This is it guys. Episode 9 is traditionally the big battle episode of the season, and the “Battle of the Bastards” did not disappoint on the spectacle front. I think it is the most visually astounding episode of the series.
If you’re not caught up then beware! Spoilers below!
Meereen: Daenerys Arrives
To my surprise, we started out the episode in Meereen! At first, I was annoyed because I wanted to get to the stuff going on at Winterfell, but then the show cut to a wide sweeping shot of the city under attack, and it was so beautiful that I got on board.
Newly arrived Dany is pretty angry at Tyrion, who protests that even though the city is literally on fire, he really did try his best. His argument is that this attack is actually a good sign since the violence was caused because of the master’s anger over the rebirth of Meereen. Dany’s patience is short and she quickly proposes a plan of complete destruction. This takes Tyrion off guard, and he reveals that the Mad King has planted wildfire caches under Kings Landing. If the city should fall, Aerys’s plan was to blow up the entire city and everyone in it. In Tyrion’s eyes, Dany’s plan is not that different than that of her father’s and using this comparison he convinces her to try a different tactic.
Team Dany meets with the Masters on a cliff overlooking the city as the battle rages below. They propose discussing terms of surrender and specify that they are referring to the master’s surrender, not theirs.
As this specification is being made, Drogon appears and Dany hops on. Dany is getting really good at dragon riding! Rhaegal and Viserion finally bust out of the basement and join their brother and mother in the skies above Meereen. As the dragons burn a ship in the harbor, the Dothraki hoard appears at the gates to attack the Sons of the Harpy on the ground.
Side note about the dragons: I thought they looked great while they were flying, but weird when they hovered.
Meereen: Aquiring an Armada
Back up on the cliff, Grey Worm and Tyrion let the masters know how recent developments will affect them. Tyrion says, “Thank you for the armada, our queen does love ships” and then lets them know that since they violated the terms of their pact, Dany has decided that one of them must die. Two of the masters offer up the third, claiming that he is low-born and does not speak for them. As the man they condemned drops to his knees to beg for his life, Grey Worm slashes the throats of the other two above his head, which admittedly was pretty neat. Team Dany leaves, telling the man to spread the word about “what happened when Dany Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen”.
The next we saw of Meereen, Theon and Yara have arrived and are talking to Tyrion and Dany (whose dress I absolutely loved) in the throne room. Dany and Yara really hit it off and their chemistry is awesome. They both had fathers who were bad kings, they are both women attempting to take a throne for the first time in history, they have a lot to bond over. The Greyjoys let Dany know about Yuron’s intention to offer more ships, but demand marriage. Although they are offering fewer ships that Yuron will, they are not demanding anything, merely asking for control of the Iron Islands and help murdering one uncle. Dany agrees on the condition that the Iron Born no longer raid the Seven Kingdoms.
Looks like queens are getting this ish done.
Winterfell: Negotiation Attempts
The bulk of the episode was centered around the battle for Winterfell, and our first stop in the north was with Sansa and Jon who are rocking some hefty fur collars as they meet with Ramsey. While Lyanna throws some serious shade in the background, Jon proposes single combat between himself and Ramsey instead of a full-scale battle. Ramsey turns his offer down, saying that Jon is said to be one of the best swordsman that ever was and since he has a bigger army he’s going to take the option where the odds are in his favor.
Winterfell: Battle Preparation
Back at the camp, the men talk battle strategy. After the meeting adjourns, Sansa confronts Jon for not asking for her advice since she obviously knows Ramsey better than anyone else in the room. This is where she should have told Jon about that mysterious letter she wrote. If there was the possibility of more troops coming, then she should have told Jon and they would have waited or attacked differently. She does, however, tell Jon that they are not getting their brother back alive. As far as they know, Rickon is the only legitimate Stark boy left alive in the world and therefore too much of a threat to Ramsey’s claim to the North.
Outside Davos and Tormond are comparing Mance and Stannis. The two bond over the fact that they have both loved and put their faith in men who ultimately failed to be the leader they needed against the war that is coming. I loved this conversation. I thought it made a lot of sense that the two characters got along so well, and I thought that the contrast between their before battle rituals was hilarious. While Tormond goes to drink some alcoholic goats milk (ew), Davos walks away to clear his head.
