Game of Thrones: Season 6, "Battle of the Bastards"

By Aaron Bady, Sarah MesleJune 21, 2016

Game of Thrones: Season 6, "Battle of the Bastards"
Previous episode: season 6, episode 8, "No One."

Following episode: season 6, episode 10, "The Winds of Winter."

LARB’s Collected “Game of Thrones” Coverage


Evil Father’s Day: or, We’re Not Going to Do That, at Least Maybe Not

Aaron: What a happy Evil Father’s day it was! Battle of the Bastards and your dad was the worst king of all (except for mine, who was also a psychopathic killer, lulz). Let’s all rape less from now on, deal? Deal.

DEARTVLOGOSarah: Aaron, that is a really good summary of this episode — an episode that was very impressive and that, I think I have decided, I didn’t like very much. With a few important exceptions, it was just a slow, miserably-detailed grind. Watching it was sort of the opposite of getting a scrub in a Korean spa: it worked me all over, grinding the grime of humanity further into my skin instead of washing it off. “Battle of the Bastards” celebrated Yara and Dany, and their desire to imagine a less violent world than the ones their fathers made. At the level of language, this show was about the miserable wastefulness of violent patriarchy. But how to square that with the full half of this episode spent in wrenchingly rendered blood and gore?image30image38
So, here’s what I want to discuss. Did “Battle of the Bastards” have a real take on violence? On patriarchy? It was a very impressive episode, especially in terms of its aesthetic vision. But I’m not sure it was as rich conceptually as it was visually. And the gap between its concepts and its visuals is something that I find not only somewhat eye-rolly, but also maybe troubling. It’s pretty sucky to try to have violent patriarchy and critique it too.

Aaron: I know what you mean, both generally about the show overall and also in this episode in particular. But I might push back and be tempted to say that it does have a certain amount of aesthetic coherence in its response to violent patriarchy. I say “tempted” because I wouldn’t want to push it too far, and also because I’m not sure its “response” rises to the level of “having a take” or enunciating a critique, exactly; it responds to, rather than arguing about, if that makes sense.

But I think we need to start with the double-twist at the heart of the Battle of the Bastards, where Jon Snow and Ramsay Stark are not only doubled, as foils, but actually replicate and recycle each other’s tactics and errors. After all, Jon plans to draw Ramsay in but gets drawn in himself; that’s the most basic description of what happens. But then it turns out that Jon being drawn in was what drew Ramsay in, allowing the Knights of the Vale to come and clean up. It was Jon falling for the trap that set the trap for Ramsay: if Ramsay had stayed behind the castle walls, he’d have lasted out a long siege and surely won. Instead, he is tricked into making the same mistake that he tricked Jon into making which was the mistake Jon had intended to trick him into making, etc, etc, etc.

Is that a take on patriarchal violence? I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s a demonstration of something like the dynamic that Pastor Ian McShane was talking about the other week, about how violence only proliferates as violence. In any case, against that backdrop of boy-bastards doing the same thing, the sudden appearance of an outside force — Sansa and her mother’s family’s army — is the thing that changes the dynamic. Thematically interesting, if not coherent.

Sarah: Right, and then let’s think also about that narrative doubling against the other plot line of this episode: Dany’s battle against “the masters.” Last week I said that I thought we were supposed to assume Dany’s dragons had already been deployed, so I was surprised to discover, this week, that actually Dany opted to just let her people get blasted at while she threw shade at Tyrion and staged a smack down with the assholes of Slaver’s Bay. (Sidebar: this is the first of a couple of somewhat gaping plot holes we should probably discuss. Really, Dany?)

But, I will say that staging the battle this week allowed the writers to make clearer parallels between the Mereen and Winterfell. Both storylines featured negotiations with surprising reversals; both featured women swooping in with surprise armies. There were similar moments, such as the moment when Grey Worm doesn’t stab that one master, and when Ramsay doesn’t stab Rickon. The plot points line up in some nice ways, and I appreciate that the different moments of doubling worked to heighten our experience of those moments of repetition. But how does all this hang together?

