I hear many Game of Thrones fans say how this season is the best one yet. It may not be a coincidence that this is being said at the same time that the show has parted ways with George R.R. Martin’s progress in the books. This season has been pretty much on point mainly due to one reason, they are giving the fans what they want in the form of progress and satisfaction. The one overlapping complaint has been that the story moves slow, even sometimes stagnant. Season 6 has been offering quite the opposite and no episode better emphasizes that then episode 9, Battle of the Bastards. Just like the rest of this season, the social media buzz about episode 9 has been very positive, with the phrase “best episode ever” being tossed around quiet liberally. Though a bold statement, it is one that I endorse. Last night’s pre finale episode gave us everything we wanted and more, while taking away our ability to fall asleep due to increased heart rates and heavy minds. The following is a play by play recap and breakdown riddled with more SPOILERs than certain characters were riddled with arrows.
Mother (of Dragons) is home
Let’s start by acknowledging that the show runners tricked us by not showing anything but the Battle of Winterfell in the “Battle of the Bastards” previews. With that said, I think almost everyone was pleasantly surprised by this. The story in Mereen picked up where the previous episode left off. The Masters came back to claim what was “theirs” or at least what they felt was theirs, and they were going to do this with a very large armada of warships. With the look on Daenerys’ face as she returned we thought Tyrion was going to be in pretty hot water. Instead we had a very true moment between Tyrion and the Breaker of Chains, one in which Tyrion reminded Dany to avoid going down a similar path that her father, The Mad King, went down in the past.
This lead to a negotiation of surrender between the very arrogant Masters and Dany and her council. Once the Masters delivered some very unfair terms of surrender Daenerys informed them that there was a communication issue because they were in fact there to discuss the Masters surrender. This was the moment the goosebumps started, which was only solidified by the growing appearance of Drogon as the largest of the Dragons flew overhead and landing behind his “mother”.
As she mounted the fantastic beast and soared off towards the invading armada you were almost able to completely ignore the dodgy CGI. The fate of the invading army was realized as dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, broke free of their prison to join their older brother. It was at the same moment that Daenerys Stormborn’s newly acquired horde of Dothraki soldiers arrived showing an impressive presence as they took out any Son’s of the Harpy on dry ground. With the Dothraki covering the ground the Dragons gave focus to the seas, more specifically just one warship. This was explained with a great scene where Tyrion thanked the Masters for the Armada saying that the Queen loves her ships. Greyworm allows the Master’s soldiers to flee with their lives, unfortunately two of the three masters did not get the same choice.
This scene was a fantastic display of what Daenerys’ full army was capable of under her leadership and Tyrion’s guidance. It was nice to see that she did not banish Tyrion like she has done sooften to Lord Friendzone. This sequence would act as the perfect way to close out the Mother of Dragon’s painstakingly long stay on the other side of the Great Sea. With everything wrapped up with the Masters/Son’s of Harpy and the economy in Mereen she can now focus on reclaiming her true place on the Iron Throne…if only she had some ships…we will get to that.
Parlay of Bastards
The time finally came where the show’s most popular character met the show’s most hated character. Ramsay does not seem very impressed as he offers terms almost as arrogant as the Masters in Mereen, being sure to emphasize that Jon is a “bastard”. He also thanks Jon Snow for bringing Lady Bolton home. Unfazed, Jon gives him a very fair option that would save the north from losing thousands of lives. Ramsay could fight him one on one winner takes all. Ramsay no fool turns down this offer, I mean what are the lives of his soldiers really worth to him? Jon points this out making Ramsey noticeably agitated. But again, how much does Ramsey actually care about anyone? Jon’s hope is that he losses his men’s loyalty with this but more on that later.
The highlight of this scene just like many in this episode belongs to Sansa. She has come a long way from the girl who’s life ambitious was to marry a psychotic inbred kid. Now she is has embraced the Dark Phoenix …oops wrong movie…I meant Dark Sansa. She delivered the best line and a real F you to Ramsey with, “You are going to die tomorrow Lord Bolton, sleep well”. Fans have been waiting for a Snow-Bolton show down only to have a spiteful Sansa show us who really means business.
Lord Davos, Tormund and Jon laid out a strategy that seemed to work for their numbers. They had to explain this to a literal and naïve Tormund who very much reminded me of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. This was a perfect example of how they struggled to fit any humor into the very serious Battle for Winterfell. Tension remained very high for any scene involving the North.
The part that I found most interesting was the discussion of how Ramsey has to save face because all of the North is watching him. Which Jon emphasizes with “they don’t want to fight for him, they are forced to”. This is the second time they foreshadowed loyalty among Lord Bolton’s men and you would think this is going to play a big part in the battle to come. Spoiler alert it does not and is another thing I will circle back to.
Let’s instead discuss some foreshadowing that actually went somewhere. Sansa showed much frustration in Jon not including her more in the war council. She warned him that he should not underestimate Ramsey and to realize he is smart enough not to fall into Jon’s trap. This argument paints a picture that the battle is not going to go as smoothly as the men think. I also believe this sets a tone of disagreement between the cousins (right that hasn’t been proven yet), I mean siblings, that is to continue in upcoming episodes.
The most important part of this scene is when Lord Davos discovers the pyre where Stannis burned his Daughter Shireen alive on advice from Melisandre, The Red Woman. He figured this out by finding the wooden stag he made for Shireen laying in the ash. Lets ignore the fact that Lord Davos made the stag out of wood that survived a fire big enough to burn a child…ok this was a bit of stretch. However, this will come into play in the next episode now that he knows it was not the enemy who killed his little tutor, but his best friend and his crazy spiritual guide. We can expect this to throw a large fissure in the Stark-Snow war council next week.
