|The Watchers on the Wall|
|Season 4, Episode 9|
|Air date||June 8, 2014|
|Written by||David Benioff and D.B. Weiss|
|Directed by||Neil Marshall|
"The Mountain and the Viper"
"The Watchers on the Wall" is the ninth episode of the fourth season of Game of Thrones. It is the thirty-ninth episode of the series overall. It premiered on June 8, 2014. It was written by producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by Neil Marshall.
The Night's Watch, although hopelessly outnumbered, attempt to defend Castle Black from Mance Rayder's massive wilding army, who plan to siege the fortress from the north. Meanwhile, a secret garrison of wildlings including Tormund Giantsbane, Styr and Ygritte are poised to launch a surprise attack from the south of the Wall.
Jon and Sam are standing watch atop the Wall, staring out into the darkness of the north and awaiting the imminent wilding invasion. Sam attempts to interrogate Jon about what it was like to be with a woman, stating that as their deaths are likely imminent, it may be his last chance to find out. Sam brings up that the vows of the Night's Watch only explicitly forbid members from taking wives or producing children, and that other "activities" are open to interpretation. Jon replies glumly that Alliser Thorne most likely does not care about their interpretations. When further pressed by Sam to describe lying down with Ygritte, Jon attempts to explain but is unable to properly express it, proclaiming exasperatedly that he's "not a bleeding poet."
Jon offers to take the watch up alone so Sam can go below, and as Sam steps into the elevator and begins to descend the Wall, an owl lands on top of the wall and begins hooting loudly. The owl is revealed to be controlled by a Thenn warg who is a member of the garrison of wildlings under command of Tormund and Styr, who have set up camp just outside of the southern entrance to Castle Black. Tormund boasts about a bear he supposedly had sex with, prompting Ygritte to cut him short and cast her doubts on the validity of his claim. She tells him that she only cares about getting as many arrows through the hearts of "crows" as possible. She angrily talks about how the people south of the Wall shut the the wildlings out by building it and hunting the wildlings as enemies; she says that now the wildlings are the hunters and the southerners the prey. Styr mockingly replies that Ygritte has more words about killing than she has arrows. She defends herself by saying she killed just as many people at Mole's Town as he, but Styr replies that none of them was her former lover. He further mocks her by saying that when she sees him, she'll likely just serve him a slice of "ginger minge", causing her to jump to her feet in anger. Ygritte stares Styr down, claiming that she wants to kill Jon Snow herself, then looks around the camp and warns the others that she has an arrow ready for anyone else who attempts to kill him. Just outside the camp, a shaded person cradling something passes by the wildlings unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Sam is caught reading a book about wildlings by Maester Aemon. Aemon correctly guesses that Sam is reading the book because he wants to know what kind of fate might have befallen Gilly if she fell into wildling hands during the sack of Mole's Town. He also surmises that Sam has shown such a keen interest in her fate because he is in love with her, despite Sam's protests to the contrary. Aemon muses about the girl he once loved, stating that he can still picture her as clear as day and that she is more real than Sam is. After being dismissed by Aemon, Sam leaves the maester's chambers only to hear Gilly at the gate begging to be allowed inside, revealing her survival of the Mole's Town massacre and her identity as the cloaked figure approaching Castle Black. Pypar attempts to deny her passage into the castle, saying he is not allowed to open the gate under any circumstances. However, Sam roars at Pyp to allow her in, causing Pyp to relent and let her in. Sam promises Gilly wherever she goes next he will go too, but their reunion is cut short by two blows from the horn, indicating that Mance's wildling army has finally begun their assault. Sam rushes to get Gilly safely inside the castle while other brothers of the Night's Watch prepare for the imminent attack by wildlings.
On top of the Wall, Jon hears the horn blowing and looks north, witnessing a tremendous conflagration north of the Wall just as Mance had promised. He approaches Ser Alliser Thorne, who finally relents and admits that they should have heeded Jon's advice and blocked the gates. He grimly muses that leadership means being second guessed by "clever little twats with a mouth" and when a man in charge second-guesses himself, all is doomed. Steeling himself for the impending siege, Thorne begins barking orders to the archers, preparing them to fire upon the attackers massing below.
Sam brings Gilly and her baby to a storage room where she can hide. Gilly wants Sam to stay with her as he promised, but he cannot as he swore to defend the Wall as a brother of the Night's Watch. Before he leaves her, Gilly begs Sam to promise her that he won't die and the two finally share a kiss. As Sam and Pypar are preparing arrows at the southern gate, Pypar laments that he never seen a real battle before or ever even held an edged blade. Pypar asks how Sam is not afraid, but Sam replies that he is, as there are thousands of wildlings about to overrun them. Pypar asks how he managed to kill a White Walker while being afraid, and Sam says that at that moment, he just had to do something or Gilly would have been killed and her baby would have been taken. Sam further explains that at that moment, he wasn't himself; he was nothing, and when you are nothing there is nothing to be afraid of. Before walking away, he looks at Pypar and says, "I'm not nothing anymore."
Meanwhile, Ygritte spies on the Castle to scout numbers of defenders. She tells the other wildlings that most of the guards are at the top of the Wall and that few are left in the Castle. The group prepares to attack, while Ygritte seems to have second thoughts. The Thenn warg suddenly snaps out of his trance and informs the group that the signal has been given, prompting the wildlings to immediately take off towards Castle Black's southern gate. North of the Wall, the massive wildling army emerges from the woods, their numbers including giants riding atop mammoths. Alliser orders the archers on the Wall to nock their arrows, but they draw instead while Grenn accidently drops a barrel down the Wall. Alliser angrily drills his men on properly following orders when another horn blows from down below at Castle Black, signaling the unanticipated appearance of Tormund's band of wildlings at the castle's southern entrance. Realizing the dire need for experienced men to defend the keep from the surprise attack, Alliser orders Janos Slynt to assume command of the Wall's defenses and heads below to join the melee.
Below, Tormund and Styr's forces charge the gate while Ygritte manages to pick off several men defending the gate with her bow. Pypar is firing a crossbow as Sam assists by reloading another crossbow, but Pypar's aim is poor due to inexperience and nerves and he repeatedly misses his shots. The band of wildlings manage to reach Castle Black's walls and begin scaling them using grappling hooks and ropes, forcing Sam and Pyp to retreat.
Alliser Thorne arrives with reinforcements from the top of the Wall via the wooden lift system, which is being operated by Olly. Alliser gives an impassioned speech, promising that the ancient order of the Night's Watch and Castle Black will survive this battle. His speech rallies the black brothers and Alliser personally leads the charge against the wildlings who have breached Castle Black's defenses, causing an intense battle to erupt in the courtyard.
On the northern side of the Wall, a wildling strike force led by two giants (one of which is riding a mammoth) charge towards Castle Black's outer gate. On top of the Wall, Janos Slynt, having no true leadership experience, breaks down at the sight of the massive wildling army and begins fumbling his orders. Grenn steps in by falsely claiming that Alliser needs Janos back down in Castle Black. Janos believes the lie and leaves, allowing Jon to take command of the Wall's defenses. The black brothers continue to rain down arrows on the advancing wildlings, even killing ones that are attempting to scale the Wall. One giant, armed with a massive bow, manages to fire a huge arrow at one of the bunkers atop the Wall, completely obliterating it and killing the black brother manning it.
Down in Castle Black, the battle rages on between the wildlings and the Night's Watch. Styr and Ygritte continue to slay numerous black brothers. At one point, a group of wildlings breach Castle Black's dining hall. One wildling is killed when a black brother throws boiling stew in his face and beats him to death with the pot. Hobb, Castle Black's cook, calmly enters the dining hall and kills a wildling with his massive butcher's knife. Meanwhile, Janos Slynt hides in the back of the kitchens, where he discovers Gilly and her baby.
Pyp manages to kill a wildling with his crossbow, but is then shot through the neck by Ygritte. Sam comforts Pyp and stays with him until he dies. Sam is forced to leave Pyp's body and as he heads to Castle Black's lift system, but he is spotted by the Thenn warg. The warg charges at Sam as he desperately attempts to load his crossbow, managing to do so and firing a bolt into the warg's head just before he reaches him. Meanwhile, Alliser Thorne is locked in a vicious duel with Tormund on the catwalks of Castle Black, both seemingly evenly matched in skill. However, Thorne suffers a grievous wound and is forced to retreat, being dragged to safety as he continues to shout orders to his men.
