The Battle of Castle Black, which is the main focus of Season 4 Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall,” is one of my most favorite battles in Game of Thrones history mainly because it didn’t have a lot of flash. Instead, it focused on establishing the plight of the episodes’ underdogs — Jon Snow and the men of the Night’s Watch, who were given the impossible task of protecting the wall with very low manpower, little to no battle experience and even lesser weapons, all while the enemy has the numbers, the skills and even giants and mammoths to help them in their siege.
Synopsis: Before there were White Walkers, the Night’s Watch had their hands full with the threat of wildling attack, protecting the wall from being breached by the freefolk who want to claim their place in the Seven Kingdoms. Under the command of their leader Manse Rayder, the wildlings prepare an overwhelming assault on Castle Black, protected only by 100 men compared to hundred-thousand strong forces of the wildlings. Each man must step up to uphold his vow as the night draws on and danger lurks from all corners.
When I rewatched this episode, I was gripped with the very same feelings I had when I first watched it in 2014 and knowing what happens at the end of the battle did not keep me from feeling as though my heart has broken a thousand times over the sheer bravery and tenacity of the Night’s Watch. I felt sentimental about seeing Jon with his friends Grenn, Pyp, Ed and Sam together for the last time. I was impressed by how Grenn pulled off his dramatic final moment as he recited his vows in the face of a giant’s attack. The sense of brotherhood was strong and genuine among the six men who held the gates and their heroism was a pivotal moment in the Night’s Watch pulling off an uncanny victory on the first night of the siege. Ed, who usually stood at the sidelines truly embraced his moment in the lead as he and a handful of his brothers mustered up every inch of their courage to stop the wildlings from scaling the wall. I loved it when he realized he was in charge and with a mighty heave, he ordered the next move in a heroic, yet expletive filled yell.
This episode was important because Jon Snow begins to grasp a strong sense of leadership in this episode when he is thrust into the role because no one else was truly capable of doing so. His swordsmanship was exceptional, of course, being trained by Ser Rodrick Cassel, Winterfell’s Master at Arms. I contrast though, his comrades were quite literally overwhelmed by the barbaric wildlings and their sheer strength. We also see Jon’s struggle to save his brothers all while trying to forge peace with Manse Rayder, a man he has come to admire from beyond the wall.
The little twit Ollie in this episode, begins to compete with King Joffrey as one of my most hated characters, a hatred which soldifies after what happens in the following episode.
I loved that the Battle of Castle Black focused on the fighting first and foremost, and the chaos that was simultaneously happening at the grounds of Castle Black and beyond the gates of the stronghold. Yet, at the same time, it also delivers on the poignant moment when Jon and Ygritte come face to face once again. As a shipper of Jygritte, I was touched by their final and reluctant farewell and was comforted in the knowledge that even though Ygritte claimed to hate Jon, deep down, she truly loved him. In much the same way, Sam’s relationship with Gilly gains some headway in this installment.
All in all, the Battle of Castle Black was dark, intense, panic-inducing and action packed. There was non stop fighting, casualties piled up like a Christmas tree on Christmas morning, a great show of courage, loyalty, duty and sacrifice — most especially sacrifice. It was extraordinary victory for the Nights Watch but it came at the cost of tragedy, brothers lost on both sides and none came out the better at night’s end.