Game of Thrones S6.09 review - Battle of the Bastards

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Bloody, brutal, perfectly executed - this is the best episode of season 6, and one of the greatest GoT shows of all time

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Where do you stand on 'perfection'? If I told you this episode of Game of Thrones was perfect, what would that mean? Obviously, I don't mean it's free from all mistakes, or inconsistencies, or that certain scenes couldn't be improved for certain parts of the audience. For me, Battle of Bastards is a perfect Game of Thrones episode; it's 60 minutes of TV that hits the right notes, at the right time, and leaves the viewer in little doubt that events couldn't have played out much better. And in the context of all other Game of Thrones episodes... it's perfection.

Let's start at the end. The death of Ramsay is such a fitting demise for the character but, more than that, it's the air-punching moment that fans have been waiting several series to see. It had to be good, and it didn't disappoint. The bastard of Bolton utterly defeated in battle, called out on his cowardice, pummelled by Jon Snow, then - utterly gruesomely - having his face eaten off by his own dogs. It couldn't and shouldn't have happened any other way.

And the build up to that death was perfect too. The scene where Ramsay rode up to Jon and pals to offer his mock surrender was classically him. Thinly veiled threats, words laced with double-meaning, the cold stare of a man who is capable of absolutely anything gloating over his opponents: it's Ramsay in a nutshell. And yet Jon's companions remained unmoved. They're a group who have collective faced death, rape, betrayal, and the loss of everything they held dear. When Ramsay rides away there's a sense that his wickedness has been called out, that his evil holds no more fear to Jon and his companions (and, by association, the viewer too)... and that in itself is unsettling. The law of Game of Thrones plot-lines tells us that this interchange is far from over, and it'll get much worse before it gets better. If it gets better at all.

The 'getting worse' is, of course, what happens to Rickon. While he's never been a major character, what he has represented throughout the past few seasons is very significant. He was hope, youth, the future of House Stark unbroken by war and unsullied by his enemies. And he's literally a child. His end - so wonderfully orchestrated by Ramsay - is the ultimate act of terror from the master of chaos. You knew he would die the second he was lead out in front of the Bolton army, and when Ramsay simply told him to run to Jon, you knew that his end would come when he was inches away from his brother. As a military tactic, it's wonderful. As a psychological plot, it's genius. And as a device for setting up an emotional, bloody battle that has been brewing between this season's biggest characters... it's perfection. I sat there, watching the show, mouthing “No. Stop” along with all Jon Snow's allies as he fell headlong into Ramsay's trap, and charged the Bolton army. You know it's superb TV when you're that invested.

What follows is the bloodiest conflict in all of Game of Thrones, and that's saying something. Heads fly, guts spill, limbs are hacked off, and the bodies pile higher than ever before. It's genuinely shocking to see the level of violence achieved, and you get a real sense of the hopelessness of war, especially when Jon is being trodden to death by his own troops, suffocated by panic. When Sansa arrives with the Knights of the Vale - as you always knew she would - the feeling of elation is amazing. Perfect timing. It's a trope that has been wheeled out time and time again, especially in fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings, where the underdog fights spiritedly, faces defeat, and is saved at the last second by glorious reinforcements... and yet it still works amazingly well here. You still wonder - is this it for Jon? Surely it can't be. Sweet god he's going to die. Someone help him up! HE'S FUCKING DYING... YES! It's the Knights of the Vale!

After that, it's pure revenge and redemption as several series of pain and loss are put right by a few key scenes. Then the face eating tops it all off. In fact, the Battle of the Bastards is so engaging, it's easy to forget that it isn't all Snow on Snow action. Yes, Daenerys has actually done something! After the comedy scene where Tyrion tries to put a positive spin on his time in charge of Meereen, we get to see Dany's fully-fledged dragons in action, and they don't disappoint. Boats burn, Masters get cut-up, there are a handful of witty one-liners, it's all good.

However, the more interesting scene occurs afterwards, when Yara and Theon show up to offer their ships to Daenerys’ army. There's a strong, almost over-played bond between Yara and Dany that sets the scene for season 7. The meek are soon to inherit the earth... but I get the feeling it isn't going to be as simple as that. George RR Martin, though detached from the TV show now, doesn't send out such simple moral messages as that. He's gone on record before to say that his fantasy is grounded in reality, divorced from the idealised stuff Tolkein created. Daenerys may be a down-trodden player in Thrones, but she's still a tyrant. Tyrion is disadvantaged, but he's still venal and selfish. And neither of them know how to rule wisely. The scene where they ally with the Greyjoys feels like a feint before a much darker, messier storyline appears, and there are hints of that in the scene. Yara is told “no more reaving”, to which she cautiously agrees. There's altogether too much bonding and backslapping for this alliance to end positively. We'll see in a year or so, I guess.

In all, Battle of the Bastards is brilliance. It's the crucial 'episode 9' that is meant to be the hottest, most thrilling of the whole season, and it doesn't disappoint. It dispatches the greatest villain in Game of Thrones in style, restores a much loved family, and splashes the gore liberally enough to make most viewers curl up in delighted disgust. What's your definition of perfect TV? For me, it's Game of Thrones season 6, episode 9.

More info

Air date19 July, 2017
Available platformsTV
Andy Hartup