Sunday, June 26, 2016

GAME OF THRONES: (S6E09) "Battle of the Bastards"

Episode 9 of Season 6 (S6E04) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "The Battle of the Bastards." Of course the bastards the title refers to are Jon Snow and Ramsay Snow (now Bolton).  As has become tradition, the ninth episode of the season contained both the most impressive production and the most dramatically significant scenes of the entire season. The 9th episodes in each Season of Game of Thrones have been:

  • Season 1: "Baelor" (Lordd Eddard Stark is beheaded when Joffrey reneges on)
  • Season 2: "Blackwater" (Stannis Barratheon's attack of King's Landing is repulsed with wildfire)
  • Season 3: "The Rains of Castamere" (The infamous Red Wedding)
  • Season 4: "The Watchers on the Wall" (The Wildlings attack the Wall)
  • Season 5: "The Dance of the Dragons" (Daenerys Targaryen escapes assassination by fleeing on her dragon Drogon)
  • Season 6: "The Battle of the Bastards" (Jon and Sansa retake Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton after an epic battle)
It was expected that the events of this episode would be entirely set in the North, featuring the battle between Ramsey Bolton's forces defending Winterfell and the Wildlings fighting with Jon Snow and other small Northern Houses trying to remove the Flayed Man's banner of House Bolton from the Stark ancestral home. However, the episode began in Essos, with Dany and Tyrion discussing what to do now that Meereen is under attack by sea from the slaveholding masters of Yunkai and Astapor. Dany calmly tells Tyrion that her plan is to kill all the masters and reduce their cities to ash and rubble. "Let's try another way" he suggests. We cut to a scene where Dany and Tyrion (and her advisers Grey Worm and Missandei) are facing the three Masters and Tyrion says "We are here to discuss terms of surrender." The Masters begin to recite all sorts of conditions that they would like to impose on Dany and she says "Perhaps we weren't clear, we're here to discuss the terms of your surrender." The Masters look bewildered and their leader says "Your reign is over." Dany looks amused and says, "My reign has just begun" and suddenly we hear the flap of leathery wings and a clearly full-grown Dragon appears and lands right behind Dany. Grey Worm says to he soldiers defending the masters "Either you can return home to your families or you can fight and die for these Masters who would not do the same for you" and all of them flee immediately. Tyrion then announces that one of the Masters must die, and two of them turn on the third, whom they push forward to face the advancing Grey Worm. The third gets on his knees, begging for his life and in a very cool move Grey Worm whips out his knife and in one motion slices the throats of the two masters still standing, killing them. Tyrion walks over to the surviving master and tells him, "Go back to your city and tell everyone you see what happens when you try to attack Queen Daenerys Targaryen." The Queen herself clambers onto Drogon and flies over the attacking boats and (together with her two other dragons) incinerates several of them.

But we're not done with Essos because we get a scene with Dany and Tyrion speaking with Yara and Theon Greyjoy, making an agreement where the Greyjoys will support Daenerys' claim to the Iron Throne, in exchange for her granting the Iron Islands independence. Daenerys also insists that the Ironborn will also have to give up reaving and raping the shores of Westeros and they agree.

The main action of the episode is in the North. There's a fun little scene before the battle when Ramsay and Jon meet for the first time, in a parley, where Ramsay proves he's holding Rickon Stark captive by showing them the severed head of his direwolf Shaggydog. Jon taunts Ramsay by suggesting they could forego the battle between their assembled forces, sparing the lives of hundreds or thousands if instead they determine the victor via single combat. Ramsay is of course to smart to fall for that ruse (he has more men, and usually in medieval battles, numerical superiority would be considered the primary predictor of victory) but Sansa has the last word, telling him "You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well!" and riding away on her horse.

The battle begins with a heartbreaking scene where Ramsay brings out Rickon, and instead of just killing him quicky, he cuts him free and allows him to run between the two armies, giving the illusion of hope, as he casually shoots arrows at the fleeing boy which miss. Jon rides on his horse into the no man's land between the armies and just as he is within a horselength of his half-brother, an arrow goes through Rickon's back and out his sternum, killing him instantly. If that wasn't enough, at Ramsay' signal House Bolton's archers unleashes a hail of arrows, which somehow miss Jon but several impale Rickon's supine body. Jon runs towards the Bolton forces, and it looks like he will be overrun by the advancing forces on horseback when suddenly, at the last second, the Northern forces come up from behind him and the hand-to-hand battle is joined.

The battle scenes are incredibly bloody, chaotic and realistic, with people literally dying in the scores; it's reminiscent of the famous D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan (but instead of bullets, there are arrows and dudes with swords and knives hacking away at each other). We mostly follow Jon as he stabd and hacks his way across the field and eventually we see other faces we recognize (Tormund and Ser Davos). Bolton's superior numbers and tactics eventually lead to the Borthern forces being completely surrounded and a near-certain defeat and slaughter of everyone becomes imminent. (At one point, Jon is almost trampled to death under his own men as they are jammed together in an ever-decreasing amount of space by Ramsay's forces.) But then the Knights of the Vale show up and break through the line, saving the day and basically routing Ramsey's army. He retreats to Winterfell, closely followed by Jon and Wun Wun (the Giant, who has been impaled by at least a dozen arrows and not a few pikes). The Bolton forces lock the gates of Winterfell but the giant is able to break through it and allow the good guys into the fortress. He is finally felled by an arrow through the eye (and brain) just as Jon enters Winterfell. Ramsay then decides he wants to try one-on-one combat with Jon, but he still has his bow and arrow, which he uses to try to kill Jon repeatedly until finally Jon is within arms length and knocks him to the ground and starts pummeling him with fists, turning Ramsay's face into pulp. During this Sansa walks in and Jon stops.

Later on we finally see House Stark's banners unfurled from the ramparts of Winterfell and we know the good guys have won, but there's one last piece of business to deal with. "Where is he?" Sansa asks Jon.

We find Ramsay tied to a chair in a darkened space, which we recognize is the kennels and slowly we see his dogs come out and finally do to their master what they had done to so many of his victims: tear his flesh apart and devour him in the most painful way imaginable.

Overall, this was probably one of the most satisfying episodes of the entire series for an avid reader of George R.R. Martin's book and a fan of the HBO adaptation like myself. The primary villain has been dispatched, and the Starks have finally reclaimed their home.

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best lines of the episode are Sansa's taunts to her abusive husband "You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well!" and when she tell him that his name and house will disappear, that he will be erased from history.
  • The second best line is probably Dany's "We're here to discuss your surrender, not ours."
  • Most valuable player of the episode is almost certainly Wun Wun, the giant. The battle would not have been won without him.
  • The entire battle scene was astonishing, but the scenes where Jon is gasping for breath as he is being slowly squeezed to death due to the Bolton tactics is one of the great moments of the entire series.
  • And this previous great moment comes later in the same episode where another great moment of the show, which is when we finally see Dany using her dragons in battle and realize that she has the most powerful weaponry in the world at her disposal. 
There were no low lights! Parts of the battle got incredibly gruesome and graphic, but I appreciate that it is necessary to provide emotional resonance for the battle scenes.

Grade: 10/10.

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