If you haven’t seen last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, watch it right now! If you’re busy with something annoying like your job and you can’t watch it right now, be sure to stop reading this post because it’s packed full of spoilers. Season 6’s ninth episode is definitely one to remember.
We’ve been waiting all season for raw action, and HBO finally delivered. We get to see not one but two bloody battles in episode 9. Both are critical to the plot, and both have been masterfully created. We’re looking at top-notch action and gorgeous special effects.
First of all, Daenerys finally speaks after her quiet return to Meereen. And for some reason, Tyrion is afraid of how she might react. Unbeknown to her, he did a great job at Meereen, establishing some order in her long absence even though it all led to a sudden attack from the slave masters.
He quickly regains his composure and provides the advice Dany still needs – after all this time, you’d think she would have learned a thing or two about being a powerful ruler, but she clearly hasn’t. She still wants to kill everyone who opposes her.
That said, the negotiations scene between Daenerys and the Great Masters is amazing. With Tyrion’s help, she quickly makes it clear to the masters that she’s looking for their surrender and has no intention of returning Meereen to them. Drogon makes his appearance, and it’s probably clear what will happen next. We all know one dragon is enough to blast through that entire fleet of ships – I can’t help but wonder why no one tries to shoot projectiles at the dragons— but all three of them join in on the action.
This scene raised a pretty obvious question though: why did the two other dragons decide to break out of their prison now? Tyrion unshackled them a few episodes ago, yet Drogon’s younger siblings decided to just sit and wait it out until the right time?
Furthermore, isn’t it dangerous, from a logistical point of view, to have three dragons roaming the skies in the aftermath of the short battle?
Later in the episode, we find Theon and Yara coming to the Mother of Dragons to pledge their allegiance to her. They bring 100 ships with them, which must be quite fast considering the great distance they’ve traveled to arrive here. Furthermore, isn’t it convenient that the Greyjoys came to Meereen right after the battle concluded, but not in the middle of it?
Moving on to the bigger fight, I have to appreciate what HBO did with the battle between bastards. At various times during the fight, you get the feeling that you’re right inside all of the brutality. You see everything from a first-person point of view, and it’s all very impressive.
But as great as the battle might be, I do have some issues with it.
First of all, there’s Ramsay Bolton. He’s the kind of Game of Thrones character that you love to hate, but he’s a brilliant villain. He knows what he’s doing as he leads his army, and he’s not afraid to fire round after round of arrows into a massive pool of foes and his own soldiers. He knows he has more men than Jon Snow and Sansa, so he can sacrifice his own – there’s an obvious inspiration from Braveheart in this battle.
But how is it that he knows everything about the Stark army, and Jon Snow’s departure from the wall, yet he doesn’t know that a rather large force of Vale knights is marching to battle?
How is it that he agrees to a meeting with Jon Snow and Sansa before the fight without trying to ambush them, and likely stop this conflict before it gets underway? He starts off the battle with a clever ruse. He draws Jon Snow out to kill him before the battle starts, which shows once again he’s more than willing to fight dirty. So why not do that during that initial meet-up?
Later in the episode, why doesn’t he fire an arrow in Jon Snow’s chest when Snow isn’t looking. Bolton is the most horrible person on the show, yet he’s always been smart. In episode 9, however, he does make some tactical mistakes that wouldn’t be expected of him.
Speaking of the Starks, why doesn’t Sansa tell her brother that she sent for help? Isn’t that the kind of information Jon Snow and the others could use to set a trap? Sure, the writers wanted this miraculous force to descend upon the Boltons at the last minute, surprising us all, so that’s why they kept it from the public. But they could have done it in a way that Snow would have known about the imminent cavalry charge. Hundreds of lives would undoubtedly have been saved.
But Sansa did not do that. Yet it’s still Sansa complaining about not being included in the tactical phase of the battle. She is right, of course, but she was in the same room with everyone. She could have spoken and everyone would have listened.
So you can’t have it both ways. Either she’s not in the room, and she can complain and keep the Vale force a secret. Or she’s in the tent, she interrupts, and she tells them she might have more men. Sure, she doesn’t know if the Vale force will come in time, but at least she would be useful to her army. The writers, however, chose to make Sansa seem like an impulsive woman who has no idea how important good intel is in a battle such as this one. And after building her up so much in the previous episodes, they reduced her to silence at such a critical moment.
Finally, if you’re Sansa Stark, do you want to have mostly Vale knights in a controlling position at the end of this battle? The Stark army is pretty much destroyed at the end of the fight, and Littlefinger could easily conquer Winterfell.
The idea seems to be that Sansa is in control, she has grown to be the leader her mother was. It doesn’t escape her that Rickon needs to die to defeat the Boltons. She’s also ready to administer Ramsay the kind of bloody punishment he deserves. Without blinking, she turns Ramsay’s starving hounds on their master. The dogs, whom Ramsay prepared for the Starks by starving them for seven days, carry out the kind of death he’s brought to many others. Too bad her other decisions weren’t as cool-headed.
Also, dear writers, who in their right mind would run in a straight line away from incoming arrows? Wouldn’t Rickon be smart enough to zig zag a bit?
And what’s the deal with the mountain of dead humans? Who put it there? How aren’t the combatants finding a way around it? Sure, bodies are bound to pile up a bit in a battle like this. But would they really so as high as to be used as a strategical advantage?
Good thing the Vale knights come right in the nick of time to save Snow and the remaining soldiers in his army. But I can’t understand why on Earth some of the lords backing Bolton, and especially the Umbers, stand by him the moment he orders salvo after salvo of arrows into his own men. Don’t they realize they might have a similar fate?
And if you have that amazing roman-legion-like attack strategy, why aren’t you using it early in the battle to dispose of the attacking cavalry and foot soldiers? That’s another strange choice Ramsay makes, in spite of being a nearly perfect villain.
Finally, how is it the no main character dies in the battle, other than Bolton and Umber? The writers made sure they told us Melisandre might revive Jon Snow again, in spite of his wishes. And at one point I thought he’d die by simply being buried alive in that pile of dying soldiers. He could have been killed right at the start of the battle when he was in an advanced position compared to his men. But the writers only killed the Wun-Wun giant. And bizarrely, the fatal blow that came from Ramsay’s bow spared Jon Snow.
They also could have killed Lyanna Mormont, who was there just for show. Or Tormund.
All in all, HBO delivered two great battles in episode 9. But when dissecting the details, I can’t help but feel that the writers could have made some better choices in this season’s penultimate episode. Is Game of Thrones really falling apart? Maybe not, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders like it used to.
GIF animations above courtesy of BingeWhale.