‘Game of Thrones’ recap 6×09: ‘Battle of the Bastards’

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This week in “Battle of the Bastards,” war descends upon the Known World. The blood spilled on the battlefields of Winterfell and Meereen marks the end of their respective conflicts. As expected, episode nine delivered a struggle more monumental than anything in the past season. Equally visually breathtaking and emotionally staggering, the battle between Ramsay Bolton and the Starks left viewers stunned.

Meanwhile in Meereen, Daenerys obliterates her conflict with the Masters and finally finds herself with a force well-equipped enough to sail for Westeros. Though King’s Landing was excluded from episode nine, whispers of the deadly green liquid wildfire seem to hint at the events to transpire in the Capital.

Discussions of wildfire have surfaced a few notable times in the second half of season six. Beginning with Bran’s vision in “Blood of My Blood,” references to the mythic volatile liquid also occur in “The Battle of Bastards.” Tyrion divulges information about wildfire’s connection to the Mad King’s plot to burn King’s Landing to the ground to Daenerys during episode nine to keep her from following in her father’s destructive footsteps. With Cersei and Qyburn discussing undisclosed rumors and Cersei making fire-related threats throughout season six, there is reason to believe that Cersei may follow through with Aerys Targaryen’s plans in the episode to come.

In the North, Sansa and Jon find themselves at a major turning point. For the first time since season two, the House Stark banner flies over Winterfell. Though the Bolton army ultimately succumbs to Littlefinger’s forces, its defeat comes at quite the cost. This battle has been building up for several episodes, but instead of the Starks celebrating their victory, they are left with a bitter taste in their mouths. As Littlefinger is the true victor by the use of his army to defeat the Boltons’, the leverage he has over Sansa and Jon could strip them of control of their home. As a result, the Stark banner may hang only symbolically at Winterfell.

Though Jon was the face of the Stark army, Sansa acted with strategic rationale and earned the victory. Sansa’s plea for Littlefinger’s help proved to be a wise decision, though it may lead her once again to marry in order to survive. Ignorant of Ramsay’s wicked capabilities, Jon responds impulsively and nearly loses the battle as a result. On the other hand, Sansa predicted Ramsay’s actions, including his cruel slaughter of Rickon that led Jon to give up their army’s original strategy of “patience.” Despite Jon’s best efforts to defeat Ramsay, he and the rest of the survivors owe Sansa their lives.

Though highly anticipated, the battle was predictable. The events in the episodes prior were aligned perfectly for the conflict to pan out as it did. Despite its predictability, the battle was a cinematographic marvel. “Battle of the Bastards” is reported as the most expensive “Game of Thrones” episode to date, and it certainly paid off in the final product. The stunning camera work led to captivatingly disorienting and gruesome shots that revealed the chaos and horror of war. The production of the episode and the actors’ subtle yet poignant performances left the audience feeling unsettled despite the “good guys” reigning victorious. The aftermath of the carnage was written in an unexpectedly sympathetic way. Instead of the Starks basking in the glory of their triumph, the overall tone at Winterfell remained solemn. With thousands of men dead and their home not really theirs to claim, the Starks’ victory was too tainted to really celebrate.

With two wars fought, only one remains. Though Daenerys is ready to sail on the wings of her victory to conquer the Seven kingdoms, the Starks’ triumph stands on unsteady ground. With their fates sealed, the only question left unanswered lies in King’s Landing. In the war between the High Sparrow and Crown, only next week’s “The Winds of Winter” will reveal the final outcome.

Contact Dani Sundell at [email protected].