Let’s breakdown The Battle of the Bastards. (Spoilers, obviously)
Last night’s Game of Thrones was a total triumph. Never before have I felt so tense, so nervous, and so anxious watching an hour of television, of which the outcome was all but guaranteed. But before we get to the main course that was the Battle of the Bastards, let’s touch on Meereen.
As an avid lover of both the A Song of Ice and Fire book series and its HBO adaptation, I will be the first to admit that they are not perfect. They stumble sometimes, and most of the time those stumbles involve Daenerys Targaryen. Her storyline in both the books and the show have had a tendency to drag on. Ever since the end of season three, her storyline been repetitive, and simply feels like it is biding it’s time until the plot demands Dany to sail to Westeros. It’s because of this that I have had such a hard time feeling engaged in her story this season, up until this episode.
In Dany’s absence, the slavers have finally launched their siege on Meereen. Tyrion has been doing his best to try to hold the city together, but it has fallen into chaos. Dany returns, and shares a great scene with Tyrion as they bicker over the state of events. Dany suggests burning the slavers cities to the ground, but Tyrion is able to talk her down. He reminds her of her father, the Mad King, and the lengths his madness went to. It’s nice for Tyrion to call her out when she starts leaning towards the mad Targaryen side of the coin. I like the idea of Tyrion keeping her in check. I feel Tyrion as a character has worked best when he is in an advisory role, and this just proves my point.
And finally, we get some well overdue dragon action. The is one of many set pieces in this episode, and holy hell I can not believe this is made on a TV show budget. The dragons looked absolutely fantastic as they burned the master’s ships, and it finally gave us real pay off on both Dany’s newfound skill of dragon riding, as well as Tyrion unchaining the two that still remained in the dungeon.
All in all, Meereen finally succeeded in being engaging, maybe the most it’s ever been. Now with Theon and Asha (oops I mean Yara) pledging their allegiance and their ships to Dany, it seems we may finally be leaving Meereen on a high note. And not a moment too soon.
Now, to the real meat of the episode. The battle for Winterfell.
Before the battle proper, we get a few scenes with Jonny Snow and the gang as they attempt to treat with Ramsay. This meeting helps set up the conflict and rivalry between Jon and Ramsay, and helps to give their eventual clash more impact. After a night of planning, and Sansa bemoaning how hopeless the battle will be with Jon’s forces hilariously outnumbered, the battle begins.
I think this is the first time any live action media has captured the true horror and brutality of medieval warfare. Multiple times throughout the battle I found myself cringing and grimacing at how horrible all the carnage was. Where the battle for Meereen was fun and heroic, the battle for Winterfell was dirty, gritty, and miserable. Which is why it was so good. The battle wasn’t sugar-coated, every terrible event on the war-torn field is experienced. It showcases the true cost of medieval warfare, emphasizes the price Jon has to pay to take his home back. That price is thousands of lives, including his younger brother.
We all knew Jon Snow would succeed, or at the very least not die. Jon’s already been killed and brought back once before, in this season no less. Jon now has about as much plot armor as one could possibly have on Game of Thrones. Yet when the Bolton cavalry barreled towards him, or when he is trampled and buried in a claustrophobic pile of bodies, I found myself anxious and nervous for his survival. That is what makes this episode so successful. The writers and directors of this episode were such magnificent storytellers that they were able to convince me, even if it was only for a split second, that they would actually kill Jon Snow.
Ans that is what makes the victory all the more sweeter. In a classic Rohirrim style charge, the Knights of the Vale swoop in to save Jon and his forces at the eve of his defeat. I’ve seen some complaints that this was predictable, but I don’t see it as a negative. The Knights of the Vale had been set up and foreshadowed multiple times throughout the season, so their last-minute appearance to save the day fit within the show’s storytelling. This felt earned, as we got to experience the trauma Jon and his forces had to endure to secure a victory. Predictable sometimes means the most logical outcome.
After the Vale swoops in to save the day, Jon makes a beeline for Ramsay, eventually coming face to face with him in Winterfell. To see Ramsay finally get his comeuppance may be one the most satisfying moments in Game of Thrones history. Jon beating in Ramsay’s face was complete fan service, but it was fan service that was earned. Every punch had the weight of all the characters Ramsay has tormented behind it, and to finally see his downfall felt like sweet, sweet justice.
Although, not near as sweet as seeing the Stark direwolf sigil hanging over Winterfell once more.
Game of Thrones has passed the book series, and along the way they’ve stumbled a few times. They are racing towards and ending for the series, and while it might not match up exactly with how George R.R. Martin’s final two books will play out, this episode has proved that it’ll be equally as satisfying.