Warning: This recap for the “Battle of the Bastards” episode of Game of Thrones contains spoilers.
This week’s episode of Game of Thrones presented an existential question for every TV recapper: How can there be highlights when the entire hour is a highlight? How can one possibly choose a GIF to make when the episode presented thousands of GIF-able moments? If the point of a recap is to distill an episode to its best talking points in the service of brevity and analysis, then what happens when the proper analysis would take longer to read than simply watching the episode? Lots of questions here, guys, but the one thing we don’t have to question was that “Battle of the Bastards” was a damn masterpiece.
Oh man, this episode. Aside from presenting one of the most complicated, ambitious, and downright expensive-looking war scenes in TV (or film!) history, “Battle of the Bastards” pitted arguably the show’s biggest villain against its most beloved hero, which, stakes-wise, felt like an injection of steroids into an already compelling situation. We also lost at least three important characters, and this episode also had to go and show off by bringing us another little bonus battle right upfront, and that battle involved the kind of dragon carnage we’ve been promised ever since Daenerys was gifted a trio of eggs on her wedding day.
But, again, so much happened, and there’s so much to talk about. Let’s attempt to do this episode justice!
We began with the already-in-progress attack on a city that should absolutely be destroyed. It’s not just that Meereen is the worst (it is), it’s that Meereen is where Daenerys’ plotline had been dead-ended for the past three seasons, so we had reason to harbor some bitterness toward it. In other words, I was not stressing over the thousands of flaming cannonballs currently raining down upon Meereen. Daenerys, on the other hand, was VERY steamed.
So steamed, in fact, that Tyrion had to briefly request that she not turn into a power-hungry destroyer of worlds, as her father had been. (Also, did you notice that he conspicuously mentioned the existence of tons of barrels of wildfire beneath King’s Landing… Could that have been the “rumor” that Qyburn mentioned to Cersei last week?) Anyway, it was time for one of Daenerys’ patented “you’ve underestimated me” moments, and this one was a doozy.
During a “terms of surrender” meeting with representatives of the Masters, the Masters mistakenly believed that Daenerys was going to concede, but that was BEFORE Drogon landed beside her.
In general, the best way to end an argument is to quietly climb atop a dragon, fly away, and then incinerate half of your opponent’s naval fleet. So in this case Daenerys definitely won the argument.
Like I was saying, in the span of about 30 seconds, I was gasping and clapping at basically every image and concept onscreen. Like when the other two dragons finally freed themselves from the basement and joined in the carnage? Incredible. What a show this is! (Also, these were probably the most stunning special effects I’ve ever seen. No wonder HBO can only afford 13 more episodes.)
While all that airborne carnage was happening, a cute moment happened among the Masters representatives: Greyworm shamed their soldiers into leaving town, and then he slit the throats of the two most dickish representatives, at which point Tyrion encouraged the lone survivor to go back home and tell them what had happened here. In short, this was Daenerys’ official coming-out as a world leader and the people needed to know!
Meanwhile, this total piece of s*** met up for a pre-war pow-wow with Jon Snow, Sansa, Ser Davos, Tormund, and the Tough Girl of Bear Island. He openly mocked everyone there, and then threw the severed head of Rickon’s direwolf into the mud like a true jerk. He also declined to fight Jon Snow in a duel, on the grounds that his enormous army was probably a stronger choice.
Few things will ever be as bad-ass as Sansa looking Ramsay in the eye and declaring “You’re going to die tomorrow… Sleep well.” YES, QUEEN SANSA.
Before the titular bastard battle (which lasted half the episode) got underway, we were treated to a series of little moments that were also pretty great in their own right. For example, I loved when Ser Davos attempted to explain what had happened to Stannis Baratheon, but Tormund couldn’t get past the mention of “demons” and whether Ser Davos meant literal demons or not. Tormund does not care for literal demons!
Also, Jon Snow paid Melisandre a visit, mostly to encourage her to, you know, help them out in tomorrow’s battle somehow, or at least promise to not resuscitate him should he die again. But she was like, “Nah.” As she explained, she doesn’t have magic of her own, merely the occasional moment of inspiration from the Lord of Light himself. Sure, whatever. That shadow baby incident sure was a weird thing to happen if she didn’t have any power.
