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I didn’t expect last night’s episode to be as thrilling as it was, I’ve never really found the Men of the Nights Watch storyline interesting, a bunch of men guarding a wall in rather unglamorous settings. Scratchy moody men…no real drama besides the politics of student and master. But last night proved there was more to the Men of The Nightswatch than meets the eye, for one the Maester is really Aemon Targaryen- relative of Daenerys Targaryen, Khaleesi- whose life before the wall, we are now curious to know about, as well as the woman of whom he speaks, my money is on Lady Olenna, remember when she told Margaery that she “was to be given to a Targaryen or other”. I’d like to know how he came to be the Maester of the Night’s Watch and how he lost his sight. He opened a whole can of curious worms last night.
This episode ultimately centred around Jon Snow, it shifted his course and put him in the main character seat. He lead the Night’s Watch to victory and had the small pleasure of knowing he’d been right all along and his commander wrong about the attack on Castle Black, it is what ultimately gave him the cojones to lead the men to victory and killed one of my favourite new characters this season, Styr. That scene with Ygritte…she was meant to die, they could never end up together, far be it for George R.R. Martin to let true love win. But it gave him a moment of happiness in the midst of bloodshed to see her again and it is Sod’s Law that she should die by the arrow of the boy whose parents she killed. Karma is a bitch. At the end of the battle, with the castle still standing, we see Jon Snow walk out into the thick of winter, determined to talk or fight this thing out with Mance Rayder. Its a bad plan but its the best bad plan he has.
The battle itself was a conflict of Jon’s loyalties; he once was a Wildling and fell in love with a Wildling girl. In the same vein he was and remained a Man of The Nights’ Watch. Ygritte knew the truth about Jon’s loyalties but always believed he would have her back regardless. And having her back meant having the back of her kind. How does he honour that without going against his kind on either side. As the Maester said, “Love is the death of duty”. At least he didn’t have to kill Ygritte, although I wonder if he would have killed her if it came down to it… hmm. The battle in the larger sense of it, when it wasn’t reduced to Ygritte and Jon, was well fought- there was confusion and fear, a lack of strategy and a show of cowardice. At times it felt a little light handed but it was still a well fought and hard won battle. Everyone had a significant part to play or not play in it. Even dopey Sam showed up for battle and Ghost made a guest appearance too. Ser Alliser managed to redeem himself some when he admits his pettiness to Jon Snow and the real reason why he’d been so pig headed in the first place. And then he went down swinging.
And now we are left wondering what will happen between Jon Snow and Mance Rayder. Where does this battle end and what becomes of Jon Snow when it does?
By making this episode solely focused on the Battle of Castle Black the writers and producers risked the audience being bored because as I’ve said the Nights Watch don’t inspire the most interesting stories however, there were important sub plots within the bigger plot- Jon and Ygritte, Sam and Gilly, Maester Aemon, Ser Alliser, Oliver etc. Those pockets of important stories filled what could have been a void plenty. The Wall is vulnerable now and Mance Rayder can attack any moment and take them all out so its good that Jon seeks him out first but will he come back alive?
I didn’t think I would enjoy this episode but what a cracking one it was.