Season Six, Episode Nine — “Battle of the Bastards”
By Jarrod Jones. As far as story is concerned on Game of Thrones, proximity is progress. It shouldn’t matter that the castle of Winterfell is huge and its surrounding lands even larger — Davos has to find out about poor Princess Shireen’s monstrous death somehow. And upon the dawn of the “Battle of the Bastards” that’s exactly what happens.
I walk a lot before battle, the Onion Knight told Tormund Giantsbane on Sunday night, after passing on a tantalizing horn of sour goat’s milk. It was only a matter of time before he came across something monumental that would inform his trajectory for the imminent skirmish, no matter how improbable it may have seemed that he would find it.
But Davos did find his answer, in the form of a carved stag he once fashioned for his best friend in all the Seven Kingdoms, buried in snow at the earliest light of morning. Now he knows: Princess Shireen is dead. We can count on a sea’s worth of trouble for the Red Woman next week. And so we presumed that Davos wasn’t going to die in the field hours later. And we presumed correctly.
As a matter of fact, the safe money was on most everyone of note surviving the violent havoc outside the walls of Winterfell this week. Tormund could have bought it, I suppose, but what would have become of GoT‘s most beloved ship? No, the only fear we held in our hearts was for the not-so gentle giant Wun Wun, whose massive proportions only made him the easiest target on that muddy, bloody battlefield.
Wun Wun did his duty and got Jon Snow through the gates to face his enemy. His death was Ramsay Bolton’s final act of horror, but it wasn’t his final act of evil.
That took place hours later, after the banners of House Stark flew over Winterfell once more, and just before Sansa put Ramsay’s ravenous hounds to him. The Bolton Bastard attempted to coo just a little more venom into Sansa’s ears: I’ll always be a part of you, he said, adding just a touch more awful to whatever heinous things he did to Sansa last season. And though Sansa walked away from the most satisfying end in all of Game of Thrones history with a smirk on her face (as did we all), we should never forget that she lingered long enough to get a final, salacious look at Ramsay’s gruesome death. The Seven had best protect her enemies, because if Ramsay has left behind any kind of legacy, it is decidedly the stone heart of Sansa Stark.
WHAT WORKED: “The Battle of the Bastards” was every inch the horror I thought it would be. Amputations, red splashes of blood, broken shields and spilled guts were all the eye could see for a good chunk of this week’s episode, recalling the Omaha Beach sequence of Saving Private Ryan and the Black Gate battle of Return of the King. It was thunderous, terrifying, and yes, totally predictable, but it succeeded by relying on flourish and spectacle instead of subtext. While we knew Jon would make it to Ramsay’s throat, there were moments where we could have easily thrown those preconceptions out the window — and that was due in no small part to the expert precision with which this episode was made.
WHAT DIDN’T: Yara and Theon made their journey to Meereen, just after we saw Dany put the final, fiery touches on those rat bastard Sons of the Harpy. Apparently that brothel pitstop made by the errant Ironborn two weeks ago didn’t do the trick — it doesn’t take long for Yara to flash her hungry eyes at the Mother of Dragons. (You’re already pressing your luck with the woman who just made s’mores out of her enemies? Girl.) Dany, no stranger to unsolicited lust, blinks with the same practiced nonchalance she once afforded another necessary evil, the Second Sons. (And we all remember how that played out.) Yara and Theon’s alliance brings yet another hurdle for Dany to clear before she can storm King’s Landing. It’s Euron Greyjoy, who remains in the show’s periphery for now.
“Let’s end this the old way: you, against me.” – Jon, to Ramsay.
BEST MOMENT: Sansa says goodbye. Yes, the title of the episode was “Battle of the Bastards”, but Ramsay Bolton’s death always belonged to Sansa Stark. With her ice-cold grey eyes, Sansa bored two holes into her husband’s beaten brow, studying every movement on his face as she informed him that all he had ever done will have amounted to nothing. Ramsay knows different, and so do we, but no one would argue that Sansa is now a formidable presence for the remainder of Game of Thrones. Winterfell is hers again.
EPISODE’S MVP: Jon Snow. If any change came at all to Westeros’ biggest dummy following his recent resurrection, it was Jon’s newfound ferocity. Wild-eyed and ready to meet death once more, Jon Snow unsheathed Longclaw and prepared to take on the entire Bolton army single-handedly. It was a stirring visual during a night filled with stirring visuals. Kit Harrington acquitted himself magnificently in a battle that felt just as fruitless, hateful and inevitable as that last bit in Return of the King. (And, come to think of it, that battle got a last-minute rescue too. Fantasy does tend to favor its deus ex machina.)
– Farewell, dear Rickon. I hope you find Shaggydog, wherever you are.
– Dany’s keen on burning all her enemies to the ground, which leaves Tyrion open to cite precedent: the last time a Targaryen wanted to “rain down hellfire on all who oppose me” was Aerys II, commonly known throughout the realm as “The Mad King.”
– Sansa offers war council, and while Jon would be smart to listen, he gives her static anyhow. When it comes to Ramsay Bolton, Sansa says, you know nothing, Jon Snow. Fucking listen to your sister, Jon. Guy.
– Davos and Tormund compare notes over their former leaders — Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder, both of whom are now deader than dead, accomplishing little more than creating more havoc throughout the realm. If this was meant to be commentary on Jon Snow’s poorly-planned assault on Winterfell, mission accomplished. Good thing the Knights of the Veil showed up when they did.
– Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon have finally been reunited. But where did they go after they helped their momma retake the besieged Meereen? Off to scorch a victory goat or twelve, I guess. (Dany didn’t say.)
– No Arya this week, but if next week’s preview is any indication (see below), the Wee Stark is gonna need to book it doubletime to Winterfell if Melisandre’s prediction is to come true. (“We will meet again,” the Red Woman told Arya in Season Three.) Maybe she can hitch a ride on a dragon.
– Not present for this week’s skirmish: Tommen, Cersei, the High Sparrow, Margaery, Jorah, Arya, Bran, Meera, Benjen, Brienne, Jaime, Podrick, Bronn.
8.5 out of 10
Next: “The Winds of Winter”, soon.
Before: “No One”, here.