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Game of Thrones: The Battle of the Bastards

"Do you like playing games, little man? Let's play a game."

Guess who got to review the craziest episode of Game of Thrones ever produced?

This one really has everything you could want, as far as the action and the story goes. We've got showdowns, victories, defeats, insults, alliances, negotiations, mutilations, decapitations, pulverizations, eviscerations, asphyxiations, incinerations and more, all in one episode. And somehow, in spite of all its epic set-pieces, the episode still manages to be one of the show's most grounded and contained. We only ever visit two locations, Winterfell and Meereen. Jon Snow's war, and Daenerys Targaryen's crusade. Ice and Fire.

Battle of Meereen

As I thought, the siege of Meereen was not as pressing an issue as it appeared last episode. Daenerys and Tyrion quickly devise a plan to trap the Masters' representatives from Astapor, Volantis and Yunkai. The slavers can do nothing but watch in terror as their fleet is utterly decimated by the full might of Dany's three fire-breathing dragons, and the Sons of the Harpy on the ground are slaughtered by her new Dothraki horde.

This was a truly amazing spectacle. The dragons have never looked so incredible; remember when they were small and cute? We see the awesome but horrific reality of a flying dinosaur that can drown scores of men in a fiery inferno. One wonders how anyone will be able to defeat Daenerys Stormborn in the future. She's doling out a whole different kind of warfare.

Rather than follow in her father's footsteps and proceed with her plan to completely annihilate the slavers, their armies and their cities, listening to Tyrion has allowed Dany to see her enemies die screaming, take the remainder of their ships for herself, and send an unforgettable message to whatever Masters remain.

Targaryens and Greyjoys

It wouldn't be an episode of Game of Thrones without Dany having a great victory and swaying more powerful forces to her side.

Following her latest victory over the Masters of Slaver's Bay, she receives Yara and Theon Greyjoy, eager to make an alliance with the Mother of Dragons. She and Tyrion shrewdly assess the polarizing siblings. Once it's determined that Yara and Dany are of the same mind, Theon is totally willing to let his sister rule and own up to his failings, and they seek to aid her against their vile uncle Euron, Dany accepts their offer of fealty. She even gets them to agree to end the Ironborn tradition of never-ending piracy and subjugation.

So Dany now has members of House Lannister and House Greyjoy serving her; there's no telling how fast the rest of Westeros will flock under her banner when she crosses the sea. She's never been closer to returning to her homeland than she is now. And this scene properly alerts her to the next big threat looming on the horizon: Euron Greyjoy, a man as mysterious as he is murderous. Will Dany meet this Iron King and nonchalantly burn him away like the rest of her enemies, or will she be swayed by his great ambition, his huge fleet and his big cock? We shall see.

Starks and Boltons

In the North, we see a brief stand-off between the Stark and Bolton leaders. The bastards, Jon Snow and Ramsay Snow (Bolton) meet at last. Proclaiming himself a "man of mercy", Ramsay suggests Jon kneel so that his army may be spared. Jon tries to provoke Ramsay into dueling him one on one, to end the war without a battle. Neither man accepts. Our heroes initially plan to make Ramsay send all of his forces charging at their's and use trenches as traps. Though nothing was stopping her from speaking up, Sansa is angered that Jon didn't ask for her advice during the war council, since she knows Ramsay better than any of them. When he actually does listen to her, the most she can offer is to tell him not to do what Ramsay wants.

This vague bit of wisdom turns out to have been spot on the following morning, when the armies have gathered on opposite sides of the battlefield and Ramsay hauls out poor Rickon Stark. He sets the boy free, forcing him to run across the wide open land between the two armies while sending arrows flying at him from behind. This prompts Jon to ride out in a mad dash to save Rickon, only for his youngest brother to get shot and die right before his eyes just as they were about to reach each other.

And so the fighting begins.

