Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Delivers One Spectacular (If Predictable) ‘Battle of the Bastards’
Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Battle of the Bastards”:
There comes a time for any blockbuster TV series, usually even around the sixth season, when outside forces visibly encroach on the storytelling. Game of Thrones may follow George R.R. Martin’s script more tightly than The Walking Dead does Robert Kirkman, but as the latter struggles so visibly with killing off major characters, Game of Thrones has become such a vast and complicated production, the effort to realizes visual feats like “Battle of the Bastards” demands far more attention than the storytelling itself. After all, showrunners have already expressed an inability to delivering seasons in a twelve-month period influencing the decision for a final 13 episodes, and while “Battle of the Bastards” absolutely ranks among the most spectacular, visually dynamic hours in television history, it still feels spectacularly predictable.
Granted, the visual of Daenerys roasting a fleet by dragonback ranks among the kind of sight viewers have clamored toward for years, the face-off between Jon and Ramsay understandably commands the spotlight tonight, however frustrating on a narrative level. Weeks now, Game of Thrones has drawn a divide between Jon and Sansa ignoring or deceiving one another’s insight into battle; on any other show (but especially Game of Thrones) the setup for comeuppance, but as writers expressly know that Northern conflict needs to wrap up, the battle itself offers a stunningly dynamic, if linear path. Make no mistake, these stand among the most visceral exciting images ever seen on television, whether the long-take of Jon highlighting the chaos of battle, delving deep into formation and strategy, or the requisite battlefield carnage, but it only ends one way. Of course Jon isn’t going to end up dead a second time, and of course Littlefinger’s Knights of the Vale would turn the tide, Two Towers style.
It’s visual treat without the filling, made slightly more toothless* by survivals of Davos, Tormund and Wun-Wun, or at least long enough for that shot of Jon and the latter two charging after Ramsay and into Winterfell.
*We do predictably say goodbye to Rickon Stark, but it’s such a non-issue for the series, I can’t recall if we’d even heard the character speak in either of his two appearances this season. And for the love of god, man, serpentine! Take cover behind one of those flaming crosses! Incidentally, who were they supposed to be?
Again, Jon and Sansa’s triumph over Ramsay feels like the only possible direction for Game of Thrones to go, rather than risk further Northern turmoil drawing focus from the final convergence of either White Walkers or Daenerys’ move toward Westeros. There’s tremendous satisfaction to be had in Sansa enacting her vengeance, particularly Jon’s recognition of her need to do so personally, as well the promise of following the half-sibling duo’s next steps, but what was the alternative here? Further unanswered still, what was there to payoff in Jon predicting Ramsay’s men might turn against him, if not an unspoken metaphor for the hounds? Where was Ghost in any of this?
The “Battle of the Bastards” itself may have felt a bit hollow, but the meeting of Yara and Daenerys made for an unexpected delight; another instance of the series moving pieces together because it has to, but an effective one (and the new couple we’re shipping forever) nonetheless. Daenerys retaking Meereen also offers much more catharsis than any of her prior centerpiece moments this season, and it was nice both to see Tyrion humbled a bit by his questionable decisions, yet willing to question what despotic madness his queen might share with the late King Aerys. Don’t think we didn’t notice that umpteenth mention of Wildfire beneath Kings’ Landing, either, though I especially enjoyed Yara and Daenerys actually wondering about the future of this realm, and avoiding the mistakes of their fathers.
So … yeah. Obviously, every ninth episode (or eighth, as in Season 4) understandably commands tremendous hype, but I find myself looking forward the series’ endpoint, especially stories the writers actually flex the creativity to tell, rather than move endpieces where they need to be. Smaller “Battle of the Bastards” moments like exchanges between Davos and Tormund worked very well; exactly the kind of interpersonal bristle Game of Thrones excels at, especially in an hour where so many characters ended up rewarded for foolhardy decisions. Storytelling is a language, after all, and Game of Thrones seems to be telling us what it needs to happen, rather than any twists or turns that make sense in context.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- So … we’re just left to assume Viserion and Rhaegal would break free and acquiesce to Drogon as soon as he returned? Is there some psychic link exposition we’re missing?
- How dare they show us Lyanna Mormont once without either a sick burn, or some assurance of her well-being after the battle.
- However gruesome, it might have made more sense for Ramsay to toss out Osha’s head as proof, if only Sansa or Jon had ever seen her before.
- We at least addressed Melisandre’s absence from the council meetings, but only insofar as paying of her earlier Jon Snow visions, and setting up Davos’ accusations next week. Incidentally, how did that tiny wooden horse survive the pyre, and stay above ground so many months?
- So long as we’re heart-eyed for Daenerys and Yara forever, good that the two actually achieved some measure of progress, like curbing the Ironborn’s pillage and raping policy.
- Another instance of characters being rewarded for otherwise stupid behavior, that Jon doesn’t die for charging forward, get hit by the arrows that fell his horse (or any others), and winds up saved by his own men charging around him at the last second.
- Did Ramsay know they’d have a giant? We’re missing some reactions there.
- Again, zero payoff for Jon goading Ramsay into a one-on-one fight, seeing as Ramsay just fires arrows in the end, and Jon was exhausted enough to make the fight reasonably fair.
- Was Jon okay with the hounds plan? Was there no strategic value to be had in keeping Ramsay alive, or was the show unwilling to explore any further purpose for the character?
Game of Thrones Season 6 will conclude June 26 with Season Finale “The Winds of WInter,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.