‘Game of Thrones’ Recap 6×09: The Bastard Executioner

We had high expectations for the Battle of the Bastards, and then Game of Thrones just piled a literal wall of corpses on top of them.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow.
Kit Harington as Jon Snow.

Editor’s Note: Once again, I, Drew Grant, mother of tvDownload, firstborn of the Whitehall Offices, Warden of the Corner Office Without a View, have decided to warg into tvDownload’s Game of Thrones recap. Expect to see my commentary in italics throughout. 

Vinnie: Listen, Ben, I know by now we’ve built a Stark-esque level of obligation with our readers to always give the most comprehensive, overarching if occasionally feverish Game of Thrones coverage possible…but would anyone complain if this entire recap was us just chanting QUEEN IN THE NORTH repeatedly, in between a constantly-looping GIF of Sansa walking–nay, strutting–away from Ramsay Bolton having his face eaten by his own dogs with a look of sweet, delicious vengeance on her face? We’ll get to the actual battle in a second (because holy shit) but holllllllly mother of direwolves, Sansa Stark, you absolute snow empress.

Ed note: 🙁 🙁 🙁

Ben: I keep telling you! Game of Thrones is the coming of age of Sansa Stark, with a bunch of assholes in fur and a blonde woman with brown eyebrows in the background. Sansa is Game of Thrones at this point.  Last year, her biggest act of agency was stealing a corkscrew to open a door… Look at her now! You can feel the show’s entire history through her arc alone. (Unlike Dany, who just always ends back in a throne room speechifying.)


Vinnie: The only way I could have found Ramsay’s death more satisfying is if Sansa had signaled to a nearby string quartet to harp “Who Let The Dogs Out,” because I think we all collectively wanted Ramsay’s inevitable demise to be as terrible as possible and there is no more humiliating death than one set to The Baha Men.

Ed note: You are both fired.

Ben: I feel like Theon deserved first crack. I hope Sansa at least mails him the un-chewed pieces of genitals the dogs didn’t get.

Ed note: How great would it be if you could fire employees like the Boltons do; namely, flaying their skin off, putting them on sideways crosses, and then literally setting them aflame? Note to self: get HR to look into this.

Vinnie: But truly, Sansa for MVP. It’s funny how in the end, the “Battle of the Bastards” was a coming out party for the only legitimate Stark to make it out alive. (Sorry Rickon, but I’m pretty sure Bran could have run across that field faster than you.)

Ben: RIP, Rickon. Your last line of dialogue was literally in Season 2. He died as he lived: a hindrance to others’ storylines, always looking vaguely unkept. It was a really powerful moment, but I doubt anyone out there is having an “NOT RICKON” moment.

(P.S. He was totally still breathing when he got riddled with that second wave of arrows. Dark.)


(P.P.S. Can you imagine how bad that Direwolf’s head must smell by now? They have no refrigeration system in Westeros.)

Vinnie: As far the actual battle portion of the “Battle of the Bastards”…dear sweet George RR what can I even say? I mean, I had high expectations, and then HBO and director Miguel Sapochnik just piled a literal wall of corpses on top of them.

Ben: Remember how pitiful Stannis’ attack on Winterfell was last year? I want to believe this was the apology to fans. We saw a headless horseman getting knocked away by a giant. Prestige HBO!

Vinnie: Speaking of which–holy shit that sequence with Jon nearly suffocating under a mass of Wildlings and dead bodies hit every single anxiety button in my body. I still don’t feel okay about it on an emotional or physical level.


Ben: They never show the trampling in warfare fiction. Never! It’s a real cause of death. Everyone was on point during that entire battle. EVEN RAMSAY. You had to admire his cool level-headedness in battle. It was like the entire field was Theon’s body and mind and he kept finding new ways to torture every last tick on there. He went out on a high note.

Editor’s note: Ben is re-hired. Vinnie is still burning in a field somewhere. Also, will NO ONE speak to how brilliant Ramsay’s three-tiered battle strategy was? You had the “Draw Jon Snow out into the open with Rickon” move; the “surround the troops into a U-shape, with the bodies of the fallen acting as a basically impenetrable meat wall” move and the “poke at the opposing army with spears while slowly advancing on them with your shields up” move. That’s literally two more battle strategies than Jon Snow was able to come up with, because he had to spend the entire night explaining what pincers were. 

Vinnie: Despite the fact I think HBO had to bankrupt two small-ish countries to fund it, this episode is possibly the most impressive piece of television I’ve ever seen from a technical standpoint.

Ben: I honestly think this was my favorite episode of Game of Thrones, period. It’s satisfaction didn’t hinge on a twist or sudden slaughter like Ned or the Red Wedding, and I truly can’t give a dusty fuck about Zombies, ice or room-temperature so Hardhome was just a big ole shrug for me. But this… this… Man.

