This 'Game of Thrones' discussion is written by someone who has read George R.R. Martin's books, but will generally only discuss events that have happened on HBO's televised version -- not that it matters much now that the show is going its own way. Still, please respect these boundaries should you choose to participate in the comments section.
Episode 6.09, "Battle of the Bastards"
FINAL SCORE: Violence 27, Sex 0 (mercy rule implemented before the Battle for Winterfell)
(Scoring is typically 1 point per on-screen death or nude character, but the reviewer reserves the right to award bonus points or adjust the score as necessary.)
Totals: Three Meereenese torched by flaming catapult payloads; at least eight more stabbed to death by Sons of the Harpy (conservative tally); one Son of the Harpy decapitated by Daario's arakh; 12 sailors burnt by dragons; two slave masters' throats slit; one Stark sibling shot through the chest with an arrow...
Notes: ...Listen, I ain't gonna count the deaths in the battle for Winterfell, okay? The time elapsed from Rickon's death to Jon Snow punching Ramsay's face off was 14 minutes, almost all of which was stabbing and death and squelchy noises and, okay, yes, also a man biting out an enemy's carotid artery. It's just impossible to count everything: what's a killing blow? Did Jon stab a horse or its rider as he ran by? How many people are getting killed in the background of this split-second shot?
Thus, I called the game in favor of Violence before the numbers spun out of control. I'm sorry. As recompense, please accept this screencap of Ramsay Bolton getting his face chewed off.
Kind of a bullshit death for Ramsay, by the way. Not the fact that he was eaten by his own dogs -- I enjoyed that enough -- but that the scene was barely lit. Like, Ramsay's been maiming and skinning and torturing people for FIVE seasons (by comparison, Joffrey barely made it through three) and I've got to squint to see his death? F that noise. Don't make me toggle the brightness on my screencap, let the dogs eat him in the middle of the square on a sunny day.
Totals: Oh baby that handshake was LOADED with sexual tension! Look at that eye contact!
Notes: Okay, okay: there were a FEW mildly sexy moments: Missandei's abs, standard-issue cleavage from Dany and Melisandre, and dragons burning people alive. (I have unique tastes.)
There was plenty to nitpick in "Battle of the Bastards" -- and I'll get to that in a moment -- but the priorities of this column will always be (A) fist-pumping about sex and violence and (B) shareable memes that ensure this column dominates on social media.
So, for the record: yay, Jon! Boo, Ramsay! Yay, Daenerys! Boo, slave traders! Yay, violence to the people we booed!
"Oh hey Jon! So, you've consulted your trusted advisers? Finalized your battle plan? There's nothing that can be changed at this late hour? Basically this conversation is delaying the rest you vitally need before a big battle?
"Great! Just wanted to make sure all of that was clear before I told you THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE ASKED MY OPINION ABOUT WHAT TO DO. Oh sure, I was here for your entire strategy meeting and all of the previous ones, and I easily could have spoken up THEN, but I'm a wildly uneven character who oscillates in intelligence and temperament from scene to scene.
"So what should you do? I don't know! I don't know tactics, I'm just here to give shitty advice you're going to ignore. Oh, also I'm withholding key information about the heavy cavalry that will ride in to save your ass -- but only after thousands of people are slaughtered.
"Anyhoo, we're both pretty dumb but we'll win anyway, so go ahead and do whatever."
One of the more satisfying aspects of a good television show is watching characters grow and change. Walter White transformed from a science teacher with a death sentence to a drug kingpin. Don Draper repeated patterns, but also rode a turbulent decade and battled his own demons in achieving an acceptance of who he was. And then there's Jon Snow, brave and rash and dumb as ever, bailed out once again by forces outside his power.
Of course, people don't change, not really, especially those who are handsome and lucky. Why SHOULD Jon change? Everything works out for him regardless of what he does; his stupidity got him killed, and that proved only a moderate hurdle.
Maybe it's a better reflection of real life, but it's disappointing to watch. If I wanted TV to give me a more accurate depiction of the real world, I'd watch CNBC.
Before his capture, Rickon Stark had been living in the woods with a wildling and a direwolf; we can assume he's reasonably fit. And, though he may depleted physically from his captivity, I'd argue that the boost of fight-or-flight adrenaline can power him to at least an average running speed over a relatively short distance. So let's say he can run at an 8-minute mile pace -- a conservative estimate with his life on the line.
Ramsay allowed him to run for a full 90 seconds; at an 8-minute pace that would be three-sixteenths of a mile, or 330 yards, not including the slight head start you see in the screencap above. Now, I'm no archery expert, but I AM a rifle expert, and a 330-yard shot on a moving target is no gimme even with 20th-century killing technology. And the Wikipedia page for the English longbow suggests that a center-mass killing shot on a moving target 330-plus yards away from a single archer would be highly unlikely.
The range of the medieval weapon is not accurately known, with much depending on both the power of the bow and the type of arrow. It has been suggested that a flight arrow of a professional archer of Edward III's time would reach 400 yd (370 m) but the longest mark shot at on the London practice ground of Finsbury Fields in the 16th century was 345 yd (315 m).
