Ramsay, you were the chosen one. You were going to make Winterfell great again.
Lots of spectacle on this week’s Thrones, it’s an hour that the whole season had been building up to, and the payoffs are satisfying in a lot of different ways. It’s a great episode, directed to a perfect pitch by Hardhomme helmer Miguel Sapochnik (thank god I’m writing this otherwise I’d butcher that last name).
First Meereen. When we left off in No One, the Masters of Slavers Bay had cornered Tyrion and were assaulting the city. But Dany shows up just in time! We saw a little bit of action with the dragons last season in The Dance of Dragons, but here they burn a fleet of ships into ash! Six seasons of little to nothing from the dragons, and then Thrones turns it up to 11. It’s a satisfying moment, and the episode is still young.
They subdue the masters, and they end up meeting with the Greyjoys, who have a fleet of ships to sail Dany and her crew to Westeros. I hope to see more of Yara in seasons 7-8, because Gemma Whelan’s ‘devil-may-care’ performance has been a treat. We also see things start to come full circle, as Tyrion references the pilot whenst speaking of (berating?) Theon. The episode is centered on how far these characters have gone, and where they are going next.
Next we move to Winterfell, where the crux of the action lies. In The Battle of the Bastards, Game of Thrones commits to archetypes of the fantasy genre in a way that the show usually avoids. First we have Jon Snow challenging Ramsay to a one-on-one to avoid a battle. It almost seems like the writers are checking off a to-do list at points. So they regroup at camp, and prepare for the battle tomorrow.
A moment I liked was Davos discovering the gift he left Shireen, the logic that Jon and Sansa would have made camp in the same place where Stannis burned his daughter toes the line to being too much of a coincidence, but the moment is too strong to care. Without a word, the scene conveys Davos’ emotions as he deduces what happened to the girl he loved like a daughter, and it’s upsetting, it’s heavy. Liam Cunningham’s acting here is stupendous.
So Ramsay brings out Rickon before the battle, and he tells Rickon to run to his brother, that they are playing ‘a game.’ Ramsay then takes out his bow and begins firing arrows. The way Sapochnik ratchets up the tension during this sequence is nerve-racking.
And then the battle, and what a battle it was. While it is certainly spectacle, Sapochnik does not shoot the scene pornographically, it feels like a war. Its chaotic, it’s confusing, you feel like Jon could bite it any moment (which speaks to the talent of the filmmaking, because that really would be absurd). It reaches the climax of claustrophobia when the Wildlings are trying to make over a wall of bodies, and Jon is being trampled by the crowd. It made me so nervous, man.
With The Battle of the Bastards, one could wonder if they’re getting too much of a good thing too easily. Ramsay dies in a way that befits his life, but you wonder if the show risks sacrificing depth for the sake of satisfaction. It is one episode in particular, where Game of Thrones feels like a genre show as opposed to something higher.
And it works. Sometimes it really is that simple.