Spoiler Warning: This post contains spoilers from the Ninth Episode of the Sixth Season of Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones has its format pretty much locked in at this point: episode one catches us all up on what's happening, episodes two-five/six are rising action, episode seven or eight usually have a major development, and episode ten is a denouement, letting us see how all these actions have changed Westeros and Essos. But episode nine is the one where all the juicy goodness comes from. From the death of Ned Stark to the Battle of the Bastards, episode nines are the best Game of Thrones has to offer. So, from worst-to-best, let's talk about these climactic episodes.
#6 - The Dance of Dragons
The Dance of Dragons slides to last simply because it features the Dorne storyline (I’m kidding, but that is a slight against it). But, Jaime and Bronn’s roadtrip to Dorne certainly was a disappointment that led us to the awkward banter of the Sand Snakes, and taking Ellaria Sand from a small side character to a conspiring villain. We get a negotiation scene here, (highlight of which is Bronn getting punched, because everything Bronn does is magical), but nothing special. Moving on.
Stannis sets his daughter on fire as a last-ditch effort to beat the Bolton Army. Does not work. I feel like the less we talk about this, the better. Remember folks, when setting people on fire to appease the Lord of Light, results may vary.
Over in Braavos, we do get a little bit of revenge through Arya as she kills Meryn Trant, known asshole (and pedophile we learn). Revenge is always fun in Game of Throne and it’s a satisfying way to scratch a name off of Arya’s kill list.
Alright, finally we end up in Meereen, which to me is typically where Game of Thrones struggles to move quickly. We see an attack on Dany by the Sons of the Harpy, Jorah has a cool spear throw to kill one directly behind Dany, and Drogon comes in and does his Drogon thing. But, here’s where I really start to slight The Dance of Dragons as an episode. Dany hops onto Drogon and disappears for 8 episodes essentially. You’re telling me we have to stop worrying about Dany’s quest for Westeros now because she’s been abducted by a Dothraki horde? Are you serious? I mean, I loved Game of Thrones Season One, it was awesome. But if I wanted Game of Thrones Season One, I would watch Game of Thrones Season One. Essentially, The Dance of Dragons makes us wait until next season’s episode nine to continue Dany’s journey towards Westeros. And that's not cool.
#5 - The Watchers on the Wall
The Watchers on the Wall is a single-battle-centric episode, as Mance Rayder’s wilding army attacks the wall. This was a great episode, and I’m bummed it’s fallen this far down on the list, but I think it really comes down to how Game of Thrones has dealt with the wildlings since: Tormund has become an excellent foil to Jon’s serious brooding frowny-faced nature in later seasons. Imagine how much easier the battle for Winterfell would have been if Stannis had Deus Ex Machina’d in and killed most of Mance’s army! But, hindsight is 20/20.
The Watchers on the Wall did an excellent job of resolving the will-they/won’t-they, Ross & Rachel-esque love story between Jon and Ygritte as newly joined Olly shoots her in the back (remember, we used to like Olly). We also see Alistair Thorn get injured (yay!), Janos Slynt show his true cowardice (YAY!) and Grenn and Pyp are killed defending Castle Black (RIP Grenn and Pyp, you were like a second and third Edd to us). A solid battle episode, well-shot, well-acted, well-written. Certainly not the worst Game of Thrones has had to offer, but it's beat by some of the better episode nines.
#4 - Baelor
Baelor is our first episode nine, and you always remember your first. This really showed fans that the show runners were not fucking around, as Joffrey ordered the beheading of Ned Stark, absolutely the star of Season One. It created one of the shows finest villains and really let book-readers laugh at show-watchers utter shock that Sean Bean was killed in something again.
Baelor does a lot to set up the future of Game of Thrones. Robb makes his promise to marry a Frey daughter (Robb. Your future wife. Woof!), Tyrion meets Shae here, and he makes an emotional connection with someone for once. Jaime is captured by the Stark Army, kickstarting his road from Kingslaying Sister-Loving Blondie Asshole to a genuinely reputable person. Dany makes a gambit to save Khal Drogo (Episode Ten is really the moment to shine for Dany as she emerges from the funeral pyre with her dragons – we’ve yet to see her as the many-named Dany so far). Arya witnesses the death of her father and starts her list.
Baelor’s implications on the Game of Thrones universe are huge, and the episode shouldn’t be slighted for being earlier in the show’s run, but it’s lack of a giant set piece really hurts it (knocking Tyrion out in time for the battle, while creative, is still a way to rob viewers of some big army-on-army action). But, it’s still the biggest Game of Thrones has had yet, and left viewers asking “Wait, he’s not really dead, is he?” for the next week. This is where Game of Thrones elevated itself from respectable HBO drama to a cultural maelstrom.
#3 - The Rains of Castamere
If you’re ever having too good of a day, put on The Rains of Castamere and feel terrible for the rest of the week. The episode also features continuations of Dany’s attack on Slaver’s Bay, and Bran’s journey north, but they aren’t super critical to why this episode is great. Even Jon’s final betrayal of the Wildlings, in hindsight, isn’t the biggest development to Game of Thrones’ plot in the long run (a similar reason why The Watchers on the Wall is so far down on this list). What really makes this episode an all-time best is the marriage of Edmure Tully to Roslin Frey. Who doesn’t love a wedding, right?