Back in Mereen the Iron Born kids have finally arrived with 100 boats that Daenerys is in dire need of. If this was George Martin calling the shots, that journey would have take 3 seasons. Though this was much faster they were lucky that they stopped in Bravos for some shenanigans and debauchery, because if they were early they ran the risk of sailing into the dragon welcoming party from earlier.
Instead they showed up to give us a short little break from the intense mood in the North. This scene was one of my favorites after you get over Tyrion’s pissing contest about Theon teasing him in Season 1. What I liked so much is the lighter side you saw from Daenerys. As Yara and Theon explained what their Uncle Euron planned on giving Dany along with marriage, she kept giving Tyrion funny smirks showing that she found this very amusing. Yara won her over with the funniest line of the episode. When asked by the Queen if her agreement came with any marital demands, Yara quickly responded with, “I’d never demand, but I am up for anything really”
The scene got serious when they acknowledged that all four of them had evil fathers. Followed by an agreement of support contingent on the end of raping and pillaging by the Iron Islands. That aside this scene was downright light hearted compared to what waited ahead for us.
The Battle of the Bastards
This was the advertised event, Bastard vs. ex-Bastard (but still a complete Bastard). For almost 4 full seasons we have been waiting to see Ramsay pay the iron price and 7.9 million viewers tuned in last night in hopes this was it.
As the battle is about to begin we are reminded how psychotic Ramsay really was as the camera pans past actual flayed men burning on crosses. We don’t know who they are but chances are good that the bodies are piling up in Winterfell since the dogs haven’t been fed in 7 days.
Sansa predicted that Rickon was not going to make it out alive. So when Ramsay brought him out Jon realized this was it. However, he did not know his enemy like Sansa said, because if he did he would have known that Ramsay plays with his food before he eats if. Rickon is forced to try an out run Ramsey and his arrows. Fortunately for Ramsay this kid believes a straight line to Jon is his best survival tactic. Unfortunately for Jon, his horse was not fast enough to save Rickon from Sansa’s prediction. I mean seriously though, this one is on Rickon, why the hell run in a predictable pattern?
An arrow through the heart of his youngest brother sent Jon into rage mode. Apparently all that planning was for nothing as Jon went head on at an army of 6,000. As awesome as this looked as he rode into a barrage of arrows, it was also the dumbest thing possible for someone who who once lead the Night’s Watch. Luckily for him Sir Davos anticipated this and sent his cavalry after him, saving him in the nick of time.
This began one of the most intense and chaotic battle scenes ever portrayed on TV and possibly movies. It was complete pandemonium as the two sides clashed. This was aid
ed by Ramsay sending arsenal after arsenal of arrows into the fray, not caring what side he was killing.
This leads me back to loyalty. I find it completely unbelievable that his men never turned on him. Especially after all that set up about the North not trusting or respecting him followed by the murdering of his own men.
Once the arrows stop the Bolton infantry moves in surrounding Snow’s army and backing them up to a giant mountain of dead soldiers and horses…this realistic brutality is what makes Game of Thrones so popular. With their backs up against the wall of death the Wildlings go berserk with Tormund and the giant, Wun Wun, leading the fray. This sparks the hardest 2 minutes I have watched as Jon gets trampled on and fights to not suffocate or get stomped to death. Thinking about this scene still causes unnecessary anxiety. Jon eventually gets up but things look over for the good guys.
I do not think it was ever question of if they would be rescued by Little Finger and The Vale’s army but when they would be. We all know who Sansa sent that Raven too. I appreciate that they made it the moment where it seemed like all was lost and made the viewers believe that the rescue may not come. Even worse they allowed us to contemplate a season 7 with Ramsay. Then came the sweet sound of The Vale’s battle horn as Sansa and Little Finger watched them make short work of Ramsay’s army.
Ramsay did not ever get into the fight like Jon, Tormund, and Sir Davos. If you think about it he only ever faces women, prisoners or his unaware father. So it is not surprising that he took off for the protection of the castle. However, like one giant held the door (RIP Hodor), another giant opened the door. Wun Wun made pretty quick work of the door, but like Hodor he also gave his life for this cause.
The End of Evil
This was where it got pretty hardcore. Ramsay felt now it was time to ask for 1 on 1 combat as he was now an army of one. As Ramsay pulls out his bow, Jon decides it is time to drop the sword, grabbing a shield. Notice that shield had a bear on it, meaning it belonged to one of Lyanna Mormont’s 62 fighting men. Jon blocks each of Ramsay’s shots finally knocking him to the ground and going MMA on his face.
This episode ends with a very predictable fate for everyone’s most hated villain since Joffery. Sansa is going to feed him to his own hounds. This predictable end is made very easy to digest due to Sansa’s dark message for Ramsay. How she is going to erase him from history. To tell a man like Ramsay or any other character on this show that they will die is not the worst thing that can happen. But to tell them their legacy will not live on that makes their life they lived be for nothing. I feel like this was worst than watching his dog take a bite out of his face.
The Best Episode Yet
With all that said, I stand behind my statement of this being the best episode to date. We saw a villain die, a unsuspecting hero rise, a giant fall for his friends and an new empire begin. Unlike another popular cable show, this one rewarded viewers for multiple years of patience and made the entire episode for the fans. This could have been the finale but luckily for us we get one more week.