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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

31 Comments

  1. robert Dillon
    June 20, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

    I took the Rickon Arrows to be deliberate.

    I saw Ramsey’s “Aw shucks: missed again” face each time that he missed, as a nod to the veiwer that he was deliberately missing. He needed to draw Jon out sufficiently far so that he was under the range from the arrows from the bowmen, and forcing the Wildling army to attack.

    I don’t see it as Ramsey holding the idiot ball at all

    Bob

    Reply

    • Jane
      June 20, 2016 @ 6:01 pm

      Agreed. And the fact that he’s told Rickon there are “rules” clearly demonstrate he’s playing a “game,” which goes back to some of his language from Season Three with Theon. This time, the “game” is definitely to pull out Jon.

      I’d also add that I think Sansa deliberately withheld her “rescue cavalry” information from Jon for much the same reason — she wants to make sure that Ramsay exposes his forces out in the field, rather than holing up for a long siege at Winterfell.

      Reply

      • Kieron Gillen
        June 20, 2016 @ 9:37 pm

        I don’t believe he was even looking in the right direction on the second shot. That he was playing was pretty clear for me.

        Reply

        • Dan
          June 21, 2016 @ 1:27 am

          I genuinely believed Ramsay was going to kill Rickon with the knife, and when it turned out Ramsay was good with a bow, I was genuinely shocked at his death. Ramsay had managed in this way to get Jon just where he wanted him.

          Reply

        • Jeff Heikkinen
          June 21, 2016 @ 5:34 am

          Was going to make the same point – he’s not even looking when he takes the first couple shots. He’s missing on purpose, making it look like he has a chance so that the timing of when he actually hits Rickon will fit the rest of his plan.

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            June 21, 2016 @ 11:30 am

            I don’t think this helps much, though. It still has Ramsay capable of supernatural aim – a kill shot on a small boy at the edge of all the other archers’ range.

            It also only serves to set up the question of how Jon only gets hit in the horse – once he starts his charge, Ramsay should be able to take him out in one shot, as he’s now a larger target in closer range than Rickon was, and advancing instead of retreating.

          • encyclops
            June 21, 2016 @ 3:26 pm

            I’m prepared to believe that Ramsay has put in long, long, creepy hours learning to hit a small moving target at long range.

            And yes: why doesn’t Jon get hit? If not by Ramsay, then by the blizzard of arrows that follow his? Or indeed by any number of blades in the melee? Why does he manage to dig himself out from under a suffocating pile of bodies? Why, frankly, is he able to stroll up to Ramsay in the Winterfell yard, drop him with a single blow, and beat him slowly to a daze without getting stabbed by the holdout knife we can be sure Ramsay’s still carrying?

            Personally, I think it’s to do with the conversation he has with Melisandre about why she was able to bring him back to life. I think the level of coincidence is too conspicuous to be luck. The Lord of Light has plans for Jon, and he’s not about to let his champion get killed twice.

            Not an explanation I’d accept in a more realistic show, obviously, but since his aunt is invulnerable to fire, I’d say there’s not much that’s off the table.

          • Dan
            June 22, 2016 @ 11:06 pm

            I think he survives the melee because he’s that good. (As is well established.) He deals with everything it throws at him as it happens, and it’s not possible for the focus to be on taking him out.

            He survives the crush because it clears slightly and was he helped out?

            It’s a tribute to the execution of this episode that I genuinely thought more than once than Jon might not survive, after he was exposed in front of the army, and during the crush. This was despite the outcome having been semi-spoilered for me.

            I don’t believe it means the Lord of Light has plans for him. That’s a belief system the red priesthood layer over whatever it is that’s really going on.

          • SpaceSquid
            June 21, 2016 @ 6:59 pm

            If Jon dies that soon, his army might not charge, and Ramsay has to deal with them later. Better to force them to charge in and deal with them all at once.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            June 21, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

            If Jon dies, his army will crumble due to no longer having a semi-credible true heir to Winterfell.

