Jeez, I take a week off and all this happens: fan fave Prince Oberyn took a night train to the Big Adios courtesy of the Mountain, the Hound tells everyone (well, the guards at the Eyrie) Arya is alive and well, Sansa announces her true identity to the nobles of the Vale. And the best part about those last two? Never happened in the books.
These deviations bear some consideration, now that show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have just about caught up with George R. R. Martin in print, and it was recently hinted it will now take eight -- not seven -- volumes to finish the story. With other changes (that I've hopefully detailed here sufficiently) already in place, we could be seeing even more dramatic departures.
Whatever, you're not listening, because last night was EPIC, brah! Giants! Mammoths! Hollering! Mance's wildling army finally arrived at the wall and, as was the case with the Battle of the Blackwater before it, we stayed on location -- with Jon Snow and company -- for the whole episode.
Locations (* = new): Kings Landing, Moat Cailin, Winterfell, The Wall, Braavos, Meereen
This is all misleading, as the locations have rarely been indicative of where the action is for at least a season. Winterfell, for example, is still shown every week (and how long can it keep burning?), while Braavos was featured in only one episode, and I suspect is included to placate viewers wondering what the hell is going on with Stannis.
Ser(s) Not Appearing in this Episode: Everybody but the Sworn Brothers of the Night's Watch and Ygritte's raiding party.
We begin quietly enough, with Jon (Kit Harington) and Sam (John Bradley) sitting on the dock of, uh, the Wall. The two talk about their respective wimmens (Ygritte and Gilly, sort of for the latter), and Sam demonstrates his knowledge of Westerosi legalese by pointing out the Oath doesn't forbid *intercourse*, per se. It's a light moment, and pretty much the last one of the evening.
Juxtapose that with the discussion Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) have about whether or not he had sex with a bear. She and Styr the unfriendly cannibal (Yuri Kolokolnikov) also have words, while Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Craster, Jr. walk unnoticed to Castle Black, where Sam convinces Pyp (Josef Altin) to open the [fucking] gate and let her in. Good security there, guys.
Then again, the wildlings had a fire burning less than a quarter mile away from Castle Black. Nobody's very obesrvant when it's that cold out.
"Thousands of books, and no eyes to read them." Twilight Zone fan Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) laments his lack of vision to Sam, and also sniffs out his motives for going to the library, relating a story of the young loves of Aemon Targaryen. Dude was a playah, but we really don't have time for this, because shit is about to hit the fan.
The attack begins, and Lord Commander Thorne (Owen Teale) admits to Jon that sealing the tunnel would've been a good idea. He also leads the defense against the rear wildling attack, while Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) goes bye bye in the face of Mance's attack. Grenn (Mark Stanley) cannily sends him down to Castle Black (please get eaten, please get eaten).
Sam and Pyp assist the ground defense as much as possible, until the latter takes an arrow in the throat (fuckin' Ygritte). Honestly, it seems like the wildlings could have won their sneak attack with just her, Tormund, and Styr. But Jon Snow finally shows up (and Sam turns Ghost loose) and the tide finally turns in the Watch's favor.
"The Watchers on the Wall" had some great moments, especially the pissed off giants and the giant ice anchor that Swiffered the wildling climbers off the Wall (though wouldn't they have been too tired to fight if they ever reached the top?), and Neil Marshall (who also directed "Blackwater") has a good feel for the battles in ASOIAF. However, the lack of focus on the Wall in previous weeks made everything feel hurried. Worse, we didn't have a whole lot of emotional investment in characters we've barely seen all season. But then, that happens a lot in GoT, especially when you're trying to tell thousands of pages of story in 10+ hours.
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And would it have killed them to light a few more torches? We had to pretty much turn off every light in the house to see what was going on.
At episode's end, Mance's army has retreated (for now), Tormund is imprisoned, and the wildling raiding party defeated, but at quite the cost (Grenn!). Jon decides to go kill Mance, which will hopefully cause the wildlings to disperse. It's a pretty shit idea, but as Jon says to Sam, "What's *your* plan?"
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: The sneak attack took place before Mance's assault, and the end result was a bit more fiery; the redemption of Alliser Thorne wasn't a Thing; a ninja defense of the wall wasn't necessary; giants have longbows? Pyp died? Wait, *Grenn* died? Donal Noye fought the giant (Mag the Mighty) at the inner gate.
Next Week: SEASON FINALE TIME! Tyrion faces the music, Arya and the Hound make new acquaintances, and something cray-cray is probably going to happen.