Nichole Gunz showed you your first tek on tour with Large Professor.
We’ve long had a tacit agreement with action/fantasy movie, television show and book writers. No matter how dark the story turns, how hopeless the situation seems, we know that the protagonist will almost always prevail. That trust has been instilled in us by experience and by simple pragmatism. How does the story go on without a hero?
But George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire flipped that narrative tradition. In his fictional universe, history and the post-apocalypse, deadly cold and dragon fire, supernatural and stark realism live side-by-side. Death and tragedy are blind to the difference between evil and virtue. The story unfolds through intimate character points-of-view, but the survival of these characters, whom the reader may grow to care about or identify with, is never guaranteed. There is a dark beauty to it all. Although dark magic and mysterious gods may exist in George’s story, his world promises us that, like in our own world, humanity is complex and the triumph of good people is not promised. All men must die.
For the first five seasons of the television adaptation, HBO’s Game of Thrones mostly adhered to George’s philosophy. But now that the adaptation has overtaken the original, shit is hitting the fan. Season 6 has been thrilling in many ways, but more often, it has been repetitive, unconvincing and sometimes downright silly. More than that, Game of Thrones is losing that edginess that separated it from your average cable series — the knowledge that any ill move or twist of fate can send ya fave to his grave. Listen, I don’t want any of the remaining Starks or Tormund or Missandei to die any more than you do, but I do want the well crafted, mostly plausible (despite its fantastical elements) story the show has delivered heretofore, and I think I deserve that after investing all this time in the show and the books (and the wiki and the blogs and the Reddits, and please, someone, take my internet away).
Last week’s episode was non-stop gut-wrenching action that nevertheless wasn’t compelling enough to distract me from its sluggish narrative pace and implausibility. The show has been notable for its exceptionally violent, memorable penultimate episodes: Ned Stark, the principal point-of-view character at the time, was beheaded in Season 1. The next season, we witnessed Stannis’ defeat by wildfire at Blackwater Bay. The infamous Red Wedding, which needs no description, happened in Season 3. The hopelessly outnumbered Night’s Watch successfully defended the Wall from the first Wildling attack in Season 4. Last season, we gaped as Daenerys mounted Drogon and escaped the Sons of the Harpy attack in Daznak’s Pit.
It seemed like the main objective last Sunday was to outdo these episodes (and possibly to explain why we rarely glimpsed the CGI dragons or direwolves during the first eight episodes). HBO spared no expense on Ep. 9. “The Battle of the Bastards: was the most impressive, most realistic-looking battle sequence I’ve seen since the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. We witnessed Jon and his men fighting through terrifying chaos, blinding showers of arrows, gushing blood, walls of corpses, decapitated heads and frenzied swordplay from all directions, before being ensnared in Ramsay’s trap, a crushing phalanx that pressed the men until they were literally crushed. For several moments that seemed to drag on forever, Jon was trapped, suffocating, almost trampled beneath Tormund’s panicking men. The claustrophobic intensity of these scenes was beautifully and breathtakingly captured, and the excellent camera work was almost enough to distract me from this battle’s ultimate meaninglessness. Because, it didn’t make sense. For all its stunning visuals, the episode raised more questions than it answered and did more to raise the production stakes than it did to push the narrative forward.
First, are we to believe that Ramsay, a formally untrained butcher, who has exhibited a complete lack of self-control at every turn since we were unfortunately introduced to him, is now a brilliant war commander? And he’s an expert marksman who can fire an arrow as far and as accurately as the story requires it to go? And he, a usurper bastard and kinslayer, is backed by a devoted army that is completely, unquestioningly willing to die for him, while he carelessly rains arrows on them with no regard?
Moreover, is Jon, trained since he was a child, whose excellent leadership and combat skills we’ve witnessed on multiple occasions, now a complete dunce? Jon seemed to put so little strategic effort in planning and commanding this battle, that he seemed almost indifferent to me, and then his meager plans are completely undone by a very predictable play from Ramsay. When he charges alone into an obvious trap, is he angry, or is he suicidal? Is he pissed that his Ricky from Boyz n the Hood ass brother didn’t zig or zag once? Is he an idiot who truly does “know nothing,” or is he just a narrative tool to further escalate the drama and get the internet going nuts?
