Game of Thrones S6E9 Review: “Battle of the Bastards”

Kit Harington as Jon Snow
Kit Harington as Jon Snow
Kit Harington as Jon Snow

Posted June 20, 2016 by

“Your reign is over!”

“My reign has just begun.”



I don’t think many of us expected this episode to include the immediate follow up to Daenerys returning to Meereen under siege. The Master’s fleet is pelting the streets with flaming balls launched from trebuchets on their ships.

Daenerys is giving Tyrion the “you’ve disappointed me” thousand yard stare.

Tyrion only keeps up his witty defense mechanism for a few moments. He’s got a good rationale to explain the Master’s attack at least. They certainly don’t want Meereen to stand as a free city in Slaver’s Bay. But what are they going to do about the attack?

Daenerys plans on burning their fleet in the sea, slaughtering their soldiers and razing every other city in Slaver’s Bay to the ground. Tyrion reminds Daenerys of her father’s preference for burning cities. Even if it is her enemies’ cities, Daenerys would still kill thousands of oblivious innocent people with this plan.

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Daenerys, Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei lure the Masters’ emissaries to the gates of the city to discuss terms of surrender. They have come to see Daenerys cast out of the city on foot, and to auction off her Unsullied and slaughter her dragons. Daenerys has come to see the Masters’ surrender, with fire and blood.

Drogon, bigger and more impressive than ever, flies to the top of the closest tower and lands right by his mother’s side. She mounts his back and takes off. The Master’s soldiers scatter in awe. Daenerys swoops over the city as Rhaegal and Viserion break through the outside walls of the catacombs. All three dragons soar over the Bay. They hover over the lead ship and bathe it in fire as Daenerys commands “Dracarys!”

The crew are incinerated. Every other sailor in the Master’s fleet jumps ship. Outside Meereen, the emboldened Sons of the Harpy are once again terrorizing and slaughtering Meereen’s people. But a whole horde of Dothraki riders trampling you under hove, with Daario in the lead, shuts them up good.

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Grey Worm tells the Masters’ guard to go home to their families rather than fight and die for men who would never return that favor. Then he cuts the two higher born’s throats. Tyrion tells the former pit master who bought him and Jorah to go back to Yunkai and Astapor and report what happened. Let the whole world know what happened when Daenerys and her dragons came to Meereen.

In the meantime Tyrion can deal with a slightly more familiar face. Yara and Theon arrive in Meereen and treat with Daenerys Targaryen. Who could Tyrion possibly be talking about when he addresses someone he last saw at Winterfell? Nice little lead in, Game of Thrones, reminding us of a lifetime ago.

Theon and Tyrion didn’t exactly get along when Tyrion visited Winterfell. They’re both different people now. And Yara and Daenerys are the real rulers sizing each other up here. They both hail from terrible fathers, but both of their fathers were murdered. They both want to rule more justly and deservedly than their fathers and their rivals. It seems like a steep price to pay for Ironborn to give up reaving and raiding. It will certainly be a tough pill for her men to swallow. But if Daenerys will help her defeat her uncle Euron, and let her rule the Iron Islands, Yara seems prepared to accept.

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It’s certainly a better deal for both of them as opposed to Yara and Theon being hunted by their uncle and Daenerys having to suffer Euron’s misogynist double dealing. It might have been nice to see Yara crush some of the Master’s fleet herself to help Daenerys, but instead we got to see Daenerys defend her city herself in spectacular fashion and Yara and Theon make their case on their own too.

Daenerys and Yara are looking forward to working with each other! Daenerys and Yara for Westeros 2016!

Outside Winterfell, the lords of the two opposing armies meet. Ramsay is so thrilled that Jon has brought Sansa back to him safe and sound. He’s even prepared to forgive Jon for deserting the Night’s Watch and the other Norther lords who have betrayed him by taking up arms against him. Jon’s army is outnumbered, but he suggests he and Ramsay settle this in a one on one fight between them. Spare thousands of men’s lives.

Ramsay laughs. Why should he let a perhaps equal duel determine this battle, when he clearly has the superior army? Sansa demands to know that they really have Rickon. The head of his direwolf is confirmation enough.

“You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well.”

Sansa out. Ramsay gleefully imagines his dogs, purposefully starved for a week, letting lose on Jon and his allies.

That night in the tent Jon, Davos and Tormund go over their battle plan. They can’t overwhelm a force twice their size head on. They know Ramsay wants to make a decisive display of strength in the field to win the North over once and for all. So they think if they can draw him in and surround him, they might have a chance.

Oh Tormund, you might not get fancy words, but we still love you!

Sansa is uneasy. When Davos and Tormund leave, she speaks up. She is right that Jon doesn’t know the depths of Ramsay’s cruelty or cunning. And Jon is right. The longer they wait with Ramsay holding Winterfell, the bigger advantage he’ll have. It’s so hard watching Jon and Sansa fight like this, with both struggling to decide what’s the best thing to do. Sansa is convinced that they cannot realistically hope to rescue Rickon. He’s too big a threat to Ramsay’s claim. She also swears that she will never return to a Bolton held Winterfell alive. Jon promises he’ll protect her.

“No one can protect me. No one can protect any one.” Probably Sansa’s hardest learned lesson in the whole series.

Davos and Tormund speak as two disillusioned old men, throwing their lot behind a noble, driven younger man. There’s a lot of unknowns going into this fight, but they both believe in Jon Snow. Let’s hope their faith is not misplaced as it was with Stannis or Mance.

Tormund’s going to chug some sour goat’s milk to help him sleep before the battle. Davos is going to walk and think and find someplace he can $#&% his guts out in private.

“Happy $#&%ing!” Can I get that on a shirt?

