Monday, June 20, 2016

Games of Thrones Recap: Battle of the Bastards

George R.R. Martin has famously and consistently said that he expects the ending of his series A Song of Ice and Fire to be bittersweet. He has, at least in part, shared what he expects that ending to be with Weiss and Benioff, the creators of HBO's A Game of Thrones. There's no way of knowing if this was derived from something that Martin said (unless Weiss and Benioff confirm it) but I think tonight's episode had some of that aforementioned bittersweet feeling. There were crowd pleasing scenes that were long in coming but there were also some bitterly dashed hopes. More on that in a minute. As is typical with the penultimate episode of this series Sunday's night's episode was very tightly focused. Everything took place in two locations-The North/Winterfell and Meereen. This recap will be a little shorter than normal but that does not reflect the intensity nor the scope of what took place. In Meereen, Tyrion is playing the part of every bumbling middle manager trying to explain to the enraged CEO that things aren't really as bad as they seem and by the way it's not really his fault anyway. Have you ever had to do that at your job? It's not a fun thing to do. Imagine if the CEO has a penchant for feeding failures to dragons. That might tend to make her underlings stay focused. And like a typical big boss, Daenerys is unimpressed with Tyrion's excuses or explanations. She straightforwardly says she will destroy her enemies and burn them all. Tyrion thinks that this might be a good time to channel his inner Tom Hagen and tell her "You've won Mike!! Do you have to kill everybody?". Well it's not that exactly but Tyrion does remind his queen of her insane father and his predilection for burning things and people. The Mad King had hidden caches of wildfire all throughout King's Landing. Tyrion is worried that this love of fire is apparently a genetic tendency. He suggests an alternate plan. Apparently listening to her height challenged adviser, Daenerys meets with representatives of the slavers.

But the slavers are smelling themselves. They want Daenerys to leave without her army and without Grey Worm or Missandei, who will be sold back into slavery. And they will kill her dragons. Daenerys finds this amusing as evidently these mental midgets haven't been watching the previous episodes to see what happens to men who underestimate Daenerys or condescend to her. Daenerys thinks something went wrong in translation as the surrender which was supposed to be under discussion was that of the slavers, not hers. Oh well. These things happen. Perhaps it's time for another reminder of just what dragons can do. Daenerys summons and mounts Drogon. Then with the other two dragons she burns a good portion of the attacking fleet. Not all of it, because she intends to take the ships for her own. The Dothraki and the Second Sons attack the Sons of the Harpy and wipe them out. Grey Worm suggests that the slave soldiers serving the slavers run away, which they do. Grey Worm then kills the two slavers who offered up their comrade in sacrifice to Daenerys' command that someone had to die for the breaking of the treaty. The surviving slaver is urged to return home and let everyone know just how Daenerys gets down. Shortly after this the Greyjoy Siblings arrive in Meereen. Tyrion reminds Theon of all the height jokes Theon made when they saw each other at Winterfell. Tyrion didn't really appreciate those. He takes a short tone with Theon. Tyrion has had it up to here with snarky comments about his height. Tyrion is a little surprised to see Theon now, He's heard about Theon's presumed murder of Bran and Rickon but apparently not about Theon's torture and castration at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Yara and Daenerys are each intrigued by the other's seizing and wielding of power in a world that normally restricts leadership roles to men. Daenerys also seems to appreciate that Yara speaks plainly and doesn't back down from her. And is Yara looking at Daenerys in that way? And does Daenerys like that look? Hmm. Yara and Theon point out that even though Euron can probably offer a bigger navy, he will demand marriage to Daenerys and likely kill her soon afterwards. After some squabbling and bonding over their fathers' misdeeds Daenerys agrees to support Yara as Queen of the Iron Islands. But independence is off the table and no more reaving in the Seven Kingdoms. A deal is made.

