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Game of Thrones Season Six, Episode 9: The Battle of the Bastards Review

While preparing for last night’s episode, I debated in my mind how “Battle of the Bastards” would rate. Would it surpass the other great battle scenes on the show or would it be a poor imitation of “Blackwater” from Season 2 or “Watchers on the Wall” from Season 4?

And while I think “Blackwater” was the most unpredictable (I mean, come on, we all knew Jon was winning last night) and “Watchers on the Wall” had more dramatic moments (such as a giant scythe cutting through people, Ygritte and important men of the Nights Watch dying, and great moments for Jon, Sam, and Ghost), the “Battle of the Bastards” was the most brutal of any of these.

Never has “Game of Thrones” featured that kind of hand to hand combat. The previously mentioned battles were about territory (Stannis getting the Throne and The Wildlings crossing the Wall). But “Bastards” was a grudge match centered around pure hate. Jon and Sansa’s hatred for all the pain the Bolton’s had caused versus Ramsey’s hatred for human decency.

And I know there’s been a lot of criticism for how the show felt this constant need to remind us just how sick a freak Ramsey is. But Ramsey was the heel that poured the emotion into Jon and Sansa’s return to Winterfell. He’s like that dastardly wrestling villain that kept escaping what was coming to him until that satisfying moment when the good guy finally finishes him off.

With “Blackwater,” there were no real good guys or bad guys. And while that is a classic Martin tactic, it gave viewers very mixed emotions on who they should want to secure the Iron Throne. “Watchers” did put that good guy moniker on the men of the Night’s Watch, but we still felt sympathetic for the Wildlings, who only fought because it was the only way to escape the Whitewalkers.

What made “Battle of the Bastards” different was Ramsey was that true villain. He “earned” Winterfell by killing his father, who earned it having Starks stabbed at the red wedding. He was brutal to Sansa and fed numerous others to his dogs for sport. And maybe the show went over board displaying his brutality the last four seasons. But that brutality is what made his defeat last night so satisfying.

But there were two battles in last night’s episode 9. And I’ll start with that first one, and it was a little more lopsided than Jon vs Ramsey.

Meereen

Daenarys has returned to Meereen and someone has some explaining to do. Well, at least I thought someone would. I mean, seriously, Tyrion really got off easy here. Daenarys, as it turns out, only wants to exact vengeance on the slavers for what’s happening outside her city’s walls.

Now, many folks on the forums have pointed out that while Dany’s been doing some cool stuff in season six, she’s also been talking a lot like a crazy Targaryen (a “Mad Queen” quite possibly?). Tyrion notices this too when Dany says she intends to hang every slaver and burn their cities to the ground (the very thing her father, the Mad King, was willing to do to keep from losing his city). He talks her out of it, and they formulate a new plan before meeting with the slavers to discuss terms.

The slavers are first with theirs, arrogantly telling the Dragon Queen to leave Slaver’s Bay, sell the Unsullied and Missandei back to them, and kill her dragons in the dungeons. Its clear the slavers haven’t been watching Game of Thrones this season.

Episode 9 Dany and Drogon

Dany and Drogon appear before the Slavers, causing them to s**t their pants.

Drogon flies up behind Dany, changing the tone of “negotiations” and shocking the slavers as she flies off to burn the slaver ships. The Harpys have also returned for the first time this season and they are butchering people once again. But the Dothraki, led by Daario, ride up on their horses and handle them easily (so that’s all it took to take out season five’s biggest threat to Daenarys?).

As Dany flies Drogon, her other two dragons burst out of the walls (they were unchained earlier this season many weeks ago). The three dragons fly in formation and, at Dany’s command, burn a number (though it didn’t sound like all of them were burned) of slaver ships.

Grey Worm (who hasn’t done anything cool in a long time) speaks up in that tough military voice we’ve missed leading the Unsullied. He tells the guards of the Slavers to leave. Tyrion and Missandei then tell the slavers that punishment for their crimes is that one of them must die. Two of the slavers push the guy in the middle forward. But he’s the one spared as Grey Worm walks up and slices the other two’s throats (good to have you back Grey Worm). The one survivor is sent to the slaver cities and is instructed to tell them all he’s seen here today.

