All aboard the Hype Train! In preparation of Season 8 of Game of Thrones, Kelly is doing a rewatch for the greater good to refresh our memories, catch the things we might have forgotten, pick up the things we might have missed, and maybe make predictions! Hold onto your fur rugs from Ikea and AWAY WE GO.
Rules of this series: We’re deep diving into these episodes and I’m watching them on a per-episode base because I like digesting the episodes. Spoilers lie ahead. As you can tell, I’ve failed at keeping this episode/season specific. Onwards!
6.9 The Battle of the Bastards
So we’re here. We’ve finally made it to the better part of Season 6. After a bunch of nonsense and especially after that mess of the last episode, we’re back on track with the quality we’ve come to expect from this show. It’s pretty clear that they put all their stock into this episode. I can’t say the lead up was worth it- but damn, is this a well-made episode. I could change half the stories in the lead up to this (which I often do) and it would still be one of the best episodes. It’s the perfect example of “show, don’t tell”- every emotion felt is due to the visuals and the cues from the director.
How would I change things? Well, for one, Roose would still be alive (duh) and he would manipulate Ramsay into baiting Jon, you know, one of those “impress me” moments. Roose is the real villain here. The Umbers would never trade sides; instead, they’d have been betrayed by the Karstarks and that’s how the Karstarks get Rickon. They flock to Sansa because loyalty. The Manderlys show up after slaughtering a couple of Bolton guys down in White Harbor who thought they were recruiting, because we need that Grand Northern Conspiracy, people are already waiting at Winterfell (“What took you so long, ya shits?”) Then, everything would go as we saw, the Knights of the Vale show up to really drive it home, Roose is surrounded by all the other houses and killed when Jon Snow tells him that the North remembers before stabbing him in the gut a la Robb.
“But the North needs to be dependent on the Knights of the Vale because Littlefinger and Sansa and…” you shut your mouth right now because the Norf don’t need no Vale.
“What about Meer-” We don’t need it. I have no pictures of Meereen here because we don’t need Meereen.
Anyway, on with the show. In Meereen. Of course. Meereen is getting hit hard by CGI catapults as Dany observes from above- she’s displeased with Tyrion’s performance in her absence and he finally agrees with her that she was right all along and there was no reasoning with the Masters… basically Dany is right again even though she initially brought this all upon herslef by being extremely wrong and she still plans to take things by force. Tyrion reminds her of who her father was- and how he not only killed anyone who stood in his way, but kept caches of wildfire hidden under the city. He begs her to reconsider slaughtering everyone who gets in her way and suddenly, we’re outside where she negotiates with the Masters. They demand Dany leave, request to hold onto Grey Work and Missandei, and execute the dragons. Dany simply responds that she’s not surrendering- they are.
She coolly drops another one-liner without explaining why she deserves to rule, how she plans on bringing and implementing change, etc, before jumping on Drogon’s back and laying waste to the fleet. It’s cool to see. I get it. I’m just tired by her lack of development. Like one season of Westerosi war is more interesting than her five or six seasons of Essos, because she’s surrounded by more interesting characters. I can’t say that she’s any different than she was in Season 2 or Season 3. I haven’t been shown.
Anyway below in the streets, the Dothraki slay the Sons of the Harpy as they are led by Daario Naharis for some reason. And then it occurs to me that Dany is just burning all the fleets below without considering if any of them are like the Unsullied and are purchased foot soldiers. Like that’s not a voluntary army. Honestly. She might have just killed a few hundred slaves right there. What the fuck.
And she should have considered this because Grey Worm gives the option for the Masters’ bodyguards to leave and they do. He kills two out of three and the third surrenders, and Tyrion tells him to spread the word that Dany is merciful and all this other shit. I don’t care.
