You should know this by know but full spoilers will follow (also, I need to write something above the line)
It’s episode 9, and we all know what that means…
For this week’s review I’m going to forego our usual format because there wasn’t much jumping around this week as the episode focussed on the conflicts at Meereen and Winterfell.
To my surprise, we opened in Meereen with the Slavers assaulting the city. Tyrion is visibly worried about the assault whereas Daenerys has a demonic calmness about her. She knows she has the power to destroy the slavers and burn their cities to the ground. But when she suggests this as her course of action Tyrion, rightly so, warns her against becoming her mad father. Thankfully, Daenerys heeds his warning and manages to stop herself going full Targaryen. Never go full Targaryen. I’m almost beginning to think it’s a genuine worry that Dany might actually go insane. She seems to take a lot of joy out of conquering places and burning things. She’s certainly a lot better at conquering than ruling. Anyway, the slavers are offered a parle by Dany at Tyrion’s advice and Dany gives them the chance to surrender. When they refuse Dany takes no time to unleash her dragons in a display of power, forcing the slavers into surrender. That’s them dealt with then.
A side note, maybe, but when did Dany learn to control these dragons? They’ve been locked up for however long because they killed a child and now she can suddenly control them in battle. Seems a bit of a leap to me. There’s been no consequence to her locking them away underground.
In a matter of no time (seriously, the time space continuum has no place in Westeros) some more people in boats turn up. This time though, it’s Theon and Yara, offering to make a pact with the Dragon Queen. They offer their ships and support for Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne and in return they want the Iron Islands. Seems fair enough. I like how Dany saw much of herself in Yara, there was clearly a huge amount of respect between the two women. They both have mad fathers. They are both vying to be the first women to wear their respective crowns. It was good to see Dany be much more diplomatic in this scene, even turning to Tyrion for advice, despite his slip up with the slavers. It was also good of her to acknowledge her father’s monstrous deeds and state that she’s determined to leave the world a better place. Might want to be careful with those dragons, then. Could we get Dany in Westeros by the end of the season? Guaranteed last shot of the season. You heard it here first.
Over to the main even then…as if three dragons destroying a fleet of ships and a horde of Dothraki charging on the gates of the Meereen wasn’t enough. The Battle of the Bastards, BastardBowl. Whatever a bowl is. Jon v Ramsay. The fight for Winterfell and the North. It’s great to see Sansa with a voice of her own, telling Jon early on that she knows Ramsay better than anyone and that Ramsay won’t fall into any trap that Jon sets. She knows he’s too clever. Sansa tells Jon they should never have marched on Winterfell with too few men but, stubbornly, Jon says he’s fought worse and survived against greater odds. Sansa has learnt from her time with Littlefinger and Ramsay. She’s calculating and rational. She understands that not everything will work out OK if you just try hard enough. She’s been this whiney spoiled lady for so long, it’s interesting to see her with a sense of realism and scepticism. This was really highlighted, for me, by the way she was so resigned to Rickon’s fate. She knew Ramsay wouldn’t let him go. She knew there was no chance of his survival. And she accepted that. I didn’t.
While the conflict and the clash of philosophies between Jon and Sansa was really interesting, Sansa’s character has become so much more compelling recently, the real battle was yet to come. Lets get into it then.
Firstly, this is the best action set piece I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s incredible. The scene where Jon charges in to Ramsay’s army with a ‘For Frodo’/ Leeroy Jenkins moment was just fantastic and the choreography and camera work as Jon fought his way through Ramsay’s ranks was stunning. It’s such an impressive feat for a TV show, even taking into consideration the considerable budget of Game of Thrones. The use of sound, or lack of, builds the tension and sets the pace expertly. We’ve had a huge episode 9 every season so far but this one takes it to a whole new level.
Ramsay, obviously, has to taunt Jon before the battle. He brings out Rickon on a lead, like a dog (what is it with that guy and his dogs?) to be paraded in front of his army. The way he lets Rickon run towards Jon, giving him, Jon, and us, a glimpse of hope before impaling him with an arrow was sickeningly cruel but typical Ramsay. For a second, I thought he might make it. Sansa was right. Ramsay, while often displaying an aura of chaos, is always in charge of the situation. He knows how to manipulate people. And he’s done Jon a treat here. Jon rashly charges into Ramsay’s trap.
The battle goes south for Jon as Ramsay’s cavalry charges in and his infantry traps Jon, Tormund, Davos and co. with their shield wall formation, picking them off, one by one. All hope looks lost. The show does an incredible job here of showing war for what it really is. It’s not elegant or honourable. It’s exhausting, claustrophobic, gruesome. This is emphasised most when Jon is trapped in the crush, suffocating beneath the pile of bodies. Despite the fact we know Jon isn’t going to die again, it was a terrifying moment, brilliantly shot as to capture the pure panic of being trapped at the bottom of the crush, unable to breathe. By pure will power Jon escapes, but his army is penned in. Then we hear horns in the distance. The Knights of the Vale have arrived in another Lord of the Rings-esque moment. Sansa and Littlefinger bring up the rear of the company, looking very pleased with themselves. Sansa especially, she’s just beaten Ramsay. I’m not sure why she didn’t tell Jon about the Vale though. Seems like something the commander of your army should know prior to going into battle. But what do I know? Has she used Jon and his army as bait, to draw Ramsay out so she can take down his army? Just a thought, maybe she’s becoming as ruthless as Littlefinger.
Sansa’s, what can only be described as, execution of Ramsay was so brutal and really quite unpleasant to watch. It’s never pleasant to see characters who are supposed to be the good guys descend to the levels of the characters we’re supposed to hate. Saying that, it was good to see Ramsay get a taste of his own medicine. I was convinced a direwolf was going to be Ramsay’s downfall but it’s fitting that Ramsay’s own dogs, the very dogs he starved for a week, proved to be his demise. It’s the sweet taste of irony that does it.
Often annoying, Sansa has never been my favourite character on the show but she’s grown on me recently and you can’t say she didn’t deserve a win after 6 seasons of pure hell. It was a great feeling to see those Stark banners hanging from the Winterfell ramparts again.
While this was clearly a huge moment for the Starks, the big question is…what happens now? Do they take on the Crown? Do they reinforce to defend against the threat from beyond the wall? Can they trust Littlefinger? You might recall last season him swearing fealty to the Lannisters if they make him Warden of the North. I’ve genuinely no idea what drives that guy. Is Sansa now the Lady of Winterfell? or is it Jon who is Lord?
AWESOME. The sheer production value and spectacle of the battle of the bastards alone makes this episode stand out, even among the episode 9 cohort. Add to that the long awaited Stark resurgence, and you’re on to probably one of the best Game of Thrones we’ve ever had.