REVIEW: Game of Thrones 6.09 ‘Battle of the Bastards’ is the show’s best ever episode
Please be aware this review contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season six, episode nine ‘Battle of the Bastards’, which first aired in the UK last night at 2am. If you are waiting for the 9pm repeat, please click back.
How fitting it was that ‘Battle of the Bastards’, like Tywin’s murder before it, fell on Father’s Day in the US. Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton are two very different men, almost the antitheses of each other, yet they both arose from humble positions to stand at the forefront of an army bearing their father’s name.
For a significant portion of season six, Game of Thrones has felt like an unfulfilled promise. Jon’s resurrection was simple. Arya really was stupid enough to wander around Braavos alone. ‘Battle of the Bastards’ sought to rectify some unimaginative writing decisions with sheer cinematic brilliance. It worked. Fans will be talking about this battle until the end of the Game of Thrones‘ run and probably beyond.
The Battle of the Bastards has been anticipated in the show from the moment Sansa asked Jon to take back the Stark ancestral home. For fans, it has been since Jon was resurrected from the dead – or maybe even since Ramsay claimed Winterfell from the grasp of Theon and the Iron Islanders. It was only fitting that the scene we have been waiting for for so long – the first sign of the return to power of the long-suffering Stark family – was a spectacle to behold.
Tactics can be argued later. While Jon’s falling for Ramsay’s emotional manipulation was disastrous, Ramsay’s choice to undermine his cavalry with his own archers was also foolish. What the show gave us was the thundering sense of occasion, a harrowing depiction of the powerlessness of one person, the claustrophobia of the battlefield and growing sense of dread as we find Jon – and ourselves – surrounded by enemies. There were some beautiful camera shots throughout the battle, including one with Jon alone and facing Ramsay’s oncoming cavalry, another a chaotic sequence that followed Jon on foot as the battle blazed around him.
The battle itself was a mash-up of Hollywood’s finest – there was some Gladiator, some 300, Saving Private Ryan and a very obvious throwback to Lord of the Rings. Perhaps taking so much inspiration from others was unoriginal, lazy choreography – but then again, those scenes are the best of the bunch for a reason.
A much-welcomed theme to this episode was strong women. It was Sansa, not Jon, who proved the coolest Stark under pressure. She understood that Ramsay would manipulate Jon and she could not sway her brother. She held back her only card until Ramsay’s mind games had played out, and ensured a certain victory. Ladies and Gentlemen, Sansa has reached her final evolution.
Daenerys was about as happy as one can imagine about the state of Meereen, and yet she listened to a brave Tyrion about not becoming her murderous father. She did not burn the Masters and their cities to the ground, but she did set an example while preserving the oncoming fleet of ships for her own purposes.
The scenes in Meereen weren’t quite as spectacular as the North, but the entrance of Theon and Yara to offer Dany ships in exchange for allegiance is the moment of plot progression many fans will be thankful for. When Dany meets Yara, the chemistry is immediate. These are two female, kick-ass leaders who won’t take the hand they’ve been dealt by men. They will make their own rules and forge their own paths. And I honestly didn’t know how much I would like to see a Dany and Yara pairing on the show until now.
For so long on Game of Thrones, we’ve watched our heroes fall beneath the heels of terrible men. In ‘Battle of the Bastards’ we finally saw a turning of the tides in the direction we have yearned for – in a spectacular fashion that outlines perfectly why Game of Thrones is the sensation it is. The long journey is not yet over, and there will be many more bumps in the road, but there can be no more doubts it will continue to be exhilarating.