watch oath when his group ready to flee from the advancing giant. The others join in and by the end they're standing their ground, swords and torches ready.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • Even though Styr slams Jon's face to an anvil with massive force, after the battle is over Jon isn't missing his teeth or showing any other significant damage to his visage.
    • Compare Pyp's gory death - getting an arrow through the throat - to Ygritte's. She gets shot in the back, allowing her to die without detracting from her physical beauty.
  • Berserk Button: Mag the Mighty really grows furious after the Night's Watch defenders torch his mammoth with burning oil but particularly after they shoot his retreating companion in the back with a ballista.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Sam and Gilly finally kiss before the battle starts.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Like Blackwater, with which it shares a director, serving as a kind of Spiritual Successor.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Given the giant fight scene, this is a given:
    • Pyp is hit with an arrow through the throat.
    • Weaponized by Jon, who spits blood into Styr's face in order to distract him.
  • Blood Knight: Styr seems to particularly enjoy battle, as he's grinning madly and even laughing as he guts people with his axe. Tormund also lets out a big cackle midway through the fight.
  • Bottle Episode: The episode is set entirely on the Wall. Unlike most episodes, this isn't done to save budget, but rather to fit in a great deal of action and plot into one episode, much like 'Blackwater' from season 2.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Ygritte fires way more than the 12 arrows a quiver can normally hold, but she's also shown in multiple shots scurrying around the battle and pulling arrows out of dead men to reuse them, beginning all the way in the wildlings' run up to Castle Black.
  • Breather Episode: In a strange way, despite how action-packed and tense it is, The Watchers on the Wall can be considered this. In a series that has become famous as a dark, depressing fantasy show where beloved main characters can die, the good guys suffer while the villains prosper, this episode is probably the one that has come closest to being a traditional heroic epic in the style of The Lord of the Rings. The (relative) good guys triumph, everyone (except for Janos Slynt) get their personal awesome moment, Sam defies Tempting Fate by promising Gilly that he'll make it back to her after the battle and delivers on it. It lets viewers know that even in a world as screwed-up as this, there's still hope.
  • Bros Before Hoes: A central theme/moral of the episode. Gilly? Ygritte? All are second to being a brother of the Night's Watch.
  • Call-Back:
    • Maester Aemon mentions his talk with Jon Snow about love and duty to Sam, which happened back in season 1.
    • Mance does not fail on his promise — that blaze is likely the biggest fire that the North has ever seen.
    • Karl Tanner claimed that fighting dirty is a better way to win than fighting honorably, an example being that he spat on Jon's face to distract him enough to gain the upper hand. Jon uses the same tactic by spitting on Styr's face that distracts him enough to ram a blacksmith's hammer through his skull.
  • Canon Foreigner: Cooper, the Night's Watch ranger who is initially blubbering with fear at the prospect of facing Mag the Mighty.
  • The Chains of Commanding:
    • Alliser Thorne gives Jon Snow a speech to this effect, telling him as commander everyone will second-guess his decisions and he has to back his instincts regardless otherwise he will second guess himself and that will be no help to anyone.
    • Later Jon Snow tells Samwell to stay out of the fight to the latter's protest but Jon then gets gruff with him and orders him to release Ghost telling him that he needs a violent direwolf more than him. Rude but quite justifiable in the situation.
    • Jon sends Grenn and five other men to hold the inner gate even though he knows that he is likely sending them to their deaths. The gate has to hold and he does not have more men to send with them.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Olly turns out to be a good shot with a bow, just as he claimed in "Oathkeeper."
  • Combat Pragmatist: Jon clearly learned from his fight with Karl. Improvised Weapon usage, spitting blood into the face, Jon used every advantage to win that fight.
  • Continuity Nod: Dongo the giant that gets impaled by a ballista shot as he flees the exploding oil may be a nod to a novel-only character, Ser Patrek, a knight loyal to Stannis Baratheon who "earns" the epithet Giantslayer after killing a fleeing giant during Stannis' attack on the Wildlings.
  • Cowardly Lion: The 4 men that Grenn has with him to hold the gate. At first they nearly break from the sight of Mag the Mighty charging at them, but Grenn manages to get them to stay and fight anyways.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Sam tells little Olly that he needs to be brave and to find a weapon to defend himself with. He spies a bow and later uses it to feather Ygritte.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sam gets two good shots in on Pyp.
    Pyp: (misses two crossbow shots) Sam? I think we're going to die.
    Sam: If you keep missing, we will.

