The 9th episode of the 6th season titled ‘Battle of the Bastards’ is arguably one of the best episodes in HBO’s fantasy television series Game of Thrones. Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton finally face off in a battle for control of Winterfell. The former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch fight to reclaim Winterfell, alongside his sister, Sansa Stark. The battle is a turning point in the series – a rare moment – when good triumph over evil.
The Battle of the Bastards is among the show’s most elaborate battle sequences ever. The sequence of Jon facing down a marauding horde all by himself was striking; what followed, a chaotic mess showing us the vulnerability of being a footsoldier in medieval times, with a battle raging all around you, trying to survive among the confusing disordered mess of charging massive horses, with men trying to kill you with swords and arrow.
The battle ultimately came down to two titanic forces of personality, one of whom, Ramsay, one of the supervillains of the show and good-hearted Jon Snow. Although it wasn’t Jon who had the last word. It was Sansa, whose planning of the battle proved that she’d become not just a realist but a strategist.
“A monster has taken our home and our brother. We have to go back to Winterfell and save them both!”
― Sansa Stark to Jon Snow
As the battle waged, things weren’t looking good for Jon and his small – but fierce – army as they became encircled by Ramsay’s forces. If you’re a history buff, the setup may have felt familiar. That’s because it was inspired by a battle from the Second Punic War and the Battle of Cannae, between the Roman Republic and the Hannibal-led Carthaginians in 216 BCE – with the latter surrounding the Roman legions only to have them completely annihilated.
Although this battle didn’t quite end as Cannae did for the Ancient Romans. Since Sansa had Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) and his Vale Knights of House Arryn came charging in just when the Stark force is about to be massacred and with Jon slowly drowning under bodies the dead stacking up. The Vale forces easily wipe out what remains of the Bolton army. Sansa, who just last season was subject to a brutal (and, rightly, controversial) rape scene, was also the one to enact bloody revenge, turning Ramsay’s weapons of war, his voracious hounds, back on him.
The episode and the battle is a turning point in the series, with the Starks finally winning something (too bad for Rickon though). It is one of the best episodes simply because of the impressive battle sequence, the scale, the choreography, the stunt work, the scenography, editing, music – the shots following Jon during the battle is among the most beautifully shot work in the show’s history. The episode really is a masterpiece.
“Battle of the Bastards” was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who had directed the fifth-season episodes “The Gift” and “Hardhome”. The episode was written by series co-creators David Benioff (other co-creator D. B. Weiss). The battle took 25 days to film, requiring 500 extras, 600 crew members, and 70 horses. The episode received immense critical acclaim, with many calling it one of the best television episodes of all time.
The Battle of the Bastards in Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
- Beautifully chaotic, epically grimy, and almost unbearable to watch, but impossible to look away from.
- A reminder that the battlefield is forever ugly and anti-climatic.
- A smartly paced hour, crammed with big character moments for Sansa, Daenerys, and Jon.