This post discusses “Battle of the Bastards,” episode 9 of season 6 of “Game of Thrones.” Check out Variety’s recap of the episode.
I haven’t read up on all of the “Game of Thrones” fan theories out there — it might be the one Internet rabbit hole I haven’t fallen down. So I don’t know what fans are positing as the endgame of the story, and please, don’t tell me. Really, don’t tweet at me about the prediction you’re absolutely sure is going to come true — I’d rather be surprised by what transpires as the series launches into its home stretch. I’ve read the first three books in the “Song of Ice and Fire” saga, but I’m glad that the show has gone past George R.R. Martin’s tomes, because whether we’ve read the books or not, at this point, the entire audience is getting surprised left and right.
At least, it should be. The biggest problem with the spectacle of the “Battle of the Bastards” is that it all more or less went the way I expected it to. (Except Wun Wun died. RIP Wun Wun, you were done done too soon.)
A lot of the predictability of the episode can be laid at the feet of Jon Snow — who is handsome, brave, and not the sharpest sword in the weapons locker. Let me be frank: Jon Snow should never rule anything, ever. If him sitting atop the Iron Throne and ruling Westeros is a fan theory or any kind of endgame scenario, may I submit my reaction to that: Nope.
Now, I don’t despise Jon Snow as I may despise a certain orange-hued loudmouth on the American political scene. I actually think he means well, and he has a good heart. And yet, I have good reason to launch the hashtag #NeverSnow.
Of course, I admired Miguel Sapochnik’s direction of the battle for Winterfell (though one of my takeaways was, serving as a Ye Olden Knight’s horse was not even a little bit fun. The Bastard’s Battle was a terrible day for horseflesh). But I couldn’t truly enjoy it to its fullest extent. All that blood was shed because Jon did exactly what Sansa warned him against — he fell into a trap set by Ramsay. Yes, the action was exciting and terrifying and gave you a great sense of what it was like to be inside a grinding, seemingly endless battle.
And yet, throughout the whole thing, in my mind, I was yelling at Jon. The more printable version of my rant goes something like this: “You nitwit, before the battle, you told Ramsay that the two of you could settle this without needlessly killing many men — but thanks to your rashness, that’s exactly what transpired! You knew that it was likely that Rickon would die, and that the awful Ramsay would bait you in some horrible, sadistic way. And yet you fell for it. Why literally pile hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bodies on top of Rickon’s corpse for no reason? If the plan was to let Ramsay’s army come to you, let Ramsay’s army come to you! Don’t diverge from the plan that would save lives simply because he got to you and you’re angry!”
Sansa warned Jon, who knew of Ramsay’s sick reputation anyway, and yet he made the worst possible decisions regardless of all of that. The Ned Stark is strong in this one. As Laura Prudom noted in Variety’s recap of the episode, “Despite Sansa’s warnings that Ramsay wouldn’t play by the rules of any game Jon might be familiar with, our noble bastard has the same shortcomings as Ned Stark; he fights with honor against opponents who are all too willing to use that predictable morality against him.” Yep.
The predictability of Jon falling for the smirking Ramsay’s tricks marred the episode; it doesn’t help that we knew why Jon reacted that way. His actions did not seem necessary; they were selfish and resulted in the sacrifice of lives that his forces could ill afford to lose. A leader needs to see the big picture and act accordingly, and his failure to act in a cool, intelligent way in that battle means he’s clearly not ready for the bigtime, leadership-wise. He’s not ready to play a role on the national stage, that’s for sure.
I hoped against hope that Jon had kept some men in reserve. Wouldn’t it have been incredibly clever of him to appear to fall for Ramsay’s trick, but then have a group of soldiers lying in wait for the Bolton forces, ready to strike at a key moment?
It was a bit of a letdown that Sansa swooped in and saved the day via Littlefinger’s army, another move that went exactly as expected. None of us believed that note she sent off on a raven was a memo to her dressmaker about what frocks to whip up. Littlefinger’s forces arrived in the nick of time, but there was nothing surprising and thus triumphant about that. (As my husband dryly noted, “Here comes Gandalf and his army, right on time.”)
The fact that it was so mechanically set up and so widely expected drained the moment of much of its impact. This is also a narrative that pulls out the deus ex machina a fair bit — Sansa saving the day this week is not unlike Daenerys arriving in Meereen last week, with her dragons ex machina, if you will.
I’ve enjoyed this season (which I’ve written about here, here, here and here), in part because it’s brought together so many memorable “Thrones” folks in scenes that amused me, thrilled me or just showed how good the writers can be at creating resonant and incisive character moments. Now that we have so much investment in a number of the characters, to see them make tough decisions, meet up with each other again and come together in new combinations is fascinating at best and highly watchable in otherwise variable episodes.
I would give most of my gold to see Pod and Bronn star in a road-trip buddy comedy; any time Brienne shares the screen with anyone (especially Jaime) it’s pure gold; and if you have not sworn allegiance to the tiny but ferocious Lady Mormont, what are you even doing with your life? Her resting angryface in Sunday’s episode is classic Lady Mormont:
It’s very obvious by this point that the narrative has made a huge overall turn from “Game of Thrones’” early seasons, and now the female characters and their points of view are getting a lot more screen time. The women are basically over it. They are often more fierce, more ruthless and more committed to their agendas than the men, which reflects their experiences of being ground under the bootheels of various patriarchal cultures.
Yara Greyjoy struck a canny deal with Dany (and worked some delicious flirtation into the negotiation — well played, Yara). But what kind of leader will Yara be when no one in her kingdom will be able to steal and reave anymore? It’s the basis of their economy, after all. And is Dany necessarily a good potential (and actual) ruler, given that her idea of governing consists of the sentence, “I have dragons, your argument is invalid.”
I hope that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t go the route of patronizing women by positing them as the generally more intelligent and rational gender. Neither gender has a monopoly on stupidity or wisdom. Perhaps the ultimate message is that no one person holds the key to good governing — Dany only works as a ruler with Tyrion by her side, Jon would have been better off taking Sansa more seriously, Yara is a brave leader but she might do well to keep the newly humbled Theon by her side, etc. As Laura Prudom noted, the Stark siblings helped each other; each one took on the task best suited to him or her: “Sansa’s presence prevented Jon from surrendering his own humanity in his quest for vengeance against Ramsay, and in return, he was able to give her the opportunity to find some semblance of closure by taking back her agency and determining Ramsay’s fate.”
I hope all the potential leaders of both genders remain flawed, complicated and interestingly contradictory. Ramsay wasn’t a good character because he was boringly, predictably smug and I’m glad he’s dead. The citizens of Westeros should realize that the new king in the North, or the Stark/Snow in the North, or the Bastard of Winterfell or whatever they’re going to call him, should probably just stay inside that castle, listen to his sister, and more or less leave it at that.
That probably won’t happen, but I do know one thing: Jon Snow should not sit on the Iron Throne. Westeros could use some fresh blood in Kings Landing: I’m all for Lady Mormont taking the highest office in the land. The people of Westeros could do worse.
Check out Variety’s coverage of “Game of Thrones.”