This week’s Game of Thrones episode came with a massive amount of hype.
The budget for this episode was enormous; on par with big budget war films. 25 days of filming, 500 extras, 600 crew members, 160 tons of gravel, 25 stuntmen, 4 separate camera crews and 70 real horses.
There was no hiding what this episode was going to be about. The title, ‘Battle of the Bastards,’ had been released over a week ago.
All season had been building to the big showdown between Jon and Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton. We’d seem them gather their armies and their allies and we had no doubt that it was time for the payoff.
Fans have become accustomed to expecting the big moments in the ninth episode of each season. From the biggest twists (Ned’s beheading, the Red Wedding) to incredible battles (Blackwater, The Watchers on the Wall), we’ve often spent extended time with one or two storylines to give them the weight they deserved.
Power belongs to those who seize it. Trusting too many people will leave you with a knife in the back.
The Game of Thrones world is a cold and harsh one and we’ve had this reality rammed down our throats to make sure that we don’t forget it. How many of your favourite characters are still alive? How many of the original Stark family (and their dire wolves) are still alive?
One of the main hallmarks of Game of Thrones has been the show’s ability to subvert our expectations.
We often get led to believe things are heading in a certain direction only to have the carpet pulled out from underneath us with brutal and heartbreaking consequences. Unlike traditional stories where being good and noble assures that things will work out well for you, this story is a little bit more realistic and perhaps sadistic as well.
All of these factors are what made this particular ninth episode so interesting. As hard as it was for anyone to imagine the Starks losing again, we had learned by now to not expect any happy endings on this show. Fans were wildly speculating about which characters were going to bite the dust and fearing for which of their favourites that they would never see again.
And yet, the biggest surprise of this Game of Thrones episode was just how little surprise there was at all.
The Starks won. Ramsay is dead. Winterfell is reclaimed. The Knights of the Vale turned up to save the day. There isn’t much there that we didn’t expect to happen.
Almost every major good guy survived. Rickon’s death was a painful moment, and the show did a masterful job of letting us believe for just a moment that he might survive but really, just as Sansa herself had said, he was dead the moment that Ramsay captured him. A great moment of drama but nothing that we didn’t really expect to happen.
Over in Meereen, it’s more of the same. The biggest surprise here is that these scenes are even in the episode at all. Whilst we get some spectacular dragon action here, I don’t think any of it was unexpected. From the moment Daenerys arrived back in Meereen last week, we knew that she would have no problem turning back the masters’ attack. Nor was it a surprise to see her dragons unleashed. This was a moment they had clearly been building up to since Drogon went missing and the other two dragons were locked up.
Theon and Yara turning up was only unexpected in regards to how fast they seemed to have got there, but again, where else was this storyline going to go except for them teaming up. Daenerys needed ships and they had them. Yara is a female leader trying to change the world from its misogynist ways and so is Daenerys. You don’t get much more of a perfect match then that.
The actual battles that played out during this episode were all incredible. Another of the themes that runs throughout Game of Thrones is that war is not glorious.
Whilst the one-sidedness of Daenerys’ victory might go against that grain, the true battle of this episode did not. Watching Jon Snow deal with the random carnage around him was mesmerising. Watching the bodies piling up around and on top of him left us breathless and served as a gritty reminder of the horrors of war and the battlefield.
And so, after all the build-up and hype, this Episode 9 played out more or less the way we expected it to. But is there actually anything wrong with that? It’s interesting to think that, after all the pain and misery that our main characters have suffered, it can actually feel somewhat disappointing when things go well. We’re so used to having our expectations subverted that when they aren’t, we don’t know how to feel.
I was so engrossed in the Game of Thrones action that it didn’t bother me that no great twist happened.
Sure, there may be little plot holes here and there but we still have one more episode left to fill in some of those remaining blanks. There are greater battles ahead and even though there are bound to be more twists at some point, we might just to have to get used to things actually going our heroes’ way.
Our heroes are not as innocent as they once were and this might be part of the reason that things aren’t going as badly anymore. Daenerys was ready to burn down all her enemies and their cities before Tyrion was able to convince her of a better path. Jon was ready to bash Ramsay’s head into a bloody pulp before Sansa turned up and he left her to finish him off herself by releasing his once loyal hounds on him.
I can’t imagine Eddard Stark approving of his children’s actions but his ways of honour got himself killed and the few remaining Starks have learned the hard lessons of life.
They’ll need them, because I get the feeling that in our last episode, winter will finally arrive.