After last week's shocker of a fight, this week's episode opens at Castle Black. Jon and Sam are on watch atop the Wall when Sam asks what Ygritte was like. He wants to know how it was to love someone and be loved back, as they will probably all die before Sam gets a chance to know the feeling. Sam says the Gilly never offered herself, but Sam would have seized the opportunity had it been presented. He continues to press Jon as to what love is like, but Jon has trouble describing it. He decides to finish the watch by himself and sends Sam to get some sleep.
South of the Wall, the Thenn's warg uses an owl to scout ahead. Tormund, Ygritte and the rest are getting anxious about the upcoming attack. Ygritte is particularly upset, considering Jon's perceived betrayal. Styr accuses her of letting Jon go, despite her promises to the contrary. Ygritte tells the group that if Jon is still alive and anyone gets in between them, she'll kill them. A hooded figure with a bundle in its arms sneaks past the wildlings.
Back at the Castle, Sam is down in the library instead of in bed when he is interrupted by Maester Aemon. Aemon asks Sam what he is reading, and Sam answers Maester Faull, a supposed expert on wildlings. Sam is worried about what the wildlings did to Gilly and her baby. He denies loving her, but the Maester doesn't buy it. He was in love once, and knows the feeling. He tells Sam to get some rest.
As Sam leaves the library, he hears Pyp arguing with someone at the gate and goes to investigate. It's Gilly! He makes Pyp open the gate and...is not that relieved to see them, weirdly. He promises that they'll be kept safe, and won't leave Gilly's side. Mance's army chooses that moment to make themselves known, and two horn blows sound.
Atop the Wall, Jon looks out at a fire acres long. Black brothers scramble to prepare for the assault, lighting arrows and getting barrels of oil into position. Janos Slynt barks out orders and Ser Alliser converses with Jon. He admits he was wrong about sealing the tunnel. He tells Jon that he needs him on his side tonight, then they can go back to hating each other. The Thenn's warg, still inside the owl, sees the approaching army and informs his comrades.
Sam leads Gilly and her baby to the cellar, assuring her they'll be safe. She doesn't want him to leave and fight, as she thinks he'll do more good staying with her. Sam stresses that he is a man of the Night's Watch and it is his duty to fight, and he kisses her. She makes him promise that the won't die.
Sam then goes to Castle Black's lower gate, where Pyp is getting arrows and oil ready. Pyp is terrified, as he has never fought anyone outside of sparring. He is surprised that Sam appears to not be scared, and questions how he killed the White Walker. Sam tells him that at that moment, he was nothing at all, and when you're nothing you can't be afraid. Not far away, Ygritte spots the two brothers manning the gate and reports back. She sees only twenty men, and believes the wildlings will be over the wall before they even know what's going on. The raiding party moves out and rushes the gate.
Beyond the Wall, Mance's army has begun to move into position. Adding to their already considerable power are a pair of giants, one of which is riding a mammoth. Jon and the others look on in awe as Ser Alliser has the men knock arrows. The hornblower again sounds his horn twice, and points out the wildlings that are now attacking the lower gate. Ser Alliser gives Janos Slynt command of the Wall and goes down to help.
Below, Watchmen arrows are able to pick off a few wildlings as Ygritte returns the favor. Tormund, Styr and the rest being scaling the wall. Pyp fires his crossbow as Sam reloads, but he can't hit anything and starts to lose hope. Tormund climbs into the tower while Styr helps break down the gate. Meanwhile, Ser Alliser has reached the bottom, and gives a speech to rally the men. The two sides clash in the courtyard of Castle Black, and it appears the wildlings have gotten the upper hand right away.
Beyond the Wall, the giants and their mammoth approach the tunnel. Janos, meanwhile, is crapping the bed up top, in complete denial at the power of the wildling forces. He refers to giants as nothing more than a story, despite evidence right before his eyes. Grenn decides to intervene and says Ser Alliser needs him down below, giving Jon command at the top. Jon orders the archers to resume their firing, and they are able to kill a number of wildlings. However, many still get through and begin to scale the Wall. The giant that's on foot returns fire with a bow of his own, destroying battlements with his enormous arrows.
