Game of Thrones Recap: S6E9 - "Battle of the Bastards"
We’re quickly wrapping up season 6 of Game of Thrones, but not before some shocking (ish) deaths, three dragons set loose on Slaver’s Bay, and the biggest and best battle on the show so far. While initially I thought we were getting an episode entirely in the North, I got over that disappointment quickly with the appearance of Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal. This episode finally had some progression after two episodes of just moving characters in place, and still set up for things to come. I live-tweeted my initial thoughts and freak-outs on Twitter, but it’s still recap Tuesday, so let’s get into it.
We obviously need to start with Meereen so that we can get into the epicness that was the cause for the title of this episode. That doesn’t mean the scenes in Meereen were any less epic though. We come back to Slaver's Bay maybe a few hours after Dany has returned. The Sons of the Harpy are still attacking, destroying the city, and presumably winning. Daenerys looks pissed at Tyrion (who rightfully looks a little afraid), but he’s still able to talk his way out of being punished as he usually does. He explains that he did do his job, restoring peace and boosting the economy, even if the Sons of the Harpy always gotta do the most. While Dany concedes that he is right in this sense, she is still angry, and resolves to crucify the masters and burn their cities to the ground. Tyrion urges her not to do so, as she would become like her father, the Mad King Aerys, who buried wildfyre under King’s Landing, intending to burn it down rather than let it be sacked by Robert Baratheon. This isn’t the first time that particular wildfyre and King’s Landing have been mentioned together, and Bran had a vision of King’s Landing erupting into wildfyre, and don’t forget that rumor Qyburn tells Cersei is more than just a rumor. I’m just saying, stay woke.
Anyway, instead of burning everything down, they decide to discuss terms of surrender with the masters. The masters think it’s Dany surrendering; they tell her that she will leave with no ships, that the Unsullied, Missandei, and all former slaves will be re-enslaved, and that Viserion and Rhaegal will be killed. What’s hilarious about this is that in mentioning the dragons, they forget that Dany arrived in Meereen on a dragon that is still roaming around. They also seem to forget what dragons do. Dany tells the masters that they are not discussing her surrender, but theirs. In a glorious moment of television that made me lowkey jealous, Dany hops on Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal break loose, and the dragons set fire to a good amount of the masters’ ships, which is literally and figuratively lit. At the same time, the dothraki led by Daario storm the masters on the beach. Grey Worm convinces the Unsullied being forced to fight for the Sons of the Harpy to lay down their arms, and Tyrion tells the masters that only one of them have to die. Of course, two of them sell out the one who was originally lowborn, but Grey Worm kills them instead, something they should have seen coming a mile away. Tyrion then tells the last one to go to his people and tell them what happened “when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen.”
Later in the episode, Yara and Theon arrive in Meereen, late to the party. Tyrion speaks of meeting Theon in Winterfell way back in season 1. He has a very specific view of Theon that is no longer true, and also mentions Theon’s murder of Bran and Rickon, though Theon corrects him. Yara tells Tyrion that Theon has paid for his crimes, though Tyrion doesn’t seem to think so since he one, doesn’t know Ramsay, and two, doesn’t realize that there are things worse than death, demonstrating that he has not read Harry Potter. The Greyjoys only want to take back the iron islands from their uncle and make Yara the Queen of the Salt Throne, and want to fight with Dany to get them back. They tell her about Euron and how his ships also come with marriage until they conquer Westeros, after which Dany may “accidentally” fall into Blackwater Bay or something. Tyrion raises a point that if the ironborn demand their independence from the Seven Kingdoms, others might as well. Dany, though, says that they’re only asking and decided to form an alliance with the Greyjoys. Using the sixth principle of Kwanzaa, Kuumba, Dany says that together they will leave the world better than their fathers did. She tells the Greyjoys that the ironborn will not be allowed to rape and reave as was their way before, and while Yara is at first hesitant to concede, they form a pact, which is dope. The bonding between Dany and Yara made me wonder if maybe she’ll be given a dragon. While it’s fun to think about – and if it were to happen, I think Sansa should get the other – I doubt it’ll really happen. For one, we have secret-Targaryen Jon, and for another, Yara is most comfortable and valuable on her ship and leading the ironborn. I’m not sure she’ll need a dragon to do that.
The other half of this episode takes place outside the walls of Winterfell, in the lead up to and the Battle of the Bastards. We first get to the North to see the negotiation between Jon and Ramsay, joined by their men, Sansa, and young Lyanna Mormont. Ramsay speaks to them as if he’s already won, thanking Jon for bringing back Sansa, and telling him that he is a “man of mercy,” and will pardon Jon for deserting the Night’s Watch, which is the first time we hear anyone mention or accuse him of deserting the Wall. Jon offers to fight one-on-one rather than ratchet up the death toll, but Ramsay declines which is smart seeing as he has the upper hand and would probably lose in a one-on-one fight with Jon. Sansa is fed up with Ramsay, telling him “You’re going to die tomorrow Lord Bolton. Sleep well.” She rides off first, and the others leave the negotiations too, but not after Ramsay calls Jon a bastard, obviously thinking it would make him angry the way it angers him. Ramsay has always been way too smug about being legitimized, just another notch on his belt of being the worst.
