Episode 9 – “Battle of the Bastards” – of Season Six Game of Thrones is epic – not because it necessarily surprised anyone but because the battle scenes were so phenomenally well produced. This episode has tons of historic tidbits for history lovers – and this recap will take you through a few of them.
The episode only has two storylines: Meereen and Winterfell. Both places are under attack.
This week’s recap focuses on a few specific historical events from the episode rather than recapping the full episode.
Meereen: Yara & Daenerys, Grace O’Malley & Elizabeth I
After Daenerys defeats the Slavers by dragonfire from above, Daenerys cuts a deal with Yara and Theon Greyjoy that evokes Elizabeth I’s meeting with Grace O’Malley, the Irish pirate queen.
Yara (Asha) and Theon Greyjoy arrive in Meereen to try to make a deal with Daenerys and save their skins. The Greyjoys offer Yara’s 100 ship fleet to Daenerys for her support. When Daenerys becomes queen, they want Daenerys to back Yara’s claim to the Iron Throne, kill the uncles that oppose her, and liberate the Iron Islands so they are no longer under Westerosi rule.
Otherwise, Daenerys will be left to cut a deal with Euron Greyjoy. He has a 1000 ships but he wants Dany to marry him as part of the deal.
Daenerys has often been compared to Elizabeth I — the unwed female ruler of the Dragon-emblemed Tudor dynasty. When Daenerys hears that Euron wants to marry her, she sees right through his intentions.
Like Elizabeth I, Daenerys realizes that Euron would be another suitor from abroad who intends to dominate Daenerys and rule on her behalf, assuming that he can because he is a man. And, like Elizabeth I, Dany is having none of this.
Daenerys finds Yara, as a female Ironborn, leader intriguing. As a female ruler and commander of men, Dany sees common ground with Yara.
When Dany meets Yara, their introduction is taken right out of the pages of history. Yara is like Grace O’Malley, the Irish pirate queen from the sixteenth century.
Like Yara, Grace (“Granuaile”) was the daughter of powerful ruler — in Grace’s case, an Irish chieftain and sea captain named Owen O’Malley. Although Grace had a half-brother, he was unsuited to being the clan chieftain (either because he drank too much or spent too much time playing the pipes (or both)).
Grace’s father came to accept her desire to sail the seas, captain ships, and fight like a man. When he died, she became the effective leader of his clan. She lead a band of pirates and patrolled Clare bay in her longboat-type ships, extracting tolls from any ships who wished to navigate the waters.
When Grace O’Malley Met Elizabeth I
Grace O’Malley was the O’Malley chieftain in sixteenth century Ireland, in County Clare. She came into conflict with Elizabeth I’s government due to Elizabeth’s Irish foreign policy, which aimed to prevent war with Spain.
When Elizabeth I decided to try reduce the power of local chieftains and anglicize Ireland (to prevent an alliance with Spain), one of her agents — Connacht governor Sir Richard Bingham –caused a great deal of pain and suffering for County Clare’s inhabitants. Case in point: After burning and pillaging County Clare, Grace and her people were forced to live on ships due to famine-like conditions.
To the English government, Grace was a pirate and traitor.
Nonetheless, Grace O’Malley decided to plead her case directly to Elizabeth I in person and request safe passage. Elizabeth corresponded with Grace for several years. She claimed she only committed the acts she had because Bingham made her. She was protecting her sons and people. In the spring of 1595, safe passage finally approved, Grace sailed for England to plead with Gloriana in person.
Now, this was pretty gutsy of Grace. The English could have easily backed out of their safe-passage agreement and thrown her into the Tower of London for piracy. Just going to England was putting her in a lot of danger. After all, the English government hung pirates.
It’s worth pointing out that piracy didn’t necessarily offend Elizabeth. She supported privateers like Francis Drake and John Hawkins, and she’d feign offense when the Spanish accused these sea captains of piracy. There was a pretty thin line between privateers and pirates, and Elizabeth employed these skilled sailors as architects of her navy and so on.
