Snark Tank; Recap
Game of Thrones 6.9: The Battle of the Bastards
Subtitle: tfw you find your happy ending but then remember this is Game of Thrones and start preparing for heartbreak
We’ve reached the penultimate episode of the season and I feel safe saying this season outpaces the last one in terms of quality. It started slow (remember when I could barely find something to care about in episode three?) but Jon’s return got things going and they haven’t really stopped since. The battle alluded to in the title (and throughout the season) takes up most of this episode but we also get to see Dany’s latest beat down of the Slavers and the best ever alliance form.
We start in Mereen, the city under attack and Dany ready to burn a bitch and call it a day. Last episode Daenerys stormborned into a full room — Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm and a group of Unsullied bodyguards — but this episode starts with her and Tyrion alone. I imagine she sent everyone else out (because they wouldn’t have left otherwise), but I’m curious why. If she wanted to berate or punish him, it would be more effective in public. She has held private strategy sessions in the past, with Jorah or Barristan or even Daario, but this doesn’t play that way, at least at first. It plays as a directorial choice rather than a story choice — this scene is between just them because it’s what authors want, not the characters. And what the authors want is based on what they think the audience wants, and possibly that they aren’t sure how to write that scene with an in show audience. Would Tyrion speak so candidly if the others were there? Would Daenerys listen to him? None of this matters. But it distracted me.
Tyrion convinces Daenerys to treat with the Masters, which allows her to make a big show with her dragons and her ever expanding armies, without burning everything to the ground. Daario and the Dothraki ride over the Sons of the Harpies on the beach while Daenerys and all three dragons burn up one unlucky slaver ship. The slavers have no idea how to hit a flying target, and then the ship is burning, and everyone stops trying because THREE FIRE BREATHING DRAGONS. Grey Worm tells the slave-soldiers they can fight for the Masters or leave and they choose wisely. Tyrion explains his Queen now owns the fleet and one Master needs to die for breaking the treaty he made with them. The lowest born is pushed forward but, of course, Grey Worm kills the ones begging his death and allows the one begging for his life to live to tell the story of the time they went up against the Dragon Queen and she destroyed them without breaking a sweat.
Next Daenerys welcomes the Greyjoy sibs to her pyramid throne room. Again, I’m confused why Missandei, at least, is not in this scene? Varys is also nowhere to be found, leading me to worry he’s meeting with Euron while they meet with Yara. I worry because this alliance, this scene, is everything I want and I know the series likes to set me up for heartbreak.
Yara has 100 ships to add to Daenerys’ arsenal and unlike her gross king-and-kin-slaying uncle, all she wants for it is Dany’s support in the fight against her gross king-and-kin-slaying uncle. Added to the slavers fleet she just aquired, those 100 ships are enough to get Team Dragon to Westeros. This plan is attractive to Daenerys for a few reasons: she’d be backing another woman conqueror. She won’t have to marry, or even pretend to plan to marry, Euron or anyone else (though Yara’s open to the idea). Dany, Yara & Theon, and Tyrion all bond over having terrible fathers who screwed up the world for them — which is probably why Missandei, Grey Worm, Varys don’t get to be there, they wouldn’t fit the narrative. And honestly, Daenerys is not known for her patience and she has been trying to march on Westeros and get her crown back from the beginning. It’s finally within her grasp and she is not gonna sit around waiting for another man.
So Dany gets 100 ships and a woman on her side, and the Greyjoys get a promise to think about giving them their kingdom back. I do expect the series to end with the seven kingdoms split up and I would LOVE it to end with more than one queen in power. But, again, I more expect heartbreak. Yara and Dany flirt wildly for a court session which is also almost guaranteed to end in heartbreak. If we actually get them in bed together I will expect Yara to die in the next scene. Or the same one.
Meanwhile in Winterfell, we also start with a negotiation of terms. Jon suggests a duel between himself and Ramsay to decide the fate of the keep and the North and Ramsay suggests Jon give up and leave. Ramsay has more men, more ground, and little brother Rickon in his dungeon. He tosses out Shaggydog’s severed head to prove it and we all weep again. Sansa ends the ‘negotiation’ with a promise Ramsay will be dead tomorrow and exits stage left like a boss.
Unfortunately, Ramsay does have more men, more ground, and as Sansa tries to tell her brother, Rickon is a tool to get Jon to screw up his own strategy. The scene between Sansa and Jon plays very much like the scenes between Catelyn and Robb in season two. Jon knows things about war and Sansa knows things about people, and specifically Ramsay, but neither are able to communicate that knowledge to the other. Sansa can’t translate her feelings into battle strategy and though she says straight out Rickon can’t be saved and suggests he will be used against Jon, Jon is Jon and can’t accept it. He knows as well as Sansa knows, and as well as the audience knows, that Rickon is DEAD as soon as Ramsay drags him onto the battlefield but none of us want to accept it.
