Article by: Anthony Florez
First, a quick word on HBO Now going down right as Battle of the Bastards became available to stream: haha! That’s not a word as much as an onomatopoeia and I only feel comfortable laughing because I was on the losing end of this unfortunate server failure BUT I count myself lucky. Instead of watching one epic battle and reading about another, I actually had to leave the house and interact with other humans to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals which was thrilling and emotionally rewarding. By the time that was over I went home and HBO had finally figured out the issue so I got to enjoy both. And what an episode it was. I have been less than overwhelmed this season with how little has actually happened and how most of the substance that we’d come to expect has been missing. It became clear as the multiple plots seemed to slog on that Benioff and Weiss were betting all their chips on the last few episodes to win back our attention spans and as someone who is rarely satisfied with spectacle alone, ….mission accomplished.
Before the epic showdown, however, we had to check in with Daenerys and close out that story line. Last we left her Meereen was being trebuchet’d back into the Stone Age…technically from the Bronze Age, so I guess there was no time to waste. Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Missandei were standing around awkwardly like teenagers busted for throwing a party while the folks were out of town. It seems odd that the Masters would agree to a parley considering how Daenerys had not so subtly road into town on a flying flame-breathing war dragon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still invested in this plot line all the way but how many times has she stood in front of people and told them what a bad mama jama she is. So many times. It’s like the plot of every Denzel Washington movie, someone always pops up and says, “I think I’ll fuck with Denzel/Daenerys”, and then by the end they are like, “I should not have fucked with Denzel/Daenerys”. When are people going to learn? Also, the travel times in GoT have been the subject of some discussion: damn, Theon and Yara made it from one side of the world to the other lickity-split. Maybe they Fast Traveled? It was kind of surreal seeing these characters all together in the same place and it’s good we moved right along into an alliance rather than dilly-dally with the details. But it’s all starting to seem so easy. I miss George R.R. Martin’s narrative. Anyway, bring on The Sisterhood of Daenerys’s Pants (The Divine Secrets of the Yara Sisterhood?…I’m reaching).
The Battle of the Bastards. Hot damn. I had high expectations based on the directing of Miguel Sapochnik from last season and I even had a feeling, several episodes back, that the Knights of the Vale were on deck for a surprise appearance at the right moment but the pacing, the energy, the everything about this sequence was masterfully executed. I forgot everything I was expecting and was unironically on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Although this is undoubtedly a victory and shining moment for Sansa Stark as well, who early on insisted on being taken seriously as a leader in her own right, Jon Snow….Jon Snow, you’re my boy. He has been my favorite character for awhile and I know he’s had his great moments but damn if he didn’t take the most popular girl to prom in this episode. And I thought there was no way they could top the climax of his fight with the White Walker last season, but the sequence of him taking off his belt and squaring off with Longclaw against an entire cavalry charge…I was mistaken. The one element that this season has been missing so desperately is that elevation of the medium, that distinctly Game of Thrones thing that continues to raise the bar for what adult fantasy drama can be and this is the episode that does it. The production value and the set pieces as well as the built in stakes, the suspense of knowing all the major characters on the field, to me, dwarfs anything that’s been done on film or television before. When Tormund went down in front of the phalanx I literally gasped out loud and no one has sincerely gasped since the 1950s. When Jon was being crushed by the retreating Wildlings I held my breath and genuinely wondered if this was going to be it for him. And when Wun Wun went down and Jon went after Ramsay with a shield I shouted horrible, violent things at my television while my dog peered up at me like I’d finally lost my mind. Because I had.
My one complaint with this episode has to do with Rickon. This was a thrilling sequence and an obvious ploy by Ramsay to draw Jon Snow out in the open who promptly fell for that ploy like the big sentimental goof that he is. That wasn’t unexpected, but Rickon, you’re dead now and you deserve it. Why? If someone is shooting arrows at you why are you running in a straight line? Did you forget the Five D’s?! Also, there were a few fan theories out there involving Smalljon Umber. His house, when ran by Bigjon Umber, had historically been unfailingly loyal to the Starks but his son betrayed that loyalty by siding with Ramsay and delivering Rickon into Bolton custody. Some thought this was all a ruse to get close to the Boltons and ultimately betray them but alas, the fans have again been overthinking the whole damn thing. Like a song by Jon Bon Jovi, season six has been anything but sophisticated or layered. What we see is what we get, and that has turned out to be not such a bad thing especially when that thing is Tormund Giantsbane ripping out Smalljon’s jugular with his frickin’ teeth.
And so we say adieu to one of the most vile, horrifying characters in modern fiction, Ramsay Snow of House Bolton. Let’s do a quick recap of his escapades: torture, castration, rape, fratricide, patricide, infanticide, (one more -icide and I think he wins a free iPad) animal cruelty, flaying of old ladies alive, betraying his word to a surrendered enemy (resulting in more flaying), the complete psychological destruction of Theon Greyjoy (who had a little bit of that coming) and the worst part is that he always seemed to have a smile on his face. It’s enough to make you wonder why anyone still followed this guy after all that he’s done but them’s the breaks when you’re still subscribing to a medieval fealty system. But alas, Jon Snow had the presence of mind to not stove his face in with his fists, realizing that dear sister Sansa deserved the right to send him off on his way to hell. And, oh boy does she, ironically setting his own pack of ravenous hounds to viciously tear him apart. I don’t know what would be worse, the whole getting torn apart by dogs thing or knowing that about that time tomorrow you’re literally going to be dog shit. Probably being torn apart. The good news is, next week’s finale is, again, going to be directed by Sapochnik who commented to Entertainment Weekly that the last episode of the season “…feels equally as epic as episode 9 … but for completely different reasons.” Well, Miguel, thanks for making me excited about Game of Thrones again. Let’s do this.
Bonus: Pour one out for Wun Wun. One keg, that is.