Epic. Monumental. Amazing. Jaw dropping. I think I’ve run out of words to describe Battle of the Bastards.
Episode nine is traditionally reserved for the climatic battle or game changer, laying the ground work for the season to come. But in Battle of the Bastards, Game of Thrones has outdone itself.
It was more gripping than those other GoT epics, Blackwater and Hardhome. It was also more emotionally charged.
The episode is effectively split in two, focussing on events across the seas in Meereen and on the door step of Winterfell in the North.
The first part of the episode spends a lot of time with Daenerys in her besieged city. The Masters are trying to drive her out, unaware of what she has in her arsenal.
She wants to unleash the fury of her dragons on the Masters. Tyrion suggests another course, reminding her that her father, the Mad King, also threatened to unleash ‘hellfire’ on his enemies.
“You once told me that you knew what your father was…. He had caches of wildfire hidden under the Red Keep. He would have burned every one of his citizens. The loyal ones and the traitors. Every man, woman and child. That’s why Jaime killed him”.
“This is entirely different”.
“You’re talking about destroying cities. It’s not entirely different”.
Tyrion’s comparison between father and daughter is deliberate and serves as a warning that she could easily follow in her father’s footsteps if she pursues this course of action.
Instead, they meet with the three Masters, who’re pulling the strings. They think she’s come to surrender. Their terms are simple; she leaves, the Unsullied stay, Missandei stays and the two dragons under the Great Pyramid will be slaughtered.
But today is not the day for surrender. Not Dany’s any way.
Drogo arrives on the scene, she climbs on board and they take to the skies. Her other ‘children’ answer Drogo’s call, bust out of the dungeon and join him in wreaking havoc on the Masters’ fleet.
On the streets of Meereen, the Sons of the Harpy are killing the citizens at will. Until the Dothraki hoard arrive on the scene and lay waste to the Sons.
At this point, it’s easy to forget that this is ‘just a TV show’. The cinematography belongs on the big screen. In any other season, this would be THE season nine moment.
But wait, there’s more to come!
On a cliff top overlooking Slaver’s Bay, the three Masters are told one will need to be sacrificed to pay for their dishonour.
Grey Worm dispatches the two who do the choosing. Tyrion tells the survivor told to deliver a message to those who might seek to overthrown Dany.
“Tell your people what happened here. Tell them you live by the Grace of Her Majesty. When they come forward with their notions of retribution, remind them what happened when Daenerys Storm Born and her dragons came to Meereen”.
Once the dust settles in Meereen, two new arrivals seek an alliance with Daenerys. Theon and Yarra stand before the Queen and Tyrion (who makes life hell for making HIS life hell back at Winterfell).
The Greyjoys offer their 100 ships to Dany in return for her help in taking the Salt Throne from their uncle Euron, who they say is on his way with his own ships and an offer of marriage.
But the brother and sister warn he’s not to be trusted and he’ll murder her as soon as she has what he wants: the Seven Kingdoms.
After a bit of flirting between the two women, Yara makes a final pitch for Dany’s help.
“We would like you to help us murder an uncle or two, who don’t think a woman is fit to rule”.
It strikes the right tone and Daenerys accepts their fealty. With the Iron Born behind her, she’s on her way to claiming the Seven Kingdoms.
The focus now shifts to the North, where Jon and Sansa come face-to-face with Ramsay Bolton, who taunts the brother and sister.
“My beloved wife. I’ve missed you terribly. Thank you for returning Lady Bolton safely. Now dismount and kneel before me. Surrender your army and declare me the true Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. There’s no need for a battle. I’m a man of mercy”.
Oh, the irony. Strangely enough, Jon isn’t dropping to his knees any time soon and he’s offer to sort it out the ‘Old Way’ is rejected.
Back at camp, Jon, Davos and Tormund discuss tactics for the coming battle of Winterfell. As the other two men go about their pre-battle business, a furious Sansa confronts Jon for not asking her advice in tackling Ramsay.
“You sit around making plans on how to defeat a man you don’t know. I lived with him. I know how his mind works. I know how he likes to hurt people. You think he’s going to fall into your trap. He won’t. He’s the one who lays traps.”
She’s right of course about this and her prediction that Rickon won’t live long. He’s a Stark and it’s inevitable that he’ll be killed off.
But the manner of his death is emotional torture and a new low for Ramsay Bolton and there have been plenty of low moments.
The next morning as the two sides line up for The Battle of The Bastards, Bolton rides to the front of the line, leading Rickon by a rope. He raises a sword and brings it down and cuts the rope.
He then tells Rickon to start running and as he runs towards safety, Bolton casually begins firing arrows. A horrified Jon gallops towards his brother, but it’s too late. Just as he reaches Rickon, a Bolton arrows ends his life and he falls dead at Jon’s feet.
The death of Rickon signals the beginning of some of the most intense TV ever. The next twelve minutes are gory and bloody as the Stark-Snow forces clash with the Bolton soldiers.
More than 10-million dollars was spent on choreographing and filming the Battle of the Bastards and it shows.
The cavalry charges, the bowmen sending waves of arrows towards the Northmen and the sword fighting could all come out of the “Medieval Playbook”.
It gives you an inkling what it must have been like in the Battle of Agincourt or any of those other battles of legend. And we’re not spared any of the brutality. Men and horses are chopped down before our eyes and somehow, Jon survives it all.
Maybe the Red Woman’s vision in the flames was spot on. She saw Jon battling for Winterfell. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t promise not to revive him if he fell.
Until, Bolton’s men managed to surround the Stark forces and the Wildlings. They’re surrounded by a wall of shields and pikes that slowly close in on them.
All looks lost until a bugle sound and fresh troops gallop onto the battlefield. The Knights of the Vale to the rescue as a smiling Littlefinger and Sansa watch on.
It turns the tide of the battle and Ramsay is chased into Winterfell. But even a stout gate is not enough for a giant. It’s smashed down and the wildlings pour through.
Still Bolton thinks he can win the day. He begins firing arrow after arrow at Jon. Each crash into his shield until he’s face to face with the man who brutalised his sister and murdered his brother.
Jon begins pummelling Bolton, only stopping when Sansa arrives and a near senseless Bolton is taken away.
Later in the dungeons, Ramsay and Sansa have their final confrontation. And it’s Sansa who has the final word.
“Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will.. disappear”.
As she speaks, Boltons hounds begin entering his cell, sniffing around him. They haven’t been fed in seven days and they’re hungry. They lunge and tear off his face.
A fitting end to a character who made a game of tormenting his victims. A fitting end to one of TV’s most vile and stomach turning characters.
We now go into the season finale with the Stark banner flying over Winterfell and Daenerys with the ships needed to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.
In next week’s ‘Winds of Winter’, we may learn the fate of Arya, Cersei, Jaime and Brandon.