Keep in mind, at that distance archers were typically aiming for massed infantry -- an area target, not a point target. Granted, Ramsay is an expert hunter, and he likely had a backup plan if Jon Snow could have grabbed Rickon (say, the battalion of archers behind him loosing their arrows), but it still leaves too much to chance for a character known for laying elaborate traps. You could argue that Ramsay's primary objective was to draw out Jon (or Jon's forces), but Rickon is still the RIGHTFUL HEIR TO WINTERFELL running free to his brother; if Jon rescues him, he can retreat and go back to recruiting forces with a stronger claim to the North's seat of power.
And Ramsay's plan to kill Rickon was a deadeye shot at the outer limits of an area-fire weapon? Why risk it? Why not just turn loose a few of his hounds? It makes no sense. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is a magic bow or something? Ha ha, boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.
This Week in Death Arriving Out of Focus
As I pointed out last week, if there is something subtly moving in the background of "Game of Thrones," it is about to arrive and kill people.
The above scene also touched on another one of the show's pleasant tropes: references to The Princess Bride. The most famous, of course, is Prince Oberyn Martell's obvious comparison to Inigo Montoya, but there have been subtler instances as well.
In "Battle of the Bastards," Tyrion makes it clear that the Meereenese leadership is meeting with the slavers to discuss surrender. When the slavers lay out their draconian terms for our heroes, Dany's like, "Naw dawg, we're here to talk about YOUR surrender." It reminded me of Westley outside the Fire Swamp:
Prince Humperdinck: Surrender.
Westley: You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept.
Or maybe I've just seen The Princess Bride like 90 times. Jury's out.
A design flaw in modern dragons
Modern jet fighters have cameras on the underside of the plane so that the pilot (or backseater) can drop laser-guided munitions on their chosen targets. Still, when conducting close air support, aviators will rotate the plane until they can establish positive visual contact with friendly forces and intended targets through the canopy. Why? Because they need to see what they're shooting at, and they can't see through the bottom of the plane.
Which brings us to Daenerys. You got X-ray vision, Dany? Does that dragon's wing have a see-through compartment I don't know about? Because a slight lean to the right isn't going to offer you a view of the ship you want to burn.
At this point, yes, I am openly campaigning for a job to be the "Game of Thrones" military advisor.
Fastest Banner Hanging I've Ever Seen
Skyp Baelish: The Starks hung a banner LITERALLY 30 seconds after winning the north. They weren't even champions of all Westeros! Hanging a conference banner before the war's over, that's pitiful!
Lord Stephyn Assmyth: Jon Snow has NEVER won a major battle without someone bailing him out at the last minute. About to lose the Wall: Stannis rides in to save the day. Getting ROUTED at Winterfell: in ride the Knights of the Vale! Skyp, Jon Snow got STABBED TO DEATH and still got saved!
Skyp: He's a regular season fighter, Stephyn. Regular. Season.
Stephyn: CHOKER. NOT AN MVP.
(h/t to Reid for Skip Baelish)
Hot Take Man
Like many of you, I worked to find a balance between watching "Game of Thrones" and Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And I dreaded the outcome of Game 7, however it shook out. I wanted to revel in watching a record-breaking team cap its season with a championship, but I also wanted LeBron James to bring joy to Cleveland. One result promised hot takes about the regular season not mattering, the other about a historically great player's supposed inability to succeed under the brightest lights; any outcome would draw unwanted comparisons to Michael Jordan's Bulls teams.
So I did the only thing I could do in today's culture: I made memes.
RIP, killed by his mentions
It is probably a good thing that I don't write about basketball with any regularity. My fantasy military tactics takes are much safer than my basketball takes.
Speaking of which, if you're outnumbered more than 2-to-1 but have a 20-foot giant that can tilt the battlefield, use him as a reserve force to break the battle in your favor.
I could go on and on about the doubtful efficacy of heavy infantry when the enemy has a 20-foot giant, but I've already picked apart too many aspects of this episode already. Instead, I'll merely point out that the Flayed Man of House Bolton -- admittedly one of the more metal sigils in Westeros -- is not particularly suited to full-length shields.
Looks like a dude is 69'ing ya is what I'm sayin'.
My Face When I'm at a Really Good Medieval-Themed Orgy
- Tactical concepts learned by Tormund: 1
- Arrows in Wun Wun: at least three dozen
- Slaver Survival Rate (promised): .667
- Slaver Survival Rate (actual): .333
- Seconds of screen time for Lady Mormont: approximately 4
... Four seconds that she MURDERED with her scowl. I'll consider myself a success as a parent if I can teach my daughter to mean mug half that well.
DNP, Coach's Edition
Everyone in King's Landing; everyone in the Iron Islands; everyone in Braavos; everyone in the Riverlands; everyone in Dorne (lol); basically everyone everywhere except Winterfell and Meereen.