Game of Thrones: Season 6, Episode 9 – Battle of the Bastards
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, I’ve made them out of clay. spoilers spoiler spoilers, I’ve run out of Game of Thrones jokes.
We’ve made it to Episode nine aka the one where something happens. As nice as it would have been if Thrones could have pushed itself more in the lead up to this point, it has its tried and tested formula which keeps them in their mega-bucks. That said it’s always nice seeing things go from one to batshit in the space of an episode so I’m certainly glad we’re here. The simple question is will anything match the joyous insanity of The Red Wedding or The Mountain vs The Viper or (fuck, what happened last season?). Still, let’s see what happened in this addition of Episode 9- The Contractually Obligated Large Battle Episode:
Tyrion and Dany trying to work out a way out of the invasion of Mereen, Dany has a surprising idea – Dragons, Dragons and Dothrakh, and Daario Naharis’ pretty beard, and by god it works, Jon Snow back in his ultimate Top-Bun form and Sansa parlay with Ramsay Bolton, nothing is achieved, they head off to prepare for battle, plans are made for battle, it is reinforced how much the odds are against Snow, meanwhile the Greyjoys have arrived in Mereen just in time to miss the battle, Yara continues to be the new people’s champion and a ‘business’ union is made, hooray for friendship, back to Winterfell, everyone’s ready to fight, finally, but first Ramsay decides to torture Rickon a bit because in case you didn’t know, he’s a villain, Rickon dies, they fight, Jon’s horse dies, hundreds more people die, it seems like everyone on team Snow is about to die when up turn Littlefinger and the Arryns (the winner of Westeros’ prog band name of the week), more anonymous people die, Wun Wun the giant dies, Jon punches Ramsay till he has no face left to punch, Sansa has him eaten to death by his own dogs, Winterfell is reclaimed, the day is won, but at what cost?
Before we get to the bulk of the episode, three cheers for Dany and Yara, especially for should they pursue the first lesbian power couple in Westeros, they have a perfect ship name (DanYara). The stuff in Mereen could be criticised for being quite predictable in its layout but then this has been a season of frequently predictable television, despite that, I still think it was some of the more effective moments of the episode purely because it knew it was predictable, Dany was biding her time and building the moment till she could do exactly what we thought would happen but also what should happen. Plus we had three dragons burn a boat. Yes I know, you had issues with the actual CGI, you got to see dragons fight a boat. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Plus Tyrion wasn’t completely wasted for what feels like the first time in a season and a half.
It can’t be denied that by now, Thrones as near perfected the art of large-scale carnage and this episode had plenty of vivid imagery but it lacked some of the depth of story that previous episodes similar to this had – Hardhome had Jon’s desperate attempts to save the Wildlings, The Watchers on the Wall had the Montague and Capulet stylings of Snow and Ygritte, Blackwater had Tyrion back when he wasn’t stuck in Mereen, this has all its best emotion in the aftermath when Sansa gets to take care of Ramsay in the most gloriously (and unsettlingly) cathartic way possible. The problem lies in too much build-up. By throwing us straight into media res with the battle in Mereen, it gave us a nice pace to the opening that was even maintained with a tense parlay between the Starks and Boltons but then we just had more scenes of people saying how they weren’t going to win the battle with so few men. It’s the same issue as the Blackfish siege last week, even if the actual individual scenes were nicely observed (Melissandre earns the advice giver of the week award for what to do in the battle ‘Don’t lose’). Also killing off Rickon doesn’t have any of the emotional impact that seemed to be intended as who can tell me anything about him other than he isn’t Bran (that said, who can tell me anything character wise about Bran. Magic powers are not a character trait). That said, the death of Wun Wun was far more affecting in that he actually has been seen to do things, sure his character was ‘giant, like, literal giant’ but his importance in the battle meant that the image of the hulking figure full of roughly a Boromir’s load of arrows added a real heft to the moment.
Technically speaking, there was a lot to love. I could probably write forever about how wonderful that single shot scene was, it really managed to capture the thrill, the mud and the constant horror of the fight, seguing into the almost lyrical lack of cohesion to the images. Once it took to the field, it was in its element, making the most of what seems like a use of roughly the whole budget of most other tv series in order to make something incredible and visceral. Even the extras seemed to be giving it their all. I think that some of the specificity of Neil Marshall (director of Watchers and Blackwater) is lost but in terms of widespan combat, I’ve rarely seen better, especially the aerial shots of just mounds of bodies. It was almost beautiful in a truly disgusting way.
It’s a shorter review than normal this week because there’s not really much to say as beyond the glorious carnage of Mereen, it was all Jon and it was mostly battle. It was a very good battle but it was just that. At least unlike The Blackfish this week, they fully committed to the scenario and delivered the goods but even with the story of reclaiming the home they lost, with its Batman-Joker story of Jon and Ramsay it lost the emotional crux of the story up until it remembered right at the end that this makes more sense being about Sansa than about Jon. It was more a technically impressive achievement than a bone-deep excitement inducing thrill-ride. Still, it was an enjoyable near hour of television and at least it put its money where its mouth is. Next week, we have sixty-nine minutes of Thrones and I’m worried that still might not be enough to provide a satisfactory round-up to this season. But just for this week, I guess that was good enough.
Silicon Valley Update:
This week’s episode was all about Jared and the use of Chekhoff’s Click-farm in India. Despite each week getting more and more plot heavy (and rightly so, it gets in a lot of damn good plot stuff) the show never forgets to throw in near wall-to-wall jokes. Gavin Belson’s obsession with animal meatphors and real animal props earns him this week’s MVP slot. Also, it’s good to know, Pied Piper is not Skynet.