Game Of Thrones S06E09 “Battle Of The Bastards” REVIEW
SPOILER WARNING: This is a review of the episode that aired at 2am this morning in the UK on Sky Atlantic and can currently be seen on-demand. It is airing again at 9pm tonight.
Airing in the UK on Sky Atlantic, Mondays, 2am & 9pm
Writer: David Benioff, DB Weiss
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Essential Plot Points:
- In Meereen: Mum’s home, and she’s actually not that pissed off that the kids have wrecked the place.
- In a surprise turn of events, Dany agrees that a lot of what Tyrion has done for Meereen has been for the better. But now she’s back she can blast the masters and their fleets to smithereens with her dragons.
- Tyrion advises restraint, and instead of destroying the entire fleet (Dany does, after all, need a ship or two for her future plans) Dany uses her pets to destroy just a couple of ships to prove a point.
- Meanwhile Daario and the Dothraki forces attack on land, taking down the Sons Of The Harpy.
- Grey W0rm then kills two of the Masters and Tyrion tells the third to spread the message: “Don’t mess with the Dragon Lady.”
- Later Yara and Theon turn up in Meereen looking for a pact with Dany. Clearly nobody’s told Tyrion that Theon is a eunuch now as this must be the first episode he’s been in this season where he doesn’t make a gag at the expense of the cockless.
- Dany instantly warms to the fiery warrior queen and they form an alliance; Yara will place her loyal followers and ships at Dany’s disposal in return for which Dany will make Yara queen of an independent Iron Island when Dany rules the Seven Kingdoms.
- At Winterfell: Team Jon meets with Team Ramsay in an attempt to avoid a battle that will costs thousands of lives. Jon challenges Ramsay to one-to-one combat. Ramsay, knowing he’d lose to the superior swordsman, mockingly declines. The battle will happen on the ’morrow. Sansa tells Ramsay to get a good night’s sleep – it will be his last.
- That night, Ser Davos, goes on a mind-clearing walk – a ritual for him on the eve of a battle – and finds the pyre on which Stannis burnt Shireen. He puts two and two together.
- The next day the battle opens with Ramsay forcing Jon to be rash. Ramsay frees Rickon, then shoots arrows at him as he runs towards his brother. Jon gallops forwards to save his brother but just before he can do so an arrow kills Rickon.
- All hell breaks loose as the armies engage. It’s dirty, bloody, brutal and intense to watch. Ramsay remains at the sidelines while Jon is in the thick of it
- As the bodies pile up it looks like the Bolton forces have won.
- But then there’s the sound of a horn and Littlefinger leads the forces of the Vale into the fray, swinging the tide of the battle the other way.
- Ramsay flees back to Winterfell but Wun Wun the giant makes matchwood of the gates, letting Team Snow in.
- Ramsay kills Wun Wun, but Jon then beats Ramsay to a pulp. He doesn’t deliver the killing blow, though. That’s for somebody else to do.
- Later, we see Ramsay bound to a chair in a cell. Sansa comes to visit. She tells him that he’s going to wiped from the history books, then unleashes his own dogs on him. Dogs he’s been starving for weeks.Sansa breaks into a smile as she walks away, hearing his screams.
That was… intense. And breathtaking. And draining to watch. That must, surely, have been one of the most expensive hours of TV drama ever produced but this wasn’t just money thrown at the screen for hollow spectacle. In terms or pure drama, it was a hell of an episode too, that delivered on an emotional level. While the action scenes will linger long in the memory there were plenty of exquisite character moments here. And, in Meereen at least, a surprising amount of humour as well. Even if some of it was quite black.
We really were spoilt this week. We knew we getting one big battle. In the event we got two. You do have to wonder if perhaps the battle for Meereen could have happened last week to liven up the rather stodgy “No One”. On the other hand, the big, colourful, fantasy battle with the Masters, complete with a trio of fire-breathing dragons, is a perfect counterpoint for the far grimmer Battle Of The Bastards. Besides, two great battles in one episode? How can that be a bad thing? Especially when the FX, stunts, cinematography and editing for both is so superb. This truly was a triumph for the crew and there should be plenty of Emmys in the bag for the various design and techincal departments.
