In typical fashion, the ninth episode of season six is nearly entirely devoted to a single, epic action sequence. After the roller coaster of big moments and reveals that was this season, anticipation is high for the showdown between Jon Snow and the totally gross Ramsay Bolton over the Stark’s home of Winterfell. This Battle of the Bastards has been hyped up to the point of critical mass and the several missteps this season still haven't done much to abate the sheer, unrestrained joy fans are expressing at the prospects of a battle in the snow and Ramsay finally getting dead. Now, for the first time since season one, I, and my fellow book-readers, had literally no idea what was going to happen, and I almost died.
Before we get to the duel of the dastards, though, we get to resolve that rather glaring cliffhanger in Mereen. Last we saw, Tyrion and his new drinking buddies had just grown confident in the deal they brokered with the wise masters of Slaver’s Bay when the city was besieged by the wise masters just as Daenerys showed back up on the back of her dragon. Shooting fireballs at the city from the safety of their armada, the masters seem to have secured their advantage, and even Tyrion is nervous. After telling Queen Dany that things in Mereen really are “on the rise,” while shuddering with every impact from the seaborne catapults, Dany lays out her plan for a counterattack, which involves crucifixions and lots of fire. Tyrion reminds her that her father was also a big fan of melting flesh and suggests an alternative. It’s nice to see the Tyrion and Dany dynamic back in action. Emilia Clarke has transformed her character from a naive girl to a ruthless woman before our eyes, and having Peter Dinklage around to balance out some of that hereditary craziness is fun to watch.
Somehow the ‘wise’ masters have forgotten that the lady they're fighting is called The Mother of Dragons and mock her when she demands their surrender. As they rattle off insults, Drogon can be seen over the shoulders of the masters as he comes in for one hell of an entrance. Dany mounts up to make an example of one of the attacking ships accompanied by her two other scaly babies. Two things about this moment kind of bugged me, one rather insignificant and one that I just can’t really forgive. First, is there a sweet spot on the back off Drogon that isn’t covered in spikes that Dany can safely sit on? Doesn’t look like it. Shouldn’t she have had whoever makes those Dothraki saddles make a bigger one? Maybe she’s just been too busy; that’s fine. Second, what the hell is up with those other dragons? Tyrion set them free like seven freakin’ episodes ago and they just wandered into the darkness. They were just hanging out down there waiting for their brother’s signal? Are they totally over Dany’s pretty messed up treatment of them? That's a plot hole big enough to ride a horse through.
As Dany and co. torch a single ship with another of those great “Dracaris” moments, the rest of the fleet summarily gives up. Meanwhile, the gold masked Sons of the Harpy are stabbing a bunch of people outside one of Mereen’s gates, having a bunch of fun, when all
of the Dothraki ride into them. The sort of rebel yell thing the horde makes as they come around the corner is totally terrifying, and I, for one, couldn’t help but imagine the same scene against a line of knights and foot soldiers from the seven kingdoms with three dragons for air support.
Theon and Yara manage to magically show up in Mereen. Another example of the serious plague of characters 'travelling at the speed of plot’ this season. They were on the other side of the world last episode and it’s been like, what, a week? Anyway, Tyrion hasn’t seen Theon since the first season, and he was none to nice to everybody’s favourite dwarf back then. So Tyrion sasses him a bit and the Rapist-Viking twins offer to help bring her to Westoros as long as she helps them burn the crap out of their creepy uncle Euron. Dany agrees, after a few bonding moments with Yara as they discuss smashing the patriarchy, as long as the Ironborn stop doing everything that makes them Ironborn: raping, reaving, and raiding. Yara agrees but it will be very interesting to see how that works out when she tells the people of the Iron Islands they’ve gotta quit all their fun hobbies.
Just outside Winterfell, Jon, Sansa, the little (terrifying) lady of Bear Island and the rest are treating with Ramsay. Ramsay says a bunch of crazy stuff and solidifies his laughable, old-timey super-villain status. The whole time all I could think was, I really hope this guy dies now because I just cannot handle another second of his character. After proving he does hold Rickon by displaying Shaggydog’s head, Sansa rides off just as Ramsay tells everyone he hasn’t fed his dogs in a week so they’ll be extra hungry when he feeds them. This is kind of important because Sansa misses this dialogue but brings it up later like she was standing there the whole time.
