The Only Game of Thrones Episode Reviews from a Business Perspective.
Epic and satisfying, “Battle of the Bastards” gave us the best dragon footage, the best battle, and let slip the dogs of war. It was gripping, but we have a few gripes. But more on that later. It was also satisfying to draw out Ramsay’s 4-stage downfall (losing the battle, the siege, the one-on-one, the loyalty of his Hannibalized hounds). This was surely the most expensive TV episode ever. Our estimate is about $30 million, given that most of the increased cost of this season ($10 million was the average per episode compared to $6 million in earlier seasons) went into this one episode (according to the showrunners). The battle scene alone involved 600 crew, 500 extras, 160 tons of gravel, 70 horses, 25 stunt people, and 25 days of filming. In comparison, the Battle of Blackwater cost $8 million to make.
We learned: Sometimes when you throw money at a problem, it just works! Having talented folks to spend that money may have something to do with it too. Since GoT splurged on this episode, we’ll do an epic review too, since we have a budget of around $3 million for this episode.
Braveheart + Saving Private Ryan
Some may have winced at the length or the brutality of the battle, but what we saw was still a more sanitized version of the real violence in human conflict. Such brutality is not just medieval (or a fantasy) – it continues to this day. We are mostly “protected” from the grisliness of conflict and don’t see/feel the consequences.
We learned: Seeing reality better equips us to understand conditions we operate under in business, and makes us more likely to be well-informed. Openness to unpleasant realities makes it less likely we will be surprised. And not be blindsided like Dany’s people may one day wonder “why do the sons of that ship’s slaves hate us?” (because we barbecued their fathers with dragon fire). We should know the ramifications of actions in our name, and see things coming.
We see Tyrion having to spin his not-so-great handling of affairs while Daenerys was gone. With preternatural calm, she reveals her strategy: “I will crucify the Masters, I will set their fleets afire, kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That is my plan.” Tyrion reins in her hubris and counsels an “alternate approach” which unfolds later with the slave masters of Yunkai.
We learned: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and three dragons can make you want to apply dragonfire to all problems like Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. If your father was known as the “Mad King”, had a penchant for burning people (and pyromania in general) and his last words were “Burn them all!” (with wildfire) – take your genetic defect seriously and have advisors around to thwart most of your fiery plans. It’s good to know our weaknesses and have friends and colleagues who can counteract our less-edifying impulses, level with us, and speak truth to power. Surrounding ourselves with sycophants is a sure sign of insecurity and a recipe for failure. After all, A-level people hire A-level people, B-level people hire C-level people. Be A, be A…
Enter the Drogon
During talks to negotiate a surrender, the Masters make maximalist demands. Daenerys, still cultishly serene, informs them that the surrender is not hers but theirs. Of course, that means we must have some dragons in our back pocket. With “my reign has just begun” we see Drogon swoop in. Daenerys climbs on and soars her way through the skies of Meereen. Rhaegal and Viserion, Drogon’s less aggressive siblings (they’re indoor cats) emerge from their underground lair when the bombardment damages the walls. With the invocation of “Dracarys,” dragon fire from multiple dragons destroys a ship. Random dragon thoughts: Awesome CGI. Does their hovering and flapping fan those ship flames? We see the fire building between the scales, through Drogon’s skin – isn’t Dany feeling just a bit warm? A dragon saddle would be so much more comfy on that spiky child.
We learned: Good intel makes a huge difference. Know if your rival has game-changing assets or technology. If you know your opponent has dragons, find out how many are captive, and if any are free. Not knowing 33% of your enemy’s nukes are loose is inexcusable. Also, if you may want to take something over one day – don’t deplete as you compete. If entertaining an acquisition (or even eyeing leading a department) – preserve the talent, reputation, and assets of that which you covet. Daenerys got her arsonist offspring to focus their fire on a single ship as a demonstration. A “see I got nukes” strategy. It backed up the ‘negotiations’ of Tyrion with the Masters (quiveringly capitulating at this point) with a credible, existential threat while preserving the armada. Embarrassing/destroying the Masters was inevitable after they violated a deal, but in the real world, your dominance won’t usually be as total. There would be a lot of regulations on your dragon use, even with the NRA’s lobbying. So some magnanimity will pay long-term dividends. Also, when trying to take over the world, have an Army (Dothraki), Navy (fleets from Yunkai + Greyjoy) and Air Force (dragons). A multi-pronged strategy to achieve your goals.