I don’t care because in the North, the Boltons are negotiating with the Starks and Lyanna Mormont sits on a pony. Sansa comes to face with her husband and he immediately hones in on her. He promises Jon and his men pardons and how much cooler and chilling would this have been with Roose delivering the lines!?!?!? Or if the Karstarks were to interject? Hell, I’ll even accept a line from Smalljon detailing how he fooking hates Wildlings (we touched on that for a fifth of a second). Jon declines but offers to fight Ramsay one on one and it’s Ramsay’s turn to decline as he’s painfully away how he matches up to Jon. As soon as Ramsay proves his possession of Rickon, Sansa informs him that he’s going to die and Ramsay delivers a few more empty lines about feeding them all to his dogs and… sure.
Jon strategizes that they’ll spread out so they can’t get hit from the sides (basically how the Boltons defeated Stannis)- a pincer move. Not a bad idea. Davos says they can’t let the Bolton’s surround them- and they have to be facing the Boltons on three sides. Sansa quietly observes the meeting and after Davos and Tormund head out, she begins to pick at Jon’s brain. She’s insulted that Jon hasn’t asked her what Ramsay is like as she’s been the source of his abuse and she informs Jon that Ramsay likes to lay traps and play with people- and he’s good at manipulating. Jon asks her how to get Rickon back which shows Sansa that Jon doesn’t understand Ramsay at all- he’s under the impression that Ramsay will leave Rickon alone, but she knows that Rickon is going to be killed based on the Stark name alone and what that means to Ramsay.
Sansa continues to plead with Jon, asking him not to give into his emotions and to be more patient so that his actions aren’t so predictable- and perhaps wait for more forces, but Jon doesn’t think that there’s any chance in hell that anyone else will join them. He shuts her down pretty fast and pretty loud. Sansa is still hiding that she has written to Littlefinger for assistance and for good reason- she knows that Jon will be resistant to the idea and if he won’t listen to her, then there’s no way he’s listening or parlaying with Littlefinger.
Mel tells Jon she doesn’t know Jon’s purpose or what the Red God has in store for him and it’s not up for her or him to know and… whatever.
Outside, Davos goes for a walk and on his wandering, he comes across a pile of ashes. Remember, they’re camped exactly where Stannis was and Davos has been a witness to Mel’s sacrifices before. Among the rubble, he finds the carving of the stag he made for Shireen- but he puts this thought aside when he hears the battle horns.
In Meereen, Tyrion greets Theon and Yara- he says that Theon made fun of him a lot, which actually did not happen, but it’s not too far out of character for Theon back then, so we accept it. Tyrion touches upon how Theon must have had an identity crisis living with the Starks and Theon doesn’t deny it. Yara offers Dany her fleet in exchange for the title Queen of the Iron Islands. Dany’s okay with it and says that the other people in Westeros are free to ask to rule their territory as well- BUT I DON’T KNOW, ARE THEY? I don’t think she remembers this in the next episode. Anyway, Dany’s demands are that they recognize her as Queen of Westeros, drop all the acts that make them pirates, and Yara agrees to no more piracy. I am sure the Iron Islands will love to have Yara as queen after she’s basically stripped them of their lifestyle, culture, beliefs, and all that.
Outside Winterfell, Jon lines up with his two thousand and something men, including the Hornwoods (aye, that’s a moose), Mazins, 62 Mormonts, Freefolk, and precisely one giant. One the field in front of him, there are some burning flayed men, which are used by the Boltons later to mark the range of their arrows. This is where the series of amazing shots begin. It’s just wonderful, ominous establishing shots of both armies. And, oh- the mounting tension!
Ramsay rides forward leading his prize and the person he knows will bait Jon- it’s Rickon. He tells Rickon to run and begins firing arrows after him. Jon rides out in the hopes of saving Rickon, but Rickon’s hit just as Jon reaches him. And this was Ramsay’s plan all along- bait Jon, get the leader as bait for the rest of Jon’s army so that they ride straight to their target, which leaves them centered and available to be surrounded. And it works!
[Insert shot of Roose giving the tiniest of grins from Winterfell.] Ahem. Where were we?
