Thoughts on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 6 Episode 9, “Battle of the Bastards”

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Well, the penultimate episode of the season is here, so let’s take a look. (Apologies for the lateness of the post, but had a nasty case of food poisoning last night…) Thoughts below the cut to avoid spoilers, as per usual:

The North:

  • Well, turns out that the spoilers posted on r/asoiaf were completely true after all. Yeesh.
  • The parlay scene wasn’t bad – I actually kind of liked Jon Snow’s offer to fight in single combat. As for the planning scene, I’ll get into the tactics in a bit but I liked Sansa pushing back at Jon for not listening to her about Ramsay. On the other hand, “don’t do what he wants you to do” sounds like the writers drawing a blank because they couldn’t do the reveal of the knights of the Vale yet. Which brings me to the whole issue with Sansa not revealing it – it seems to me that if you’re having an ongoing argument with your half-brother about why you shouldn’t fight now, why not mention that you’ve got 30,000 men coming, and if you just wait for a day or two, you’re going to outnumber the enemy, thus demonstrating your superior political and military sense?
  • Tormund and Davos was nice, if a bit on the nose (come, let us discuss the theme of leadership and loyalty together). Liked Melisandre and Jon too, got closer to ADWD’s version of Melisandre than we’ve had in a while.
  • The bit with Davos finding Shireen’s pyre was a bit too obviously heart-string-plucking. As was Rickon’s death, which is really blatantly Kicking the Dog in a situation where we’ve seen him kick the dog over and over again for three entire seasons. Thankfully, we’re done with Evil Genius Ramsay.
  • So let’s talk about tactics:
    • On the face of it, building trenches to prevent a mostly infantry force from being flanked is a good strategy to use against a cavalry-heavy enemy. And while it’s always better to have equal numbers, smaller armies have used the Cannae strategy Davos proposed to their advantage. So why did this all go to hell when the actual battle started?
    • I’ll just note for continuity’s sake, we don’t see any trenches on the flanks of Jon’s army when it came to the armies-drawn-up-in-formation scene.
    • Jon charging the front lines by himself is ridiculously dumb even for genre fare. He basically spends the entire battle as a common foot-soldier and never issues a single command. For all that the show claims to be undermining tropes, Idiot Heroes getting saved by Deus Ex Machina is as tropey as you get. Let’s have our heroes earn a victory or two by being smart, for once!
    • This becomes even more head-slapping when Jon’s solo ride turns into a general charge from Jon’s cavalry (that supposedly didn’t exist back when Jon was planning the battle), completely throwing the battle plan out the window. Davos charging with a few hundred archers is likewise completely pointless.
    • On the other hand, Ramsay does some pretty daft stuff too. If your enemy commander decides to charge you by himself, why bother sending your cavalry out to charge him when you can just pincushion him at your leisure while keeping your cavalry rested? Likewise, shooting into his own men may be a Bolton family tactic, but it’s profoundly stupid even when you have the larger numbers. If the Bolton cavalry was to be the main threat, why is it that the cavalry gets dealt with fairly handily, but it’s the infantry that nearly wipes them out.
    • I have a big problem with how Ramsay’s encirclement was shown in practice. Given that we’ve seen two cavalry charges into the middle of the field, the infantry have a long way to go before they actually get into position. But no one on the Northern side reacts to what’s going on or attempts a breakout? And if you’re going to have a giant phalanx encirclement, why do you put the Umbers in the middle except for a preference for friendly fire?
    • The giant wall of the dead looks quite cinematic, but it’s not going to happen with an open field battle like that, where people are clashing up and down the line. You only get that phenomenon when you have large bodies of men trying to take or defend a single bottleneck – hence “close up the wall with our English dead.” I did like Jon getting trampled by his own men, that part was quite realistic.
    • And has there ever been a Ride of the Rohirrim less surprising than the Knights of the Vale? I will say that the visuals of the cavalry rolling up the infantry flank looked really, really good.
  • While Sansa’s ironic revenge-by-way-of-hound is supposed to be a big moment of satisfaction, I kind of feel the same way about it I do about Dany torching the enemy fleet in Meereen – it’s a cool visual, but one that speaks to a muddled grasp of thematics. Are we meant to think Ramsay is right or that he’s wrong about being a part of Sansa? Even the writers don’t seem to know.
  • So what would I say overall? Well, the visuals were stunning, but it seems to me that the show has much of the same problem that many writers and directors have with the dramatics of heroics vs. the dramatics of military strategy – thinking that Jon’s solo charge or his arrow vs. shield duel is “cooler” than seeing someone have to think their way through a battle. While it was very cathartic to see the Stark banners flying over Winterfell, I can’t feel like we missed out on an opportunity here.
  • And as with Meereen, this struck me as a case of the writers preferring results > themes. Is Ramsay et al. going to get defeated outside of Winterfell? Yes. But Benioff and Weiss are perfectly willing to have Jon and Sansa do it instead of Stannis, or to kill Rickon just for a moment of shock (not actually going to happen, as Rickon is on Skagos when the battle happens).