While Tyrion did most of the talking (as usual), Grey Worm executed the badass move of the episode. A variant of killing two birds with one stone. A slave master making a pitch to an ex-slave to offer up one of them as a sacrifice because he’s an “outsider” and “low-born” seems the height of stupidity. And so Darwin does his work. It’s interesting that even among the slave masters, there’s discrimination against the nouveau riche. But maybe we should be more forgiving – rational thinking can disappear when faced with the prospect of imminent, Roman decimation-style death.
We learned: Know the principles and values of those you work with so you do not end up grievously offending them. Also, negotiate with less eyeliner even if you feel like a rock star slave-holder. You’re not really David Bowie.
Happy Father’s Day
We hope this wasn’t a coincidence – that this was totally intended…scheduling “The Battle of the Bastards” on Father’s Day! We have had a wonderful rogues gallery of psychopathic fathers – Tywin Lannister (framed his son for murder after sleeping with his ex), Walder Frey (made his daughter’s wedding “red”), Craster (slept with his daughters, and gave his baby sons to the White Walkers), Stannis Baratheon (an excellent father right until he burnt his daughter at the stake), the Mad King (wanted to incinerate everyone), Balon Greyjoy (cold to his son, ambivalent about his torture) Randyll Tarly (threatened to kill Sam if he didn’t exile himself when he turned 18). Ned Stark, who was killed off in Season 1, is still the Father of the Year. Although he put being ’noble’ in front of family (or being alive). Roose Bolton, while not a sympathetic character, was a pretty good father to his devilish spawn, until he was gutted by him. And Jaime Lannister isn’t a bad secret father to his children.
We learned: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Most of us have lucked out with our parents…and children.
Ramsay Will Be Ramsay
The battle begins with foreplay – a parley between Ramsay and Jon-Sansa. Ramsay goads and preens with “my beloved wife”, “dismount and kneel before me”, “come bastard” and the laugh-out-loud “I am a man of mercy” that he delivers with a straight face. Jon makes an offer of champion warfare (where the outcome of the conflict is determined by an individual duel between ‘champions’ from each opposing army). Him against Ramsay. Ramsay, though tempted, is logical enough to play the odds – his confidence that his army (double Jon’s size) can crush Jon’s is higher than his confidence that he will kill Jon in single combat. We wish Jon was this smart. Jon is very pleased with himself when he rolls out “will your men want to fight for you when they hear you wouldn’t fight for them?” Ramsay counters with Shaggydog’s head to show he has Rickon hostage. Cutting Ramsay’s demand off mid-sentence, and pre-empting any weakness from Jon, Sansa unleashes “You’re going to die tomorrow Lord Bolton. Sleep well.” And rides off. It marks her as the leader of the group, ending the substance phase of the parley. Ramsay looks admiringly as she rides off (maybe for the first time) but then reverts to form (threatening to rape her again, to her brother’s face). And keeping his genital focus, helpfully suggests that the men in the parley will have their vulnerable bits chewed off by his hounds which have been starved for a week.
We learned: What is strange is that Ramsay keeps insulting Jon as a “bastard” – does he not know this episode is called the Battle of the Bastards? If you are tempted to describe someone else negatively, have enough self-awareness to see if others will find it ironic. Or risk be seen as the pot calling the kettle black. Also, focus on probabilities instead of basing decisions on emotion or ego – though fighting against the odds offers the promise of drama/heroism in front of colleagues, as a strategy it’s a recipe for failure even if you luck out on occasion. Innovation does not require injudicious risk-taking. Sansa’s riding off is a power move. How we end conversations or negotiations can affect the power dynamics between people.
