Monday, July 24, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.9: "Battle of the Bastards"

Read the previous piece in this series here.
Read the next piece in this series here

6.9 “Battle of the Bastards”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Commentary by Miguel Sapochinik, Sophie Turner (Sansa), and Kit Harrington (Jon)

Well, it’s a penultimate episode, so in keeping with the traditional pacing of this series, it’s time for a knock-down, drag-out battle! Now with even less tactical sense and more dumb luck!

First, though, we have to wrap up the siege of Meereen. Dany plans to do that by burning everything to ash, but Tyrion stops her initial Targaryen impulse by reminding her that that’s the sort of thing Aerys would have done and suggests maybe using diplomacy instead. So she meets with the masters down on the beach and they give her their (completely unacceptable) terms. This prompts Dany to hop on Drogon’s back and set the entire fleet on fire, because it’s not like she needed those ships or anything. While she’s off playing Aegon the Conqueror, Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm negotiate the surrender of the masters, which ends with two of them dead and one left as a messenger.

Luckily for Dany, the Ironborn fleet magically appears in Slavers Bay. Yara and Dany negotiate their alliance, Yara flirts with Dany, and they agree to terms—Dany gets the fleet, Yara gets her help “murder[ing] an uncle or two who don’t think a woman’s fit to rule” and ultimately the independence of the Iron Islands when Dany’s queen. But first they have to get the non-verbal approval of their men—Tyrion and Theon—before sealing the deal with a forearm-grab.

The entire rest of the episode takes place in the north, near Winterfell, where Jon and Ramsay finally have their face-off. They start with a parley, which Jon tells Sansa she doesn’t have to attend, but she says of course she does. Ramsay thanks Jon for returning Sansa to him and demands that he kneel and swear fealty, which Jon is not doing under any circumstances. Jon suggests single combat, and Ramsay says that’s idiotic because he’s well aware his army can stomp Jon’s into the ground. He reminds them that he has Rickon, and Sansa asks how they know that for sure, at which point Shaggydog’s (incredibly well-preserved) head gets tossed on the ground again. So much for parley.

Back in camp, Jon et al. discuss their plans. They know there’s going to be a battle because Ramsay’s not the type to just wait out a siege. Tormund’s worried about the cavalry ripping through the Wildling forces, but Jon says he’s digging trenches to prevent that. Sansa finally speaks up and reminds them that she’s the only one here who knows Ramsay and nobody’s asking for her opinion. This kind of reminds me of Catelyn’s plight (more in the books than the show, since the show dumped her entire tactical mind) in that nobody will listen to her (even though she’s right) because she’s a woman. She says that they’ll never get Rickon back alive anyway, and they should wait to fight him until they have more men. She doesn’t, however, tell them that more men are coming because she’s got the Vale army on its way. For some reason.

Davos and Tormund have a talk about loyalty, and Davos has apparently written off Stannis just as hard as Melisandre did. So much for undying gratitude for not executing him for smuggling. Davos then wanders away from the camp and miraculously discovers Shireen and Selyse’s graves and discovers the stag he carved for Shireen—scorched. Dun dun dun. This is the point when Ramsay’s army arrives and everything hits the fan.

Ramsay’s set up a bunch of crosses with flayed bodies on them and taunts them with Rickon’s impending freedom only to shoot him just as he reaches Jon. (And Benioff and Weiss continue to clean house.) Jon has to charge forward a bit more to get inside the range of Ramsay’s archers, but his horse still gets shot out from under him. Ramsay’s cavalry is charging, and Jon pulls Longclaw, all ready to go out in a blaze of glory, just as his own cavalry charges past him and it’s actually kind of a funny moment.

Both sides queue up their archers again, but while Davos realizes the folly of firing into the fray, Ramsay doesn’t give a crap and keeps his archers firing. At this point, there’s a big, strategic pile of bodies, and everyone sends in their reserves.

Ramsay has a shield wall, which Jon manages to allow to surround his army, pushing them into that strategically-placed pile of bodies which would in no way have fallen that conveniently. (This is the point in the episode where my husband actually left the room because he couldn’t stand how bad the tactics were on both sides, but especially on Jon’s.) The shield wall keeps pushing the Wildlings back, crushing them into the body-pile, which is covered with Bolton men who are slaughtering everyone back there. Jon gets knocked down and almost trampled but somehow manages to climb up the men around him and break through to get a breath in a moment that’s clearly meant to be symbolic of rebirth but that symbol makes no sense in this context.

Finally, the Vale army arrives with Sansa and Peyr and destroys the shield wall. Ramsay flees, and Jon and Wun Wun go after him. Ramsay thinks he can still wait out a siege in Winterfell, but he forgot about the giant; Wun Wun takes down the gate and then takes an arrow to the eye. Ramsay offers to take Jon up on the one-on-one combat offer, and Jon beats the crap out of him, almost killing him until he notices Sansa and realizes she should be the one to get to kill him.

And then Darth Sansa feeds Ramsay to his dogs. And smiles about it. Because violence is the only answer.

Yes, Sansa getting to be the one to take out Ramsay is dramatically satisfying (once again, though, she’s not really wielding the power; Jon had to subdue Ramsay and get him in a position where Sansa could use the dogs to finish him off). But the north is supposed to be all about codes of conduct, and killing Ramsay like this doesn’t fit it. Also, we again get a woman wielding power through violence. Ramsay totally needed to die—there wasn’t any other way around it. However, rather than beheading him for treason (along with all his other crimes), which is what Ned would have done, they lower themselves to his level and essentially torture him to death. This doesn’t make me super optimistic for Jon’s upcoming rule of the North. It makes it feel like this whole fight was less about returning law, order, and the status quo to the North and more about revenge and power-grabbiness, which makes them not at all better than the Boltons.

Belicho Paenymion
Razdal mo Eraz
Rickon Stark
Jon Umber
Wun Wun
Ramsay Bolton
Slews of wildlings and northern fighters and probably some Vale knights

Next week:

Stills from; gifs from Giphy and Tumblr

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