Jon Snow the leader, fucking giants with arrows the size of canoes, a 500-foot windshield wiper, a little boy deciding the future of Jon Snow's relationship with an un-bathed wildling woman, and Samwell getting that much closer to getting laid.
When I first heard that an entire episode was going to be devoted to Jon Snow and the Night Watch, I was curious, and only a little interested. Then, before watching the episode on Sunday night, I thought to myself, "This season has been flawless up until now, so I have really no right to think that this is going to be an odd choice of story telling for a show that has so flawlessly jumped from multiple characters and stories inside of every episode up until now."
What ends up being a narrative first for the entire series ends up being, in my opinion, one of the most action-filled episodes in the show's four-season run. The episode starts slow with a lot of focus on Samwell Tarley and his concern for his woman. We get long discussions and wildling campfire planning, and I started to sense that there was going to be needless time spent in this one area when I'm sure there is still TONS more material to be finished up in only one more episode this season.
Then the giants on wooly mammoths showed up. And holy shit did the episode immediately become awesome. The asshole Night Watch captain, Alliser Thorne, finally admits to Jon Snow that he was wrong for not listening to him and his advice to barricade the cave entrance to the wall. From this point on, the man decides to fight the incoming wildlings approaching from the South (including Jon Snow's angry ex-girlfriend and the cannibal dudes who eat children's parents), and rallies the men in a surprisingly inspirational moments. The guy also fights pretty damn well. Alliser Thorne = redeemed.
Sure enough, everyone in command is either injured, eviscerated, being added to a cannibal's menu list, or hiding like a coward. So, Jon Snow takes up command atop the wall before entering the battle below. He chooses a handful of men to defend the cave entrance as a single behemoth of a giant enters. We don't find out until the end of the episode that all the men perished defending it, but also fell the giant beast. Heroic defense = success.
Amidst the battle we finally see a more confident Samwell (who finally gets the balls to kiss that damn woman) as he kills his first man (with a crossbow shot to the face).
Jon Snow fights his way in the lower battle and ends up in a confrontation with the lead cannibal guy (who looks eerily similar to Bellator heavyweight fighter James "Colossus" Thompson), and kills him MC Hammer style (you know, with a hammer to the skull = Hammer Time!). Then his woman is there, pointing her bow and arrow at Snow, but before she can choose to kill him or fuck him, the small boy in the Night's Watch nails her in the chest with an arrow of his own, and gives a nod to Jon Snow as though saying, "You didn't want to deal with that bullshit anyway, Snow." And then in her dying words, she concludes their relationship the way it wall began.
"You know nothing, Jon Snow."
And OH FUCK does the wall have an awesome last line of defense in the shape of a giant anchor that can sweep clean the side of the mountainous wall!
Jon personally takes command...commandingly...of the Night's Watch, which shows his transformation into the man that Ned Stark could only have dreamed his bastard son would have achieved. He goes to the cave and decides that he needs to go have a "peaceful speak" with the Wildling leader, Mance Rayder, to end it all. My perception is that this will not end well for Snow.
What I liked about the episode in a general, narrative sense was that, amidst a season full of the darker moments of the entire series (and immediately following one of the three hardest episodes to watch) comes a glimmer of hope. So many times George R.R. Martin has given us reason to rally behind characters only to betray us and kill their storyline with a crushing blow. In this moment, with the men of the Night's Watch who arguably could be considered the most "written-off" of characters given their situation and standing amidst the hell that is Westeros, we are given glimpses of heroism, redemption, and flat-out uplifting successes.
Against lesser odds, bigger men have fallen in "Game of Thrones." But, in one of the most overwhelming of odds, the outnumbered men that are essentially the bastard "forgotten ones" of the realm achieve the greatest success (albeit temporarily) of any others in the "Game of Thrones" history. In that, we the viewers are given a refreshing breath of fresh air, and a slight reason to hope that some good can come to at least a few of the characters we love.
P.S. Notice the fade-to-white at the end of the episode? In film making, that typical portends to good dealings or "happy endings" as opposed to the more finite fade-to-black method. I know as I write this, some "Game of Thrones" novel enthusiasts are laughing their asses off at my expense.