    Pyp: (kills wildling with a crossbow shot) I got one!
    Sam: (sarcastically) Oh, is it over?
    Pyp: *puzzled look*
    Sam: Well then... (hands Pyp another crossbow)
  • Death by Adaptation: Pyp (killed by Ygritte's arrow) and Grenn (killed holding the gate against the giant). "Hill" is a mild case, since there's a ranger called "Sweet" Donnel Hill who survives the battle.
  • Death from Above: The Night's Watch on the wall rain down arrows, flaming barrels of oil, and a huge scythe down on anyone who comes near the wall or tries to climb it.
  • Decapitated Army: Jon reasons that if he kills Mance, the Wilding army will collapse since he's the only thing keeping them united. His reasoning is solid; his plan to do so, somewhat more nebulous, and he knows it.
  • Decomposite Character: As stated above, Donal Noye's role: leading the Castle's defenses and dying while fighting Mag the Mighty are divided between Ser Alliser Thorne and Grenn, respectively.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Ygritte dies in Jon Snow's arms and Pyp dies in Sam's.
  • Dirty Coward: Besides being an incompetent and indecisive commander (having to be tricked out of the top of the Wall so someone else could issue orders), Janos Slynt flies away from the battle and hides in the kitchen.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Tormund intends to do this when he's completely surrounded. Jon instead has him incapacitated and bound for questioning.
  • Drone of Dread: Heard right after Styr shouts “Let’s kill some Crows!”
  • Enemy Mine: Ser Alliser sums it up nicely to Jon, even telling him outright that once it's all over they can go back to hating each other in peace.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: When Jon gets down to the courtyard, the camera swoops around from him to Ygritte, Styr, Tormund, and finally Sam as he reaches Ghost's kennel.
  • Fade to White: The end of the episode.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: Notably averted, as the entire episode focuses on the battle between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings, leaving all other plotlines (including the cliffhanger the previous episode ended with) on hold until the next episode.
  • Frontline General:
    • Credit where it's due, Thorne personally leads the defense of the southern gate when it comes under attack.
    • Both Tormund and Styr also lead their party when running to the Black Castle's southern wall.
  • Gender Is No Object: There are several women in the Wildling Army.
  • General Failure: Janos Slynt completely cracks when presented with the enormity of the Wildling host, to the point that Grenn has to trick him into leaving so someone competent can take over.
  • Heroic BSoD: For a given value of "Heroic", the conniving Janos Slynt proves that he's in way over his head when it comes to commanding the Night's Watch.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Grenn and the others holding the gate.
  • Hold the Line: Grenn and his squad succeed at holding the inner gate against the giant.
  • Human Pincushion: With half a dozen arrows stuck in him, Tormund is still determined to go down fighting. Tired of all the killing, Jon puts a bolt in his leg too.
  • Idiot Ball: Despite knowing well in advance that Castle Black is in imminent danger of attack from both the north and the south, Ser Alliser changes his mind about which side he is going to command personally at the last minute, wasting valuable time during the battle moving from the top of the Wall to the courtyard and leaving Janos Slynt, who turns out to crack easily under pressure, in command of the Wall proper.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The member of the Night Watch who is unlucky enough to be in the giant's arrow's path. The force of the arrow hoists him several feet into the air before beginning its downward arc (with him still attached to it) to the base of the Wall. The giant himself is later speared right through from a ballista atop the wall.
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • After losing Longclaw, Jon Snow uses a chain from the metalsmith's station against Styr. Then he kills Styr with a mid-sized smith hammer.
    • When the wildlings reach the pantry, the stewards inside hold them off with first a pot of boiling water, the pot itself, furniture, and then a large meat cleaver.
    • When Gilly hears someone at the door, not knowing the battle is over, she wields a... piece of ham.
  • I Was Quite the Looker: Maester Aemon states that as a Targaryen Prince and potential future King, the ladies of Westeros couldn't get enough of him and one of them seriously tempted him.
  • In the Back: Dongo the giant, Ygritte and several unnamed Night's Watch men (shot by Ygritte).
  • I Told You So: Thorne admits that Jon Snow was right about the gate, though he tells him to save this reaction until after the battle's over.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Ygritte, an accomplished archer, dies of an arrow shot by Olly, whose father had been shot and killed by her a few episodes back.
    • The giant that speared the Night's Watchmen off the top of the wall is himself speared by a mini-ballista from the top of the wall.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Night's Watch uses flaming barrels of oil to kill several Wildlings and drive off the mammoth at their gate.
