Monday, June 20, 2016

Game of Thrones, S6E9, "The Battle of the Bastards"

Well, well. This is going to be short, as I am currently fighting against time itself.

I was unspoiled for the episode, except reading speculation and seeing the teaser.

I wasn't particularly excited about the episode (to the point I forgot it was available), mainly because, well, I expected an hour long set piece, probably expertly crafted and full of action and gore, but I'm more keen on getting on with the story and, as similar episodes have proved in the past, spending so much time on a single sequence feels a bit of a waste when there's so much possible depth to add. On the other hand, an hour of solid action breaks up the usual rush of scenes and scattered viewpoints. And maybe the episode would still find time for some iconic dialogue or moments. I ended up being kind of 'meh' about it. There was some great stuff, but there was also stuff that ruined my immersion; a few times I was basically yelling, at other points I cringed. Also, just one episode left of the season and no new book in sight? Have a feeling my Ice & Fire hype will die down quick. Oh well...

I was pleasantly surprised that the episode opens in Meereen. Pleasantly because I like it when the show surprises me, and I didn't expect it. Nothing more to it.

It took me a few minutes to allow the scenes to captivate and convince me; the more epic battles and dragons, the more cartoonish it all feels and all the "stark realism" of the medieval aspect of the story is momentarily forgotten; this episode showcased exactly how the gritty parts and the highly fantastical parts feel like two different stories in two different worlds - wasn't the transition from CGI-heavy, dragons-burning-down-ships to the somber fields and hills north of Winterfell just extremely jarring?

I wasn't entirely convinced by any of the charactes in Meereen either, and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion felt especially out of place (but that might have been on purpose of course); still, you see his confidence grow and I can't wait to read how Tyrion responds to Daenerys from his very own POV. Grey Worm's exceptional execution skill made me laugh, and Daenerys...a bit wooden at first, but wow that new look she's acquired, it steals my heart every time it comes onscreen. Is it the new eye-liner? Her renewed confidence? I don't know, but I'm in love. Ah, here she is:

All right, the Meereen battle was concluded quickly and despite not looking entirely convincing it's probably the most awesome special effects ever made by and for the good old "television set". It really does look like an excerpt from the big screen movie Dragons Roasting Ships with their Open Fire. Now, let's settle this whole Meereen business once and for all and go for the IRON THRONE OF WESTEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS

But first, the north! HBO are nominating Kit Harington for outstanding supporting actor this year, based on this episode alone, and I have to agree with them that Kit does indeed do an outstanding job. From the early scenes, through the battle - especially during the battle - to the episode's end, the young man is really giving it all he's GoT, and his character stayed with me in the hours after watching the episode; Kit made a ton of faces during the episode, and I'm still seeing them in my mind's eye. In other words, he made a strong impression even on a middle-aged fellow who doesn't really like the Jon Snow character. Show!Jon was great today, though. He really was.
His life companion, Ghost, however, was suspiciously absent. Why is faking one direwolf harder than these large-scale battes and huge dragon roasting scenes? A man does not really understand. Goddammit Ghost should have been in the episode, and Ghost should've been the one to bring it to Ramsay Bolton's jaws - that would be, for me anyways, a more satisfying closure to Ramsay's arc. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Or am I? There's not much more to tell, really. Battle of Meereen, Battle of Winterfell (which is a much better episode title than "Battle of the Bastards", especially when it is never during the episode acknowledged that Ramsay was born a Snow as well - not even when Ramsay constantly calls out Jon for being a bastard; that's sloppy writing IMO).

Well, there's the scene where Theon and Yara suddenly pop up in the throne room of the Great Pyramid. It felt awkward with no transitional scene ("Your majesty, fifty ships flying Kraken banners have anchored outside...") but hey, when you have so much slow-mo action going on outside Winterfell, there's no time for stuff like that. I found it an awkward scene, partially because by now you feel that everybody has been here, but I liked that sister-like friendship that seemed to develop between Dany and Yara. It was also an unexpected scene, and I may need to rewatch it (and the rest of the season) to be able to properly appreciate it.

Right I wanted to keep this was a cool battle but there were a few things happening that I thought were dumb, to be honest; Wun Wun without a weapon is one thing. How come no one thought of arming the poor guy? He could have swept everyone before them, much more so than he did; a "wall" of corpses forming a semi-circle also seemed weird to me, if not impossible. I did like Ramsay playing one last game (with Rickon), which was completely in character and make Rickon's death more tragic (considering we never knew him much). The way the Bolton shieldbearers were allowed to hem in the enemy against that wall of bodies also looked very unconvincing.