Battle of Winterfell

As Sansa predicted, Ramsay succeeds in playing Jon, forcing him and his men into the middle of the battlefield, where he hammers them with wave upon wave of cavalry and endless volleys of arrows. Once he's literally created mounds of dead bodies, he sends in his infantry to trap the smaller army in a circle of shields and spears and corpses, picking the good guys off one by one as they close in. The situation turns insanely desperate and terrifying, the battle devolving into an ugly mass of men, fighting or dying, struggling to escape and then struggling to even breathe. Jon is nearly trampled by his own men, then nearly suffocated by the bloody clot of humanity. More than once, I thought they might actually kill Jon again.

In total contrast to Daenerys, who has enough resources and fire-power to win a dozen battles in her sleep, and no shortage of men whatsoever, the Starks continue to endure the most traumatic and spirit-breaking of trials in order to achieve a single win, with barely any support or hope of survival.

And they do win. Just as it seems all hope is lost, Sansa and Littlefinger show up with the Knights of the Vale. This fresh new army easily wades through Ramsay's forces, saving Jon and friends. Ramsay retreats to Winterfell, only for the now poorly-defended castle to be quickly overtaken and Jon gets to deliver unto Ramsay the most savage beatdown ever.

Finally, we see all the Bolton heraldry tossed into the dirt and the direwolf banner of House Stark flies above Winterfell for the first time since Season 2, when Ramsay set the castle ablaze. On Jon's orders, Rickon is laid to rest in the crypts beside their father, Ned. And Sansa personally oversees the execution of Ramsay, the man who raped her and the worst of her many tormenters. Cold as ice, she has him fed to his own starved hounds, who ravenously devour the evil bastard alive. I can't put into words how satisfying the clarity of this victory is, after so many letdowns and tragedies. The Starks have emerged from the blood and the ashes at last, and taken back what is theirs.

Schemes & Plots:

* We've had some large, sweeping, awe-inspiring battles before, Blackwater, The Watchers on the Wall and Hardhome most specifically. But nothing on this level. Which is odd, considering this is perhaps the one battle most grounded in realism; there are no ice zombies or wildfire explosions (okay, there's one giant and a living dead man). The showrunners drew inspiration from real historical battles from the Middle Ages to create a gritty, harrowing and immersive experience for The Battle of the Bastards. It might be one of the most outstanding war scenes ever filmed.

* Davos once again expresses his undying devotion to the late King Stannis, acknowledging his flaws but stating that he would not be the man he is if not for Stannis's influence. Later, while he walks and thinks before the battle, he finds a toy stag -- the one he had carved for Princess Shireen in the last Episode 9 -- in the remains of a pyre. Davos quickly realizes what happened. Even after surviving the unbelievable battle, the last shot of him glaring at Melisandre lets us know that seeking justice for the Baratheons of Dragonstone is still a high priority for Davos Seaworth.

* Tormund Giantsbane killed Smalljon Umber, whose house sigil features a giant.

* Wun Wun's death was sad. He was the last of the giants, and fought so hard... And just as Jon reaches out to comfort the big guy as he dies, that little bastard Ramsay kills him with an arrow to eye. Damn you, Ramsay! You just never stop!

* They had a dark parallel to the scene where Ramsay feeds Fat Walda and her baby to his dogs earlier this season. Like Ramsay in that scene, Sansa almost looked away from the carnage she was inflicting and then decided to watch anyway.

* I could watch Jon beating the shit out of Ramsay all day. In fact...


Razdal mo Eraz: Your reign is over!
Daenerys: My reign has just begun.

Tyrion: (to Yezzan) Tell your people what happened here. Tell them you live by the grace of her majesty. When they come forward with notions of retribution or ideas about returning the slave cities to their former glory, remind them what happened when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen.
The pat on the shoulder really sells it. And to think, that asshole once owned Tyrion.

Sansa: You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well.
Some Starks keep their promises.

Jon: I won't ever let him touch you again. I'll protect you, I promise.
Sansa: No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.

