Episode 9, or in Game of Thrones terms, the episode where shit gets real. Previous episode 9s have been known for showing Starks die and battles be fought. With that in mind, let’s watch the Starks fight a battle.
Season 6, Episode 9: Battle of the Bastards
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
In Meereen, the Masters are still bombarding the city as Daenarys looks on. She tells Tyrion that she has a plan that essentially involves wiping the Masters off the face of the world for good. Tyrion warns her of the road she is going down, and how her father had planned to destroy King’s Landing with wildfire before he died, much like she is planning to destroy the Masters’ cities. He offers a different approach.
Daenarys and her council meet the Masters on the beach to parlay and discuss surrender. The Masters are, predictably, dickheads to Daenarys. They tell Daenarys that the terms of her surrender are that Tyrion and her will flee and everyone else will be sold to the highest bidder and her dragons will be slaughtered. Daenarys corrects them that it’s not her surrender they’re there to discuss.
Drogon appears and Daenarys climbs upon its back. They fly out over the city and free the other two dragons. At street level the Harpies are killing citizens when they hear a noise that stops them. Hoof beats. The Dothraki have arrived and their blades are hungry. The dragons attack the fleet and rain fire upon them. Grey Worm addresses the Masters’ soldiers and offers to let them leave instead of fighting for their Masters/owners. An offer they’re happy to take. Grey Worm kills two of the Masters and leaves one alive to tell his people about what happens to Masters who run their fucking mouths.
In the cold north, Ramsey Bolton meets with Jon Snow and Sansa. Bolton is, predictably, a dickhead and offers Snow amnesty if he returns Sansa and bows to Bolton. Snow offers Bolton single combat and Bolton, smartly, declines. Bolton threatens Rickon’s safety, producing Shaggy Dog’s head as proof of ownership. Sansa, Queen of Westeros and Sean Fallon’s heart, informs Bolton that he will die tomorrow and should get a good night’s sleep.
Snow and his generals discuss the battle. Snow believes that Bolton’s army could switch allegiance if they see the tide turn. Their plan relies on letting the Bolton army come to them and avoiding their cavalry. Sansa is unimpressed with the plans as they have all met Bolton once and she has spent time with him. She knows the manner of shit on legs that he is. Snow asks her for her insight and she explains that tricks and traps are Bolton’s game, not Snow’s, and even though he says he’s fought worse than Ramsey Bolton, Sansa assures him that he hasn’t. Sansa thinks saving Rickon is a lost cause and she is angry that Snow didn’t ask her for advice earlier because she would have told him not to attack until he had a bigger army. Snow wonders where this bigger army was going to come from. Sansa doesn’t mention Littlefinger but explains that if they lose the battle she won’t go back to Winterfell alive.
Davos and Giantsbane discuss hope and Stannis and Mance, and that maybe it’s time to stop following kings into battle. Davos goes for a walk to clear his head before the battle.
Snow goes to see Melisandre and asks her to not resurrect him against her protests. She tells him that the Lord of Light has a plan for him and that plan could be anything, even dying against Ramsay Bolton.
Davos’ walk takes him to a pile of logs covered in snow. Amidst the logs Davos finds a carved stag, a gift he had given Shireen. He puts two and two together and makes fiery infanticide.
In Meereen, Tyrion is talking to Theon Greyjoy as the Greyjoy siblings meet Daenarys in the Great Pyramid. Tyrion is unfriendly to Theon and Daenarys is happy to hear that they intend to put Yara on the throne as the first queen of the Iron Islands. Yara and Daenarys bond/flirt over their shared experience of shitty fathers who were shitty kings who got usurped. Daenarys wonders why she shouldn’t wait for Euron and his fleet and they explain that his fleet comes as a package with a wedding ring. The Greyjoys explain that they only want the Iron Islands, everything else is Daenarys’. Daenarys agrees with the terms that the Ironborn will no longer reave, raid or rape, and Yara agrees. And I think I’m shipping Yara and Daenarys. Yarnarys? Daenara? I’ll work on it.
Back in the north and the armies are in position. Ramsey rides to the front of his lines with Rickon on a leash. He marches the boy out onto the battlefield and holds aloft a dagger, which he uses to cut Rickon’s bond. He sends Rickon out running across the battlefield. As Rickon runs a soldier hands Bolton a bow. Snow, seeing this, runs to his horse and rides out to get Rickon. Bolton fires arrows after Rickon and, as Snow gets to him, hits him through the heart. The Stark dying in episode 9 curse abides.
Bolton’s archers fire as Snow’s army charges. Snow is miles ahead, riding under a shower of arrows which take out his horse, leaving him stranded on the battlefield as Bolton orders his cavalry to charge. Snow looks on as a wall of horseman sprint towards him.
He draws his sword.
And his own cavalry arrives, legging it past him and into Bolton’s force. The two sides prepare to fire arrows but Davos has his archers stand down for fear of hitting their own men. Bolton orders his to fire.
Snow fights him way through the melee in one of the best scenes Game of Thrones has ever done. As the soldiers fight hand to hand Bolton rains arrows on them and the body count rises and rises. Davos charges in with his handful of men and Bolton sends the Umbers in with their thousands. Giantsbane saves Snow and Wun Wun the giant marches in.