Jon, Sansa, and Davos then have a strategy meeting, talking about Ramsay’s strength and weaknesses. It’s really just Jon and Davos talking, with Sansa just sitting there, more or less being ignored. She and Jon argue after Davos leaves because of this – neither of them have bothered to ask Sansa for insight as someone who had to live with Ramsay. While Jon and Davos are approaching this as a regular battle, and while they can tell that Ramsay is a strategist and good fighter, none of them have asked Sansa about his nature, about how he will act. Jon thinks that because he’s fought white walkers, Ramsay will be nothing, but Sansa understands that he’s worse: the white walkers aren’t human and so aren’t nearly as cruel as Ramsay can be and is. Sansa tries to persuade Jon not to face him in direct battle because that’s what Ramsay wants and expects. She tells Jon that Rickon is already dead, that there is no way they can rescue their brother in a direct battle. Jon seems to think that Sansa is just afraid, telling her that he’ll protect her, but Sansa is totally disillusioned at this point. After everything she’s been through, she understands the harsh world she lives in and knows what will happen if Jon faces Ramsay head on. Jon clearly still sees her as the little girl she was when they grew up in Winterfell, but Sansa has been through a lot, arguably more than Jon. Sansa has seen her father die, been tortured by both Joffrey and Ramsay, been accused of murder, been manipulated by Cersei, the Tyrells, and Littlefinger. She understands that honor is not what wins wars and land. Jon, who should have realized this after being murdered, still holds onto his honor, the same honor that ended up beheading Ned Stark.
Elsewhere in the camp, Davos comes across a pile of wood and finds the stag he whittled for Shireen in the snow. This is clearly a set up for more antagonism between Davos and Melisandre, and it’s clear that he most likely can guess what happened to Shireen before Stannis’s battle with the Boltons. However, he doesn’t bring it up right away, because he’s smart and understands that he has to fight the battle against the Boltons first. In Melisandre’s tent, Jon goes to speak with the red woman, telling her not to bring him back if he dies. Melisandre tells him that she will have to try because of the Lord of Light. It’s clear that Jon doesn’t really realize there was a reason he’s been brought back to life, even if it’s just to die in this battle. It seems cruel but Melisandre explains that it be’s that way sometimes.
We then get to the battlefield. Ramsay brings out Rickon on a leash. He lets him go and tells him to run to Jon, but it’s obviously a trick. He starts shooting arrows at him. Jon races to get to Rickon before he gets killed, but Rickon, who apparently doesn't know how to bob and weave, gets shot with an arrow right before they get to each other. While like Sansa I had a feeling Rickon wasn’t going to survive this episode, it was really heartbreaking to see Jon so close to saving his brother and being unable to. He is filled with grief and anger at the loss of Rickon, and immediately goes to get revenge, forgetting what Sansa said and that he has men of his own, charging the Bolton army on his own. However, his army has his back, coming up from behind and clashing with the Boltons.
This is the first real bloody fight Jon has been in and the bloodiest one we’ve seen. We’ve seen a lot of battles and plenty of people die, but this was different. We didn’t see the first big battle in the Whispering Wood between Robb and the Lannisters, the Battle at Blackwater Bay was mostly ships and wildfyre, there was only a bit of close battling between the men of the Night's Watch and the wildlings, and even Hardhome didn’t have as much blood and gore as this episode, in part because the adversaries shatter like glass when they die rather than bleed out and the dead just rise again as zombies. By the end of this battle, Jon is caked in blood and mud, and there are piles and piles of dead men (which they hopefully and most likely burned once the battle was over). Ramsay doesn’t even enter the battle, while Jon almost gets suffocated and buried alive by piles of bodies living and dead as a barricade of Bolton men squeeze Jon’s army. Tormund has a close call with Smalljon Umber, and it seems like all is lost when Sansa comes through with the Knights of the Vale in the most clutch move ever. The Knights of the Vale smash the Bolton army to pieces, and Ramsay retreats back to Winterfell, intending to wait out a siege. He somehow forgets that Jon has a giant fighting with him, and Wun Wun breaks down the gate to Winterfell before dying after being shot full of arrows. Ramsay then reconsiders the one-on-one, shooting arrows at Jon, who drops his sword and uses a shield to get close enough to Ramsay to beat him. He almost beats Ramsay to death, pounding him with his bare hands out of anger and revenge for Rickon, but he stops when he sees Sansa. It’s not totally clear why he stopped, maybe he realizes he was giving into his hate, or doesn’t want to scare Sansa, or he thinks that Sansa should be the one to kill Ramsay. Either way, the Starks have taken back Winterfell! Jon orders that Rickon be buried in the crypts next to Ned, and Sansa goes to Ramsay, who is being kept in the kennel. She feeds him to the dogs in what is the most satisfying death in the show so far (It's your turn Walder Frey).
Despite being super predictable, this episode was really good. Even knowing how the episode had to end and the things that had to happen to get there, the battle was still high stakes and the writers were able to still make it great television. While this episode was clearly about Jon vs. Ramsay (hence the title), it was also about women getting and exerting their own power, namely Dany, Yara, and Sansa. It also gave us some set up for Davos and Melisandre. I still think “Hardhome” is the best episode of the show, but “Battle of the Bastards” is a close second. I’m so glad the Starks have Winterfell back and I can’t wait for Bran and Arya to show up. Bran is actually the Lord of Winterfell, but who knows if he’ll take that position when he comes, being the new three-eyed raven, or if Jon and Sansa will just rule the North together after defeating the white walkers. This episode was a lot but actually ended on a high note for once and now we can finally turn our thoughts to the white walkers (and I guess Cersei’s trial).