Game of Thrones 6.09: “Battle of the Bastards” Episode Review

There are certain rules that will forever govern Game of Thrones: Tyrion will drink a lot of wine, Daenerys will burn slavers alive, the Lannisters will always pay their debts, and the 9th episode of each season will leave you scarred and unable to sleep. The aptly titled “Battle of the Bastards” was as brutal as it was promised, but it left us in unfamiliar waters. In short, THE GOOD GUYS WON! 

As we drew closer and closer to this inevitable battle, we grew ready for some sort of loss. After Ned’s beheading, Robb’s wedding, and Oberyn’s showboating, loss seemed like an ingrained element of Game of Thrones' penultimate episodes. So, even though we may have assumed that Jon Snow would be the victorious bastard, we still expected to lose a few dear friends along the way.

Sure, Rickon died, but he did so in the same way he lived: insignificantly. Other than that though, Team Stark came out relatively unscathed, with both Davos and Tormund surviving the fight. And, not only that, but we also saw Tormund channel his inner Rick Grimes and literally bite through a guy’s neck. Plus, Ramsay learned just how accurate the Nine Inch Nails can be when his hounds bit off the literal hands that fed them. 

All in all, “Battle of the Bastards” was a thrilling, unnerving, and ultimately rewarding episode, but it took quite a bit of gruesome time before we were able to hang the Stark banners. This episode marked the first time we saw a fully-planned medieval pitch battle on screen, and it’s one we certainly won’t forget soon. 

Riser of the Week: Sansa Stark

There should be no doubt left in anyone’s mind about Sansa Stark and her ability to lead her house back into greatness. Some of you might argue that she was wrong to withhold from Jon the information about the Arryn army joining the battle, but I’d argue the opposite. The way she saw it, Jon was not a sound military tactician – a notion verified by the fact that he did exactly what Sansa warned him about and fell victim to Ramsay’s traps. Despite explicit instructions from Davos to not charge at Ramsay’s army, Jon does just that, and in turn, guarantees a great disadvantage for his troops. So, from Sansa’s point of view, it made little sense to hand over the Arryn troops to Jon, because he would have likely misused them. Furthermore, her acceptance of the fact that she needed to put aside her differences with Littlefinger and look to the future proves how far she’s grown as a leader. It's not always easy to swallow your pride, but Sansa does exactly what needs to be done in order to guarantee her house's survival. The only reason Jon, Davos, Tormund, or anyone on the Stark side is still alive is because of Sansa. 

Honorable Mention: Yara Greyjoy, for fighting the patriarchy, one queendom at a time. 

Faller of the Week: Ramsay Bolton

It’s rare when a character on Game of Thrones gets the comeuppance he or she deserves, which is why we should remember “Battle of the Bastards” for delivering where so many previous episodes could not. Ramsay was undoubtedly and unequivocally the most evil, vile character in the show. There was no close second. We’ve seen him rape, torture, and murder countless characters, including his father, step-mother, and baby half-brother. Short of eating people, I don’t think there was anything worse he could possibly do. Which is what made it so rewarding to watch Jon pummel his face beyond recognition. And, it’s what made it doubly rewarding to watch Sansa unleash his own ravenous hounds on him. And yet, just like when we lost Joffrey for good, it’s sort of tough saying goodbye. He may have been a sadistic fucker, but he was our sadistic fucker.

Honorable Mention: Wun Wun, the last of the giants and all you could ever ask for in an ally. 

Backstory of the Week: The Origin of Wun Wun’s Name

Being that we spent the majority of this episode knee-deep in the Winterfell bloodbath, there wasn’t much time left for extraneous storytelling, and as a result, there aren’t many options for this week’s backstory. Instead, I thought I’d pay tribute to our fallen comrade, Wun Wun, and tell you the fun fact behind his name. It is no secret that George R.R. Martin is a huge football fan, and his favorite team is the New York Giants. Wun Wun is a tribute not only to the team, but also to one of Martin’s favorite players, Phil Simms, who wore number 11. (11 = one one). 

Item of Power: Shireen’s Wooden Stag

Up until last night, the only thing Davos knew about Shireen’s death was that it happened around the same time Stannis was killed. What he didn’t know is that she was burned by Melisandre as a sacrifice to the Red God. When Davos finds Shireen’s wooden stag amidst the remnants of that sacrificial pyre, you could tell just how pained he was at learning the truth. We didn’t see Davos confront Melisandre about this yet – battles do have a knack for getting in the way of things – but we’ll undoubtedly get to watch that unfold next week, and I have to wonder if it will mean the end for the timeless red witch. Melisandre already seems to be second guessing herself, and once she’s confronted by Davos in front of Jon (and probably everyone else), it might mean that she finally admits it’s time to hang up her glamour necklace for good. 

Maester’s Musings:

  • Um…where the hell was Ghost? Don’t you think a direwolf would have been pretty handy in that battle?
  • It couldn’t have hurt to throw in a few jukes and zigzags, Rickon. 
  • As amazing as Wun Wun was in battle, why wouldn’t he wear any armor or carry any weapons? He could have been unstoppable. 
  • Was anyone else mad when Jon stormed into Winterfell, saw Wun Wun dying, and completely let his guard down? He’s lucky Ramsay didn’t shoot him instead of Wun Wun.
  • Between Tormund’s neck-bite and Jon’s blood-drenched face, Rick Grimes was all over tonight’s episode. 
  • Jon sure seemed to have gotten quite lucky dodging all those arrows (and just generally surviving). It’s almost like he had a powerful god looking over him or something…
  • Loved the quick shot of Littlefinger smirking as he watched his army decimate the Bolton troops. He knows just how large of a debt the Starks now owe him.
  • Watching Jon get continually trampled and then pull himself out from the ever-growing pile of corpses was disturbing, and proves just how different Game of Thrones is than any other show on television. 
  • Greyworm’s double kill was a thing of beauty.
  • So Daenerys has to be coming to Westeros now, right? 
  • Speaking of, she’s going to be quite the force to be reckoned with. A khalasar on the ground, and dragons from above. How do you defeat that?
  • “I never demand, but I’m up for anything.” Damn that exchange between Daenerys and Yara was fantastic. Westeros isn’t ready for these two women. 
  • This was one of the best episodes of television I've ever watched. The cinematography was better than what we see in most films. Not since Saving Private Ryan has a battle scene distrubed me quite the way this episode did. Bravo!
Images via HBO &

Joe Brosnan works at St. Martin's Press and manages Criminal Element. He’s a New York Giants fan, a Petyr Baelish supporter, and is only now realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.

Read all of Joe Brosnan’s posts for Criminal Element.

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