Game of Thrones is filled with death, deception, depravity, the occasional act of decency, and dialogue acrobatics. Each week, we break them down. Let’s dive into Season 6, Episode 9, “The Battle of The Bastards.”
The North Remembers
Sansa and Jon’s relationship is the center around which the “Battle of The Bastards” revolves. Jon is desperate to get Rickon back and kill the man who raped his sister and usurped his house. His sense of honor is pure Jon, which is why the tensest and most exciting part of the battle come when he acts impulsively: First when he indulges his anger and rides all alone into Ramsay’s forces after Rickon dies, then at the end when he beats Ramsay nearly to death in a show of pure rage.
Ever since Jon returned from the dead, we’ve wanted to see him get angry and the fact that he hasn’t is the most disappointing part of Season 6. But he finally made it here, and Jon is never more compelling than when he’s impulsive (Tormund: “Did you really think that cunt would fight you man-to-man?” Jon: “No. But I wanted to make him angry”).
For her part, Sansa weathers her first battle with steely resolve. When Sansa is furious at being left out of the war council and she and Jon fight in the tent, it’s truly the first time we’re seeing she and Jon interact as adults. She made a good point when she said, “You’ve met him for the space of a single conversation. I lived with him, I know the way his mind works. Did it ever once occur to you that I might have some insight?”
We’ve seen them grow up separately, we’ve seen them movingly reunited, we’ve even seen them argue a little bit. But we haven’t seen them raise their voices to each other, disagreeing over something huge. For the first time, she’s not his little sister — she’s his equal.
Petyr Baelish swooping in to save the day is a moment that’s debatably earned — he hasn’t been enough of an onscreen presence this season, though his scene with Sansa in “The Door” was among the most powerful. But there’s no question that this argument scene enables Ramsay’s death to feel earned. Jon could have finished the job himself, but after falling prey to Ramsay’s “games” and seeing Sansa’s point, he let Sansa have it. The North remembers indeed.
On a technical level, this battle was touted as the biggest in the show’s history. It’s certainly more impressive than “Blackwater,” the phalanx formation and cinematography make it more chaotic and visceral than “The Watchers on the Wall.” But I’m going to place it second to “Hardhome,” if only because that was a glorious surprise while this has been hyped up.
Nonetheless, “Battle of The Bastards” does the best job of building tension. That calm before storm scene of Jon riding; the shots of Ramsay’s horse pulling a string attached to Rickon; Jon’s frantic ride to his brother, it all let the action build in a way that felt more frantic than any prior battle.
All men must die
Ramsay’s death is not a surprise — it wouldn’t make sense for the show to kill Jon again, and there was no feasible way this battle was going to end with both men still standing. His death is immensely satisfying, however. “The Battle of The Bastards” indulges in some cliche moments — the Vale forces riding to the rescue at the last possible second, just when all seems lost! Daenerys jumping on a dragon, to general shock and awe! — but Sansa’s super cool action movie slow-walk away from Ramsay as he’s eaten by hounds is one that’s entirely warranted. Sansa earned that stone-cold slow-walk.
Uneasy is the head that wears the crown
“The Battle of The Bastards” would have been a stronger episode if it focused on the North and left Meereen aside. The Meereen sequence was technically impressive, with pyrotechnics and a dragon that seems to have really doubled up on his protein shakes — seriously, was Drogon that big the last time we saw him? — but it was all sound and fury.
Some men we don’t care about died; Daenerys rode off on a dragon for the 100th time. Unlike the Battle of The Bastards, there were no engaging stakes. Her meeting with Theon and Yara was the only justified part of that sequence. Surprisingly, although the two are the show’s blandest female characters, together they have an odd chemistry that makes their scenes interesting. Now allied, the two present a formidable force.
Spare Coins from the Iron Bank
- Tyrion to Theon: “Every person who makes a joke about a dwarf’s height thinks he’s the only person to ever make a joke about a dwarf’s height.”
- Ramsay won’t be missed, but Iwan Rheon’s consistently impish delivery and killer crazy-eyes will be.
- I didn’t tear up when the Bolton banners were taken down from Winterfell and the Stark banners are put up again, I just had something in both eyes, okay?
- One more fan theory bites the dust: Smalljon Umber was indeed legitimately fighting for the Boltons; wave goodbye to the Grand Northern Conspiracy.
- A nod to the Cersei as the Mad Queen theory that seems to confirm that “rumor” Qyburn mentioned last episode: In his conversation with Daenerys, Tyrion refers to the Mad King’s stores of Wildfire around the city. Hmm.
- RIP Wun-Wun.
- Davos: “Maybe that was our mistake, believing in kings.” Tormund: “Jon Snow’s not a king.” Hmmm. A nod to the Azor Ahai/ The Prince That Was Promised theory?