Holy shit was this one phenomenal episode! Dare I say, the best episode of the series so far?

Sure, nothing can surpass the Red Wedding in terms of absolute shock value, but for me, this one takes the cake, not only as far as penultimate episodes go, but out of all six seasons of the show.

If we were wondering how could Game of Thrones possibly amaze us without actually surprising us, The Battle of the Bastards was the answer. Nothing that happened in this episode was truly a twist no one saw coming, yet I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, gasping, cringing, cheering. Never before have I had such a guttural reaction to a GoT episode, which automatically makes episode 9 of season 6 my favorite one to date.

Mereen

Actually, there was one surprising fact about this episode: despite our predictions based on the preview, not all the action took place in the North, as we expected. We started off in Mereen, where Tyrion was trying to explain himself to Dany, much like a child left to his own devices while his mom was away and returned to find out he’d trashed the house in her absence. Maybe Daenerys is Mhysa not just to the former slaves of Mereen but to her loyal advisors as well?

As it turns out, she wasn’t nearly as angry as Tyrion (and we) expected. Dany’s solution to the problem at hand was quite simple: kill everyone and be done with it. I’m sure many people were quick to interpret that as a sign that she’s about to follow in her father’s footsteps, but I wouldn’t go that far; after all, as soon as Tyrion (the voice of reason) presents her with an alternative, she heeds his advice and follows the road of diplomacy rather than warfare.

Although definitely not the high point of the episode – how could it be, with the much anticipated battle of the Snows? – it was nevertheless a solid scene that pushed the Dany storyline as far as we could expect, as we approach the end of the season. Greyworm masterfully executed two of the masters with one fell swoop (and what seemed to be an inadequately small dagger for the job), the Dothraki horde stormed the city and put an end to all the Sons of the Harpy and, most impressively, Daenerys demonstrated that she’s pretty much got the hang of riding her dragons and commanding them to incinerate whomever and whatever she pleases.

I half expected the Greyjoy fleet to come to her aid during the first part of the Mereen plotline and was pleased to see that the writers decided to let Dany handle it herself. As impressive as a sea battle would have been – we hadn’t seen one since Blackwater, and that wasn’t really a battle as much as a wildfire massacre – it would have tilted the scale towards Yara and Theon in view of their upcoming meeting with Dany. Having them show up in the aftermath gives neither side an advantage in the negotiations, evening out the playing field.

Watching Tyrion play bad cop for a change and giving Theon a hard time for his past sins was nowhere near as riveting as Dany and Yara. The two ladies quickly come to an agreement and shake on it, and it’s as exciting as the Mereen storyline has been all season long.

 

Winterfell

We might not get to see a Clegane Bowl soon, but we sure did get a Bastard Bowl for the ages this week.

The entire battle was visually stunning, emotional and edge-of-your-seat action-packed, more so than any actual blockbuster movie I’ve seen lately. But let’s take it from the top.

Things seemed to be cruising along quite well leading up to the battle. Jon’s idea to challenge the (cowardly) Bolton bastard to a duel was smart, both in advancing the actual story and in terms of letting us know not to expect a deus ex machina by way of the “great northern conspiracy”. Poor Shaggydog (RIP). Ramsay stayed true to his awful nature, egging Jon on by not once addressing him by name. After all, technically speaking, he was no longer an actual bastard, by Royal decree; just the worst (metaphorical) bastard to ever come out of the North.

Later, Jon and his war council were making plans, and given their by-the-numbers disadvantage, they weren’t doing a bad job: digging ditches to trap the cavalry and stop the Bolton army advances was a good idea and Jon seemed to be in a good head space. Tormund has become one of my favorite characters and I loved his interaction with both Jon and Davos – in fact, I wouldn’t mind sharing a cup of sour goat’s milk with the ginger wildling (still shipping Torienne hard though!).

Sansa, on the other hand, felt a little slighted for not being included in the actual planning. It’s true, she knows Ramsay more than anyone, but she doesn’t have any real strategy to contribute except to warn Jon not to fall in Ramsay’s trap. This would also be an excellent time to let him know reinforcements might be on their way from the Vale; alas, in true GoT fashion, she keeps that information to herself.

On the day of the battle, Jon only heeds Sansa’s advice for a minute, before allowing his true nature to take over and be completely manipulated by the psychotic Ramsay. I have to give it to the evil bastard, letting Rickon go was a brilliant move on his part. It seems everyone but Jon knew Rickon was a dead man the minute Ramsay got his hands on him, and even though Sansa warned him, Jon couldn’t help but try and save him anyway. Not only is he cut off from the rest of his men, he’s within reach of the Bolton archers, with no choice but to charge forward. When his horse goes down and he stands facing the enemy’s cavalry, the scene is as scary as Kit Harrington admitted it was to shoot it, and it’s done absolutely brilliantly, right to the awesome moment when his own men charge past him and attack the Boltons.

Pretty soon we’re in the thick of it, and it’s as gnarly and awful as a battle should be. GoT pulls no punches, and delivers an impeccable, complex and beautifully choreographed sequence depicting the atrocities of war, right down to the impressive, growing pile of bodies in the middle of the battlefield.