Strategy and Tactics
When asked about his offer of single combat to Ramsay, Jon says he didn’t think it would work but “I wanted to make him angry. I want him coming at us full tilt.” It’s ironic given that’s what is exactly what Jon ends up doing. The strategy session is interesting mostly for the Jon-Sansa angle. She berates him for not seeking her input, but then doesn’t offer anything beyond “don’t do what he wants you to do.” Which while good advice in retrospect, is not enough. She also says she had advised against attacking Winterfell until he had a larger force. Jon asks “When will we have a larger force?” To which she stays mysteriously silent – a little clue here that the Knights of the Vale with their thousands of soldiers might be coming would have helped not risk the lives of Jon, Ser Davos, Tormund, Wun Wun and thousands of soldiers (whose lives we don’t really care about) in an asymmetrical fight. While it made for a more dramatic battle, this seems like a plot hole. There’s no good reason why Sansa shouldn’t share the possibility of thousands of troops arriving (even if she’s not sure, and gives it a 20% chance), and let her brother march off to his probable death. But she’s on the money on everything else here. Astutely she predicts Rickon’s a goner, and that neither Jon nor she is as important to kill as Rickon. Presciently, she says, “You think he’s going to fall into your trap. He won’t. He’s the one who lays traps. He plays with people. He’s far better at it than you.” To which the White Walker-slayer takes umbrage: “I fought beyond the wall against worse than Ramsay Bolton. I defended the Wall from worse than Ramsay Bolton…” She cuts him off with “You don’t know him.” Not an exact parallel, but reminds us of “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
We learned: Withholding potentially critical information is not the mark of a team player. Actionable information is more useful than general advice. Mentally steeling oneself against likely losses helps keep the big picture in mind, and to cope better when things don’t go our way. As to the hardly encouraging “battles have been won against greater odds”, and his promise to protect her, Sansa says “No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.” Common sense usually trumps idealism, especially in Game of Thrones. We find the Tormund Giantsbane unfamiliar with the name of the military tactic “double envelopment” aka “pincer move” showing linguistic/cultural differences between the Northerners and the uber-Northerners. In business, making sure those unfamiliar with certain words or practices are not made to feel inferior is important.
The Lull Before the Storm
Jon can’t even get Melisandre (who has become visibly shaky in her beliefs) to promise not to revive him if he dies. He can’t catch a break – while men follow his lead, women clearly don’t listen to him. But it also lowers our fear for him dying (now, or later). A little pre-battle comic-relief between Davos and Tormund ensues. Until Davos discovers Shireen Baratheon’s ashes by finding the blackened wooden stag he carved for her. There’s a beautiful shot of the breaking dawn, that also symbolizes the pyre of Shireen and the battle to come. There’s also going to be a showdown with the Red Woman soon. Davos loved that little girl as a daughter. But she may survive given that the king Davos worshiped was the one that took the fateful decision, even though based on her belief and advice.
We learned: Consequences matter. Consultants cannot advise and then not care about the outcomes even if not directly responsible. If those outcomes are negative, they will affect reputation.
Yara and Theon must have truly stolen the fastest ships, because they made it to Meereen in record time. We calculated that the distance by ship from Pyke through Volantis (where we saw them at the brothel) to Meereen was about 7,400 miles by sea. We blew about $1 million of our budget just on this calculation, which was based on five segments of that voyage (the latter part is true). At a 6-knot trip average under ideal conditions, it would take at least 44 days. So while the trip lasted four weeks in show time, it would have lasted a minimum of six weeks. Their fleet arrives unseen to us and Tyrion lights into Theon for some slight back in Season 1 about his height. We don’t remember, nor care. But Theon stays on point, and says “I’m not fit to rule”, surprising both Tyrion and Daenerys. This pivots to Yara and Dany – their feminist courtship, their flirting, their alliance – a highlight of this episode. It is strange to see Yara, a woman wanting to defend raping (in addition to raiding) as ’that’s our way of life’ until Dany forbids it. It’s ironic that Yara waits for a nod from the mutilated Theon to agree to the no-rape clause. And even though everything went to hell on Tyrion’s watch, Dany awaits his nod before sealing the deal with Yara – with a forearm handshake. Very Roman. Random, unkind note: If the Spider had not left, we’d now have a eunuch super-triad of eX-men in Meereen – Theon, Grey Worm and Varys.
