Everyone’s favorite brother-sister loving, skin flaying, backstabbing, dragon flying, dead walking, high adventure is back for season six! Come here every Monday morning for Pressure Life’s review and recap of HBO’s Game of Thrones– season six! Make sure to let us know your favorite scenes in the comments section below!
We’re a day later with this week’s review but Cleveland was a bit busy Monday morning. So, without further adieu, let’s crack open episode nine of Game of Thrones season six, “The Battle of the Bastards”!
Like that hearty serving of asparagus before you can have dessert, we have to first deal with a different impromptu battle. The slavers have waged war on Meereen just in time for the Dragon Queen to return. I find everything about this storyline odd and forced. Sure, it makes narrative sense for those that Daenerys overthrew to rise up in her absence, but there had been no overt signals of a coming war and the impact of having it arrived unannounced was undersold by consistently having everything that takes place in Essos play as a footnote to the larger plot happening in Westeros. Further diminishing it, is the ease in which Dany defeats this attempted coup, almost as an afterthought. Despite the uncertainty his character has experienced the past two seasons, this breakneck diplomacy is exactly what Tyrion lives for. He gets off on the art of the deal and loves strategizing desperate underdog victories.
How did the slavers think this was going to work out exactly? They knew she had dragons, right? Because, FYI, Drogon is down to fuck shit up and so are his little brothers! And how awesome was it actually hear a Dothraki horde with their patented battle cry as Daario lead the charge against a hapless contingent of soon-to-be-headless Harpys?
What’s even odder is Theon and Yara’s sudden arrival out of thin air. This was a peculiar edit choice. Having Theon and Tyrion face to face brings the series full circle to the very first season. By the way, Tyrion is still salt at Theon for those dwarf jokes. To get to Meereen from the Iron Islands they would have had to circumnavigate all of Westeros and travel around the southern edge first. All told, they got there real fast. And what, they just sailed up behind all the destroyed slaver ships and avoided the siege entirely? Chalk it up to expedited storytelling as the series draws to a close and moving pieces in play as needed.
The alliance forged between the Greyjoys and the Targaryens holds weight with it. It is reminiscent of Dany’s anscentors striking a truce with the Dornish empire during their initial conquering of Westeros. Tyrion seems honestly proud of Dany forging the alliance as he sees the larger context and world that Dany has just stepped into. I admire Yara’s tactic of playing up the femininity between her and Dany. A strong play toward a matriarchy sweetened the pot enough for Dany to allow the Iron Islands to remain an independent nation of their own as long as they bend the knee to Dany and fully renounce their pillaging, raping and reaving. Yara agrees to this, what else can she do at the moment? And an accord is struck, but what chances does Yara have at convincing all of the Iron Islands to completely abandon everything that makes them Iron Born?
But now what we’re all here for, the real battle. Kudos to everyone behind the scenes, because this scene really transported the audience to a medieval battlefield. The grit and blood, the dirt and sweat was palpable. Smart choice to play everything quiet and tense before the battle lines broke. In this quiet before the storm we could hear the individual breaths from the soldiers, selling the anxiety of every individual amassed. Ramsey trotted out his usual smirk and shit-mouth threats but the seasoned crew of Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, Daavos Seaworth and Little Lady Mormont were not impressed. Even when he parades the captive Rickon Stark, it is only Jon that falls for the ruse. Sansa and Daavos both call for patience. Their only chance is wait out Ramsey’s forces and draw them into their trenches. This is all undone as Jon’s heart gets the better of him, as it often does. After seeing his helpless half-brother killed by Ramsey’s own arrows, it is on. And to that point, can the kid not strafe?!
Then the chaos ensures. I’m not sure how you direct this melee, but it sure as hell sold the confusion, pandemonium and absolute and inescapable carnage of hand-to-hand combat. Words could never do justice to the visceral bloodbath that Game of Thrones filmed for the Battle of Winterfell. Bodies stacked upon bodies so high they formed parapets were grisly tableaus to witness, but effective in portraying the sheer totality of this onslaught. Perhaps, we all believed the good guys would see this particular battle through, but this was as hard fought a battle as they’ve ever depicted. Jon’s men were truly slaughtered by the overwhelming forces. When a Bolton phalanx had the remaining Stark forces corralled in a death ring while Small Jon Umber led his men to pick them off, there was a real sense of tragedy, of finality. It was an all out massacre. Tormund’s lack of vocabulary was played multiple times for jokes, but it highlights the real deficiency Jon faced in tactical planning. He was really undermanned and it showed. If not for the timely, if not all-together anti-climactic and predictable, arrival of Littlefinger’s promised Knights of the Vale, Boltons would have surely defeated Jon Snow and held onto Winterfell.
As it stands, the mounted Vale knights make quick work of Bolton’s men while the trio of Tormund, Jon, and the giant, Wun Wun, chase after Ramsey, making the gates of Winterfell a proper stage for the final standoff. In bittersweet sacrifice, the last giant falls in service to Jon Snow as he breaks down the gates of Winterfell. Bastard to bastard, Ramsey never stood a chance. He was still a boy playing games compared to the man Jon Snow has become fighting beyond the Wall. It was certainly a man-sized beating he delivered to Roose Bolton’s bastard son, but the death blow was saved for the Daughter of Eddard Stark, the new Wardeness of the North, Sansa. This was a just dessert for her, after being the helpless plaything of so many men’s machinations throughout the series. While Ramsey alludes to a potential offspring gestating within Sansa, she will have none of it, dismissing outright the very notion that history will ever recall a house named Bolton. I don’t know how I expected Ramsey to go out, but eaten alive by his own hounds is a good enough send off, I suppose.
This was a wonderful episode with some of the most ambitious and grueling scene ever committed to screen but it was hamstrung by having to split time between two separate battles of both Meereen and Winterfell that did nothing to tie the narrative together.
Winner of the week: Sansa Stark (Sure, Jon did all the work, but this was her victory)
Loser of the week: Ramsey Bolton (I’d like to more creative than this, but he is the clear ultimate loser)
Sansa Stark: “Your words will disappear. Your House will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.”
“No one can protect me.”
Jon Snow “What kind of God would do something like that?”
Melisandre “The one we’ve got.”