This is a recap of the Game Of Thrones episode “Battle Of The Bastards” (season 6, episode 9).
Non-spoiler summary: “There is a battle in Meereen. Then there is a battle at Winterfell.”
See below for full SPOILER-ific recap!
Holy cow. That was the most impressive hour of television I’ve ever seen and possibly the best Game of Thrones episode yet. Let’s get into it…
PART ONE - MEEREEN
1) A GoPro is strapped to a giant flaming meatball and flung by catapult from a ship to the great pyramid of Meereen
That’s how the episode starts. Any episode of television that starts with this shot is making a promise for a very high level of epicness to follow. And I believe that"The Battle Of The Bastards"delivers on that promise.
2) Tyrion and Daenerys discuss if Dany will be the “kill every last one of my enemies” type of ruler or not
Dany is capable of being ruthless. It’s in her blood as a Targaryen and it’s one of the reasons that she has had the success she has had.
Hence, it is with this ruthless streak that Dany proposes her plan to “crucify the Masters, set their fleets on fire, kill every last one of their soldiers, and return their cities do the dirt.”
Tyrion urges caution, and shares the cautionary tale that her father the Mad King also once had the plan to burn a city to the ground: King’s Landing. It gives Dany pause, and she listens to Tyrion’s advice to consider an alternate plan. Being ruthless makes Dany a strong leader, but her willingness to listen to her advisors and allow for her own plans to be changed is what makes her a great leader.
3) Dany negotiates a surrender
This episode had so many moments that just made you scream out loud, “Ah heck yeah!” One of them was watching Dany inform the Three Slave Traders that the surrender they were negotiating wasn’t her surrender, but all of theirs.
4) Dragon time!
Dany now appears to be in near total control of Drogon, as she mounts him to leave the negotiation to go give a demonstration of what she is capable of (sort of like a Powerpoint, except instead of a slide she shows them her dragon burning their ships).
Drogon’s two lil’ brothers, after having been released from their shackles earlier by Tyrion, break out from the room where they were grounded and join the fun.
5) The Dothraki kick some Sons Of Harpy ass
It’s a short scene, but we see enough of it to get the impression that Dany’s new Dothraki army, with Daario leading the vanguard, will easily squash the remains of the Sons Of The Harpy gold-faced jerks who have been fomenting discord and violence within the walls of Meereen.
6) More dragon time!
Dany appears to speak parseltongue into the ear of Drogon, and he sets a ship aflame. His brothers Viserion and Rhaegal follow suit. I guess “dracaras” is dragon-speak for “doing something that makes me look badass af.”
7) Tyrion asks the Three Slave Masters a brainteaser question, and then Greyworm provides the answer
For violating the pact, Missandei informs the Three Slave Masters that “one of them must die as punishment for their crimes.” Then Tyrion shares this gem:
— Tyrion Lannister, season 6 episode 9
It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? … Other people dying.
They’re presented with the brainteaser that one of the three of them must die, and it’s up to them to choose who. I guess they get the question wrong, because Greyworm kills the other two instead:
And so one is spared to go spread the word of the powerful yet merciful Dragon Queen.
8) Dany and Yara flirt and make a deal, but mostly flirt
Our Meereen plot is capped off this episode with Dany and Tyrion hearing a proposal from Yara and Theon.
Tyrion reminds Theon he used to be a major asshole to him, and Theon is like, “Yeah, I was a jerk and I’m sorry dude, but my dick got cut off in the interim, so cut me some slack, ey?”
Then Yara offers the Iron Fleet in support of Dany’s quest to take on the Seven Kingdoms in return for Dany supporting Yara’s claim to rule the Iron Islands. These two hit it off right away, leading to one of the best exchanges from the season, after they explain that their murderous uncle Euron will come offering more fleets and a demand for marriage.
The scene ends with a perfect encapsulation of the personal struggle and mission statement of Dany:
— Daenerys Targaryen, season 6 episode 9
Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.
As if in response to Tyrion’s early caution to Dany to not be like her father, Dany declares that she will be better than him. Sing it!
PART TWO - WINTERFELL
9) Meet and Greet before the Battle Of The Bastards
Looks like the forces supporting House Stark and the forces supporting House Bolton decided that they’re going to do the Battle For Winterfell aka the Battle Of The Bastards aka Is Ramsay FINALLY Going To Die? the old school way: meet ahead of time, decide on a field to line up on opposite sides of, and then charge at each other until only one side is left standing.