The black brothers defending the Wall manage to repel most of the wildlings attacking the outer gate, but one giant manages to make it through, greatly weakening the gate by repeatedly smashing it with his fists and managing to singlehandedly begin lifting the gate. Jon, knowing the inner gate won't hold against the massive giant, sends a group of black brothers led by Grenn to hold it at any cost. Sam arrives atop the Wall to ask Jon for more men to defend the castle, and Jon tasks Sam with releasing Ghost from his pen to assist in the fighting. Jon descends the Wall and finally enters the fray, quickly dispatching several wildlings and catching the attention of Styr; the two meet in a single combat. Styr eventually gets the upper hand by knocking Longclaw away and brutally assaulting Jon, smashing his face into an anvil and tossing him into the blacksmith's forge. Styr picks Jon up and begins strangling him, but Jon spits blood in Styr's face and distracts him long enough for Jon to grab the blacksmith's hammer lying next to him and buries it in Styr's skull.
Upon killing Styr, Jon turns around to find Ygritte pointing her bow at him with an arrow drawn. He smiles at her, causing Ygritte to hesitate. Before either can say anything, Ygritte is shot through the heart by an arrow fired from Olly, avenging the death of his father at Ygritte's hands during the wildling attack on his village. Jon holds her in his arms as she tells him that they should have never left the cave, and they lament circumstances that prevented them from being together as she succumbs to her wound.
Atop the Wall, Eddison Tollett, who Jon left in command of the defenses, orders the men to drop the 'scythe'. A huge section of ice suddenly falls away from the wall revealing a massive scythe-like blade attached to a chain that swings along the Wall, cleaving through the wildlings attempting to climb its face. Eddison notices the wildling forces are beginning to withdraw into the Haunted Forest, proclaiming that they have stopped them for now, but that the wildlings still outnumber the black brothers 1,000 to 1 and that Mance was simply testing their defenses. Below, a heavily wounded Tormund is surrounded in the courtyard but continues to fight despite being the only wildling alive in Castle Black. He is finally subdued by Jon with a crossbow and taken prisoner by the Night's Watch for interrogation. Sam returns to Gilly just like he promised and discovers Janos Slynt, who hid in fear during the entire battle. Against all odds, the Night's Watch have repelled Mance Rayder's forces for the time being.
The following morning, what is left of Castle Black's garrison begin to regroup and prepare for the inevitable next attack by Mance Rayder. Jon discusses with Sam that he has a suicidal solution to end the wildling threat; he plans to assassinate Mance Rayder, noting that he is the only thing binding the disparate wildling clans that make up the army, and his death will rob them of that purpose and leadership. Sam tries to talk sense into Jon, but to no avail. As Jon prepares to leave via Castle Black's tunnel, they discover the bodies of the black brothers who held the inner gate against the giant. Grenn is amongst the casualties and Jon tells Sam that all bodies must be burned. Before Jon leaves, he remembers the promise he made to Jeor Mormont and decides to leave Longclaw with Sam. Sam tells Jon to come back, and Jon looks and Sam and smiles unreassuringly before stepping out into the wilderness on the other side of the gate.
- Kit Harington as Jon Snow
- John Bradley as Samwell Tarly
- Hannah Murray as Gilly
- Rose Leslie as Ygritte
- Kristofer Hivju as Tormund
- Peter Vaughan as Maester Aemon
- Owen Teale as Ser Alliser Thorne
- Dominic Carter as Lord Janos Slynt
- Mark Stanley as Grenn
- Ben Crompton as Eddison Tollett
- Yuri Kolokolnikov as Styr
- Josef Altin as Pypar
- Brenock O'Connor as Olly
- Joseph Gatt as the Thenn Warg
- Ian Whyte as a Giant
- Neil Fingleton as Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg
- Joe Claflin as Cooper
- Neil Marshall as a Night's Watch Archer
- Jack Roth as Donnel Hill
- Unknown as Hobb
- Unknown as Smitty
- Only 5 of 26 starring cast members for the fourth season appear in this episode, the fewest ever in the history of the show.
- Starring cast members Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister), Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Jerome Flynn (Bronn), Aidan Gillen (Petyr Baelish), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark), Conleth Hill (Varys), Sibel Kekilli (Shae), Rory McCann (Sandor Clegane), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Carice van Houten (Melisandre), and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) are not credited and do not appear in this episode.