Are both of these battles “about” the same thing, or “for” the same thing? They are two battles fought by this show’s “heroes” against different kinds of forces of darkness: the exploitations of slavery, sadism, domination. The doubling plots align Dany and Sansa — and Yara — as agents of change. So then: what do we make of the episode being so much more interested in the battle of Winterfell? On the one hand, of course it is: Winterfell is the center of Game of Throne’s story. But on the other hand, as an hour of television, the show’s fascination with the brutality of the Battle of the Bastards seemed to reveal something of its own grim dreariness.

Pause though to say: how much do I love that this battle ended with Jon Snow and bows and arrows in Winterfell’s courtyard, right where the show’s pilot episode centered, six years ago? AARON: I LOVE IT A LOT. Even as I’m complaining about the larger stakes.

Aaron: There are so many echoes and parallels; I hadn’t thought about a lot of that. You know, I think a lot my complaints about Game of Thrones boil down to demanding that it be psychologically coherent and consistent (or just socially non-nonsensical) when that might be asking it to be a different show. This show seems more interested in building a vast and beautiful architecture of plots: it likes to create symmetry within episodes (and within the show as a whole) where characters and plotlines (and shot composition) echo and mirror each other. It can be pretty neat! But because it “thinks” so structurally, as a show, it often loses track of individual characters, or loses plotlines. Perhaps too simplistically, it gets so interested in forms that it sometimes doesn’t think below the surfaces?

But you ask a very good question, because there’s no doubt that the show is more invested in the dreary personal — personal stakes, personal grievances, personal vengeance — than it is in the spectacular idealisms in Meereen. But Winterfell is also where Humanity makes a stand against the brutal monsters of the north; indeed, on some level, this is a battle to re-take not just the family home, but the only place from which the living can mount a defense against the dead. But when we go to Meereen, our protagonist is the one riding the magical beasts. And so, another way to think about why the show spends so much time in Winterfell rather than Meereen would be that the show is more interested in a doomed tragic last ditch effort to fight off the monsters than in Dany’s ascendency story.  

Sarah: I buy that and thus want you to answer a secondary question, which is how this observation fits into the question I asked about about the show’s relation to patriarchal violence. Is the attention to destructive patriarchy just lip service? By that I mean: maybe the show is criticizing destructive patriarchy while in fact indulging it. But also maybe the show talks about destructive patriarchy and just doesn’t really care about it? Maybe what it cares about is personal heroics, and/or white walkers.

Aaron: I agree with you: this show is all about enjoying what it critiques. But at the same time, do we want the show to imagine the world differently? The moment when Dany was making her speech about making the world a better place, all I could do was think of the other HBO show on last night, Silicon Valley, where they make fun of that phrase so much that it almost becomes unusable.

Sarah: Aaron, I sort of hate Silicon Valley and its jocular humiliations, so despite the appeal of imagining Bachman swooping in to irritate Grey Worm or whatever (IMAGINE), I am going to keep talking about this blood and gore stuff.silicon_valley3
This is where I want to talk about the parallel I mention in my IndieWire piece, between Dany and Yara’s moment of unity and Sansa’s moment of revenge. I don’t want to come across as being in any way opposed to Sansa letting the dogs out. But it was fucking brutal. And if ending the episode with Sansa rather than with Dany was smart, in that we care more about Sansa and Ramsay than Dany and Yara, it also had the effect of emphasizing revenge and darkness over hope and solidarity. Which: fair enough. But I couldn’t decide: we are rooting for Sansa’s revenge, but are we also rooting for her embrace of violence?

(Also! Not only am I interested in the relationship between Sansa and Dany/Yara, I’m interested in how Sansa compares to Arya in the previous two season finales: Arya going full-psycho on Meryn Trant, and Arya walking away from the dying Hound. Let’s pin this! Stark-daughter damage! Interesting!)

