Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's Game of Thrones Season 6 episode, "Battle of the Bastards," written by executive producers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
(Check out last week's recap here if you missed it.)
In short: Meereen picks right up where we left off, with the city getting pummeled by the Slave Master armada and the Sons of the Harpy running wild on the ground. Dany overlooks the impending doom and takes a very Targaryen position on how to remedy the situation. Up North, Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton face one another. Snow offers one-on-one combat to settle their score, which Bolton summarily rejects. Thus the Battle of the Bastards commences!
Are you still processing the adrenaline rush of "Battle of the Bastards"? Did you watch the credits roll and feel like you did 60 minutes of emotional Cross-Fit? Let's cool down together, shall we?
Kudos to D&D for weaving together Meereen and the bastard battlefield so adeptly this episode. Frankly, I thought Meereen was going to take some time at the top of the episode and then disappear entirely. But instead, there was some masterful cross-cutting in the first half hour as the two confrontations played out. It was a smart exploration, and comparison, of how Dany and Jon are approaching war in their leadership positions.
Dany was prepared to fire and salt the earth with the Master's flesh, but Tyrion was intent on having her explore an alternative solution. She met with the smug Masters, who expected her surrender, but she countered by asking for theirs. How fantastic was it to see a practically full-grown Drogon, in all of his detailed CGI glory, land behind mommy to underscore her re-asserted reign? Plus, Viserion and Rhaegal were finally let out of the Pyramid basement and joined their brother for a good ol' armada roasting.
Daario also rode in with the Dothraki cavalry to say "Hi!" to the Sons of the Harpy before separating many from their heads. All of that combined earned Tyrion and Grey Worm the joy of witnessing the Masters tinkle their robes as they were abandoned en masse by their soldiers. Tyrion calmly asked which one of the three representatives would give their lives for essentially being a trio of ass-hats. Fingers went pointing and one fell to his knees hoping for mercy. But surprise! Grey Worm instead gifted the duo left standing with an ambidextrous throat-slitting. Quite the unexpected party trick!
After the carnage ceased, Yara and Theon sailed into town to offer their 100 ships in exchange for Dany supporting Yara's claim to the Salt Throne. While Tyrion's verbal dressing down of Theon was entertaining, it couldn't compare to the mutual admiration smirk society forming between Yara and Dany. They bonded over their evil fathers, a misogynist world out to take what is theirs by rights, and the need to kill an uncle or two when necessary. Dany even got Yara to renounce her people's roving, raping ways in exchange for her support. The Mother of Dragons doesn't seem to be kidding about leaving the world in a better place.
In the North, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark faced a maddeningly smug Ramsay Bolton on the battlefield, where the nasty bastard tried to get the pair to call off the battle and bend the knee to him. Jon countered with the two of them just facing one another but, of course, the coward declined and then threw the decapitated head of Rickon's direwolf at them for good measure. Sansa was pure ice when she promised Ramsay would die on the morrow, and to sleep well.
What followed was a strategy meeting in which everyone ignored Sansa until she demanded that Jon listen to her - you know, the one person that was Ramsay's personal torture toy and knows how he operates. Jon still wasn't very receptive to her warnings as she walked out telling him that no one can protect anyone in this world. Spoken like a woman who has clearly learned that the very, very hard way in Westeros.
As for the battle, itself, that was some stunning work by director Miguel Sapochnik, who accomplished the seemingly impossible and bested his work in last year's "Hardhome" episode. In fact, he wiped the floor with just about any battle sequence on film or television in recent memory, and there have been a lot of great ones. Having the camera run into battle with Snow and then remain in the immediacy of that battle so we could witness all of the random mortal dangers that rotated around Jon in 360 degrees was potent, visceral and provided a primal perspective that never felt overly choreographed. It demonstrated that 90% of survival in that fraught situation is all about adrenaline, reflexes and sheer luck. Sapochnik, along with the VFX team and the editors, made the entire sequence pulse with tension. I was on the edge of my seat leaning into the screen, wincing with every slice, dice, or near miss.
And then they went and added the Bolton army circling the surviving Stark army with impenetrable shields that seemed to squeeze the life-blood from the desperate survivors (and us at home). There was a minute there in which I actually believed Snow was brought back only to be suffocated by an avalanche of dead bodies. That would have been one hell of a Lord of Light ta-wist, except it never happened. Why? Because Sansa took it into her own hands to never do what Ramsay expects, by summoning the sly Petyr Baelish with the Vale's cavalry. At the last possible second, they arrived to wipe out the Bolton circle of death from behind. And we all exhaled.
Then as Tormund, Wun Wun and Jon climbed to the top of the corpse mountain, I almost screamed my own battle cry as they ran to grab the retreating Ramsay Bolton. But no, the final act of vengeance on Ramsay was rightly gifted to Sansa by her brother. In the dungeon of Winterfell, Sansa finally was in a position of power over Bolton. Yet, the brazen monster still acted like he held the upper hand over her until she released his very hungry hounds into the room with their bloodied master. Watching Ramsay's facade finally crack with the realization that something he once commanded would not heed to his will was beyond gratifying. And so it was, In the end, that Ramsey Bolton was erased from this world as blithely as he wiped out countless others. There was no loyalty from his hounds to save him, nor any mercy and or remorse from Sansa as she allowed herself a small smile walking away from the carnage of his evisceration. It was awful in its beauty, a moment earned on the back of her incredible suffering and terrible loss. A bittersweet win in a world that rarely offers any justice.
Did we watch the same episode? What's not to love? So, all I've got is the staggeringly sad deaths of Rickon Stark and Wun Wun, the loyal wilding giant.
Poor Rickon's days were numbered the second he was turned over to Ramsay, but that doesn't make his final moments any less harrowing. Bolton's awful game of making the youngest Stark run to Jon Snow as arrows sliced the air around him was beyond cruel. Did we expect any less from the Bastard Monster? No, but when the arrow found its target it was still devastating for the Stark family, and us.
And Wun Wun was a beautiful CGI creation that passed my uncanny valley with flying colors because I cared for the big giant as much as I do for his breathing brethren. His valor in battle was inspiring and was literally the only harbinger of hope several times during the bleak savagery. Then, when he broke through the doors of Winterfell with arrows sticking out of him like stick-pins, it looked bleak, but not over for the warrior. His silent exchange with Jon was beautiful, and then all the more devastating when Ramsay made the hero his last official victim. I've never wanted more blood vengeance watching this show than after witnessing that final nail in Bolton's coffin. I couldn't have been happier when Jon went all Ralphie Parker in the schoolyard on Bolton's face.
Things to Ponder...
Dany's got quite the alliance at this point, but the question remains: Is it enough for what the Night King is assembling?
Dany and Yara are on the mutual appreciation train. Makes me wonder how Sansa and Arya will get along with them.
Sansa got her payback from Baelish, but are their slates now clean? Or will he expect more in return for his 11th hour rescue?
What did you think of "Battle of the Bastards"? Was it the best ninth episode of the series run yet?