Everyone is rooting for Robb Stark, the King of the North, late in season 3 of Game of Thrones. The War of the Five Kings is two seasons deep, and it looks like Robb could actually win this war. Talisa Stark is pregnant! They’re going to name the baby Ned! Well shit, bye Ned Jr. You just got brutally stabbed in the womb by one of Walder Frey’s garbage sons, as Roose Bolten and the Frey boys brutally destroy the Starks and Tully’s to the haunting version of The Rains of Castamere played by the wedding band. If book-readers were excited to see the reaction of show-watchers to Ned getting his dome lopped off, they were near hysterical waiting for this moment to happen. The Red Wedding is just brutal. I rewatched it for this piece, and still found myself reacting just as I did 3 years ago, mouth agape, horrified.
The lead-up to the Red Wedding is brilliant. All season, Tywin Lannister has been writing notes, scheming on how to destroy the rival house to the north. Roose Bolton, the guy who I would have described at the time as “The dude who looks like Stannis but isn’t Stannis” stabs Robb, whispering the perfectly vile quote:
Roose Bolton you piece of shit. There is no way anyone in this stupid show could be worse than you. Wait, you have a son? Oh I’m sure he’s charming.
#2 - Battle of the Bastards
This may be so highly rated because I am so excited about Ramsey “Weird Kid” Bolton getting his just desserts. Seriously, They could have resolved the battle in the first 2 minutes and have had the next hour just be Ramsey getting punched and eaten and I would have been thrilled. The suffocating feeling as Jon is crushed by the Bolton army’s Hannibal tactic lasts just long enough to drain us of all hope before the Knights of the Vale’s cavalry come charging in a la Theodin and the Riders of Rohan fashion, in Return of the King.
Ramsey racks up the emotional kills as he shoots down Rickon just before Jon reaches him (the serpentine maneuver should have been taught at Winterfell), as well as putting the final shot into everyone’s favorite giant, Wun Wun. But as Jon nears the final blow on Ramsey Bolton, he glances at his half-sister, Sansa. As a character, Sansa has made a big change from season 1, when her goal was to marry Joffrey. Yeah. Remember that? Sansa's dating life has some serious red flags.
Additionally, Dany’s storyline was handled really well in this episode. No padding, no extra drama, just good ol’ fashioned dragons lighting shit on fire. Groovy. The opening of the episode is great with Dany and Tyrion discussing her absence, and goes right into the master’s negotiations, which was brutal. Grey Worm’s badass duel-throat-slit reminds us the unsullied army is still incredibly lethal, just as much as Dany’s newly acquired Khalasar.
My one concern in the episode happened when we went back to Meereen just before the battle on the fields of Winterfell. C’mon guys, Snowbowl is about to happen and we’re back here? But, Theon and Yara made the quickest trip around Westeros and across the narrow sea to pitch Dany on taking their ships over Uncle Euron’s, in a really good negotiation scene. Yara really has shined in the scenes she’s appeared in since the death of Balon, her father. I’m excited to see where this Greyjoy/Targaryen alliance will take us (please take us to Westeros).
Ultimately, Battle of the Bastards gives the audience what they've wanted since The Rains of Castamere: the Starks taking sweet sweet revenge on the Boltons. Jon died one time already to give us this epic battle, and I'm sure glad he didn't have to die again. We're left wondering what will happen now, with Sansa the presumed ruler of Winterfell. Is a marriage to Petyr Baelish out of the question? Will we get the reunion between Arya and Jon? What's Jon's plan now? With the Starks back in charge of the North, Walder Frey's centrally located castle, The Twins, is now between Winterfell, The Eyrie, Casterly Rock, Riverrun, and King's Landing. I'm really looking forward to next week's reactions to this upheaval in the North.
#1 - Blackwater
It has to be. While Season One’s episode nine, Baelor, elevated the stakes in Westeros, season two’s penultimate episode Blackwater cemented the fact that episode nines were going to be the critical episodes in every Game of Thrones season. The only episode nine written by A Song of Ice and Fire writer George R.R. Martin, Blackwater was our first episode to focus on one single storyline in Game of Thrones, and boy was it a good one. Stannis’ fleet sails on King’s Landing, where the defense is staged by current Hand of the King, Tyrion (remember when his family actually liked –no- accepted him?) Tyrion delivers a positively awesome speech to the soldiers of King's Landing, ending with the classic quote:
But really, the moment that locks up first place is the one starring our favorite rogue, Bronn. Waiting alone on the shores of Blackwater Bay, Bronn gets his signal from Tyrion and takes the ultimate kill shot in Game of Thrones, and shit gets LIT.
This episode just gets better and better as you look back, seeing it features the flight of the Hound from King’s Landing, Davos NOT dying (thank god), Tyrion going lumberjack on a poor Baratheon leg, and Joffrey doing what he does best, being a whiny twat. Blackwater is Game of Thrones at its finest, and while it may be a controversial choice for the best episode nine, looking back, it was the moment the Game of Thrones became something so incredible it couldn't be missed.
Here's hoping that next years episode nine will usurp Blackwater as the best. Or it could be an hour of Dany hanging out in Meereen, sipping on wine and reciting her multiple names into a mirror (you know she has to practice that paragraph on a daily basis). But that's a worry for next year, as we've got episode ten next week, and I'm hoping it will deliver. #CLEGANEBOWL2016HYPE