Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards” Season 6 Episode 9 Review

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Season 6 of Game of Thrones has had some issues of tension. The faster pace and the characters all having good things happen to them has made the show a bit more predictable. Going into “Battle of the Bastards,” it was easy just to think the Starks would win and Ramsay would die. It’s the only reasonable conclusion to this plot thread. But, somehow, even though that’s exactly what happened, there was tension. Personally, my heart is still going a little nuts right now. Director Miguel Sapochnik, returning from last year’s stellar “Hardhome,” delivered an episode that not only lived up to expectations, but in fact blew them out of the water. It doesn’t matter that everything went as we thought it would when we’re tricked into thinking it won’t and fear for the lives of some of the show’s most significant players. “Battle of the Bastards” is a masterpiece of serialized television for every second of its slightly extended runtime.

Juxtaposing the brief war in Meereen to the horror at the gates of Winterfell was a great way to start. Tyrion attempting the explain his way out of the blame for the city’s current predicament was a welcome bit of comic relief. But it quickly devolved into the “Daenerys wipes out everyone with her dragons” show. What’s not to love about that? Seeing her three beasts burn the armada at her command, as she rides Drogon no less, was a visual marvel and a sight we’ve been waiting to see since they hatched. Even the sight of the Dothraki charging into the city was so well earned.

Tyrion’s political maneuverings here were just as good, having the enemy leaders choose which of them dies. Grey Worm awesomely kills two of them with one strike. The last one remains kneeling, and Tyrion approaches him, rightfully taller than his foe, and tells him to spread the word that this world is Daenerys’.

But the events in Meereen didn’t end there. After the battle, Yara and Theon arrive to pledge their allegiance to Daenerys. It was fun having Tyrion belittle Theon for how he treated him in season one, but the best moment here was shared by Dany and Yara. Their handshake to take Westeros is destined to become one of the show’s most iconic feminist moments. With their ships combined with the ships Meereen’s attackers used, Tyrion estimates that they have just barely enough to make it to Westeros. The time has come for the Mother of Dragons to fight for her throne across the Narrow Sea.

Before that, though, the throne at Winterfell is contested. The buildup to the battle was strong. Sansa’s plea to Jon to not underestimate Ramsay helped build the tension. It was also immediately justified with Ramsay’s final “game.” Rickon may be the most expendable Stark, but that does’t mean his death didn’t hurt. Jon’s face as Ramsay’s arrow pierced Rickon’s chest perfectly set the mood for the battle to come.

But man, what a battle. Peter Jackson should be jealous. The Battle of the Bastards does in fact rival anything in Lord of the Rings. It was shot like a version of the opening to Saving Private Ryan with swords and horses. That long shot of Jon standing in the middle of and reacting to the chaos was one of the most impressive shots in television history. The progression of the charge to the Stark army surrounded to Jon literally being trampled was insane.

Of course, the Knights of the Vale arrive just in the nick of time to slaughter the Bolton’s army. Sansa sitting on her horse next to Littlefinger as the army decimated the circle of shields was immensely rewarding. The shot of Jon, Tormund, and Wun Wun chasing Ramsay was great as well. The final confrontation had to be in Winterfell and it had to be a one-on-one clash between the titular bastards. Jon nearly beats his enemy to death, but Sansa’s face tells him not to. Ramsay may have killed both of theirs’ brother, but he’s still appropriately Sansa’s to finish off. She doesn’t merely stab him, she lets the hounds he starved prove their disloyalty. In the end, it’s Ramsay’s ineffective leadership that leads to his ugly, yet totally satisfying, death. Sansa just made sure it happened. Her smile just before we cut to the credits was yet another iconic moment for feminism on this show. It’s also the perfect way to end this perfect episode.

“Battle of the Bastards” is the best episode of Game of Thrones, no question. But perhaps the most exciting bit is that, the way things are developing, not to mention HBO being willing to roll out the cash, it probably won’t be by the time the show ends. Payoffs years in the making are working every way David Benioff and D. B. Weiss intend them to. Daenerys has her army, her dragons, and her ships to Westeros. The Starks have retaken Winterfell after a fight the North will never forget. Game of Thrones has never been better than this hour. It doesn’t have to ever outdo itself, but the fact that they’re going to try goes into making this series the classic it already is. Six seasons of passionate storytelling climax in “Battle of the Bastards,” but it’s not the end. Grade: A

Some Other Notes:

  • Was anyone else surprised this episode featured any other storyline besides the battle? I thought it would be more like “Blackwater,” but I’m so happy it wasn’t.
  • Man, I was so nervous for Davos this whole episode and he’s still alive. He found out the true nature behind Shireen’s death, however, so things won’t be getting much better for him anytime soon.
  • Speaking of that moment, the shot of Davos standing with the clouds behind him and the light of dawn was absolutely beautiful. This whole episode was gorgeous in fact. Jon emerging from the sea of bodies gasping for air. Tyrion finally being tall. The whole thing was a visual marvel that rivals any big budget film.
  • Okay, if I have one little nitpick, it’s that Dany’s other two dragons escaping and immediately joining the fight, while totally awesome, was a little convenient.
  • Yara lightly flirting with Dany everything.
  • Maybe a controversial opinion, but Sansa’s rape last season now feels completely justified in that the end of this episode wouldn’t have hit nearly as hard had it not happened. Narratively speaking, Sansa gets her best moment in the series because of what Ramsay did to her. I still think the rape scene itself was mishandled, but it ended up being worth it in the context of the story.
  • I lost it when the Stark banner came down the wall of Winterfell. Like, loud tears of pure joy.

By Matt Dougherty

One Response to Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards” Season 6 Episode 9 Review

  1. SherryAva says:

    The women of power have prevailed! Justice to those whose eyes are open. What a fitting end for Ramsay. I have finally exhaled. Ahhh.

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