          • SpaceSquid
            June 22, 2016 @ 7:44 am

            Crumble in the moment, sure; that’s my point. But the idea that they wouldn’t form pockets of resistance to cause the Boltons trouble later on would be pretty wishful thinking on Ramsay’s part. Better, in his mind, to have them all killed here and save him the trouble. Indeed, Ramsay’s entire strategy here is to prevent anyone from escaping – others with vastly more military knowledge than me have pointed out that his approach wasn’t actually the best way to win the battle, but it had the advantage of ensuring that if it all came off, he’d annihilate everyone who took up arms against him. So it both eliminates all resistance and feeds his ego.

            It also means the Wildlings die (which I imagine is a big part of why Smalljon Umber has taken Ramsay’s side, not that the show has bothered to even come close to hinting at that, and it’d be easier to believe Ramsay is thinking in terms of maintaining alliances when he’s loosing into his own damn men). The Free Folk couldn’t give a shit about a semi-credible true heir to Winterfell, and Ramsay is a direct threat to their survival on northern lands irrespective of how alive Jon is. Again, I suspect they’d break in the moment with Jon shot down, but they’re still a big potential problem. Literally in Wun Wun’s case.

            The other advantage of this reading is that it suggests Ramsay settled on his approach during/following his meeting with Jon. Jon’s smug argument that no-one will fight for Ramsay if he won’t fight for them probably got him thinking. If Jon’s army love him so much, I can bait a trap for Jon with Rickon, and a trap for the rebels with Jon. In other words, Sansa was even more right that she appeared to be in Jon’s tent.

          • bombasticus
            June 21, 2016 @ 3:49 pm

            Great point. Those are ranging shots for his massed longbow corps as well. That’s where we’re going to put the body heap.

      • Jarl
        June 21, 2016 @ 4:53 am

        “You win the game if you make it to your brother, and I win the game if your brother’s formation breaks and he runs into my cavalry charge.”

        It fits.

        Reply

      • Paul C
        June 21, 2016 @ 7:19 am

        Sansa’s withholding of information suggests three things: first, that she learnt very well indeed from Littlefinger; second, that she was deliberately manipulating Jon to draw out Ramsay; and third, that while Jon is an excellent soldier and leader of soldiers, Sansa is a far better general.

        (Recaptcha asks me to identify all pictures with mountains in them BUT THE MOUNTAIN WAS NOT IN THIS PICTURE.)

        Reply

        • SpaceSquid
          June 22, 2016 @ 7:49 am

          I think Sansa realises just how checked out Jon is at this point. He clearly doesn’t so much want to win as to have the war be over. He quit the Watch because he was sick of one war and what it cost him, only to be pulled into a new war. Worse, a war that has two primary objectives; to provide stability for the war he already quit, and to save a younger brother his sister insists is dead already. His priority after the war council is to demand to not be brought back if he dies? Sure, that’s encouraging. Abigail Nussbaum has gone so far as to suggest Jon is outright suicidal at this point, and I think she’s quite possibly right.

          And Sansa is smart enough to realise that, and so to understand that if she tells him about the Vale army there’s no telling what he’ll do. He’s just not in a fit state of mind to rationally consider how Littlefinger’s forces can help out.

          Reply

          • encyclops
            June 22, 2016 @ 8:40 pm

            His priority after the war council is to demand to not be brought back if he dies? Sure, that’s encouraging. Abigail Nussbaum has gone so far as to suggest Jon is outright suicidal at this point, and I think she’s quite possibly right.

            Jon season 6 = Buffy season 6? Makes sense to me.

          • SpaceSquid
            June 23, 2016 @ 8:44 am

            Nussbaum had that same thought, in case you weren’t directly referencing her comments (and if you aren’t; I’d recommend hunting her Storify of her tweets down). And yes, I think the parallel there is pretty strong. The problem I have with it regarding this episode is that if you do view it from that angle, Jon’s charge stops being stupid, but it remains tremendously selfish. His comments to Ramsay at least imply he believes his men will follow him into the trap if he charges, so his suicide bid guarantees the death of hundreds of men he is responsible for. I get twitchy about linking suicidal tendencies with selfishness.