I mean, this is just spectacular. As Rickon’s hit, we get reaction shots of everyone realizing that Jon has left himself vulnerable on the field and the North scrambles to arm up. Jon, meanwhile, rides forward because killing Rickon was the last straw for him. His horse is hit and Karstark begins charging on horseback.
First off, shout out to the horse trainers for safely coordinating all of this chaos and getting their horses to fall so gracefully. It’s chaos and animals are skittish.
Jon sees a sea of hoses riding towards him and we get the most stunning shot in television history as he takes off his belt and readies himself for an inevitable death- and his forces finally get there in time. They’re all a bit closer to the Bolton side of thing and Davos doesn’t want to risk hitting his own men with arrows but Ramsay doesn’t mind the sacrifice.
Cue this amazing tracking shot of Jon across the battlefield, missing death by inches and on pure luck. It’s a mix of CG as well as practical effects, and then the slaughter builds and builds until people are dying and then more people are dying on them and then even more people are dying on them. Eventually, Ramsay sends some men forward to surround the rest of Jon’s army and they’re trapped by dead bodies on one side and a surrounding Bolton phalanx on the three others.
Ah, a wall of Bolton shields. It’s my dream come true! The Bolton shields start pressing in until everyone is up each other’s asses, while Umber climbs the dead bodies to push the Wilding army in even more. It’s filthy. It’s a really gritty depiction of a medieval battle. I think the most impressive aspect of this episode is how close and congested the chaos is. There really is no room to breathe or think.
Jon eventually gets trampled as his men begin retreating, and climbs his way up from beneath the feet of his own men, taking a giant gasp of air, wanting to live- in a shot intentionally similar to Dany at the end of Season 3 as she’s lifted by the people of Yunkai. Just as it seems like Jon’s army has been effectively defeated a horn blows, Tormun rips out Umber’s neck with his bare teeth (or is that BEAR teeth!?), and the Knights of the Vale pull a Rohirrim. They swoop around the Bolton army and ride through them, as Ramsay realizes, “That’s a big army” and retreats into Winterfell.
But the fight’s not over! Jon, Wun Wun, and Tormund race inside to catch up with him, and Sansa wants a piece of the action too. Ramsay rides back in with approximately 3 men (did he send out ALL his men?). Wun Wun punches a hole through the door. When he bursts through, he’s punctured by several arrows and Jon’s Freefolk force the remaining Bolton men to surrender. Jon looks into Wun Wun’s eyes as a thank you, and Wun Wun is dealt a killing blow by Ramsay, who fired an arrow in his eyes. The last march of the Ents.
Ramsay gleefully accepts Jon’s offer for a one on one fight ( or is it a Wun on Wun fight!?) and Jon picks up a Mormont shield to block Ramsay’s arroes and just begins a giant ground and pound session. Ramsay eyes Sansa through a face of blood and Jon leaves the rest of him for her to deal with.
Elsewhere, the Bolton banners are lowered and a direwolf is unfurled. After about an hour of agonizing emotions, everyone sobs tears of happiness. It is one hell of an episode. Anyone who has been paying attention knew Jon was going to get out alive- but at now point of the episode did he ever feel safe. It’s an impressive feat to elicit so many reactions from you audience despite most of them knowing the outcome.
Sansa pays Ramsay one last visit, telling him that if he abuses something long enough, it’s only a matter of time before it rebels. Ramsay tries to get under her skin, but Sansa takes her time telling him that no one will know or remember who he is- and we hear a dog growling. Ramsay is then eaten alive by his own hounds, which are actually named for the previous girlfriends he’s tortured and killed like Tansy- this detail isn’t in the show, but it should have been. It would have made much more sense rather than me waiting around for Ghost to deliver the killing blow. Sansa leaves them to it and walks away with a little bit of a smile. She’s basically won this whole thing. Her strategizing won the battle. Something has finally swayed in her favor- she got her revenge, she got her ending, she’s the Lady of Winterfell, she’s sort of avenged the Red Wedding, and it speaks to all of us that she leaves with autonomy and satisfaction.
Next, we wrap up Season 6 with 6.10 The Winds of Winter