Was 'Battle of the Bastards' the Best 'Game of Thrones' Episode Ever?

battle of the bastards - game of thrones

Warning: This article contains massive spoilers for "Battle of the Bastards," the ninth episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. Proceed with caution. You may be looking for our full recap of the episode. And check out all of our in-depth Game of Thrones stories while you're at it.

"The show doesn't always give people the things they need to be happy," Game of Thrones showrunner D.B. Weiss admitted in the post-show banter for "Battle of the Bastards."

Yeah, no kidding. For every triumph in Westeros, fate serves our favorite characters two or three miserable twists -- sudden death being among the most popular. Life doesn't "work out" so much as scale back the suck. A "happy ending" is any time a character drifts off to sleep without a neck wound. George R.R. Martin is a ruthless overlord. Weiss and co-writer David Benioff have been happy to serve his wishes.

But not tonight. On "Battle of the Bastards," everyone we love tasted sweet, sweet revenge.

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Depending what you're looking for out of Game of Thrones, Season 6's penultimate episode may very well be the most satisfying, most intense, perhaps straight-up BEST episode in the series' history. "Battle of the Bastards" was not an episode written to alley-oop the cast and crew to their next batch of Emmy Awards. There were few revelations that would send the GoT Reddit boards into a tizzy. Instead, "Battle of the Bastards" was 60 minutes of visceral action, momentary contemplation, and monumental payoff. A dog grinding up Ramsay Bolton's face with its jaws was the cherry on top. 

For the record, here's the argument for why "Battle of the Bastards" ranks among the best of the Game of Thrones best:

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Daenerys unleashes her inner Targaryen... and the dragon trio

Since emerging from the fires in the center of Vaes Dothrak and lording over the Dothraki as a legit supreme leader, we've been waiting for Daenerys to face a force worthy of conquerer instincts. This week it happened, raining fire upon invading ships, and putting a pro-slavery resistance in its place. We saw what dragons could really do in Season 5's "The Dance of Dragons," but sweeping across Meereen and blowing through wooden ships with fire breath reached a new epic scale.

Tyrion's wildfire mention 

A great Game of Thrones thrusts us into immediate conflicts while taking a deep breath to reflect on the vast history of the Seven Kingdoms. "Battle of the Bastards" balanced it perfectly. Tyrion's aside to Daenerys made that first battle all the more potent. There's always a risk of becoming the new Mad King. "You're talking about destroying entire cities," he tells her. She brushes him off, and sets a new era in motion. And in true Thrones fashion, Tyrion raises a theory flag: why, yes, there's wildfire in the red keep under King's Landing. Just FYI.

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Sansa and Jon bicker over war plans

Sansa is keeping secrets and Jon doesn't have time for it. They both want to defeat Ramsay at dawn. So they communicate as much as they can, because that's what actual loving human beings would do. The scene where Sansa and Jon butt heads by the fire recalls those frustrating early days at the Wall -- maybe Season 1's "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things" -- when all our characters could do was hope and talk and squirm and pray.

Davos discovers Shireen's immolated remains

Before the meat of the episode, we get a little walk-and-talk between Daavos and Tormund. "Maybe that was our mistake, believing in kings," Daavos says. "Jon Snow isn't a king," his Wildling pal reminds him. If that didn't stir up enough emotions, Stannis' former number two walks over to a pile of ash where he discovers Shireen's favorite toy. That look behind his eyes? Oh, yeah, that's years and years of anger bubbling to the surface.

Rickon runs free -- but not quickly enough.

Ramsay spent an entire season flaying Theon Greyjoy and an arrow through a young Stark boy's heart (followed by half a dozen more) had us swearing up a storm. Just in case people didn't hate Ramsay enough...

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That. Battle. Dear. God.

You can have your Lord of the Rings-esque "Blackwater" and "Watchers on the Wall," or the otherworldly White Walker showdown in "Hardhome." I'll take "Battle of the Bastards," which delivered a new kind of epic action sequence: grimy, claustrophobic, miserable, chaotic, sinister, gut-wrenching, gut-splitting, gut-carving -- the Hell on Earth that was this fight. Medieval. There's been a handful of13th-century battles staged on the big screen (half of them directed by Ridley Scott), but none of them comes close to the colliding horses and broadsword bloodshed that made clear: a Lord of Light is looking out for ol' Jon Snow. When Jon climbs his way out from under a pile of bodies -- a scene pulled from both Rome's Battle of Cannae and the American Civil War, per D.B. Weiss -- and takes to a hill of his own men's dead bodies, we grabbed for the wine faster than Tyrion. Stressful. Grand. Perfect.

Knights of the Vale to the rescue

"Battle of the Bastards" went up against Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and I can promise you no basketball fan wooted at LeBron James louder than the Thrones-obsessed did when Sansa and Littlefinger appeared from over a hill with a rescuing army.


RIP, Wun-Wun. Hodor's death may be the most heartbreaking moment in the series' history, but the magic of Thrones is that every character's death stings.

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Jon stands down, and Sansa takes revenge

This had to happen. Ramsay was not Jon Snow's nemesis. A bugger in the path to balancing out the world, sure, but not a name on his personal death list. He was Sansa's life to take, and she seized it with poetic justice. It's unclear how Ramsay wound up in a pen with his hungering dogs, but Sansa was there to trigger the final act, watch Ramsay tremble for the first time, and even snicker as the hounds chomped away at his flesh. An episode like "The Rains of Castamere" (i.e., the one with the Red Wedding) tops "best of" lists based on shock value. "Battle of the Bastards" earns a higher place in our book for reasons spelled out by Weiss: in a rare instance, someone we loathe was on the receiving end, and that was a win for someone we love. It took six seasons to get here.

Questions! Always questions.

Now that she has the Iron Island fleet by making a pact with Yara and Theon Greyjoy, will Daenerys and her multi-pronged army make it to Westeros before season's end? Or is Euron her next target? With wildfire about to burst, will King's Landing's even be standing when they arrive? Ramsay Bolton is dead, so what will Jon and Sansa do next? Or is this it for Sansa, who fits right in to our cockamamie death theory after this episode? Will Littlefinger unveil his master plan? Can Jon catch wind of it in time? WHERE IS BRAN??

"Battle of the Bastards" teased just enough without becoming a "theory episode." One thing we know for sure: the Season 6 finale will be a doozy.

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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.