The show reintroduced little Rickon, who was like four last time we saw him, but now looks old enough to be contemplating a reverse home mortgage, seemingly just to kill someone we don’t care much about. His presence added nothing to the story, besides showing for the millionth time that Ramsay is extraordinarily vile (seriously, we get it) and giving Jon a semi-plausible reason to run headlong into Ramsay’s trap like a goofydick — making his reintroduction to the plot feel shallow and contrived.
Littlefinger’s triumphant arrival (just in the nick of time!) was one of those predictable plot twists you expect from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. And Sansa and Littlefinger’s alliance in this episode was confusing and disturbing. To recap, Littlefinger didn’t appear this season until Ep. 4. By that point, I for one had hoped maybe his creep ass had fallen down a well, but alas. In Ep. 5, Littlefinger was reunited with Sansa for the first time after having effectively sold her to Ramsay. In a rather inspiring scene, Sansa showed newfound strength and confronted him about his actions (“Did you know about Ramsay? If you didn’t know, you’re an idiot. If you did know, you’re my enemy.”). She commanded Littlefinger to acknowledge the harm that he (knowingly, though Sansa is ignorant of this) inflicted upon her. Yet Littlefinger proved once again that he’s the master of these games, by planting in Sansa’s mind a seed of mistrust toward Jon. Later, we saw Sansa secretly writing to someone, whom we guessed to be Littlefinger.
Last Sunday’s episode confirmed that it was in fact him to whom she wrote. But what exactly did she write? If she asked him to send the Vale knights to battle, why did he come so late? We understand that Littlefinger created friction between Jon and Sansa, but why wouldn’t she tell Jon what she did? He undoubtedly would have adjusted his battle plans had he known. And how did she end up next to Littlefinger at the battle? Did they fucking text each other?
I want to preemptively acknowledge the raging debate surrounding these questions. Many viewers have pointed out that Sansa is a rape survivor who has been cruelly mistreated and has significant reason to mistrust the men who have promised to protect her. Also, Sansa made it clear after the war council that she knew Ramsay better than anyone there, that Jon underestimated Ramsay and overestimated himself, and thus that Jon should listen to her advice. I have also seen speculation that the Vale army could only be effective if it were put in play after Ramsay’s victory seemed certain, or that Sansa knew Jon wouldn’t utilize the army effectively, or that Sansa didn’t know exactly when they would arrive. Finally, many viewers have theorized that Sansa is finally playing the game, shrewdly maneuvering to protect herself, regain her ancestral home, and avenge those who have wronged her.
I acknowledge all these as solid arguments, but here are my responses to these justifications for Sansa’s silence: First, Sansa’s advice to Jon was “Don’t do what [Ramsay] wants you to do.” Yeah, that’s not vague at all. How dare Jon not listen! And keep in mind that Sansa wrote Littlefinger before this war council, before seeing her “advice” go unheeded, and said nothing, even when directly asked. Further, regardless of whether she trusts Jon, she does want to win her home back. Withholding information that affects war strategy does not seem like an effective means to do so. And I think it’s a pretty big logical leap to suggest that inexperienced Sansa may be a tactical genius who knew the late arrival of the Vale would turn the tides of war only if it were a surprise to her own side. Jon has been shown to be a master military commander, and Tormund and Davos to be fighters to be reckoned with, but somehow Sansa, the only person there who has never brandished a sword, is the only one who could properly strategize?
