TV Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 Episode 9: “Battle of Bastards”
****WARNING!!! MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!!!!****
Synopsis: Dany consults with Tyrion to defend Meereen from the Wise Masters. Theon and Yara arrive in Slaver’s Bay with a proposal for the Mother of Dragons. Jon Snow and the forces of the North confront Ramsay Bolton and his army at Winterfell.
Review: I don’t know if there are enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe how spectacular “Battle of Bastards” truly was. There was a copious amount of hype going into this episode. Rumors have it that not only did it take twenty-five days to film the Battle of Winterfell, but the ninth episode of season six was the most expensive in the history of television. It’s rare that the reality lives up to the hype but in this case it did and then some.
With last week’s preview focusing exclusively on the battle, it came as a bit of a shock that “Battle of Bastards” starts out in Meereen. I’d assumed that episode nine would be akin to episode nine of season four, taking place at only one locale. Thankfully that wasn’t the case because the action at Meereen, while not as epic as what happens in Winterfell, is damn close. One of the things that concerned me about Dany’s triumphant return was how she was going to react to Tyrion cocking up the entire situation in her absence. Watching a great politico stammer and stumble in front of the Mother of Dragons was most entertaining. Tyrion stating that Meereen flourishing without slavery is a threat to the Masters is the statement that sways Dany’s opinion. Dany wisely decides to keep Tyrion on as her adviser, as her initial proposal to Tyrion was to kill all the masters and burn their cities. The Imp remarks that that’s her father’s way and reveals to Dany the Mad King’s plan to burn King’s Landing to the ground when the city was attacked. This is significant in that we didn’t know Jamie had told Tyrion of this. Who’d ever thought that Tyrion, a Lannister, would have become Dany’s conscience? Irony knows no bounds in the world of Game of Thrones.
Although Dany is not her father, there’s a reason House Targaryen’s words are “Fire and Blood.” In the most epic dragon battle since Smaug attacked Laketown, Dany unleashes the full weight of all three of her dragons on the Masters’ fleet. Seriously how badass was it to see Dany riding Drogon, shouting “Dracarys!”and seeing those ships set ablaze like Mance’s funeral pyre? The producers might as well have just blasted, “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with!” while Dany soared through the sky. Watching the Dothraki screamers take out members of the Sons of the Harpy was immensely satisfying as well. Tyrion makes the smart play in letting one of the Masters go to report to the cities what he saw in Meereen. Sometimes the threat of destruction can be just as effective as destruction itself. Dany’s aim is to RULE not to subjugate.
To rule one must have allies, and finally Dany acquires some from Westeros. Yara and Theon arrive in Meereen offering fealty and ships to Dany. Tyrion’s verbal assault of Theon was a little cruel I thought but at the same time, I think it was coming from a bitter place within Tyrion. Tyrion’s been discounted and insulted his whole life. Now that he possesses significant power, he takes full advantage of the opportunity to lord it over someone who wronged him. Petty? Probably. But I guess I can’t blame him. With the Ironborn’s fleet and the ships of the slain Masters, Dany finally has enough ships to go home. I think there was a certain appeal for Dany in another woman (Yara) ruling a part of Dany’s kingdom. In fact am I crazy or were the two of them flirting? Either way, Dany continues to show she is not her father by insisting that the Ironborn abandon their custom of reaving, raping, and killing to make their way. It will be intriguing to see what happens when Euron finally shows up.
Sansa showing up at the parlay between Jon and Ramsay was a bit of a shock. However, if anyone deserved to be there it’s her. Jon had to have known that his proposal to face Ramsay in single combat to settle the score would never work. He admits later that he did it just to make Ramsay angry. I have to wonder what would have happened if Ramsay had agreed. However, while Ramsay isn’t overly smart, he’s definitely cunning and wisely declines but not before throwing Shaggydog’s head on the ground to prove that they have Rickon. However, Sansa goes and one-ups Ramsay with the line, “You’re going to die tomorrow. Sleep well.” Cold blooded.
I couldn’t help being reminded of Catelyn, while watching Sansa during the battle strategy session. Her look, her manner, her attitude–all of it embodied Catelyn. That fire comes out moreso when Sansa rages at Jon that he doesn’t know Ramsay. Jon doesn’t know what Ramsay is capable of. Again it’s a very feminist moment in the show. War tends to be a patriarchal matter, where a woman’s opinion means nothing. Yet in this case, Sansa’s words hold true. Jon doesn’t know Ramsay. He’s someone who will set traps and toy with people. Sansa pragmatically and correctly tells Jon that Rickon is a lost cause. There’s no way Ramsay lets Rickon live because he’s a threat to Ramsay’s power and position. Poor Rickon. To watch him run away from Ramsay, to watch that psychopath toy with him, and then to kill Rickon just as Jon reaches him? Heartbreaking.
