GAME OF THRONES S6E9: “Battle of the Bastards” Discussion

A Storm of Fanfiction

Scott: I think we’re going to be on the unpopular opinion team again this week.

Matt, you used a word last week to describe the Tyrion “telling jokes” scene that I didn’t give a lot of thought to at the time. You described it as Fanfiction. That is to say that it felt like it was written by people who are fans of the show and generally understand the characters and motivation, but are coming from a place of diehard love of these characters. Fanfiction tends to serve first and foremost what would be “cool” for a character to do and doesn’t  necessarily want to make decisions that best serve the narrative.

It’s not, in itself, a bad thing. There are millions of pages of fanfiction out there and some of it is quite well written. But it is, in this writer’s humble opinion, lacking the narrative drive and momentum that brought people to the property in the first place.

Game of Thrones Season 6 is Fanfiction.

This was made entirely clear to me during last night’s episode. Character motivations are cloudy, narrative is all but abandoned, and everything is manipulated and forced into place to build to triumphant, “cool” looking moments for no other purpose than someone saying “wouldn’t it be cool if…” Even the episode title “Battle of the Bastards” was a fan name given to the eventual fight between the two Northern leaders.

The result is one of the best visually directed episodes in the history of the show (Miguel Sapochnik, who directed last year’s “Hardholme” needs to be a big name Hollywood director like right now) but many of the emotional beats fell flat because none of the character’s motivation made any kind of sense.

Matt: I don’t know where to start.  I thought it was a well-directed battle aside from all the plot and character aspects. I no longer view these as “characters” but rather “fictional constructs played by actors in order to advance the plot.”

It’s so weird to me that GRRM, in writing a book, seems to have put endless thought into how things would work to a very nitty-gritty level of plausibility, and the show runners, making a SHOW, don’t seem to think through how things are going to actually look. So I’m left endless distracted by thoughts like “Do dragons have a limited quantity of flame? Maybe she shouldn’t waste so much on one ship?” “Oh, so she can just fully control all three of them now? Guess we don’t even need other dragon riders.” “Hey Rickon just step left slightly oh no you’re dead now and I don’t care.”

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This was just poor writing by some arrogant assholes who thought they could adapt these books.

…Perhaps I should … cool off.

Scott: Haha, yeah Matt, We’re gonna put you in Ramsay’s dog kennel while you calm down for a bit…

Gentry: Maaaan, I hate to say it but I agree. My head was all over the place with this battle. This battle was amazingly shot, but so many of the actions didn’t make sense and the “I got lucky” meter was so high I felt it ready to burst. Is Jon even a human at this point? It was such an action blockbuster moment that I couldn’t take it as seriously as it probably wanted.

Also Rickon gets shot by an arrow like over 100 yards away…….did he attend the Prometheus school of running away from things? Cause based off last night I’m pretty sure he was at the head of the class next to Charlize.

Scott: Hahaha. Gentry I just want one week where you don’t bring up Prometheus. Just one!

I’ve never felt that a character in this show had “plot armor.” In fact, Game of Thrones is a show that prides itself on the fact that they could kill off any character at any moment, a tone they set 5 years ago with the death of Ned Stark. But in this episode, it’s official: Jon has plot armor.

Gentry: Yep. As does Arya.

Scott: Sansa’s motivation makes absolutely no sense to me. Why not tell Jon about her requesting aid from Littlefinger? Jon is frantically trying to come up with a plan to defeat Ramsey and knowing that he has a few thousand cavalry on it’s way to him (that will arrive a mere hour after the start of the battle mind you) probably would have changed his plan of attack a bit.

Gentry: Right? Oh man so much frustration.

Scott: Then again, he abandoned all strategy right away regardless when he decided to charge Ramsay by himself. Look, I get it – he was driven into a rage by the death of Rickon. I actually loved that Ramsay did that, it fit his character so well and was the final nail in his already sufficiently hammered coffin.

But come on!

Jon’s whole arc; the last 6 YEARS of his character progression has been about him learning how to become a better leader. How to make the difficult choices.How sometimes you have to do, not the thing you want to do, but the thing you have to do. All of that was abandoned in a moment so we could have a cool hero shot of him standing alone against a charging army.

Battle of the Bastards

Gentry: Hahahaha. So much cheese! So dumb. That’s not Jon.

So I agree about Rickon. It was inevitable that he would not make it out alive. The show runners don’t really seem to know what they want to do with our prominent characters let alone a non-POV that hasn’t been around in seasons. I just thought the target practice thing was so ridiculous and already done. Like it would have been way more Ramsay had he just let the boy run and let the gals (dogs) loose on him from afar WHILE he shoots arrows. Or just slit his throat while Jon watches….but instead he literally almost lets an heir of Winterfell almost escape. 1 zigzag and he’s just cemented himself as the dumbest Bolton/Northern Lord/Villain of all time.

Scott: Yeah I mean I got the feeling there that he was intentionally missing and could have hit Rickon any time he wanted to. Was just being Ramsay and milking it for the most opportune moment.