          • encyclops
            June 25, 2016 @ 8:42 am

            I wasn’t directly referencing her comments. I’ll have to check them out.

            I guess what leaves me cold in this whole discussion is all the moralizing about Jon’s duty to his men and his credibility as a military leader and whatnot. To all appearances, Jon is a human being, and here’s the position he’s in, as far as I recall (I’ve only watched the episode once, so):

            • He’s dedicated his life to serving the Night’s Watch, first as one of them and then as their leader, made compassionate and difficult decisions over and over and gotten mountains of shit for it, then eventually been stabbed to death by his own men and unceremoniously left in the snow.
            • He’s been brought back from some sort of peace or at least oblivion depending on what you believe (column B for me, but you know) for incomprehensible reasons by a woman he doesn’t trust any farther than he can throw her, and almost immediately thrust back into a position of leadership over two factions of people who kinda sorta trust him and kinda sorta betrayed him.

            • His sister keeps browbeating him to do things her way (whether she’s right or not), to fight yet another battle for a home he left a long time ago and never belonged at, leading the two factions we saw before plus a small force of men who are there largely for political reasons.

            • And oh by the way, Winterfell is a shell. Unless I’m forgetting someone or something, the only living thing in that castle Jon has any reason to care about is Rickon, who was just a boy when Jon left.

            • Jon’s pretty sure they’ll lose. Even if he does everything by the book, he expects to die in that battle. He’s probably as surprised as anyone that he claws his way out.

            So I wouldn’t quite say this is a “suicidal” mood Jon’s in, or that his reactions are “selfish.” I would say this is a complex emotional state none of us can directly relate to because we’ve never been brought back from the dead. I imagine it’s a bit like being woken up at 3:30 in the morning by a malfunctioning smoke alarm, which, yes, is responsible for the safety of your family and should be made to work properly, but your brain is like I WAS ASLEEP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET ME REST, HAVEN’T I DONE ENOUGH? Is that selfish or just human?

            And if he can’t save Rickon from this guy that we the viewers all know is a horrible sicko but Jon has never even met (right?), he’s left leading a bunch of men into battle to save some rocks and a crypt full of dead Starks. How could it not feel a bit futile NOT to charge out and try somehow to save the boy? Maybe part of him hoped that if he died riding out everyone behind him could just retreat and go home. Maybe part of him was that 3:30 AM brain, just physically and emotionally made of lead.

            So I dunno. I think it’s weird to watch a show like Game of Thrones and demand that our “favorite” character does the perfect thing. It’s weird to be like “Dany makes mistakes as queen so she’s a bad person” as though making mistakes weren’t what make characters worth watching. I know this isn’t at all what you’re saying, so this isn’t really directed at you, my tentacled friend; I’m just seeing it in other people’s comments and it lit my fuse.

            I mean, maybe Jon WILL lose credibility as a leader! So fucking what? It’s pretty clear that at this point he doesn’t give a shit. He wasn’t even supposed to BE here today.

  2. Yóshee
    June 20, 2016 @ 4:01 pm

    You know, I’ve been with you for pretty much all your episode reviews this season. They’ve been fair and mostly in line with my own opinions, but I think this review fundamentally misunderstands what the episode was trying to do and is, if anything, a disservice to the episode.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t at ‘Hardhome’ levels of “holy shit” when the credits rolled (though I did have a huge smile after Ramsay’s fitting end), and I don’t think the episode will usurp ‘Hardhome’ and ‘Blackwater’ from being my two favourite episodes of the series so far, respectively, but 5th place this season is just ridiculous.

