It’s Game of Thrones. It’s episode 9. It’s called ‘Battle of the Bastards’. I think it was safe to assume that this week’s episode was going to be epic to say the least and it certainly did not disappoint. The episode starts, rather surprisingly, not in Winterfell but in Meereen, where Daenerys has returned to see her city under attack by the Masters. No longer satisfied with diplomacy, Daenerys finally puts those dragons to work, and reclaims the city. After being hidden away for so many episodes it is such a treat to finally see all the dragons in action again as they deliver an unexpected but spectacular opening to the episode. With the threat of the masters eliminated, their ships captured, an army of Dothraki in tow and an alliance with the Greyjoy’s settled it seems Daenerys position has never been stronger. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jon and the Starks back in the North. Despite, being hopelessly outnumbered and the warnings from Sansa about underestimating the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, Jon is determined as ever to save Rickon and reclaim his family’s home.
From the very start the scale and scope of the episode is so much greater than anything we have seen in the series. The ‘battle’ episodes are always particularly special because they show off the quality of the show’s production. Watching the episode it’s easy to forget that this is a television production not a film production. What’s impressive is the structure and pacing of the episode. Despite only having an hour to fit in this epic battle, the story and the scenes never feel rushed or cluttered. The audience is not immediately launched into action. The writing takes time to build tension and anticipation through the encounter between Jon, Sansa and Ramsay outside of Winterfell and the conflict between Jon and Sansa over their battle strategy. However, when it does come to the action, the battle itself is outstanding. The filming, the action sequences and the special effects are unlike anything seen on TV before. The battle is brutal, gruesome and horrific. There was a particular moment when Jon forces were surrounded by the Bolton’s, where the claustrophobia and barbaric violence of the scene was so intense it became difficult to watch. It is an assault on the senses where the fighting and the violence is never depicted as heroic or glorious, but ruthless and shocking. Moreover, no matter how many battle sequences Game of Thrones does each one always feels different. The battle of Blackwater, the battle on wall and the battle of the bastards each show the horror of war but in different ways. There is no repetition, the sequences are always unique and original making the action more impressive.
Admittedly, aspects of the episode were predictable. For example, Jon being saved from the brink of defeat by the sudden appearance of Littlefinger and his army was a predictable ending to the battle. And the death of Rickon was to be expected (wouldn’t be like Game of Thrones to pass up the opportunity to kill off a Stark). However, the way in which Rickon was killed off right in front of Jon’s eyes was so awful that it was overall still a shocking death. It also gave us a final reason (as if we needed anymore) to want to see Ramsay dead as soon as possible.
Ultimately, the episode was a success as it gave the audience what they wanted, a satisfying ending. Sansa gets to watch Ramsay, the man who tortured and tormented her, savagely murder by his own dogs and we can safely say the bastard got what was coming to him. Ever since the death of Robb and Catelyn, there has been this saying “the North remembers” which has always sounded rather hollow as there has never been a sense of vengeance or justice. Finally in this episode the Starks and the North have got their revenge. Episode 9 has been the push that this series has needed to show that the plot is gathering momentum and going somewhere. ‘Battle of the Bastards’ is by far the best episode of the series and hopefully the standard for more episodes to come.