There’s three interesting moments that happen the night before the battle which bear mentioning. The first involves Jon and Melisandre. Jon implores Melisandre not to bring him back to life if he dies. The Red Woman says she cannot promise that, that she serves the Lord of Light. Yet she’s not sure why he was saved. There’s a theological moment there where Jon questions what kind of god the Red God is and Melisandre remarks, “The only one we have.” It is a bleak commentary on theology and the nature of gods. A subsequent scene between Tormund and Ser Davos ties in nicely. They both discuss how they followed the wrong people, Davos, Stannis and Tormund, Mance. Yet they remark how Jon Snow is no King. The suggestion is that maybe we should question who and what we follow whether it be kings or gods or both. Do they have our best interests at heart? The third and final moment came when Ser Davos discovers the animal he made for Shireen at her funeral pyre. He finally realizes what Melisandre made Stannis do. Make no mistake there’s a reckoning coming there.
And then, finally, the Battle of Winterfell.
If you had to pin me down and describe it abstractly, I’d say think of the Battle of Sterling Bridge from Braveheart crossed with every major battle in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s truly epic on a grand scale. What makes it stand out is that the show producers rightly decided to stage the battle from a two-fold perspective. We get to see the overview (infantry charging, arrows flying, battle formations) however we also see the battle from the perspective of one warrior–Jon Snow. It’s almost physically exhausting to watch Jon go from skirmish to skirmish, missing death by inches several times and inflicting death on multiple people. Every detail is painstaking. You can almost smell the coppery scent of blood on Jon’s face. And not for nothing, I’m not a claustrophobic person myself, but goddamn I thought I was choking to death as Jon fell further and further into that pit of bodies.
As the battle wages on it becomes crystal clear that Jon’s forces had no chance from the beginning. Forget about being outnumbered, they were outstrategized. All Ramsay had to do was sit back and lob volley after volley of arrows and wait til Jon’s forces were completely engaged. Then the infantry forces charged in, surrounded the group with shields and spears, and moved in. Even the giant WunWun couldn’t break the line. That should have been it. But of course the Knights of the Vale and Littlefinger show up just in time. I mean we all knew that was going to happen right?
I loved what happens next though. Ramsay retreats and Jon follows him along with Tormund. (How awesome was it that Tormund ripped out Smalljon Umber’s throat with his teeth? Guy is a BEAST.) You could see in Jon’s eyes the battle fever, the blood lust. No one was going to convince him to stop going after Ramsay. Yet if not for WunWun it would have all been for naught. It was through the giant’s strength that the forces are able to break down the gates and enter Winterfell. Yet he dies in the process. There’s a beautiful irony in this once great enemy of the North, making a final heroic act to save the home of his enemies. I was so pissed that Ramsay was the one to finish WunWun off. The giant deserved a better death than at the hands of that sadistic piece of shit.
Even though Jon had a shield to protect himself, you got the impression that even if he didn’t, he would have batted away those arrows with his arms. That’s how desperate he was to get to Ramsay. Yet just when he is about to beat Ramsay to death, Jon looks up and sees Sansa. It is then that he realizes (correctly) that Ramsay’s life isn’t his to take.
Often times in Game of Thrones, as in life, we don’t get what we want. Ned Stark is beheaded, Robb Stark is betrayed and murdered at the Red Wedding, and Prince Oberyn’s head is crushed by Gregor Clegane. But sometimes the audience’s patience is rewarded. Such was the case tonight when Sansa finally faces down Ramsay. That scene defies description. Sansa’s words about Ramsay’s House being forgotten, him being forgotten, his actions being forgotten, fall out of her mouth like hammer blows. That stare she gives him is reminiscent of Arya’s final stare at the Hound in the finale of season four. Cold, indifferent, merciless. There’s a poetic justice in watching Ramsay be ripped apart by his own dogs. There are few moments in Game of Thrones where you get to stand up and shout, “YESSSS!!!” but this was one of them. And that ghost of a smile on Sansa’s lips as she walked away. That was a Ramsay smile.
I’m sure people will be debating whether or not “Battle of Bastards” is the best Game of Thrones episode to date. You could make a case that it is. One thing is for sure, next week’s season finale (ALREADY!!??) has a lot to live up to.
“Battle of Bastards” rates: 10/10 Severed Ned Heads
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