Game Of Thrones Season 4 Episode 9 recap

The Wall. Jon and Sam each stare into the bleak, unending night, lost in their own misery. Then it turns out Sam’s misery has a name and it’s spelled G-I-L-L-Y. He wants to know what it was like to be with a girl, you know, with-with, and wants Jon to tell him since he didn’t get the chance. Jon Snow is all “but you’d break your vows” and Sam points out that the vows just say no wife, no children, not no fooling around with fun girls who hang out.  

Amazingly, Sam still wants Jon to explain what it’s like to have sex, and there’s a bit of blather about wrapped up in one another, and then Sam’s like “good thing we’re all dying soon”. An owl agrees.

Ygritte whittles as she sits with the other wildlings. Tormund tells the story of Sheila (who I actually can’t describe what he says about how soft she was underneath) and then Ygritte says she knows Tormund never “fooked” a bear. There it is. Anyway, Ygritte makes the branded cannibal a little angry, but when he challenges her, saying all she’s going to give Jon Snow is Ginger Minge, she screeches that Jon Snow is hers to kill alone. And conveniently, while she’s making a show of herself, a wrapped woman skitters away with a wrapped baby bundle…hooray!

Sam in a…library? The octogenarian librarian yells about how Sam has abandoned his post because he loves Gilly. When Sam protests, Maester goes on to explain how he once loved a girl, and that’s how he knows. But it’s fine, because they’re all going to die anyway.

And then I was going to stop and watch the rest of the episode in the morning, but then Gilly comes to the door and, when Pip swears he won’t open the door, Sam basically says “Like hell you won’t” and brings her in. He doesn’t give a shit why or who wants them not to have women inside the castle walls – this is how it is now.

Oh sh-t. Something that I thought was a wildling talisman or mannequin opens its eyes. And they say “It’s time”. And then, as Jon Snow looks out over the vast wall, a massive moving waterfall of fire comes toward them. It’s incredibly impressive.

Castle Black prepares: oil barrels are rolled out. Jon and Ser Alliser have a talk and Ser explains that he couldn’t be second guessed so that’s why he didn’t plug the tunnel. And some additional muttering about how Ygritte should have finished him off. Jon basically agrees, because what can he say?

Gilly, ushered into a cell somewhere in the depths of the castle, and then Sam prepares to leave her. She protests – he promised up and down that he wouldn’t leave her anymore, and Sam, gallant as all hell since she showed up and gave him a reason to live, kisses her and tells her he’s not going to die. He’ll be there. 

And then we’re outside, and Sam is encouraging Pip, who’s terrified about throwing spears and attacking the wildlings, because he was able to kill a White Walker through not being anything. He was nothing. But now, now with the love of Gilly and the baby, now that he has a new lease on life, well, now he’s not nothing anymore – so he’s scared. Except he speaks like a person who’s not at all. You are witnessing the birth of a new Samwell Tarly.

There’s a little more consultation with Ygritte and then the massive, massive flood of wildlings marches, torches aflame, toward the wall. It’s a little heavy-handed with the music and the torches and the woolly mammoths. But while Jon Snow and the others are focused on the Wall, we realize – we knew – Ygritte and her band are coming up through the south doors.

Jon Snow and the others aim their flaming arrows, and only a couple of them gain purchase. Ser Alliser is the rising rallying cry. “When the sun rises I promise you the castle will stand! The Night’s Watch will stand!” And then he proceeds to swipe and stab with the best of them.

Meanwhile, in the alley/hallway where they’ve been hiding in, Sam and Pip take off at a run….

More battle debate. “Those are giants riding mammoths!” screams Jon Snow, and is told giants don’t exist. Everything has been adding up to this moment, in which Jon Snow is leading the defense of the castle, but I kind of feel, halfway through the episode, like the show is losing its emotional heft with the heavy violins and drama.    Also because, just before we see a quite credible giant scene, we see a shot of said giant jogging, and the humor takes away from the rather dramatic death right afterward.

Inside the castle walls. Ygritte picks off one, then another, then another – meanwhile, the kid refugee from the village pillage watches, tearful, as eyes pop out and heads quite literally roll.

And then, the elderly coward who told Jon Snow giants don’t exist

“I got one, right through the heart, he’s dead.”
“Oh, is it over?”
“Well then [get on with it].”

Guys, I love the new Sam Tarly more than anything. But he pays for his moment of being brave by getting to watch Pip immediately die via an arrow to the neck. He comforts him as he burbles to his death…

North side of the Wall. Jon Snow drops some barrels on the giants, then watches a strange mammoth dance…they get into position to pull the gate at the base of the wall away.   

