I imagine there are many viewers who were watching tonight’s episode in anticipation of Tyrion’s fate per the brutal death of Oberyn Martell, his champion in the trial by combat. However, tonight’s episode focused solely on events at The Wall. While I am sure there are going to be viewers who disagree, I really think this was a good decision made by the show creators who actually wrote the episode.

Imagine Ygritte’s death and then cutting to a justified sneer on Cersei’s face – it wouldn’t have worked. The entire episode built upon action and emotion, and by the time Ygritte and Jon came face-to-face my heart was in my throat. The episode was reminiscent of “The Battle of Blackwater Bay” back in season two, which also took place in one location within one storyline. In order for the impact to be felt and for the flow of events to make sense, the episode had to focus completely on the battle at The Wall.

The Wall is Like Real Important Ya’ll

I feel like with so many interesting storylines all happening at the same time it’s easy to forget the Night’s Watch, just like the rest of the realm seems to do. However, the real war – the war between good and evil – is rising in the icy unknown and The Wall is all that separates that evil from the realm. Oral histories of a time of monsters and men have been reduced to tales told by Septas to young children South of The Wall. The Night’s Watch, once a proud and plentiful order of knights has also been reduced to rapists and thieves pulled from dungeons, bastards with no claims and men banished from society. The order has become a joke, an ancient tradition that is no longer relevant– except, it’s actually the most important storyline aside from Daenerys and her climb to the Iron Throne … and the fact that her dragons are the realm’s greatest source of defense against an army of White Walkers.

Everything that is happening in King’s Landing is politics, plays for power and revenge stemming from man’s ego. What’s happening at The Wall is so much bigger than the game of thrones, because an old evil has awakened, and there will be no more Iron Throne if the White Walker army gets south of The Wall. The Wall was built to defend against these very ancient evil powers, in fact the wall itself is protected by magic, but over time people forget about things like that, they become comfortable in their long years of security, and instead they become interested in things like family legacy and power.
We follow Lord Baelish, Daenerys, Tyrion and Brienne because they are interesting characters living in this world, but underneath their plotlines pulses the very heartbeat of the entire land – old magic that has been awakened. Melissandre actually informed us that magic had returned to the realm when she appeared in season two. In the wake of this new era of magic returning to the realm – direwolves were found south of The Wall, Dany’s dragons were born, the White Walkers have risen, Brandon Stark is a powerful warg with a mysterious purpose and the Lord of Light’s sorcerers are gaining power.

Sam the Man

There are a lot of character transformations we have witnessed in this show, but I am glad to finally see Sam come into his own. He’s typically portrayed as a hefty, clumsy nerd. But in this episode, Sam comes alive as a man of the Night’s Watch. His purpose is to defend The Wall, and not even Gilly’s wide eyes can convince him otherwise. How about that moment when Sam finds Gilly at the gate? The way she says his name in a cry of desperate relief; it empowers him and gives him something to protect. Maester Aemon says that ‘love is the death of duty,’ but I think that Sam proves him wrong. If anything, Sam’s love for Gilly and for his friends makes him brave when facing the siege. This is going to be a new Sam we see in the future.

Leadership

Watching the Night’s Watch leadership crumble in the midst of a siege was painful, but it was also interesting to see who stepped up to take on leadership roles in their place. Allister Thorne fought until he was brought down, a true man of the Night’s Watch who even admits to Jon that he was right about closing off the tunnel. The two become brothers for a night, united in their cause, in their duty. Of course, when he goes below to fight he leaves Janos Slynt in charge and that guy just froze in action.

Men in battle know when a weak leader is about to get them all killed, so the trick to get Janos to leave was for the best. His hiding in the pantry with Gilly will definitely be significant in the future when the question of leadership arises. He is a proven coward. Jon took to leadership as everyone knew he would, and when they all looked to him atop The Wall for his orders there was no hesitation in his decision-making. How long have we all been waiting to see Jon calling the shots? It’s in his blood; he is as adept a commander as his brother, Robb.

The Wall’s Defenses

So I know I mentioned that The Wall itself is said to be protected with some old magic, but how about that giant hook thing that swung off the side and knocked the climbers down? Also, dropping barrels of explosives and raining down arrows from high above gives the men on The Wall an advantage over the army of Wildlings attacking it. Then there were the men in the pulley harnesses facing down the wall and shooting at the climbers, which is another awesome invention. I think I was most impressed with the manufactured avalanche and giant swinging hook, but now we can see WHY the wall was built so high. A lot can be done when you are that high above whatever it is that is coming your way. The Wildlings may just be attacking The Wall to get past it and get south, but The Wall was really built to keep out the White Walkers, and we all know they’re coming.

You Know Nothing, Jon Snow

Oh, man. I’m not gonna lie – I got a little watery-eyed when Ygritte and Jon saw each other. She has an arrow aimed at his chest and he looks at her and painfully smiles. I am curious if this was a direction or a choice by Kit Harrington, but the smile is what made this last encounter really work for me because the expression says so much. He smiles because he’s happy to see her, because of the irony of her pointing yet another arrow at him and the fact that even after the love they have shared they are back to where they started: enemies. But before she can loose the arrow or drop her bow, she is shot in the back by a boy Sam stirred into action. It made the killing seem wrong, but every bit of this siege is wrong. At the root of everything it’s just people killing people because they are different from one another, instead of banding together to fight their common enemy: the White Walkers.

I’m excited to see Jon as a leader, because he has been far too whiny for far too long. For a long time I thought it was Kit Harrington’s acting, but now I think I see that Jon’s insolence and bouts of self-righteousness followed by melancholy were acts of a young man struggling to find his place in the world. But Jon has a much more important role to play now that Castle Black is in shambles and there is no reliable leadership. I can’t wait to see what happens with his meeting with Mance Rayder in the season finale.

A few bad ass moments …

  • The visual play of light and dark. It’s night when the attack commences, but the enormous fire beyond The Wall, the lights from the fire arrows coming to life atop the wall, and the lights of torches held by the wildling army as they charged The Wall all create a very interesting parallel to things we have heard Melissandre say in regards to the Lord of Light.
  • Sam killing that Thenn coming toward him, well pretty much everything Sam does in this episode from saying “fuck” to kissing Gilly, to his bravery in action. I feel like a proud parent.
  • Jon handing Sam the key to where Ghost is locked up. Ghost is a powerful ally in this war of men and beasts.
  • Those pissed off giants and a wooly fucking mammoth, and yet Janos Slynt still refuses to believe they exist even though they are literally knocking at his gates. This reminded me of Republicans and climate change, you know, just a little. And that was a dig, you know, just a little.
  • Jon slamming a hammer through a Thenn’s head. That is all.
  • The departures from the book. There were several, especially regarding Jon and Ygritte and the death of some of his friends, but I felt that the battle stayed cohesive and was emotionally more intense and revealing due to these changes. But please, if you’ve read the books, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.

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