***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Game of Thrones through Season 6, Episode 9, follow. Spoilers***
You could read every review written about “Battle of the Bastards”, and not a single writer will be able to do Miguel Sapochnik’s masterpiece justice. Hitting similarly fantastic high notes as last season’s “Hardhome”, the director again immersed us in the middle of the dizzying, unfathomably violent mess that is war. Thankfully, this time around, Jon Snow didn’t suffer quite as crushing losses (though the massive death toll is impossible to ignore). While there are parallels and callbacks to that Season 5 episode, moments when we held our collective breath and our hearts felt nearly as crushed as Jon beneath a pile of fallen soldiers: where “Hardhome” left us defeated and hopeless, “Battle of the Bastards” closed on a different sort of powerful note — with Sansa and Jon finally triumphant over their enemies.
It was in S5E8 that a captured Tyrion convinced Daenerys he could be of use to her. Once again he word-dances his way through a perilous situation; as we’re about to see for the umpteenth time, one always wants to remain in the queen’s good graces. Foreshadowing his sister’s (and perhaps Jaime’s as well) finale plans, Tyrion reminds Dany why and how the Kingslayer got his name — and of wildfire hidden under the Red Keep — asking Daenerys to reconsider wiping out entire cities. Considering his words, the Targaryen queen unleashes her dragons’ controlled and fiery wrath upon the masters’ soldiers, while Grey Worm metes out his own brand of justice.
Dany is similarly thoughtful in making an excellent deal with contrite Theon and ever flirty Yara who, after explaining why Daenerys need not wait for her murderous uncle (“He also wants to give you his big …”), makes no demands and agrees to support Dany as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
After an unsettling greeting by the gloating bastard Bolton and proper stare-downs all around …
… pre-battle jitters grab hold of even the best of men.
In its small asides, “Battle” was no less affecting; chills grabbed hold as Davos made the horrible discovery of what Stannis and Melisandre had done. We’re forced to wait, at least until next week’s “Winter”, to see how Davos handles the still-subdued priestess; I’m not even certain she has the will to defend herself.
It almost goes without saying that Kit Harington’s evolution as Jon Snow has been no less miraculous than his character’s resurrection, and the actor’s performance this hour is equally impressive. His heartbroken expression over Ramsay’s beyond cruel, murderous game …
… alternated with those of palpable terror, grief, disbelief, rage, defeat, an unbreakable will to survive and incredulity at a last-minute save. It is our pleasure to have witnessed this transformation from youthful naiveté to a man who — even having no idea if or how how he’ll live through an unbeatable army’s attack — just keeps on fighting as long as hard as he can and, in the face of impossible odds, refuses to give up. Despite the many Stark losses and not entirely knowing what he’s meant to do, Jon Snow threw every part of himself into defending his family (both named and chosen).
The entirety of Sapochnik’s skillfully directed battle scene, masterfully shot by “Hardhome’s” Fabian Wagner, was at times as beautiful as hand-over-eyes horrific.
Those moments of Jon’s grunting and shouting, then panicked breathing as he fought to keep from being crushed and buried beneath a pile of the fighting and the dead, were utterly terrifying. I found myself practically gasping for air alongside him; the claustrophobically filmed scenes were oddly contagious, and our fear for Jon’s life was true.
In the end, though, the hour rightfully belonged to Sansa Stark, who triumphantly claimed her home, her own safety and peace of mind, as well as long-awaited, sweet revenge. Whether a matter of trust or simply wanting to prove her strength to both Jon and herself, Sansa’s secret request for the Knights of the Vale is a surprise to Jon, but thankfully and properly answered. Her brother knows Sansa must have the final words with that bastard, Bolton. Sophie Turner hit all the right notes throughout Sansa’s “Battle” performance: venting frustrated anger when Jon doesn’t seek her advice; an intelligent and correct assessment of Ramsay’s behaviour; her confident declaration — “You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton” — and the smirk on Sansa’s face both when she arrived with Littlefinger and her army, and as Ramsay’s own hounds carried out her sentence.
I could go on and on with every gif-able moment and, as mentioned at the opening, still not be able to capture the magic that “Battle of the Bastards” was. There’s nothing to do but watch this brilliant ninth episode again and again. It was everything we could have hoped for an epic snapshot of war: Sansa and Jon retook Winterfell and wiped out one of the nastiest, most vile creatures who ever walked the vast Thrones‘ world, and the heroes we’ve looked up to throughout this season remain the people we want them to be. Our fears for Tormund and Davos are, for now, safely set aside. The losses were as minimal as we wished, though still … heartbreaking.
After all is said and done, and flags lowered and raised …
… we must wait with bated breath for next week’s fallen Sparrows and angry fires, and the threat of brother vs. sister, and mother against child.
Yes, that was disgusting — and fantastic — when Tormund demonstrated he is indeed a Wildling. We’re just so thankful he’s still around to fulfill our Tumblr fantasies. Adios, Smalljon!
There were so many goosebump-inducing moments, from Davos finding and — later, near the end of the episode — still holding the stag he’d carved for Shireen, looking up toward Melisandre … Jon climbing to the top of the deadpile, seeing Sansa and Littlefinger (and the look on Ramsay’s face as he saw the same) … the Bolton banners dropped and the Starks’ raised at Winterfell … watching the Knights of the Vale ride into the fray and rip apart the last of the Bolton army from the inside out. We felt the absolute fear of being in soldiers’ shoes as the Bolton wall closed in on and pierced through them. This was just grade A Thrones at its best, and worth the rest of this often dillydallying sixth season.
Kudos to Iwan Rheon for bringing to life one of the greatest villains of all time, and for his tremendous performance. Now, we’d really like you to go back to a Misfits-type role, so we can wash Ramsay Bolton from our brains. “Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.” Yes, please.
Realizing that Tyrion has pretty much hung around Meereen more than an entire season (since “Hardhome”), drinking and knowing things, is pretty depressing. I cannot emphasize enough the great hope I have that Peter Dinklage will be getting much better material next season.
We have the same team (Benioff, Weiss, Sapochnik, Wagner), so I do believe we can expect an equally thrilling finale of “The Winds of Winter.” But I also think we may suffer more personal losses and I’m more than worried for our beloved Ser Davos.