War is hell and tonight in “Battle of the Bastards,” from Meereen to Winterfell, Game of Thrones plunged us all into the thick of it.
Spoiler Note: This post is for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section will contain spoilers from the novels! Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you haven’t read the books yet, please check out our non-book-reader recap. Thanks!
The long-anticipated clash has come and gone, Winterfell has been retaken, and there is a victor in the Battle of the Bastards. As we’d expected and hoped, House Stark was triumphant but there was a steep cost in the form of lives. But this episode wasn’t all about the title battle- we have another besieged territory to check in with, so let’s rewind and review all the events of “Battle of the Bastards.”
Starting off in Meereen, Tyrion and a none-too-happy Daenerys debate their next move as the Masters’ attack on the city continues. Dany is unsurprisingly in favor of the Fire-and-Bloodbath once again, laying waste to all the other slave cities, but Tyrion, with a pointed reminder of King Aerys’ wildfire stashed all over King’s Landing, nudges the queen into considering another strategy.
Instead Daenerys lays waste to just a few select enemies here in Meereen, taking out the firebombing ships with Drogon as her other two children bust out to join them in the sky. Unleashing the staggering power of their fire is what they’re meant to do, and they do it beautifully. The Dothraki horde takes out the Sons of the Harpy, while Dany’s advisors execute two of the three Masters’ envoys, leaving only Yezzan alive to carry back the message of what’s happened there, as a warning to all.
Back in the North of Westeros, House Stark and House Bolton meet for a war council before the inevitable battle, with Sansa at Jon Snow’s side as they face her husband.
Jon challenges Ramsay to fight one-on-one, but Ramsay is wary, due to Snow’s reputation, and confident in his army’s ability to crush the much-smaller Stark forces. Ramsay holding Rickon is brought up; Smalljon Umber produces Shaggydog’s head as proof that they have the Stark boy.
A smug Ramsay is confident he’ll have his wife back after the battle, and taunts the Stark allies with discussion of his ravenous dogs, and what they’ll do to them. I’m sure that won’t come back to haunt him in an ironic way.
Later, Jon and his supporters discuss strategy and maneuvers, and decide how to handle Ramsay’s army the next day. Afterward, Sansa speaks with Jon alone, pointing out that she knows Ramsay far better than they do, and that Bolton will see any trap coming.
Sansa also admits the hard truth that they’ll never get Rickon back. Ramsay won’t allow it due to Rickon being too much of a threat to Winterfell, as a legitimate son of Ned Stark. Sansa and Jon argue about the plan, and once again over their lack of men. They’re aware that they’re not getting any reinforcements from the Blackfish (Brienne’s raven must have arrived) but Sansa doesn’t mention her message to Littlefinger, presumably because she hasn’t had word back from him on the matter. And who can predict Littlefinger’s choices?
Sansa has decided: if they lose the battle, she’s not going back with Ramsay, implying she’d rather die than face that fate. Jon swears he’ll protect her, but Sansa knows he can’t. (Especially if you die in battle, let’s be real.)
Having a much less angst-ridden conversation outside, Tormund and Davos, the two unlikely advisors, bond over their rituals for a night before a battle. These two are an interesting combination because despite any superficial differences, they have more in common with each other than they do with the men they’ve served.
“Jon Snow is not a king,” Tormund says while they talk and I have to wonder at this point if Benioff and Weiss are just screwing with us.
After their chat, Tormund heads off for a pre-battle booze binge, and Davos goes for a healthier bowel-moving walk.
After his disagreement with Sansa, Jon visits with another lady, Melisandre. He pushes her to swear she won’t resurrect him again if he falls in battle but she refuses. If the Lord of Light wishes her to do it, she will. They have a bit of a theological discussion that ultimately goes nowhere, like most conversations of that nature.
On his ramble through the snow, Davos comes upon the singed patch where Shireen was burned. He didn’t know that, of course, but kicking through the wood in the burned area, he finds the carved stag he made for her, and you can see the thoughts take shape in his mind. Where there’s fire, there’s Melisandre, and she is overdue for a reckoning when it comes to Shireen’s death.
The Greyjoys have arrived in Meereen, with a cautious welcome. Tyrion doesn’t have fond memories of Theon from Winterfell, and has heard about his other activities, allegedly burning the Stark boys.
Daenerys and Yara however take to each other quickly, two powerful women recognizing kindred spirits. And Yara’s a bit of a flirt which is fabulous. The Greyjoys offer their fleet, and explain Euron’s coming offer. (You know, the one she’ll receive once he finds the wood for a thousand boats on islands with no trees.) Daenerys is willing to accept their offer, as long as the Ironborn giving up reaving and plundering the shores. Yara hesitates but then accepts, and a new alliance is formed.
The time for the battle has finally come; the Stark and Bolton forces face each other on the field in grim silence. Jon Snow leads, while Davos hangs back with their archers.
Through the crowd, Ramsay rides, tugging Rickon behind him, putting on a show and playing a cruel game. After presenting the boy to Jon Snow and freeing Rickon, he tells him to run. But he’s not really free, of course. It’s no different than the games Ramsay played with the women in the forest. Rickon is just prey.
Ramsay grabs his bow, while Jon races to save his little brother across the field. Bolton toys with them, but given his archery skills, and what Sansa told us about the threat Rickon poses, it seems clear Ramsay never intended for him to get away. He kills Rickon, an arrow taking him down and enraging Jon into making a move.