I’m not sure if having the Stark forces surrounded by the Bolton army was meant to tease a possible defeat, but it certainly offered an impressive spectacle. Combined with the gut-wrenching scene where Jon is practically buried alive under a sea of dead soldiers and stomped by his own men, the impact of the entire sequence was substantial. Shot to convey not just the claustrophobic feeling of impending doom but to also echo Melissandre’s conversation with Jon about the possibility that the Lord of Light brought him back just so he could die all over again at Winterfell, the powerful visual was only surpassed by Jon’s virtual re-birth through the pile of bodies as he comes up for air.

No less stunning was the beginning of the end for the Bolton men as the army of House Arryn comes to Jon’s aid, surrounding the enemy forces and knocking them down like dominos.

The ferocious 62 men of House Mormont got a bit lost in the melee, but the two standouts for the Wildling forces were definitely the giant Wun Wun and Tormund Giantsbane. Tormund pulls a Rick Grimes and bites a chunk of Smalljon Umber’s neck off (effectively ending all theories of a Northern conspiracy) as the Knights of the Vale announce their arrival on the scene, and the scene is as satisfying as watching Rick put an end to Claimer Joe. Wun Wun does his best to ward off the advancing Boltons by knocking away their spears and shields, and when he rips one of Ramsay’s men in half it’s a hundred times more satisfying than when he pulled the same move against the skeleton zombie horde back in Season 5’s Hardhome.

It’s fitting that, as Sansa and Littlefinger watch with matching self-satisfied smirks, Wun Wun and Tormund are the ones to joinJon in pursuit of Ramsay, who’s too cocky to realize that barricading himself in Winterfell won’t save him now (but it’s fun to watch him try). Poor Wun Wun succeeds in single-handedly tearing down the door before he succumbs to his multiple injuries, falls to his knees and receives the coup de grace by way of an arrow to the eye, courtesy of Ramsay (yet another Walking Dead moment revisited!), and we finally see the two bastards face off.

I gotta hand it to Ramsay, he didn’t take it lying down – well, not until Jon blocked all the arrows he fired at him, lunged towards the hateful bastard and started beating him to a pulp. Although the show execs apparently intended for the scene to convey that Jon is losing some of his humanity, all I took away from the scene was utter satisfaction. Here you have a bloodied, tired fighter who, despite his many missteps, managed to triumph in battle, finally face to face with a despicable villain who not only seized his home, turned his allies against him and repeatedly abused his sister, but also killed his brother before his very eyes, mere hours prior. What’s not completely human about wanting to eviscerate Ramsay with his bare fists?

Luckily, he stops just short of pulverizing his skull when he sees his sister standing by. Surely this should be her kill, her act of vengeance, and nothing makes us viewers happier than see Sansa exact her revenge. This is where the supposed loss of humanity comes in as far as I’m concerned. She delivers an empowering speech and she watches as her torturer goes down, unflinching, ironically (and predictably) meeting his end by way of the very dogs he’d been using to kill, often for sport. Sansa has come a long, long way since her days as a whiny kid in Kings Landing, copying Lannister hairstyles and pining for psycho Joffrey. She’s had a good teacher in Littlefinger, and plenty of motivation to become the ruthless Stark we see now.

