Alright, let’s just get this out there before I even begin: I am a book snob. Not for every single book to ever be adapted into a film or television series, no. There are several pieces of literature that have had their essential spirit captured perfectly – or sometimes even enhanced drastically – by an adaptation (hello, Fight Club, Gone Girl, The Shawshank Redemption, and so on.) I don’t inherently believe a book is better than a screen by virtue of it being a book, because that would be ridiculous. They’re two completely different mediums, each with their own advantages and setbacks. No, to be specific, I am a Song of Ice and Fire book snob. Alongside Harry Potter, it is my all-time favourite book series, an absolute gold mine of complex characters, incredibly rich world-building, fantastic dialogue, gut-wrenching drama…and every Sunday, HBO completely butchers it.
I’ve wanted to write about my utter frustration with Game of Thrones for a while now, but I know it would just descend into frenzied key-smashing, and at this point I wouldn’t even know where to begin. The show has always had its issues, but the distinct drop in quality can probably be located in the transition into the fifth season, where the show-runners either a) ran out of adaptable source material for characters or b) completely shat on the source material to insert characters into their own ridiculous fanfiction. COUGH COUGH, SANSA, TYRION, THE ENTIRETY OF DORNE, COUGH.
Of course, I understand that with adaptations, there always have to be changes or cuts, especially when you’re trying to cram a 1,000 page long book into 10 episodes of television. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is blatant disregard of the source material because script writers have gone mad with power and completely rewrite characters into one-dimensional idiots forced into horrific situations purely for shock value. Thus stems my brimming hatred for Game of Thrones.
‘But Chuck!’ I envision you protesting, ‘If you hate the show so much, why do you watch it?’ And to that I say: because criticism of media is important, and also I can do what I like. It might seem weird to start reviewing a television show that is almost at the end of a season, but I had other pressing matters to blog about before this, such as how much I fancy girls.
There’s been a lot of hype about this episode in particular because, as per Thrones tradition, the penultimate episode of the season contains a bulk of the action. Plus there’s a giant battle, and everyone loves a good battle. But since this season has wandered aimlessly into the Land of No Source Material, it’s been a giant, nonsensical mess crammed with terrible writing and awful character development, unable to redeem itself through cool CGI or badass fights, and ‘Battle of the Bastards’ encapsulates this perfectly.
We start off in Meereen, where Daenerys, Tyrion et al negotiate with the Masters about who is surrendering what. With impeccable dramatic timing, Drogon swoops in and Dany mounts him to fly off and blow shit up. I felt my vagina cringe in fear watching her jump onto a spike-riddled mass of burning scale without a second thought. Also with impeccable timing, Viserion and Rhaegal break free from their confinement several episodes after Tyrion unchained their collars. What an organised trio! They should start a dance troupe! I’m mystified as to how Daenerys suddenly manages to perfectly control her dragons again, especially the two she hasn’t seen in weeks because she CHAINED THEM UP AFTER SHE COULDN’T CONTROL THEM. On the plus side, the dragons do look unbelievably cool, but to be honest that’s expected with a budget of $10,000,000. On the down side, Dany has no qualms completely obliterating any ships she could’ve used to sail to Westeros. Good job.
Girl’s gonna need some Sudocrem after this.
Back in the North, during some pre-battle trash talk, Ramsay has the gall to criticise Jon and his army for ‘betraying my house’ when he cold-hardheartedly murdered his own father and none of his bannermen seem to give a shit. He refuses Jon’s suggestion of one-on-one combat because Jon is now apparently a renowned swordsman, with tales of his skill spread far and wide, and Ramsay isn’t sure if he would win. This is the same Ramsay Bolton that somehow managed to send an entire gang of Ironborn running whilst shirtless, but whatever, who has time to remember previous seasons?
One thing I did quite like about this segment was when, later that night during a last-minute strategy meeting, Sansa calls Jon out for not even bothering to ask her about what kind of person Ramsay is, which would offer some insight into how he might act during war. It was very reminiscent of Order of the Phoenix when Harry worries that Voldemort is influencing his actions and Ginny reminds him that, hey, she’s actually been possessed by Voldy so she would know what it’s like. This is a flickering flame of enjoyment as I am abruptly reminded that nobody has taken the time to ask Sansa how she is after what she endured at Ramsay’s hands. Happiness is fleeting.
The two have an argument about battle stratagem and their abysmal numbers, in which Jon despairingly asks ‘When will we have a larger force?’ and Sansa looks away, helpless…once again failing to mention the army in the Vale that she requested Littlefinger send their way. Why would she not mention this?? I understand that she has no way of knowing Littlefinger’s movements, and there’s no guarantee they’d even show up in time (oh wait) but surely this would have had some influence in convincing Jon to postpone the battle and save the lives of countless men.
