The promise of the episode “The Battle of The Bastards” was delivered upon. This was a very traditional penultimate episode of a Game of Thrones season as the major event that the season was leading to, the titular “bastards battle”, occurred and we can expect the season finale to feature the fallout from that event and, of course, give us a couple of cliffhangers. This was also the most satisfying episode of a not-particularly-satisfying season.
The episode starts with a different battle; Dany has returned to Meereen to find the city under siege by the forces of the Great Masters. It all plays out in fairly typical Daenerys Stormborn-fashion, with Dany giving asking the skeptical Great Masters an opportunity to surrender before taking her dragons out for ride and easily defeating the Great Masters. This battle was less about any danger to Dany’s cause an more about her establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with, which we have already seen her do twice this season. More interesting is the arrival of Theon and Yara to Meereen, a fun interaction in which Tyrion throws some serious shade at Theon and Yara takes the opportunity to flirt with Dany. This combination of characters seems likely to yield more fun scenes down the road.
Then it’s time for the main event. This was an action-heavy episode so there really aren’t many thematic elements to discuss. The battle played out in predictable but very satisfying fashion and it was really, really cool. This was especially gorgeous episode of Game of Thrones from a photography-wise with the tracking shot of Jon wading through the battle, kicking ass and narrowly avoiding death, standing out. Game of Thrones has always been good at battles but, if memory serves, this is the best so far, the violence is messy, tangible, and impactful.
Of course, there were some deaths. What was surprising to me was not which characters died but how few of them died. “Nobody’s favorite Stark,” Rickon had to die, Sansa tells us as much. Still, when he dies, shot from long distance by Ramsey in a masterfully shot and edited sequence, it is still surprising and brutal, made all the more gut-wrenching by the volleys of arrows burying themselves in his corpse. It was a pleasant surprise that neither Davos nor Tormund was killed, I was sure at least one of them would; the most dangerous position any Game of Thrones character can be in is “beloved but inessential,” just ask Pip and Grenn. Wun Wun, that not-so-gentle giant was not as lucky, but that was to be expected, he was a big target. Most important is that finally, finally, Ramsey Bolton is dead. It is the rare Game of Thrones occurrence when a wronged character is allowed to avenge themselves upon the person who has wronged them and so, when Sansa feeds Ramsey to his own hounds (after he has been pretty thoroughly tuned-up by Jon), the sense of catharsis is palpable.
If the episode addressed one of this season’s thematic throughlines it is in Sansa taking her rightful place. She is now, what they would call in Westeros, a woman grown; the Sansa of seasons one and two would not be able to watch dogs devour her enemies and, more importantly, she would not so flatly accept that her younger brother is doomed. Sansa is now, in effect as well as title, the Lady of Winterfell. Watching those direwolf banners unfurl on the walls of Winterfell was singularly cathartic. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long before getting some more of that.
WEEK 9 POWER RANKINGS
1. Dany and Tyrion: She’s got her shit together. The Great Masters are defeated, she’s got her dragons and Dothraki on lock and now she has a small fleet of ships gifted to her by Yara and Theon. She’s strong and getting stronger. Looks like Tyrion can enjoy the ride for a bit.
2. The High Sparrow: No appearance this week we can assume he’s still holding the reins in King’s Landing.
3. The Starks: Yes, Rickon is dead but… Meh, it’s just Rickon. Sansa and Jon are home and still in command of a significant military force if Littlefinger sticks around. I’m sure Bran is fine, wherever he is.
4. Euron: He didn’t pop up this week and doesn’t seem likely to return this season, but he is still King of the Iron Islands.
5. Littlefinger: He’s just proved himself valuable to some people who just became very important again. He’s right where he wants to be with powerful people owing him a favor.
6. Stannis’ Old Crew: Looks like it will be the last week for these two as a team, Davos has just discovered the nature of Princess Shireen’s death and will want Melisandre to answer for it. However, the are victorious for now.
7. The Young Greyjoys: Things seem likely to turn around for Yara and Theon now that they’ve hitched their collective wagon to Danaerys’ star and given the “Mother of Dragons” the ships that she’s always wanted.
8. Margaery: No appearance this week. Look for Margaery to make a move next week when her brother Loras is on trial. For now she’s lying low.
9. Jaime and Cersei: Last week Jaime got a win when he took Riverrun for the Freys, but he seems unhappy. Cersei is as low as she’s ever been with her trial coming up and no “trial by combat” option.
10. Sandor Clegane: Don’t know what’s going on with him. As far as we known he is still with the Brotherhood Without Banners, off to do some good in the World. I’d like to see him get back in the game.
Not listed: Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, of course. Sam is likely still on the run with Gilly and Little Sam in tow.