Sansa tells Jon Ramsay likes to play games. The very best thing Jon could have done for Rickon was stay with his men, forcing Ramsay to wait until the shot was much harder to make or kill the kid ‘early’. But of course he doesn’t. He’s Jon, the most Gryffindor Gryffindor you know.
So Rickon dies, Jon throws his careful plan away in a rage, Tormund and Davos are forced to follow and Ramsay is able to surround them the way Jon said they couldn’t, because they’d be expecting it, because it’s the best way to win. Lucky for Jon, he has a couple Slytherins, and a giant, on his side. And he’s fighting someone with exactly zero care for anyone other than himself and anything other than his ambition. Ramsay does not care that his rain of arrows kills as many on Team Bolton as they do Team Stark. And when Sansa’s secret army of Arryns, courtesy of Littlefinger, shows up to save the day, Ramsay retreats to the castle, inviting the fight into his door. Wun Wun, the last of the giants, dies — but he dies within the walls of Winterfell after single handedly taking down the gate so it’s a good death. Tormund, amazingly, survives. He almost died at least three times but instead bites the ear off Umber which, gross, but, yay. I’d been hoping that the Brienne flirtation indicated he’d survive but I didn’t expect it.
Jon wins the moment Ramsay retreats. Ramsay kills with dogs and arrows and armies. He knows how to hurt people, Theon and Sansa can attest, but he doesn’t know how to fight man to man. He tries to take Jon out with an arrow the way he did Rickon but Jon is too close, and advancing, and unafraid, so he blocks the arrows, knocks Ramsay to the ground and starts to pummel his face. Ramsay grins, because of course he does, but Jon stops at the appearance of Sansa who wants to finish Ramsay off herself. Lord Bolton is tied to a chair inside a caged room and Sansa sets his dogs on him. Ramsay had starved them in advance of setting them against his own captives, Jon in his best imaginings I’m sure, and they don’t listen to his order to sit or stop. It’s an incredibly poetic end for the baddest bad guy this series has given us — he is eaten by his own cruelty.
Two things directly tie the Mereen plot to the Winterfell plot, beyond the battles themselves. The first is Rickon Stark. Tyrion taunts Theon with his actions at Winterfell — killing the Stark boys — and he explains he didn’t, though he did things as terrible. Then Ramsay really does kill the Stark boy. The second is women appearing to have more power than they actually do. Dany rejects a marriage proposal before it is even made because the Greyjoys tell her Euron would only be marrying her to get her throne, he’d kill her and take it as soon as she had his son. Likewise Sansa explains Rickon is more of a threat to Ramsay inheriting the North than Jon the bastard or Sansa the girl ever could be. Women have babies which give men power. Moreover, Dany, Sansa, and Yara all make power moves — but Sansa explicitly needs Petyr to make hers, Dany explicitly asks for Tyrion’s guidance in making her alliance, and while Yara can and does get things done without Theon, he’s her best support. These three women are empowered but they are not yet in power, and it’s all incredibly precarious, and tainted by Teh Men.
Davos finds the stag toy he gave Shireen in a pile of logs he recognizes as the ones Melisandre likes to set up to burn people alive and things are gonna go down.
Speaking of Melisandre, you’d think bringing Jon back from the dead would have ended her crisis of confidence, but since she can’t explain why it worked, it has not. Or maybe she’s feeling guilty about being back where she burned a little girl to death for nothing. Whichever, she was super not helpful, but as that means she also didn’t burn anyone alive, it’s probably for the best.
But she did get in a little smile when House Stark won. Which was a lot like this little smile:
And then Sansa also smiled, both when the Arryn Army attacked and when she walked away from the dogs devouring Ramsay. And I’ve seen some people decide that all means Sansa is the new villain but a) Mel’s never been a villain, she’s a fanatic; b) Petyr is also not really a villain, he’s generally been more of a plot device, but even ignoring that he’s more like a Varys; and c) what did Sansa even do that is so villainous? She killed Ramsay the way he has killed many, many people. She killed her rapist, who also murdered her brother, and whose family conspired to murder her other brother and her mother. It is her RIGHT to kill Ramsay in this society — please see Ned Stark explaining what happens to people who break the law, Season One Episode One basically the first scene of the entire series. And yes death by dog is cruel but. Like. Daenerys burned up all the khals for insulting her and that was awesome but Sansa taking some small pleasure in Ramsay’s death and destruction makes her a villain and/or evil? Even Jon, easily the most “heroic” character in this mess just beat a man within an inch of his life with his bare hands. This is not a story about heroes and villains. Sansa is a fighter and a survivor and today she’s a winner and she gets to celebrate, the end.
P.S. Am I not supposed to ship Jon and Sansa because. . .
P.P.S. WHERE IS GHOST?!
Winning: Team Dragon, Yara Greyjoy, House Stark, Petyr Baelish
Dead: 2 of 3 Masters, Rickon Stark, Wun Wun, Ramsay Bolton (PARTY!)