Aaron: I wonder: does Sansa actually “let the dogs out”? Jon is ready to beat Ramsay to death until he sees Sansa standing there, and he then defers to her. We could have more Foucault here, I think, about different forms of punishment. And what made Sansa’s revenge so narratively satisfying in the end was that he was the one who starved the dogs to make them, and so she didn’t, in the end, replicate his violence. Not to be all Star Wars about it, but the grin on Ramsay’s face when Jon was beating him was very “Let the hate flow through you”: Jon had become a mad dog, too. So when Ramsay tells Sansa that he’ll be a part of her forever, her killing him would have confirmed it, another act of violence that replicates and repeats past acts of violence, which echo and reverberate forever. I don’t know if it counts as breaking the wheel, because Sansa doesn’t actually murder him. She isn’t even the agent in the series of statements about how his name, family, and memory will be forgotten: they are all things he’s done to himself.

Sarah: Right, it’s not quite passive voice, but it’s similar: “Your words will disappear. Your name will disappear.” These things will happen without Sansa’s agency.

Aaron: Exactly! Though I’m suddenly thinking of Ned Stark’s great advice to Robb: if you are going to execute someone, you should swing the blade. What has happened to that wisdom? Walking away from someone who is dying on a cliffside is not exactly a great mercy, and it would be hard to argue that Sansa didn’t kill Ramsay, just because it was his own dogs that ate him. Ned Stark was against passive voice construction, I think, but Sansa… maybe a little less so?

Sarah: That’s a good point, and it goes right at what this show “thinks” about violence — not, as you say, that it necessarily thinks something particularly cohesive about violence, across all these characters and seasons. But that initial Ned Stark claim was one of this show’s key statements of ethics: you should be responsible for what you do. Which is not a bad response to the world, really: given an imperfect world, and given the importance (the show thinks) of a stable social order, violence will happen, and people should exercise it consciously, consistently, and efficiently. Ned Stark: a good dad! But he’s been gone from this world for a while now, and his children are left to navigate it without him. And would it really work, for Sansa to cut off Ramsay’s head herself? Ned’s mode of politics works really well for strong men with swords. If we want a world where women, too, can claim power — a power that is not a primarily phallic power, based on the ability to cut, stab, and otherwise penetrate — we need a different ethics. Sansa’s trying to do that one way. Dany is trying another. Yara was just trying to be a more effective version of her dad, but now she’s maybe on board with the Dany’s plan, too?  image24And yet, to come back to your point about Sansa, Aaron, I guess I really want to congratulate Sophie Turner for her stupendous acting in that scene, because she managed to portray intense emotion without making it clear to us what that emotion was — which leaves us parsing the different emotional stakes of watching a terrible person be eaten by a dog. She flinches, watches, walks away: at the end the start, heart-stoppingly, of a smile. This is why the scene compares so interestingly to Arya’s decision to walk away from the Hound: both Stark sisters walk away from the chance to save someone destroyed by their own violence (though obviously the Hound and Ramsay are very different). These ethically ambivalent emotional moments, portrayed across women’s faces (also, Cersei’s response to Jaime, when he rapes her) are when Game of Thrones most successfully takes advantage of its visual medium. Because we can’t know exactly what these women are thinking, we are forced to think about ourselves — as interpreters of them. And attending to the ways we interpret women is something our world really needs to do!

But of course, women’s emotions are only part of what this show was interested in, even though both plot lines, both battles, are resolved by moments that focus on how women feel. Despite making women a part of the conclusions, the substance of the episode is mostly taken up by men killing each other, in increasingly direct and horrifically portrayed ways. As I said, an awful lot of the time of this episode was spent in incredibly attentively directed slaughter. What do we think about this? The obvious comparison, I thought, was Saving Private Ryan — I felt like Spielberg’s staging of the D-Day invasion was the real standard “Battle of the Bastards” was trying to achieve. We know a little about the American narratives Saving Private Ryan was going for — greatest generation, etc. What’s going on here? Both narratives are about the relation of one special life to the huge number of lives lost in war. Aaron, what if Jon Snow met Matt Damon? I feel like Davos and Tom Hanks really do have some things in common.

Aaron: It’s an interesting comparison, especially in terms of Fog of War aesthetics (and aestheticizing large scale violence as cinematic triumph). Of course, the other reference point is the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings; I’ve noticed lots of fan commentary citing the latter, at least. But the Lord of the Rings is fantasy because the one life usually turns out to be actually worth all the trouble, right? One life to save them all! And here, it’s at least an open question: does Jon’s weird charge register as a Tragic Act of Heroism or a monumental fuckup?

Anyway, I’d like to push back a little on the idea that the Battle for Winterfell was just 30 minutes of blood and gore. It was, but it wasn’t only that. When Jon first decides to fight an entire army on his own — because of Tragic Heroism — I rolled my eyes so hard I accidentally warged into Pepita and spent the rest of the evening hunting squirrels in the yard. But I got better, and after some re-watching, I do think the battle has a certain kind of very formal, visual logic to it, if we start from the presumption that Jon Snow hasn’t really gotten his head around being alive again, and, actually, kind of wants to be dead again. If we think of it that way, then the battle plays out his re-immersion in life. It’s very Freudian: death drive, melancholia, and dream logic.

Do I have screenshots? Yes, Sarah, as it happens, I do have screenshots.

First, we see Jon alone, riding towards certain death:image33Suddenly, he is faced with an onrushing army, which will overwhelm him:image12
It does, and he is lost in the mass of bodies:image37image34image02image11
It really seems like he’s going to die at that point, doesn’t it? The sad violins, the receding sound of the fray, the loss of details and definition? But then, inexplicably, he doesn’t: he fights his way to the surface, gasping for air (like he did when he was first raised from the dead).image35And then he emerges:image27And joins his squad:image10Successful symbolic integration into the social order!

And, of course it’s a hyper-violent masculine and patriarchal social order he’s re-joined, but it’s certainly an interesting allegorical fantasy about rebirth. Plus, he doesn’t quite do it on his own; he fights his way to the surface, but he’s still stuck in this press of bodies and meat. He needs Doctors Sansa and Littlefinger to cut him free:image25Or maybe their army is fertilizing the egg? I’m not sure:image13
I feel like there’s lots of room to think about what kinds of symbols these are, and what kinds of re-birth this show can imagine. Like any dream, the more you draw out the latent logic behind what is manifest on the screen, the richer and weirder it gets.

Sarah: Aaron, I would like to congratulate you on your super tight screenshot game! But I want to stop you and say: really? You thought Jon was going to die? I never for a minute thought he was going to die (any more than I thought Dany was going to die). And that’s not a criticism: you know I love genre fiction, and I don’t mind watching formulaic stories when exactly the thing you expect to happen (Sansa riding up with the Knights of the Vale) happens exactly when you expect it to (just at the last minute). I love narratively imposing order on this horrible world we actually live in!

But I did not like watching Jon’s close shave, although I admired the way it happened again and again and again, Jon’s escalating moments of unlikely salvation. My friend Dan was smart about why: it’s disappointing to watch this show, which used to make us feel like truly anything was possible, turn into just another narrative where common folk get killed off to up the narrative suspense of some “chosen dude’s” emotional journey. (Here I’m thinking about Lili’s excellent piece about the genocidal logic of Star Wars). Like, sure, I’m so glad that Jon realized that he really did want to live, but did he really have to build his own corpse vagina to birth himself out of? Really?

And more: while we’re talking about the sacrificial logic here, Dan also pointed out that the slow death of the Giant, which is basically a replica of the death of Hodor a few weeks ago, is a really cheap emotional prop: let’s watch this majestic, beautiful, powerful, not-quite-human beast get slowly killed as a surrogate for the dudes we have to keep alive. Aaron, this is why I never watch movies with dogs in them. Something terrible always happens! I can’t stand it! I choose dogs! I chose giants over Jon! Hodors over Bran!

Aaron: Ugggh, exactly. This show kills its monsters when it doesn’t want to kill off its protagonists, which is such a cop-out for this show, of all shows. And let’s not lose track of the fact that despite a ludicrously high body count for this battle — all of the Stark army was killed at least twice, by my count — all of the named humans on Team Stark survived. But to keep it from getting ridiculous, they had to kill off someone you cared about, so, naturally, Wun Wun had to die. And Rickon, but even his own sister was all “Isn’t he dead yet? He’s probably dead by now.”

Sarah: Okay so that was a great moment, probably the best of the show, when Sansa’s like: Jon, I see you playing your chivalry games here, imma let you finish but dude he is dead. Sansa was totally the real-talk Kanye to Jon’s TSwift’s pretty pop-song logic in that situation, and I loved it.image23I particularly loved it because it was some powerful political knowledge that she earned particularly through her subject position as a sacrificial woman. Jon thinks the battlefield has taught him how the world works, but this show gets behind Sansa’s perspective. It’s not honor or strength that protects you. In fact, when power is moving through your body (her body, Rickon’s body) “no one” can protect you. Your individuality is lost in the logic of how you mean, politically. This, for me, is how the battle as a whole lines up to another of the episode’s subplots: Davos’s discovery that Shireen had been sacrificed. Shireen is the ultimate illustration that no one will protect you, especially not your bad dad (father’s day! Worse worlds!). Stannis justified killing his beloved daughter because he believed that she, as a girl, was only important in how she could contribute to the “larger story” — which is to say, his story, of patriarchal dominance.

There’s a part of me that hoped Game of Thrones would learn from its own criticism of Stannis, and not repeat Stannis’s sacrificial logic at the narrative level? But, you can ask Hodor and Wun Wun how that worked out.  

Aaron: “In my experience, girls like her don't live very long.” Also boys like Rickon. And giants!

That might be a good transition to talking about Ramsay, too. I actually felt like this episode did a lot to make him an interesting character again, after a season of boring tedious awfulness. No, that’s not it; Ramsay himself is still not that interesting. But the effect he has on other people is, and the way that warps the narrative of the show. I actually did feel like Jon could die, even though I knew that he wouldn’t, but with Ramsay, it was the reverse: I felt like he was invincible, even though I kind of realized that he couldn’t possibly survive much longer.

But there’s something about watching him win on the battlefield, the exteriorization of his abuser’s mystique, the effect that a manipulative sadist can have on his victims (which we, the viewers, are also affected by) that make it seem impossible to outwit or defeat him; the way he maneuvered Jon Snow into the shield wall of death on top of Mount Pilacorpses was incredibly horrible, in exactly that way. It confirmed everything you fear, when he gets in your head. Even Sansa’s inside knowledge was essentially “he will have already planned for whatever you’ve planned, so don’t do that thing, do something else.” But how do you beat someone like that?

I remain very disappointed that Queen Lil’ Badass of Bear Fucking Island didn’t, in the end, murder him. But you can’t have everything.
Sarah: That would have been really good! Sansa’s point to Jon was so great: “Don’t do the thing he wants you to do.” What she’s basically talking about is consent. And another way to say that is that Sansa learned about Ramsay’s battle tactics from her marriage: how you can be raped by someone you have already consented to have sex with. Sansa knew that Ramsay wanted to marry her, and she thought she could maneuver, work within the terms of engagement — to use a term both sexual and military — he offered. And what she learned is that she was wrong. But Jon couldn’t hear that, because Sansa couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) put what she knew in military terms. Here again, the show is just leaning in to this womanly knowledge; she is exactly right! Aaron, maybe I do like this episode afterall?

Aaron: Speaking of consent, though, what do we make of Sansa’s decision to keep Jon in the dark about her ace in the hole? If I was Jon Snow, I’d feel quite poorly used, and to judge from next week, the two of them are going to have a conversation about trust. So in one sense, she saved the day; but she also did it in a wildly manipulative way, and I’m struggling to make sense of that.

Sarah: I fucking loved it. It was my favorite thing about this episode, after the hand clasp and Dany’s new queenly dress (drapes not pleats!). I know I just criticized this show for it’s cheap deployment of a sacrificial narrative formula, which is that the good “guys” swoop in just in time to save our hero after an emotionally requisite number of common folk have been lost. I’m not sure what account we’re going to get of Sansa’s delay, and it is totally one thousand percent lame that Jon himself never thought to ask about, oh, Sansa’s cousin’s army. But bracketing that not-really-very-minor narrative hole (SO ANNOYING), Sansa’s strategic use of that army not only illustrates her own emergence as a fully interesting character, it also undercuts the narrative implication that Jon will be saved at all cost. Because what’s finally important in that scene is not that Jon was saved — or delivered, to use your metaphor from earlier. What’s important is that Sansa had the power to decide when and if that delivery happened.

Aaron: I don’t know, man. It’s definitely true that she’s a much more interesting and ambiguous character, but the jump from pushing Jon to fight this war (urging that they MUST save Rickon) to now saying that Rickon can’t be saved and (in effect) using Jon and the Wildlings as cannon fodder while her secret army waits in the wings… I mean, you could argue she sacrificed her brother to get personal revenge, or was at least willing to do that. But the problem is that I genuinely don’t understand why she didn’t tell Jon at some point what her plan was. Has she gone full #NihilisticSansa? I mean, this makes sense to me as a genealogy of #NihilisticSansa:

Ned Stark: I will be honorable no matter what! (dies)
Robb Stark: I will marry for love no matter what! (dies)
Jon Snow: I will fight bravely no matter —
Sansa: What would Mom do, hmmm… (hops on Gchat with Littlefinger).

But as a certain Lili Loofbourow observes, it’s hard to figure out which it’s supposed to be; has Sansa written her family off or did her armies just happen to arrive in time, allowing her hands to be clean in making a very difficult and murky decision? When Brienne was asking her why she kept the secret, it at least made sense that she was undecided about what to do, because it was a tough position to be in, and maybe Sansa just hadn’t decided what to do yet. But to not tell him on the eve of the battle? That indicates she made a choice, but was it the choice to be like her mother (who also went rogue when her son was being a doofus) or does it represent Ramsay’s victory over her? She walks away smiling, but it’s a really ambiguous parallel the show has built between her and Ramsay.

Sarah: So many rabbit holes. Let’s move on. I will pause briefly to mention that I’m a little amused that they conveniently absented Brienne from operation Corpse Vagina, which is clearly a man’s war to fight. (Sorry, I can stop talking about the Corpse Vagina if we need to. But I do feel like it is a really important insight into military culture.)

Aaron: Granted, and never stop. But if we’re going to talk about women fighting men’s wars, let’s touch on the sticky business of Yara’s “Well, Rape is Sort of the Culture of Our People, Actually.” I mean, I love the character, but those moments when she goes full pirate are a funny kind of loose thread for someone we’re clearly supposed to root for. To go out on a limb here: murder, rape, and pillage are not actually great things! Plus, as terrible as everyone has decided her father was, she actually seemed to get along pretty OK with him most of the time, didn’t she? When Theon first washed up on his ancestral home, she and King Worst Dad were actually a pretty good duo, it seemed like. And I’m not sure the show can quite paper over the gap between Yara-the-reaver and Yara "I never demand, but I'm up for anything, really”; it seems like being a good pirate would probably necessitate a certain amount of demanding. I also have questions about what the Dothraki army did when they killed the sons of the Harpy at the gate, since historically, the Dothraki are not at their best when liberating cities). Plus, I can never remember if Tormund is one of the Good Free Folk Wildlings or one of the raping and murdering peasants kind.

Sarah: These are all good points. All I know about Tormund is that he is not a Fen but that he does, all of a sudden, have a bad vocabulary. As to your question about the reformation of the Dothraki and Ironborn, I think the answer the show wants us to accept is that Dany has completely transformed them through her powerful maternal hotness. It’s like she’s Kim Kardashian, and they are all Kanye. And the Dothraki are all Wiz Khalifa? Aaron this is my second Kanye reference, and it doesn’t really make any more sense than this particular plot point. Let’s stop and do our best/worst.

My best I already mentioned: Dany’s new throne room dress.
I get that the aesthetic innovations the directors of this show are most impressed by are the intestinal details portrayed with such loving long shots in the battle scene, but I really want to give some props to the perfection of this dress. I have spent so much time the last two seasons worrying about Dany’s impractical wardrobe decisions — who ironed the pleats? Is that a dress or a swimming suit? — not only because they lacked verisimilitude, but also because they seemed to indicate how truly unprepared she was to lead! But this drapey thing is a real improvement: she looks great and comfortable and not like she’s making unreasonable demands on her house staff. The costume designers here are clearly really clued in to the political importance of clothes, even if the directors are not. Also, Yara: good leather pants.

Aaron: I will not be bullied. My best are the long shots in the battle scene. I am a man and I must speak my truth and my truth is that these long shots of the battle are very good at being long shots of a battle! #masculinityimage26But I actually have to say, this is a battle that managed to do two hard things at once: portray the sense of fog of war and confusion (Jon, on the ground) while also giving a sense of the grand topography of the battlefield, so you always sort of felt like you know where things were happening. It could have been unendurable otherwise, and I did enjoy that.

Sarah: Fair enough, I shall not judge you for your man truth, but Aaron, I came away just really baffled that people ever fight battles. Like: what a completely dumb activity! It makes no sense to me. It makes even less sense to me than the fact that the Bolton’s apparently left some Stark banners rolled up in some Winterfell closets this whole time, and that is saying something.

Aaron: I think we can posit — given that fighting battles is incredibly stupid and pointless — Jon Snow was also following his man truth when he decided to fight the entire Bolton army on his own. Sansa wouldn’t understand, of course, because she doesn’t know anything about military terminology.

Sarah: What’s your worst? Given that i had a lot of problems with this episode, I’m having a hard time picking one. I guess I’d say that my worst was the “feeling of frustrated exhaustion” that immediately followed the brief dark elation of watching Ramsay’s face getting eaten? I think my worst is that this show is so good it makes me mad it’s not better.

Aaron: I found Tyrion’s defensive speech to Daenerys at the very beginning to be really annoying and pointless and confusingly written. Like, why is he even being defensive? She totally bailed and left them holding the bag! And yes, he fucked everything up, but she should be at least understanding if things are fucked up, and then it turns out that, in point of fact, she doesn’t care very much at all. She’s all “cool, cool, now let’s burn all of their cities down immediately,” which made it all feel very… beside the point, why are we watching this scene. Stop talking Tyrion, take the L and move on. GET ON WITH THE BIG BATTLE YOU GUYS, basically.

But then they did, so that was okay, I guess.

Sarah: Aaron, I cannot think of a better way to capture my sentiments. Let’s stop there?

That was okay, I guess,
Aaron and Sarah


Previous episode: season 6, episode 8, "No One."

Following episode: season 6, episode 10, "The Winds of Winter."

LARB’s Collected “Game of Thrones” Coverage

LARB Contributors

Aaron Bady is a writer in Oakland.

Sarah Mesle (PhD, Northwestern) is faculty at USC and Senior Humanities Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Prior to arriving at USC, she held postdoctoral fellowships in English at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a 19th-century Americanist by training and is interested, generally speaking, in the long history of the American popular novel and in the many ways pop culture can excite, estrange, and surprise.


With Sarah Blackwood, she is co-editor of You can follow her on Twitter.


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