Bolton’s men encircle Snow’s force, hemming them in with big Bolton sigil emblazoned shields. The men behind the shields lower their spears and advance on the trapped men and giant. Stopping every few steps to stab into the crowd of prisoners. Behind them the Umbers climb over the wall of bodies that were holding them in and begin killing them from that direction too. The Wildlings run at the shields as Davos and Snow rally the men to take on the Umbers. They hack at each and Wun Wun rips a dude in two. Giantsbane takes a hit but, thank the Seven, isn’t killed. The shield wall advances.
Side note: This recapper is sweating in an Australian winter watching this show.
Giantsbane, realising that the shield wall is a no go, takes his men to fight the Umbers.
And speaking of the Umbers, Snow finds himself face to face with Smalljon Umber, but before anything happens he is stampeded by charging/retreating wildlings/soldiers. As Snow tries to get off the ground the Umber faces off against Giantsbane.
Under the pile of bodies and the crush Snow is suffocating. He fights his way through the crush to his feet and gulps in air. Wun Wun the giant is being overwhelmed by arrows and spears and Giantsbane is beaten severely by Smalljon while Snow’s forces are trapped together, squashed in and unable to move.
A horn sounds!
“Oh, thank fuck for that!” Says this recapper.
The horn distracts Smalljon so Giantsbane bites his throats and stabs him in the neck.
The cavalry of the Knights of the Vale has arrived. With Littlefinger and the Queen of the North, Sansa Stark watching from a hill. The cavalry breaks through the shield wall like a bullet through butter.
Snow climbs atop the wall of bodies and faces Bolton who retreats on horseback. Snow, Giantsbane, and Wun Wun give chase.
Bolton gets back into Winterfell and closes the doors behind him. Except Snow has a key to the door. It’s called Wun Wun and it’s very effective. Wun Wun gets the doors open for Snow’s army to enter through. Snow’s troops make quick work of Bolton’s men. Wun Wun, riddled with arrows is dying in the courtyard. As Snow looks on Bolton fires an arrow into Wun Wun’s eye, killing the giant.
Bolton stands alone in the courtyard with Snow’s archers aiming at him. He offers Snow single combat. He fires arrows at Snow, who manages to grab a shield and block them three times as he closes the distance between him and Bolton. He knocks Bolton to the ground and beats seven kinds of shite of him. He looks up from his beating and sees Sansa watching him.
He stops the beating and walks away.
Stark banners are hung in Winterfell once more. Davos watches Melisandre, a carved stag in his hands.
Snow’s soldiers take Rickon down to the family crypt. Sansa asks where they are keeping Bolton.
Bolton, not looking his best, is trussed up in a cell. Sansa visits him. He talks some jive and tells her she can’t kill him. She tells him that his house and its words will disappear along with his name and all memory of him. He looks to his side and sees that the dog cage is open. His hounds, hungry from how he starved them, emerge from their cages.
The hounds circle for a bit and Sansa reminds him that loyalty means nothing to a starving dog, and then the hounds rip him to pieces as Sansa walks away, smiling.
This was everything I wanted and more.
The showrunners took the criticism that season five was misogynist and spent this season trying to fix it. Tonight, Sansa, Daenarys, and Yara were three powerful, confident women out to get theirs whether with smarts, violence, fire, or dogs. The scenes of Yara and Daenarys flirting away and deciding the fate of the Seven Kingdoms was gorgeous and even though they needed some assurances from their male counterparts it was basically two queens taking care of business.
And Sansa? Sophie Turner must be having the time of her life. No more tears and humiliation. This has been Sansa Stark’s season. She is out for blood and vengeance and harsh pragmatics.
Tonight saw two battles book readers have been waiting for a while to see: The Battle of Winterfell and the Battle of Slaver’s Bay. Admittedly the Slaver’s Bay battle was a quick one but it was satisfying in every regard. The plotline of Daenarys and the Masters has been running for a while now, so an ending was very welcome. An ending with Dothraki, dragons, and two Masters getting their throats cut was even more welcome.
As for the Battle of Winterfell. Game of Thrones has done some incredible battles before but this is peak battle. The unbroken take of Snow fighting through the melee was a masterclass in seamless CG, timing, a little bit of comedy, and choreography, and the whole battle felt dirty and real. The shots of the battle as the bodies mounted up and the men fought atop these grotesque hillocks was a grisly but gorgeous image. The chaos and claustrophobia and despair of the battle is captured in such a way that it’s almost unbearable. There’s too many good things to break down in this whole sequence and the direction is blockbuster worthy. Maybe it’s because I just finished watching this episode one minute ago but I think this might be the best episode Game of Thrones has ever done.
Finally, though we knew the Vale knights would arrive the show made us wait for it until we could wait no more, and then we had to wait past that point, then a little more, and then they arrived.
And then there was Ramsey Bolton.
The nightmare is over. To see him get that level of kicking was far too enjoyable and his final fate, his final moments of terror before the end, were like poetry written with teeth and claw.
Nudity count – 0
Body count – Too many to count but importantly tonight we lost two dick Masters, Rickon Stark, Wun Wun, and Ramsay Bolton.
Best line: ‘They were, but now they’re starving’ – Sansa Stark
Predictions for next week: Cliffhangers, endings, fire, death, despair. I can’t wait.
Featured Image: HBO