After a sub-standard entry into the series last week, Game of Thrones required something tremendous to ensure this season began its home straight on a strong note. What we saw was simultaneously gruesome, claustrophobic, cathartic and spectacular – Battle of the Bastards will go down as an iconic episode.

In one of only two locations for this episode, we opened in Meereen. A skittish Tyrion attempted to justify himself – and the state of the city – to Danaerys, who cut a confident, intimidating figure. Tyrion gave a short speech pleading with Khaleesi, using memories of her father, the Mad King Aerys to ensure she was not subject to the same mistakes.

Overtly, the speech was not only for the Silver Queen, but for the viewers, too. Tyrion’s reference to the ‘caches of wildfire under the Red Keep’ spoon-fed viewers a hearty portion of foreshadowing, potentially for the season finale, where Cersei is likely to ‘burn them all’ at King’s Landing.

A small miscommunication marked the end for two slave traders, their necks opened like envelopes by Greyworm. Tyrion moved to give the survivor a typical warning ‘go forth and tell your friends what you have witnessed, the mercy etc’ – nothing new, but the scene was choreographed well enough to forgive stale platitudes.

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The most impressive part of the battle in Meereen, and indeed the episode, was the cinematography, for which Miguel Sopochnik, and whomever else claims responsibility, deserve great credit. Even with exponential progression in CGI, scenes involving the dragons have not always been entirely convincing. Of course there is always the suspension of disbelief to factor, but in a show which doesn’t lay any claim to realism, that was never the issue. Attempts to personify the beasts through intermittent petting scenes have flattered to deceive – perhaps portraying the dragons as armoured vehicles is what successfully managed to keep a tight focus on events, and real characters.

We were even treated to our first glimpse of Danaerys’ Dothraki army, in a fleeting scene capturing the leveling of the Sons of the Harpy. However, the political scenes and ferocious fighting in Meereen were relatively short parts in the episode, as the majority of the allotted time focused on another battle.

The title of the episode hid no red herrings or doubleness. ‘Battle of the Bastards’ was an epic – 500 extras, 600 crew members and 70 horses ensured the long awaited fight pillaged the budget – perhaps at the expense of last week’s episode. Everything came together to ensure the battle was immense; it would not be excessive to make comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, which is high praise indeed. Gore was offered in extreme excess – the type of gratuity they could not have gotten away with, were the winners and losers on different sides. Beheadings were routine, people fiddled with their own intestines amidst cries for help – truly, it was grotesque.

To the characters themselves, Battle of the Bastards was awash with excellent performances.

Since his resurrection, Jon has been a mess. He has seemed almost entirely helpless, and things did not change in his pre-battle team talk with Tormund and Ser Daavos. A light moment of comic relief – a celebration of Tormund’s idiocy – signified the complete lack of accomplishment with which the Stark army approached the fateful showdown.

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By using a game to dispose of Rickon, it was in fact the base Ramsay who succeeded in making his opposite mad. In Jon we saw a terrific transformation – a bloodlust that went beyond anything we had seen from him. In fact, the way he ground Ramsay’s head into morsels of teeth, skin and flesh revealed an entirely new facet to his combative style. Not be outdone, though, it was Sansa that fed the Bolton bastard to his own dogs.

The strength and direction of women in Season Seven has been thematic, and Sansa’s final scolding words to Jon the night preceding the battle added continuity in that regard. No longer the young idealist, Sansa is the antithesis of her former self, seeming to trust nobody in her desire for bloody revenge.

Remarkably, in such an unforgiving show, there were no deaths which would be regarded as central to the story line – not of positively viewed characters, anyway. Admittedly Wun Wun was much loved – and his death scene was appropriately emotive – but his importance to the story was limited. In fact, the only major player to meet his demise was Ramsay, the most deserving character in the entire series. Perhaps this does not bode well for next week, but for now, there was no Ned, no Hodor, and no Red Wedding. It’s a testament to the episode’s strength that none of that was necessary for a truly memorable hour.

The significance of Davos’ discovery will likely unravel in the finale too. The introduction of a new Red Woman in Meereen, along with her recent irrelevance combine to suggest Melisandre’s passing may not be far away. A clash was implied here, but there simply was not time for a solution in this installment.

5/5

Dir: Miguel Sopochnik

Scr: David Benioff, George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss

Cast: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Liam Cunningham, Carice Van Houten, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams.

Prd: David Benioff, George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss, Duncan Muggoch, Peter Welter-Soler

Music: Ramin Jawadi

Episode Number: 9 of 10