Meereen:

  • As with last episode, I found the visuals of the naval conflict, the emphasis on the technology of warfare, quite impressive. Likewise the dragons were very impressive, you get a sense of what the Battle of the Gullet must have been like.
  • More wildfire shoutouts!
  • The themes here of war and peace, tyranny and moderation, etc. are very confused: Dany killing all the Masters would be wrong, so instead, killing two out of three is right? Burning cities to the ground is wrong, but burning fleets is right?
  • The conclusion of this plot also seems like a case of the show valuing results over themes. The Battle of Fire had to happen, so let’s have it happen even if it means that Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm have to spin their wheels for an entire season. Dany’s going to get the Greyjoy ships after the Battle of Fire, so let’s have that happen too, even if it means that entire plot goes down inside a single scene.
  • Dany and Yara  Asha were fun together, especially for the hitherto tiny Dany/Asha ship. Also, while I saw some people saying Dany would never agree to independence, I don’t think that’s what was on offer – after all, she said that Asha would have to respect the “integrity of the Seven Kingdoms.”
  • I think they actually made their job more difficult than it needed to be by not having the siege of Meereen start in Season 5 as it would have provided more motivation for Tyrion’s actions this season (he’s trying to keep the regime alive in dire circumstances), and the two-scene war would have evolved out of developed plots as opposed to coming out of nowhere. As it stands, Tyrion’s plotline comes across as a bit of a mandated failure (not that different to Brienne).
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91 thoughts on “Thoughts on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 6 Episode 9, “Battle of the Bastards”

  1. rewenzo says:

    I don’t think Daenerys actually burned the fleets – just a few ships to scare the Masters into surrendering. Tyrion later says they’ve commandeered the Masters’ navy for Dany.

    I think the Greyjoys did negotiate for independence. Which is why Tyrion asks: “we can’t give everyone independence.” I don’t think it’s a big loss for Dany because the Ironborn don’t really bring anything to the table, except their Navy which they never actually use on Westeros’ behalf except in the War of the Ninepenny Kings. The most valuable part of keeping the Iron Islands in the Seven Kingdoms is they’re not allowed to raid the Seven Kingdoms, which Asha already agreed to.

  2. rewenzo says:

    Sansa not revealing the secret army was for me such a huge plot hole that I found it hard to enjoy the battle. Either that, or Sansa was being a huge dick to Jon, the wildlings, Wun Wun (the last of their respective civilizations) just so she could have a meme.

  3. Winnief says:

    Good analysis as always Steve. I will say that it looks like Rickon’s never making it back from Skagos alive.

    Agree that Sansa not telling Jon about the Knights of the Vale was the most annoyingly contrived part of the whole thing.

    Also to be fair, Dany didn’t burn the *entire* fleet of the Masters-she simply burned enough ships to prove she *could* at which point its implied the rest surrendered. Tyrion himself said they were adding the Iron Born ships to the ones left behind by the Masters.

    And for the record letting the rank and file soldiers leave unharmed, (and leaving the cities in peace,) while killing off select leaders who violated the peace agreement you made with them actually struck me as fairly reasonable. If she had let all three of them go unharmed, they almost certainly would have tried to raise an army against her again-this way, though, the message is clear. Don’t Mess With the Mother of Dragons.

    Actually think the show *was* critiquing the drama of heroics vs. tactics by showing how hopeless Jon and the Wildling’s position *was* before the Knights of the Vale arrived. I think they meant it as a lesson in that Jon *did* fall for Ramsay’s trap and in the future he’s gotta play it smarter-and listen to Sansa more. (Even if Sansa was unsatisfyingly vague in that instance.)

    • No, I think Rickon’s making it back. It’s just that, as a five-year-old, he’s not going to do anything in ASOIAF, so they felt they could get away with killing him.

      Here’s the problem with Meereen – if that message stuff worked, then why didn’t it work when Dany had the 163 masters crucified? Or when Dany had that one master burnt and eaten alive?

  4. Winnief says:

    BTW, could the “Jon Snow’s no King,” anvil have been any heavier?!?

  5. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Sorry for the food poisoning, Steve. I hope you’re alright now.
    1. Tyrion seemed to imply that Meereen was becoming the new Braavos. I liked that as reason for the Slavers to attack so suddenly. And I guess a city under siege would not be believable as a developing economy.
    2. The timing of the dragons’ escape seemed odd.
    3. There was no “Martin told us” moment in the Inside the Episode, so that gives me hope for lil’Rickon.

    • Grant says:

      Problem for 1. is, if it’s meant to be economically the new Braavos, I can’t believe that a city going through a a semi-overthrow of the old ruling class, terrorism, political instability and attempted coups could possibly get that kind of success, let alone in what’s probably a year at the most.

      Now if it’s because the image of a free city where a slave one once stood is dangerous for the slavers, that would work just as well with Meereen under siege.

    • 1. Eh. One scene of a bustling market is way too short a shrift for that.

      3. Good point.

  6. djinn says:

    So i’m not the only one that spoted the misuse of Cannae(slow moving spear infantry are terrible for flanking) and Agincourt(bodies don’t pile up like that in open field battles) traits in this!
    Like the novels, B & W read descriptions about Cannae and Agincourt without really understanding what they’ve read.

    So here my theories about the Jon Snu and Mrs. Bolton disconnect:
    1 – Mrs. Bolton wants to rule the North, but Rickon, Jon, Ramsey and even Bran are in the way, so convincing Jon to fight Ramsey would likely cause retaliation on Rickon, but allowing Jon or Ramsey to be the victorious warleader would only strenghten his position, so enters the quiet sabotagge of Jon’s plans and advisers(Davos, Glover) and the provocation of Ramsey to fight in the open, making them both vulnerable to Mrs. Bolton & LF attack. It wasn’t a complete sucess since Jon survived, but with Brienne returning, the Hound & BWB coming to join and LF’s men, there are plenty of oportunities to ”resoolve” the Jon and Bran situations.
    2 – Mrs. Bolton doesn’t really understand military tatics but Ramsey is personally haunting for her and combine with her past experiences, she really doesn’t know who to trust, particularly among the male gender. So, she witthoulds important information and resources as she can.
    3 – Unfocused plotting and superficial writing don’t allow for more that checking cliche boxes for TV tropes
    I know which of these i would choose.

    It’s always fustrating the blatant dissmissal of resources, as in there someone in Jon side that can ressurect people or cast killer shadows, that believes that Jon is the Messiah(not Beric), but why use that?! Or Ghost!

