Game of Thrones S6/E9 “Battle of the Bastards” Review

“Follow your commander!”


So despite all the hype and the title of this episode being focused on the battle for Winterfell, we start with Daenerys and friends in Meereen, and she’s actually doing something! Finally seeing the dragons in action was glorious, but we still can’t help but feel this this scene would have been better served had it come in the previous episode. Deanery’s aerial assault on the Slaver’s fleet is a moment that should have been considered far too epic and pivotal for an episode where it was always going to be overshadowed by the titular Battle. The CGI looked terrific, in Stark contrast with some of the show’s previous visual effects; the dragons really did look like they were flesh, blood, and fire as they soared over the city with Dany at the helm of Drogon. When they start unleashing their fire upon the Slaver ships, you can feel the heat and the devastation which, accompanied by the classic “Daenerys is the messiah” piece of score (you know the one), makes for an awe-inspiring spectacle. 

Dany calls in her killstreak reward

Dany calls in her killstreak reward

We have to question why factions constantly choose to challenge her; they must have seen the dragons! She’s called the damn “Dragon Queen”! How do they think this is going to end up for them?! Not to mention the Spartan-esque unsullied and the ravenous, ferocious Dothraki cavalry at her command. You’ve got no chance. Tyrion leads the negotiations with the Masters as the Queen flies about doing her thing, dry-wittedly and patronisingly informing them of their defeat and that, as recompense for their betrayal of their previous agreement, one of them must die. They choose the most low-born of them to face the chop, who must have soiled himself as he fell to his knees. Grey Worm finally displays something to justify his position as, cooly and quick as a flash, he opens the throat of the standing Masters with his dagger. His expression unchanging, he falls back into line. 

The teleportation device must have been completed

The teleportation device must have been completed

Though it expedited the progression of the story, Theon and Yara’s arrival in Mereen (absolutely un-harassed by the supposedly formidable, relentless Euron) felt very sudden; we could easily have been shown their ship engaging the Slavers outside the city, thus allowing us to see them in action and, having helped turn the tide of the battle, ensuring that Dany would have felt indebted to them in some way, and foreshadowing what’s to come later in the episode. We had better see Euron wreaking havoc in next week’s episode, otherwise his character will be totally pointless. Some time in previous episodes should have been dedicated to Theon and Yara perhaps engaging in a race against time to get to Mereen before their uncle, preferably punctuated with an epic, timer-shivering sea battle because we’ve seen nothing of the iron born’s vaunted naval prowess. 

Safe, bruv / sis

Safe, bruv / sis

The dialogue between Dany and Yara was a delight, the contradiction between the Dragon Queen’s formal demeanour and Yara’s more hardy, brusque way of comporting herself providing an element of fun to the scene, rather in the vein of Smalljon Umber’s introduction to Ramsey Bolton (more on them in a minute). With the Romanesque handshake between the world’s most powerful women, bonded over mutual distaste for the ways of their fathers, the alliance between the Dragon and (some of) the Kraken is secured. That’s a hell of a storm headed for Westeros.

Snowfall

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea

After weeks of nothing happening, of hardly seeing enough to care, of being bored by Jon, and with the rest of Westeros literally not even noticing, it’s time. There’s a veil of dread and portent hanging over every scene involving the Starks, and for good reason: they simply do not have enough men. Well, they will do if they wait another few hours or so, but apparently Sansa thinks it’s a good plan to keep her brother in the dark about that and allow him, and THOUSANDS of men, to go to their almost certain deaths. That’s a pretty shitty move, sis. 

Told you the odds weren't great

Told you the odds weren’t great

Jon and Davos, with Tormund standing around not being very helpful, draft their plan for the battle, and it’s a good one: the Onion Knight suggests that they sit tight and wait for mad-dog Bolton to charge at them, allowing the centre of their own ranks to be pushed back in order for the onrushing Bolton army to allow itself to be surrounded. The writers have done their homework; this is the exact strategy employed by Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae against the Romans. He inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Roman army, killing basically EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEIR SOLDIERS by allowing his weaker troops in the middle to be butchered whilst his superior forces on the flanks held firm, thus encircling the Romans (in this case being played by the Boltons) in a trap. It’s a very sensible plan; well done Ser Davos and the writing team. Think of it pretty much like a football match; if you’re playing against a team who are far better than yourselves, you sit back, allow them onto you, and try to hit them on the counter attack. 

There’s a lot of gallows humour knocking around on the eve of the battle: Jon has a grim laugh with Melisandre, a little tiff with the extraordinarily unhelpful Sansa, and Tormund and Davos swap stories about drinking and shitting. Davos, on his walk to find a good toilet spot, finds the pyre upon which Mel and Stannis burned princess Shireen. Yeah, that was pretty horrible. Amazingly, the WOODEN stag Davos carved for the young princess has survived the inferno. He finds it, works out immediately what’s happened, and looks pretty pissed off about it, as you would be. He’s so either going to kill Melisandre or demand that Jon sentence her to it. Imagine the irony of Jon swinging the sword at the execution of the woman who brought him back to life. We think that would be pretty cool. Mel simply has to die some time soon so we know that, when somebody is dead, they will stay dead. Otherwise there would be no consequences so what would be the point? 

