Game of Thrones S06E09 review: Why 'Battle of the Bastards' was the show's best episode yet

Zenia D'Cunha

Jun 21, 2016 16:18:58 IST

Spoiler alert

First things first - Battle of the Bastards, the much anticipated episode nine of the Game of Thrones season six, is the show’s best episode so far, for me. Fans may or may not agree, but this was Game of Thrones, television at its best.

Traditionally, the ninth episode of every season has been the coup de grâce, with the show delivering some of its most brutal and awesome moments in the penultimate episode. Here’s a ready reckoner –

Season one – Baelor – Tragic death of Ned Stark
Season two – Blackwater – Epic battle between Stannis Baratheon and Lannister troops
Season three – Rains of Castamere – Tragic deaths of Robb, Talisa and Catelyn Stark
Season four – Watchers on the Wall – Epic battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings (also tragic death of Ygritte)
Season five – Dance of Dragons – Tragic death of Shireen Baratheon

Game of Thrones S06E09 review: Why Battle of the Bastards was the shows best episode yet

Jon Snow charging in the battle. Screengrab

You see the pattern?

Now, back to why this was Game of Thrones' best episode. It had all the elements that makes Game of Thrones such great television – grand scale, high drama, sharp dialogues, verbal conflict, edge-of-the-seat action, gruesome violence, major character death, strong women, a hint of humour, fast-paced narrative, tight editing, excellent camera work, and a satisfying conclusion. In other words, this episode was the embodiment of the essence of Game of Thrones.

Note: This week’s episode was so good that I will not even fret about another Stark death. (RIP Rickon, you should have just run backwards and dodged the arrows)

Last week’s review mentioned how this season leaned more towards verbal action, rather than visible one and the decline in shock value. But this episode rectified that, and how.

There were just two settings this week – Meereen and Winterfell – with two battles being fought and Daenerys and the Starks coming out on top. Another allusion to the eponymous song of ‘Ice and Fire’, a recurring theme this season as the ice Queen aka Khaleesi and fiery Stark (did I mix that up?) fortifying their character arcs. In the end, it will all be about ice and fire, one way or the other as a certain Robert Frost poem says.

But back to the battle.We see the first ever meeting between the titular bastards — Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton — and it is quite a dampener. In a pre-battle 'courtesy call', Jon broods, Ramsay gloats, Sansa threatens. Why so much talking? But the scene is salvaged  by a single shot of the little firecracker Lyanna Mormont, whose glare is far more powerful than Jon's frown.

They head back to camp, there is more talk, Jon and Sansa squabble over battle plans and traps. Meanwhile, Ser Davos Seaworth and Tormund Giantsbane indulge in soldier chat (look, a light moment), Davos finds a toy he made for the late Princess Shireen in a pyre and smells a rat (uh-oh, Red Lady) an Jon tells Melisandre not to bring him back should he fail (yeah, right).

Enough with the talking already! Give us promised epic battle. And epic it is. Here’s the full lowdown –

Jon had planned to enrage Ramsay by challenging him to a duel, so he can lower his guard. Instead, it is he who falls into the trap perfectly laid out. At the head of his considerable huge army, a sneering Ramsay frees Rickon ans asks him to run to his brother as starts shooting arrows. And of course, Jon Snow shows his Stark stripes by making an emotional decision and gallops for Rickon, who outdoes the Stark stupidity quota by running in a straight line with his back to the enemy. Another Stark down. Not to be outdone, Jon charges at the massive cavalry – alone and on foot – but is thankfully saved by his army's charge (one of several times in course of the battle)

Note: Jon, you were not resurrected and had the internet in a tizzy for a year over your life for you to face a tame end at least five times in this battle.
Further Note: Seriously though, are all Stark men averse to logical, well-thought decisions? Thankfully, Sansa and Arya seem to not have that Y chromosome.

A beautifully crafted, breathtaking battle sequence ensues and all earlier complaints are forgotten. It is a battle worthy of a Peter Jackson film and all you can do is watch with your eyes and mouth open wide.

The cavalries charge at, swords are swung, blood is flying, horse are trampling, arrows are raining, men are engrossed in combat, there is a mountain of corpses, Jon and co are outnumbered, they trapped on all sides, they are still fighting, they are going down, the end is near. Jon falls and is buried underneath a stampede, time slows and we see the battle from his eye – horse hooves, darkness, mud, chaos, despair. All is lost.

