Who let the dogs out? (Helen Sloan/HBO)
Another classic episode nine for “Game of Thrones.” “Battle of the Bastards” immediately enters the conversation of best “Game of Thrones” episodes simply because of how amazing the action was. Major props are in order for director Miguel Sapochnik, who also directed last season’s “Hardhome” and is now the foremost expert on directing battles as far as I’m concerned.
The storytelling in and around “Battle of the Bastards” was not quite as excellent as the action, but more on that in point three. First, let’s appreciate that action some more.
1. Dany and the dragons came to play
We’ll get to the Bastard Bowl in a minute, but since the episode started in Meereen, we’ll start there too. Daenerys decided to keep Tyrion around even though he screwed things up and stuttered like a fool while trying to explain why things were OK. That’s good because Tyrion then regained his composure and gave a great speech about why Dany shouldn’t just burn entire cities like her father wanted to (hello, more wildfire under King’s Landing foreshadowing).
Instead Dany hopped on Drogon, joined up with Rhaegal and Viserion, and started burning the masters’ ships in what may have been the best dragon scene yet. The Dothraki storming in and Grey Worm’s double throat slash of the two masters who tried to sacrifice their friend capped off a satisfying turn of events in Meereen and hopefully moved us much closer to Dany leaving and going west.
2. The Battle of the Bastards was so good
“Game of Thrones” already had a few entries in the “greatest battles we’ve seen in shows/films” discussion (Blackwater, Castle Black, Hardhome), and I think it’s safe to add the Battle of the Bastards to that group.
The pre-battle meeting between Jon, Sansa and Ramsay was great. Ramsay’s “game” with Rickon offered one last reminder of just how sadistic Ramsay is (by the way, did anyone else think Ramsay was actually going to shoot at Jon there?). It was heartbreaking to see another Stark die, but not unexpected. Rickon had never been a huge part of the story and we pretty much knew he was done for the moment Smalljon Umber turned him over to Ramsay. Jon wanted to believe he could save Rickon, but Sansa knew better.
The battle itself was just packed with great, gory action, starting with Jon going from alone and seemingly screwed to quickly surrounded by a brutal clash of cavalry. The center of the battlefield quickly turned into a massive killing zone, with Ramsay’s forces firing arrows indiscriminately and dead bodies literally piling up. Jon getting buried under bodies and gasping for air was nightmare fuel, and the envelopment and slow strangulation of Jon’s forces was some straight Battle of Cannae stuff.
Thankfully, Littlefinger and the Vale showed up just in time (more on that in point three), Wun Wun broke down the gate of Winterfell in heroic, tragic fashion (goodbye to the last of the giants), and Jon gave Ramsay the pounding we all would’ve liked to have given him.
3. Why didn’t Sansa tell Jon about the Vale?
If this ends up being explained, I’ll eat my words. But as of right now, it’s hard to figure out why Sansa never told Jon anything about the Vale. It started with her lying about how she found out the Blackfish had retaken Riverrun — she told Jon she overheard Ramsay when in actuality she found out from Littlefinger.
Then, while consistently scolding Jon for not listening to her (and rightly so, by the way — her warnings proved prescient) and insisting they need more men, she doesn’t say anything about the fact that there may actually be more men on the way. I get that Sansa didn’t know for sure if the Vale was actually coming, but either way, I don’t see how it makes any sense to not loop in Jon.
My other issue with some of the storytelling here is that we once again had an army swoop in to save the day when all hope appeared to be lost. Tywin Lannister’s army did it at the Battle of the Blackwater, Stannis Baratheon’s did it at the Battle of Castle Black, and now the Vale’s forces do it here. The Vale’s arrival was set up fine and it was still cool to see, but I do think we’re getting a little repetitive with how these battles play out.
4. Ramsay got the death he deserved
I think we’ve still seen more good main characters die than bad ones, but occasionally we get one of these satisfying villain deaths. Joffrey’s death was probably the most satisfying to this point, but Ramsay tops it in my mind. He was evil turned up to 11 and we had to suffer through one torturous scene after another (all the Theon/Reek scenes, Sansa’s rape, feeding Walda and her son to his dogs) as the writers went above and beyond to make it clear just how awful he was. Having his death come at the mouths of his beloved dogs was a nice touch, and Sansa’s little smile to end the episode matched mine and probably most other viewers’.
5. Dany and Yara could be fun
Dany seems to like the idea of having another powerful woman on her side, and Yara seems to enjoy not-so-subtly hitting on Dany. Their deal makes sense for both sides, although Tyrion’s concern over other powerful houses wanting independence if they see the Greyjoys granted independence is a valid one. That can come later, though. For now, I’m just happy that Dany has more ships and finally seems close to being ready to make her move to Westeros.
6. What’s next for Sansa and Littlefinger? Davos and Melisandre?
Sansa was rightfully pissed at Littlefinger for leaving her with Ramsay, but she was still willing to turn to him when she absolutely needed help and couldn’t find it anywhere else. And Littlefinger was still willing to help despite having his first offer to help rejected. Now what? Based on the preview for next week’s episode, it seems like Littlefinger now believes he is owed something — “I thought you knew what I wanted,” he tells her. The most obvious guess is that he wants Sansa to marry him, which would certainly complicate things since it’s hard to imagine Sansa going along with that.
Elsewhere in rocky relationships, Davos discovers Shireen Baratheon’s little stag at the remains of a pyre and puts two and two together. The preview for next week shows him confronting Melisandre with Jon present — “Tell him what you did to her.” So that should be fun.
In other Melisandre news, she still doesn’t know why the Lord of Light allowed her to bring Jon back to life. You would think at some point she’ll start to see Jon as Azor Ahai reborn the way she once saw Stannis that way. Maybe she’s not ready to see it yet (she still seems pretty down on herself), or maybe she’s being more cautious this time. Or maybe she’ll only see it after we find out who Jon’s real parents are, which I hope is next week (you can’t have the Tower of Joy tease and then wait a full year for the reveal, right?)
7. How crazy will things get in the finale?
In addition to the two storylines above, we also know from the preview for next week that we’ll see both Bran and King’s Landing, as well as a white raven, which signals a change of seasons and the arrival of winter. We haven’t seen Bran since episode six, but it’s safe to assume he, Meera and Benjen have been moving toward The Wall. What happens once they get there should be interesting. Will that mark left on Bran’s arm by the Night’s King come into play again?
Then there’s King’s Landing, where it looks like we’ll get at least one trial and maybe two (we see Loras in the preview, but we know Cersei is also due for a trial). I don’t think Cersei ends this season quietly, and there’s been plenty of foreshadowing about the wildfire stored under King’s Landing (including more this week).