Game of Thrones 6×09 “Battle of the Bastards” Review
After a few episodes that varied in intensity and tone, “Battle of the Bastards” went full-throttle. It was brilliant and thrilling, but also exhausting to watch. This episode, more than any other, really entrenched the audience into the chaotic and terrifying heart of battle. As fantastic as “Blackwater” (2×09) and “Watchers on the Wall” (4×09) were in terms of big battles, neither episode had that effect on the audience like “Battle of the Bastards” did.
The scenes leading up to the battle brimmed with rich moments, beginning with the first meeting between Jon and Ramsay where the two characters are fully juxtaposed and the hatefully emotional charge between Sansa and Ramsay is fiery as ever, followed soon after by the full-blown tension and harsh truths exploding between Jon and Sansa. The conversation between Davos and Tormund was also pure gold. Despite the tense history between the leaders they served, both characters find some unlikely common ground in their pragmatic humanity and faith in Jon Snow. The scene is fantastic in itself and is made even more so by Davos’s discovery (more on that in a future blog post previewing the season 6 finale).
Right before the actual battle began, Game of Thrones violated the rule of three. For those that may not know, the rule of three is simply that things that come in threes are more satisfying, effective or funny. Whether or not you’re aware of it, you rely on the rule of three when reading or watching stories. Because of this, I thought Rickon was in the clear after Ramsay’s third arrow missed him. While the despicable son of Roose Bolton intentionally missed hitting Rickon on the first two shots, I thought the third arrow would be Rickon’s demise. But when the third arrow landed in the ground, I thought Rickon was far enough away from Ramsay and close enough to Jon to survive. I should’ve known better. I should’ve remembered how Game of Thrones deconstructs so many storytelling principles we rely on, and no one is ever safe in this universe. Sansa said it best when she told Jon the night before the battle “No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.”
That statement speaks to the nature of war itself and what the characters face in this episode. The audience is hurled headfirst alongside Jon and the others into battle strategy clashing with violent randomness, a suffocating conflict reigning in destruction to the point of hopelessness. This is evoked so strongly and for such an extended length of time that even though I and many others predicted Littlefinger would show up with the Knights of the Vale and help save the day, any hope of that happening seemed lost long before it even happened. Hear what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have to say to hear more about the historical influences of how they created this battle:
Following the arrival of the Knights of the Vale and their critical intervention into the battle, we see the terrific shot of Jon and Tormund and Wun Wun racing up the hill to Winterfell after Ramsay. It’s one of my favorite shots in all Game of Thrones, these three individuals who despite how bloodied and battered they area and all they’ve lost are racing after Ramsay and won’t let him escape at any cost. Ramsay learned the hard way that siege tactics become a lot less successful against giants. It’s fitting that Ramsay’s final defeat and death take place inside the walls of Winterfell at the hands of the Starks.
The deaths of Rickon and Wun Wun are particularly devastating because of how they happened. The tragedy of Rickon’s death speaks for itself. It could’ve been even more tragic and meaningful if he’d received more character development and if back in season 1 if there had been personal scenes between him and Jon and Sansa. Thinking he’s finally safe again, now protected by his older brother and sister and to have that taken away from him and when he and Jon were mere feet from reaching other is absolutely gut-wrenching. Wun Wun certainly endeared himself to audiences this season over and over again. He helped save Davos and Edd and those still loyal to Jon at Castle Black, and was the first wildling outside Tormund to pledge their support to Jon in the battle against Ramsay and his forces. In this episode, he gave everything he had against the enemy forces to the point that he wrenched open and burst through the Winterfell gates even though he was covered in and still being pelted with arrows. It seemed like we were going to get one final moment between Jon and Wun Wun with the loyalty and admiration for each other fully expressed with that last look between them. Ramsay stole that moment from coming to complete fruition with another one of his damned arrows. In season 5, Wun Wun impressed when the White Walkers and wights attacked Hardhome. In season 6, Wun Wun became a fan favorite no one wanted to let go.
Tormund’s death seemed inevitable between the Bolton spearmen and the gritty showdown between him and Lord Umber. It’s fitting that Tormund is the one to kill Lord Umber since Umber’s whole motivation for allying with Ramsay was to have the numbers to destroy the wildlings. That asshole needed to die, the asshole who betrayed the Starks, killed Shaggydog and delivered Rickon and Osha to Ramsay for an alliance.
Capping it all off was Ramsay’s death which ended up being more perfect than I ever imagined. It is perfect that Ramsay’s death is elongated and torturous and ends in betrayal. It is perfect that Sansa is the one to carry out his death after how much she suffered at his hands, perfect that his loyal hounds who devoured Walda Bolton and his baby brother earlier this season are the same hounds to tear him apart. Between her conversation with Jon the night before the battle, how writing to Littlefinger helped win the battle when all seemed lost, and that final scene with Ramsay, Sansa has asserted herself more than ever as a player rather than pawn in the game of thrones.
More about this episode and the show as a whole in the Part 2 review . . .
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