Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 9: Battle of the Bastards

It’s the penultimate episode! That usually means we get an epic fight with all the extras and lots of little modal cities burning down!

Oh yes, it is epic

Starting with, shockingly, the least and most epic… in Meeren Daenerys returns home to be very Unimpressed with Tyrion and the state of her city.

She is all for wrath and vengeance while Tyrion counsels some restraint because wrath and vengeance is something of an unfortunate Targaryen habit. Instead she parlays with the representatives of the great masters. They present their case, full of condescension and threats to return everyone to slavery

She rebuts with dragons. Three of them. Against a fleet of wooden ships

And whatever argument they have against that she counters with Dorthraki. Lots of Dorthraki. MOOOOORE Dorthraki. ALLLLLL the Dorthraki

It’s a compelling argument. The two more awful great masters get murdered, the remaining is left to spread the tale and go and plot for the future (and yes, plotting is an issue. Look at Westerosi history – the Targaryens and their dragons were forced to treaty before by the Dornish who wouldn’t fighy in the open field. Daenerys and her Unsullied were frustrated by the hidden Sons of the Harpy. Guerrilla war has always been effective against Targaryen dragonfire).

I’m torn with Daenerys’s victory, which is something I’ve been touching on in recent episodes. A large part of me wants to cheer and yell “epic epic epic” because she does have some of the more epic scenes. It’s amazing, it’s shiny, and I love the dragons burning all the things and some nice burny victories.

But this is how Daenerys achieves power – woo-woo and dragons. Now it’s not all she has going for her – she’s extremely charismatic, unbelievably determined and damned inspirational. She’s also genuinely kind and compassionate – albeit patronising and condescending with it

But if there’s one thing her little Meeren adventure has taught is, it’s that she actually isn’t all that skilled in administration, diplomacy or politics. She receives people as a supplicant – even sycophant – or an enemy to crush. I do hope that we’re seeing a shit of this when Yara comes to treat with her (along with Tyrion thoroughly putting Theon in his place. I liked his point about height jokes and how everyone making them feels they’re being original. We see this a lot with insults of any marginalised person – there’s little originality in bigotry). Daenerys and Yara bond over the idea being the first queens of their people, as well as acknowledging they had ineffectual and even evil fathers. Tyrion remains dubious about any independent part of the 7 kingdoms, but I think given it’s a feudal system there are given levels of independence

What I find most interesting here is their pledge to be better than their fathers – that’s Yara, Daenerys and, really, Tyrion. They’re pretty much all descended from The Worst and it’ll be interesting to see what each path takes since each of them have part of their fathers in them.

Yara has already been told to desist raping, pillaging and ravaging even as she protests that it’s their way of life. But isn’t this what she herself realised back on the Iron isles? That the Iron Islanders would reave and cause problems until the other kingdoms finally got tired of them and slapped them down over and over and over again. They only get to reave, like in the north, when the other kingdoms are more bothered by other things – their way of life constantly destroys them. Her people’s redemption could literally save them

Then there’s Daenerys – with the direct comparison Tyrion draws with her father. So far we’ve largely been able to cheer her “kill ‘em all” policy because her enemies have been caricatures of awful. Her enemies (conspicuously POC, as well it has to be noted) are rapists, slavers and generally terrible people. Her enemies have been designed to be caricatures for us to hate – if that were any more plain they’d be raising swastikas

But what when her enemies are not (POC) caricatures, but (white) characters? What about her reaching Westeros and the city she wants to burn to ash isn’t Astropor, but Winterfel or Highgarden? What when her enemy isn’t some slaver or Khal whose name we don’t remember – but Margaery or Sansa?

Her narrow, and very Targaryen, view has allowed her to be largely viewed as one of the “good guys” because her enemies have been the worst of the worst. Put her in a position where it is Jon Snow facing dragon fire or Arya Stark in the path of the Dorthraki horde or even the Hound facing the Unsullied and her simplistic narrative is going to crack quickly.

Now to Westeros and the battle of the bastards – Snow vs Ramsay

And from the very beginning Sansa tells us it’s going to be a disaster. Sansa, the only one who knows Ramsay, Sansa who has grown much harder and wiser as the series progresses makes it clear this is going to be a disaster

Of course, Jon is not entirely wrong when he points out they have little choice.

The battle itself is… huge and terrible and terrifying and in some ways NOT epic. It has epic numbers, but it’s brutal and grubby. It has no dramatic dragonfire or alchemist fire, no heroic sieges, no moments of glory. It’s brutal, confusing, chaotic, nasty and just plain awful. It’s an ugly savage brawl with no glory or passion or redeeming features. It’s brutal and nasty and really, perfect. This is war, nasty, horrible, awful war.

And while Jon is an excellent warrior, Sansa is right, Ramsay is a bloody brilliant general. From using – and sacrificing – Rickon to bait his trap, to rendering Jon’s archers useless, to using his own archers and pikemen to utterly dominate the field, Ramsay not only has the better army but his mastery of tactics is pretty much unmatched.

Jon’s force is almost annihilated. No amount of courage or passion or sword work change that. He is saved only by… Sansa. She may hate Littlefinger but if it’s a choice between Ramsay and… well… anyone she definitely sides with Littlefinger

Arriving just before utter destruction with the Vale Knights cavalry (remember, other than Doorne, the Vale is probably the only one of the Seven Kingdoms that hasn’t been savaged by war – which will be important I think) Sansa saves the day. And we see that pike formations are all very effective - but a cavalry charge to the back just slices right through them.

I have heard some criticism of Sansa waiting “until the last minute” or implying she was devious or sacrificing Jon’s troops here… I don’t buy that. She may be cunning and even ruthless here but I see no advantage to her in having Jon’s men slaughtered – if anyone more Northerners would benefit her in stopping them being dependent on Littlefinger. Can the devastated remnants of the Northern army face off against the Lannisters? Or the Lannisters and the Tyrells? So why the delay?

She can’t teleport – frankly it’s already slightly dubious that Littlefinger had a sufficiently large number of Vale knights close enough to help that Ramsay didn’t discover.

Ramsay tries to flee but, with one more sacrifice of the last giant, the gang breaks down the gate and takes Ramsay captive (after Jon brutally smacks him unconscious with a shield). He then hands him over to Sansa

Who is epic, awesome, terrifying and quite willing to feed Ramsay to his own hounds. Sansa, all of the applause.

Now it remains to be seen where they go from here. How many northerners do they have left? And does the Vale really have sufficient armed forces to bolster them against a Lannister/Tyrell counter attack led by Jaime Lannister? Or are we relying on Shit Happening in Kings Landing to fracture that alliance and/or distracting Jaime back down south. Is the north (Tullys, Arron and Stark) pretty much reliant on southern politics pulling them apart at this point?

And just what will be left when Daenerys finally crosses the ocean? And will that be able to face the white walkers (since they have dragonfire, I’m going to go with “probably”)?

Of course (and I have to say this every episode to annoy Renee,) Jon could marry Daenerys. Though a Sansa, Yara, Daenerys triad would be pretty epic.