We learned: Finding common values improves negotiating leverage. To maintain parity and not come across as a supplicant, Yara points out what Dany has in common with her – aspiring to be the first woman to rule, terrible fathers, even seeking reasonable assistance to “murder an uncle or two who doesn’t think a woman’s fit to rule.” Dany is amused and interested in Yara, but she does not let that make her compromise on the big picture – which is maintaining the future integrity of the seven kingdoms despite the ‘request’ for independence.
Rickon, we hardly knew ye
The armies are arrayed. Ramsay has a few flayed men being burned upside down in between the armies – they really take their symbol seriously. And who are these unfortunate men? Were these Ramsay’s own? The trap we all knew was coming, does. In the shape of Rickon Stark. The scene stays suspenseful because of instead of slicing his throat, Ramsay turns it into a game and gives us hope (when the 2nd arrow which we thought was aimed at Rickon misses) before snatching it away. Rickon’s death did not hit us hard as one might expect because he never even spoke a word since he resurfaced and with Sansa’s prediction that he’s doomed, we were ready to let him go. We just wished he had shown some survival instincts and zigzagged a bit! Although with the intentionally errant arrows, it might have hastened his demise. Here’s a question. Why did Ramsay not shoot another arrow at Jon, who was in shock as he looked down at his dying brother? He was certainly in range.
We learned: Expect psychopaths to toy with you. Listen to your sisters. Unless you have a messianic complex or are suicidal, you shouldn’t be galloping towards an army by yourself (it does give us a cool shot though). While we understand he had to get out of the death zone of arrows, the other direction would have been wiser, and could have organized his forces. At times a tactical retreat to regroup and press forward later is the smarter strategy. Also, a pointer to future Rickons – we need to hear from a character to care about his or her life. Even our verbally challenged giants Hodor and Wun Wun could get our affection with one word.
Battle of the Bastards
The battle scene, about 20 minutes long is impressive – intimate, brutal, chaotic, epic. When Ramsay orders his archers to fire on the battling soldiers, it has echoes of the ruthless Edward Longshanks in Braveheart who responds to “I beg pardon, sire. Won’t we hit our own troops? with “Yes… but we’ll hit theirs as well. We have reserves. Attack.” We also see the Bolton army surrounding the remnants of Jon’s army, pinning them against a heap of the dead and dying. They are in formation with spears and shields, almost Roman testudo-style. Inexorably tightening the noose. Jon’s men try to break the formation, temporarily giving us hope. Jon almost gets buried in the bodies (not for the claustrophobic) and fights to emerge, gasping for air. Things look dire. Distracted by a strange sound of horns (we all know what it is), Smalljon Umber who had the upper hand over Tormund, ends up getting his neck bitten off and then killed. In a crowd-pleasing reprieve, reminiscent of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings, the Knights of the Vale ride in over the hill to save the day, cutting through the Bolton army and really annoying Ramsay. The only downside – we have to watch Littlefinger smile. Sansa looks quite happy with herself, even though she doesn’t know at this point if Jon has survived or not. How much does she care? It will be interesting to see how the Sansa-Jon-Littlefinger relationships and ambitions evolve.
We learned: Riding in to save the day feels good, but it may have consequences if you’re not seen as a team player. Don’t get distracted by anything when you’re literally in mortal combat. Focus on the person trying to kill you.
