Spoilers Ahead on Game Of Thrones S06E09
It’s no secret that Episode Nines are the big event episodes. Season 1’s Baelor and Season’3s The Rains of Castamere were shocking and heavy-hearted whereas “Battle of the Bastards” is a mostly fist-pumping, triumph for House Stark despite the high body count and death of Rickon. You could make the case that Season 1’s and 3’s episode 9’s were bigger game changers than “Battle of the Bastards” in the sense that it would be highly unlikely that Jon would lose to Ramsay after being resurrected 8 episodes ago or that Dany wouldn’t emerge victorious in the Battle of Meereen. Both of these battles played out as expected and are the natural progression of where their respective story lines were headed. Having said that, “Battle of the Bastards” is a thoroughly satisfying, epic episode.
Let’s Discuss The Episode!
Battle of Meereen
Tyrion and Dany’s scene works on another level because of how the actors can competently play the subtext beneath their dialogue. Sure, Tyrion is scared about the fighting going on outside, but he’s also afraid of Dany’s reaction to how he’s been running things in Meereen. Their conversation could also possibly support a couple of fan theories. It’s likely not a coincidence that Tyrion mentions there is wild fire stored beneath King’s Landing which ties into the rumor that Maester Qyburn told Cersei last episode.
The other theory is how Dany might eventually become a villain. Dany’s appetite for destruction and cruelty is continually increasing. It goes to show much she needs a strong advisor like Tyrion to remind her that burning cities to the ground would also kill women, children and the very slaves she wants to free. It’s a lesson Dany shows she learns, at least for time time being, when she later tells the Greyjoys that they have to be better than their fathers in order to build a brighter future.
There’s a bit of Cersei in Dany for wanting to burn down cities but she has many more similarities to Yara Grejoy. I love how Dany and Yara play off of each other, particularly Dany’s amused expression when Yara says she’s “up for anything really“. For Dany to conquer the seven kingdoms she needs to make alliances with Houses in Westeros and the idea of “us girls need to stick together” could be a start of a great bond. The scenes in the Queen’s Hall are always well-directed in that where people stand on the stairway in relation to one another is representative in itself. So it’s symbolic for Dany to come down on an equal level and shake hands with Yara.
The Battle of Meereen is really more of a great action sequence which played out as expected. But when it’s done as well as this, it’s hard to fault the writers for giving exactly what viewers want. Yes, the dragons are awesome! The dragon special effects have vastly improved from last season’s “The Dance of Dragons”. It’s unfortunate that Viserion and Rhaegal aren’t growing as fast due to being cooped up in the tomb compared to the gigantic Drogon.
Battle of the Bastards
The Battle of Winterfell gets so many things right considering there are so many moving parts and story beats to hit upon. The show has learned a lot from making previous big event episodes in terms of direction, budget planning, and epic fight sequences in order to pull off a battle of this magnitude. The writers didn’t lose focus on the characters which added to how much I’m invested in the battle. In the lead up, each of the characters from Sansa, Ser Davos, Tormund and Jon have a moment to reiterate their personal stake of what the battles means to them. The pre-fight parlay is also important because we needed to see Jon meet Ramsay for the first time before the actual fight and I loved vengeful Sansa telling Ramsay he’s going to die.
The emotional journey and twists and turns of the battle are really well done. They captured the mayhem of the battle without it becoming too messy to follow what’s going on. Although I was confident that Jon would win, the different segments of the battle had me on edge. What I liked about the opening to the battle where Rickon is running towards Jon is that we always should expect Ramsay to be devious. But what was frustrating is Rickon running in a straight line and/or not hiding behind the burning stakes until Jon could save him. The arrow plowing through Rickon was a jolting moment rather than a sad emotional one. This is because we haven’t seen him in a long time to be invested in him and Sansa talked about being prepared to lose Rickon. So loosing Rickon didn’t take away from the victorious feeling or maybe it’s just relief I’m feeling.
The battle itself has many memorable moments that are burned into my mind. The shot of Jon running alone towards the enemy army is incredibly thrilling and nerve-wracking. Jon got saved a lot during the battle, it made it a little more believable how he survived despite killing a number of people himself and luckily avoiding the arrows. The other aspect of the battle that’s impressive is the level of realism. For example, the phalanx formation, like in 300, is impossible to escape from the inside. When a solider tries to run into the shield, they bounce off and a spear will come out to gore and maim. The mountain of bodies on the battlefield that Jon was trampled under and getting suffocated by is something I don’t think I’ve seen done before in a movie or other show.
I do have some nitpicks. From a writing standpoint I can understand that they wanted Jon’s army to be underdogs with seemingly no hope to defeat an army twice or triple their numbers. But why wouldn’t Sansa tell Jon about Littlefinger’s army? Jon’s strategy probably would have been very different had he known and it could have saved hundreds of lives. And Jon could have died … again. I think most viewers knew that the Vale would come to save the day. I shouted “about time!” when they arrived, but why wait until almost Jon and his army are nearly dead? It also would have been cooler for Wun Wun the giant to be given a weapon like a huge axe. As much damage as the giant inflicted, he could have been an even bigger force on the battlefield. Lastly, a better one on one fight between Jon and Ramsay would have been more satisfying. We’ve seen Ramsay go crazy with double daggers before, wouldn’t it have been awesome to see them really go at it?
I also would have liked Ghost to chow down on Ramsay. Where is Ghost by the way? But it’s fitting to have Ramsay get viciously eaten by his hounds. He was never loyal to anyone. As a poetic justice, not even his dogs are loyal to him which summed up his downfall in a crazy, psychotic nutshell.
Among the many great moments, which are too many to point out, is the Stark banner unfurling at Winterfell. The Battle of the Bastards delivered a finely crafted hour of stunning action sequences one after another. There’s still a lot to address in the super sized finale which I hope won’t feel too anti-climatic after this episode but is normally the case. I’m expecting Ser Davos to confront Melissandre about Shireen’s death. I’m expecting the Faith Militant story to come to an explosive end. And more of The Brotherhood of Banners, plus some surprises? Sadly, just one more episode to wrap up the season.
What do you think about Sansa’s decision to keep her alliance with Littlefinger a secret from Jon? Where do you rank this episode among the best of the series?