When HBO announced that director Miguel Sapochnik, of “Hardhome” fame, would be returning to direct “Battle of the Bastards”, I was hyped, but I can't deny I carried reservations. How could anything possibly top last season's surprise battle against the White Walkers?
Well, my reservations were completely unwarranted, because “Battle of the Bastards” was Game of Thrones at its best. Not only did we get the anticipated showdown in Winterfell, but we also got treated to a visually stunning battle in Meereen. And on top of all this gory goodness, “Battle of the Bastards” delivered the Sansa scenes we’ve been begging for for seasons.
Run, Rickon, Run!
The scene with Rickon darting across the field was a creative way for the battle to begin. It put Jon right in the thick of the chaos. And even though it was safe to assume that Rickon would die, watching Jon race across the field toward him was intense, because we were given just enough hope to believe that Rickon could survive.
The battle began with a stunning shot of Ramsay's cavalry steamrolling toward Jon. But any beauty on that battlefield was quickly expelled, replaced by some of the most gruesome, violent, unsettling imagery we’ve ever seen on the show. There was genius placement of a one-take shot amidst this carnage, which put me into the scene as much as Kit Harrington. This is what I’d imagine a pitched battle to look like — chaotic, disorienting — and despite Jon being a skilled warrior, you could tell that he only survived through some degree of luck.
These scenes were successful beyond their visual achievement, though, in that although much of the battle was predictable, the stakes couldn’t have felt any higher. I didn’t think for a second that Jon was going to die being trampled by his own men, but the scenes were so violent and unrelenting that I didn’t care that I knew he was going to survive — I just wanted him to get the hell somewhere safer.
All this being said, I would have appreciated a less predictable ending than Littlefinger’s army' rescuing the Northerners. It was hardly the most surprising of Game of Thrones' signature mid-battle twists.
Coming Of Age
Although Littlefinger's arrival was predictable, his Hail Mary reinforced this as a crucial episode for Sansa who sent for his help several episodes ago. She’s not a naive, wannabe princess anymore — she understands the game and how to play it. This is exemplified in her excellent scene with Jon before the battle when she admits to him that Rickon will not survive the conflict. Sansa is not the idealist she once was.
She’s not the innocent girl she once was, either. “Battle of the Bastards” closed with a satisfyingly twisted scene between she and Ramsay, in which Sansa confronts him only to watch as his hounds eat him alive. (Talk about poetic justice.) I appreciated the dialogue in this scene. Ramsay’s talk about his loyal hounds could be interpreted as a metaphor for Sansa and what people become when pushed to the edge.
Just as starvation caused the hounds to turn against their master, desperation forced Sansa to become something greater than she was – truly a force to be reckoned with.
It was a nice finishing touch on an episode that highlighted just how far Sansa has come since the series began.
Fire And Blood... And Lots Of Fire
Daenerys shared a similar plot to Sansa this season in that her development was very subtle, yet pronounced. At first I was frustrated by the redundancy of Dany returning to Vaes Dothrak – we’ve seen her kidnap armies before – but her conquer of the Dothraki horde established the context needed for Dany to figure out what type of ruler she wants to be. It was satisfying to finally see what the "big picture" was for Dany this season.
It was even more satisfying to see the VFX team flexing its muscles this week. The Astapori siege of Meereen fit right into this action-heavy episode, delivering breathtaking scenes of Dany being a dragon-riding badass. Just another Sunday for Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name.
And finally, the Greyjoy/Targaryen meet-and-greet was another fun addition to the growing list of this season’s returns, reunions, and resurrections (although, I'm going to say it... HOW DID THEY GET THERE SO FAST?!). What was most satisfying about this scene, though, was that it marks Dany's first impact on Westeros. As a viewer, we’ve waited so long to see Dany have an impact on the Seven Kingdoms… and after six years, she finally has. That was a reward in and of itself.
“Battle of the Bastards” was more than just a visual accomplishment — it delivered great character moments for both Sansa and Dany, gave us two notable deaths, and brought the War in the North to its ultimate conclusion. With, presumably, two more seasons left in the series, it’s almost time for all of these characters to fall into place for the conflicts barring the end of Game of Thrones.
Check out the promo for the Season 6 finale below. Additionally, you can read about why I think THAT book character is about to make an appearance next week.