Rather abruptly, we cut to Theon and Yara magically appearing in Daenerys’ throne room, and it’s a little jarring to be honest. How the hell did they even get there when Meereen’s harbour is a wasteland of burnt ships? Did the Iron Fleet park around the corner? The Greyjoys request Daenerys’ assistance in securing Yara’s claim to the Salt Throne in exchange for their fleet, to which she asks Theon ‘What’s wrong with you?’ as if the concept of a female ruler is so foreign to her. Eventually, she agrees, on the condition that the Ironborn cease all reaving, raping and raiding, and Yara’s just like ‘I mean, that’s been our way of life for centuries, but sure why not.’ The absurdity of this entire scene is slightly excused by Daenerys and Yara eye-fucking and flirting. I know it’s pandering, but my gay little heart can’t resist.
Once again, we return to the North, and Jon uses his magnifying vision to spot Rickon across a massive battlefield. Rickon, the brother he hasn’t seen in years and has no idea what he even looks like any more. It could’ve very well been a decoy, but whatever, Jon fucks up the single strategy his army had (which was to let the Bolton army move forward first) by galloping across the field in an attempt to save his brother. Literally everybody saw Rickon’s death coming a mile away, except Jon, clearly. Distraught, Jon charges even further towards the Bolton army, his horse getting riddled with arrows while he somehow manages to stand over it unscathed. Who needs a helmet when you have indestructible Plot Armour?
One thing I will give the show is that its battle scenes are excellent. ‘Blackwater’ was the best example, followed by ‘The Watchers on the Wall’, of how well Thrones can handle fight scenes. This episode particularly captured the innate pandemonium and helplessness of war fantastically, generating a palpable sense of claustrophobia during the scene where Jon is engulfed in a swarm of men. However, what the hell is going on with the massive piles of bodies?! Look at this shit:
No way they would effortlessly stagger up that high, conveniently tall enough to trap Jon’s army, and no way would any soldiers have the time to stack them up like that. I’m so baffled by this, probably more than I should be, but it took me straight out of the scene.
When all seems lost for Jon, a horn sounds and SURPRISE! Littlefinger comes in to save the day at the last minute with the Vale army! How innovative, that’s never happened on this show before! What I want to know is how it took Littlefinger as much time to travel up half the country as it does for the Iron Fleet to circumnavigate Westeros and get to Meereen. Time and distance have no meaning on this show.
I’d probably be this smug if I had a teleporter, too.
Bolstered by this Deus ex Machina, Jon and his army manage to break into Winterfell with the help of Wun Wun, who perishes almost immediately after they enter. You think that would’ve been the perfect time for Ramsay to arrow Jon, while he’s distracted looking at the giant, but what do I know. Now comes the scene that I had been dying for for years but ultimately found no satisfaction from. Jon advances on Ramsay and just completely beats the shit out of him, releasing several seasons worth of pent up aggression on my behalf, but he stops after looking at Sansa because, according to Sophie Turner, ‘Sansa needs her first kill and it has to be Ramsay.’ What? Please explain to me why Sansa needs a kill. Obviously, everything she’s been through hasn’t toughened her up enough. Watching her father’s beheading, being held captive for months by the family that murdered him and the rest of her family, suffering abuse from Joffrey, being forced into marriage, almost being murdered by her aunt, being sold to the Boltons for no discernible reason and being raped just didn’t cut it, apparently.
Look, I completely understand wanting revenge against your abuser. In fact, I found Sansa’s assertion to Ramsay that ‘your House will disappear, all memory of you will disappear’ remarkably powerful on a deep and personal level. Ramsay did unspeakable things, to Sansa and to countless other victims. Did he have this coming? Obviously. Should Sansa have been the one to pass Ramsay’s death sentence? Absolutely! But to have her take active pleasure in it, to walk away from the scene smirking, that’s what I can’t abide by. Because you know who else took joy in watching people getting eaten alive by dogs? Ramsay Bolton. It’s deeply upsetting to see Sansa sink to his level, because that is not justice.
It’s a ridiculous comparison because book!Sansa isn’t even in this situation, but in the books, Sansa’s defining strength is her compassion and empathy, in her ability to retain her humanity even after all she is put through. She remains dignified and emotionally resilient when the Lannisters hold her captive for months. She has nightmares after Joffrey’s death, despite wishing for it to happen several times. She does not let anybody destroy who she is. She understands that bloodshed and murder do not empower. But the show-runners are unable to conceive of a woman gaining empowerment through her emotions. No, women can only become hardened once they toss aside such trifles, and engage in displays of grotesque violence. Yay feminism!!!
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH SANSA?
This is exactly what I meant when I mentioned that the show twists characters’ personalities and plot lines to suit their shock value quota. The show’s version of Sansa is so irrevocably distorted from her book counterpart that I cannot fathom how anybody can argue that Thrones is a great adaptation. Of course, the events of this episode haven’t even occurred in the books yet, because the show blasted through A Feast for Crows instead of pacing themselves. Now, they’re stuck in a trap of their own doing, devoid of their nuanced source material and forced to come up with their own, which only proves to exhibit what utterly terrible writers they really are. All the show has going for it are gorgeous sets, intricate design, a swelling soundtrack and cool CGI. But that is nowhere near enough.