During a typical “Game of Thrones” season, the second-last episode features a major battle or a shocking event that affects the political dynamics of Westeros. Fortunately, “Battle of the Bastards” succeeds in doing both of those things. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the penultimate episode is one of the series’ most bloodiest to date.
“Battle of the Bastards” begins with a long-awaited scene in which two favourite characters get to converse. Daenarys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) watch as the Slaver fleet attacks Mereen from the sea. Tyrion tells her that the conflict is needed to destroy the slave trade. Daenarys plans to restore the city to its inhabitants. As the Masters and Dothroki fight, Dany and her dragons take to the skies. The end result is spectacular to behold, especially how Benioff and Weiss have been building up to it for six seasons. Special credit must be given to the VFX team, because the final result is akin to WETA’s work on Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy.
Daenarys and Tyrion meet with Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Tyrion, in particular, toys with Theon and recalls how the younger man once mocked him for being a dwarf. Theon and Yara explain they want to take back control of the Iron Islands from their uncle, Euron Greyly. Yara pledges a hundred ships to support Tyrion and Daenarys’ campaign. Dany states they are going to leave the world better than how they found it. She demands they will support her claim to the Iron Throne and cease all pillaging.
Elsewhere, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) meet Ramsay Bolton and a detachment of his troops. Ramsay demands Jon surrender and declare him Warden of the North, insisting that he has no chance of winning. Jon offers to challenge him one-on-one. Ramsay asks if they are willing to give up their brother Rickon (Art Parkinson) by fighting for Winterfell. Sansa states there is no proof that he is telling the truth, but Ramsay responds by producing the head of Shaggydog. A furious Sansa tells him that he will die tomorrow.
Later, Jon, Sansa and Davos debate what course of action they should take. Tormund is worried about Ramsay’s horses, but Jon is confident they have a chance of winning. Davos reasons they should let Bolton’s forces charge at their army, so they can surround them on three sides. When Davos and his advisers leave, Sansa tells Jon he does not know the way Ramsay thinks, arguing she has insight into how he toys with people. Frustrated, Jon asks how they can rescue Rickon, to which she says they cannot. Technically, as Sansa explains, Rickon is Ned Stark’s legitimate-born son and therefore a greater threat to Ramsay. Jon is angry that they don’t have enough soldiers to retake Winterfell. Before leaving, Sansa states, “If Ramsay wins, I’m not going back there alive,” and her brother vows to never let Ramsay hurt her again.
Jon confides in Melisandre and orders her not to bring him back if he is killed in battle. She responds by saying she does not have the power to revive people but cannot explain how she brought him back. When Jon asks how this is possible, Melisandre explains the resurrection happened because the Lord of Light intended it to be. Meanwhile, Davos and Tormund talk about Stannis’ military strategy. Davos feels the people of Westeros made a mistake believing in kings, but Tormund counters by saying Jon is not a monarch. When asked how he prepares for a battle, Davos explains he likes to walk at night. As he walks through the snow, he comes upon a funeral pyre and Shireen’s wooden deer.
At the battlefield, Jon and the Wildling army watches as Ramsay’s forces stand ready to fight. Ramsay drags Rickon on a rope and turns him loose. He orders the boy to run towards Jon. As Rickon races to the other side, Jon rides to rescue his brother, but Ramsay begins firing arrows at him. Tragically, Jon is too late, as one of the arrows fatally pierces Rickon’s chest.
As Jon’s forces surge forward, Ramsay’s archers launch their arrows. Davos and his men finally head into battle as the Wildlings are surrounded on three sides. What follows is a bloody, intense sequence with heavy casualties. Sapochnik’s direction of the action feels akin to the combat scenes in “Braveheart” and “Saving Private Ryan”. It looks as though Ramsay has won the fight, but Littlefinger and Sansa ride to the rescue with an army.
Ramsay heads back to Winterfell, convinced that his forces will win the battle. He is stunned when the giant Wun Wun breaks down the gate before dying. Jon arrives to confront Ramsay, who decides to challenge him man-to-man and shoots arrows at him. However, Jon defends himself and savagely beats Ramsay to a bloody pulp.
As the Stark forces enter Winterfell, Jon orders Rickon to be buried in the family crypt next to their father. Sansa demands to see Ramsay, who is now locked in the dungeon. She coldly tells him all memory of the House of Bolton will disappear and that he is left with his dogs, whom he neglected to feed for days. Ramsay is torn to pieces by the hounds, and Sansa leaves with a smile on her face.
The episode delivers on spectacle and intensity. “Game Of Thrones” show runners David Benioff and D.B Weiss certainly know how to balance plot, characters, and action. Clarke and Dinklage have fine chemistry in their scenes, and this will make for an interesting seventh season. Harington proves himself to be a solid actor in projecting Jon’s strategic planning, heartbreak and desperation. Turner shows a darker side of Sansa’s personality, especially in her last scene with Ramsay.
Rickon’s fate is not as dramatic as it should have been, because the character has never received much focus. It begs the question of whether he was necessary to begin with. As the youngest Stark child, Rickon was featured in the background of the first season, but he did have substantially more material in the second and third seasons. Despite this, he never received much character growth. Nor did Parkinson receive any dialogue in his brief appearances this season. Ironically, the viewer is more likely to feel sadness for Wun Wun, who went out in a blaze of glory.
Now, all that remains is the final episode of Season Six. “The Winds of Winter” will arrive in one week. Will the Wall come down? Is Cersei going to burn down King’s Landing? Will the “R + L= J” theory be proven correct?