The fact is she asked Jon and his men to fight for her home, but declined to tell them that she had asked for Littlefinger’s help, as well, and that an army, however small or uncertain, may be arriving to supplement their ranks. Yes, I do think it’s fair to say that she asked them to fight for her home, because, to her knowledge, Jon isn’t a Stark. And yes, it’s absolutely crucial to know about the Vale army, even if they don’t know the exact timing of the arrival; Jon likely would have sent scouts to look for an army of several thousand soldiers on horseback approaching the North and and report their progress to him. Or perhaps he would have used the army as a bargaining chip to force Ramsay’s hand and have their brother safely returned. Maybe Jon would have delayed the battle or intimidated Ramsay into retreating to the castle, and Wun Wun could have unexpectedly broken down the gates. It’s very possible that the battle could have been won with significantly fewer casualties. And even if the knowledge would not have affected the outcome, nevertheless her deceit was deliberate and calculated and thus difficult to ignore.
Perhaps some new information will provide further insight into Sansa’s silence on Sunday — maybe she just sent Littlefinger a crude drawing of her boobs and it was enough to make him ride out for her honor. But as it stands, it appears either that, one, Sansa is a calculated, untrustworthy manipulator who would have readily let her half-brother Jon, her little brother (and as far as she knows, the rightful King in the North) Rickon and a couple thousand men die, so that she could be the savior of the North, which is a rather horrifying possibility, or two, this whole spectacle was manufactured just to build the tension, which is just annoying.
Littlefinger remains the most ambiguous character on the show, because we still don’t know what motivates him. The preview for the finale indicates that his creep ass is still creepily obsessed with Sansa, after decades of being creepily obsessed with Sansa’s mother, but that can’t be his only motivation. After all, he had a more naive, trusting Sansa in his clutches before giving her to Ramsay as a hostage in Season 5. Is his ultimate goal the Iron Throne? Is it to humiliate all the rich fucks who’ve scorned him all his life? Who’s to say. I really want Sansa to redeem herself (in my eyes) by beating the shit out of him. With his bitch ass.
All in all, I’m not convinced that “Battle of the Bastards” accomplished anything besides unnecessary drama. Where the books mostly hinted at Ramsay’s nauseating pathology through third parties, the show has fleshed him out, increasingly tediously, into a super-villain, and it felt like the showrunners exploited our wish to see him meet his end with the violence he so often used against others.
The last-minute triumph was so predictable, and Ramsay was so tiresomely nasty, and Jon and Sansa so stoically good, that the outcome had all the inevitability of a Tolkien good vs. evil conflict. It seemed like the battle was orchestrated just to kill off a major character we’d become increasingly desensitized to, in the same way the Dorne plot was neatly set aside earlier in the season. Hundreds of men died in the fray, but the story is still at the same narrative place, just in a different setting: Littlefinger has unclear motivations, Jon is confused, Sansa is mistrustful, Melisandre’s prophecies are ambiguous, and so on. I was pleased to see the Stark banners hanging at Winterfell once more, but the narrative contriving it took to get there significantly subdued the effect.
Mereen was more of the same. We finally can visualize just how spectacularly easy it may have been for Aegon, Visenya and Rhaenys Targaryan to conquer Westeros on the backs of three dragons, supported by a small army. But, again, the Mereen spectacle on the whole was spiritless and humdrum. Yeah, it’s pretty cool that Daenerys defeated the Masters and championed for the slaves, again, and, yes, the dragons do be fucking shit up. But why did Daenerys let the attack on her city rage on for hours, if she could end it all with such ease? We’ve endured episode after episode after episode of her dramatic Braveheart speeches, and yet we watch as her freedmen get fucking massacred by the Sons of the Harpy, while the slavers’ fleets sack the city, before she finally puts her plan in motion. And this plan was to kill all the slavers and slaves in every city, before Tyrion thankfully intervened. What the whole fuck? Again, either she’s a terrible ruler, or this whole scene is just another contrivance to draw out the climax as long as possible. The Meeren half of the episode is just awkward, despite the awe-inspiring production. Not to mention I’m way tired of Dany’s haughty smirk-glare and her incessant white messiah speeches that never quite comport with her actions.