With the slavers defeated, Dany can turn her focus on securing all the ships she needs. And wouldn’t you know it, Theon and Yara Greyjoy have just arrived. My oh my, how things are working out for the Breaker of Chains. The Greyjoy siblings tell her of Euron and his impending arrival and offer her their own terms: the Iron Islands for Yara to lead. Dany agrees only if they will respect the lands of the seven kingdoms and stop plundering and raping. The two women shake elbows and Dany has her first Westerosi alliance.

Episode 9 Dany and the Greyjoys

Tyrion and Dany meet with the Greyjoys.

The North

Before the Battle

Now it’s time for the main event, as the terms for the Battle of the Bastards are set. The two sides meet the day before to parlay as Ramsey wants Jon and crew to declare him Warden of the North. Jon wants to avoid bloodshed and have him and Ramsey fight one on one for Winterfell. Of course, nobody accepts anybody’s terms. Ramsey does point out that his dogs have not eaten in seven days, but I’m sure that won’t come into play sometime later.

episode 9 negotiations before the battle

The two sides meet to discuss terms as Jon and Ramsey speak for the first time.

Jon and crew return to camp and discuss battle plans, something Tormund is hilariously unfamiliar with. But Sansa sees a problem. She knows Ramsey and suspects strongly that he will set a trap. Her advice to Jon: “Don’t do what he expects you to do.” At this point, we all know Sansa’s warnings are correct. But could she have given advice that was any more vague?

Well, it turns out she could have. Jon goes to meet with Melisandre, who continues her season of sulking in a tent by herself. Her advice to Jon straight from the John Madden book of Military Strategy: “Don’t lose.” But Jon is not here for military council. He tells Mel to let him die if he falls on the battlefield. The red priestess, however, can’t make any promises. She says she can only do what the Lord of Light tells her. And this season, I think she believes that. I definitely think her experience with Stannis has humbled her to a point where she no longer considers herself to have any power at all that’s not granted to her by her deity. I don’t know if that was the case before.

Now let’s see if she survives to continue with this new philosophy on life. Davos, while walking around the night before the battle, discovers the peer. Remember, this is the same camp Stannis was in last season preparing for his northern invasion. Looking through that peer, Davos finds the stag he gave Shireen the last time he saw her. So now we have Davos’s next meeting with Melisandre to look forward to.

Episode 9 Davos and Shireen 2

Davos holding Shireen’s stag.

Day of the Battle

Ramsey wastes little time before playing his first game. He brings out Rickon, cuts the ropes tying him up, and tells the young Stark to run. Jon sees this, and while the rest of us go Admiral Ackbar screaming “It’s a trap, you fool,” Jon jumps on his horse and races to save his doomed brother.

Sansa has no battlefield experience, but she was clearly right about two things. The first of those was that Rickon was not going to survive. Ramsey would not let him survive with the boy’s possible claim to Winterfell. And without a line spoken all season, Rickon dies as he was finally struck down by one of the many arrows Ramsey was firing.

While watching Jon’s actions throughout the battle, I wondered if he didn’t have a death wish regarding the whole affair. First, he asks Mel not to revive him. Then, after Rickon is killed, he rides his horse alone into the entire Bolton line. I mean, he had to know he wasn’t going to survive that didn’t he? His horse is shot down, but Jon persists, this time with the Bolton army making its first charge straight at him.

Episode 9 Jon and the Boltons

Jon staring down the charging Bolton forces.

Fortunately for Jon (or maybe not so fortunately if he really wanted to die), Ser Davos had already sent men to begin their charge and they arrive just before a Bolton sword can strike him down. And as it turns out, nothing from the Bolton’s can strike Jon down as some bizarre “Jon Snow Force Field” allows him to dodge every arrow and blow from a Bolton soldier.

The fighting is just brutal. Piles of dead bodies begin to emerge with men fighting each other on top of those piles. Game of Thrones has never featured this type of close quarters fighting and it was something to behold. Now, I don’t know how Ramsey pulled this off, but somehow those stacks of dead bodies were by design. Because that proved to be the wall that set the trap (the second thing she was right about) Sansa warned Jon about.

Episode 9 Ramsey's Battle strategy

Jon and his men trapped between Bolton men and a wall of dead bodies.

The Smalljon lead another group of Bolton men into the fight. One part of the force comes with shields, trapping Jon and his men. The other part climbs the wall of dead bodies and keeps anybody from escaping. The Bolton shields march forward a few steps at a time, forcing their spears into Wildlings one line at a time. That is, until Wun Wun realizes he’s a giant and starts picking up shields one by one, slowing down the charge just slightly.

