Wow. Last night was intense. That was an incredible hour of television and one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones. If you asked me what the best episodes were, I would say Baelor, Hardhorne, Blackwater, and The Rains of Castamere. But this episode, man, this episode was fantastic and deserves to be on that list. It truly was incredible from a technical stand point and from pure energy and verve. Even if certain elements, particularly the outcome of the battle, were predictable, they did not diminish the power and the amazement I felt while watching the entire hour. Let’s dive into the Battle of the Bastards.
Before I describe my favorite sequence of the night, I want to list a few standout moments that I adored:
- Tyrion having a great conversation with Dany and actually calming her down enough to let diplomacy work with some effective violence without resorting to all out carnage
- Tyrion talking smack to Theon, calling back to their encounter in Season 1
- Viserion and Rhaegal finally getting in on some momentous dragon action
- Lady Lyanna Mormont being a boss-ass bitch in her one appearance just by sitting on a horse and scowling at Ramsay during the parlay
- Sansa getting her moment of victory and revenge by using Ramsay’s weapon to end him all while watching it happen. This does not make Sansa Ramsay. This is her playing the Game. This is her learning.
- Happy Shitting (!!!!!)
- The effect of Rickon’s death on Jon and Sansa. Though he wasn’t seen much and his death wasn’t as heartbreaking as Robb’s or Ned’s or Hordor’s for the audience, his demise sent waves through two of our heroes, and we felt it.
- Wun-Wun, the last of the show’s giants (?), has fallen
- Jon using the shield of House Mormont to block Ramsey’s arrows
- The shot that gave me shivers:
Besides the slow motion shot above, my favorite moment of the night, mostly due to the discomfort and horror I felt, was the scene where Jon was being trampled by his own troops as they tried to escape from the shields and spears of the Bolton army. I am not claustrophobic, but I felt such fear as Jon fell and was constantly pushed further into the pile of corpses as his comrades attempted to survive. It was a harrowing moment that felt authentic to medieval warfare due to the danger of the situation and the confusion and terrifying images of war and slaughter that led to that moment of near death for Jon.
As the cuts occurred more rapidly as Jon’s breath became more strained, I really felt like this might have been the end. That Jon Snow was really going to die again. Jon had lost the battle through his anger, impatience and by falling for Ramsay’s trap, and even though I had the strong feeling that the Knights of the Vale would show up like Gandalf or any deus ex machina and save the day, I doubted Jon would survive to see the ultimate victory. Because if Petyr Baelish didn’t respond to Sansa’s plea and stayed away from this Bolton-Stark war, Jon would have lost. And Jon knew it. As the Bolton shields closed in, as the wildlings were backed against a wall of death, there was no escape, no survival, and when Jon fell down in the mud and blood, I thought this was it. I thought Death was going to take Jon back.
But then Jon soared upward, gasping for air. He told the God of Death, “not today.” But before he found that life-giving breath, Jon was close to surrendering to death. As Kit Harrington said in the post episode interviews, he felt that Jon was giving up, that Jon was willing to let death overcome him. And I believe that. Before the battle, Jon told Melisandre not to bring him back if he were to fall, which showed Jon was willing to abandon this life, that most of what he held dear had vanished. Jon has lost his sense of purpose ever since he came back from the dead. Although he hasn’t drastically changed as so many thought he would (and as it was established in the books with Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart), Jon has subtly evolved since his resurrection.
Jon is more prone to anger (the former Jon may not have tried to punch Ramsay to death), his soul is lost, he abandoned the Night’s Watch, and had no purpose in his new found life until Sansa arrived at the Wall to tell him about the state of Winterfell and the Bastard who held it. Jon may not seem different (minus the man-bun), but he has changed. He is darker, broodier (if it were possible), and more malicious. Jon has made some brash decisions before, like the time he tried to run away and help Robb after he heard of the news of Ned’s death, but he was brought back to the Watch by his friends. If the new Jon faced that same predicament, I don’t think he would turn around and go back to Castle Black. He would have kept heading South.
The Night’s Watch was once an honorable organization Jon had dreamt of joining, then it betrayed him. Going beyond the Wall was supposed to find him adventures, it instead gave him the White Walkers and massacres. Jon only experienced horror, and his life held no relief, even after he was resurrected and learned that death could be escaped. Before this Battle of the Bastards, Jon essentially gave up on life. He saw the other side and experienced and saw nothing. So why live after he tried to help Sansa and save Winterfell and only found defeat? Why continue to fight as he was being trampled by his comrades and he saw no escape? Because hate can drive a man to survive, just ask the Hound.
Jon’s death changed him by giving him wrath. I loved the sequence where Jon was being trampled not only because it was terrifying and made me understand what claustrophobia must be like, but it also showed that Jon hasn’t quite given up on life, that certain emotions were still compelling him to survive and to continue to fight, even if they were more base and less honorable (seriously, the old Jon would not have attached Ramsay like that). I feared for Jon’s death, and was relieved when it didn’t arrive. Even when Jon was willing to lose and succumb to death, his wrath and hate and will to survive compelled him to rise up and find that breath, to find life.
Jon was reborn on that battlefield in that instance, and maybe, he can now find his true purpose in life.