Tormund: You want to avenge your king, don't you?
Davos: It wasn't the Boltons defeated Stannis, but Stannis himself. I loved the man. He lifted me up and made me something. But he had demons in his skull whispering foul things.
Tormund: You saw these demons?
Davos: What...? No, it's a manner of speakin'. Not... actual demons.
Tormund: Oh... well, you loved that cunt Stannis, and I loved the man he burned. Mance didn't have demons in his skull, he didn't torture people and he didn't listen to some red witch. But I believed in him. I thought he was the one to lead us through the Long Night, but I was wrong just like you.
Davos: Maybe that was our mistake, believing in kings.

Daenerys: Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We are going to leave the world better than we found it.
I hope so. Oh, and Happy Fathers Day.

Davos: Nock!
Ramsay: Nock!
Davos: Draw!
Ramsay: Draw!
Davos: ... We'll just kill our own men. Stand down.
Ramsay: Loose!

Ramsay: You can't kill me. I'm part of you now.
Sansa: Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

I don't know what else to say. It was a stunning night of television. Four out of four starving, man-eating hounds.

Reminder: The comments on these episode reviews are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our Season Six book spoiler thread.


  1. Man, that was intense! The scene with Jon narrowly avoiding being killed time after time is the stuff of nightmares!
    Absolutely stunning episode!

    I know the character Rickon, and therefor the showrunners, have gotten a lot of grief because of the not zig-zag-ing but let me say this: Rickon is supposed to be, what - ten? Twelve? In any case he has never seen any "action" and in this situation is absolutely terrified. I'm not sure I would have zig-zag-ed.

    I really liked how this episode was total girl power though, how Dany and Yara just hit it off. Yara's "I'm open for anything" was perfectly delivered.
    And how Sansa has grown! I'm just worried if this means she'll have to marry demon-child - although I can't see her agree to something like that.

    Really looking forward to how this season will end.

  2. Some stunning directional work in this episode..The long tracking shot of Jon taking guys out while nearly dying what felt like 10x over in the space of a few minutes was cool...But the most harrowing shot for me was the one of Jon suffocating.. That has to be the worst death in war...It was an intense moment,, i was sure Jon would make it out alive but this scene managed to be really intense and did the brilliant thing of making me feel just as claustrophobic as Jon did.
    Loved Sansa being about to look away from Ramsey being eaten but stayed the course and watched...I took it as her taking Ned's teaching to heart...All the way back in the first episode when he chopped that guys head off.
    While Dany's scene was cool i liked Tyrion, Missandei and Grey worm all having their moments..Especially grey worms smooth double kill...Loved the way he just slid backwards into place after...#Eunuchassassin
    Dany and Yara... can i just say the chemistry was off the charts it makes for a very intriguing and odd pairing..So very different yet they found common ground. Also i have loved Yara since her 'dumb cunt' speech way back.
    This episode leaves me very conflicted about where i want my fav character Arya to go...I would love the Stark reunion at Winterfell.
    But Arya coming across Dany/tyrion is also something i have have wanted to see for ages.
    Also the Hound and the brotherhood. That meeting would be hilarious.

  3. In total contrast to Daenerys, who has enough resources and fire-power to win a dozen battles in her sleep...

    Yes! She swoops in from below on her dragons; Jon almost got smothered under horses and men. Such a fascinating contrast. Especially if we throw Sansa into the mix: in a way, she and Dany both won battles in this episode, albeit using different methods. (Does that make Littlefinger Sansa's pet dragon?)

    It might be one of the most outstanding war scenes ever filmed.

    Also yes! I'm not really into battle scenes qua battle scenes, but this blew me away. Especially once I realized that Ramsey wasn't just encouraging his archers to shoot anybody (even his own side) because he was a sadist: he was a savvy sadist who wanted to create giant piles of bodies to use as obstructions.

    Tormund Giantsbane killed Smalljon Umber, whose house sigil features a giant.

    Awesome observation!

    Henrik, I agree about the zigging and zagging.

    I've read some guff about Jon, too. Namely that he acted like an idiot. But I think the show adequately communicated the roots of his apparent idiocy: he saw his little brother killed in front of him, stared down a gigantic army, and basically said "To hell with intelligence. I'm going to do this thing."

    I did sort of want a Braveheart moment in the battle as the Karstarks run towards Jon's army: couldn't they all just shake hands, tell jokes, and get along. Alas, they cannot.

