GAME OF THRONES: Season 6, Episode 9 'Battle of the Bastards'

PrintE-mail Written by Hayden Mears

A season of Game of Thrones can be likened to a very well-played round of poker. The first batch of episodes in each season skimp on reveals and payoffs, opting instead for a slow, scalding burn before the show splays its cards out on the green-felt table, grins triumphantly, and says, “Thanks for waiting.” Unfortunately, this writer’s poker analogy doesn't really work for the show's sixth season. In a show that specialises in season cappers and arc wrappers, it's more than a bit off-putting to get so much so early. Not that I'm complaining; the drama, action, and tension that characterised the first five episodes made for great television and set a new standard for anything and everything the show would deliver afterwards. Luckily, the sixth season's ninth episode, fittingly titled, Battle of the Bastards sets our expectations aflame and slams us with an hour of television we likely won't forget for years to come.

It's here. After an entire season of painstaking build-up, it's here. Lovingly called ‘the Bastard Bowl’ by internet forum regulars, the long-awaited battle between the Snows of Winterfell is finally upon us, and it is spectacular. Jon Snow, in a desperate attempt to save his brother, Rickon, and reclaim his home, leads his vastly outnumbered army to war against the cruel Ramsay Bolton. It's a gamble made by people who have everything to lose and even more to gain, setting the stage for a conflict of staggering scope, one that the North hasn't seen in many years.

Going into the episode, we suspected that director Miguel Sapochnik, the man who gifted us with last season's momentous Hardhome, would not only blow us away with sharp direction and stunning cinematography, but that he would also cement himself as the most ambitious director in the film's five-year history. Amazingly, he accomplishes both with aplomb. Every scene, from the Bolton army's excessive implementation of archery to Jon Snow's final, fateful confrontation with the diabolical Bolton bastard, bristles with intention and invention and imbues the various goings-on with real grit and gravity that make the episode's events mean something. There's weight to the way every shot, every moment is angled, positioned. There's real cost, real risk. Under Sapochnik's watchful eye, Battle of the Bastards becomes a beautiful testament to the brutality and universality of Game of Thrones, upending our notions of what TV can do while faithfully adhering to the formula that the show has stuck with for years now.

Contrary to what the previews and promotional materials would have you believe, the eponymous conflict between two of the North's most prominent players isn't the only storyline that reaches its tipping point in this episode. Daenerys and her dragons show up to set flame to the fleets currently attempting to retake Meereen, piling on yet another payoff to a satisfying, game-changing hour of one of television's greatest accomplishments. This is very good because the Tyrion/Daenerys side of the story wasn't shown nearly as much love as the myriad of other arcs until now.

Emotionally taxing yet undeniably rewarding, Battle of the Bastards is Game of Thrones at its absolute best. This is the crescendo, the pinnacle of episodic storytelling. It really doesn't get much better than this, folks. It really, really doesn't.


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