This review contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 9 “The Battle of the Bastards”. This is your only warning.
It’s finally here! After weeks of hype and speculation, it’s finally time for the Bastardbowl. This is an episode dedicated almost solely to big battles, and we have two on our plate this time.
First up is the starter course, the battle between the Masters and Meereen. Dany takes the state of things fairly well, given the circumstances. Tyrion explains, in a fumbling terrified sort of way, that despite how things look things were actually going okay.
Dany seems more than satisfied with this, and immediately begins making plans for the Masters’ imminent roasting. Tyrion convinces her to meet with the Masters to try and get a peaceful solution, but true to form they don’t seem open to this, surprising no one ever.
Then we get treated to not only some Drogon flamethrower action, but also Rhaegal and Viserion as well. It was nice to see all three dragons in action together, even if we did witness the entire CGI budget for the show in one scene. It was pretty satisfying to watch the Masters get burned to a crisp, as well as the huge horde of Dothraki swarming in to make short work of the Sons of the Harpy.
This scene was very well constructed, and it was nice to see the Meereen plotline actually go somewhere interesting for once. Later on, we get more interesting plot from Meereen, but we have to make a trip to Westeros first.
After this battle, we get a little palette cleanser. Ramsay and Jon have a little exchange of barbs before the upcoming battle, where Ramsay is channeling all the smugness that ever existed into himself as he asks Jon to bend the knee to him. Jon, attempting to manipulate Ramsay (a poor choice, given Ramsay’s wealth of experience), says they should fight mano a mano and save thousands of men from dying.
Content with being Smuggy McEvil ™, Ramsay denies this and we cut to the battle preparations at the Stark camp. This scene, while it achieves little in terms of plot, actually sets up the later tension we get in the big battle. They show that their situation is pretty desperate, that despite all their scraping they have maybe half the men Ramsay does.
All they do is use tactics and pray. Sansa points out that they don’t have enough men (and who’s fault is that, hmm?), but Jon rightly points out that this is all they’re gonna get. We also get more character building from Tormund and Davos, further cementing my suspicion that one of them is going to die.
Even though this episode is mostly an epic conclusion of storylines, we do get an interesting thread for next week: Davos discovers Shireen’s pyre, and the Bathareon wooden stag beside it. Surely, he and Melisandre will have words next week. Given how little role she has had since resurrecting Jon, could this be the end for the Red Woman?
As mentioned earlier, there was more interesting stuff coming from Meereen. Theon and Yara have made it there already, resoundingly beating their uncle Euron as expected. Yara offers the Iron Fleet to Daenerys, in which the two of them exchange some very witty dialogue. I had a feeling these two headstrong women would get along, and indeed they do. Here’s hoping for some more scenes with them together, because this is the most interesting Daenerys has been outside of epic battle scenes.
Next up is what we’re all here for: the epic clash between the Bolton forces, and the cobbled together army of the Starks. Things look bleak right from the start, as you see just how outnumbered the Stark forces are. While they do have wildlings, and Wun Wun the giant, the Boltons have more horses, more archers and more men in general. The fight does not start well when Ramsay releases Rickon Stark and tells him to run, predictably firing arrows at him as he does so.
We all knew Rickon was expendable, but the episode still tricks you into thinking – just for a moment – that he may just live. But, of course not, instead he dies just as Jon reaches him and seems to exist purely so Jon can lose his head and act irrationally. In a previous scene, Sansa warned him against falling into Ramsay’s traps, but here he is doing exactly that. I couldn’t help but facepalm a little as Jon rode alone towards a line of men on horses.
Here the battle starts in earnest, and at first things are going okay-ish as the Stark forces push their way toward were Ramsay and his line of archers are standing. Ramsay shows his complete lack of regard for his own victory here, as he continues his hail of arrows even after the Bolton forces are mixed in with that of the Starks, killing countless amounts of his own soldiers. Jon makes his way toward Ramsay for their fight, and just as a faint glimmer of hope starts to shine, a Bolton spear line appears.
Ramsay had apparently taken the time to build a wall out of dead bodies, and successful traps the Stark army in between them and a semi circle of Bolton spearmen hiding behind shields. Here we get an very tense scene, and the Bolton men slowly advance, killing men and pushing the others further back against the wall. Any men who attempt to climb the bodies are slaughtered by the Umbers, who apparently had no plans for an epic Bolton backstab.
Here is when things seem truly hopeless for the Starks, as despite the best efforts of Wun Wun and the rest of the army, the Bolton advance is merciless. Things go from bad to worse as the men try to push past the Umbers and the kill zone, but end up crushing Jon under foot. Jon’s life hangs in a tense, buttcheek clenching moment as he struggles for air under the suffocating sea of bodies. As he struggles for air, so does Tormund struggle against Smalljon Umber.
Their fight is going bad, for a moment seeming to lead to what many expected: Tormund falling and the Tormund and Brienne ship dying with him. Thankfully, though, he somehow comes back from it and tears out the traitor’s throat with his teeth. One of many satisfying moments from this long and arduous battle.
We all suspected that Sansa had written, against her own feelings, to Littlefinger. And, just in time to save the day, horns sound the Vale army swoops in to make short work of the tired and battered Bolton army. Ramsay, being the coward he is, retreats behind the walls of Winterfell. His confidence that they can just hold out behind the walls is swiftly shattered by the hands of Wun Wun, a one man battering ram.
Here we finally see what we all wanted: Ramsay getting his face smashed in by Jon, as the Bolton name lie in tatters. This scene is so satisfying, but there is yet more to come for Ramsay Bolton. We get a brief treat of Stark banners once again riding high on the walls of Winterfell, before we see the much less pretty sight of Ramsay, tied to a chair. I had hoped Sansa would get the last blow, and she does, but in a much better way than I expected.
Despite his confidence that they won’t harm him, Ramsay is eaten alive by his own dogs, and they start with his face. Despite this scene being pretty grim, even for Game of Thrones, I couldn’t help but enjoy every second of Ramsay’s smug face getting eating by the very tool he had used so often. Sansa, showing the steel she has forged over this season, watches coldly as he is eaten by his own hounds.
What an episode! A truly fantastic episode, and definitely worth all the hype and anticipation. Gory, grim, and outright satisfying, The Battle of the Bastards was a glory to watch. The acting was excellent, the choreography was well executed, and I think we are in with a contender for best episode ever. What awaits us in the season finale?