Somebody red-headed is in trouble

Somebody red-headed is in trouble

With the quiet, brooding drama of the night gone with the rising sun, it’s time for war. The Stark-led rabble face the superior numbers, training, and equipment of the Bolton army. They’ve got a solid plan, though, so everything should turn our pretty much fine, right? Not this time, because the former Bastard of Bolton has a devious trick up his sleeve. In a move straight out of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, Ramsay brings out Rickon and lets him run back to his brother and sister. That’s innocent enough, isn’t it? It’s a wonderfully tense moment, crafted with cinematic panache in bucket loads as Rickon and Jon race despairingly towards each across No Man’s Land, Ramsay’s arrows missing Rickon by inches. He’s so evil but we love Iwan Rheon’s performance as always, because he always looks like he’s having so much fun, grinning like a child as he carries out his mischievous machinations. 

Jolly good, this

Jolly good lark, this

Of course Rickon doesn’t quite make it (who’d have thought?), and thus the simple genius of Ramsay’s plan comes to fruition. He knows that in Jon he’s facing a man defined by his honour, sense of morality, and duty to his family who as such can be manipulated. By theatrically killing young Rickon before him, Ramsay knows that Jon’s passion for good will compel him to behave in a rash manner. Jon and Davos, in a showing of disastrous incompetence and disregard for the safety of their men, charge their meagre army at Ramsay’s. The scene is shot beautifully and accompanied by a tragic score as we know full well that they’re charging to disaster. It’s now that the brilliance of this episode makes itself known. After the serenity of the slow motion shot of Jon standing bravely alone before the charging Bolton cavalry, the scene suddenly becomes one of chaos as his own men rush past him and slam sickeningly into their foes. Men and horses are mangled, broken apart by the sheer force of the impact as Jon stands, miraculously unharmed, in the midst of it all. This isn’t Lord of the Rings; there’s no glamour, glory, or trumpets and fanfare here: it’s a slaughter. The lack of CGI and Saving Private Ryan-inspired cinematography as we follow Jon through the carnage allows us to feel every blow as he desperately hacks his way through those who stand before him, keeping us grounded whilst remaining painfully aware of the unfathomable scale of the horror taking place around us. He’s not pretty Kit Harrington anymore, he’s a merciless killer bathed in the blood of his enemies. There’s not much more to say other than we were totally in awe, and we loved it. Bravo, GoT. 

Ok, he's still a little bit pretty

Ok, he’s still a little bit pretty

Right when he knows the rebels are right where he wants them, Ramsay moves in for the kill. In a truly terrifying scene, the flayed men of the Bolton tower shields form a phalanx and surround Jon and the tiny few who remain of his “army”, encircling them in a wall of spears. As the Boltons advance slowly and deliberately as men who know they’re invincible, panic sets it. With steel on one side and a mind-bogglingly high wall of bodies on the other, death is surely inevitable. As men desperately scramble to escape the slaughter, they’re cut down without mercy. There’s nothing left but terror and chaos, as Jon is knocked down and trampled by a stampede, suffocating to death in the mud and blood. It’s another wonderful example of the abject horror of medieval warfare as our hero and Azor Ahai elect looks to be killed in the most ignominious manner possible. Finally he wrenches himself from the floor, desperately fighting for space as his men are butchered around him. Even as Tormund rips out Smalljon Umber’s throat, all is utterly lost. 

Earlier we said this wasn’t Lord of the Rings. Perhaps we were wrong. Trumpets sound in the distance and, just like the Rohirrim ALWAYS do when things are looking a bit sticky for the heroes in Tolkien’s trilogy, the Knighs of the Vale, led by the smug pairing of Sansa and Baelish, ride in to save the day. Without a moment’s hesitation to take a breather or, you know, weep uncontrollably with relief, Jon sprints after Ramsey with Tormund and Wun-Wun in tow. 

Checkmate

Checkmate

Ramsay barricades himself inside Winterfell, thinking he’s able to fall back to plan B: a siege. That notion is shot as the gates begin to tremble ominously. Wun-Wun punches through the gates and runs into the courtyard, being peppered with arrows and falling to his knees just like Willem Dafoe in Platoon. Some wildlings follow him through and do some Call of Duty-style breach and clear stuff to remove the remaining Bolton soldiers. Jon and Ramsay are now one-on-one. Here it is: The Battle of the Bastards. Jon picks up a Mormont shield (no idea how it got there) and uses some Jedi-esque reflexes to block Ramsay’s incoming arrows. Jon closes the gap, smashed Ramsay in the face with the shield, and starts brutally laying into him with his bare hands, reducing the face of his nemesis to a bloody pulp. As Sansa walks in on the scene from inside the castle (how the hell did she get there already?!), Jon stops; he doesn’t want his sister to see him like this. 

As the Bolton banners are cast from the battlements and the Stark sigil hangs from the walls once more, with disappointingly little pageantry, Sansa has Ramsay locked in the kennels. They share some banter, Ramsay sounding quite a lot like a super villain with his “I’m a part of you” spiel. Whether or not he’s speaking literally, meaning that Sansa’s pregnant (not that he’d know), or figuratively remains to be seen. In a move that was telegraphed by Roose earlier in the series, Ramsay is brutally fed to the hounds who once served him. Sansa permits herself to watch for a brief time before she walks away, smirking. She’s done quite a lot of that this episode. 

It's dark but it's there, we promise

It’s dark but it’s there, we promise

Our Final Thoughts

We threw down the gauntlet last week and, thankfully, Game of Thrones has delivered. The Battle of the Bastards is indeed right up there with Hardhome and sets the standard not only for the show but for the rest of television in general with its breathtaking action, massive scale, and quality of craftsmanship usually reserved for the silver screen. This is what television should be. More of the same next week, please. 


Did you love this episode as much as we did? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Dan S

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