We Have So Many Questions About the Battle of the Bastards
This article contains spoilers for "Battle of the Bastards," the ninth episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. Proceed with caution. You might also want to read our full recap of the episode or see all of our Game of Thrones stories.
We've seen epic moments on Game of Thrones before -- Season 2's "Battle of the Blackwater" and Season 5's "Hardhome" come to mind, as does that time Arya parkoured out a window -- but we've never seen anything as unrelenting, grimy, and just plain brutal as last night's heavily hyped BastardBowl. We loved it. You loved it. God knows Sansa loved it. But that doesn't mean the battle didn't raise a ton of questions.
To help you climb out of the muck, we've broken down all the most essential mysteries, puzzling moments, and behind-the-scenes queries raised by this mucky massacre. With so much going on last night, it's OK if you missed some stuff. Just don't be afraid of that nasty mass of dead bodies or those dudes with spears closing in. As America's poet laureate Kid Rock (clearly speaking on behalf of Jon Snow) once said, "Get in the pit and try to love someone."
Why did Rickon run in a straight line?Just like the rest of us, Sansa knew Ramsay had something up his sleeve. This is the bastard of Bolton we're talking about, the show's nearest representation of evil incarnate and one who'd become a problematic villain. Anyone hoping that Rickon wouldn't end up being used like a shaggy-haired chess piece in the battle for Winterfell hasn't been watching the show since Ramsay arrived on the scene. Save your wolf tears. He was always going to die.
But there's really no excusing the youngest Stark's arrow-dodging skills. Of course, Twitter had jokes. Rickon could have broken out the stutter-step. He could have run a slant formation. He could've tried to hide behind one of those flaming corpses Ramsay set up in the field. He could've hit the Quan. He could've done anything other than what he did: run in a straight line. Because you know what else travels in a straight line? Arrows.
How did Jon dodge all those arrows?And while we're on the subeject of arrows, does Jon's bastard blood give him some extra arrow-dodging skills that his brother lacked? Our resurrected hero has succeeded on the battlefield before, but last night the man-bunned warrior was acting like he got the gold star in Mario Kart. After the death of Rickon, Jon was in an open field by himself within range of all the Bolton's archers, and yet he somehow survived. He moved though the battlefield like LeBron James making his way to the rim: with raw nerve and fearless agility. Clearly, the Wall was his Miami and Winterfell is his Cleveland. Like Diddy, he's coming home.
Ducking swarms of arrows wasn't Jon's only God-like act of survival during the hour, though. He also emerged unscathed after that crush of horses rushed in all around him. It was the evening's most striking image, one that showrunner David Benioff called his favorite of the season in this behind-the-scenes clip. It also provided one of the episode's few moments of dark humor. Right when Jon is on the verge of getting trampled by the Bolton cavalry, he finds himself caught in horsey chaos, spared by the violence around him.
The best part? It was all real! "Until the last minute, I stood there facing off against this cavalry charge, which is really scary," says Kit Harington in the video. "We're a bit annoyed because I think everyone is going to think it was CGI and it wasn't."
Wait, were all those horses OK?Yes! As bone-crushing and terrifying as the sequence was, none of the 80 horses used to film the scene were harmed in the making of this equestrian melee. They all lived to pretend to fight another day. Hopefully they all got extra bags of oats for their troubles and thanked their agents for not letting them audition for Luck.
"We're going to make that look as close as possible to a collision without actually colliding the horses," says stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam in the informative behind-the-scenes video above. "So in very tight formation we'll have those guys cross and they'll pull the horses as they cross through and they're falling on very thick falling beds so we don't injure the horses or injure the guys."
Is Jon Snow a bad military commander?Through six seasons, we've seen Jon Snow's impressive military prowess. We know he's a skilled leader of men, a great shouter, and an incredible swordsman -- also, who knew he was so good at blocking arrows with a shield? -- but this episode exposed something I've long suspected: dude should not be drawing up his own plays.
As a death-beating survivor, he's peerless. But, as Sansa warned, his hot head and passion for his family lead to him making a horrible tactical mistake. Ramsay won the psychological battle. He also won the military battle. The only reason Stark banners are flying at Winterfell is because Littlefinger showed up with the Knights of the Vale at the last minute, taking a page from the Peter Jackson third-act-twist book one more time. This was not part of Jon's strategy. I assume next week will deal with the fallout of his many tactical mistakes.
What the hell is a pincer movement?If you sleep through History Channel documentaries, you might've been surprised to hear the phrase "pincer movement" in the behind-the-scenes videos for the show. It's a well-worn tactic used by notable commanders like Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Genghis Khan to defeat enemies on the battlefield. The maneuver mostly involves attacking your opponent on both sides and pinching them in.
