In typical Game of Thrones fashion, episode nine delivered a big battle that obliterates one enemy and complicates things for the victor. The “Battle of the Bastards” was a Pyrrhic win for Jon Snow, Sansa and the Freefolk…and for me, too, because the episode’s MVP, the giant Wun Wun, is dead. That makes two magical races who seem to have gone extinct this season: Giants and The Children. (Even Hodor, who was rumored to have giant’s blood, is gone.)
Rickon also died, as expected, but even Sansa knew that he was doomed. As for me, I was rooting for Wun Wun to pull through to the bitter end, but instead he was taken out by a final cheap shot from Ramsay Bolton, which was all part of one of the most contrived scenes of the episode (immediately after the most realistic battle of the series). So let’s talk about that in this penultimate Cocktails &
Nitpicks Spoilers of Game of Thrones, Season 6, starting with the second half:
Winterfell is Won, thanks to Wun Wun (and The Vale)
I am glad that (at least around me) people have stopped overusing the term “epic,” because that was truly an epic battle. In a few spots, the camera draws back and spins into montaged quick cuts of gore that pull one out of the action and into mere confusion, but overall the battle was incredibly well filmed and choreographed, complicated and believable, even in the stratagems that Ramsay used (and for which Jon Snow and his forces were ill prepared). I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a more gripping depiction of medieval battle on television…perhaps on film. Beyond verisimilitude, it didn’t glorify battle and killing, but captured its chaos and misery. Hats off to the whole Game of Thrones crew.
Of course, they couldn’t resist a good deus ex machina to ratchet up the suspense further, and things start to slip toward the end. At the peak of the battle, the Stark forces would have been crushed between the Bolton infantry (and a pile of bodies) without a last minute save from The Vale, brought by Littlefinger. Their appearance was no surprise (nor was the writers’ choice to make the timing so miraculously last minute). Ramsay retreats, but Wun Wun uses the last of his strength to bash through the gates of Winterfell and end a siege before it can start. Still reeling from the intensity of the preceding battle, audiences might overlook how slapdash and contrived the showdown was…but I can’t be the only nitpicker here.
One can say that it’s pure luck (or the will of the Lord of Light) that saved Jon, Tormund and any other survivors from multiple storms of Bolton arrows during the main battle, but it’s pure laziness from the writers that save Jon and Tormund when they burst in alongside Wun Wun to face a cohort of archers in the bailey of Winterfell. It’s pure sentimentality that gives us a scene where Jon and Tormund are facing the dying Wun Wun, oblivious to the surroundings, and the sadist Ramsay chooses to put an arrow through the eye of Wun Wun (and not Snow). It’s pure theatricality when Ramsay is not immediately filled full of arrows by a line of Wildling archers who have also stormed in. Ramsay instead has time to give a speech challenging Snow to one-on-one combat. And of course it’s pure, silly machismo when Snow accepts (in a way) by dropping the sword, grabbing a shield, and charging Ramsay so he can beat his face in with his bare hands.
The most unthinkable part, however, is that Sansa is suddenly standing to Jon’s left while he’s still slugging Ramsay. The battle is still active, the enemy is on the ropes and she’s a huge target. She’s not even mounted, but standing placidly just feet away from Jon, where less than a minute before men were still charging through to secure the keep. There are contrivances that make good television, that still allow one to stick the landing…and then there are plot holes through which one falls on the dismount. This was the latter.
But Sansa Had To Be There At The End
Sansa didn’t have to be there physically for Jon to realize that Ramsay was hers to finish, not his, but the writers sacrificed sense for pacing. I was speculating early on that a woman would be the one to end Ramsay (RIP Osha), as the show (and its audience) loves a poetic execution. I didn’t suppose it would be Sansa, but we all wanted it to be, I think. This is primal, Hammurabi’s code stuff.
She even used his own weapon of choice: the hounds he intentionally starved for a week. How more fitting an end could there be to the most loathsome villain in a show full of villains? Ramsas’s perfidious father, Roose Bolton, said it best…right before Ramsay knifed him in the way Roose had knifed his former master, Robb Stark: “If you acquire a reputation as a mad dog, you’ll be treated as a mad dog—taken out back and slaughtered for pig feed.”
Ramsay actually ends up treated as mad doggy chow, but close enough. The important part is, Sansa gets to pronounce not just his physical death, but the damnatio memoriae that will follow it, though he insists that he’s a part of her now. Meanwhile, no trace of him will be left after the dogs’ dung has turned white and blown away. She watches as the pooches tear him apart. A smirk forms on her face as she walks away, one that shows she is at least satisfied…but it also proves Ramsay’s sadism has indeed seeped into her to some degree. There is even a question of whether or not she is pregnant with his child, something I started to suspect when she spoke to Littlefinger about feeling what he did to her inside her body. If she is carrying his child and all trace of him should be wiped away, what she will do with it? The way she has kept secrets from Jon (and her bald pronouncement that no one can protect anyone) suggests that she is as consumed with self-interest as ever and yet still conflicted. She has matured, and not entirely in admirable ways, but she’s earned that vengeful smirk.