Then, in a scene reminiscent of the Jackson’s rendition of The Battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of The Rings, rescue arrives. It felt like ‘the eagles’ are coming’, except it's a falcon, the white falcon on the banner of the Knights of the Vale to be more precise. Sansa’s missal to Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish has saved the day.

jon snow daenerys collage

A song of ice and fire, indeed. Sreengrab

Jon rises above it all (a shot tantalisingly familiar to Daenersy being raised as Mhysa, more ice and fire). The Starks reclaim Winterfell, Ramsay is pummeled by an furious Jon, Sansa watches impassively. And then came the vengeance we have been waiting for, as Sansa feeds Ramsay to his own hounds – a fittingly gruesome death to one of most hated characters on the show and a line one can only say about Game of Thrones. Sansa came good on her declaration of ‘You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Ramsay.' However his cryptic 'I am a part of you' remark to her, raises a nagging suspicion that the internet theories about Sansa being pregnant might true. I sincerely hope otherwise because this will just destroy all her character development that took six long seasons.

The violent death aside, what really stands out is the brilliant manner in which the titular battle is filmed, directed and edited. The chaos on screen is so hard-hitting, you can feel it in your bones. The scene from Jon's perspective on the ground is visceral to the point of making you claustrophobic. The pace of the battle, the background score, the silence, - it all adds up to make it a gut punch. And this is what sets this battle apart from the ones we have seen before at Blackwater, Hardhome or Castle Black. The show made this physically real, apart from all the emotional investment. The shots were primal, the terror gut-wrenching and the goosebumps genuine. You felt you were part of the frantic frenzy of the fight – with the blurred pan shots, the quick shifts in perspective, the aerial view, the scenes from the ground. For a while, you forgot it is just a show – it feels like a subconscious nightmare and to capture this dread on camera and translate it through the screen is an achievement the show should be proud of – this was television at its finest.

Meanwhile in Meereen, Daenerys returns and has brought with her a dragon and a Dotharki army, both of which she uses to quickly control the Masters’ attack. Another obstinate confrontation with the Masters leads in their destruction once again, as she rides Drogon, frees Viserion and Rhaegar and burns down the attackers in an edgy scene full of great CGI and direction. The three dragons are finally up and about and now we wait on the prophecy of the three heads of the dragon. But for now, the spectacle of the Mother and her three dragons breathing fire was enough. A little (or a long) while later, we see Daenerys and Tyrion receive Theon and Yara Greyjoy, who have made their offer of ships for Iron Islands. Barbs are exchanged, deals are made and it seems like they both have what they want as we get ready for the Khaleesi’s long-heralded sail to King’s Landing. Both scenes served to establish the pace that show will now go on and with Daenerys being powerful-like-never-before, her arc is set up to be another jaw-dropping television moment. Special mention to the girl-power-bonding between Daenerys and Yara, which was both catty and flirty.

"Has the Iron Islands ever had a queen before?"
"No more than Westeros"

Note: Daenerys talking about terrible fathers is Westeros' way of wishing Happy Father's Day.

The grand scale of the Battle o the Bastard. Screengrab

The grand scale of the Battle of the Bastard. Screengrab

While none of this came as a massive surprise –We did know/guess/hope that Jon Snow and co will win, Sansa will be the MVP, Ramsay will meet his end, Rickon will be the latest Stark casualty, Danerys and Greyjoys will sail to Westeros and even the biggest plot twist, Littlefinger's arrival, was also revealed with Aiden Gillen's name in the opening credits (not very smart) – this episode was shocking purely in its scale and intensity. Very few other television shows can match up to this level of presentation, the only other comparison that comes to mind is Peter Jackson’s LOTR and that was big-budget, Oscar-winning, three-part film series. On the small screen so to speak, we have had amazing action choreography on shows like Daredevil and Outlander,  but with this episode, Game of Thrones has moved on to the big league. Take a bow, DB Weiss and David Benioff and be prepared for a flurry of awards next season.

Now that the flags are unfurled and the masts firmed, all that is left is that last one final episode of what in all probability is second last season of the show. There are some, many, several, massive loose ends to tie – Arya’s exit from Braavos, Cersei’s trial, The Mountain’s revenge, Jaime’s return, The Hound’s next step, Samwell Tarly’s sojourn, Margaery’s devious plot, Bran’s plan with Uncle Benjen, the approaching undead – and they have only episode to tie them all. It will be interesting to see how a season termed as the show’s slowest, will resolve the many, different storylines. Over to the season finale then.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2016 16:18:58 IST