Gentry: Either way…it’s pretty close to the garbage of Arya running around with major stab wounds… but i guess it looked cool, right?

Jon almost getting suffocated was probably one of the few moments that actually saved this sequence for me because it was the only time where I felt he could actually die. The only part that felt real to me.

Scott: All that stuff was so well shot man!

Gentry: Jon missing those volleys of arrows and being spun around by random battle chaos has to be one of the most visually stunning shots in GoT history.

Scott: Like all of it.  My god.

Gentry: It was. It was. I’ll give them that credit

Scott: Translating battle tactics in a visual form that still makes it exciting is so hard to do. It ends up, for the most part, just looking like random chaos and violence. But this direction showed us both the chaos and the tactics at work.

Tactics

…At least on the Bolton side. Jon’s tactics were just “run at them really fast and stuff.”

Gentry: Look, I agree that the whole episode was beautifully shot, but it’s just not the same when we get these silly unreal moments just for the sake of fanservice. I just can’t get over how far from Martin this goes and it really does put the series as a whole in a new perspective. You said last week that George’s pros and content really shines in parts of the series early on, and this season just made it more apparent.

And Wun Wun died!!!

Scott:  Gentry, you were supposed to be the positive one! I needed you! I had to put Matt in time out until he calmed down because he was so furious. And now you too?

Gentry: I’m trying to be, but I can’t help it.

Scott: I want to make something clear. We’re reviewing these episodes as we seem them, and as such we’re making a lot of predictions . Stuff that might seem like nonsense to us now, might merely be set up for something that pays off next week or even a season from now.  It is possible that this whole battle was a really convoluted way of letting Sansa and Jon come together and finally gain some level of respect for each other. Jon didn’t trust in Sansa’s leadership and Sansa didn’t trust in Jon’s ability to, ironically, “know things.”

Both were rectified by what happened outside Winterfell yesterday. But if that really was  all this convoluted battle was meant to do, it did so at the expense of thousands of lives and, more importantly, at the expense of the character of everyone involved. That’s just bad writing!

Gentry: Well said.

Scott: In an effort to mix in some positivity with my ranting, I appreciated that this episode kept us in one place for most of it’s runtime and allowed us to fully ride the emotion of the scene. There wasn’t a lot of back and forth cutting between scenes, something that I’ve noticed this season doing more than ever. We tend to spend 2 minutes in King’s Landing, then cut to the Wall, then cut north of the wall, then back to King’s Landing, then cut to Meereen for a couple more minutes. Beats don’t really get time to fully land before we’re rushing off to the next storyline. By focusing on these two events alone, that wasn’t a problem this week.

Gentry: I agree Scott it was nice to be settled on two fronts for a change, but it also reminds us of how fractured and separated a lot of these plot lines are in general, and it’s interesting seeing the show go through the same by switch back and forth for only minutes,

DRAGON

So Meereen… I enjoyed aspects of it, just not the ones I thought I would. I actually enjoyed the conversation more than seeing Drogon roast a ship for 10 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, they clearly spend 95% of effects budget on this episode and it showed, which is always fun and the cherry on top…but I’m still trying to pin this re-rebirth of Dany as she steps back into the picture. She doesn’t seem to be saying much….compared to earlier years.

Scott: The things that happened to characters this season don’t seem to have much effect on their characterization, they’re just plot points to move things along. Is Dany changed since she left Meereen? She’s more confident, but only because she’s got a massive army again. What has Dany actually learned in her time outside Meereen and how have these episodes shown that at all?

Gentry: Can George step in and write all dialogue between Dany and Tyrion from now on?? She’s running out of Westerosi advisors fast and we really need to make this upcoming journey West count.

Scott: Only if you want the next book to take even longer to come out.

Gentry: Good point. Also, BIG REVEAL hidden under the carnage. Book Tyrion does NOT know about the Mad King’s intentions during the rebellion, at least as far as we know from what I’ve read. Show Tyrion apparently does.

Scott: It’s not completely outlandish to think that Jaime told his brother at some point though.

Gentry: No it’s not, but now Dany knows…. annnnd wow, talk about ZERO reaction to the revelation that your father was evidenced to being a psychopath bent on taking his own city down with him.

Scott: Well her reaction was to actually listen to what he had to say and attempted to broker a surrender with the Masters. To me all that moment was doing was clearly telegraphing next week’s episode. It was as if the show was screaming at the viewer:

“THERE IS WILDFIRE UNDER THE SEPT OF BAELOR. THAT’S THAT PLACE THAT THE HIGH SPARROW LIVES. I WONDER IF THAT WILL BE RELEVANT? DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE WILDFIRE, VIEWERS!”

Gentry: I guess you are the glass half full one here…. I think it was a missed opportunity at good writing

Scott: I’m trying Gentry! I don’t want us to be the only ones in the world who don’t really like the season, but it’s looking more and more like that after each passing episode. I keep saying “Well maybe next week will fix this,” but we’re running out of “next weeks.”

