So who is the bigger bastard, really? This one was a Game of Thrones game-changer, folks.
MAJOR episode spoilers ahead.
Spoilers for the currently published George R. R. Martin novels are discussed in the review and fair game in the comments. We highly suggest not discussing early preview chapters, but if you must, white it out. Have courtesy for the patient among us who are waiting and waiting (and waiting) for The Winds of Winter. Play nice. Thanks.
Watching that Stark banner unfurl over the wall of Winterfell got me in all the feels, but it won’t feel real until we see the Stark sigil in next week’s opening credits!
There was a distinct Return of the King vibe to tonight’s proceedings, only with an R-rating.
Minas Tirith Meereen was under siege by the masters, only this time the good guy was riding a Nazgûl dragon. And when the Rohirrim soldiers of the Vale showed up at Pellenor Fields Winterfell? The Battle of the Bastards only needed 100% more Mûmakil. Too bad the Wildlings’ mammoths weren’t around.
Or Brienne. Jon couldn’t even wait for Brienne to come back?
As good as the battle itself was, the tension leading up to the first charge was pretty much sublime.
First we had Sansa facing off against her husband-torturer. That was satisfying as hell. “You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well.” Much better parting line than… Jon Snow just standing there, mouth slack after Ramsay lobs one last pathetic threat. Come on, Jon, at least give us a little “I know you are but what am I?” or something. (The answer is “A bastard.”)
Still, even Sansa didn’t look as unimpressed as Lady Mormont, my favorite little scene-thief:
That was kinda the look on my face watching a lot of this episode, to be honest.
This was a very good episode in a very competent season of Game of Thrones. Not a “Blackwater,” not a “Baelor”—though the butterfly effect of a Stark victory will ripple outwards with consequences soon enough—but still pretty damn good in the sum of its parts.
My favorite aspect of this episode was how we were placed in a Game of Thrones battle closer than we’ve ever been before. “Blackwater” and “Hardhome” were big and filled with moments of courage and cowardice, but the scope of “The Battle of the Bastards” seemed grander, both in how it was staged and because the stakes were so high. It’s Winterfell we’re reclaiming here. Our hearts are always Team Stark.
Yet as big as the Bolton army was, those wide-angle shots of the battlefield were not as terrifying as Jon Snow nearly getting suffocated by dying and fleeing soldiers. That was a perfect depiction of chaos. The sound design, the score, the shrinking point of light… For a second there, I truly did wonder if the Lord of Light meant for Jon to die a frightening and unremarkable death on the battlefield. When he crawled his way back to the world, it was as much of a fist-pump moment as Beatrix Kiddo punching out of her grave in Kill Bill Vol. 2, or Buffy Summers, another savior back from the dead, being reborn into this world. Jon was choosing to live.
Contributing to this overall scope? The gorgeous cinematography and moody score. So much blue and gray punctuated with orange. The tableau of Davos standing at the snow-covered remains of Shireen’s execution pyre as the sun rose behind him was as stunning as anything in The Revenant. I expect we’ll finally, finally get to see him face off with mopey Melisandre before season’s end.
But for real, Jon Snow knows nothing about war. At least he got filthy with his men, not like Ramsay watching from a safe distance then running to Winterfell’s walls. Thank the gods there wasn’t another lame siege situation.
So who really won The Battle of the Bastards?
Sansa predicted everything. Everything. Will Jon trust her advice now, please? She totally called Rickon being not long for this world. And Ramsay, too. She knew Ramsay likes to play with his prey and Jon charged full tilt into conflict, disregarding his own damn battle plan! Even Tormund, lover of fighting that he is, said “No, dude. Don’t do it.” And if Sansa hadn’t written to Littlefinger, the Snow army would be ground beef now.
And did Sansa run her decision to feed Ramsay to his own dogs (come on, you knew that was the only way he’d go) by her brother? Or will Sansa’s unilateral revenge-seeking drive a bigger wedge between her and her half-brother? I… don’t much care because Ramsay had it coming.
A moment of silence for the real bastard whose greatest contribution to Game of Thrones was this GIF:
- Quote of the night: Sansa’s triumphant smile as she exits the kennels speaks volumes.
- RIP Wun Wun. Ramsay had to get one last dick move in. Yeah, yeah Rickon died, too, but we barely remembered that he was alive and he died in such a stereotypically cruel Game of Thrones fashion, I may have chuckled on the rewatch. But Wun Wun? That was heartbreaking.
- Did Dany really need Tyrion to tell her to pretend to surrender and then fuck shit up with her three dragons? Because that’s kinda her signature move. The ol’ bait n’ burn cities to the ground maneuver. Oh, Dany, dragons are your answer to everything. Yeah, I’m definitely getting the feeling that Dany is becoming more of her father’s daughter each season. It would be tragic to lose someone whose heart is in the right place, who has vision. I really hope Dany never goes full Sith.
- That said, I’m shipping DanYara SO HARD RIGHT NOW.
- My GoT Episode 9 ranking is as follows: Baelor>The Rains of Castamere>Blackwater>The Battle of the Bastards>The Dance of Dragons>The Watchers on the Wall. What’s yours?
Next week: The season six finale is coming and it’s called “The Winds of Winter,” just to rub book readers’ faces in it a little.
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights at 9PM E/PT on HBO.
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Den of Geek, and Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. Send her a raven through Twitter.