Vinnie: It was just so…disgustingly disorienting, start to finish. It was beautifully made in how completely un-beautiful it was. For 20-odd minutes that mixture of muck, gore, blood and guts were so viscerally absorbing that the fact it was coordinated by a team of real life human beings is an actual miracle.

Ben: And I don’t know about you, but I really felt like Jon Snow could die, trampled on the battlefield. In hindsight, no way, but in the moment, you really Which, holy shit, what a feat to pull off. (And is it me or did he not kill a couple of Wildlings and his own men in there during the first post-Rickon wave? He was just feral.)


Vinnie: I haven’t seen anything this artistically nauseating since Spielberg’s Normandy beach scene from Saving Private Ryan, except replace Tom Hanks with the last living giant ripping dudes in half with his bare hands (as I do mentally with most Tom Hanks movies. Toy Story was a blast). 

Ben: There’s also the weird sense that ALL the battle we’ve only seen glimpses of so far, going back to season 1, were, story-wise, this gruesome and intense. The characters don’t reflect on it as a monumentally different episode than what they’ve experienced before — it’s just the first one we were fully privy to, start to finish.

Vinnie: With that said, I’m very, very, very confused as to why Sansa couldn’t just tell Jon she wrote to Littlefinger and asked for a legit-sized army that wasn’t made up of dudes who look like Alan Moore.

Ben: Look, loving Sansa also means forgiving her for causing the deaths of literal thousands of soldiers through unnecessary withholding of crucial strategic information for dramatic purposes. You take the good with the bad, et cetera.

The excuse I can get behind and that will play out more next week is that she doesn’t fully trust Jon yet. This was an ace in the hole that she didn’t want to give him because she didn’t trust his strategic instinct with it.

Vinnie: There were so many tiny, split-second moments in the battle itself that were so damn pitch-perfect I might just start listing them at random. (Note: I call them “pitch-perfect” as someone who not only has never been in a real-life fight, but cramped up and had to eat a banana writing this recap. But still!).

Ben: Every glimpse into your real life frightens me.

Vinnie: First — During that incredible semi-uninterrupted camera shot, there’s a moment where a mounted Bolton soldier is riding toward Jon’s back–a moment in which a person in the room with me let out the most genuine audible gasp of worry I’ve ever heard–and a Mormont soldier just plows his damn horse into the side of the Bolton soldier’s horse.

Ben: We have this image of two sides charging at each other, from fiction, and I feel like it usually stops there. You never get to see the nitty gritty of them colliding — until now. This episode showed me something I’d never seen before and it can’t be praised enough for that.

Vinnie: It was the most inelegant piece of fighting I think I’ve ever seen on screen. It was perfect. I’ve never related to a fictional character on a more personal level than “CGI Soldier That Just Said Fuck It.”

Ben:  And the arrows, man! Four movies and the Hunger Games never came close to making arrows look as ruthlessly efficient and sneaky of a weapon, and that franchise is basically funded by Big Arrow.


Ed note: Kind of makes you wish for a Theon/Ramsay archery competition (that I’m definitely writing into a slash fiction as we speak).

Vinnie: Also, the moment when Wun Wun the giant pointed at Ramsay’s army like “Kill those dudes?” And then he does, because if Sansa was the MVP of this episode then Wun Wun at least should get every single participation trophy. Then he should melt them down into a massive spear or something because how you gonna’ send the 9 foot tall killing machine into battle without an actual weapon, Jon?

Ben: My participation trophy goes to… Melisandre, of all people! For all this talk about how death has not changed Jon Snow — and it really hasn’t — the act of bringing him back has done amazing things for Melisandre’s character. Two seasons ago, she would have been riding him on war council tables, whispering in his ear the entire time, thinking their side can’t lose, but this time she had the wisdom to stay away. She’s still devout but now it’s rooted in uncertainty, which is unprecedented.

Too long didn’t read: Redheads nailing it left and right this episode.

Vinnie: Alternatively, I’m not sure Wun Wun was used effectively at all. I feel like an honest to goodness mythical beast roughly the same size and thickness of an oak tree would be a proper deterrent to forming a proper defense line.

Ben: He’s still, y’know, an actual person. He died by multitude of arrow wounds. The more you put him on the frontline, the bigger of a target he becomes.

Vinnie: Yeah, but just grab one or two horse carcasses and start swinging, Wun Wun. You can’t form a proper shield barricade while a giant is double-flinging dead horses into your front line. History has proven that time and again. I’m pretty sure that’s a pivotal plot point in 300. It’s definitely at least mentioned in Hamilton.

Ben: I just imagined a Lin-Manuel Miranda version of the Battle of the Bastards starring Lady Crane as a battle-weary Sansa and my body just convulsed in pleasure.