That smirk won’t last long: One of the most self-interested worms in the series, Littlefinger, is back in the picture. He’s more powerful than before, and he’s been wanting to bed her since she was married to Joffrey (possibly earlier), as she was a proxy for her mother, and his true love, Catelyn Stark. In a show that’s full of incest, I’ve somehow always been even more repulsed by the old pimp’s avuncular advances on Sansa, and I was happy that he was so absent this season. Now, with The Vale under his control (through the idiot proxy of Robin Arryn), he is in a position to make demands again, and he can pursue the Catelyn proxy that her sister Lysa Arryn never could be—a point he made clear right before pushing the latter through the Moon Door.
Did you know that cruel, poetic justice is the leading cause of death for nobles in Westeros? Talk to your Maester today and see if exile is right for you.
Speaking of exiles…
Dany’s Reign Has Just Begun
That’s what she tells the Slave Masters right before she and Drogon go off to blast their hapless fleet. Hearing that mama and bro is back in town, Viserion and Rhaegal even bust out of their lair and join the fun.
Meanwhile, Tyrion addresses the Masters with a perfectly apt line: “It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it… Other people dying?” He’s far better at digging into people’s motives than telling jokes. Thank R’hllor he’s back to asking the tough, acerbic questions.
The audience has to account for this, too. I know I’m not the only one watching who abhors violence. After the events in Orlando last week, watching violence on screen last Sunday was especially bitter. (Fortunately it was a lame bottle episode so the violence was minimal.) But again, audiences love to see a sort of violent justice doled out to those who know no other way. When the crews of the ships that have been raining death on Meereen from afar are blasted by dragon fire, its turning the tables. When the Sons of the Harpy, slaughtering unarmed civilians at the gates of the city, are mowed down by the Second Sons and the Dothraki Horde, it’s payback. And when Grey Worm slits the throats of the two masters who just sold out their “low-born” companion, saying it is he who deserves to die, it’s Solomonic justice in action.
But one thinks of Ray, the hapless priest who was slaughtered because he would not do violence. One thinks of other pacifistic figures who have been ground to meal by the avarice of those who delight in using deadly force. Where is the balance and where is real justice? The world of Game of Thrones (and ours) is a long way from having those answers, and the utter rout of the Masters by Daenerys is enjoyable only because it symbolizes a turning tide toward an ideal…which remains a bit abstract, given how vengeful we know Targaryens can be, but…
Dany x Yara is a Thing
Daenerys actually listens to Tyrion when he cautions against annihilation as a means of showing power. When they meet with Theon and Yara Greyjoy after the battle, it is Dany herself who says, “Our fathers were evil men… They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.” She wants to break the wheel of petty conquerors tilting at each other and crushing everyone beneath them in the process. She even demands that the Ironborn give up their raping, reaving and roving in exchange for their own sovereignty. No more R&R&R. Yara accedes reluctantly (and let’s be honest…she can’t snap her fingers and bring an end to that nonsense on a whim).
They are building a more matriarchal future…something I’ve been wanting to see happen in this show all along and which was really starting to form even at the beginning of this season. It’s great that one of the most violent and callous shows ever produced is slowly turning into a full on assertion of matriarchal superiority.
And did you SEE the full on flirtation between Yara and Dany? DanYara is sooo happening…
Well, that’s probably going too far. I don’t think we’re actually gonna get queen on queen romance, but it’s fun to watch the chemistry unfold.
Next episode, however, Dany will be back to facing the reality of conquering Westeros: the manpower needed, the crossing of the sea, the endgame of unification (or something else). There will also be the Red Church‘s zeal to temper, but the season finale will clearly be dealing more with the Faith of the Seven back in King’s Landing.
I’ve already presented my list of people I fully expect to die: King Tommen Baratheon, The High Sparrow and most of his militants, Loris Tyrell, Kevan and Lancel Lannister, Pycell, and probably Ser Strong. I anticipated more of a battle scenario, but that seems unlikely now. A fan theory was relayed to me a week ago that Cersei‘s talk of a certain rumor with Qyburn was in connection with the stockpiles of Dragonfire beneath the Great Sept. It seemed more likely to me at first that the rumor was in relation to Tyrion, his whereabouts and his alliance with Daenerys.
But after this week and the conversation Tyrion and Daenerys have about those very stockpiles, we seem to be set up for a massive explosion that will wipe out the Sept and Cersei’s foes in one fell swoop. I have a feeling Ser Strong/The Mountain will be the one who detonates it…but it will be Tyrion who is framed for the deed. It was he who knew about the stockpiles, he who used it in the Battle of Blackwater against Stannis Baratheon‘s fleet, he who poisoned the king and murdered his father to become the most infamous dwarf in Westeros, he who is now in league with the enemy Dragon Queen herself (daughter of the Mad King), who called for the city’s incineration before Jaime Lannister ran him through and became the Oathbreaker, and it was even he, Tyrion, who has partnered with the Red Church to spread the fiery gospel of Daenerys as the chosen of R’hllor.
One could not conceive of a greater patsy. A regicidal heretic with a penchant for nuking his enemies? Of course he would obliterate the Sept and the Crown in one fiery burst, just as they become more unified. And of course he’s just devious enough to do it while across the sea.
Perhaps this will be Jaime’s chance to assert why he broke his oath, which will help unify people behind Cersei and him again if they are the last royals standing. What I don’t know is where Margaery Tyrell fits in all this. For her sake, I hope she declines to attend her brother’s kangaroo court. She’s powerless to intervene at this point and she probably doesn’t want to see his wretchedness. You can take my Wun Wun, but don’t take Madge or I swear I won’t watch another episode for at least nine months! I mean it.
Wait a minute… :\