Jon thinks he is being very clever when he challenges Ramsay to settle this the even older school way: one on one combat.
10) Sansa warns Jon not to underestimate Ramsay, but Jon decides instead to underestimate him
Sansa tries to explain to Jon that Ramsay won’t fall into his lil’ trap since Ramsay is the one who lays traps, but he doesn’t listen. Jon instead reiterates that even though Ramsay has the superior numbers, sometimes you just have to fight with what you’ve got.
This seems like a great time for Sansa to tell Jon that she wrote to Littlefinger to ask for reinforcements. Maybe, for example, they could delay the battle by, say, one hour and that way wait until they had superior numbers to start fighting? But instead, Sansa decides it will be more dramatically satisfying for it to be a surprise later in the episode. And you know what? She was right. It was way more dramatically satisfying.
The scene ends with this heart-wrenching exchange:
Jon: I won’t ever let him touch you again. I’ll protect you, I promise.
Sansa: No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.
11) Jon tells Melisandre not to resurrect him if he dies again
But the Red Lady just says “You’re not the boss of me! The Lord Of Light is the boss of me, and sometimes my boss doesn’t give me the clearest of instructions!” before sticking her tongue out at him and going back to looking into her fire.
12) Ramsay plays one last sick game with Rickon Stark as bait for Jon
Before the Battle has really even started, Ramsay can’t resist one last chance to play a sick game with someone else’s life. Just as Sansa warned Jon, there was no chance that Ramsay was going to allow Rickon to survive, since his claim on Winterfell was stronger than his own.
Ramsay’s twisted mind has a sort of terrible genius to it, and he manages to kill two birds with one stone: eliminating Rickon as a threat while drawing Jon away from his army into a vulnerable position. Will Jon take the bait?
13) Jon takes the bait
He takes the bait so hard.
It’s interesting to see the two leadership strategies from Ramsay and Jon in this battle.
Jon plunges into the fray, following emotion over intellect, inspiring his men to do the same through brave (if reckless) example.
Ramsay, on the other hand, stays back and calmly issues commands throughout the battle following a strategy that he has carefully orchestrated. Jon emerges as the hero in this episode, but Ramsay absolutely out-maneuvers him at every turn. If it weren’t for the deus ex machina of Sansa’s recruitment of Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale, Ramsay would have easily defeated Jon and his army.
14) Rickon dies
Rickon dies and Jon is hopelessly out of position.
Battle Of The Bastards Score at the start of the first quarter:
Jon - 0
Ramsay - 2
15) The battle begins and it is the best representation of the chaos of medieval combat I have ever seen
The pounding of hooves, the screams of pain, the random reigning down of arrows from the sky from both sides, the cacophony of clashing metal, all as comrades and foes fall dead all around you.
The danger of depicting violence in television and film is that it can desensitize the viewer to violence or, even worse, romanticize violence and make war seem something desirable. The horrors of real war, of course, can only be known by those who have experienced it, but if shows do their job well, they can at least hint at its horrible truth. I believe this battle scene is an example of that. We see Jon fight well, but we also see him get lucky time and time again: he doesn’t see someone coming at him with a weapon, but at the last moment someone else on horseback takes out the approaching enemy; an arrow falls the man next to him but not him; just as he goes to speak to a comrade, that comrade is killed when it just as easily could have been Jon. War is terrible, and Jon later emerges from the fray muddied and bloodied, a visual representation of what he’s been through.
In particular, the unbroken shot of action that follows Jon from 41:17 - 42:15 is probably the most incredible minute of action footage in television history.
16) Jon takes out his sword and drops his scabbard to the ground
In an episode full of incredible uses of visual storytelling, this moment in particular stood out to me. Jon watches the oncoming onslaught of enemies and accepts his fate. Jon takes out his sword Longclaw and drops his scabbard to the ground; he knows he will not need to re-sheath his sword again, since he very well could be moments away from fighting until his death.
17) The transition from slow motion of the horses charging into battle abruptly ending with the violent clash of the two sides meeting in battle
Holy shit. From this moment onward, I don’t think I took a single breath of air during the entire battle scene.
As the good folks at Coub discovered, adding Pixie’s Where is my Mind? really fits well with this moment, a la the buildings coming down at the end of Fight Club:
18) The Stark army is blocked in by the Bolton’s wall of shields and the mountain of corpses
A huge part of why this battle is so effective is that the GoT show creators studied up on their historical references:
The literal wall of fresh corpses becoming an obstacle on the field of battle is from descriptions of some of the more terrible battles from the U.S. Civil War, such as the Battle of Antietam, which had a combined total of over 22,000 dead and a wall of bodies in the so called “Bloody Lane.”
