Episode: 39
Airdate: June 8, 2014
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by), David Benioff (creator), D.B. Weiss (creator), David Benioff (written for television by), D.B. Weiss (written for television by)

How quickly this season is going by. This coming week brings us the penultimate episode of Season 4 of Game of Thrones, and soon we’ll be facing the long, hot, then kinda cool, then downright cold, then almost kind of warm again, wait until the next season begins. The good news is that we do have two more episodes to enjoy before the wait, and if this season runs out like each of the previous three, the true climax of the season should be this Sunday. In Season 1, we had a rather unexpected execution; in Season 2, the Battle of the Blackwater; and in Season 3, the infamous Red Wedding. So what will Season 4’s ninth episode bring us? How can Benioff and Weiss follow last week’s absolutely stellar outing? Click through to get my take on where we’re going.

<<Spoiler Alert: This preview of Game of Thrones S04E09 – “The Watchers on the Wall” – will discuss major plot points and events suggested by previous episodes and the Promo video; read further at your own risk!>>

What do those eyes see?

What do those eyes see?

The weekly synopsis over at IMDB says: Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch face a big challenge.

Wow, talk about sparse! But that’s rather fitting, given the spartan lifestyle of the men of the Night’s Watch. This means that the vaunted 100,000, Mance Rayder’s army of Giants, wildlings, Thenns and more, will be arriving at the wall. With Tormund Giantsbane’s troops, including Ygritte, and some of the Thenns already south of the Wall, this should lead to a pitched battle on two sides for the beleaguered Night’s Watch. 102 Crows might be able to hold the Wall, but if it has already been breached, then the game acting Commander Ser Aliser Thorne is preparing to play is not the game that is actually being laid out before him. Too bad he didn’t listen to Jon’s suggestion to seal the tunnel through the Wall before Mance’s army arrives.

That doesn’t give us too many details. Next, let’s take a look at the Promo video for this week’s episode:

A pretty action-packed thirty seconds or so. We begin with a voice-over flashback, as we hear Master Aemon from back in Episode 109 “Baelon,” saying, “Love is the death of duty.” As he speaks we see Tormund’s soldiers standing up – a decision has been made or an order given – and Ygritte looks disturbed by what she’s just heard. Night on top of the Wall, and we see Jon Snow striding forward to look out over the wilds. He stops, and looks even more disturbed than Ygritte. What does he see? It’s hard to describe what 100,000 men, women, giants, and others look like, but the vast horde before him, fires burning behind them, makes a pretty good attempt to show it. We see a Thenn by his facial scarring, who says, “It’s time” in a passionless voice. As the music swells and tempo indicates something is coming, we see wildlings and giants walking through the forest, and Ser Alliser Thorne trying to rally the Crows. He shouts, “Tonight, we fight.” As he speaks, we see scenes of battle in the night. He continues, “And when the sun rises I promise you, Castle Black will stand.” We see quick flashes of Tormund, Ygritte, Sam Tarly (appearing to be fighting!), and Jon Snow, who appears to be fighting at the least a half-giant. The Promo ends with a wildling charge, and a giant putting his shoulder into the gate guarding the tunnel through the Wall.

So, just like in Season 2, we’re going to get a battle to focus on in Episode 9. It’s interesting that the voice-over from Aemon is also from a ninth episode, Episode 109, when Ned Stark had his head taken and his son Robb went to war, initiating the War of the Five Kings. Episode 209 saw the biggest battle in that war, and Episode 309 was the end of Robb’s bid with his death at the hands of Walder Frey and Roose Bolton. Episode 409 is going to shift the battle decidedly north. Winter is coming, as the Stark family motto goes, and the real war facing Westeros, and indeed the whole world, is here, at the Wall. But it isn’t against Mance Rayder and his armies, despite the fact that they will clash with Jon Snow and the 102 Crows defending Castle Black; rather, it is with the white walkers and other, unnamed horrors that are driving the wildlings south. The War of the Five Kings has divided a people that needs to be united as winter falls, and the battle to come between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings is a continuation of this motif: we’re just too plain stupid to realize when it’s time to put away our petty enmities, and focus on the real enemy right in front of us.

This isn’t to say that all is lost; after all, HBO has renewed Game of Thrones through Season 6, and Benioff and Weiss have stated that they’ll wrap up the show in Season 7, so whatever happens at the Wall this coming Sunday, it won’t be the end of anything; perhaps, however, a beginning.

Following the events in King’s Landing, and the particularly gruesome death of Prince Oberyn, taking a break from that storyline is a wise decision. Focusing on the North for an entire episode will serve two purposes: first, it will allow a break from the breathtaking pace set by several storylines last week, allowing viewers to catch their breath in preparation for the inevitable cliffhangers they’ll be throwing at us in the final episode; and second, it will serve to bring the focus of the entire show to where it inevitably must come, the danger beyond the Wall. Remember, the Wall was built in times beyond memory, for reasons equally lost. But there’s no way the past inhabitants of Westeros would build a 700 foot tall mountain of ice 300 miles across the entire continent, if what they were protecting the rest of the world from wasn’t dire indeed. We’ve seen glimpses – wildlings, giants, White Walkers – but I guarantee you we haven’t seen the worst of what the far North has to offer – the White Walkers are bad enough, but there will be worse. Much worse.

But that’s for another season. For now, the battle between the wildlings and the Night’s Watch give us our first real land battle in Westeros this season, and should serve as just as great a pivot for the series as was the naval battle seen in the Battle of the Blackwater. Look to see events in this episode drive policy in King’s Landing in the future.

If there is any other story covered in this episode, it will likely be in a very short form, perhaps as an end-of-episode vignette. For now, the focus is on Jon; let’s hope he and his northerners can do as stunning a job as we saw from Sansa, Dany, Ser Jorah, and the incredible Red Viper himself, Prince Oberyn, in last week’s masterful episode.

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