Jon goes to Mellisandre to tell her not to bring him back again if he dies. She, of course, refuses. This scene was far too short, and it was great to see Mellisandre actually admit to not completely understanding the visions she interprets in the flames. As Davos walks beyond the boundaries of their camp, he finds the place where Stannis and Melissandre burned Shireen last season and cries holding the remains of the toy that he carved for her.
I’m including a picture of that moment because this shot was SO beautiful.
There were actually a lot of amazing shots in this episode. Another one was this, an extreme wide above the Northern army as they prepared for battle the next morning.
Winterfell: the Battle of the Bastards
As the armies line up on either end of a field filled with flayed and burning men, Ramsey appears leading Rickon on a rope. He cuts Rickon’s bonds and tells him to run while he prepares his longbow to shoot. As poor Rickon flees, Jon jumps on his horse to begin galloping towards his brother. Of course, Ramsey kills the youngest Stark just as the two are about to meet. Sansa had warned Jon that Ramsey would try to rile him up, and their entire battle strategy was to be patient and let the Bolton’s charge at them. The second Rickon dies, Jon throws all of that advice out of the window and immediately begins a charge at Ramsey’s forces.
Thus began the most brutal fight I have ever seen on screen. Ramsey sends volley after volley of arrows, and scores of bodies pile up forming a wall. The Boltons quickly surround the dwindling northern forces and form a wall with their shields and spears. Once everyone is good and trapped inside, they start slowly marching inwards. Jon gets trampled by his own forces as they try to flee over the mountain of bodies and forces himself up just as everyone is packed too close together to move. Right as everything seemed far beyond hopeless, soldiers from the Eerie appear with Littlefinger and Sansa in the lead and trample the Bolton army.
Tormond, Jon, and Wun Wun follow after Ramsey as he flees to Winterfell, and Wun Wun is riddled with arrows as he breaks down the door and is killed by Ramsey. Surrounded, the Bolton bastard attempts to talk his way out of his predicament, but Jon attacks him and begins to beat him until his face is bloody. I half expected him to beat Ramsey to death, but he stops when Sansa appears.
The Stark banners unfurl over Winterfell once more, and Ramsey wakes in the kennels with Sansa standing outside the door. At the beginning of the episode, Ramsey had revealed that he hadn’t fed his dogs in seven days to make sure that they would be brutal when he fed them those that supported the Starks. However, this plan backfires and Ramsey is eaten alive by his hounds as Sansa walks away with the barest hint of a smile.
Overall, I have very mixed feelings about “The Battle of the Bastards”. Watching the battle absolutely sickened me. The hopelessness and and desperateness was so overwhelming, and the cruelness and brutalness of the gore made me nauseous. The only reason I didn’t skip a majority of the fight was because I was trying to figure out if anyone I loved had been killed. The scene in particular that affected me the most was when the Bolton soldiers had surrounded the meager remains of Jon’s supporters and started slowly closing them in a tighter and tighter circle. Those inside could barely move, and while watching it I felt sick.
However, this episode was technically astounding. The craft that went into the choreography, cinematography, and editing was amazing and taken alone, it is an example of pure visceral visual storytelling, as evidenced by my inability to watch it without feeling nauseous. I am sure that there will come a time when I will rewatch this episode from a filmmaker’s perspective instead of a fan’s, and as an editor, I am actually looking forward to reviewing the battle sequences strictly to analyze the craft behind those creative decisions. There were some really outstanding acting performances as well. I thought Kit Harrington, in particular, was fantastic.
Game of Thrones has a fantastic “making of” segment on YouTube that I highly recommend everyone watch.
I say that “The Battle of the Bastards” taken alone is an excellent example of visual storytelling because I have some problems with the larger story over the course of this season and within the episode itself. A lot of my problems are concerning Sansa’s choices. It drives me absolutely nuts that she did not tell Jon that she had asked for help from the Eerie.
If Jon had known that more soldiers were possibly coming, he would not have attacked when he did. The battle would have gone differently if Ramsey did not have such completely superior numbers, the whole strategy of bodies piling up and boxing the attackers in would not have happened in that way, and thousands of lives would have been saved.
If Sansa had told Jon.
Which she didn’t.
I cannot think of one halfway decent reason why she did not tell him, and if I were Jon I would find that extremely hard to forgive.