    I do have two doubts: wan’t Euron the one that came upwith the notion of Iron Fleet? So how does Tyrion know about it? And when did Jaime told Tyrion about the wilfire? It had to be after Season 2, since Tyrion had no notion about it while he was Hand.

    • Brett says:

      1. That’s how I read it as well. I don’t think she was actively hoping that Jon would die, but she did want to save the day and was willing to let his forces bleed the Boltons and draw them out of Winterfell for her triumphant strike from behind. If Jon’s less of a potential rival claim for Winterfell afterwards, then all the better.

      Maybe he’ll leave again, heading out with just Ghost. Probably not – as Steven said in his post, the show-runners tend to favor “results” over “themes” and one of the “results” is that Jon will need to be at Winterfell – but it’d be cool.

      • rewenzo says:

        I have a hard time believing that Sansa saw Jon as a rival claimant to Winterfell. She brought Jon out of retirement for one last score by playing on his loyalty to family. That Jon is not going to steal her birthright.

        But if Sansa was trying to kill two birds with one stone (i.e. trick Jon into weakening Ramsay so she could kill both Ramsay and Jon), that is cold. I can’t believe that of her character.

        • Brett says:

          You’re probably right, but the show did make a point of having Littlefinger sow the seeds of doubt, and Sansa did withhold the information about relief coming from the Vale forces.

          I suspect they’ll just have Jon remorseful that he didn’t listen to Sansa, so they can move on to checking off

          1. Littlefinger being driven off
          2. However KL is going to down
          3. Maybe the Wall falling, or some confrontation there between Bran and the Night’s King.

          • djinn says:

            Your right, writing by checkbox is the most likely development(not the one i would prefer, but…) going forward.

        • djinn says:

          I need to keep in mind that this isn’t GRRM’s Sansa. Mrs. Bolton is a very different person.

        • Nate says:

          LF said at some point that it’s only treason if you lose. Jon could easily make a claim for Winterfell with a wildling/northern army behind him, leading to eventual legitimization as a Stark. He wouldn’t even need legitimization if the truth about his highborn parentage comes out, particularly if he is Brandon Stark’s son (as he is in my favorite fan theory), but even if he’s Lyanna’s.

          I’m not sure whether Sansa intended to let the forces loyal to Jon get slaughtered before she saved that day, but it certainly doesn’t hurt her to have the army of the Eyrie behind her. Not to mention that now there are a handful of northern keeps with destroyed houses (Bolton, Umber, Karstark are gone) that can be filled with newly made lords loyal to her claim.

      • djinn says:

        I would say she cares about Jon as much as she cares about Rickon. If they are useful ok, but if they are not, too bad.

    • Matt says:

      “So i’m not the only one that spoted the misuse of Cannae(slow moving spear infantry are terrible for flanking) and Agincourt(bodies don’t pile up like that in open field battles) traits in this!
      Like the novels, B & W read descriptions about Cannae and Agincourt without really understanding what they’ve read.”

      I think you need to get off your high horse and understand the reality of making a television show. With limited filming dates and a finite budget strict fidelity to historical accuracy simply isn’t possible. Why the “misuse of Cannae?” Way cheaper (and faster to film) than horses doing a double pincer as was initially planned, way less set dressing needed, fewer extras fighting in the background* … Dramatic license is a very necessary thing and it’s kind of sad that you feel the need to take shots at D & D without understanding that.

      * – that information was gleaned from Miguel Sapochnik’s excellent interview with Entertainment Weekly

    • I thought this article made some good points about Sansa-as-evil:
      http://theweek.com/articles/631406/game-thrones-sansa-problem

  7. Grant says:

    I really, really hope that Ramsay’s comment does not mean that Sansa’s pregnant. While yes, it would be a realistic possible outcome of repeatedly raping a woman, after having to go through season 5 do we really need any more of the ‘Ramsay makes you sick’ show?

    • Nina says:

      I dunno where people are even getting that idea from “I’m a part of you now”, aside from the fact that the theory already existed from “I can still feel what he did to me”. To me it seems pretty clear that the episode 9 quote is Ramsay saying that he’s broken her mentally in a way that permanently affects who she is as a person. The other quote is Sansa saying she’s still suffering the physical trauma of his abuse. “I’m a part of you now” doesn’t even make sense as a reference to pregnancy.

      • Grant says:

        First is how they bring it up. Now it could how he’s supposed to have turned her to the Dark Side (which I guess would be backed by how she had him killed) but that really doesn’t make sense with most of her actions.

        Second is that, I’m sorry, they’ve managed to create some really low expectations about where they’ll take things next.

    • I think that theory is at this point a complete red herring based on a couple stills that didn’t look the same in motion.

  8. gbajithedeceiver says:

    Yup, visually stunning but all the outcomes were over-determined. The only surprising thing was Yara promising to abolish reaving and Theon and Tyrion just nodding and saying “Easy peasy.”

    I’m just not ready to forgive the fridging of Shaggydog, Osha, and Rickon.

    D&D lurve LF so it’ll never happen, but I hope Tormund finds an occasion to demonstrate to Baelish “why they’re called Wildlings.”

    Also was never going to happen in the show but should’ve: Umbers declaring for Sansa and attacking the Boltons from the rear.

  9. Sean C. says:

    Are we meant to think Ramsay is right or that he’s wrong about being a part of Sansa? Even the writers don’t seem to know.

    Turner and Rheon both said he was right in interviews, and it sounded from the Inside the Episode that the writers agree.

    • gbajithedeceiver says:

      While Ramsay obviously would use whatever methods at his disposal to discover whether Sansa was carrying his child, we haven’t seen the slightest evidence that he had any such methods. Moreover, if Sansa were carrying his child and he knew it, it would have been totally in his interest to broadcast this fact (not to mention bringing it up at the parley). If D&D drop a surprise Ramsay-baby on us (along with a suspicious shortage of moon tea), I’ll be even more disappointed than I am now.