Ramsay's version of the double-envelopment pincer move, which involved those ugly shields and some scary-looking spears, was particularly brutal. Though the tactic is a popular way to destroy your attackers, the creators of Game of Thrones had a few specific historical examples in mind, in addition to cinematic inspirations like Akira Kurosawa's epic Ran.
"Initially we based Battle of the Bastards on the Battle of Agincourt which took place between the French and English in 1415," explained director Miguel Sapochnik in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "But as needs changed, as did budgets, it became more like the Battle of Cannae between the Romans and Hannibal in 216 BC."
How did they film this thing?Very carefully! Any battle scene is a logistical and scheduling nightmare for a production staff, but judging from interviews with Sapochnik, this was a particularly challenging shoot. Thanks to three days of constant rain, the production had to make some last-minute changes from the original script that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff provided. Like Jon Snow, the crew had the odds stacked against them.
"Finding a way to cram in and organize everything so that we would use every single minute well in order to squeeze every ounce we could out of our time was the most logistically complicated thing I've ever been involved in," Sapochnik told EW. "When all was said and done, we had around 500 extras, 160 tons of gravel, 70 horses and riders, 65 stuntmen and women, seven principle actors, often four camera crews, 25 days to shoot it, and a call sheet with often up to 600 crew members."
Where was Wun Wun for most of the battle?Let's pour one out for Wun Wun, the best big man in the history of Game of Thrones. While it was great to see the giant use his hands as battering rams on the doors of Winterfell, he was sadly underutilized in the final confrontation. Besides delivering a knock-out punch to a horse, Wun Wun was MIA as the camera took a keen interest in Jon Snow. You'd think a giant would have a larger role to play in a battle taking place in an open field.
Though it doesn't make much sense from a military standpoint, I understand the filmmaking and storytelling instincts that would relegate Wun Wun to the background. It's fun to imagine this as Wun Wun's big Hulk-smash moment, but this battle was really about the gritty, ground-level details. It was about putting you in the shoes of Jon Snow, a fighter who finds himself caught in a Civil War-like pile of dead bodies. It wasn't about giants; it was about men.
What happened to Lyanna Mormont?Though piles of dead men littered the battlefield, women played a significant role in the Battle of the Bastards. In addition to Sansa's deus ex machina moment, we also saw the pint-sized hard-ass Lyanna Mormont ride with Jon and Sansa to parley with Ramsay before the fight. But where was she during the actual skirmish? It wouldn't surprise me if we eventually get a deleted scene of her trying to join the battle and getting held back by her maester or something. Lyanna's got bite.
Did Smalljon Umber survive? And what about the Karstark leader?Speaking of bite, Tormund certainly got a taste of Smalljon Umber during the darkest stretch of the battle. But did we actually see Umber die? Normally I'd say it's safe to assume Umber didn't survive his assault from the wildlings' favorite ginger, but this is Game of Thrones Season 6 and we can't be too careful. Rebirth is in the air!
Until I see him hanging from a rope like Ian McShane or poor little Olly, I'm gonna assume he's still breathing. I hope Davos gets out there and counts up the dead bodies at some point; I wouldn't want Umber emerging from the rubble like Shireen Baratheon's wooden horse toy.
While Smalljon is likely dead, the fate of Harald Karstark, the lord of the other major Northron house who aligned with Ramsay, remains weirdly unclear. He's on a horse at the start of the battle and probably died in the fray, but once Ramsay starts calling for his archers to loose arrows, the Karstark guy goes MIA.
Did Sansa know that the Knights of the Vale were coming?This is the big unanswered question of the episode, and one that will hopefully be explored at length in the finale. Earlier this season, we saw Sansa send a letter; most fans assumed it was a request for troops to Littlefinger. Why didn't Sansa mention this letter to Jon during their argument the night before the battle? Did she want him to fall into Ramsay's trap so that she could emerge the victor?
It might all come down to the last image of the episode: Sansa walking away from a screaming Ramsay with the slightest hint of a smile on her face. Over the course of the season, we've seen Sansa take on daring, strong leadership qualities, and some have speculated that her plotline will end with death. But what if something else is in store for Sansa? What if she's embracing the dark side a bit? What if she's about to break bad?
While that's a possibility, it seems more likely that Sansa will continue to develop into the type of morally complicated character Game of Thrones is well stocked with. Sometimes she does the right thing. Sometimes she makes difficult decisions to preserve her power. She's playing the game. And, last night, she was the winner.
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