Game of Thrones swept the Emmys yet again, this time hauling in a total of 12 different awards out of 24 nominations. Six of those awards were based solely on Season 6 Episode 9 "Battle of the Bastards," a rare moment of catharsis in a series that normally robs its heroes of any outright victory. Finally, the Starks returned to their ancestral home and the vilest villain that ever lived was fed to his own dogs in a moment so brutally satisfying it rivaled the Purple Wedding.
The episode was spectacular, to be sure. The awards for Sound Mixing and Special Visual Effects were well deserved, since few Thrones episodes had ever offered such a sensory feast. If you haven't seen it yet, check out this video of the making of "The Battle of the Bastards!"
But was "Battle of the Bastards" truly deserving of the Emmy for Outstanding Writing and Directing? Does it merit the highest IMDb rating of any television episode ever, which it currently holds?
"Battle of the Bastards" was one of the most entertaining moments in TV history, but it was not the best. It was not even one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones...
Predictable Storytelling And Plenty Of Cliches
- Maisie Williams Read The Script For 'GOT' Season 7 And She Says Sh*t Is Going To Get REAL
- Sexposition: Is There A Reason Behind All That Seemingly Superfluous Nudity In 'Game Of Thrones'?
- What Does A Summer Season Premiere Mean For The Future Of 'Game Of Thrones'?
As far as storytelling goes, it lacked the originality of episodes like "Baelor," "The Rains of Castamere" or "The Door." These earlier episodes shocked and surprised with their violence, while every death in "The Battle of the Bastards" was predictable. Rickon narrowly escaping Ramsay's arrows — right up until he doesn't — pales in comparison to "Baelor," when none of us were expecting Ned Stark to be executed until the very moment the axe came down on his neck. Rickon's death was a bummer at most, a mere catalyst for a battle that was deemed a more important plot point, rather than a meaningful tragedy like The Red Wedding or Hodor fulfilling his destiny.
The linear storytelling in "Battle of the Bastards" reeked of plot points that Benioff and Weiss desperately wanted to force together, regardless of how natural or fitting they seemed to the overall story. Jon Snow must win, despite the fact that all the odds are stacked against him. The battle scene itself played into the most predictable cliches: For a moment it might have seemed like Jon Snow was really going to die in that pit, but all you had to do was look at the number of minutes left in the episode to know that a deus ex machina was on the way.
The arrival of the Knights of the Vale is the biggest plot hole of the episode. Sansa has no real reason to withhold that information from her brother and his war council, other than to allow for the look of surprise on Jon and Ramsay's faces during the battle, and give the audience the cathartic feeling of a hard-won victory. We did get to see Sansa's first real moment of triumph in the series, but it was a hollow one since her motives were so unclear.
Destroying Evil Isn't That Straightforward
We'd seen antagonists punished before, but it was never so simple as the good guys doling out justice to the wicked. Seeing Ramsay brutally obliterated was simply thrilling, but simple thrills are a step backward for a show usually so packed with moral quandary. During the Walk of Atonement in "Mother's Mercy" (Season 5 Episode 10), there was perhaps no one in the Seven Kingdoms more deserving of public humiliation than Cersei Lannister. And yet, we were not allowed to feel wholly satisfied as an audience, since the manner in which she was punished was so unbefitting of her crimes. Rather than Arya or Tyrion, it was the twisted High Sparrow passing down his sentence for crimes that were hardly Cersei's most offensive.
Before that, at the Purple Wedding ("The Lion and the Rose" Season 4 Episode 2), it was delightful to watch Joffrey choke to death in front of his mother, but the question of who had carried out the kingslaying hung forebodingly in the air, and the wrongful accusations against Tyrion and Sansa made it impossible for us to enjoy Joffrey's death for long. Watching Sansa feed Ramsay to his dogs might have made us worry that she was becoming a little bit Ramsay-like in her love of cruelty, but that's merely a tenuous idea that the show won't necessarily build upon.
Battles Should Be More Than Just Bloody
In regard to battle scenes, "Battle of the Bastards" lacked the depth of episodes like "Blackwater" or "Hardhome," where we sympathize with both sides of the fighting. During the Battle of Blackwater, you find yourself rooting for King's Landing, because in spite of Cersei and Joffrey, you don't want to see the entire city of (mostly) innocent people get sacked. Tyrion steps up to become a more capable leader than even his biggest fans could have imagined, fighting bravely and launching the surprise wildfire ploy that brings victory to the Lannisters. And yet the explosive end is bittersweet, since Stannis's army had redeeming qualities, and people like Ser Davos's son probably didn't deserve to be burnt to a crisp.
In "Hardhome," the Rattleshirt and his Wildling army refuse to listen to Jon Snow and Tormund. Despite their harshness and stubbornness, we desperately want them to escape the oncoming wights, and think for a moment that they might. The outcome is filled with irony, and steers the plot clearly and naturally into the impending struggle with the White Walkers. "The Battle of the Bastards" offered no such emotional complexity or chance to reflect on the moral quandary of war.
The ninth episode of Season 6 was an unprecedented moment in which Game of Thrones showed good conquering evil, plainly and simply, but it lacked any of the irony or originality with which the show normally treats that conflict. It relied heavily on the fact that the audience would be willing to suspend logic in order to see their heroes succeed. But succeed they did! Is it possible that "Battle of the Bastards" was just the high-five in the face that we as an audience needed to get ready for the deeper, darker, superior storytelling to come?
What did you think of "Battle of the Bastards"? Sound off in the comments below!