Back at Camp, Tormund, Davos, Jon, and Sansa are planning for the battle. On Tormund’s suggestion Jon orders trenches dug on their flanks so the Bolton cavalry can’t massacre them like Stannis did with the wildlings with a pincer move. Tormund’s inability to grasp the most basic of military terminology is cute because he’s a simple barbarian. Everyone else leaves while Jon and Sansa argue. Sansa is pissed that Jon hasn’t looked to her for advice since she has more experience dealing with Ramsay’s brand of crazy. She fully sheds her child-like naivety and breaks it to Jon that Rickon is definitely going to die. Sansa also lays it on Jon that he should have waited for a larger force but doesn’t tell him that Baelish is obviously going to show up in like 20 minutes with a bunch of armoured guys with bird banners. I can’t find a good reason why Sanas A) told Baelish to screw off to begin with and, B) why she isn’t telling Jon that she sent a raven almost guaranteed to get them more troops. Seems like if she was so sure Rickon was dead meat it wouldn’t be an issue to wait for the knights of the Vale to show up. She’s understandably mad at Littlefinger for being, well, Littlefinger but isn’t this whole transformation from meek child to powerful, politically savvy woman kind of undermined by this slip-up?
Holy crap! Is that Melisandre? I totally forgot about her. After all the fuss that was made about her in the first few moments of this season she seems to have taken a real backseat off-screen. Even after having her faith revived, literally, she still seems pretty mopey and straight up refuses to help out Jon at all in the coming battle. So instead Jon lets her know that if he does happen to go down she’s not to bring him back. Melisandre lets him know that maybe the big shiny red god’s plan is to let him die again here. Jon, understandably, is a little ‘WTF? Why would he do that?’ but that’s the god they're stuck with.
Now for the main attraction. This season of Game of Thrones
started strong but hit a bit of a muddle in the middle episodes. What with the series coming to an end very soon it seems the showrunners have been scrambling to get all the characters to their end game positions at the expense of some of the plots. That being said, though, the titular Battle of the Bastards
from last night is one of the craziest, most intense, well-shot, choreographed, and edited sequences to ever play on my tiny laptop screen at 4 AM. There are no big surprises, most of you will guess everything that’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be gripping the edge of your seat the entire time.
From the start, Jon plays directly into Ramsay’s hands. Despite his stated plan to get the Bastard of Bolton to charge his lines first, Jon can’t help but run to the rescue when Ramsay brings out Rickon. Ramsay cuts Rickon loose and tells him to run, just before pulling out his bow. Jon knows what's going to happen, as Ramsay toys with Rickon, intentionally missing and even smugly firing without looking, until Jon is just a moment away from saving the last trueborn Stark heir and Ramsay shoots him right through the chest. Ramsay’s plan works and Jon, in a fit of rage, charges the Bolton line alone. Fortunately, Davos is on hand to do all his thinking for him and orders the men to follow their commander. Just before Jon is trampled by the Bolton cavalry, his men charge in. Without going into detail of the entire battle, the fight between Bolton’s 6,000 and Jon’s 2,000 + one giant is fucking nuts. The beginning tracking shot of Jon working his way among the carnage makes the similar sequence during the battle for the wall look like a dramatic reenactment from the History Channel. Even with the odds stacked against him, Jon manages to find luck in all the right places, up until he’s almost trampled under the feet of his own men as they are pushed against an actual wall of corpses by the Bolton phalanx.
Whether by providence or design, Littlefinger and the knights of the Vale free the encircled Stark (or as it were, Snow) army just in time. Ramsay retreats to Winterfell, thinking himself safe behind the Stark built walls. Unfortunately for him, he forgot about Wun-wun, the last (as far as we know) giant in the North. The giant breaks through the doors and begins to succumb to the veritable shitload of arrows sticking out of him. Jon slows in a moment of acknowledgment with the giant when Ramsay finishes him by firing one last arrow into his eye socket. Then Jon’s had enough; he takes on Ramsay man to man and beats the crap out of him before he realiSes his sister wants a piece of him too. As Ramsay is bound and his own beloved starving hounds let loose on him, Sansa watches. As she leaves, she smiles, and we all wonder where her character goes from here.
Game of Thrones is a singularity of sorts in the world of entertainment. Never before has any TV show pulled off this type of epic storytelling on such a consistent level before. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that the series isn’t without issues and suffers a few weak episodes from time to time, but the Battle of the Bastards is one of those moments in the entertainment business that knocks everyone’s socks so far off that people will be talking about it long after the Winds of Winter have passed.