Vinnie: Either way, Wun Wun’s death hit me on an emotional level I was not prepared for, making this the second episode this season alone my life was deeply impacted by the death of a giant. I was legitimately far more misty-eyed over Wun Wun than I was Rickon because…come on. Was that actually supposed to be upsetting? If your last name is Stark and you haven’t yet been betrayed and/or slaughtered by now you’re literally defying the laws of George RR Martin’s universe. Starks die. It happens. In fact, remove any emotional attachment or prior biases and I think we can all agree that was an objectively impressive shot from Ramsay.

Ben: What was most interesting about Rickon’s death was, again, Sansa’s pragmatic approach to it. He was a true-born Stark in Ramsay’s dungeon. There’s no marrying him for power, there’s no leveraging him — Ramsay would never let him live. Rickon was dead the moment he stepped into Winterfell and she knows that. And even though she loves her brothers, there’s no “I have to save him somehow” fairytale to her anymore.


Vinnie: I’m genuinely surprised both Davos and Tormund made it out of the fray alive. I thought one or both were a definite goner, especially after found out about Shireen Baratheon’s fiery end. Although I am looking forward to next week, when I assume Davos literally side-eyes Melisandre to death.

Ben: I KNOW! I love Tormund and for the first half of the episode, I thought the dude was talking way too much not to be a goner. But no, the guy survived the deployment of headbutts… AND he bit off an ear, completing his symmetry with Brienne and cementing them as OTP.


Vinnie: I did love that they never actually showed Davos in the fight, because then they’d have to explain how the hell he survived in the first place. I picture him off to the side, swinging his sword as half-heartedly as humanly possible.

Ben: Considering that his boat exploded at the Battle of Blackwater, that he was stranded at sea, that all of Stannis’ men died except him, Davos’ ability to live through warfare as a mutilated sword-holder in his 50s is downright uncanny.

Ed note: Wait, what if Ramsay isn’t actually dead? I mean, those dogs had adorable expressions on their giant faces, and were last seen licking their masters’ face off? I mean, sure, long shot, but still…it could just be a flesh wound. Or Melisandre could bring him back?!

Haha, JK, we all know exactly how the Bolton legacy will live on: in Sansa’s belly, where she’s definitely pregnant with Ramsay’s kid. Why else would he mention that he’s a part of her now??

Vinnie: Oh, right, this episode also included Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal flying together as adults for the first time in Game of Thrones’ history to fire-bomb an entire fleet into submission, and I still kind of forgot it happened?


Ben: Thank God, I’m here. This thing is going to be 3,000 words but I don’t care. We can’t diminish Meereen. Action, story, plot convergences… It had it all!

DRAGONS UP YOUR DRAGONS WITH DRAGON FILLING. I am filled with dragon, Vincent. And it feels good. Sure, we love to intellectualize King’s Landing as a metaphor for the protestant revolution or whatever, but this was just nerd-juice right into your veins.

Theon and Tyrion shared the screen again for the first time since Season one! Grey Worm’s double neck slash! Yara and Dany! (Maybe it was an acting choice, but she’s never looked at Daario that way, not once. Not even when he was nude in front of her.) All bacon bits of awesome to the Battle of the Bastards!

Vinnie: I will admit that on the same night as Game 7 of the NBA finals, Grey Worm’s throat slash was the most baller move on TV.


But overall, it’s a lesson in emotional connection. Daenerys, Tyrion, and Meereen as a whole have been such a whopping nothing-burger lately that no amount of (admittedly impressive) dragon CGI does anything for me right now. I feel the same way about Drogon at this point that I do about 4th of July fireworks. Like, sweet. But I’m not going to fucking cry over fireworks. I’m not going to feel much when Theon and Yara arrive on what have to be the world’s fastest boats to convince Dany to do what she should’ve done actual ages ago.

Ben: Man, can Tyrion hold a grudge about short jokes, or what? How long has he had that rant in the chamber? I really wanted Theon to drop trou in front of him and show him his mutilated inseam because a few short jokes don’t compare one bit in terms of hardship.

Vinnie: But moments over in Westeros, where we’ve been from the beginning, with people we’ve been with from the beginning? That moment when Jon decides he’s just going to straight up charge by himself toward a fuck-you-sized army because some evil goblin-king bastard just put an arrow through his kid brother’s chest? Watching Tormund and Davos realize it’s happening, realizing that this stupid, brave curly-headed possible prophet-messiah is about to get them all horribly slaughtered but still charging behind him anyway?

Oh man. I’m still not over Battle of the Bastards. I don’t feel like I recapped it. I feel like I survived it.

Ben: So phenomenally good. This episode  makes up for, well, not Dorne because, y’know, Dorne, but definitely at least for Arya & The Waif’s storyline from last week.

Ed note: 

HBO RIP homeslice. HBO
‘Game of Thrones’ Recap 6×09: The Bastard Executioner