The use of surrounding an enemy and closing in, and with the added touch of interlocking shields of the Grecian phalanx, is taken from the Battle of Cannae, where Hannibal’s army of Carthage defeated the Romans using a Pincer or double-envelopment tactic, something that Jon specifically told Davos and Tormund the Bolton army would not be able to do against them earlier in the episode.
Again, Ramsay bests Jon as the superior military strategist in this battle. Ramsay has effectively won the battle as we watch Jon get nearly crushed to death by his own men as the Bolton army closes in from all sides.
19) Sansa watches on as, thanks to her, Littlefinger and his Knights Of The Vale save the day
I’ve made a Han Solo reference before in these recaps, but this is once again a fantastic Millennium Falcon moment, where the Knights of the Vale swoop in to turn the battle in favor of the Stark army, just when it seemed all was lost. So in this case, Sansa is Han Solo and Littlefinger is Chewbacca. Does that make sense? Whatever, look, the point is, more good guys come and help the good guys who were losing so that they beat the bad guys who were winning.
As Ramsay watches the tide turn, he leaves the field of battle and retreats to the walls of Winterfell. I guess you could say that Ramsay Bolton becomes Ramsay Bolted. Get it? Because he left?
20) Wun Wun the giant dies
I’m going to miss Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, the giant from the North. With the last bit of his strength, he knocks down the gate at Winterfell, allowing Jon Snow and his army to enter.
21) Ramsay takes Jon up on that offer for one on one combat
If only he would have changed his mind before the battle started! Could have saved everybody a whole lot of time and energy. And, you know, thousands of lives.
Jon, in a fit of concentrated rage, defeats Ramsay with a shield and his bare hands. Just before he beats him to death, Jon notices Sansa watching. Does he relent because he sees the monster he himself has become? Or does he decide to allow Sansa to be the one to exact the final revenge on Ramsay?
22) Sansa kills Ramsay
In a fitting end to perhaps the single most evil character on a show full of evil characters, Sansa releases Ramsay’s own hounds against him.
In another incredible moment of visual storytelling, after the dogs start attacking Ramsay, Sansa turns her head ever so lightly away, as if she doesn’t want to watch. But her eyes stay locked on the carnage, and her head turns back to face Ramsay’s violent end. She watches, and we watch her watch. Only after she has received her fill does she walk away, smiling.
Ending with a thought about Sansa Stark
Earlier in the episode, Sansa tells Jon “You can’t protect me. No one can protect anyone.” It’s an incredible moment, and one that underscores the show’s harsh insistence on the brutality of life: despite the best intentions of good people everywhere, it only takes one act of violence to disrupt peace, a terrible inverse of the adage attributed to Gandhi that it only takes one light to illuminate the darkness.
This remark from Sansa (“No one can protect anyone”) was echoing in my brain as I watched her walk away from the dying Ramsay, a slightly smile on her lips. Did she find satisfaction in exacting revenge on her former tormenter? Is she merely happy that Ramsay will not be able to hurt herself or anyone else ever again? Or has Sansa learned a larger lesson, perhaps that because no one can protect anyone, therefore everyone must protect themselves? It’s a depressing lesson, but perhaps the one that Sansa has learned from her years of anguish.
She wanted to defeat Ramsay so badly that she didn’t trust Jon with the information that Littlefinger and his army were on their way. She risked Jon’s life and sacrificed the lives of thousands of her own men just to make sure that she defeated Ramsay.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Sansa choose her own self interest over the interests of the Starks. In the first season in King’s Landing, Sansa was complicit in turning in her father Ned to the Lannisters, which resulted in his death, just because she thought it would win her favor with her new husband Joffrey and her new mother-in-law Cersei.
Last episode we saw Arya affirm that she is loyal to her family, the Starks; this episode, I think we witnessed Sansa declaring that she is loyal to herself.
From the preview of next episode, it looks like Jon will confront Sansa about not trusting him with the information about Littlefinger’s army. It’ll be interesting to see how she responds.
Dany will take the Iron Throne; Yara will lead the Iron Islands; could Sansa be the Queen in the North? Perhaps GoT season 9 will culminate with a triumvirate of badass women leaders?
Okay, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and see you next week for the finale!