      I think Ramsay’s final taunt is just the old “to defeat a monster you had to become a monster” trope, except that Sansa hasn’t done anything particularly monstrous (leaving Ramsay to his own dogs is just good old puppet-show justice). I didn’t watch the after-show, but I suspect that Turner has bought into the notion that by showing her how cruel the world can be, Ramsay has taught Sansa how to be a “strong” leader.

    • Well, we’ve had our fill of dark 90s anti-heroes who are dudes, so I guess it’s Sansa’s turn now.

  10. Bbq_HaX0r says:

    I’m really shocked to see people praising this episode so highly. I was stunned and quite annoyed at this episode. You highlighted many of the issues with tactics, but I cannot fathom how foolishly they wrote all the characters just for maximum suspense or drama. It cheapened years of character development. Jon Snow has grown since the ‘you know nothing’ wee lad. Now they required him to do dumb things just for the sake of action.

    And did we ever get a reason why Ramsay has NO IDEA that Moat Cailin was taken by the Vale and how 20k-30k soldiers were able to travel for weeks up the Kingsroad without being detected?

    Ultimately there have been three big battle sets in this series: Blackwater Bay, Battle at the Wall, and The Battle of the Bastards. All three of them have ended in the exact same way; a surprise cavalry charge from a third party. A little disappointing to say the least.

    • gbajithedeceiver says:

      There is no better synecdoche for Season 6 than the disdain with which D&D treat travel time and logistics. I suppose the reason Drogon has been so absent is that he’s been ferrying Varys and LF and Brienne up and down Westeros and providing a tailwind for the Iron Fleet. That’s how it took only two episodes to sail from Pyke to Mereen, while it’s taken Cersei’s trial ten episodes to get through MIL and voir dire.

      • Grant says:

        I could accept more that some events are actually taking longer than others if not for Baelish moving around in King’s Landing, Vale and Northern plots*. With the exception of that, it works well enough.

        *Why didn’t they keep him in the North as the character whose help they need but who knows if they can trust him with a taco cart, let alone an army?

    • DrK says:

      The last-minute rescue of the army that “should” win is a George default, not a D&D default. It happens the same way at Blackwater, and at the Wall, and is getting ready to happen at Meereen. So on this issue D&D truly are “just following the books.”

  11. Brett says:

    I’m really hoping they have a scene next episode where Jon angrily confronts Sansa about withholding information on the Vale forces, and starts getting suspicious that she might have deliberately let his forces bleed so she could claim the victory and weaken his potentially rival claim. I doubt it will happen – the show’s not exactly subtle when it comes to the North storylines, and they’ll be focusing on the “results over themes” process to get rid of Littlefinger – but it would be nice.

    Jon’s part in that battle bothered me a lot. Did they really need to make Jon Snow into an idiot in order to emphasize Ramsay’s supposed skill at manipulation, or Sansa having the better idea on the battle?

    The themes here of war and peace, tyranny and moderation, etc. are very confused: Dany killing all the Masters would be wrong, so instead, killing two out of three is right? Burning cities to the ground is wrong, but burning fleets is right?

    I interpreted that as Tyrion babbling, trying to convince her that he knows a wise path for the future to cover for his foul-up in governing Mereen and misjudgment of the Masters.

    Nice of the show to conspicuously mention the wildfire caches below Baelor’s Sept, just in time for Cersei to burn it down.

    • Grant says:

      Jon did just watch his little brother be shot dead by the same guy who had previously raped Jon’s sister. But no one restrains him from this suicidal action? I mean, I know the Wildlings aren’t famous for discipline but after all the planning you’d think they could get a few guys to stop their grieving leader.

      • Brett says:

        To be fair, that is in character for Jon. Book-Jon always needed friends and allies to keep him in line, and he did end up being willing to break his oath in order to march south to save Arya. So I guess that’s acceptable after all, and as I said in my response up-thread to one of rewenzo’s replies, I think they’ll probably just go with “Remorseful Jon” next episode.

    • The trailer suggests some kind of discussion, but doesn’t look like an angry conversation.

  12. kevintimba says:

    Well thorough – nailed it.

  13. Steven Xue says:

    Although I enjoyed the battle and felt it was done better than most high budget movie battles, I admit a lot of it was pretty crazy. Seriously how Jon was able to dodge so many incoming arrows while everyone around him got quivered was pretty cartoony. I can understand why he decided to go for a headlong charge at the Bolton army even if it was inadvisable. The reason Ramsay sent Rickon to him only to promptly kill him just as he was about to reach Jon was to bait Jon into taking this course of action. I think with Rickon dying before his eyes, threw Jon into an uncontrollable rage, hence why he charged at Ramsay all by himself. But of course when he charge the rest of the army had no choice but to do the same in order to back him up.

    Now I admit it was stupid for even Ramsay to have his archers fire at the enemy even while his own men were engaging them in battle. But the way I see it those men were probably some of the more weaker soldiers in Ramsay’s army and were just cannon fodder (for him). He sent them out for the sole purpose of being killed with the enemy in order to create a mountain of bodies and form a barricade, while his more crack troops will then encircle the remaining enemy soldiers and cut them down. It was a pretty solid tactic although he must have taken huge loses from it.

  14. My most charitable interpretation of Sansa’s silence is that she never heard back from Littlefinger and didn’t want to overpromise and risk allowing the battle to be delayed in a way that benefitted Ramsay. Along with some sort of trust issues related to her years of brutalization and manipulation.

    I’m so annoyed that they made Jon into an impulsive dumb-dumb protected only by plot armor. He was right above a still-breathing Rickon, yet didn’t pick up his brother and bring him back to camp. Instead, he charges into battle alone [well within the range of Ramsay’s apparent long-distance sharp shooting] and gets a bunch of people killed fighting over a castle instead of staying healthy to face the army of the dead.

