Game of Thrones – Battle of the Bastards

The ninth episode of the sixth season of the Game of Thrones was a fantastic episodic moment. It had satisfying moments that moved the story in a much-needed direction. However, to get there the writer’s threw one of the major themes of the show out.


What I loved: Inevitably, we are inching our way to the Firework’s Factory. Some of the inevitability that the story demanded occur happened. Daenerys finally has what she needs to enter the Westeros scene. She, Tyrion, Yara, and Theon had great chemistry showing what they needed to do reach this increasingly obvious resolution, but acknowledging the character flaws and mistakes that would be a source of tension. We’re leaving Mereen and all of her henchmen and equipment are with her: Dothraki, Dragons, Unsullied, and a few major advisers. Hurray!


The Battle of the Bastards was an amazing technical feat. The actually battle was breathtaking. Not the melodrama, but the chaos, gore, and mayhem. For the audience, there’s no better character to experience it through than Jon Snow. He’s the one character that has tried, in one or another, to maintain decency in the face of adversity and lived to tell the tale about it (after dying, oops). Even after his death and resurrection, people are invested in him. But I didn’t make this post to praise an episode that is already beloved. And now, because the internet…


What I hated: Game of Thrones has driven home, time and time again, that your excesses undo you.  Those who can not see past their flaws are doomed by them. Ned, the presumed protagonist, and his honor was the first strong message of this theme. Nearly every character whose failed along the way had the same lesson taught oftentimes at the expense of their life. The Red Viper was obsessed with vengeance.  Robb Stark was blind to politics and too chivalrous. Stannis was slavishly devoted to justice and blinded by Melisandre’s faith. Tywin refused to see the value in his misshapen son. And death is not the only punishment. Cersei and her obsessive love saw her cast low and powerless. Theon’s insecurities resulted in him suffering the cruelest of tortures. The list goes on and on, and the common theme inflexibility will break you. Whatever your weakness it is, be it noble or base, letting it rule you is the surest way to lose the game of thrones.


Except fuckin’ Jon Snow. He nobly tries to look at the end game, but loses sight of the real people he’s dealing with. And he dies for it. Then, he gets resurrected and is now super-important. His plot armor makes him invulnerable for the time being. And truthfully, that’s fine. After the bleak beating readers endured thus far, allowing Jon Snow to exist as a hero that breaks this cycle may be exactly what the series needed. Reborn, maybe THIS Jon Snow can overcome the flaws that has doomed everyone else.


Yet, he still knows nothing. He falls into every trap. He reacts in every terrible way. He leads his forces into a TRIPLE envelopment and is bailed out by Littlefinger and Sansa. My hope is that the books stay truer to their theme. Jon’s victory is narratively palatable but thematically disappointing.  Jon Snow did not become the hero Westeros needs, he doggedly refuses to learn from his own demise. Jon did not come up with a plan, a contingency, anything other than to fight Ramsay one on one and immediately surrender whatever tactical advantages he had in the face of an unwinnable scenario with poor Rickon. If he had done something, ANYTHING to show that he wasn’t going to trudge headlong into obvious defeat then maybe we could chalk it up to growth. Or even if after his impulse to save Rickon failed and he calmed himself. If he had sobbed and trudged back towards his lines to protect his troops and chance of victory, even that would be progress. Even if he still needed to be saved, at least show something, but alas it was not to be. Offend Jon’s devotion to his loved ones and he will throw away whatever slim chance he has. And he will live to tell the tale.


The show-runners, in the after show, seemed cinematically obsessed with certain battle elements. It was very clear before the interview that they had needed to visually reference the Battle of Cannae. All that is fine, but in order to accomplish all the desired set pieces the show did not stay true to its thematic core. Jon Snow had an unremarkable, but workable plan. It was not brilliant, but it was sensible. In the face of his brother’s demise he gave up everything because he’s so good, so noble, and so damn predictable. In a sense, Game of Thrones undid itself with that. That kind of blind devotion to family gets you killed… unless your Jon Snow. Perhaps there is an argument that his actions did cost him. His impetousness gets Wun-Wun killed, but really, even if you argue about men and materials lost that’s not what drive things in Game of Thrones. Jon’s cabal survived without significant injury.


In the end, Ramsay shoots Wun-Wun instead of Jon Snow. Ramsay, ever the sadist, pays the price for toying with Jon. Of course he pays, its Game of Thrones, and he’s not Jon Snow.


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