A season-long buildup led us to the highly anticipated war between illegitimate sons. This conflict between Snows offered the most visceral encounter in the show’s already violent history. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, this predictably awesome hour doesn’t excuse the lackluster effort that left a void between Hodor holding the door and Wun Wun knocking one down. The on/off switch nature of this season does take a little spice out of these epic moments. However, I’ll do my best to judge this hour of television on its own, as opposed to its impact on the bigger picture.
A Great Perspective
I think Game of Thrones accidentally struck gold with the two-perspective format. Some of the more boring episodes suffered from jumping between five or six perspectives and moving none of them forward, handing us ten minute intervals of wasted time. On the other hand, a single-perspective hour should be a very rare tool, or else it’s not Game of Thrones. But using two points of view unlocks the best of both worlds. There is variety in the plot, but the featured characters are given the proper time to develop. I’d like to see future episodes take notes and favor more 50-50 splits next season. Instead of everyone doing nothing, we’ll get to witness a few characters take significant steps forward on a weekly basis. This show and its lore have more than enough content to provide big moments in at least seven Sundays (which is an entire Season 7 if the reports are true). 5+ perspectives is like channel surfing. Unless the limited time is excellent, you’re not really watching any one channel. This twosome is more like watching two great shows and switching during commercial breaks. Game of Thrones has functioned beyond well for years via this channel surfing; I only suggest this alternative in case the more stagnant Thrones is beginning to feel stale or unsatisfying for some fans.
Daenerys enjoyed a brilliant display of power that just as easily could’ve occurred in the Season 4 premiere. Her forces seem to dwarf, pun intended I suppose, any other army in all of Westeros. Most opponents can’t even touch those dragons, and her human recruits seem to double by the episode. Of course, the show’s clear foreshadowing suggests that she may be the one to take herself down in the future. The Targaryans are a self-destructive bunch. But this quick and decisive battle was fantastic to watch, and provided great fun that offset the more heart pounding fight in the North. The fan-fiction writers are probably nursing sprained wrists from the dragon queen’s chemistry with Yara, a dynamic that brought some welcome levity to an otherwise brutal hour.
The Battle Of The Bastards
Back to the bastards. Rickon apparently attended the Prometheus school of running away, foregoing the cardinal directions of East and West. He probably still dies, but a little lateral effort would’ve gone a long way with the skeptics. Serpentine! Serpentine! Jon then storms forward, wasting the one piece of advice that Sansa was able to provide. The decision nearly gets him killed in a hilariously dumb fashion, but I can’t argue the coolness of the resulting shot. Jon staring down an entire Bolton cavalry by himself is a screensaver waiting to happen. Some of the war tactics, particularly the great wall of Bolton shields, brought some personality to the battle as a whole. While Daenerys enjoyed a clean victory, Jon’s forces experienced a blood soaked nail biter as helpless underdogs. You have to wonder why Sansa couldn’t tell Jon that help was on the way and potentially save countless lives by letting him wait a few hours. I understand he’d be less than pleased with her choice of emergency contact, but something tells me Jon was open to help from anyone at that point. Little Finger’s Gandalf impression was telegraphed, and the episode as a whole was fairly predictable.
Even Ramsay’s demise was a poetic justice that could’ve been predicted months ago. However, as I often say, greatness and quality decision-making trump shock value in the long run. I said the same thing about The Force Awakens and Kylo Ren’s story. Modern fans, connected by Internet forums and articles, have become too collectively smart to defeat unless you do something completely ridiculous or stupid. For that reason, doing what they expect is in no way accepting defeat. Instead, we’re currently enjoying a resolution that can be agreed on and cheered for by everyone. There’s a sense of camaraderie and overall appreciation when a franchise delivers in the exact way fans have been craving.
The combat itself, while breathtakingly captivating, was a bit of a mixed bag. A majority of some pivotal moments were shot in extreme close-ups to avoid having to show Lord of the Rings level carnage. Generally speaking, you want as much of the action as possible on screen with wide shots and all-encompassing cinematography. The show was wise to package this action as artistic claustrophobia meant to convey the ugly and intimate natures of war. But the sequence really highlighted what is ultimately a TV budget. The fact that Thrones can make us forget this is TV, judging the series as if it were a movie, is an incredible accomplishment. But the action as a whole had its ups and downs. I’m glad they didn’t shy away from the cost behind Wun Wun action. He’s definitely the real MVP. Jon’s kill to death ratio expands to about 1,000 to 1 after slaying an endless supply of Bolton scum. And Tormund won just about the manliest one-on-one the show has seen since Brienne took out the Hound. Luckily, the meaningful context and character injected into the fighting creates room for visual forgiveness.
A Perfect Demise
Ramsay’s end was perfect, and I can’t say anything negative about the cause of death or Sansa’s beautifully regretless attitude. It is so refreshing when a show recognizes the pointlessness of the high road and simply enjoys the fullest extent of cold, hard revenge. The only criticism of this justice and the episode as a whole is the one-note misery that led up to it. Joffrey was abominable, but nuanced. So his death brought about a layered and thought provoking sequence, while still giving fans reason to jump for joy. Ramsay’s demise, while perfect, is more of a sigh of relief than it is a moment of pure euphoria. And there isn’t anything particularly layered about it. Similarly, this Episode 9 being so amazing is more of a sigh of relief than anything else because the previous few weeks were a collective letdown. The promises made and patience required simply could not be surpassed by the actual quality of this episode, but I'd confidently argue they were at least met. To put my “criticism” in perspective, I still say this is without question a top-5 Thrones episode of all time. My personal elites are 5-8, 4-10, 4-9, 2-10 and now 6-9. I’ll forever remember the Battle of the Bastards.