- The title is a reference to the words of the oath sworn by new recruits into the Night's Watch, which include the lines: "I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men."
- The episode is directed by Neil Marshall, who previously directed the critically acclaimed season 2 episode "Blackwater".
- Much like "Blackwater", which focused exclusively on King's Landing during the Battle of the Blackwater, this episode focuses entirely on events in or around Castle Black during the wildling assault, and no other storylines appear. This makes it only the third episode in the entire series that doesn't contain a single scene in King's Landing (after Season I's "The Kingsroad" and Season 3's "The Rains of Castamere").
- As a result, King's Landing, Moat Cailin, Winterfell, Braavos, and Meereen do not appear in this episode despite being featured in the opening sequence.
- In the Inside the Episode Guide video, writers Benioff and Weiss acknowledge that in the novels, Pypar and Grenn actually don't die in the Battle of Castle Black (and are still alive as of the current, fifth novel). Pypar's death has no counterpart in the books. Grenn's heroic sacrifice stopping the giant from breaching the tunnel-gate was performed by Donal Noye in the books, a one-armed blacksmith who once served the Baratheons. Many other minor Night's Watch characters also die during the battle in the books. Benioff and Weiss explained that they wanted to show the real cost of the battle and for it to have dramatic impact, which meant they had to kill a few named recurring characters (instead of nameless background extras, which would carry no dramatic weight). Due to the time constraints of adaptation, the TV series has only been able to focus on and develop a limited number of Watch members, never even introducing Donal Noye, while Pyp and Grenn are characters that the audience has grown attached to.
- Jon Snow gained the edge on Styr during the last moment of their fight by spitting blood in his face, giving Jon the moment he needed to grab a hammer and bring it down into Styr's skull. This is roughly the same trick that Karl Tanner used against Jon at Craster's Keep in "First of His Name", nearly killing him.
- In the books, Jon warned Mole's Town about the advanced wildling raiding parties south of the Wall, so most of its inhabitants fled to Castle Black before they arrived. The Night's Watch was so badly outnumbered that they let any of the refugees who were strong enough to fire a bow or crossbow join in the defense, including several of the whores from the brothel. One prostitute named Zei turned out to be a good shot with a crossbow. In the TV series, Mole's Town was taken by surprise and most of its inhabitants were killed, with Gilly as the only survivor who manages to reach Castle Black - though in the books Gilly never went to Mole's Town but stayed at Castle Black. Mole's Town is located only half a league (about two miles) south of Castle Black, so it is entirely plausible that Gilly could reach the Wall by simply walking for several hours in a single night.
- As she is dying in his arms, Ygritte tells Jon Snow that she wishes they could have stayed in that cave, where they made love, back in Season 3 episode 5 "Kissed by Fire". At the time, Ygritte and Jon were bathing together in a hot spring and she said she wished they could stay there forever and hold onto that moment - instead of having to go back outside to a world filled with wars and the conflict between the Night's Watch and wildlings.
- As the writers note in the Inside the Episode featurette, Ygritte's death in Jon's arms is one of the few times that the TV series has used slow motion: they try to use it sparingly because it can be cheesy if overused, but they felt that this was one of the right moments for it. As they explain, the slow motion allows the camera to show Jon's subjective point of view: the battle is raging all around him, but all of that has faded away from his attention and time slows to a crawl as his beloved Ygritte dies. The sounds of the battle are also muted, to show that all of Jon's focus is on Ygritte. To aid this effect, actress Rose Leslie came in for A.D.R. to re-record all of her lines - that way the audio technicians had an entirely clean recording, without any other sounds from the battle, and every little breath, whimper, and effort Ygritte makes after she is shot can be heard. Normally the camera could barely register these sounds, but the scene has switched to Jon's personal perspective and he is holding Ygritte, so he does hear this.