Under Siege 2
It’s a cool shot where Sansa can see from a distance that Wun Wun, Jon and Tormund are running after Ramsay as he retreats behind the protection of Winterfell, having lost the battle despite outplaying Jon on every level. This is the second stage of Ramsay’s multistage downfall, as siege strategies don’t account for giants battering down doors. Wun Wun loses a finger but busts through the door and is followed by Jon’s men. Grievously wounded, and porcupine-like with arrows, he collapses. He is then killed by Ramsay, who could have easily killed Jon instead (for the second time today) who was standing beside the dying giant, looking up at him. Why? Maybe earlier Ramsay wanted to feed Jon to his dogs, instead of a clean death by arrow, which would be in character. This time, it may be strategic. One he gets to kill another person Jon cares about it (good old Ramsay) right in front of him. More importantly, if he killed Jon, he would be killed instantly by Jon’s men who have their arrows trained on Ramsay. His only gambit is to try to take Jon up on his earlier offer of single combat. Jon, being not as smart, pretty much goes along with that, dropping his sword and just using a shield to approach Ramsay, barely stopping the arrows that skewered Rickon at record distance. It was badass. Jon then pummels Ramsay’s face repeatedly with his bare hands, cathartic to the legions of Ramsay haters. Initially, it almost looks like Ramsay is smiling beatifically while bloodied (see photo below), as if he’s enjoying the beating in some sadomasochistic way. Like the evil hobgoblin that can never be killed and keeps smiling. We’re glad Jon keeps pounding until that fades. He stops when he sees Sansa, recognizing she has a greater right to determine his fate. Once again, it’s almost pure dumb luck that saves Jon and beats the smarter Ramsay (the third stage of his take-down). That the Starks have returned to Winterfell after their long exile seems almost anticlimactic and somber – the direwolf banners quietly replace the flayed man banners. Melisandre looks on pleased, but she will have to face Davos’ wrath soon.
We learned: Play out the consequences of taking out a “problem” individual from a situation. If your situation will not be helped by those who are empowered by removing that individual, look for another way. And give the people what they want, even if that is sometimes a pounding to the face.
Who’s a good boy?
The fourth stage of Ramsay’s defeat (like Stage 4 cancer) is Sansa’s vengeance. Snake-like, dark and bloodied, Ramsay, though aware that he’s not long for this world, makes a stab at a legacy with “You can’t kill me. I’m part of you now.” Which might be true, even if Sansa’s not pregnant; he has turned her into someone else, un-Starkian, in her relish of torture as she not just lingers to watch, but walks away with a smile. We will see how well she lives up to her promise to wipe out his legacy: “Your words will disappear, your house will disappear, your name will disappear, all memory of you will disappear.” We see fear for the first time on Ramsay’s face, as he sees his starving hounds slink in, even though he is optimistic till the last, with “my hounds will never harm me.” If they were not already starving, Sansa may have waited till they were. This scene harkens to how Mason Verger gets eaten by his own carnivorous, starving wild boars he had bred to devour Hannibal Lecter.
We learned: Weapons we fashion – of people, words or content – can be turned against us. Praise publicly, criticize privately. Spend time thinking about the legacy you want for yourself from time to time and see whether you are on that path or want to course-correct. If you’re raising dogs on human flesh, then slight course corrections may be warranted.
Why do we love big people?
We did not want to end on that note, where we’ve dehumanized dogs (yes, dogs are human). So let’s talk about something that will help us sleep better at night. Big, lovable men. Why do we like them and are crestfallen when they die? Especially when they say few words, like “Hodor” or “Jon”? Wun Wun was the last of the giants, so that is an extinction, just like the Children of the Forest are now extinct. Whether it’s a tubby football player like Vince Wilfork, or Kevin James dancing in Hitch – we like big guys showing their moves despite their size. Corpulent and smart (like Varys) does not make us love them as much; we tend to like them a bit dumb. Caesar says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”
Littlefinger has a lean and hungry look…
And here’s a preview of the super-sized season finale, where maybe we’ll see some wildfire?
Bonus Feature: Comments and memes from around the Internet
Linked to Brexit: “The North should now hold a referendum on whether to stay in the Seven Kingdoms.”
Linked to Trump: “We’re gonna build a wall and we’re gonna make the White Walkers pay for it.”
Self-explanatory: “There are some deaths money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Purina.”