I mean…are you tense? Because this is one whole episode of a battle comprised of various sub-battles. It’s hard to keep your emotions up for an entire hour at the same intensity, no matter who’s dying.

Here’s who’s dying – Pip. As Alliser screams, pathetically, “Hold that f*cking gate!”, Sam accepts Pip’s death, grabs up a crossbow, shoots, then hides. Sam screams at the men who are running down to hold the gate, then, because nobody will help him, so he recruits Olly – that’s the refugee from the village – and suddenly brave Sam screams “Get me to the top, Olly! And find a weapon!”

Flaming barrels send the giants and mammoths into retreat at the gate. A giant is felled by an arrow. A barrel explodes at the top of a wall. And Sam runs to the top to tell Jon he needs men down below. Jon follows, with instructions to “light the f*ckers up” and tells others to hold the gate against the approaching giant. Six others, to be precise. They recite their Night’s Watch Oath as the giant barrels toward them and straight to the gate.

Sam and Jon stare down at the wildlings in the castle grounds. Burn, rape, pillage.    Sam says there won’t be anywhere to hide if the castle falls, he should just fight, but Jon insists that “I need him more than I need you” and hands Sam the key. And then, Kit Harrington gets to smash and fight through a battle you know he’s been waiting three years for. The cinematography is incredible, as we see battle after battle, never sure where we are but never far.

Sam releases Ghost. “We need you, boy.” And he immediately makes good by sinking into some necks…

Jon Snow is in battle and Ygritte realizes her time is now. She has to get at him if she wants her chance to kill him. She raises her bow – and then she hesitates. Ygritte, never hesitate. Jon fights the biggest, ugliest cannibal wildling as she watches – and finally manages to triumph via a hammer to the skull.  

Ygritte stands there, arrow poised …and then doesn’t get the chance to decide.   Because Olly has shot her through the heart. He nods to Jon, all “you’re welcome”.    Jon runs to catch her, and the most overused catchphrase of this series is uttered once more, in death. Jon rocks her in his arms in the middle of the battle. I’m not going to lie. It’s poignant.

Up above, the men see climbing walkers and deploy a swinging scythe that is apparently attached to the wall for exactly this purpose. Five or six of them are immediately separated from the limbs that held them to the wall …

…And with that, they’re in retreat. The men atop the wall cheer, proud, but they’re warned not to cheer too loudly.

Meanwhile, in the grounds, Tormund is still putting up a bit of a spectacle – it’s not even a fight as he roars and swings around, two arrows in his back. Jon, sadly, sinks a third one and says they’ll question him later. I mean…about what?

And now, in the episode’s sweet spot, Sam goes back to get Gilly. “I promised you, didn’t I?”  She’s elated and Sam’s shocked to find the coward crouching behind the doors…  

And that’s where we end the episode: Sam elated, Jon defeated. Sam’s so happy they held them off, but Jon knows Mance has hundreds of thousands more men. He’s going to find him. Sam sputters that he can’t, but Jon shrugs. Who’s left to give orders anymore? He knows that if he can kill Mance, the wildlings might go back to fighting each other. Sam protests – they won’t just kill Jon, they’ll boil him, flay him.   Make it last days. But when Jon challenges him, it’s clear. He has no other plan.

In the basement corridor – well, the gate didn’t hold, not altogether. Jon’s friend lies, in death, beside the giant. I guess they held it in the sense that the giant didn’t make it upstairs. Jon tells Sam to get help burning the bodies and then – I wish they hadn’t done this grand, majestic shot of the two of them from behind because it makes Jon Snow look like a kid – he tells Sam to raise the gate to let him out. His mind is made up. He unstraps his sword, he promised he’d never lose it again. He hands it to Sam, who bids him to come back. Jon Snow looks out into the nothingness that faces him to the North. Sam is left alone.  

Okay. I get why this was an important battle to watch, but I really thought we could have used an insert of almost anything else. It was unsustainable to be worried about the Night’s Watch for that long, that unrelentingly, knowing that ultimately there would be death and blood-loss whether we spent an hour there or 20 minutes.   And of course, the utter spectacle was amazing to watch – invigorating, even – but it just stopped having the same impact after, say, minute 19. I don’t want to be cynical about it but after a while it stopped feeling like it should have – like it would have – if we’d cut away for even a few moments.

And of course, it’s also to set us up even more anxiously for the fate of Tyrion and Sansa and everyone else in Westeros. I get that episode 9, the penultimate, is to make you wait for 10. I just feel like I could have felt even more if I’d had the chance to breathe.

See you next week.