Knowing these men would make Elizabeth understand exactly who Grace was and the skills she’d need to possess to lead a fleet of pirates.
By the time Grace and Elizabeth met, Grace likely fascinated Elizabeth. Both women were in their early 60s and, in some ways, Grace was like a mirror of Elizabeth. They both played men’s roles. They both ruled people. Unlike Grace, however, even though Elizabeth was heralded as commander of men and captain of the seas, she’d never been to sea or set foot on a battlefield. For Elizabeth, Grace would have been the real deal. She commanded ships and fought like a man (likely using two swords even!).
Meeting Grace likely amused if not entertained Elizabeth. After Grace sailed up the Thames, the two women met at Greenwich.
Grace entered like the audience chamber like a visiting regent. When she came before Elizabeth, Grace refused to curtsy. She held her head high like she was the Elizabeth’s equal. The courtiers were scandalized. The only people who didn’t bow or curtsy before the queen were other rulers.
If Elizabeth was offended though, she played it cool. The two women retired to sit by the fire and chat about their similar lives, including the trials of having to deal with jealous men.
Yara Shakes Daenerys’ Hand
When Yara negotiates with Daenerys, she never curtsies or bows before the Dragon queen. Technically, if Yara is recognizing Daenerys as the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, Yara should show some deference. When the two women reach an agreement, they shake hands like equals and this is a near perfect replay of Grace O’Malley’s lack of deference to Elizabeth I.
The deal that Yara ends up cutting with Daenerys is questionable though. Yara basically sells out her people’s way of life by agreeing they will stop reeving and raiding. Yara wants less war, but nobody has ever said that she wants to change their culture. After all, she’s the pirate queen!
Is this even a promise that Yara can keep? Is she intending to back out of it? There is no food to speak of on the Iron Islands. How will the Ironborn survive without raiding?
The Battle of the Bastards
Although this episode didn’t end in an especially surprising way, the battle and the poetic justice ending – Ramsay eats it (or gets eaten) more than delivered.
By far, this was one of the best medieval battles I’ve seen portrayed on any screen size. It drew from real-world history in numerous places. I started to recap it, but it was so much fun breaking down the battle that I’m going to turn it into another article.
After Jon’s foolishly followed his heart, Sansa saves the day when she anticipates a brutal loss and gets the Vale army’s from Petyr Baelish.
Wun-Wun stops a potential siege when he smashes through the wooden doors at Winterfell. Sadly, by the time he is through the doors, he is covered in so many arrows that he dies. Ramsay fires the death arrow through Wun-Wun’s eye, but the poor old giant didn’t have much hope even before that.
In the books, Roose doubts Ramsay’s ability to be the leader of a house because he lacks formal military training. What men would follow him? He is essentially a peasant, a savage. It’s a cruel indictment from a father.
Sadly the truth of Ramsay’s military skill emerges when he tries to fight off Jon Snow. Ramsay’s chief weapon is the peasant weapon: the bow and arrow. Like the smallfolk, Ramsay can hunt. In fact, he is all too good of a hunter. But, you can’t win with a bow and arrow in close combat. Ramsay’s arrows are useless once Jon gets close enough.
Once Ramsay is beaten into unconsciousness, he wakes up in his own kennels. Sansa leaves her husband strapped to a chair so he can be devoured by his own dogs. It’s poetic justice — especially since Ramsay’s main crimes seem to be against women — and often with those terrible dogs. (You could argue that people like Theon were criminals, the Ironborn were prisoners of war and some of the other people he killed were traitors.)
Sansa is now a widow, and Warden of the North — if the North can have a female leader. This means that there might be three female rulers in Westeros (and area). Yara may become the queen of the independent Iron Islands and Daenerys may get the Iron throne.
Although given the Dragon queens increasing penchant for ruthlessness, perhaps we will see that female leaders aren’t necessarily the path to a kinder more peaceful world any more than men are. Does any gender really have the moral high ground?