In the North there is the required pre-battle meeting between the good guys and the bad guys. You can't have a showdown without one of those. Everyone knows that. Ten year old bada$$ Lyanna Mormont is there with her trademark scowl along with Davos, Tormund, Sansa and Jon. Ramsay, Karstark and Smalljon are also there. Smalljon again gives proof in the form of Shaggydog's severed head that they have Rickon. Ramsay is in a charming mood and promises that if everyone kneels and acclaims him as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North they will get to live. He knows he outnumbers them at least 3:1 so battle is a bad idea. Finally he brings up the uncomfortable fact that from the outside it looks like Jon deserted the Night's Watch. Jon and Sansa are unperturbed. Jon challenges Ramsay to single combat which Ramsay declines. Sansa tells Ramsay that he will die and rides off. Ramsay talks about what he's going to do to Sansa once he has her back. This ends the meeting. That night as Jon and his council discuss strategy and battle tactics Jon shows that he apparently has been reading ancient Carthaginian history during the long nights at Castle Black. Jon intends to fight a seemingly defensive battle, draw Ramsay's troops in and then surround them with a double envelopment move. It's the strategy which the Carthaginian general Hannibal used when he annihilated the Roman army at Cannae. To blunt the effectiveness of Ramsay's cavalry, which greatly worries Tormund, Jon has had his men dig trenches to prevent the horsemen from flanking them. It's a good plan, but Sansa is unimpressed. In fact she's downright hostile to her big brother, saying that he doesn't know Ramsay. Ramsay is not stupid whatever else he may be. And Sansa also thinks that Rickon is already as good as dead no matter what happens. As the last known living legitimate son of Ned Stark, Rickon has better claim to Winterfell than a bastard (Jon) or a woman(Sansa). Ramsay won't allow that claim to exist. 

Showing a flash of temper Jon points out that he wasn't exactly sitting on his behind during the past five seasons. He's been in situations that Sansa couldn't possibly imagine so perhaps she should take that bass out of her voice when she speaks to him. But Sansa won't back down. Likely choking back another smart comment Jon asks Sansa what her advice is. Sansa responds that she doesn't know war but she knows Ramsay. Jon should not do what Ramsay wants. Jon can't hide his displeasure at such an obvious statement. The siblings also start up again about their lack of manpower but Jon says it is what it is. Sansa says she's not going back to Ramsay alive no matter what. Jon is crestfallen and says he will protect her. Sansa snorts at that. Davos can't ever sleep before a battle. He and Tormund talk for a while about being wrong about the kings they followed. Davos walks throughout the night. At dawn he finds the burned stag toy which he gave to Shireen. Jon goes to see Melisandre to see what advice she has. She's in her normal low cut gown watching the fires. For a moment I thought she was going to suggest that she and Jon make a shadow baby but no dice. Melisandre's advice is not to lose which again is something that is so freaking obvious that it irritates Jon. He orders Melisandre not to bring him back if he should die but she refuses that order. This leads into a short discussion about army command, free will and God's plan which ends up with Melisandre saying that the Lord of Light is the god that we have, which is an echo of Jon's statement to Sansa that their small army is the army that they have. Melisandre seems a bit depressed.
The following morning it's time to ante up and kick in. Ramsay has burned men hanging on his x crosses. He also has Rickon Stark on a rope. After ostentatiously displaying a knife to Rickon's throat and making Jon gasp, Ramsay cuts Rickon's bonds and orders him to run to his brother Jon. Rickon starts to run but apparently Ramsay has been watching the Mel Gibson movie Apocalypto, which contained a similar scene. Ramsay shoots a few arrows at Rickon but misses. Jon starts to ride to his brother. Rickon tries to run a little faster. Ramsay misses again. You get the feeling that the first few times he wasn't trying. Jon gets closer. Rickon unfortunately has not seen the movie Apocalypto and is not zig zagging during his run. Also unlike fan favorites Arya Stark or Daenerys, Rickon Stark lacks plot armor. Just as Jon is about to sweep up baby brother and ride back to safety Ramsay shoots Rickon right through the heart. He's dead. Dead. Throwing aside caution and his plan Jon charges the Bolton lines. Battle is joined despite Davos cursing that this is not the plan. Jon is soon dismounted. Chaos ensues. The Stark forces are getting the worst of it. As Sansa said, they don't have the numbers. Ramsay stays out of the fighting , ordering regular archery barrages on everyone, under the theory that he can afford to lose a few men while the other side can't. This battle is one of the best choreographed battles I've seen on television. That said though it still irritated me that Jon wasn't wearing a helmet. Obviously it's tv but (Theon not withstanding) if there's one body part you want to protect in battle it's your head. Although it's dispensed with in this battle, good armor works. So people usually try to hit you where your armor is weaker or non-existent. They also try to hit you where serious damage is immediately fatal, like your head. A commander, or anyone with any resources or sense, would not be running around a battlefield without a helmet. The North in general and wildings in particular have fewer resources than the South so maybe that's the explanation. But I guess you have to have Jon without a helmet so we can see him kick all the a$$ he's kicking and look good doing it. Still.

