Game of Thrones Review by John Keegan

Game of Thrones 6.09: The Battle of Bastards

Game of Thrones 6.09: The Battle of Bastards

Written By:
David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Directed By:
Miguel Sapochnik

The stage had been set over the past few episodes, so the time has finally come for the much-awaited Battle of Bastards.  And it is easily one of the most ambitious things that Game of Thrones has ever attempted.  While the events at Hardhome were pretty intense, this is the first extended battle sequence in quite some time.  And it’s by far some of the most impressive battle footage ever seen on television, to say the least.



Pre-Battle Considerations: For some it may have felt like a waste of time, but this was stock and trade of war for centuries.  Both sides would go through the formalities of pretending to talk it out before it was too late.  Jon is willing to take on Ramsey one-on-one, because what are the chances Ramsey could best him in single combat?  Of course, Ramsey knows this, and as impulsive as he is, he is a master of psychological warfare when he feels confident in his position.  And he has every reason to feel confident given the numerical advantage.


This led to the “Stark” camp strategizing, recognizing every possible way that the Bolton army could get the drop on them.  For anyone remotely schooled in military history, this is pretty hilarious, because there is no reason for them to bring any of this up unless Jon is going to be stupid enough to fall into exactly the traps described.  Oh, and they bring up Rickon and his chances of survival, which automatically makes it clear how dead he’s going to be.



And so as the battle looms nearer, of course Ramsey plays a little game with poor Rickon to goad Jon into abandoning his entire battle strategy and rush his army headlong into the worst possible position.  Why Rickon would run in an absolute straight line after seeing the first arrow intentionally fall off-target, I cannot begin to grasp.  Nor do I understand why Jon wouldn’t try to scream instructions to Rickon to correct this oversight.  But it’s only the beginning of a series of idiotic decisions by Jon and the “Stark” camp that makes this seem like a hopeless cause.


The Battle of Bastards: Things had gone horribly wrong by the time Jon was standing alone with Ramsey’s initial cavalry charge bearing down on him.  There was literally no way this would end well for the “Stark” camp.  But that meant some emotionally charged and visually stunning sequences that amounted to some of the most inventive and anxiety-inducing sequences since Kingsman: The Secret Service.  One could practically experience Jon’s plight from beginning to end. 



One of the truly amazing elements of the episode is the employment of actual pre-modern battle tactics.  Just about everything that took place, from the encirclement to the piles of bodies to the rain of arrows has some historical touchstone.  A bit of artistic license was applied, of course, but far less than one might imagine.  Even the last minute arrival of the Army of the Vale could be considered akin to the last-minute reversal of fortune dealt to Napoleon at Waterloo. 


That element, however, does have its drawbacks.  While Jon’s impulsive decision to abandon his policy of patience tossed the whole battle strategy into the fire from the start, knowing that there was a massive cavalry on the way would have helped Jon and Davos immensely.  If nothing else, having them show up behind enemy lines much earlier would have allowed more of the “Stark” army to last longer.  It’s great for dramatic effect, but I’m going to be very disappointed if that doesn’t become a matter of contention in the season finale.



Despite the inexplicable tactics and the fact that Jon had no business surviving, one cannot escape the sense that this is the first time that the “good guys” have actually won.  Winterfell is back in its rightful hands.  Jon is not a Stark, but he has options he can explore.  Sansa will likely be considered the rightful Stark heir for now, but is also technically Lady Bolton and should command the loyalty of the North accordingly.  If Bran comes home, he would be Lord Stark, and Arya ought to be on the way soon enough.


The next phase will be not just keeping Winterfell and the North, but casting an eye to the immediate south, Riverrun, and the Freys.  There’s unfinished business there.  In particular, one could imagine that Arya would like an opportunity to cross Walder Frey off her list.  But with the Vale supporting Sansa, that puts the dividing line fairly close to Riverrun.  Jamie Lannister has some decisions to make, for sure.



Meereen: With the state of play in Westeros simplifying for the moment, one cannot forget that Daenerys just made some pretty major moves of her own.  As predicted, the dragons made short work of the slave masters’ fleet and essentially delivered her a good chunk of the fleet she needs in a matter of minutes.  And frankly, how did the slave masters not see this coming?  She’s not called the Mother of Dragons for nothing!


But this was also the moment that Tyrion got back on his game.  He was perfect with the slave masters on Dany’s behalf, preventing her from going too far, and perhaps even more so during the negotiations with Yara.  While it was abundantly clear that Dany was fully in charge when setting her terms for her alliance with the Ironborn, she repeatedly looked to Tyrion for Hand-esque advisement.  It’s exactly the kind of role he was meant to be in from the beginning.



If Varys is, in fact, traveling to Dorne to negotiate an alliance, then there is quite the female-fronted power bloc forming behind Daenerys Stormborn.  Combined with Sansa’s effective rule of the North, there are some women in major positions of power in Westeros and Essos right now.  That’s quite the reversal from the situation just one season ago.
Our Grade:
The Good:
  • Easily one of the best battle sequences put to film for television
  • Daenerys makes some huge moves to restore her momentum
The Bad:
  • One might quibble over the Stark battle tactics

John Keegan aka "criticalmyth", is one of the hosts of the "Critical Myth" podcast heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @criticalmyth

Game of Thrones by - 6/21/2016 10:04 AM287 views

Your Responses


Grade: A-
Amazing battle sequence on par with anything I've seen in a major motion picture, but the predictability of the episode was a bit too much to bear, along with some of the dumb character decisions that you mentioned in the review. Still, overall it was fantastic and one of the best episodes of the season on its technical merits alone.

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