A really cool scene happens here where Jon finds himself crushed underneath men trying to get out of the trap. He finally emerges only to find that he and his men have no more room to move at all.

Then a horn sounds. We all suspected two weeks ago that Sansa was sending a letter to Littlefinger, asking for aid. And here, doing their best Gandalf impression, are Littlefinger and Sansa arriving with the Knights of the Vale, all on horseback. It’s important to remember here that, while most of the armies of Westeros lost men in the War of Five Kings, the Vale lost none. The fresh force plows into the Bolton lines, freeing Jon and his men as Tormund finishes off the Smalljon following a little biting action.

Jon eyes Ramsey and it’s like reaching the Bowser level of Super Mario Brothers. Ramsey flees back to the castle, closing the door saying, “They have no army, or anything else that could single-handedly break down that gate.” And then Wun Wun starts punching through and Ramsey says “Oh dammit, I forgot they had one of those.” Wun Wun heroically breaks through the gates of Winterfell, taking countless arrows and giving his life so Jon and his remaining men can enter. Jon fights off a couple of Ramsey arrows with his shield before knocking him down and beating his face bloody. Jon doesn’t kill him, however, and a bloody Ramsey is tied up and put into a cell.

Episode 9 Wun Wun dying

Wun Wun breaking down the gates of Winterfell and dying a heroic death.

After the Battle

The Bolton banners fall and the Stark banners have returned, hanging from the walls of Winterfell. But Sansa only wants to know where Jon is keeping Ramsey. She finds him in his cell and Ramsey remains just as arrogant even in his final breathing moments. Someone’s opened the cages keeping his hounds (you know, those beasts Ramsey pointed out hadn’t eaten in seven days). He doesn’t think his beasts would eat their master. But as they get a good sniff of him, they proceed in the most ironic death in the history of Game of Thrones: Ramsey eaten by the very hounds he’s feed so many to.

As Ramsey is dying, screaming as his dogs make him their meal, Sansa gives her own little sadistic smile as the episode ends.

Episode 9 Sansa evil smirk

Sansa walks away from Ramsey smirking as his hounds devour him.

Of Note

-A nice touch tonight showing Tormund discussing war strategy and having no idea what some basic terms meant. That is very consistent with the very unorganized way in which Wildlings fight.

-I also enjoyed the conversation between Davos and Tormund as the two men discussed how their whole purpose was built around following a failed leader, leading them to follow an unlikely leader in Jon.

-I am curious if we are going to see House Manderly appear next week, now that Jon and Sansa have taken back Winterfell. They were mentioned by both sides as a possible house that could join the fight, but decided to join neither.

-Last night’s episode really showcased why Dany and Tyrion need each other. Without Tryion to handle political negotiations, Dany has struggled to secure peace in Slaver’s Bay. But Tyrion’s deal failed when he didn’t have Daenarys and the kind of force she brings when deals aren’t followed through. It did not take long for them to secure peace once they were reunited.

-Once again, the show has done a poor job developing a new character introduced in a later season. Last season’s example was everybody new from Dorne. This season, it’s Euron Greyjoy. This guy is supposed to be a reaving, plundering pirate who motivates men to do unspeakable things. But as he sails toward Meereen, does anybody else see him as a threat at all to the alliance Daenarys has made with his niece and nephew?

Questions

-Will the North quickly unite behind the Starks now that they are back in Winterfell?

-How will Jon handle Melisandre when he hears of what she did to Shireen? And if he doesn’t take care of it, will Davos take matters into his own hands?

-Is Euron coming to Meereen next week, or must we delay his arrival until season 7?

-What is going to happen at Cersei’s trial? I mean I seriously don’t have the slightest idea what the result of that is going to be.

-Will Sam make it to OldTown next week? And will he be running into anybody else we know?

-How will that Frey/Lannister alliance function at Riverrun?

-Will Dorne be returning to the fold for the season finale? And if so, can we end it as soon as possible so we can forget that story line ever happened?

Well, great news bookreaders!!! “The Winds of Winter” comes out next week!!! Not the long anticipated next book of the series, that’s just the title of next week’s record long season finale. And there should be plenty to talk about right here this time next Monday.

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Jeff Merrick

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