Brutal, visceral and suffocating, it’s time for the final showdown between Jon and Ramsey…
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO’s programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing the epic Battle of the Bastards.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven…
Battle Of The Bastard is the final ninth episode of Game of Thrones, the ninth episode of any season was defined as a season game changer that affects the course of the show moving forward. And this is one hell of an episode, bringing to a head two key storylines in spectacular fashion.
Daenerys’s arrival at Mereen brings the slaver’s bay rebellion to a head; the episode opens with the dramatic siege of the city and Tyrion desperately trying to appease his queen with news that he has established peace and prosperity, something the nobles of Astapor and Yunkai cannot stand for. While his words ring true, it is Daenerys’ actions that speak louder as she takes to the skies riding Drogon, while her two remaining dragons, free of captivity, join her in battle.
It’s a thrilling, breathless sequence; we saw some of Drogon unleashed in last season’s The Dance of Dragons, but the sight of all three dragons working together to breathe fire and destruction upon the enemy fleet is something audiences had been waiting for since Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion were born way back in season one finale Fire And Blood. Combined with the triumphant arrival of the Dothraki, the defeat of the slavers is an astonishing feat of action and thrills that finally pays off on four seasons of storytelling.
And as bizarre as it might have been to see Tyrion and Daenerys finally cross paths last season, the appearance of Theon and Yara in her throne room is anther strange encounter, their offer of a fleet in exchange for the Iron Island’s freedom, giving her the mean by which she can transport her mighty armies to Westeros in the finale. There’s was also a bit of female bonding going on between Daenerys and Yara, amusing too Yara’s suggestion of something more. The only downer on this scene is that it appears mid-way through Jon’s story, making for a somewhat jarring breakaway mid episode. It would have been served just as well to have Yara and Theon arrive in the moment of Daenerys’s triumph.
The bulk of the episode is the build up and brutal follow through on the long-awaited conflict between the ‘bastards’ Jon and Ramsey. It begins with the stand-off between the two, Sansa and Davos in the foothills surrounding Winterfell. Ramsey is suitably villainous, threatening vile bloodshed and hinting at the terrible things he will do to Sansa when he has her back in his grasp. Sansa, a cold, more hardened woman since her experiences last season, is something new to what we have seen before, her innocence replaced with a hard shell. Jon’s plan of a duel with Ramsey to spare the lives of others is a great moment, calling out Ramsey’s cowardice in front of his men.
The ensuing battle is one of the most brutal, gripping action sequences the show has ever committed to screen. Ramsey playing his game with Rickon is particularly gruelling, sending him back to Jon and then cutting him down with an arrow just as he reaches his brother. Lured into the open, the charge of the Bolton knights is a real hold your breath moment, met with the charge of the remaining Northern and wildling troops in a bone-crunching, violent clash of forces.
While there are elements of the battle that are Lord Of The Rings in style – the eventual arrive and charge of the Knights of the Vale is pure ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’ it is also much more visceral than what audiences will have been used to. The violence is grim and horrifying, the shot of Jon suffocating amid the pile of corpses is so intense, you feel as if you are really there in the heart of battle. Lord of the Rings may have had an intense but romanticised view of war, but this is closer to the reality of what medieval warfare must have really been like. It’s certainly not easy viewing but it is amazingly done.
From the Bolton troops with their shields and spears closing in and cutting through the surrounded troops, to the eat biting, bloody battle between Tormund and Smalljon Umber, there are so many moments where it really feels as if there heroes might loose. Game of Thrones has shown that good doesn’t often triumph against evil and the likelihood that Ramsey will be victorious adds a real sense of desperation to the whole event. Sansa and Littlefinger arriving with the Knights of the Vale is the triumphant turning of the tables Jon – and indeed the audience – are so desperately looking for.
As for Ramsey himself, the fight to the very gates of Winterfell is the brutal, thrilling epilogue to the grim, violent battle. While Ramsey holds firm that the castle will hold, giant Wun Wun smashing the gates is another satisfying event, even if he does finally die in a hail of arrows. Ramsey gets to play the villain one last time, taking out the giant with a final strike to the head, before Jon – rather satisfying – smashes his face with his fists, letting loose the pent up rage that had been held within all season. It feels as much a cathartic release of his own trauma of his murder and resurrection as it is putting an end to a villain that has caused him, Sansa and his people so much pain and suffering.
Ramsey’s final death, tied to a chair and devoured by his ravenous hounds, is the perfect moment of poetic justice. It’s as violent a death as he deserves, as satisfying as it was to see Joffrey choke to death on poison in TheThe Lion And The Rose. The fact that Sansa watches his death speaks to her own trauma at his hands and the realisation that perhaps some of his darkness has wormed his way inside her. It’s that darkness that will only grow next season.
Battle of the Bastards is a brutal, visceral masterpiece that draws the audience into the suffocating heart of the battle. It’s not easy viewing but it is as intense and jaw-dropping as anything Game of Thrones has done. Couple with Daenerys’s grand spectacle of a defeat of the slavers, this is a momentous episode that pays off on years worth of storytelling and delivers a satisfying end to one of the show’s greatest villains in the show’s history.
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