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‘Game of Thrones’ Episode 609 Recap: “Battle of the Bastards”

Ah. So that’s where episode eight’s budget went.

True to form, the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ sixth season delivered one heck of a spectacle, delivering resolution not only to the question of who will control Winterfell, but similarly solving Daenerys’ Sons of the Harpy problem.

Undergirding an incredible technical spectacle — the likes of which I doubt I’ll even see recreated on a movie screen all summer — is an idea that Game of Thrones has returned to often this season: the women know what’s up, and they should probably be listened to.

Daenerys takes a no-nonsense approach to taking back Meereen, with a few words but a lot more fire. Her pact with Yara is one that would lead to unprecedented new norms in Westeros: a queen on the Iron Throne and an independent kingdom (the Iron Islands) led by another woman. Sansa, despite her words going unheeded by Jon, is already one step ahead of Ramsay tactically. She then bails out her half-brother’s ragtag forces with a deal she brokered on her own. While I think there are plenty of weaknesses story-wise in some of this, the show is making no bones about the idea that women have a lot to offer.

Now let’s talk about those insane battles.

Dragons unleashed! How cool was it to see not just Drogon wreaking havoc all over the Masters’ fleet, but Rhaegal and Viserion as well? The special effects dedicated to Dany and her desolation of the fleet were a technical marvel.

The battle of the bastards outside Winterfell was no less impressive either. Jon facing down a wall of horses, the tracking shot following Jon through the melee, the knights of the Vale coming to the rescue, Rickon’s doomed run — I could sit here all day and just recount impressive camera shots. No doubt you were just as impressed as I was from a technical standpoint.

It’s the writing that still has me scratching my head. Exactly why did Sansa not mention that there might be men from the Vale showing up at some point? It seems Jon and Sansa will be working through this next episode, but when she’s so insistent that they don’t have enough men, the notion of urging Jon to wait just a little bit longer seems like it was passed over by the writers in favor of having a grand, last-minute, improbable rescue, which is what we’re conditioned to expect from this kind of fiction. Seeing it play out was still excellent, but Sansa’s unspoken knowledge strains credulity in the bigger picture.

And then there’s Tyrion. Up until he reveals the Mad King’s intentions for King’s Landing to Daenerys, his writing this season has been a load of hot garbage. I was already rolling my eyes when he started his “everything is going swimmingly except for the fact that the Masters are bombarding our city with fireballs” routine, and thought we were going to get more from him that seems entirely out of character for Tyrion Lannister. Then — to the writers’ credit — it’s like a switch was flipped. Suddenly Tyrion was the witty, brilliant wordsmith he’s always been — to Daenerys, to the Masters, to Theon. After a season of his character being oblivious and unnecessary, it’s nice to have our old Tyrion back.

By the end of the spectacle, we have the rarest of gifts from Game of Thrones: an episode where everything went like we wanted it to! Sansa enacts her revenge on Ramsay and retakes her home. Even with Dany (presumably) setting her sights on Westeros, there’s still an awful lot that needs to happen up in week 10. Stay tuned! The White Walkers are still out there somewhere.

Stray Observations:

– In the midst of all the carnage, you have to wonder how Dany and the Masters were able to negotiate a parley just outside the city. (I’m trying to stop picking nits, but I just can’t resist!)

– Is that all the farther Shaggydog’s head has decomposed in this time? That thing must smell awful right about now.

– Could someone please give Tormund a vocabulary lesson?!?

– The sequence of both sides nocking arrows, but only Ramsay’s troops loosing was a great look into Davos’ military instincts. But the camera shot following the Bolton arrows was incredible. Thanks for at least giving us that, Ramsay.

– Gotta love when a headless horseman rides right past you in a battle.

– Could no one at least have gotten Wun Wun a club? Something to maximize his effectiveness and wingspan?

– Jon being trampled at the bottom of the pile was perhaps the most terrifying shot of the whole episode. I was starting to feel extremely claustrophobic.

– Not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting Tormund to make it out of this episode. But not only did he survive, he pulled a Mike Tyson-esque move on Smalljon Umber. Nice bite!

– How in the world did Jon make it out of the pile with Longclaw?

– Who needs a seige when you have Wun Wun?

– Ramsay, you can either put an arrow in Wun Wun, who’s clearly on his last legs, or Jon Snow, the opposition’s leader, who’s not even looking at you. Wrong choice, my man.

– Love that smirk on Sansa as she walks away.

– I truly don’t begrudge the show for how it’s played up women in roles of power, but I have to mention that one of the most noteworthy parts of the books is how it reinforces that everyone is fallible — male, female, slave, king, knight, whatever. So while it’s unsurprising that Game of Thrones has female empowerment on its mind as a TV show in 2016, I hope the “men are stupid, women know best” idea isn’t one it universally falls back on from here on out. /End rant.

Episode 610 Preview: “The Winds of Winter”

Typically, the season finale is a bit of a letdown after the craziness happening in the ninth episode, but I’m thinking this could be the most incredible final episode of the show’s run. Savage move by Benioff and Weiss, naming it “The Winds of Winter,” before George R. R. Martin can name his book that, by the way. My take on what we’ll see:

— POSSIBLE SPOILERS, BUT THIS IS ALL GUESSWORK, SO LOOK AWAY IF YOU MUST —

– Davos confronts Melisandre, possibly leading to him killing her? That might be a step too far. I can’t imagine she’ll remain in Winterfell for long either way. Perhaps she’ll be exiled for burning Shireen.

– Littlefinger leverages saving the day into urging Sansa to marry him. She won’t be thrilled with the idea.

– Walder Frey doubles down on his villainy and executes Edmure Tully. Jaime isn’t pleased.

– Varys shows up in Dorne, to recruit the Sand Snakes and Dornish army to Dany’s cause.

– Cersei and Qyburn burn King’s Landing to the ground when her trial goes pear-shaped.

– Tommen ain’t making it out alive.

– Bran is shown a way under the Wall, and the Night King’s mark on his arm somehow allows the White Walkers to bypass the Wall’s magic, leading to…the whole Wall coming down!

– Dany is ultimately not terrified of the Great Game. She heads to Westeros to conquer.

Now that I’ve set my sights way too high, I will probably be wrong on every one of these predictions. But you can’t tell me these wouldn’t make for one amazing episode. Only one left! How TV does fly when you’re having fun.

Thanks for reading. See you back here next week. Valar dohaeris.

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