Game of Thrones Episode 609 ‘Battle of the Bastards’ SPOILERS ahead.
Lots of people hyped about the latest episode of the best fantasy show on TV – and with good reason. It was one of the most consistently intense hours of episodic drama you’re likely to find, and with an entire season of preparation to support it – not to mention paddy wagons full of money. It is something when the unleashing of three amazingly-rendered dragons to burn a fleet of ships is the LESSER sequence.
While I make my thoughts clear in my Fan vs Fan segments for Dork Shelf, and you can watch myself and co-host Brian Crosby break the episode down by clicking this link, there are a few things about the episode I wanted to mention first – mostly to do with people’s reactions versus actual content (again, see above).
This was not the best episode of Game of Thrones.
To say so is to conclude that this show is, at its roots, a machine for big spectacles, and that is not what has brought Game of Thrones so far – for it is not of the game. No one doubts Michael Bay movies are pretty. Everyone doubts they achieve quality storytelling.
Episodes like “Blackwater,” “Watchers on the Wall” and “Hardhome” are important. They are big moments with big consequences. They show off the show’s budgetal bloat. They bring the gritty nature of medieval warfare to the small screen in a way as yet unparalleled – but they are heavy clubs of awesomeness. There is nothing deft to them. There is no artful tact or careful acting or subtle direction. They scream, “Are you not entertained?” like Maximus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
Episodes like “Baelor,” “Rains of Castamere” and “The Mountain and the Viper” do something else entirely. They take individual moments – essential moments for essential players – and show off the show’s far more impressive ability at achieving genuine surprise and heart-wrenching grief simultaneously. They are the delicate dance of the needle. They are the artful tact, the careful acting and the subtle direction that brings the show to another level. They are the unforgettable moments. They whisper, “Am I not merciful?” like Joaquin Phoenix.
After Season Two ended everyone thought “Blackwater” was truly an epic episode. Now it seems more a failed attack by a character bypassed by fortune. The ghost of Joffery’s decision to off Eddard Stark, and the painful witness of Arya, remain a sudden and unconscionable course of action. As someone who had read the books, the wait leading up to the Red Wedding had me fitfully gripping my cuffs and clamping my mouth shut – then the payoff ruined the night for everyone. “Watchers on the Wall” lost us a fiery Ygritte and is fun to rewatch, but it changed little.
The short is this. This episode had a near-to-perfectly executed battle sequence that challenges any movie for impressive filming – something incredibly fun (and excruciating) to watch – but it still had ugly little problems. Jon’s divine intervention (either he’s crazy lucky or he’s boringly ‘looked after’), Ramsay’s sudden ineptitude one-on-one, the minimal time given the numerous key Mereen scenes, Davos’s coincidental find, a body pile that was a bit on the ridiculous side… These all amount to points that pull the episode way from ideal. No amount of visuals should undo that. There are other episodes – big ones as named above, or smaller, simpler episodes that move the story along and provide for some great lines and acting – that have fewer negative qualms and are more worthy of the mantle. Even in Season Six one could argue “The Door” held a much weightier punch.
Of course, for me the best episode of all time is the pilot.
I still can’t get over how perfectly they got everything – and the rest flows from there.