Last night’s epic TV battle left me gasping for air, unsure if I was ready for the next season, as if a year was enough time to process the agony of defeat and the stunning cost of victory. But enough about the NBA Finals, let’s talk Game of Thrones!
While there have been a million posts about how violent GoT’s Season 6, Episode 9 “Battle of the Bastards” was, I was mostly geeking out over the cinematography. (Though people were right about the violence, in an episode where “massive corpse wall” was like the 5th most awful thing…).
I was stunned by what Miguel Sapochnik created in that battle. It’s a running joke that Game of Thrones saves its CGI budget for episode 9 each season, giving us dragons galore and Battles on the Blackwater or the Wall, but the Battle of the Bastards was something else. Having seen a great deal of “sword and sandals” types films, ones where giant armies charge at each other and do battle, this was one of the most intense depictions I’ve ever seen. Perhaps it helped that I was listening on a good pair of headphones, but damn—the sheer concussive force of the horses crashing into each other, thudding to the ground or splattering men before them was impressive. The whirling crowd of death that Jon Snow stabs his way through was artfully rendered in such a way that puts big budget movies to shame. I can’t really say more than to watch it if you haven’t yet.
His impressive camerawork crops up many places, though you might recall Episode 6, “House in Ruins,” from the odd Season 2 of True Detective. The hazy whirl of drugs, whores and lecherous old men that makes up the end of that episode, beautifully punctuated by dreamlike acts of violence, is a natural precursor to this tour de force episode that elevates TV to somewhere I don’t think I’ve seen it before.
Later in the battle, as the walls of Bolton soldiers closed in and Jon Snow was trampled underfoot by his men, struggling to breathe, to climb up, to get out from under the weight and crushing and can’t breathe can’t see mud air can’t get air crushing down—yeah, that scene: I nearly had a panic attack. Oddly enough, that’s the truest testimony to his skill I can think of.