June 9, 2014 at 1:04 AM ET
Mammoths and giants and Thenns — oh my! "Game of Thrones" one-upped itself yet again Sunday night, devoting an entire hour to the glorious, dizzying, bloody Battle of Castle Black.
Both blood and tears were shed on "The Watchers on the Wall," which bid farewell to a number of fan-favorite characters. (Spoilers for Sunday's episode follow.)
Wilding warrior Ygritte was wrong about no-nothing Jon Snow after all: he knows a lot — particularly about defending The Wall against Mance Rayder's army. He sure knows more about combat than Ygritte does — especially since she's dead. Aw! (Or yay?)
After Ned Stark's bastard son plunged a hammer into the ugly bald head of Thenn leader Styr, he turned to find his ladylove aiming an arrow directly at him. But Ygritte hesitated, just long enough to be shot in the heart by a young boy — the son of the villager she killed during the Wildings' attack. Well, you know what they say about karma. Still, it was a little heartbreaking to see Ygritte die in her lover's arms, saying, "We should've stayed in that cave."
(Should've, would've, could've: Tormund, Rayder's No. 2, said the same thing — "I should've thrown you from the top of The Wall" — after Jon Snow captured him and had him led away in chains.)
That cave, remember, is where Jon Snow broke his Night's Watch vows, which suddenly sassy Samwell Tarly now insists are "open to interpretation."
After Snow, White Walker killer Sam was the bravest crow in Castle Black. And he was rewarded with a kiss from Gilly, who survived. Maester Aemon (who, P.S., is the Targaryen brother of the Mad King Aegon) was so wrong when he warned him earlier that "love is the death of duty."
Samwell Tarly is a lover and a fighter!
Alas, he was also tasked with burning the bodies of many of his comrades, who sacrificed their lives to defend the castle — including his pal Pyp (killed by Ygritte) and the half dozen who stopped a furious giant who broke through their tunnel.
As exciting as the hand-to-hand combat within Castle Black was, the action atop The Wall — led by Dolorous Edd — was positively electrifying. The Night's Watch used a massive scythe to sweep the Wildings from The Wall (only a single hand remained, which would've made Jaime Lannister cringe), and — in one of television's most visually stunning special effects — sent a mammoth fleeing in flames and mortally wounding another giant.
It was a decisive victory for Castle Black, but as Edd warned his fellow Watchmen, the enemy still outnumber them 1,000 to 1. Which is why Jon Snow left Castle Black once again — on a solo mission to kill Mance Rayder.
Hopefully we'll see their confrontation — and learn the fate of Jon's Stark sisters, the condemned Tyrion Lannister and warrior queen Daenerys Targaryen — in next week's season finale.