    I mean, as far as predictability goes, it was pretty obvious that the Starks would win and reclaim Winterfell, and also pretty obvious we’d get a Tywin or Stannis-esque “saving the day” moment from Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale. There was no point in trying to make this at all surprising, but it was still presented in a very satisfying way. The main purpose of the episode was to show and demonstrate the horrors of war (as Sapochnik himself stated), and it did that in spades. The outcome may have been predictable, but the direction and pacing of the episode still allowed for a huge amount of tension throughout and had me, and many other viewers from the comments I’ve seen about the episode, on the edge of my seat pretty much the whole way through the battle at Winterfell. You can be disappointed that no key characters on the heroes’ side died, but the crew behind the episode made it so we’d be fearing for their safety throughout the entire battle until it was clear it was over.

    And to be honest, I’m glad none of the main four (Jon, Sansa, Davos, Tormund) died. You said yourself, they all serve some kind of narrative purpose (even if Tormund’s is just being a face for the Free Folk), and I think it would have harmed the show in the long run now to have killed off any of them (and would have been kind of cheap to kill Jon off a second time).

    As far as Jon’s abandoning of the plan… I mean, it got to the point quicker really – the Stark side didn’t really have much hope in winning at all – and it re-establishes Jon’s foil, where he lets his anger and emotions take over.

    Regarding Meereen, I think it’s a bit of a nitpick to complain about the Dothraki arriving seemingly late – Daenerys arrived back in the city on Drogon, after all, who’s to say she didn’t fly well ahead of the Khalasar when she saw the city under seige? It was a satisying scene and a big step in Dany’s plot to actually get her moving towards Westeros finally, now that the slavers have (hopefully) been pretty much dealt with. She has her fleet, and she has more allies in the Greyjoys, and it’s great to have Tyrion and Daenerys in the same scenes again.

    Finally, the direction this episode was just stunning, and is in large part why the episode worked so well for so many people. I could write on and on about it, but this comment’s too long already. I mean, I’m not trying to begrudge you your opinion, I just think you’ve viewed this episode largely in the wrong way, and thus have seemingly come out way more unsatisfied than it deserves. (Like, I could handle 2nd or 3rd place this season, but 5th?)

    Reply

    • Dan
      June 21, 2016 @ 1:30 am

      Some of this I was going to write. (Like the reason for the Dothraki arriving … on time?) But also I’m not sure it matters that Rickon hasn’t had many lines. Jon and Sansa care about him. That’s the point. He was there back in season one, and the audience can identify with this completely. Jon, Sansa and Rickon all grew up together.

      Reply

  3. Kat
    June 20, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

    “But with Rickon’s death being such an utter nothing, given that he hadn’t previously appeared since Season Three and doesn’t actually have any lines this season, it’s hard to have any reaction to this key beat other than facepalming. Especially if you’re the sort of viewer who reads the opening credits and thus knows that the overall trajectory of the evening is going to be a losing battle where Littlefinger rides in and saves the day, in which case Jon’s colossal idiocy carries no real weight beyond “oh, so I guess it’s not even going to go well before it goes badly.” The result is that, structurally, the whole thing basically has no momentum. Jon is screwed from the start – his situation doesn’t really deteriorate beyond the somewhat effective spear wall moment. The arc of the whole thing is just “Jon screws up, Sansa and Littlefinger bail him out” stretched over some very good visuals.”

    EXACTLY. I liked a lot of the episode, but the obviousness of the story trajectory is just baffling to me. I am the kind of person who reads credits and saw Aiden Gillen’s name, and then on top of that there’s the fact that we SAW Sansa write to Littlefinger a week or two ago. I’ve quite enjoyed season 6, but it is suffering from a general trend of everything working out exactly as it seems it should. I’m hoping the finale will introduce a wrenches into that. It doesn’t have to be big, shocking deaths or anything, just some sense of the story bringing some “surprisingness” would be nice.