  • The Last Dance: Jon sees his Suicide Mission to kill Mance Rayder as this. Since they'll all die to the wildling attack anyways, he might as well use his death to try to save the others.
  • Last Words: Ygritte reminds her lover one last time:
    "You know nothing, Jon Snow."
  • Leave Him to Me: Before the battle, Ygritte makes sure everyone knows Jon Snow is hers to kill.
  • Let Them Die Happy: When Pyp gets an arrow straight through his throat, Sam frantically tells him that Maester Aemon is coming and he'll make everything all better. It's an obvious lie to try to ease Pyp's passing a little bit.
  • Literal-Minded: When Sam needs to leave Gilly and her baby in the larder Gilly said he claimed he would never leave her again. Sam replies he didn't mean in the same room.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: The Night's Watch uses a giant swinging scythe to dispense with the wall-climbers. It reduces anyone unlucky enough to be in its path into a fine pink mist and a bunch of gibs.
  • Made of Iron: A nearly literal example. Styr slams Jon headfirst into an anvil and instead of smashing his jaw open, Jon still recovers enough to kill him and endure till the fight ends. In subsequent scenes he doesn't have so much as a bruise, let alone the broken jaw and/or nose and/or missing teeth you'd expect.
  • Mama Bear: Gilly is ready to defend herself and her baby with a leg of ham when it sounds like Wildlings are breaking down the pantry door.
  • Mutual Kill: Grenn and the five other Nights Watchmen are all killed trying to stop the giant in the tunnel, but not before taking him down with them.
  • Near-Villain Victory: The Night's Watch has taken severe losses and just barely stopped what amounts to the wildlings' scouting party. Things look bleak for the main attack...
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Just like in the book, we only see the results of the battle at the gate to hold off the giant.
  • The Oner: After Jon's squad hits the ground and joins the fight for the castle, there is a long shot around the castle which features every named character involved in the battle.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Aemon acts rather abrasive toward Sam, and Sam curses and acts extremely well in charge, both showing just how serious the situation at the Wall is for them.
  • Paper Tiger: Janos Slynt, supposedly at least competent in leadership and fighting skill due to being the former commander of King's Landing's City Watch, is shown to have no nerve and never even faces a single Wildling in combat. It's heavily implied that he bought the post by corrupt means and has never actually had a fair-ish fight in his life.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Gilly shows up, Sam tells Pyp to "Open the fucking gates!" This is immediately lampshaded by Pyp.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Night's Watch wins their first encounter, but they're even more undermanned after several losses and unlikely to hold off the larger numbers of Wildlings that will attack again. Indeed Dolorous Edd, for once, appropriately sobers everyone on the reality of their situation and Jon Snow himself tells Sam that Mance held back on his full force because he wanted to know how long they can last in a single night and is obviously preparing for an extended siege.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: D.B. Weiss initially thought some of Kit Harrington's movements were sped up in the footage, only for the VFX editor to correct him by pointing out that Harrington really was moving that fast. See here.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Alliser Thorne turns out to be one when it really counts, though it's partially because his role was merged with Donal Noye for the battle, who was the real Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Reason Before Honor: Thorne admits that he should have listened to Jon Snow and sealed the gate. Jon Snow for his part tells Alliser that it was a hard choice either way since the tunnel proved to be an effective bottleneck.
  • Right-Hand Attack Dog: Jon has Ghost released to fight the wildlings in the castle.
    Sam: We need you, boy.
  • Rousing Speech: Several. A quiet one from Sam to Pyp. A shouty one from Ser Alliser Thorne to the defenders, two short and sweet ones from Jon and Edd. And an epic one from Grenn to his five fellows.
  • Rule of Perception: Both sides use flaming arrows, which show up much better in the dim lighting. It also probably helps them calibrate their aim.
  • Rules Lawyer: Sam briefly discusses with Jon the finer points of the Night's Watch oath, noting that while marriage and fathering children are both forbidden, sexual relationships aren't (and neither is concubinage, an option that probably is on Sam's mind).
  • Scylla and Charybdis: The timing of the two Wildling attacks (one from the north and one from the south) forces Ser Alliser to either risk leaving the courtyard without an experienced battle commander when the southern gate is breached or leave the Wall in the hands of a less competent tactician before finding out exactly what the enemy is planning to do. He chooses the latter.
