'Game of Thrones' recap: Outnumbered 'crows' wage epic battle

'Game of Thrones' recap: Outnumbered 'crows' wage epic battle
A giant (Neil Fingleton) breaks into the tunnel leading to Castle Black on "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Staying true to their vows despite being outnumbered 1,000 to 1, the Night's Watch "crows" heroically defend Castle Black from the fearsome wildling army on HBO's "Game of Thrones."

"The Watchers on the Wall," the penultimate episode of Season 4, refers to the oath recited by recruits when they join the Night's Watch. Their thankless mission is to guard The Wall, a 300-mile fortification on the edge of nowhere.

"I am the sword in the darkness," the crows pledge. "I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men."

Shields they are indeed, for the Night's Watch is the last line of defense protecting the Seven Kingdoms from enemies to the far north.

Those threats include King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) and his 100,000-strong wildling army. Plus giants and wooly mammoths!

Knowing an attack is imminent and their odds of survival are slim, Night’s Watch brothers Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Samwell Tarley (John Bradley) turn to a far happier topic -- love.

Not that Jon is an expert, but he did enjoy a brief romance with wildling Ygritte (Rose Leslie), a deadly archer. Ygritte was furious when Jon abandoned her to rejoin the Night’s Watch.

“What did I get for it? An arrow six inches from my heart,” Jon bitterly recalls.

Sam soon gets a taste of love when his sort-of-girlfriend Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her infant son escape the Mole’s Town massacre and make it to Castle Black.

“From now on, wherever you go, I go,” Sam tells Gilly.

“Promise me you won’t die,” Gilly replies as she tenderly kisses him.

Meanwhile, Night’s Watch leader Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) realizes he should have heeded Jon’s advice for protecting Castle Black.

"You can say it if you like. We should have sealed the tunnel while we had the chance, like you suggested," Alliser concedes. But he doesn't second-guess himself when rallying the troops.

"A hundred generations have defended this castle," Alliser yells defiantly. "It's never fallen before. She won't fall tonight!"


Ygritte and her band of wildling warriors beg to differ, however. They're ready to storm Castle Black's vulnerable south gate.

"Let's kill some crows," shouts Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), one of Mance's top lieutenants. The wildlings do just that as they burst into the castle armed with swords, bows and axes.

Jon is nearly slain by an especially vicious foe, wildling chief Styr (Yuri Kolokolnikov), who eats the flesh of his victims. But Jon finally dispatches him with a hammer blow to the head.

Dazed from the struggle, Jon is now an easy target for Ygritte. She draws her bow but hesitates as tears fill her eyes.

Then young Olly (Brenock O'Connor), whose parents were murdered by the wildlings, fires an arrow into Ygritte's chest.

"You remember that cave?" Ygritte asks Jon, referring to their lovemaking in a hot spring. "We should have stayed in that cave," she whispers, drawing her last breath.

After suffering heavy losses, the Night's Watch beats down the raiders from the south and fends off the massive army to the north. Yet it's only a temporary reprieve.

"Mance was testing our defenses," Jon says. "He almost made it through."

Victory can be achieved, however, if Mance dies.

"The wildling army is only an army because of Mance," Jon says. "He united a hundred warring tribes." Without their leader, the wildlings will resume fighting each other before scattering back to their homes.

But Jon setting off by himself to kill Mance is a suicide mission, Sam warns.

"You're right. It's a bad plan," Jon admits. "What's your plan?"