    PS. WHERE’S GHOST? I appreciate that this kept him safe from another senseless show direwolf murder, but it seems like a mighty magical wolf might’ve been a better symbol for rallying the North than an emo Red Priestess.

    • Brett says:

      Maybe there’s some plot point where Ghost dies to save Jon’s life, so they’re keeping him alive – but otherwise not putting him on screen so as to save on production costs.

      • Fabrimuch says:

        It’s sad that Ghost has VERY limited screentime, and most of it is him bonding with Sam instead of Jon to boot.

    • If she never heard back, how’d she find him before the battle?

      And yes, the Ghost thing is ridiculous.

  15. Crow's Eye says:

    I posted this on Tower of the Hand but wanted to put it here as well. I had some thoughts on the show only Ironborn plot, will probably be a long post.

    OK, so on the show why exactly is Euron bad and Yara good? Think about what we know. Euron’s been in two scenes. In the first, he murders Balon and says some weird shit about “being the storm.” Which, OK, kinslaying is bad, bad start to my argument. But we forgive Tyrion for it, because Tywin deserved it and was a bad guy. Balon also deserves it and is a bad guy. Balon sneak attacked the North, treated his son like shit, and was a proponent of paying the iron price, aka the Old Way.

    And who’s been Balon’s right hand man this entire time? Yara. Sure we don’t SEE a lot of it, but she totally raided the North, which lets face it, involved killing and raping and burning. Her ‘redemption’ is the fact that she failed to rescue Theon, who again, is just another bad guy at this point. We don’t ever see Yara doing anything positive, she lets Theon feel her up, and then is completely down with everything horrible Balon says, with the exception of one failed rescue attempt.

    So then you have Euron’s only other scene to date, the Kingsmoot, which also features Yara. I just went back and watched it to make sure it was fresh in my mind. Yara’s claim is based on being Balon’s daughter and “leaving a mark on the world.” She does not say they will put a stop to reaving, just that so far reaving hasn’t made them relevant to the mainland. Then Theon backs her claim, basically just using the argument that he supports her and is Balon’s son, so if he does, they should. Then Euron comes up, and points out how Theon and Yara fucked things up in the North. Which.. yea, he’s not wrong? Then Yara accuses him of killing Balon, and Euron admits it, because Balon was leading them nowhere and had led them into two wars they couldn’t win. Which.. yea again, and Yara was an integral part of that second unwinnable war. So then Yara says her plan is to build a big fleet. Euron also says he’s going to build a big fleet, but that he has a plan for it: going to Meeren and allying with Dany, someone with a large army that also hates the mainland lords. Now mind you, this is Dany’s plan anyway. Euron isn’t talking about convincing Dany to attack Westeros, he’s just trying to get his people allied with a person who’s actually going to win. Again, when broken down, this seems like a good plan. And it’s Euron’s, not Yara’s. And then the people of the Iron Islands overwhelmingly choose Euron over Yara, because they aren’t idiots.

    Let me say it again. Yara’s kingsmoot stance is primogeniture and “I’m going to build a big fleet” and leave a mark on the world. That’s it, and she’s got a failed track record to boot. Euron’s stance is to ally the Ironborn with Dany before she attacks Westeros. Euron wins because he’s got a better campaign.

    So then Yara steals half the Iron Fleet and Euron’s plan. But at this point Yara is a rebel, right? She has no right to treat with Dany representing the Ironborn. So we get another scene of Yara being horrible to Theon, and pointing out she’s a lesbian because TV.

    Next Yara scene is the one where she treats with Dany. All of a sudden Balon’s a bad king, huh? Didn’t stop you from being his prime general until he died. The Old Way was fine until you had to give it up to form the alliance you have no right to make.

    I mean, we all read the books so it’s clear Euron is horrible and Asha is representing the New Way. But can anybody argue Yara’s TV position? Because it seems crap to me.

    • gbajithedeceiver says:

      Pretty much agree in all particulars. When Yara turned and ran from shirtless Ramsay and the kennel club, she should have lost all Ironborn support. That she didn’t shows how much in awe D&D hold Ramsay and how much in contempt they hold the Ironborn (and, by extension, us). I expect that the captains that have followed Yara this far will be impressed by the dragon-scorched hulks in Mereen Harbor, but even D&D know they won’t be able to repeat the same stunt when Euron shows up, so they’re gonna give him some kinda anti-dragon buff.

    • Brett says:

      Good points. I’ve never liked how they’ve done the character for television. They’ve stripped out her political ideas and (until recently) most of her personality, such that she’s just a plot device to move Theon around and now help Daenerys.

    • Metheos says:

      This is a example of the show’s odd relationship to the books. On one hand, there are characters that are different in the show, and we have to acknowledge those differences when judging them, but there are also moments that only make sense if you use book knowledge. In this case, I’m guessing that Euron will do things to fully establish him as a villain in season 7, but right now he’s villainous almost entirely by framing.

      Is it okay if I quote your post on Reddit’s ASOIAF page? I’d be interested to hear their reactions.

      • Crow's Eye says:

        I’d be thrilled if you did, not a Reddit guy myself.

        And yea, with book knowledge the answer is obvious. But if 100% of your Game of Thrones is the TV show, I don’t see why you’d favor Yara to Euron.

      • Crow's Eye says:

        Please do, I’m not a redditer myself.

  16. Ryan says:

    My biggest issue that hasn’t been brought up yet is the overall mischaracterization of the rest of the north.

    The men of the north in the books would not stand by idly knowing Sansa is alive and on the other side and Rickon running across a field to get filled with arrows.

    They wouldn’t fire arrows into there own men.