OK all that aside Davos leads the reserve into battle when it looks like Jon and company are in some serious trouble. This helps for a minute but there's just too many enemies. Jon falls and spends some very harrowing moments on the ground trying not to get trampled. Everyone is packed so close now that it's hard to breathe. Jon nearly suffocates. Did I mention how good the camerawork was here. It's like you were there.The Bolton infantry has surrounded Jon's forces on three sides and is slowly advancing in a shieldwall formation, stabbing out with pikes and spears. This is devastating to the mostly unarmored wildlings. On the fourth side there's a pile of corpses over which the Umbers are attacking Jon's army. Wun-Wun the giant tries to break the shield wall but even a giant can only take so many stabs. Tormund and SmallJon Umber go head up. Tormund walks away. The Smalljon does not. Davos is handling his business. Jon has finally resurfaced. They might be able to cut their way out of the trap via the back way but it's unlikely. Wun-Wun has reached his limit. Mother of mercy is this the end of Jon? No it's not. There are horns heard. The Knights of the Vale have arrived in the nick of time. They cut apart the Bolton forces. Littlefinger sits smirking right next to Sansa of course. What better place to be if you're Littlefinger? Ramsay rides back to Winterfell, pursued by Jon, Tormund and some surviving wildlings and Wun-Wun. Ramsay thinks that he can hold Winterfell but Wun-Wun, dying on his feet, breaks down the gate. He's probably dead anyway but Ramsay being the precise sadist he is, shoots Wun-Wun in the eye killing him. Seeing that Jon is bloody and wounded Rasmay agrees that now would be a good time for single combat and tries to shoot Jon. Jon picks up a shield to protect himself and closes with Ramsay. Jon beats the s*** out of Ramsay with his bare hands. He only stops when he sees Sansa watching him. Later on the Stark forces throw out the Bolton banners. Melisandre is there. Jon gives orders that Rickon be buried in the crypts. Sansa asks Jon where Ramsay is. Apparently Sansa has some plans for Ramsay. Some time has passed. 

Ramsay wakes up tied and chained in the kennels. Sansa tells Ramsay that he has lost everything. His house and name will be forgotten. Ramsay tries to get in a parting shot by telling Sansa she can't kill him because he's part of her now. Sansa says does Ramsay remember that he boasted to everyone that he had starved his hounds to make them extra vicious against his enemies. Well look where you are now fool! The kennels! Finally discomfited, Ramsay notices his hounds skulking around. He tries the good boy bit but as Sansa has indicated, the dogs want meat. They are starving. They get closer and closer and rip Ramsay apart. He dies screaming. 

What I liked

  • Were Ramsay's final words confirmation that Sansa is pregnant? "I'm part of you now" certainly made me think that she was. It could explain a few other things as well.
  • Obviously that Ramsay is no more. Who let the dogs out? 
  • Excellent battle scenes.

What I didn't like

  • Rickon's death. It made sense that Ramsay would never let him go, however. We can get rid of all that speculation that Smalljon Umber was a double agent or that ShaggyDog was actually alive. I wonder if Rickon's death is going to happen in the books? Kid loses his mother, father, brother, has his house burned down, his wolf killed and then dies pointlessly. Seems unfair.
  • The squabbling between Jon and Sansa. I also don't like that with Rickon's death Jon and Sansa may have different ideas about who should be the Stark in Winterfell. And with Littlefinger in the mix that won't end well.
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