  4. Did anyone get the feeling Jon is kinda going through the motions right now...All this talk of Jon being stupid.
    I felt that he knew it was a trap, he knew he was doing the wrong thing, knew Sansa was right in her assessment of the battle and Ramsey..But he is making me think he wants to die. Not in an overly suicidal way, but he sure looks like he welcomes death at the moment. The way he asked not to be brought back if he died and other small moments. Reminds me of Buffy when she came back from heaven...Being back after finding peace and being at rest to be thrust back in with monsters at all sides fighting for your life all over again. I see a similar thing here.
    Or maybe they just wanted that badass shot of Jon meeting the Army alone and unsheathing his sword.

  5. I was wondering what Army Stanza showed up with, I couldn't figure out to which Army that Blue and White banner belonged. So, thanks for pointing out it was from the Vale.

    Seems every season's episode 9 has all heck breaking loose, and I must second the notion that this was one of the finest battle scenes filmed. I almost felt claustrophobic while Jon was struggling to emerge from being buried by all those bodies.

    Still, the episode 9 from season 3, the Wedding party massacre, for me ranks as the most vicious thing I have seen on television.

  6. Loved this episode too but I really think Sansa could have told Jon on the eve of of a seemingly hopeless battle 'Oh BTW I sent a raven to Littlefinger requesting help from the knights of the Vale. Just thought I'd mention it.'

  7. Who else but Ramsay would keep shooting arrows when your men are fighting the enemy. I didn't see Ghost, the Dire Wolf -- I hope to God he wasn't there. He's the last one. Could he not get killed, GoT writers, please?

    Loved that Ramsay really couldn't believe that a) Sansa would loose the hounds on him and that b) his beloved hounds, though starved for 7 days, would actually eat him! Hugely satisfying, yes!

    I was thinking about the zig zagging thing with poor Rickon, but he was such a child...

  8. Hey Louise, in addition to Ghost, Arya's direwolf Nymeria is somewhere. Remember Arya ran her off after Nymeria bit Joffrey (defending Arya) and Arya knew she had to make it run away before Cersei had it killed. Although we haven't seen it in over five years now so maybe it's no longer part of the story.

    This was a great episode, and I agree with all the comments so don't have much to add. The chemistry between Yara and Dany is awesome.

  9. A few more thoughts after thinking last night:

    1. Jon keeps saying, "We must fight now with the army we have" -- he's been saying that for 2-3 episodes and it leads to two really important consequences. One is that Sansa keeps hearing that and it tells her that Jon doesn't have the imagination to avoid doing what Bolton wants him to do. This discourages her from discussing the knights of the Vale, because she figures he'll just use them conventionally.

    Secondly, it encourages her to bring them into play, since it is "the army that she has", and Bolton won't expect it. So there's that -- and this is why she chooses not to tell Jon. I'm ignoring the fact that there's no way they could have gotten from the Vale to Winterfell in time, but see my second point below.

    2. The entire Yara/Dany thing was awesome, except that it could have never happened. Yara just left the Iron islands, and would have to sale all the way around Dorne and then all the way to Mereen. That would have taken about two book, which in GRRM time is about 15 years, give or take.

    I know that people get tired of hearing this, but one thing GRRM was awesome at was making the plot seem real in the sense that he doesn't just hyperspace people to where he needs them when he needs them there. He has them walk or ride at a realistic pace. Besides, those journeys on the roads is where all the cool character development happened.

    Now, it seems that the show runners are just rushing to complete the main story arc; it's an awesome arc, but it's like focusing on the melody and leaving all the harmonies behind. Or to use an even more obscure metaphor, it's like playing Risk and instead of being allowed to move your armies to a neighboring country at the end of your turn, you can just move them anywhere in the world you have a supply line -- so an attack in Siberia can retreat all the way to the US in one turn. Absurd. Some people play that way, and it totally ruins the fun of strategy and planning.

    It's still a great story, but it has morphed into science fiction now instead of obeying the fantasy rules GRRM set out. And I miss that.


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