Down below, Styr and Tormund are cutting through black brothers like hot knives through butter, while Ygritte picks off men from afar. Janos reaches the bottom and immediate runs and hides. He finds eventually finds himself in the cellar with Gilly. Pyp and Sam have moved position, and Pyp is able to get his first kill. He pops up for another shot and is hit through the neck by Ygritte. Sam assures him he'll be okay, but Pyp dies in his arms.
As wildlings reach the tunnel, Jon releases barrels filled with stones, which explode on impact and kill many of the attackers. The giants, however, are unfased as they hook the mammoth to the tunnel door and begin to tear it down. Jon realizes the inner gate won't hold, and sends Grenn with five others to hold it. This time, Jon orders the men to release barrels filled with oil. These barrels are lit before they're dropped, and engulf the wildlings in flame and the mammoth runs off, spooked. The grounded giant is killed by a ballista, while the previously mounted one, Mag the Mighty, lifts up the gate with brute force.
Ser Alliser spots Tormund and engages him one-on-one. The two go back and forth, but Tormund is able to cut Alliser across the stomache. The men rush him inside a building to save his life. Meanwhile, Sam takes Pyp's crossbow and makes his way across the courtyard. The warg rushes him, but Sam is able to kill him. Grenn arrives, and Sam takes the lift back up to get men from Jon. He is able to get Jon to join the fight below, and Edd is given command.
In the tunnel, Grenn and the others have reached the inner gate as Mag the Mighty forces himself under the outer one. As the men around him begin to panic, Grenn recites their oath, reminding them of their duty. They get their courage back and face the crazed giants as he sprints towards the inner gate.
As the lift approaches the bottom, Jon tells Sam he doesn't want him fighting. Sam begins to object, but Jon hands him a key, saying, "I need him more than I need you." Jon jumps the few feet to the ground and kills a few wildlings before the camera goes on an epic pan around the entirety of the courtyard in one of the best shots of the entire series. As it reaches Sam, he unlocks a door and releases Ghost, who begins to wreak havoc.
Styr spots Jon and goes after him. Jon holds his own as well as he could hope, but is eventually disarmed. he grabs a chain, but Styr throws him through a fire and pins him up against a wall by his throat. Jon uses a trick he learned fighting Karl Tanner and spits in Styr's face before using a blacksmith's hammer to cave in his skull. He turns around and is greeted by Ygritte, bow trained on his chest. Just before she looses her arrow, however, she is shot through the chest by Olly, the young boy the wildlings let go earlier. Jon runs to her and reassures her it'll be okay, but with her dying breath she utters, "You know nothing, Jon Snow." :(
Meanwhile, the climbers have reached the halfway point on the Wall, and Edd releases their secret weapon. On his command, an enormous anchor is dislodged from the Wall and wipe out the wildlings. Below, the army retreats into the forest as the Night's Watch cheers. Edd says they'll be back soon enough, however. The courtyard battle has also died down, and an arrow-riddled Tormund is captured for questioning. Sam goes and finds Gilly, and to his surprise Janos, in the cellar.
The morning arrives, and the Night's Watchmen attempt to clean up before the next battle that night. Jon decides he needs to get close to Mance and kill him. Without Mance, the wildling army will scatter. Sam says it's a suicide mission, and Jon admits it's not the best plan. However, it's the only one they've got. As he leaves, he finds Grenn and the other five dead in the tunnel, and Mag the Mighty dead halfway through the gate. Sam agrees to burn the bodies while Jon is away. As the outer gate opens, Jon hands Longclaw to Sam for safekeeping and steps out into the morning light.
So, this was my favorite episode of the series. I expected big things from the Battle of Castle Black, and this did not disappoint. While it didn't have the wow factor of Blackwater's wildfire, I enjoyed the battle itself more. Also, the mammoths and giants looked really impressive. I'm pretty sure this was the longest recap I've done. There was so much going on!
Next week: Bran journey reaches its climax, Tyrion meets his fate, Arya and the Hound confront someone, Jon meets with Mance, and dragons.