Random Thoughts

Winterfell
  • Is the show gearing towards a Queen of the North now or will Jon and Sansa jointly rule their House? Surely Littlefinger will have a say in it, since the Starks owe him their victory.
  • Sansa’s last words to Ramsay were a great speech, but nothing on this show is ever without significance, let alone an exchange as powerful as this was. Like many fans out there, I can’t help but think that maybe she was directing her speech as much to Ramsay as towards herself: perhaps his name and his house won’t be as forgotten, if he managed to impregnate her before she fled. God knows it’s hard to see a bump under all those layers of clothes and fur! It would also be in keeping with the GoT way of pulling the rug from under our feet: just when you think the good guys won for a change, something evil rears its ugly head.
  • As phenomenal a job as the make up department does on the show, I was surprised at how intact Ramsay’s face was prior to his mauling by his own hounds. Jon had just beaten him to a pulp, and yet there were no visible dents in his face other than a good amount of blood. You’d think he’d be unrecognizable after Jon was done with the guy – at least missing a few teeth or sporting a good ol’ black, swollen eye. Think Jesse on Breaking Bad when Hank beat him, that sort of thing. I realize this was probably done on purpose – we’d be more likely to sympathize with a disfigured prisoner, after all – but there’s really nothing that could make Ramsay sympathetic to me at this point, let alone some strategically placed bruises and broken bones. This is probably the only flaw I can detect in an otherwise perfect hour of television.
  • Sansa’s enjoyment of watching Ramsay get devoured by his dogs was demonstrated by a hint of a smile as she turns her back to her former “husband” captor, but I was full on cheering, despite the grisly visual. Ramsay’s final moments were definitely a fitting end to the awful Bolton bastard, but I still kinda wished Ghost would be the one to rip him to shreds. I guess with all the CGI budget spent on dragons and the actual battle, there was none left for our favorite direwolf.
  • Davos’ habit of walking off a sleepless night before a battle brings him to poor Shireen’s stag toy, half-buried by the remnants of the pyre, and the realization that his newly forged alliance with Melissandre might be coming to an abrupt end. The Red Priestess seems quite defeated this season, even though bringing Jon back to life should have given her some sense of renewed purpose, so it wouldn’t be far-fetched to expect her not to make it to season 7 if Davos can do anything about it.
  • With Ramsay gone, there’s no real supervillain left on the show, which could only mean one thing: if we hadn’t figured it out already, the real agent of ‘evil’ on the show is the Night’s King. I do have to admit though, I miss a powerful antagonist; Tywin was brilliant, Joffrey was truly awful, and no one has been able to match them since. Yes, Ramsay was a soulless, sadstic bastard, but much like Walder Fry, he was far too one-dimensional to actually be interesting. Is Littlefinger the one to fear and loathe now? He may be more conniving than every other villain combined, but it’s hard to root against the guy who helped Jon and Sansa reclaim Winterfell (not to mention saved Sansa back in Kings Landing after Joffrey dropped dead and pushed that godawful Lysa Arryn through the moon door), his ulterior motives notwithstanding. It will definitely be interesting to see how his obvious fascination with Sansa plays into his plans and how it will affect the rest of the main characters we root for. One thing we can be sure of (well, as sure as anyone can be with GoT) is that Petyr Baelish is firmly back in the picture and he’s not going to be idle from now on.
Mereen
  • How fitting that Tyrion, Dany, Yara and Theon would all discuss their horrible fathers on Father’s Day! Well played, GoT.
  • We’d seen Dany ride Drogon before, but Rhaegal and Viserion were quite cross with their mother last time we saw them in the dungeons. They seem to be getting with the program, and we mercifully didn’t even have to watch her train them.
  • If there were any doubts in my mind regarding the possibility of wildfire being used in Kings Landing in upcoming episodes – possible the season finale – there is none left now. Tyrion’s mention of the stuff was maybe a bit on the nose, but it definitely is no coincidence as far as I’m concerned.
  • Unless the Iron Islanders manage to build a thousand ships within a few days, it’s very unlikely that he will show up and throw a wrench in the works before Dany can depart for Westeros. With the Dothraki army, the masters’ and the Greyjoys’ fleet, and her three dragons, there’s nothing keeping her in Essos any more. Except, who will rule the city of Mereen? Surely Greyworm will lead the charge along with Daario. Will Tyrion stay back? Surely the writers wouldn’t deprive us of a face-off with Cersei? The show needs his witty retorts, especially since he was so underused this season.

  • I can only imagine how big the budget for this episode was, considering we got not just amazing battle sequences but dragons as well. I fully expected the Mereen storyline to be resolved in the season finale for that very reason – much like Hardhome last year, when there’s so much CGI involved, it makes sense for a standalone episode – especially since we’re getting a supersized one. There’s a lot to look forward to now that all the pieces seem to have fallen into place for the end game, but I honestly don’t see how they’ll manage to fit everything into the season finale. I haven’t even watched the preview, trying to stay away from spoilers as much as possible, but my guess is that, with the Winterfell and Mereen story progressing like they did this week, it’s time to focus on Kings Landing, probably with more CGI action by way of a possible wildfire-related holocaust in Kings Landing.
  • Aside from the threat of an all-out apocalypse courtesy of Cersei and the wildfire, there are a few other important players scattered around the continent: The Hound and the Brotherhood are headed North; Bran is headed to the Wall; Brienne is on her way back to Winterfell, as is our favorite trained Assassin, Arya. Surely some of these guys will cross paths sooner or later…?
  • And while we’re at it, let’s not forget Ser Jorah, as well as Sam, Gilly and little Sam. Are all four headed towards the Citadel?
  • As much as I’d like to jump on the feminist bandwagon and eagerly await an all-female rule over Westeros, I’m not sure that’s where we’re going with these storylines. As things stand now, Sansa has a good shot at being Queen in the North, Dany is returning to reclaim the Iron Throne, Yara is poised to rule the Iron Islands, queen Margaery’s machinations might actually allow her to come out on top, and let’s not forget the Sand Snakes back in Dorne (although honestly I’d love to forget that entire plotline). They may want to change the status quo for the better, but we really shouldn’t forget what happened last time women were handed power in previous seasons: Catelyn Stark let Jaime, her one bargaining chip, go, which eventually led to the events of the Red Wedding; Melissandre’s advice to Stannis got his daughter burnt at the stake and ultimately led to his army’s defeat and his own demise. Sure, the men involved in these storylines (Robb, Stannis himself) definitely had something to do with their fate, but that doesn’t take away from the bad decision making on the women’s part. And then, of course, there’s Cersei bringing the High Sparrow into the fold and allowing him to basically rule the city, and we all know how things turned out for her so far, haven’t we?

There’s a lot to talk about and even more to ponder but for my money, if the season finale is half as good as this week’s episode, it will be the best capper to the show’s best season to date. Fan service? Yes please!

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