    They are held together through a rough alliance by fake Arya being under Bolton control.

    I think it would have been a 10x better twist for the Umbers to turn on Ramsay and the Boltons with a “The North Remembers” to save the day instead of the Vale calvary charge. Then the Vale shows up too late to make an impact, that would have actually been a surprise.

    And if they try and make sense of this by Sansa purposely holding out on the knowledge of the Vale army then that’s crazy as well. That means she’d be sending the few remaining loyal northern houses to their doom and put herself fully under Littlefingers power again.

    • Up until the very last minute, I really thought that it was going to be a the North Remembers salvation. I can’t imagine that all of these Northerners would stand by watching some evil bastard torturing/murdering the trueborn heir to Winterfell.

      • Haplo-6 says:

        It was my biggest hope for the episode/season/series as well. The North Remembers narrative is the most compelling one for me. It was disheartening to see Smalljon Umber rally his guys (and presumably the Glovers as well) to obey the orders of a betraying, morally hideous human who just slaughter his own men. Oh well, book six will make everything right again.

    • Yeah, the Umbers got really slandered in this season. Smalljon Umber died acting as a human shield for Robb Stark, not fighting for the son of Robb’s killer.

  17. artihcus022 says:

    I found Tyrion’s argument with Dany really confused. He’s saying that killing the Masters will make her like Aerys and he brings up wildfire that Jaime told him recently (Which is a separate issue). But how does that analogy apply to this. Where is Dany planning to burn Meereen and the free people before the Masters come and re-enslave them?

    And Jaime recently telling Tyrion about the wildfire is an incredibly lazy retcon and character assassination.

  18. Fabrimuch says:

    I can’t help but feel that this episode is very thematically confused. The books have a strong anti-war message that for the most part was replaced with a fetishization of violence in the series, but the main battle scene following Jon was a great example of the book’s condemnation of war, showing us how horrifying and confusing a battle can be, which I felt was the closest this season has gotten to something Martin might write. Yet to accomplish it we had to sit through Jon and Davos acting like complete morons and ditching their battle plans and common sense to charge into the fray like idiots to fall into Ramsay’s obvious trap just to artificially raise the stakes. It feels as if the only reason they survived at all was because Jon’s resurrection by Melisandre came with a season-long free trial of R’hllor-endorsed plot armor.

    I also don’t understand what they’re doing with Sansa. Disregarding her baffling decision to not tell Jon about the Vale army, what are we supposed to take away from the final scene? When Jon is beating the sense out of Ramsay with his bare fists she gives him a horrified look because of his brutality, yet the episode ends with a shot of her feeding Ramsay to his own dogs which we are supposed to cheer for because she’s gotten her revenge at him. So which is it D&D? Is violene and revenge good or bad? Because these two scenes come one after the other and they draw completely different conclusions.

    And for a final complaint, I don’t understand why they decided to go through the Battle of Fire after all when they omitted the rest of the Meereenese plotline. Without the setup and conflict with the slaver cities this victory feels completely unearned and entirely disconnected from the rest of the plot. Dany has been sitting on the throne of Meereen since halfway through season 4: if they wanted to have this battle they should have built this conflict in the 2.5 seasons since, but what we got feels completely nonsensical.

    All in all, I don’t know how to feel about 6×09. I enjoyed the battle scenes with Jon and how, for once, the show chose to show the horrors of war instead of celebrating senselesss violence. But the rest of the episode seems to be at odds with itself and it kept pushing me out of the experience :/

    • djinn says:

      Very well summerized. Themes and plot are all over the place, in the same vain as Walking Dead, Banshee, True Blood, Transformers, Spartacus, BvS.

    • Crow's Eye says:

      “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
      ~H.L. Mencken

      Pretty much my life motto at this point. The greatest mistake GoT ever pulled was becoming the most popular show on television.

    • Agreed. Very back and forth.

  19. On the one hand, I truly enjoyed watching Ramsey be all but beaten to death by Jon, and then fed to the dogs by Sansa. Never has a comeuppance been so richly deserved or longed for by the audience.

    On the other hand, it undermines something I had always preferred about the Starks, which is that they had seemed to exemplify Prachett’s maxim that “A good man will kill you with hardly a word.” I LIKED that attitude – unlike most of the other participants in the game, the Starks aren’t interested in humiliation or unnecessary suffering. Ned or Robb or Jon will certainly kill a man (or a woman) if it’s the only rational option… but they do it quickly and cleanly. That they don’t ENJOY inflicting pain is one of their most appealing traits.

    Without commenting on the tactics – about which I know relatively little – the dramatic beats of the episode were entirely predictable, and the lack of political credibility in the North remains intensely irritating. The showrunners seem to think people are far more driven by fear (and less by rational self-interest) than is actually the case – the idea that Ramsay would have a strong, stable coalition supporting him is simply ludicrous. He skins people alive and feeds babies to dogs and shoots his own men – in any world where people follow rational self-interest, a commander like that is getting fragged so fast his head will spin.

    But to give the battle any sense of stakes, the Northern nobility’s sense of self-preservation has to be rendered all but non-existent…for I’m not sure what reason? It rather misses the point that the reason Manderley’s rebellion resonated so much with the audience was because it actually elicited positive feelings – loyalty and justice – after those had been denied for so long. Manderley’s brutality (which is there, no doubt), is really secondary.

    As a result, there’s no real sense of catharsis here – or, at best, an extremely muted one.

    Also, I woke up this morning, and realised Jon should have sent Wun-Wun to get Rickon – he would have got there sooner and could have protected Rickon more effectively than Jon could – and I am retroactively annoyed that such an obvious solution was missed.

  20. AWargDownMemoryLane says:

    Great analysis as always!