Gentry: I’m trying to be positive too, but when you have a show this popular that was able to do a pretty decent job of adapting the first few seasons, even though we don’t have much source material to work with at the moment in terms of the last books, I still expect a bit more when it comes to writing. I’m sorry but the bar was raised at the success of the first few seasons, I don’t buy these silly plot twists that end up not making sense having underlying reasons from the show runners that will present themselves later on.

If anything this season is full of really high points and really low ones in terms of quality writing, in my humble opinion.

Davos

I feel like they did a disservice to the character of Davos by making the realization as to what actually happened to Shireen so diluted and late that I can’t even tell how much, if any, he was affected. When I saw him last night it made me think of one of those old MasterCard commercials:

How much time Davos takes long walks waiting for battle…..100 hours, How much time Davos takes planning battles and winning Northmen…..50 hours., How much time Davos takes mourning the painful sacrifice of an innocent little girl….10 seconds.

Scott: Davos’ scene was one of the things I’m very comfortable in saying will be picked up and concluded in next week’s episode. Though I agree it was a weird decision to have that emotion scene and cut from it right to him lining up with the rest of the army. The Davos I know would have walked right into The Red Woman’s tent and demanded to hear what happened.

Why couldn’t they have just moved the Shireen funeral pyre discovery til after the battle? He’s wandering around taking in the loss he and his men just went through and then stumbles upon it.

Gentry: Yep

Like how hard is it to decide that? I’m just dumbfounded at some of these decisions. I’m sorry but if a show throughout it’s life transforms itself into constant fan service in the form of super cool looking moments that may or may not make sense, that just hurts to watch. I just think they would have found a solid writing groove by Season 6, but maybe that was just wishful thinking

Scott: Man, let’s just wrap this up because I am depressed.

Throughout the entirety of season 5, I always argued that even as the show made missteps it was still the best TV out there. With Season 6 this is no longer the truth. Game of Thrones isn’t even the best show on HBO right now. That honor goes to Silicon Valley.

Gentry:  Agreed. Silicon is kicking its butt right now.

Question: The only thing that has ever irked me about your view on the show/book is your claim last year that the show was (at that moment) better than the books. Would you still agree?

Scott: No. Not anymore. It’s amazing how a mere 9 hours of TV can completely change that opinion.

I still think the show does things better than the books in a lot of places. I still think A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons are really mediocre books with a few great moments mixed in with the slog. The show really succeeded in truncating and consolidating all that slog. I still think the show is a visual spectacle and a beacon of how far TV has come in the last decade. Despite all it’s misgivings, it’s still solid entertainment week in and week out.

But, it used to be more than all that. Without George’s books to guide it, Game of Thrones has lost its way. For the first time in a long time, I’m looking more forward to the release of The Winds of Winter than the next season. And that’s not even gonna ever come out!

Gentry: Indeed good Ser. After watching this season, and knowing where we left off last season (Season 5) and where the books left off at that juncture (Book 4/5), I always thought this season was a prime opportunity for the showrunners, writers, and directors to have some real fun with the fact that there are so many unknowns. By fun, I just mean giving them (and our wonderful actors) a chance to really nail down some character and story plot conflicts. The fact that not a lot of humans on earth know what’s coming in book 6/7 to me was a chance for the showrunners to get an edge and really give us some organic moments that would play out differently in the books, but that would work wonderfully on screen. I maybe expected too much at this point, and that saddens me a bit, because I know a lot of the people behind the scenes have the potential to do it. If Lena Headey can transform a character such as Cersei Lannister so phenomenally on screen without even picking up A Song of Ice and Fire, why would expect any less from the people pulling the strings.  It hurts to say that I was disappointed.

Other than King’s Landing and a few moments in the North, as well as the Riverlands exchanges (minus the end of Blackfish version garbage), I think this was an opportunity missed.

An opportunity to explore a Littlefinger/Sansa dynamic of deceit and trust, or a Davos/Melisandre conflict of the magnitude of what religion and sacrifice truly means, or of Jon/Wildings REALLY realizing what exactly just occurred (Jon coming back), or even Tyrion just soaking in Essos and what lies in front of Dany…

Why drag what we already kind of know into forced actions and awkward moments when you can focus on what we DON’T know and cultivate it so we entertained and moved at the same time, instead of just being entertained because it’s fun and cool to see on TV.

Scott: Yeah, maybe we’re asking for too much. The show was never going to pull off the subtlety or nuance of the books. I think when we realized that Game of Thrones was going to surpass Martin’s works we were hoping that it would serve as a kind of replacement for the books that we might never get. That watching this season would be akin to our experience reading A Storm of Swords for the first time. But the show was never that, and it could never be that.

One way or another this mixed bag of a season is coming to an end next week. I doubt at this point that one episode is enough to pull Game of Thrones back from the brink, but here’s to hoping. Check back next week when we discuss Episode 10: “The Winds of Winter”

Matt, you can come out of time out now.

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