Every week throughout season six, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Before you dig in, check out our recap of Sunday's episode, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. Next up this week is executive editor Matthew Yglesias.
Matthew Yglesias: "Battle of the Bastards" is an exciting episode of television, especially from the standpoint of technical virtuosity, but as a piece of writing and storytelling it strikes me as borderline disastrous.
The biggest problem, to my mind, is the portrayal of Ramsay Bolton as some kind of tactical genius (not to mention Westeros’s greatest marksman). Everything we’ve seen of the character — and we have seen far too much of him — suggests he is an out-of-control sadist with no ability to restrain his vile appetites.
All he had to do to consolidate House Bolton’s control of the North back in season five was, you know, not rape and torture Sansa Stark. He didn’t have to stop raping and torturing people in general — just leave that one person alone — but he didn’t, because he can’t. Nor could he restrain himself from keeping Theon Greyjoy around as a psychologically shattered pet. That all blew up in his face, and as a result there's an army of thousands, including a giant and powerful sorceress, at the gates of Winterfell.
But now suddenly he’s a brilliant commander, despite a total lack of training, who can count on a loyal and well-disciplined army, even though he seized power by blatantly murdering his father and brother.
What’s most egregious is that presenting Ramsay as such a strong commander seemed unnecessary to hit the basic beats of the story. It was already well-established that the Bolton army was twice as big as the Stark army. What’s more, the Boltons had more horses. They also had the advantage of fighting on a prepared battlefield their forces were more familiar with, and the support of a well-supplied castle.
The stage was perfectly set for a battle in which the superior leadership of Jon Snow, Davos, and Tormund Giantsbane led a badly outnumbered force to hold its own before nearly succumbing to the inexorable math of Bolton superiority until being rescued by the Knights of the Vale.
Instead we got Jon riding headlong into an obvious trap, Davos letting a mounted force be inexplicably encircled by pikemen, and Sansa forgetting(?) to mention that she’d ravened a letter to Littlefinger and a bunch of extra guys are heading their way.
Also, remember when Melisandre could birth demon assassins to help her favored side win battles? That skill would have been useful here, eh? Or maybe she could have deployed some kind of glamour to make it look like the wildlings had a couple dozen giants and terrify the Bolton troops into breaking ranks and fleeing?
She and Jon even had a conversation where they specifically discussed her magical powers. It would have been an ideal time for Jon to ask for help and for Melisandre to come up with some in-story excuse for why she couldn’t help. What’s a pre-battle chat for if not a little expository dialogue to set things up?
As Todd wrote last week, Game of Thrones’ writers are doing an excellent job of cutting some of the logistical knots that George R.R. Martin has written himself into. If the plot calls for the Greyjoys to show up in Meereen, their ships just show up in Meereen without the need for a 90-part exploration of the journey. But at times I feel the writers lose sight of what the story is about.
Why dwell so long across so many seasons on Ramsay’s stomach-turning pathology if it’s not going to play any meaningful role in his downfall?