    “Idiot Heroes getting saved by Deus Ex Machina is as tropey as you get.” – here here!! but the outcome of the battle was incidental really – of course the Starks were going to win and take back Winterfell. While I too would have liked some surprising twist to achieve this ultimate outcome, I’m not entirely happy it played out so simply in the end, but I’m willing to let it go because the events during battle itself were really well done and honestly kept me guessing, y’know, up until the Knights of the Vale rode in to save the day as everyone knew they would.

    The real drama though is the aftermath of these events: Sansa now facing LF and likely owing him something after he saved the day & Jon and Sansa reconciling the matter of Sansa not giving him all the details that could have saved Rickon and made the battle unnecessary or at least less catastrophic. These impending dramatics hinge on the events of the battle happening as they did and us being privy to them beforehand, so I’m cool with how it played out really.

    “Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm have to spin their wheels for an entire season.” – I too feel this was an utter waste. Along with the other aspects of the rushing of the war outside Meereen, I thought you would have complained about the other dragons breaking out of their captivity right at the moment Dany goes to light up a slaver ship with Drogon – which just reeks of lazy writing or not having enough time to cover a better alternative. If they decided to have the siege play out over a few episodes instead, I think the release of the dragons to serve this plot would have added some much needed drama to this season in Meereen and would have had the dragons out and ready to follow Drogons lead in a much more natural way. By comparison I just don’t feel the benefit of Tyrion’s arc in Meereen in any way and feel it was quite ineffective.

  21. Ethan says:

    The encirclement via infantry was explained by the director as; “That said at some point you need to put all the research down and tell a good story. The Bolton Shield wall, for example, was a production-friendly way to emulate a ‘double envelopment pincer move’ [without] using horses”

  22. Keith B says:

    Ramsay may have made some bad tactical decisions, but he’s so much better than Jon that they don’t belong on the same battlefield. In view of Ramsay’s effortless defeat of Stannis, he has to be considered one of the best generals in Westeros. Jon is good at getting his own people slaughtered pointlessly. (He takes after Ned in that respect.) The battle just shows how smart Robett Glover was for staying out of it. It’s hard to see how the Wildlings, the Northern Lords, or anyone else would accept Jon as their leader after that performance.

    Whatever you can say about GRRM, he usually doesn’t indulge in the kind of cheap gratification we saw with Jon beating Ramsay’s face in and Sansa feeding him to his own dogs.

    Yet another scene in which Daenerys’ enemies think they’ve defeated her, and she promptly destroys them without cost or struggle. That’s the second time in this season alone. Sorry to be a sourpuss, but it’s getting old. And in view of her customary treatment of envoys, it’s a wonder that anyone is still willing to negotiate with her.

    Are we supposed to believe that the Dothraki and the Ironborn, whose entire cultures are based on raiding, slaughtering, plundering, raping, kidnapping and slaving, are suddenly going to reform purely under the influence of Daenery’s awesomeness? Can the show really be that shallow?

    • Haplo-6 says:

      Glover was present at the battle. He can be seen sitting on a horse behind Ramsay… I presumed he gets killed when he follows Smalljon Umber into battle. The fact neither he nor the Umbers, nor even Ramsay’s own men, turn on that evil bastard in an illustration that you can’t violate every social norm without consequences is greatly disappointing.

    • It was a bad case of Jon being tossed the Idiot Ball.

  23. fgsouza says:

    Maybe Sansa didn’t reveal that the Vale army was coming because she was really not certain that Littlefinger would came.

  24. Brian says:

    OK, so now that Rickon is dead (in the show, at least), what does this mean for House Stark’s future generations, or will they die out? Right now they’re down to a cripple, a bastard (who I suspect is a Targaryen), a young woman who’s just been through pure hell and likely isn’t going to marry anyone ever again, and another young woman who doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to get married at all, much less have kids.

    I’m kind of hoping Mel might be able to bring Rickon back, but I’m not holding my breath…

    • Fabrimuch says:

      Mel will bring back Ned, who will get together with Lady Stoneheart and produce new zombie heirs for the Winterfell throne.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Queen Arya is actually starting to look a bit likelier, because I agree that Sansa is not going to want marriage and children anymore. I don’t think Bran is even capable, and I don’t think Jon will survive the series.

  25. Winters king says:

    Well, unlike most examples of bad strategy in this series, i sorta thouht that the bad strategic execution was the point. that none of the battle commanders here are more than “decent”. sansa isnt trained in the arts of war at all, and mistrusts her brother. john is a great solider, and charismatic leader, but as a general he is simply to emotional to lead armies effectivly. ramsay posses a certain low cunning, but isnt strategicly minded at all, doesnt care about his men, wants to simply hurt his enemy without taking everything into consideration and so on.

    because the soliders on all 3 sides are good fighters. the bolton foot in this episode shows more discipline and skill in formation in their enciclement than any other fighting force in the show. the starkmen(wildlings and northmen) are great fighters and fight great. the valemen easily hits and obliterates the enemy from behind, turning the encirclement into a pincher movement against them. the point is that despite all of this, only the force that job was the simplest managed to do so without screwing up at any steps(the valemen). everyone else got fucked over by their commanders.

    the bolton men, the cream of the crop of the norths infantry(by virtue of all the other northmen that went south being dead) was forced to march outside to face an army, when thay could have just hid inside their walls and won even after the knights came. they also lost a massive amounts of men to unecessary enemy fire. they could also have taken out the enemy general(and thus possibly weakend enemy morale immensly) ealry by simply riddeling him with arrows, but their commander wanted the satisfaction of seeing him get trampled instead, thus saving his life.

    the stark forces fougt like wolves, but were hampered by their overall commanders fucking them over in different ways. Jon fucked them over by essentially forcing them to abandon the premade sound battleplan to save his ass. they also were hampered by the fact that since jon essentially just ran around during the entire battle fighting on his own, the command of the army was split between davos and tormund(who to be fair, did a good job at leading given the circumstances) thus weaking the army by not allowing it to direct its full force on any one task.

    sansa fucked over her men, by not telling them that a massive army was on its was to bolster their troops. seemingly because of fear/paranoia that jon would try to unsurp her position as leader of the stark forces following a victory. thus they entered battle long before they needed to. if they had cordinated between the armies they could have had the vale army come in much earlier after the battle started and had the hammering blow have been planned. instead somewhere between 1000-2000 stark loyalists died for their queens paranoia. not a shining endrsement for our new queen of winter.

    so every norhtman that fought in the battle, was fucked over because of their leaders incompetence at the art of war, or mistrust of each other. which is a thematic lining i suppose.

    also, im pretty sure that ramsays gruesome death was at least partially a callback to how the starks became kings in the first place. by murdering the fuck out of those who opposed them.