I do wonder if we'll ever see Ramsay lead an army in the books. I kind of hope not, I want Roose to be the powerful enemy Jon must defeat.

Sansa, throughout the episode, I thought was pretty brilliantly played; I am not sure where she is mentally, and I'm curious to hear how she will explain herself to Jon (hiding from him the fact she's called in the Vale). The brief shot of Littlefinger...I was like, uhm, yeah he definitely looks smug and happy with the proceedings - there can only be one thing she could promise him for that help, am I right?
...and yet, I am not sure I feel it; I mean, is this really the same Sansa? It feels like the show skipped a few steps in her character development, but of course, they're on a strict time limit.

The parlay scene was beautifully filmed, and I loved how Ramsay's true character just shone through. The riders with their banners...oh yeah. But I'm fucking confused and angry with the Karstarks and the Umbers! AND SHAGGYDOG'S HEAD LOOKS LIKE A MINIATURE. Its smaller than a normal dog! Dammit. Iwan Rheon (or whatever), splendid actor.  Also cool: How the parlay changes tone completely when Ramsay isn't able to stay civil anymore.

Love how Ramsay tells Jon he's heard he's the greatest swordsman in the north (and in the end, Jon wins using a shield and his fists); love (again) my fellow countryman Tormund Giantsbane (who defeats Smalljon Umber - sigil: giant).

And I have to wonder-  and I'm probably not alone in this - if we'll end up with Jon and Sansa? It's kind of foreshadowed in the way Jon ends up with redheads.

I wish the battle showed more clearly some of the House banners - the Mormonts, the Karstarks.. just a geek's nitpick.

Davos finding Shireen's wooden stag: There will be (fire and) blood. Melisandre's story is soon over. But will her death somehow awaken a prophecy? What if Jon executes her (as the Lord Commander)? I don't know.

By the way, the actual battle ("of the bastards", grr) doesn't take up that much time of the episode's hour. There's just as much stuff leading up to it (parlay, council), yet it completely dominates the episode. And I do enjoy much of it, as a fan of medieval warfare (not close-up fan). It just doesn't ring entirely true.

Another geek request is that I wish we got to see the town outside Winterfell's gates, you know, to see again the place where little Arya, clad in a helmet, was waiting for King Robert Baratheon's entourage. Instead we go straight to the gate, which, predictably, Wun Wun cracks open.

Predictable is a key word here; the battle was predictable, but there are nice touches anyway; Jon literally drowning in the dead was a great sequence that made me gasp for air; the slow-mo shot of the come-to-the-rescue Vale knights was cool; Ramsay's reaction was a bit weird, perhaps, just sitting there on his horse looking displeased; perhaps I expected him to tilt completely. Shame he didn't have his twenty good men around this time.

When Ramsay's back behind Winterfell's gates he has a second to reassure himself he's safe now; why didn't he command all his archers to fire on Wun Wun? Oh and why is Winterfell so small? Oh right TV.

Right, the ending. While I appreciate the dramatic irony of having Ramsay eaten by his own dogs, I didn't really like that Sansa was responsible for this, to the point of watching as they began to tear into him, then turning around to smile as she left him to die (as savagely as his victims). Shouldn't Jon feel the need to keep Ramsay alive, at least for interrogation purposes? Wouldn't it be more satisfying if Ramsay's first threatened by his dogs, and he's like, "They won't eat me" and then Sansa could go, "Perhaps not, but this one will" cue Ghost? Did Sansa even ever witness Ramsay use his dogs on someone (I may have forgotten) - I mean, is there an in-character reason she would choose to feed him to his own dogs? And Sansa, while probably very traumatized, when did she become this brutally vindictive? I just can't get it all to work (of course, if Martin would just release a new book and bring us up to date on the real story...)

Now of course I'm curious, as always, about what's going to happen next. Will Sansa be forced to marry Littlefinger? Will Jon kill Littlefinger so she doesn't have to? How does the retaking of Winterfell by Jon Snow affect Jon's future? In what way will the stories down in the Riverlands have an effect on the ongoing tale? Stay tuned, I guess....Episode 10 looks to be more in the vein of regular episodes with a bunch of different stories scattered across the setting, but I must assume there will be a lot of closure as well.

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