It’s also fun to see that odd couple, Dany and Tyrion, interacting again. Bizarre as it may seem they do make two sides to a perfect governing coin. Separately, they have lofty ambitions but they struggle to see them through; together they are a force to be reckoned with. You have to half wonder if Dany is deliberately sending herself up when she says her plan is, “I will crucify the Masters, I will set their fleets afire, kill every last on of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt.” After all, as Tyrion points out later, she does love ships, so destroying the Masters’ entire fleets would be a little wasteful. We reckon she was just goading Tyrion to come up with a better plan. Which he does, and the results are a crowdpleasing delight.
Then we get some girl-on-girl flirting when the Greyjoys turns up to offer an alliance with Dany. Losing her crown has been the making of Yara; she’s been a much more interesting character this season rather than the frowny tomboy of before. Dany, clearly seeing a kindred spirit in Yara, agrees to an alliance. Yara looks like she’d happily make the alliance more personal but whether this goes any further than inspiring a raft of slash fiction remains to be seen.
The meat of the episode takes place over at Winterfell, though, and what we get there is about as epic as TV can be. It’s not just about the fighting, though. Sansa quite rightly lays into Jon for not inviting her in on the planning meeting, and in the end she turns out to be spot on in all her observations. Tormund and Ser Davos discuss the merits or otherwise of serving a man like Jon Snow rather than their former “kings”; it seems they’re both coming round to thinking that leaders who believe they’re born to rule are invariably less fit to rule than those who earn power through good leadership. Davos also turns down Tormund’s offer of some sour goat’s milk; however, matters turn sour anyway when he discovers Shireen’s funeral pyre.
Melisandre, meanwhile, seems to be in wistfully pragmatic mode. Will Jon win? Will he die? Will she resurrect him again? Am I bovvered? Jon asks her not to resurrect him but she’s all, “Not up to me, dear.” She’s doesn’t seem to have so much given up on her God and given up trying to work our what they’re up to.
The actual battle is awesome. That’s an overused word these days when teenagers think it refers to their new trainers or a mate’s ability to snort cola out of their nostrils. But this is genuinely about as near to awe as TV can get. It’s also not nice; while exciting to watch, you certainly wouldn’t want to be there.
It’s not just the big moments that impress. The sequence in which Jon is knocked down and trampled on, struggling for breath and only getting fleeting glimpses of the sky though a suffocating mass of bodies, is a deliberately disorientating mess of images that’s near traumatic to watch. You may find yourself catching y0u own breath too as you will Jon the get up and get out. The piles of bodies he eventually clambers on to are the stuff of nightmares.
The course of the battle takes some interesting turns too. Ramsay does exactly what Sansa predicts he will do. While Jon’s plan is to rile Ramsay so that the Bolton forces make a reckless charge at them, Ramsay turns the tables completely, using Rickon as bait to make Jon reckless and force his army to charge instead. Not that Sansa’s in a mood to gloat.
But before you go mistaking Ramsay as some kind of tactical genius, he is also largely an architect in his own downfall. He arrogant disregard for human life means he orders his archers to fire wave after wave of arrows into the melee, killing as many (if not more) of his own men as Jon’s. This not only creates the mountains of bodies which turn what could have a swift, precise rout into a messy, bloody, dirty scramble that hampers the fighting, but it also leaves him seriously undermanned when the forces from the Vale arrive. Utter prick, basically. Not that there was ever any doubt.
Ultimately the arrival of Littlefinger and forces of the Vale feels a little like a too-convenient get-out clause for Jon and co, but by that point you just want the fighting to end; instead of moaning about a tropes the show’s used before (the last-minute allies) you’re just relieved they arrived.
And Ramsay gets his comeuppance good and proper. He looks like he’s going to be defiant to the end, grinning even when bloodied and battered and refusing to give Sansa the pleasure of looking like he’s pissed off at defeated. But she was with him long enough to learn a few things. Feeding him to his own dogs is only part of it; that’s the poetic justice side. What finally wipes the smile off his face is Sansa’s promised to wipe him from the history books, to make sure his life amounted to nothing at all.
Ramsay, you may have created a monster.
- Where to start? How about at the beginning as a famous nun once said. The fact that Dany admits that Tyrion has actually made some decent decisions, and acknowledges as much, is a pleasant surprise. The scene is played for comedy but there’s some serious debate underpinning it.
