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“Battle of the Bastards” was an exceedingly accomplished episode of television. The battle itself was beautifully shot, the music was excellent, and the episode ended in triumph as Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) met his grizzly end.

The episode began in Meereen, as Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) dealt with the Masters and their siege of the city. This sequence was good and demonstrated the influence that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has on Dany, as he was able to quickly turn her thoughts away from fire and blood and into diplomacy. However, this diplomacy didn’t come cheap, as Daenerys had two of the Masters killed for breaking the deal that they made with Tyrion.

These scenes showed that Daenerys is a fair and just ruler, but that she will still take what is hers if her enemies decide to fight her. As a sequence it fit with the character as established in earlier seasons, but also took into account the fact that many men have tried to oppress her in the past. She’s a conqueror, a ruler, and the mother of dragons, and at this point the show has set things up in a way that makes her taking over Westeros a very realistic possibility.

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The only issue I had with the first extended sequence in this episode occurred when Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) sliced the Masters’ throats, because whilst this was a cool shot it didn’t really make a lot of sense. When somebody gets their throat cut it isn’t a knock-out blow or an instant kill – you die slowly because of suffocation and blood loss. As such, having the Masters fall to the floor immediately felt cheap and silly, especially on a show which is supposed to thrive on its honest depiction of death and violence. It isn’t a massive issue, but it’s one that annoyed me at the time.

Another less eventful scene took place in Meereen in “Battle of the Bastards”, one which showcased that the writers on “Game of Thrones” have become tired of trying to depict travel in an intelligent way. I have to say that the fact that Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara (Gemma Whelan) made it to Meereen so quickly felt ridiculous to me, especially because so much of the early character development on “Game of Thrones” took place during extended periods of travel. Think of Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) as they journeyed back to King’s Landing, and Tyrion as he made his way to The Wall – these trips spanned whole seasons and were incredibly significant in the context of the show.

Still, the scene that took place because of this laziness was engaging and well-written, as Dany, Yara, Theon, and Tyrion spoke about their rough childhoods and bad fathers (which was quite fitting given that the episode aired on Father’s Day). The acting in this scene was great as Emilia Clarke reminded us all that Daenerys can be sweet and loveable when she wants to be, and we were forced to remember the way that these characters were when the series began. Tyrion was cocky with a chip on his shoulder, Theon was a sex pest with an attitude problem, and Yara was the favourite child of a vicious ruler. They’ve all been humbled along the way, particularly Theon and Tyrion, which was very clear because of how this scene was written even though it wasn’t explicit.

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What came out of the scene was even more interesting, as we now know that Daenerys is going to side with Yara against Euron (Pilou Asbæk). This was expected because Daenerys has had enough of arrogant men who think they can control her, but it was still nice to watch her make the right choice and do so humbly. What this means for future episodes is unclear because Euron is nowhere to be seen, but it’s pretty obvious that Daenerys will use the Iron Fleet and the remaining Masters’ ships to sail to Westeros in next week’s episode. I’m hoping that in that episode Euron will appear and get killed off – mostly because I can’t take him very seriously if he’s up against someone as powerful as Daenerys – but it seems more likely that there will be some sort of battle at sea in season seven between Euron’s forces and Dany’s forces. This would make sense because that’s where Euron is the biggest threat and can seem most powerful, and also because the writers will want to build the story in King’s Landing before Daenerys arrives. Stalling her travel with an extended battle against Euron would achieve that goal, and would also establish him as a real villain.

In the north the pieces moved quickly to facilitate the battle, as Jon (Kit Harington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) met Ramsay to discuss the possibility of a truce. Ramsay asked Jon to hand Sansa over in return for peace, and Jon offered Ramsay the chance to settle the issue in one-on-one combat – both offers were declined. This scene acted as fuel for the fire, as the audience were reminded just how nasty Ramsay can be (given that he hasn’t been around recently) and Jon was able to get a measure of his enemy before the battle. It was a well-acted scene which was written quite well, and it ramped up the tension.

Following this scene, Jon, Davos (Liam Cunningham), Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), and Sansa sat around the war table to discuss tactics. It was decided that the best course of action would be to force Ramsay’s forces to charge first, and the men in the room seemed pretty pleased with their decision. However, Sansa wasn’t so taken and she explained to Jon that Ramsay is the one who sets the traps, and that he doesn’t fall for tricks. This was a clear sign of things to come, and I felt that from that moment it was pretty obvious what was going to happen at the start of the battle. Something had to occur to scupper Jon’s plans and force him to make the first move, and with Sansa clearly sceptical that they would ever see Rickon (Art Parkinson) alive again, his fate was all but sealed.