    • Grant says:

      The mistrust thing really makes no sense. Her priority is suddenly her political power and she fears her half brother who has never done anything to hurt or their family and in fact wasn’t even eager to be part of this war?

      I think that the writers may have decided to try to combine Sansa’s story with some remnant of her Vale plot and in a way combine her character with Stoneheart.

      • Crystal says:

        I’m not the only one wondering if Show!Sansa has been combined with Lady Stoneheart, then! I doubt we’ll see her leaving Winterfell for the Riverlands, at least right now, but by now it wouldn’t *surprise* me to see her go on a Frey-killing spree.

        Ramsay’s karmic death was deliciously satisfying, I’ll admit.

  26. mads brynnum says:

    I liked a lot in the episode, but the giant flaw is that Ramsay’s fall comes from nothing but plot. He doesn’t fall because he is bested by his enemies nor because he himself makes a mistake or is overconfident. That is bad storytelling and even moreso because the show gives not one, but two lines that should have let to him falling: first Sansa saying she knows him which is used for nothing but a “told you so”, but also Jon’s “your men won’t fight for you if you won’t fight for them”. That should have been his downfall; that Sansa now knows him because of what she has endured and that Jon while headstrong and suicidal actually knows how to lead men.

    Instead we get an army which Littlefinger has put together and which is obviously there for plot reasons and that is just a waste.

  27. Bronstin says:

    The whole North thing seems to be, as you said, a result of results over theme. If you squint, you can definitely see how there might be a set of GRRM bulletpoints that say a Vale army, riding for Sansa and unknown to the North, shows up and finishes the battle. But in the books it will make sense because A) Sansa isn’t on a team with Jon, and B) Jon might not even be involved with the damn battle (hell he might still be dead).

    Still, the way the show was set up, Show-Sansa’s actions would make a lot more sense if she had seemed more wary or even adversarial with Jon. She’s hardened by her own experiences and learned to trust no one, he’s her half-brother she barely knows who’s trying to take Winterfell with a bunch of wildlings. Instead of making them buddy-buddy in half their scenes, emphasize the bits where he isn’t taking her counsel seriously and has a crappy war plan, and she isn’t even sure she WANTS him to be in a position of power. Then it makes sense for her to hold the Vale army as her ace in the hole, and to go even darker there would be a bit of Roose logic in letting Jon’s guys eat the bulk of the casualties so she has the only power base left in the North.

  28. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    1) There were a couple moments in the fight when I seriously wondered whether Jon was going to even the odds by killing a thousand people by himself.

    2) I’m disappointed that Jon and Sansa didn’t outwit Ramsey somehow. The easiest way would be to explain that Jon had to keep Ramsay on the field while they waited for the Vale knights or while Tormund, Sansa and a strike force captured Winterfell, or better yet both.

    3) I had been assuming that the show pulled Stannis’s best moments so that Jon and Sansa could have them, but I was so wrong. How much more awesome would it have been if they had started their tour an episode earlier, gotten Wall’s “bathe in Bolton blood” speech, gotten false loyalty from the Karstarks and smoked them out, told Mel to “pray harder” when she asked for a sacrifice, and successfully defended Stannis’s redoubt though an Alexander Nevsky maneuver?

    4) I’m most disappointed that the North forgot. After all those warnings from Roose that Ramsay couldn’t just go around being an asshole, it turns out that Roose was wrong, and that Ramsay’s only mistake was not having Moat Cailin check in daily. (To be fair, that was a big mistake.)0

    • Yeah. Multiple factions with different agendas on the show stressed the importance of a Stark in Winterfell (including Tywin, Roose, and Littlefinger), yet almost no northern houses cared in even the slightest that Ramsay murdered the Stark heir in front of them all.

  29. Amanda says:

    Thinking about this I think that Sansa deliberately did not tell Jon Snow about the Army of the Vale. If she had revealed that the Army of the Vale was coming and that army had actually joined Jon Snow’s Army, there is no way Ramsey would have abandoned the safety of Winterfell. She used Jon Snow’s Army as a lure to get Ramsey in a vulnerable position, outside of Winterfell, so she could WIPE HIM OUT!

  30. Amanda says:

    Thinking about this, I think that Sansa deliberately did not tell Jon about the Army of the Vale. If she had, and the Army of the Vale had joined Jon Snow’s army, Ramsey Bolton would never have left the safety of Winterfell. He would have been outnumbered and stayed within the walls to wait out a siege. I believe Sansa deliberately used Jon Snow’s Army as a lure or bait to get Ramsey in a vulnerable position outside the walls of Winterfell. The Bolton army was thus in a weak and overconfident position, which allowed her to WIPE HIM OUT! It was the only way she could get Ramsey! Sansa won that fight, she knows how Ramsey thinks.

  31. […] actually happen naturally unless you’re at a choke-point (thanks to Steven Attewell for pointing that out). That means that Ramsay’s men were under orders to build a wall from dead men whilst they […]

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