Now the battle begins.
The Stark cavalry charges, following Jon. The Bolton arrowmen fire, killing Jon’s horse, sending him onto his feet. Jon draws his sword but he’s doomed to be run down, facing a row of men on horseback. At the last moment, the Stark forces meet the Boltons, the cavalries crashing into one another and sending the field into bloody, screaming chaos.
The battle is indescribably mad, raw carnage with Jon slashing his way through men, and arrows flying even as soldiers fight each other. The piles of the dead accumulate, Jon making a heavy contribution to the lot. All the while, Ramsay stays back, commanding from a detached distance.
Finally, Davos can’t take it anymore, and dives into the fray with the reserved archers. Ramsay orders more men into the fight, and Smalljon Umber rallies a force with him. The Bolton forces surround Jon’s remaining fighters, with shields raised and spears held high. The line is nearly unbreakable for the tiny remaining armyof the Starks.
More Boltons are pouring into the central fight now, and the wildlings have no luck in breaking the wall of shields. The men are being crushed together, with the circle growing smaller and smaller, closing in on them.
In the fray, Jon Snow and Smalljon come face to face and nearly fight, but the stampede of men knock Jon down into the mud. Instead it’s Tormund who trades blows with Umber, while Jon is being smothered and crushed beneath the herd of men. He struggles, and is dying under there, but finally pulls himself through the cluster of men until he can breathe again.
Tormund is somehow still fighting Smalljon in that tight crowd even though they have no room to move. (I fully believe Tormund can fight anywhere, he seems like someone with that gift.) He tears at Umber with his own teeth, and finally stabs him, killing Smalljon, as we hear horns sounding, and see the streaming blue-and-white banners of the Knight of the Vale, led by Sansa and Littlefinger.
The Knights of the Vale break through the Boltons’ wall of shields, making short work of Ramsay’s army. They shatter their defense and send him scrambling back to Winterfell for safety.
Jon, Wun Wun, Sansa and company chase after while Ramsay plans for a siege.
Hey, that siege you’re thinking of, Ramsay? Not going to happen with Wun Wun outside your door. The giant destroys a second gate this season, though he takes even more arrows and bolts for his efforts. The giant, the last of his kind, breaks through the door and falls to his knees.
Always the archer, Ramsay finishes off the dying Wun Wun with an arrow to the eye (had to be a prick one more time, didn’t you), before trying to take Jon up on his offer of one-on-one combat. Jon ably dodges Ramsay’s arrows with a shield, and beats the sweet bejesus out of him until Ramsay is a bloody unconscious mess. It was intensely satisfying to watch.
The Bolton banners fall, and the Stark banners are raised at Winterfell, as Melisandre watches. As Davos watches Melisandre. These two have unfinished business, and their battle is far from over.
We haven’t seen the last of Ramsay Bolton quite yet. Jon’s beating didn’t finish him off, but that’s alright. Sansa visits him in his favorite spot: the kennels, where he sits tied up.
Regarding her once-husband, Sansa tells him, contrary to what he has said, that he’ll disappear, his words, his house, all memory of him.
The hungry hounds growl nearby.
Ramsay bragged of not feeding them earlier, but it isn’t the people of House Stark they’ll be feeding on. His loyal hound comes closer, lick his face…and bites.. And bites more, and tears and destroys him as Sansa looks on.
Sansa walks away from the kennel, a slight smile forming on her face.
More discussion of/reference to Aerys’ wildfire cache? Yeah, Cersei is definitely blowing the place up next week.
Daenerys did solve her problems with fire-and-blood, but she was tempered from her original much more extensive plan by Tyrion’s words. There’s hope for her yet.
I very much appreciated the flirty tone and the simpatico vibe between Yara and Daenerys. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Meereen crew interacting with this new blood going into episode 10 and next season. Theon really needs to meet all those incredible eunuch soldiers, for starters.
The wild chaotic style of the battle scenes, making it feel so real that it’s uncomfortable, reminded me of Black Hawk Down. That’s a good thing. I felt absolutely claustrophobic when Jon was beneath the pile of people, it was so realistic. The cameras capture all the brilliantly designed and dizzying brutality, and the soundwork on the battle scenes was incredible. The episode is a technical marvel.
I would have liked more time spent with Art Parkinson/Rickon before his death scene. He’s been gone so long (and didn’t have a lot to do before that) that while it’s a little sad to see a Stark die, we barely knew this one. Though the episode still blew me away in most respects, the emotional resonance is lacking in some scenes and that’s what keeps this from being an episode I absolutely love-love. I was sadder when Wun Wun died. Giving Osha and Rickon a scene or two together before killing them off would have gone a long way in pay-off.
I appreciate Sansa’s development, in reaching the point where she is hard enough to watch a man be torn to shreds (even one who has it coming) and is pragmatic enough to recognize the ugly reality of her little brother’s situation.
Melisandre reaching Winterfell as she did in her vision, combined with Davos figuring out what happened to Shireen, makes me think Melisandre is at the end of her journey.
All things considered, this was certainly an epic ninth episode and as Oz of Thrones has observed, it’s the last ninth episode of Game of Thrones. I’d say it’s a more than worthy episode to finish off the tradition of huge number-nines.