Melisandre has her own tent. Despite the major dose of humility she got from early in the season, she’s still convinced that Jon Snow is a champion chosen by the Lord of Light. So she’s following him. Jon doesn’t want to be brought back again if he falls. Melisandre has to try, she says. Perhaps he brought Jon back just to bring him to this battle and he may die for good this time. “What kind of god would do something like that?” “The one we’ve got.” Welp, we’ve got a mysterious God and an inadequate army.

If Davos was expecting to clear his head with this walk he was sorely mistaken. This may have been the same camp where Stannis stayed before attacking Winterfell, but it’s also where Malisandre burned Shireen. He comes upon the remains of her pyre, covered in snow, but he spots the carved stag he gave to Shireen as a gift. He finally puts two and two together. Keep it together Davos.

In the morning, Jon’s army is arrayed at the edge of a forest within sight of Winterfell. The Bolton army stands at a hill crest, much bigger much better armed and much more organized. Ramsay trots to the front of the host with Rickon tied behind him.

Jon stares anxiously. I did expect that Rmsay might just trot Rickon out on the field and cut his throat right in front of Jon, but Ramsay is even more diabolical. He sets Rickon free and tells him he can run back to his brother, like a game. As soon as he starts running, a soldier brings Ramsay a bow and a quiver full of arrows.

Jon sees what’s happening. He leaps to his horse and charges forward alone, racing to retrieve Rickon as Ramsay launches arrow after arrow at him. For the second time in the series, Jon has to watch as an arrow sinks through the chest of someone he loves. Rickon stumbles and dies at the feet of Jon’s horse.

Jon Snow may have fought and killed worse beings that Ramsay north of the Wall. But nothing north of the Wall has ever killed his little brother for sport in front of him. Enraged, his strategy goes out the window. Archers fell his horse. Jon stands before a Bolton cavalry charge, separated from his entire army.

Anyone else reminded of Stannis? Jon realizes his major mistake and raises his sword, preparing for the end. But his own cavalry charges from behind, meeting the Boltons head on.

Horses and men and dirt and splintered spears fly everywhere. Jon somehow manages to advance through the chaos, cutting down Boltons as he goes. Ramsay rains volleys of arrows down on the field. Within minutes the survivors of the cavalry charges on both sides are battling upon hills of the piled dead.

Tormund, and Davos and Wun Wun finally reach Jon Snow with their infantry, but now they are even more outnumbered. Bolton pikemen surround the Free Folk in a circular phalanx. They hold their shields forward and slowly close the circle, stabbing at their trapped foes. Lord Umber leads his own force to further squeeze the Free Folk on the one exposed side, right in front of a hill of the dead.

Outnumbered, outmaneuvered and surrounded, Jon, Davos and Tormund desperately fight to hold off the Umbers or break through the Bolton phalanx. Wun Wun can only reach so far and so often through the forest of pikes. It’s getting tighter and tighter. The dead keep piling up and the Boltons pin them in a smaller and smaller circle. Is Jon really going to die in the battle for his home suffocating in the mud under the panicking boots of his own men?

It looks that way. But then distant horns sound. Another force is approaching. The mounted knights of the Vale have arrived, with Littlefinger and Sansa overlooking their charge.

I’d say even Rohan couldn’t have done it better, but then I have to remind myself that Littlefinger will have his “reward” for this. Can’t let that ruin the moment.

The knights trample the Boltons from behind taking them completely by surprise and freeing up Jon and his forces. Jon climbs to the top of the hill of corpses and finally catches sight of Ramsay again, sitting on his horse completely alone across the field. Ramsay looks back at Jon, who’s fuming and caked in blood and mud. Then he books it back to his castle.

They may not have the men to mount a siege, but they have a giant! No amount of arrows or spears in gonna stop Wun Wun from breaking through this gate. The free folk are right behind him. They shoot down the token soldiers still in the castle while they’re distracted by the Giant who just shattered their gate.

Ramsay puts the last arrow in Wun Wun’s eye, killing the valiant giant. Now he’s prepared to accept a one on one duel. Dozens of Free Folk archers draw their arrows in his direction, but Jon is about to put Ramsay’s face in the dirt. In one mindful move he drops his sword and grabs a shield from the ground. He blocks Ramsay’s arrows as he charges and pummels him over and over, letting Ramsay feel the rage of Rickon’s murder.

Sansa arrives in the courtyard. Jon stops and gets up, leaving Ramsay bruised and bloodied on his back.

The castle is theirs. The Direwolf of House Stark flies over Winterfell again. Rickon’s body is recovered and taken to the crypts.

Ramsay is tied by his torso, legs and arms to a chair in the kennels. With his starving hounds. He still tries to be smug with Sansa, who watches him wheeze and bleed.

“You can’t kill me. I’m part of you now.”

“Your words will disappear, your house will disappear, your name will disappear, all memory of you will disappear.” How delightful it is to see Ramsay stripped away of every means of control he’s abused throughout the show. How appropriate to see him set upon by the results of his own cruelty.

Sansa watches as the hounds prowl up to this fresh bleeding meat left in their kennel. Ramsay is totally powerless to stop them tearing into his face, and chest and arms with their teeth. Sansa turns away and leaves the monster who raped and tortured her to be eaten alive, smirking in satisfaction.

This may very well be the most cathartic episode Game of Thrones has ever aired. The most harrowing battle the show has ever had and we got to see Jon and Sansa return the Starks to Winterfell. And Ramsay died in a more just way than I think any Game of Thrones fan could have reasonably hoped for. And we got the nicely juxtaposed battle and unity with Daenerys, Theon and Yara.

Another episode 9 that totally knocked our socks off and wasn’t a downer or cliffhanger! Bravo!

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Michael Graff

Michael Graff