In “Battle of the Bastards,” Game of Thrones gives us the epic battle scenes we’ve been waiting for, along with a very satisfying ending. The focus on the battle for Winterfell and the siege in Meereen allows the viewer to experience the bloody nature of war along with the satisfaction that comes with victory. Even if the buildup leading to these battles left something to be desired, “Battle of the Bastards” was all we hoped for and more.
As Game of Thrones heads towards the final two seasons, some of the current stories will end or merge into the larger narrative, particularly since showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have discussed making seasons 7 and 8 shorter than the usual 10 episodes. The North, both at the Wall and Winterfell, has been the setting for many of our favorite scenes, so expectations were high. On the other hand, Meereen has been “meh” for most of Season 6, so that plot only had room to improve. Yet both stories managed to impress.
The Second Siege of Meereen
Daenerys Targaryen has returned to Meereen to find the city being battered with fire. A perfect opportunity for a couple of fire-breathing dragons and a Dothraki horde. First, though, Tyrion has to answer to Daenerys for the state of Meereen. He’s more than a bit nervous answering to this intimidating dragon queen.
Daenerys tells Tyrion her plan to deal with the siege: “I will crucify the masters, I will set their fleets afire, kill every last of their soldiers, and return their cities to the ground.” Tyrion recognizes the Targaryen tendencies in Daenerys. She may not be mad, but she can be brutal and severe. He reveals the truth about her father, the “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen—that he planned to burn the entire city of King’s Landing with wildfire. When she protests the current situation is different, Tyrion points out, “You’re talking about destroying cities. It’s not entirely different. I’d like to suggest an alternate approach.”
The Masters come to discuss surrender, but not the surrender they thought. Daenerys tells them, “My reign has just begun,” before riding off on Drogon, gathering the other dragons, and attacking the ships in the harbor. Grey Worm, Missandei, and Tyrion get their moments as well, though it feels a little more personal to Grey Worm and Missandei. Tyrion notes, “It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.”
Game of Thrones gave us some expensive-looking special effects, with the ships in the harbor and fire belting the city. The most memorable scenes were the dragons, of course. We got to see Drogon close-up, just as the Masters did, and it left quite an impression.
Seeing Rhaegal and Viserion break through their prison was exciting on its own, but seeing the three dragons following the lead of Daenerys blew our collective minds.
Later, Daenerys, with Tyrion at her side, receives Theon and Yara Greyjoy. Theon humbles himself to Tyrion, and Yara makes a good impression on Daenerys. The Dragon Queen seems to like the idea of more female rulers—and so do we.
The Second Battle of Winterfell
The villain we love to hate got the ending he deserved. “Battle of the Bastards” showcased the sadistic cruelty of the Ramsay Bolton character and the immense talent of actor Iwan Rheon. Ramsay Bolton has become a larger-than-life scoundrel, yet has never been played over the top. The fact that this evil character has managed to get what he wants time after time over the course of three seasons has whetted our appetite for his comeuppance.
Ramsay Bolton made life hell for Winterfell’s former inhabitants. Ramsay tortured, maimed, and broke Theon Greyjoy, assaulted and humiliated Sansa Stark, challenged Jon Snow, and finally killed Rickon Stark. There’s no character ambiguity or redemption waiting around the corner for Ramsay Bolton, whose House is infamous for flaying their enemies alive.
Jon Snow may be a hero, but he’s an imperfect one. Despite Sansa’s efforts to warn Jon, Ramsay was able to manipulate Jon into reacting out of emotion. The return of Rickon Stark in Season 6 serves as a plot device to stir Jon into action, both in gathering an army to attack and by causing him to strike early in battle. Jon’s forces were at a disadvantage because of the small size of their force, but Jon failing to follow the battle plan only worsened their odds.
It was Sansa’s raven bringing Petyr Baelish and the soldiers of the Vale that saved Jon’s army from total destruction and allowed for victory over Ramsay Bolton. It’s still not clear why Sansa didn’t tell Jon about Baelish, or why Jon didn’t consider reaching out to cousin Robin Arryn himself. If Sansa had been honest with Jon before the attack, perhaps a lot of lives could’ve been saved.
After the battle was won, Sansa allowed Ramsay’s own hounds to tear him apart and feast upon his flesh. As Sansa walked away from the execution smiling, we couldn’t help but feel our own sense of satisfaction despite the horrific nature of her vengeance. At moments like this, we feel a little like we’re being manipulated like Reek. Game of Thrones has turned us into people that inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, cheer when someone is being torn apart.
The battle scene between the two armies was an amazing piece of filmmaking. It was grim, chaotic, and bloody. We couldn’t have imagined that Director Miguel Sapochinik could top his previous work on the cinematic masterpiece that is the battle at Hardhome. Yet he proved a battle between two living armies can be just as masterfully done as that between the living and the dead. In “A Look Inside the Episode,” showrunner Weiss notes:
“From the beginning we knew that one thing we never had on the show was a true medieval pitched battle where two sides bring all the forces they can into play on some battlefield that’s somehow negotiated or agreed upon, and they go at each other until one of them wins and the other one loses. This is a staple of human history and we started to look through film examples of it. There really wasn’t one that both made you feel what it was like to be there on the ground and gave you a sense of the geography of the battle.”
Following the viewpoint of Jon Snow gave the audience a feeling for the deadly pandemonium of battle. Game of Thrones showed that in such a battle, death is pervasive and it can come by arrow, sword, spear, or trampling. The battle was gripping and well-executed, keeping us on the edge of our seats throughout.
Battle of the Bastards
The penultimate episode of Season 6, “Battle of the Bastards,” gave viewers a lot to cheer for, despite the death and destruction that filled the screen.
Season 6 has started down the road of letting the good guys win, which has been a major shift in Game of Thrones. “Battle of the Bastards” seems to be a retort to Gilly’s complaint in “Blood of My Blood”: “I’m angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it.” It’s been refreshing to see the Boltons and the Masters held accountable. Honestly, if Game of Thrones ended Season 6 with “Battle of the Bastards” we’d be very content. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up next week.