As such, I wasn’t particularly surprised to see the youngest of the Stark children die at the start of the battle, although I felt that the way it happened was a bit idiotic. It acted as a catalyst to get Jon invested, as if killing the man that raped his sister wasn’t motivation enough, but apart from that it didn’t really serve much of a purpose from my perspective. Of course, the point was to force Jon to charge first and thus scupper his battle plans, but surely there were better ways to do this? If Ramsay had tied Rickon up and left him in the middle of the battlefield then it would’ve probably ended in the same outcome, so why did Ramsay leave so much up to chance? Ramsay opened up the possibility of Rickon surviving the battle even though he was a trueborn male heir to Winterfell, which to me didn’t really make sense. I don’t care if he’s a world class archer – Rickon could’ve got away, especially if he’d decided to zigzag or just run backwards. If he’d done the latter from that distance then he’d have known which way to move to get out of the way because Ramsay was a long way away and arrows don’t actually move that fast through the air.

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Nevertheless, I loved the battle itself. The fact that Jon survived so many close calls demonstrated that to live through such an event you have to rely more on luck than judgement, and I think that was probably the point. The grim reality of battle was there for all to see, especially when Jon almost suffocated under a sea of fleeing feet.

The scene in which the camera turned to reveal that Jon was being charged upon by thousands of men, shot in slow motion with what I think was a gentler version of the Rains of Castamere playing, was unbelievably good for television. At that moment I truly believed that Jon was going to die again – even though that outcome seemed impossible to me before the episode started – and I think that I might’ve actually got goosebumps. I really respect when writers and directors are inventive with scenes, especially in television, and this one exceeded my expectations. It was cinematic, startling, and utterly compelling.

The only problem with the battle was that the end result was never truly in doubt, and neither was the arrival of the Knights of the Vale. This isn’t a huge issue because sometimes television has to sacrifice surprise for a coherent story, but I would like “Game of Thrones” to subvert my expectations every now and again. When the series began it was shocking people left, right, and centre, so it’s slightly disappointing that nowadays the story is becoming predictable.

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via winteriscoming.net

After the battle finished, Jon, Tormund, and Wun Wun (Ian Whyte) chased a clearly rattled Ramsay to the gates of Winterfell. I loved the way that Wun Wun knocked the door down and fell to his knees, but his actual death left me feeling slightly frustrated because Ramsay firing an arrow into his eye didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I know that this moment was there to tell the audience one more time that Ramsay is a nasty piece of work, but when push comes to shove you have to accept that he killed the wrong person. Jon was there to kill – the leader of the enemy’s forces – yet Ramsay killed an already dying giant. I’m not saying that killing Jon would’ve made any difference to the outcome of the battle, but someone as sadistic and twisted as Ramsay would’ve definitely killed Jon over Wun Wun even if only to hurt Sansa.

Having said that, I’m glad that Ramsay didn’t kill Jon, because we all love the character and it wouldn’t have achieved anything. Plus, Ramsay’s killing Wun Wun set up one of the most satisfying beat downs in television history, as Jon showed Ramsay that real men don’t need arrows or hounds to hurt their enemies. I thought this was a great moment, and one which showed just how much Sansa means to Jon, but I’m glad that he didn’t kill Ramsay himself because the final moment when Sansa performed her first kill was exactly what was necessary for the story.

Sansa has been making the transition from lost child to hardened leader for a long time now, and it’s about time that she did something to highlight that the change has finally happened. This was that moment, and it was significant that although she had Ramsay eaten alive by his own hounds, she didn’t stay to watch. She walked away and smiled, the sound of her dying husband’s screams in her ears, and she was a winner for the first time in her life.

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I have to say that personally I’m going to miss Ramsay – Iwan Rheon did a great job of making the character truly detestable, and he’s been a huge player in “Game of Thrones”. I know that a lot of people think that the character has become too all powerful; after all, up until now he has killed everyone in his way. However, from my perspective every good television show needs a great villain, and sometimes to make that happen you have to make the villain seem unstoppable. Ramsay wasn’t layered or complex, he was just vicious, and that’s something that always gives an audience a reason to tune in. When Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) died it left a hole, and the same happened when Tywin (Charles Dance) died, so I hope someone steps up to take the mantle.

Overall, I thought that this episode was fantastic. It wasn’t perfect, but it was about as good as an episode of television can get without the involvement of Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”). I would’ve liked the logical gaps in the episode to have been polished out, but as a whole the battle was spectacular, the music was great, the choreography was wonderful, and the performances were brilliant.

9.5/10

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