But this moment was really devastating: Ser Davos paid a visit to the spot where Princess Shireen had been burnt at the stake. In the ashes he found the carved stag he’d given her. This incident had been one of the worst things that’s ever happened on this show, so it meant a lot that the characters haven’t forgotten it. You know? Poor Princess Shireen.
Miracles are real. For example, Theon and Yara are now some of the most sympathetic characters on the show. How did this happen? Well, it helped that their uncle wants to murder them, so they’ve got an underdog thing going for them. But now that they’re teamed up with Daenerys, it means they’re on the right side of history. I loved that Dany made them promise to stop pillaging and raping, and I also loved that Yara openly flirted with Dany and joked about “being up for anything” when it comes to political marriages. But yeah, just so we’re clear, Team Daenerys now includes a Targaryen, a Lannister, and two Greyjoys. What an odd assortment of houses! Very into it.
So, it was time. It was time for this. It was battle o’clock. And it all began when Rickon was carted out to the front lines and Ramsay pretended to set him free. But I think we all saw this coming:
Rude! Rickon did not deserve that!
From here the battle just got increasingly insane over the next 20 minutes or so. You should honestly just watch the entire sequence because holy s***. My favorite feature of it was how baffled and frightened and confused Jon Snow was THE ENTIRE TIME. Relatable! We were treated to another one of those “unbroken shot” moments like in “Hardhome” where Jon Snow swung his sword around and murdered tons of people for a very long time. But this wasn’t a cool or pretty battle, it was actual hell. Also at one point Giant Liam Neeson punched a headless man off a horse:
I mean, yeah:
A lot of dead bodies piled up right away. This was partly because Ramsay was slaughtering HIS OWN MEN in addition to Jon Snow’s. I honestly get the feeling that Ramsay was not the best leader, but that’s just my opinion.
The battle was gruesome and, again, insane, and it culminated with the surviving soldiers finding themselves encircled by the rest of Ramsay’s forces, who in turn were closing in and stabbing everyone with spears systematically. Jon Snow was nearly trampled to death and in general nobody was having a good time. The music even dropped out, like in every war scene when we’re supposed to brace ourselves for a brutal defeat. But that’s when the horn sounded. The horn of mercy!
Yes, it was a classic, last-minute “we’re here to help” moment, which is not the first time this show has done that. Littlefinger and his Knights of the Vale had arrived to kick Bolton patoot, and not a moment too soon!
I loved that Ramsay turned full Monty Python… “Run away!” And Jon Snow, Tormund, and Giant Liam Neeson all gave chase.
Speaking of the Giant. I am crying right now and may never stop. Look at what he endured and put himself through just to help Jon Snow! He personally busted into Winterfell and saved the day, only to be met with hundreds of arrows.
And just when he was about to die, Jon Snow reached out to touch him and the Giant received an arrow in the eye socket! From Ramsay Bolton himself! Oh that piece of absolute garbage.
At this point Jon Snow finally beat the ever-living s*** out of Ramsay, but not to death. No, Sansa gave Jon one of those “save me some?” looks and Ramsay was carted away. At which point… I know it’s cold in Winterfell, but nothing gave me chills more than THIS:
The Starks were BACK, friends. Winterfell might be a cold, dreary fort that’ll probably get overrun by White Walkers within weeks, but it was also HOME. Now we just need Arya and Bran to get back and we’ll really have something.
Our final scene involved Sansa offering a heartfelt goodbye to her delightful husband. Mostly she just informed him that he was less than garbage and was going to be forgotten (along with his family and House ) the instant his dogs ate his face off. And then his dogs ate his face off.
The best was when Sansa just stared coldly at him as his head was taken apart by animals and then she walked away smiling. As much as she’d been through, this moment was nothing less than 100% satisfying. Same went for us too: This episode was exhausting and brutal but I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated.
“Battle of the Bastards” was yet another high-water mark for this incredible, virtuosic series. I honestly can’t praise it enough and I’m already sick in my heart that after next week’s finale there’s only two (short) seasons left. But let it be known that the characters are finally all making HUGE moves and the run-up to the final game (of thrones) is getting more and more harrowing by the day. This episode featured two separate battles, but the big war is already well underway.
What did YOU think of “Battle of the Bastards”?
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO