Game of Thrones's ninth episode of the season, "Battle of the Bastards," is described merely as "the latest episode of the hit series" in its synopsis, so you know that shit's gonna be crazy.
The episode begins from the POV of a bomb, a funky #creative #choice that heralds yet again that this episode is going to go HAM all over your TV. Daenerys is standing in her taupe palace, staring at a whole bunch of such bombs and the bomb-hurling masters in the same manner in which I stare at baseball games: confused, irritated, bored, angry that we cannot wear similarly flowy pajamas to work. Tyrion, whose fault this absolutely is, gets defensive, proclaiming that the "city is on the rise" despite the fact that the city is literally being leveled as they speak. Dany, in all of her infinite wisdom, fixes her baseball stare on him as he blathers for a long while.
Finally, Dany opens her mouth to speak words. The words are forceful, if maniacal: "I will crucify all of the masters. I will incinerate them in their homes. First, though, I will carefully fold all of their flowy cape pajamas and bring them to my castle, where I will wear them as my queen uniform forever." Tyrion's like, "This sounds good to me — I love pajamas. But that's exactly what your dad wanted to do, and he was an extremely unchill sociopath." Dany hears this and agrees to relent, temporarily forfeiting her dreams of waltzing around her hemp-hued palace in breezy polyester. Instead, the two call a meeting with the masters.
Dany and Tyrion and the masters meet on the roof, which is, ironically, one of the only places that is not on fire. The masters, whose whole thing is "being dicks," are being dicks. They tell Dany that she should've surrendered ages ago, that her "reign is over." "Actually, my reign isn't over," says Dany. To hammer this point home, she climbs atop Drogon — her son, but also her weaponized animal and mode of transportation and on-the-nose phallic symbol — and burns a not-insignificant number of men to death.
Below, Dany's two other dragons — Wynken and Blynken — explode from their basement prison, where they have apparently been calmly hanging out despite having been unchained for, what, months? I can't with these lazy fucks. Wynken and Blynken are similarly lighting humans aflame, but they fall instantly in line with Drogon once they spot him. It is immediately clear that the Game of Thrones production staff has saved all of its special-effects budget for this episode, which really explains a lot and helps me empathize with many of their previous tackier choices ("Let's just run this QuickTime video of a sky from 1985 behind Emilia Clarke as she rides atop a mechanical bull and it will look like she's flying away on a dragon — yep, that looks great! OK, good job, everyone, see you next week").
Below, the Sons of the Harpy are indiscriminately stabbing people. Who? IDK and I don't care and neither should you. All that matters is stab. Stab is life. Case in point: Here come the Dothraki, yippin' and yellin' and stabbin'. Above, Dany and Drogon continue their assault-by-fire, dracarysing all over this bitch. Above, back on the roof, Grey Worm is like, "I'm the captain now," threatening and mind-fucking and then — guess what — stabbing two of the main masters right in the throat. The fact that I find this surprise throat-slitting sexy in a cheeky way is the truest proof that this show has ruined my actual life.
Over in the North, Ramsay Bolton and Jon Snow are meeting to chat before their bloody battle to the death. I don't understand how war works? Jon seems to think it's sort of an informal coffee thing, but Ramsay has other intentions, most of which involve the decapitated head of an innocent wolf. Sansa is there because Jon's fur would look stupid without her matching fur, like half of a BFF necklace or the decapitated head of a wolf without its body.
Ramsay and Jon have extremely different agendas, which always makes prewar coffee meetings uncomfortable. Ramsay asks Jon and Sansa to surrender, and Jon asks Ramsay to fight one on one. Neither agrees to the other's terms. Both flounder about for a minute, fiddling with the Splenda. Jon squints quite a bit. Sansa steps in to smooth things over. "You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton," she says. "Sleep well." Then she rides off into the sunset as Ramsay reads poorly written lines about his dogs eating Jon Snow's balls or something. Whatever. I am living only for How Sansa Got Her Groove Back.
Later, Jon and Tormund and Davos are having a pointless prewar war meeting. Sansa is sitting in a corner trying to figure out how to best contact Taye Diggs. Tormund is like, "I'm worried about horses. Ahh!!" Jon is like, "Here are some rocks in a little line. You see?" Davos is like, "OK, time for bed." Jon trods off to bed, believing this to have been an extremely successful meeting. Sansa follows him. Just two platonic siblings, wearing matching coats, hanging out in a dark bedroom late at night. Nothing to see here! Sansa scolds Jon for not asking her for help with his rock formation. "I lived with Ramsay," she says. "I know what shape we should put those rocks in better than ANYBODY." Jon admits that she's right, and asks for her war advice. Here is Sansa's war advice: "We'll never get Rickon back."
Sansa and Jon proceed to get into a very old-married-couple fight. Jon spouts pie-in-the-sky dreams. Sansa's like, "If you don't do well at work tomorrow, I am literally going to kill myself." Sansa stalks off to bed, miserable. Jon hunches, sighing, over his stack of papers. It's all very Death of a Salesman.
Elsewhere, Tormund and Davos are having another post-prewar-meeting prewar meeting. This is another one of those Game of Thrones scenes that is supposed to be "comic relief," but this isn't ever clear, so I'm telling you now. Both agree that they should stop blindly following and murdering people for would-be kings. But following and murdering people for Jon Snow is fine. That's fine. Tormund says "cunt" for the second time in five minutes (comedy!). Tormund shares that his prewar ritual is drinking sour goat's milk. Davos shares that his prewar ritual is to "shit his guts out." They part.
Jon and Melisandre have another post-prewar-post-prewar-meeting prewar meeting. Jon's like, "You coming tomorrow, bro?" Melisandre is like, "...No." Jon asks her to please not bring him back from the dead if he dies. Melisandre is like, "...No." They engage in a brief philosophical discussion about why Jon was allowed to come back from the dead in the first place. The short of it is, "We don't know." They part.
Finally, it's the day of the battle. Haha, just kidding, Davos is wandering around, shitting his guts, and it's still prewar. Speaking of vengeful demon gods who murder kids, Davos stumbles upon the exact site where Shireen was burned at the stake in order to please the Lord of Light. Somehow, the little rinky-dink wooden toy he made her survived being burned at the stake. Repeat: A tiny piece of wood survived being engulfed in flames.
Tyrion and Dany are cross-examining Theon and Yara, who have left the sexbrewpub and made it to Meereen in record time. To be clear: In the span of one episode, Theon and Yara have traveled across the ocean and still had time to fuck and chug some beers; meanwhile, the White Walkers have not made it more than 10 feet in six seasons. It's fine. Everything is fine. While Tyrion shits (his guts) all over Theon, Dany and Yara flirt shamelessly, trading sexually charged barbs about (1) their unquenchable thirst for power, (2) their absentee/maniacal fathers, (3) the fact that said fathers were murdered by usurpers, and (4) Yara's uncle's dick. One's blood relatives' sex organs are fair game in all capacities on Game of Thrones. Dany agrees to give Yara and Theon the Iron Islands on one condition: they stop being full hooligans and this show turns into an old-timey version of The L Word.
Thirty minutes in, we're finally at the titular battle. While they wait, the men on both sides of the war are hanging around, doing lanyards (Jon's army) and burning flayed men alive (Ramsay's army). You see, war starts at a very specific time. It's very civilized. Just so you know, it's honestly rude to start war early, so don't ever do that. At 9 a.m. sharp, Ramsay kicks things off by walking up to the starting line, holding Rickon on a leash. Jon, who is thousands of feet away and apparently possesses the eyesight of a falcon who is also a world-class sniper, notices this and becomes upset.
Ramsay tells Rickon that they're going to play a game. The game is that Rickon will run for his semi-meaningless life toward Jon while Ramsay shoots arrows at him. Despite all of those prewar strategy PowerPoints, Jon hops on his horse instantaneously. Despite being, theoretically, a human being with a functioning brain, Rickon does not do anything smart, like run in a zigzag pattern. Jon reaches Rickon just as one of Ramsay's arrows burrows right into Rickon's dumb heart. Playing right into Ramsay's hand, Jon charges toward Ramsay. It's more out of obligation than anything else — honestly, have we ever seen Jon and Rickon interact? Who is Rickon, even? What is Rickon's entire personality? What is Rickon's age? Does Rickon even lift?
Anyway, now the war has officially started. Everyone is running toward each other, poised to stab. Somehow we have 29 minutes left of pure stabbing. How to recap this? Let's try. OK. Jon's horse is murdered almost instantly, so Jon is now fending for himself as Ramsay's entire army hurtles toward him. Here is the first time this episode fucks with us re: Jon's death. The music soars. Everything unfolds in slow motion. There's a dramatic shot of Jon from behind, facing down the army alone. But at the very last second, before Jon is stabbed to death AGAIN, Jon's army saves him.
Now Jon is just in the middle of a bunch of particularly violent stabbing. Dudes get stabbed. Horses get stabbed. Everyone is screaming. The camera hews to the back of Jon's head as he fends for his life. The aforementioned tacky-dragon budget was clearly also being saved for this scene, which has the feel of a very fancy video game or a standard prelude to one of my thousands of Kit Harington sex dreams. Jon stabs several men in the stomach. A man on a horse stabs another man on a horse. A horse stabs a horse. A horse turns into a sword and stabs itself. A sword comes to life and winks at the camera. The camera turns around and trains itself on you. Suddenly you realize that you, too, have a sword in your hand. You look down. You've stabbed yourself, but there's no blood. Suddenly, Kit Harington is naked in front of you. Marvin Gaye falls out of your stomach and begins singing.
More stabbing now. Jon's face is splattered with blood as he tears through flesh semi-discriminately. Arrows soar through the air. Bodies pile on top of each other. Everybody shrieks in their lowest possible register. There's a lot of, like, "Yuuughhhhhh!!!" Jon is — yep, he's still stabbing. Davos, who I guess has not been doing much this whole time, makes another comment about shitting (Davos, I feel like I'm just getting to know you after all this time!), and he and a bunch of Jon's other men charge toward Ramsay's men and there's stabbing. Ramsay, who has remained clean and motionless throughout the battle, orders his men to circle Jon's men and slowly stab them to death while saying "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo." The military strategy here is "Rat King."
All appears to be lost. Everybody good is getting stabbed (except for all of the people we know by name). Jon is on the brink of being trampled to death, his own men stomping all over his cute li'l face. The music gets very serious again; the slo-mo returns. Tormund is being slowly head-bashed to death.
But wait. Everything is suddenly fine again! Because why? Because Sansa. Sansa — Jon's put-upon incest sister-wife — fixes everything. The Knights of the Vale are here, because Sansa reached out to them via raven a few weeks or a few years or whenever the fuck ago. With the help of Wun Wun the giant, who essentially just has to exist in an upright position in order to be an unstoppable force of destruction, the knights take down Ramsay's army. In response to this shocking turn of events (it's not shocking; this show is as subtle as a skinless man burning alive upside down on two pieces of wood), Ramsay runs away. Wun Wun, Tormund, and Jon follow him. Sansa grins to herself because Taye Diggs just followed her on Twitter.
Ramsay storms back into Winterfell and shuts the massive gates behind him. Wun Wun promptly smashes the gate. This is an important safety reminder for celebrities in gated communities: You can never be too vigilant re: huge, huge giants. Wun Wun manages to wreak a lot of havoc on Ramsay's men, but ultimately, he is felled by an arrow to the eye, delivered by one Ramsay Bolton. Wait. Is Ramsay, like, a bad guy? I am perpetually confused. Jury's out on Ramsay. The jury is NOT out on Wun Wun, however. I am not going to pretend to care about Rickon's death, but Wun Wun's death is truly devastating. I mean, Wun Wun was the last giant :( He was the only one left and now he's dead :( And look at that face!!!!
Ramsay and Jon finally have their wun-on-wun showdown. It's slightly less dramatic than I'd expected, if only because Ramsay hurls three arrows at Jon, Jon deflects them all with a shield, and then Jon just beats the utter shit out of Ramsay. It's satisfying, don't get me wrong; it's just that we spent 30 minutes watching random dudes stab each other and we only get 10 seconds of Jon-on-Ramsay action (and zero dick to speak of!!)??
Within seconds of Jon's aggressive punching, the Stark banners are remounted on the walls of Winterfell. Was someone just standing around for years, waiting to do that? Can somebody who is familiar with old-timey fake warfare explain the logistics of this moment?
Postwar, everyone is unwinding in their favorite way. Davos is lurking behind the scenes — was it Davos who did the banners? — holding Shireen's fireproof wooden toy and staring at Melisandre in a very unpleasant manner. Melisandre is staring at Jon Snow. Jon and Tormund are staring at Rickon (who is dead). Sansa is staring at the snow. She asks Jon where she might find Ramsay.
There he is! The writers have been building to Sansa's murder of Ramsay for multiple seasons now, putting her through multiple rapes and family-member deaths and all manner of dehumanizing scenarios so that this scene would really pay off. And in a sense, it does: After a very powerful speech about Ramsay's total erasure, Sansa releases Ramsay's dogs, whom he has been starving for over a week, and they devour him whole. Which is nice.
But in another sense, it's like, seriously, we had to watch 1,267 hours of Ramsay Bolton doing unspeakable things to people and animals so that we could feel this extremely brief catharsis? Was it worth the relentless raping and the ham-fisted writing and the lazy characterization and that thing where Ramsay hunted a bunch of nameless women in the forest? No. No, it was not. I will only feel real catharsis when Sansa and Taye are frolicking in the Jamaican sun, with Jon Snow sitting beneath a cabana, but the cabana is Wun Wun, and the sand is Ramsay's disintegrated bones, and somebody mentions Rickon and we all laugh and are like, "Wait, who?" and then Marvin Gaye shows up and stabs all of us for watching this ridiculous show.