    It occurs to me that season 6 has largely been about resolving unfinished story arcs from the books/show, and it was a little surprising at first how many of them were resolved in ways that aligned with fan expectations/theories – Jon coming back to life, the Hound’s return, the retaking of Winterfell and death of Ramsay, the appearance of Benjen/Coldhands, Dany’s recruitment of the Dothraki, even the revelation and fulfillment of what Hodor means. All we need in the finale is the Cleganebowl, Lady Stoneheart, and the official confirmation of Rhaegar/Lyanna and we’ll have a complete set. However, the unexpectedness of the fan service is wearing a bit thin and it occurs to me that pretty soon (i.e. preferably in the finale or at the latest starting immediately next season) they[re going to start messing with those expectations again. If season 6 was setting the table for the climax of the story (the TV show story, anyway) it’s time to start eating the meal that’s been prepared and seeing what it tastes like. While this episode was frustratingly predictable as you said (and I agree that it’s easily the least satisfying of the Episode Nines) I do have faith that we’ll soon be past this particular growing pain and moving into the uncharted waters of Whatever Comes Next.

    Reply

    • Jane
      June 20, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

      I hope that “whatever comes next” isn’t so devoted to big set pieces as this episode was. Part of what made the Nines of the first three seasons so effective was how much time they devoted to small character beats, and how much tension they derived from those beats.

      Reply

      • Kat
        June 20, 2016 @ 6:48 pm

        Agreed.

        Reply

      • Chris Bradshaw
        June 20, 2016 @ 6:50 pm

        Agreed as well

        Reply

    • Dan
      June 21, 2016 @ 1:38 am

      Who predicted the Hodor resolution?

      To be very fair, Jon coming back was ultimately difficult to hide completely, when you have leaked photos of him in Stark apparel for battle. They’re not really theories.

      Reply

      • Jarl
        June 21, 2016 @ 4:55 am

        I remember hearing some elevator operator asked Martin if Hodor was short for Hold the Door back in, like, 2001.

        Reply

  4. Tim B.
    June 20, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

    There were some nice touches – the piles of bodies and the scene in the shield wall with Jon Snow suffocating very much captured the ‘meat in a grinder’ sense of medieval warfare. The use of ‘knock’ and ‘loose’ as opposed to ‘fire’ I’m going to attribute to the writers having read Ellis & Caceres’s Crecy (at least in my head canon).

    That shot of Davos was pretty spectacular, although I thought the reason we had the scene of him leaving the camp was that he was going to discover a night raid by the Boltons.

    Thought the Mereen scenes were good. I’m going to say that the reason Daenarys didn’t attack the Masters fleet straight away was to get them to stop attacking so she could get the leaders in a face to face & dramatically spring her 2 other dragons allowing her to capture most of the fleet after a lethal demonstration of her power.

    Gemma Whelan definitely needs to get main cast credits next season.

    Reply

  5. Ozman Jones
    June 21, 2016 @ 12:36 am

    Can it be that the existence of the books (which I have not read, by the way) and their ability to fill in character and back story for the writers has made the previous seasons all that much richer, deeper and less predictable. Much like the old writer’s adage of creating full biographies, histories and back stories for characters and events, even if it’s not used in a novel, to enrich your characters subliminally during the writing process.
    This season has been filled with out-of-character moments (Jon, Arya) and plot beats in place purely to get a character or situation to where it needs to be for the overall season arc. This smacks of (very) standard TV plotting and writing, not an adaption of a series of novels.
    For me, this season, Game of Thrones has become… just-another-TV-show.

    Reply

    • Dan
      June 21, 2016 @ 1:34 am

      I think it’s hard to tell. We know the writers don’t have the full benefit of the books at present. But this episode made me think the show is working.

      Reply

      • Ozman Jones
        June 21, 2016 @ 2:41 am

        I very much enjoyed this episode, and I would agree it worked as TV spectacle, apart from the telegraphed arrival of the Knights of the Vale which took the tension out of the end result of the battle, but not out of the survival of the individual combatants.

        That said, for me this whole season has felt like ‘Good Television’, whereas most of the preceding seasons felt something more, with an indefinable edge.

        Reply

  6. Tom Marshall
    June 21, 2016 @ 11:06 pm

    I posted a guest post on my own blog that reads very much like Phil’s, making a lot of similar points about the writing’s failures. Link here for anyone interested: https://tommarshallwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/guest-post-bloody-mess-how-game-of.html

    Reply

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