  • Selective Obliviousness: After being given the command of the top of the Wall, Janos Slynt keeps repeating to himself that giants don't exist, in spite of clearly seeing two of them (plus the mammoth) in the Wildling army.
  • The Siege: From our point of view, the watch's. From the distinctly less sympathetic wildlings' point of view, it's Storming the Castle.
  • Simple, yet Awesome (also Epic Flail): The scythe, a large bladed object hooked to a thick metal chain that because of gravity will shear across the face of the Wall and pulverize climbing enemies by the dozens, and can be reused by pulling it back into position.
  • Snipe Hunt: Grenn tells Janos Slynt that Ser Alliser summoned him on orders, solely to get him off the top of the Wall and leave someone competent, like Jon, in charge.
  • Storming the Castle: The villanous version for the Wildlings. They attempt to scale the curtain wall of Castle Black's southern gate, scale the Wall itself with climbers, and breach the Mud Gate to get through; only the first one of these succeeds though.
  • Suicide Mission: Jon embarks on one to kill Mance Rayder, knowing full well that he'll die painfully whether he succeeds or not.
  • Super Strength: Unsurprisingly, giants have this. While regular wildling archers can't make their arrows reach the top of the wall, giant archers have much more success. There's also Mag the Mighty, who lifts the main gate by himself after his mammoth weakens it for him.
  • Suspiciously Small Army:
    • Handwaved: The wildling attack force is far less than their total number because Mance is probably just testing the Night's Watch defenses.
    • Inverted by the Night's Watch, who seem to have too many men for supposedly being down to 102 fighters. For example, it appears as if there are close to one hundred men both on the wall and on the ground fighting in Castle Black.
  • Sword over Head: Despite spending the entire season promising to kill her ex-lover, Ygritte hesitates at shooting Jon Snow, long enough to fall victim to a Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Thorne invokes this regarding himself and Jon; yes they both hate each other's guts, but they need to put it aside until the battle's over.
    Alliser Thorne: This is not the end. Not for us. Not if you lot do your duty for however long it takes to beat them back. And then you get to go on hating me, and I get to go on wishing your Wildling whore had finished the job.
  • Tempting Fate: Averted. Unusually for this show, arguably the poster child for Anyone Can Die, Sam promises not to die during the battle... and he doesn't die.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A background fight shows a Night's Watch man throwing himself unarmed to the back of an unsuspecting Thenn, who throws him away and then puts an axe on his chest. The Night's Watch man was not in immediate danger or even protecting another someone else, so he could have well taken a few seconds to scavenge a sword or even a dagger, and then attack the Thenn from the back.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Olly kills Ygritte with a well-placed arrow. He even nods at Jon Snow after shooting her.
    • The entire episode encompasses Sam taking one, as he is one of the people shown to be, while afraid, still cool under fire for the most part.
    • The stewards get a brief moment when the wildlings break into the pantry and they fight them back using kitchen implements as Improvised Weapons.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Jon hops off the Wall's elevator a few feet early, goes into a full somersault, and comes up fighting.
  • Villain Ball: After soundly defeating Jon in unarmed combat, Styr decides to finish him off by slowly strangling him as opposed to any swifter method that wouldn't have given Jon the opening to retaliate and finish the wildling off.
  • Villainous Valor:
    • Mag the Mighty presses on and lifts the outer gate by himself when his giant comrade is slain by a ballista and the mammoth and the mammoth crew are all driven off by the flaming barrels of oil.
    • Surrounded, alone, and already full of wounds, Tormund's bravery and resolve cannot be denied as he tries to go down swinging.
  • War Elephants: The wildlings use the War Mammoth version of this trope to try to pull the wall's gate down. It gets driven off by the flaming oil.
  • We Have Reserves: Jon guesses that the Wildlings were simply testing the Wall's defenses and they haven't yet unleashed their full force. The Wildlings outnumber the Night's Watch 1000 to 1.
  • You Are in Command Now: Command of the Wall gets handed off from Thorne to Slynt to Jon Snow to Dolorous Edd.
    "You have the Wall".
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Jon, Grenn, and Edd all have this unspoken reaction when Slynt denies the existence of giants even though two of them are visibly at their gates (and he is implied to be slowly losing it). Grenn has to lie to him to get him off the Wall so Jon can take over.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Grenn and his men hold the inner gate against Mag the Mighty like this. They all die in the process.
  • Zerg Rush: Jon Snow remarks that the first wildling attack severely weakened them and that all the wildlings have to do now is overwhelm them with sheer numbers through and over the wall.

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