Game of Thrones, S6 Ep9 – Battle of the Bastards

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones season six was its best, showing two major victories: Dany (with the help of her dragons) retaking Mereen and the Starks finally wresting Winterfell and the North from the clutches of Ramsay Bolton.

While I expected that tGame of Thrones, S6 Ep9 - Battle of the Bastardshis episode would be set entirely in the North, it turns out that the some of it was devoted to Dany’s triumphant return to Mereen. The Targaryen queen showed the masters who was truly in control as she and her dragons decimated some of their armada. Meanwhile, Daario and the Dothraki rode in to take care of the rest of the Sons of the Harpy. And it was good to see that despite everything, Dany was willing to listen to Tyrion’s warnings about not ending up like her father.

Later on in the episode, Theon and Yara showed up to pledge their loyalty to Daenerys. It was an interesting exchange, from Yara’s blatant flirting with the amused Dany to the latter’s declaring how they all had terrible fathers. It was just a bit strange for the Greyjoys to reach Mereen so quickly, but that didn’t take away any of the excitement over this new alliance.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep9 - Battle of the BastardsBut really, the episode was all about the North. The biggest battle of Game of Thrones, which had been teased even before the season began, finally took place and it did not disappoint. The scale of the entire sequence was breathtaking and its execution was of the highest caliber. The Battle of the Bastards was definitely unlike any fight scene shown in Game of Thrones, because it was clear that there were no longer any budgetary restraints for putting the whole thing together, from the extensive stunt work, to the choreography, and the impressive special effects. The result was so spectacular and so steeped in gritty chaos that this Game of Thrones episode is already being compared to iconic battles such as Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the Omaha beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep9 - Battle of the BastardsThis episode also followed the Game of Thrones tradition of having a momentous fight in its ninth episode. The pattern so far has been: for odd-numbered seasons the ninth episodes featured the brutal deaths of significant characters (Ned Stark, the Red Wedding, Shireen Baratheon) and for even-numbered seasons, the ninth episodes were large battles (Blackwater, The Battle for the Wall). Let’s worry about who dies next season when we’ve calmed down after this one.

Aside from the unforgettable fight sequence, the episode was also about important character interactions. It particularly highlighted the differences between the Stark siblings, with Jon being a keen military strategist but also a very emotional one, while Sansa was a pragmatic realist, given her experience in King’s Landing, the Eyrie, and with the Boltons. Despite Jon’s experience fighting White Walkers and Wildlings, he was not prepared for a different kind of monster in Ramsay Bolton, something Sansa wisely pointed out. She also rightly reminded her brother that she ought to have been asked for her insights about how the opponent thought, since she knew him better than most.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep9 - Battle of the BastardsAnd as heartbreaking as it was to watch Rickon’s death, it was inevitable, and it was another instance where Sansa had been right, even if it pained her, while Jon had still held on to some frail hope. It was brutal and totally characteristic of Ramsay to let the young boy supposedly flee for his life and towards his brother only to bring him down with an arrow. (Should have zig-zagged, Rickon). Hopefully, the youngest Stark has a different fate in the books.

As for the battle itself, it was glorious, blood and gore all over the place, spears and shields clashing, horses and men screaming in agony. There was even a shot of Jon being trampled by a stampede of frenzied soldiers and then emerging to catch his breath while still being crushed in the crowd. The shield formed by the Bolton army as it surrounded the meager forces of the Starks was also very impressive, as was the giant Wun Wun plucking weapons from the enemy and literally tearing men apart.

But the final moments, as predictable as they were, were no less triumphant. The knights of the Vale came swooping in for the win, decimating the Bolton army and reclaiming the North for the Starks. Sansa’s raven to Littlefinger had the desired effect and she was instrumental in winning back her home.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep9 - Battle of the BastardsWords cannot express the emotions I felt when I saw the Stark banner hanging over Winterfell once more. So much has happened since the Starks left their ancestral home and they have endured so much to make it back that though it was a hard-won struggle, with losses on both sides, the final result was immensely satisfying.

Speaking of satisfying paybacks, Sansa’s revenge on Ramsay was also a great moment to conclude the episode with. After all that she had suffered with this twisted psychopath, it was so rewarding to see her have the final word. Even Jon stopped himself from going berserk and beating the man to a bloody pulp because he knew that if anyone had the right to kill Ramsay Bolton, it was Sansa Stark. And she did it in a manner that the jerk completely deserved and, in an ironic way, brought upon himself. The lady wolf threw that bastard to the dogs.

On the season finale of Game of Thrones, the trials begin at King’s Landing, the Freys send their regards, Davos confronts Melisandre about Shireen, Jon asks Sansa to trust him, and Daenerys feels the pressure: