Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik.
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Iwan Rheon & many more.
When you want to turn heads and get a viewer by the gut, the instinctual feel of what horrors and heroes humans can truly be, always go real. What that means is, forget the huge CG crowds and sweeping shots…
Get crushed in the press of bodies, taste the blood, wipe the watery trodden dirt from your face, fight for each precipice of rattling breath. You will be there with Jon Snow and his allies.
In brief, this week’s episode could have suffered from focusing solely on Jon and Daenerys, but this truly was no ordinary episode. While some may be calling it the best episode of GoT hands down, viewer opinions follow that every season has a few extraordinary moments that stand up as the highest points. Who could forget the now-legendary Red Wedding in ‘The Rains of Castamere’*, or the seat-gripping thrill of Jon battling the White Walker’s army of the dead in ‘Hardhome’?**
Despite putting general Twitter exultations in context, it cannot be denied that the heroic theme of Season Six has truly reached an apex here.
Daenerys wastes little time in resolving many loose ends, from the triumphant appearance of Dothraki forces, Theon and Yara Greyjoy’s vying to outmaneuver Euron… and of course the Master’s naval siege of Meereen. All these matters could seem like easy wins compared to the constant difficulty these characters and peoples have so far endured at the hands of their enemies and Messrs Benioff and Weiss.
However, the grand sweep of the Dragon sequences set up from her arrival in the previous episode carries great weight, as we get a brutal perspective from the victims of Daenerys’ ire. Along with Greyworm and Tyrion’s delicious handling of the Masters, the whole thing could have been quite cheesy and too simple a resolution to war, but it does demonstrate the world-changing power that comes from possessing even one dragon, let alone three.
The reason for the brisk time given over to Meereen becomes clear in the later portion of this episode, and was very obviously the right choice.
By the Seven, it is damned electric.
The tension built before the battle between Jon Snow with his largely Wildling army and Ramsay Bolton’s soldiers from Winterfell is great, if a bit on the nose. It is forgivable to set up these tensions in a straightforward way, as Jon’s purpose and mortality is teased again to frame the stakes, Sansa’s pleading with him making sure we’re reminded of just how hateful and dangerous Ramsay is.
The parameters for the battle had to be crystal clear, so they are fully absorbed once things are kicked off by a short chase sequence involving Rickon Stark, Sansa’s brother (last seen in ‘The Rains of Castamere’* and very briefly in ‘Oathbreaker’***).
Never before has the chaos of a medieval battlefield been so richly and thrillingly realised, as we stand our ground with Jon Snow and barely breathe for 30 minutes, truly believing he may die at any moment. Horses with mounted swordsmen smash and batter our heroes as they hack wildly, arrows rain on them, a veritable mountain of bodies creates a gruesome barrier, and a particularly vicious phalanx of shielded spearmen threaten to crush many while stabbing outliers one by one. You can practically smell the battlefield. Each one of these situations is mired in the horror of ancient warfare, with some incredible sequences making it hard to determine who is alive or being buried among the fallen.
The conclusion is all the more satisfying and emotional for what has been lost, and gained, during every season before returning to Winterfell. Everyone from Davos, to Tormund and especially the giant Wun Wun get their chance to shine and be impactful. It will be incredibly hard to up the ante for the final episode, as Jamie still has yet to return to Kings Landing, where the young King Tommen is still yet to make sweeping changes to the city urged by the High Sparrow, while Cersei and the undead Mountain seem powerless to affect the outcome. How can the stakes be raised, or the show brutalise it’s characters more with such a short time left to tell the tale?
HBO is rumoured to have put this episode up for Emmy consideration, based on the battle scenes alone. After watching the incredible work on display from everyone, it seems crazy that they might not have done. It may or may not be the finest Game of Thrones episode, but you’ll never forget it.
I give ‘Battle of the Bastards’ FIVE hungry hounds out of Five.
*Season 3, Episode 9.
**Season 5, Episode 8.
*** Season 6, Episode 3.