- Maester Aemon revealed to Jon Snow in Season 1 episode 9 "Baelor" that he was actually born Aemon Targaryen, and is a long-forgotten uncle of the Mad King. He was the son of King Maekar Targaryen and grew up as a prince in the royal court. This episode reveals that he also told Samwell at some point, off-screen. Given that Samwell is one of the few well-educated (or even literate) members of the garrison at Castle Black he was appointed as Aemon's steward sending and receiving messages in the ravenry - so given how closely he works with Aemon it is entirely plausible that he explained it to him at some point. In the books, Samwell is aware at this point that Aemon is a Targaryen, though it wasn't made clear if Jon or Aemon himself told Sam. Aemon reiterates to Samwell the warning he gave to Jon in "Baelor" (explicitly saying that he said this to Jon before): that the greatest threat to duty is love, and he should remember that he has taken a vow to the Night's Watch.
- Maester Aemon's story to Samwell about his past is an invention of the TV series: he says that as a young man many girls threw themselves at him, because he was a royal prince, and that one even succeeded, and he still remembers his lost love very clearly. This has led to some fan speculation that this girl was actually Olenna Tyrell (known by her maiden name Olenna Redwyne at the time), particularly because Olenna remarked to Margaery back in Season 4 episode 4 "Oathkeeper" that she had once been engaged to a Targaryen, but didn't like him and seduced Luthor Tyrell to get out of it. Olenna does mention in the books that she was engaged to marry a Targaryen in her youth but did everything she could to avoid the match: in both versions she doesn't say what his name was, though the anecdote about sexually seducing Luthor is an added detail for the TV show (though this could have happened). The possibility that the girl was Olenna, however, would contain several contradictions: first, Olenna said she didn't like the Targaryen she was betrothed to and actively evaded their union, while Aemon says the girl in his past threw herself at him. Second, Maester Aemon is about thirty years older than Olenna. While there is always some chance that the TV series would drastically change the chronology (it did make Aemon the Mad King's uncle instead of his great-uncle), the age difference is quite drastic: in the books, Aemon began training at the Citadel when he was around 9 years old, became a full Maester when he was 19, and then joined the Night's Watch when he was around 35 years old in 233 AL - roughly around the same time that Olenna Redwyne was born. The TV series's anecdote also ignores the fact that Aemon was in training as a maester since he was 9 and would thus have been ineligible for marriage from a young age - though there are numerous examples in history of maesters being seduced (such as Pycelle), and ultimately Aemon could have been released from his vows and challenged his younger brother to become king himself, but in the end he chose not to. So it is possible that women threw themselves at the young Aemon even knowing he was a maester, perhaps hoping he would one day be released from his vows (and very nearly was).
- In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writers Benioff and Weiss gave some details about the new sets built to show more of the top of the Wall in this episode:
- Benioff: "In terms of the sets, our new production designer Deborah Riley did this magnificent top-of-The Wall set, far bigger than what we had before, so you can do walk-and-talks, you can have massive action sequences. It's completely surrounded by green screen, which is apparently the biggest green screen in Europe."
- Weiss: "Neil and Deb both spent a lot of time watching the Kubrick film Paths of Glory to get a sense of how to apply trench warfare set-building to an icy top-of-the Wall environment. She did a really fantastic job. It has to be the biggest Styrofoam piece in existence.
- At the end of the episode, Jon and Samwell find the aftermath of the fight between the giant Mag the Mighty and the six black brothers led by Grenn, which neither Grenn and his men nor the giant survived. Curiously, the bars of the gate are bent outwards, despite the fact that when when last seen, the giant was charging to try to bash the gate inwards. This might be a mistake, but then again, the camera cuts away before we see how Mag ultimately managed to force his way through the gate, so it is possible that he eventually tried to pry it apart.
Alliser Thorne: "Brothers! A hundred generations have defended this castle. She has never fallen before and she will not fall tonight. Those are Thenns on our walls, they eat the flesh of the men they kill! Do you want to fill the belly of a Thenn tonight? 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!"
Pypar: "Sam, I think we are going to die."
Samwell Tarly: "If you keep missing, we will."
Maester Aemon: "Nothing makes the past a sweeter place to visit than the prospect of imminent death."
Tormund Giantsbane: " I should have thrown you from the top of the Wall, boy!"
Jon Snow: "Aye, you should have."
In the books
- The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Storm of Swords:
- Chapter 55, Jon VII: Jon finds Ygritte, shot through the chest with an arrow, and the woman he loved dies in his arms.
- Chapter 64, Jon VIII: Jon orders fire arrows and oil casks dropped on the giants and mammoths.
- Chapter 73, Jon X: Jon goes north of the Wall to meet with Mance Rayder.