“It always seems a bit abstract doesn’t it? Other people dying.”
Before this season of Game of Thrones began, we were promised the biggest battle the show has ever done. We were promised spectacle and history making television. The episode titles were revealed and ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ was set to explode onto our screens, and show us why this show is so special. And we got that. But, take a step back from the hype and gory glory and ask yourself what it all means.
I love this show. I love the books and I am eternally fascinated watching the show tell its own fantastic version of the events. It is so popular because it presents multiple sides of a story, from various character’s perspectives, making conflicts not a simple matter of good versus evil, creating three dimensional heroes and anti-heroes, all fighting for what they believe in. This episode removes all the grey areas and presents good guys against bad guys in another attempt to get your fist pumping for the death of a bad dude. This week it worked as the internet is loving ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ because it was admittedly awesome. For someone watching the show to see the good guys win, and for ground-breaking TV, it was great. For a nerd like me who does nothing but watch television and film, this episode left me feeling hollow.
I mentioned the lead up to this episode at the top of my review because I wanted to highlight the legacy this show has created for itself. It has a grandiose quality, boasting scale that has never before been seen on the small screen before. “It’s not TV, it’s HBO”. We have seen some awe inspiring spectacles, ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ showed us a huge battle between wildlings and the Knight’s Watch,, ‘Blackwater’ still stands as one of my favourite episodes and depicts Tyrion defending King’s Landing from Stannis. What these battles featured that Jon and Ramsay’s did not was the moral grey area. The wildlings were the enemy in their battle against the Wall, but we understood why Mance Rayder was doing what he was doing. Stannis was not a villain when he sailed to Blackwater Bay, he was simply trying to reclaim what was legitimately his, and we as an audience understood where he was coming from.
This week’s battle was Ramsay ‘Smug Face Asshole’ Bolton against Jon ‘Ultimate Good Guy Resurrected Jesus Figure’ Snow, and so a grey area did not exist. We wanted the Starks to win and so they did. It was our deepest desire to see Ramsay get eaten by his dogs as Sansa watched on and that is what happened. Is Game of Thrones getting sentimental in its old age? It certainly seems so. Is that a bad thing? Of course not, otherwise its ending would disappoint everyone on Earth.
Yet, what it needs is to use its insane levels of popularity to introduce something new to TV audiences along with its spectacle. The battle is filmed so damn well, the image of Jon pulling his sword as the Bolton army rides towards him, the tracking shot of Jon fighting amongst the chaos of war, the way Jon gasping for air is presented constricts our view and pulls you into his world, the horror at seeing arrows pierce Rickon’s dead body. It’s brilliant and no other show has done anything like this, but I didn’t care as much as I wanted to because aside from how it looked, I have seen everything else before. Rickon’s death is sad because he was a Stark but it wasn’t affecting because he wasn’t really a character. Having been missing for more than three seasons, he showed up in one episode and then in his next appearance, he died. In that time, he did not say a single word, just looked frightened and died in front of Jon to make him risk his victory, and make the episode more exciting. A few weeks ago, Sansa wrote a letter and the show decided to keep the recipient a secret as it would come into play later on in an exciting game changing reveal. But, we all knew it was sent to Littlefinger because, who else would it be? His arrival to the battle with the Arryn army wins the day and echoes every clichéd big battle scenario in cinema history. This week I marathoned The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy and the same scenario happens at least three times in the series. Even this show has had the same thing happen twice before, the Tyrell’s in ‘Blackwater’ and Stannis’ army in ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ and it serves to simply arrive at Ramsay’s death. Yes, Ramsay needed to die, but the journey there has been lacking any subtlety.
For four seasons we have had to witness a myriad of horrific deeds at the hands of Ramsay Bolton to build him up as the worse version of Joffery. While Joffery was a piece of shit, he was also just an immature brat lashing out at anyone because he had power. Ramsay was a man who understood his actions and relished every one of them, and thus he became a villain without any redeeming qualities. We wanted to see him brutally die and the show delivered. Everything he did was shown to build him up as an evil guy, and those he fucked up were never explored as much as him. Now he is dead and the Starks finally have Winterfell, and once again I am left wondering why. Was it only so we could see a big battle, because the many nuances that could have been injected to the episode were nowhere to be seen. We could have explored the leadership dynamic between Jon and Sansa, we could have built up Rickon as a frightened boy who will die before he could ever be with his family again, we could have seen the meeting between Littlefinger and Sansa and why she decided to keep their interaction a secret from Jon. Why did she? Was she afraid Jon would not accept the help or was she ashamed of asking for help from a man she despises? We may never know because having a surprising last minute reveal with a hero shot on top a hill is way cooler than character exploration in an episode based on grand spectacle.
- After YEARS of time spent in Meereen, Dany’s storyline quickly rushes to a conclusion. While it was over super quickly, especially considering how long we have been stuck there for, I really enjoyed how her posse went about taking down The Masters. Her dragon attack on the Master’s ships is awesome as she finally demonstrates her full power as she prepares to sail to Westeros. I was happy to finally see where Tyrion fits into Dany’s rule, cutting through her arrogance and making her contemplate what she is actually saying when she begins to boast and monologue. If she is indeed fighting for the underprivileged people of the world, burning them and their city to the ground does not really send that message and as a person faced with prejudice his entire life, it is great to see Tyrion open her eyes to what her words actually mean.
- I know mainstream media does not make its way to Westeros, but Rickon, come one man, there must have been a scroll that told you not to run away from something in a straight line. Serpentine!
- I know I rambled on about this episode’s flaws and I did not love it as much as most people but I do stand by that this was an amazing episode. As the show’s budget continues to grow, I continue to marvel at the displays they pull off. This is one of my favourite shows of all time, I just wanted to explore the aspects of the episode that were not getting discussed due to the haze of internet hyperbolic furore.
- Next week is the season finale entitled ‘The Winds of Winter’ and will be the longest episode in the show’s history and with all the storylines up in the air right now, it will hopefully cap off this season in a great way.