In that respect, I had mixed feelings watching the Dany, Tyrion, Yara and Theon post-war council. Their fathers were all evil, power-hungry men, and they allegedly aspire to a world that’s less cruel. Well, some of them do, at least, because I suspect Yara just wants to pillage and fuck the tits off beautiful women in peace. That’s all very nice. However, it’s not clear that Dany’s actions will actually lead to such a better world. Her stated motives may be pure, but she’s always one step from defaulting to “burn them all” mode. Stuntin’ like her daddy. She’s become more violent and ruthless as the show’s progressed, and her liberator talk has gotten increasingly tyrannical and entitled. How does her raping, ravaging Dothraki army factor into this vision of peace and stability? She conquered Mereen, left it a shambles, bailed when shit got real and slaughtered the Dothraki leaders to intimidate the Dothraki into giving up their traditions and joining a war in which they have no interest. And now she has agreed to murder the newly elected leader of the Iron Islands for support for her mission to conquer Westeros. How is she, or any other members of her new alliance, better than any of their forefathers, really?
Also, most importantly, when are Daenerys and Yara gonna fuck?
Season 6 will comes to a close tonight. I sincerely hope the sluggish, circular pace of the season and the dramatic licenses taken at the expense of realism will pay off in the end. A few last observations and some speculation for tonight’s finale:
● Rest in eternal glory, Wun Wun. I still want to know why the fuck Wun Wun didn’t have a weapon. A club or a decent shield or a helmet? Euron can build a thousand ships in a reasonable time, but no one can make my mans some war gear? He could have taken out dozens of Bolton men with one swing of a tree, but my guy was just out there slapping up people one by one. All due respect, but no wonder he was the last of his kind. The fuck.
● Does anyone else think Tormund has gotten sexier by the episode? Brienne better tap that.
● Tonight’s episode will be the longest yet at 69 minutes. Nice.
● The promo shows Davos confronting Melisandre after having found Shireen’s wooden stag amid the ashes of her funeral pyre. And I’m sorry, but what? Why is he just now asking? Where the fuck did he think she was this whole time? Did the writers just totally forget about this plot point?
● The preview also shows Littlefinger’s creep ass back creeping on Sansa. Littlefinger’s help always has a catch, and I’m not sure that Sansa can out-manipulate him. I hope the cost she paid to retake her home won’t come at a price she’ll find too steep.
● I’d hoped we see some movement with Arya in the finale, but it doesn’t look like it.
● The preview does, however, give us a brief glimpse of Bran. Rumor has it that Bran will have one more flashback that finally reveals what went down in the Tower of Joy. [extremely Charlie Wilson voice] Ooh wee.
● My little birds (the Internet) also tell me that we’ll return to Dorne in the finale. Hopefully, Ellaria and her Sand Snakes will just poison-kiss each other and be done with it, because that storyline is tired as hell.
● Something wild is probably gonna go down with Jaime, Bronn and Walder Frey at the Twins. The show hasn’t been reminding us of the Red Wedding for nothing.
● The show has hinted at a wildfire plot through Bran’s visions of the Mad King Aerys and Cersei’s constant threats to burn everything down, but Tyrion’s unprompted rant about the Mad King’s wildfire stockpiles last Sunday was so conspicuous that I actually mused that the whole thing might be a misdirection. However, the internet rumor mill anticipates that Cersei and Qyburn’s “rumo(u)r” will turn out to be secret stashes of wildfire that Cersei will set off if she loses at her trial before the Faith. If so, I hope she burns from her own treachery. I’m sick of her Sally Beauty Supply wig. Tommen’s dull, tall glass of skim milk looking ass can go too.
● Will the new Sansa, the bad mood Sansa, the always rude Sansa make a good Lady of Winterfell? And is Jon’s place at Winterfell? Will he want to stay after Sansa demonstrated her willingness to give up his life for her vengeance? Or will we discover that Sansa’s actions with regard to the “Battle of the Bastards” were not what they appeared? The preview shows some sort of reconciliation between the pair, so maybe all’s well that end’s well. Will the North rally around the reunited Starks? Have we given up on Lady Stoneheart? (yes)
(Thanks for reading my long ass review. Hit me in the comments or on Twitter if you want to yell at me for misstating a minor detail.)