- Dany informing the Masters, “You obviously didn’t communicate clearly. We’re here to discuss your surrender, not mine.”
- All three dragons together again at last, wreaking fiery havoc. The special FX in this sequence are phenomenal.
- Grey Worm’s ruse to weed out the least deserving Masters and the casual way he lops off their heads. Note the way that Tyrion can’t seem to bring himself to look.
- The flirting between Dany and Jara: “Euron’s offer is also one of marriage you see. You won’t get one without the other.” “And I imagine your offer is free of any marriage demands?” “I never demand but I’m up for anything, really.”
- Lady Mormont doesn’t utter a line but we still love her just for this face.
- The way Jon has to explain military tactics in kindergarten terms for Tormund: “They won’t be able to hit us from the side.”
- Sansa turning out to be the soundest military tactician of them all by stating the bleeding obvious then following up on it: “We’re going to need a bigger army.”
- The wonderful pre-battle conversation between Tormund and Ser Davos. Especially: “I walk. Think and walk. Think and walk until I’m far enough away from camp that no one can me hear me shitting my guts out.” “Happy shitting.” We fully expect to see many “Happy shitting” T-shirts at our next convention.
- Melisandre’s religious pragmatism: “What kind of God would so something like that?” “The one we’ve got.”
- Jon’s futile gallop to try to save Rickon; such an amazingly tense scene with an horrific ending. Plus, the shot below was just heartbreaking.
- The brutal way the action cuts from slow motion back to normal speed when Jon’s army arrives to back him up when it looks like he’s standing alone against Ramsay’s forces.
- The initial melee with that long single take showing Jon in the midst of a maelstrom of random deaths and barrelling horses that save his skin through sheer luck. The FX and stuntwork are astounding.
- The nightmarish landscape of bodies that builds up, bringing home the true cost of these battles. This isn’t a Lord of The Rings-style battle with CG cannon fodder. This is harsh and cruel and real…
- Jon beating Ramsay to a pulp, but then noticing Sansa and understanding that he needs to let her deliver the death blow.
- Sansa’s speech to Ramsay before she lets the dogs loose on him: “Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. My memory of you will disappear.” The irony being, it’s Ramsay who’s killed off all his relatives – there are no Boltons any more.
- Ramin Djawadi’s score this week was outstanding; majestic and uplifting for the Meereen battle but cruel and chaotic for the Battle of the Bastards, with moments of aching melancholy too.
- Precious little bad here, but it’s a shame the hounds that killed Ramsay were CG. As good as the effects are, there’s still something a little Scooby-Doo about them which lessened the impact of Ramsay’s demise. Why show the dogs at all? Just hearing his screams while watching Sansa smile as she walked away would have been enough.
- It wasn’t much of a shock that Littlefinger and the Army of the Vale turned up to save the day. Not just because Sansa’s letter in “The Broken Man” couldn’t really have been to anybody else, but because big battles in Game Of Thrones are often won when a surprise party turns up (such as at the Battle of Blackwater and the big Night’s Watch vs Mance Rayder skirmish).
- And why didn’t Sansa simply tell Jon that Littlefinger might be able to lend a hand?
And The Random:
- The actual Battle Of The Bastards took 25 days of filming, with 500 extras, 600 crew members, 70 horses and four separate camera crews.
- Director Muguel Sapochnik also directed season five’s “Hardholm”, another big battle episode.
- Sapochnik says he wanted to depict, “both the horror of war and the role of luck in battle.”
- Rickon Stark has had no speaking lines in Season six. In fact he hasn’t had a line since season three.
- Considering this is the second time this season we’ve been pointedly reminded about how the Mad King “had caches of wildfire, hidden under the Red Keep, the guild halls, the Sept of Baelor, all the major thoroughfares,” (the previous time being in one of Bran’s visions in “Blood Of My Blood”) we’re pretty certain now that this is the “rumour” to which Cersei and Qyburn were referring in “No One”. Big green explosions next week, then?
- Good grief that thing has got to whiff by now – Umber appears to have been carrying Shaggydog’s head around since before “Oathbreaker”, which was six episodes ago.
- This may not be of any relevance at all, but we don’t actually see Ramsay let loose the arrow that kills Rickon. Was this just an editing choice or was he such a crap aim he had to get Umber to kill Rickon for him?
- Where’s Wally?