Before there’s a show, there’s a script. And because “Battle of the Bastards,” the landmark penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ sixth season, was nominated for (and won) an Emmy last year, you can read the entire script online on the Emmys website. We thought we’d read through and see if there were any changes from page to screen.
Why might there be changes? First, directors and producers are allowed certain latitudes when actually filming the episode. They might choose to film a scene several different ways, some of which might differ from the script. Sometimes budgetary concerns come into play. Whatever the reasons, things can get lost, added, or altered in the adaptation process. Let’s take a closer look.
“Battle of the Bastards” was written by HBO showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss and directed by Miguel Sapochnik. The “business” of a film script — i.e. everything that isn’t a line for actors to say aloud (directions, camera cues, character descriptions) — is more utilitarian than the dialogue, but Benioff and Weiss are known for getting playful with it. Take, for instance, this description of Tyrion and Daenerys’ conversation upon her return to Meereen.
Tyrion flinches each time a projectile lands near the pyramid, because he’s human and it’s a natural human reaction.
Continuing in that vein, when Drogon makes his appearance during Dany’s parlay with the Masters, this not-safe-for-work passage describes the scene.
Dany never turns to look at the approaching DROGON. She doesn’t have to look. She only allows the faintest hint of a smile. A smile that says: my tyranny’s not ended, motherf****r. It’s only just begun.
Not exactly Shakespeare, but it certainly informs Dany’s attitude and bearing.
Also, the script mentions “Unsullied STRONGMEN” rolling back “the giant stone blocking the entrance to the dragon prison, and hurry the fuck out of the way.” That’s different than what happens onscreen, where the two dragons blew their way out when hearing Drogon’s call.
The script next cuts to the scene outside the gates of Meereen, where freedmen (including a freed slave named Kathe) are being slaughtered by the Sons of the Harpy as they try to escape the city (I was wondering why they were there).
Then, when Dany, riding Drogon, approaches the slaver ship we see lit up like kindling on screen, Benioff and Weiss described the reactions of the sailors.
Too late, the sailors and soldiers realize what horrible career choices they have made.
Ha. Although technically, as slaves, they didn’t actually make career choices, but I digress.
The remainder of the Battle of Meereen is pretty much the same. That brings us to the Battle of the Bastards outside Winterfell. Much of the events leading up to the battle — the parley with Ramsay, Jon’s battle plans, and the conversation with Melisandre — are largely the same. The script does reference Melisandre’s age though, confirming her to be “centuries” old, at least. And she’s not as confident as she used to be.
MELISANDRE looks into the brazier flames. This activity appears to be more work for her than it was before, or perhaps it’s just that she’s approaching it with less unthinking confidence.
The battle begins just how you remember, from Rickon’s non-zig-zagging death run to Jon’ suicidal charge into the heart of Ramsay’s archers. (The script even mentions that, when Rickon dies, his body is “closer to Stark lines than Bolton lines.” But Jon, filled with rage, barrels ahead anyway.) One question it does answer: What happened to Harald Karstark after the parlay? We didn’t see him in the battle, but in script he leads Ramsay’s cavalry.
Here’s a great example of how important the director is in bringing a script to life, especially on a show as elaborate as Game of Thrones. Take a look at the description of the moment after Jon’s horse is shot out from under him, and he faces down the Bolton cavalry.
Jon exhales. This is the end, then.
He draws Longclaw and readies himself.
The sound of pounding hooves and war cries is so loud we don’t realize we’re hearing it from both directions.
The Stark cavalry swoops past Jon a moment before he would be overrun, colliding with the Bolton cavalry.
That’s nice and stirring, but it took Miguel Sapochnik to turn it into maybe the most iconic moment from the episode.
Sapochnik also expands upon the section where Jon is trampled by the retreating wildlings, which doesn’t read like the big moment it is on screen.
As the battle unfolds and the Bolton shield wall begins to pound the Stark forces, Benioff and Weiss lay on more colorful exposition.
The circle tightens forcing the Starks into a smaller and smaller space. It is clear the Boltons have the upper hand and the Starks are f****d.
Indeed. Then comes the battle between Tormund and Smalljon Umber.
The bearded wildling goes up against the bearded Northman, with a ferocity that would make a Southerner piss his pants.
The duel between Tormund and Smalljon Umber is more brutal on the page than on the screen. In script form, Tormund stabs Smalljon through the belly, and then the Smalljon lifts Tormund off the ground and headbutts his face until Tormund’s nose bursts open. “Tormund’s face is starting to look like a Jack-o’-lantern two weeks after Halloween.” Their duel ends in much the same way, with Tormund drawing a knife, but in the script Tormund “grabs a dagger from his belt and pops Smalljon’s eyes like eggs.”
After the Knights of the Vale troops arrive, the script describes the stare-down between Jon and Ramsay. “A beat where the two glorious bastards glare at each other from a distance.”
After Wun Wun smashes through the gates of Winterfell, we get the showdown we’ve all been waiting for. Also, wonder where Jon got that handy shield emblazoned with the sigil of House Mormont? It belonged to a Mormont infantry man who followed Wun Wun into Winterfell before getting shot with a Bolton arrow. Another mystery solved.
Jon is exhausted by this point — per the script, “only hate keeps him standing.” Against script-Tormund’s advice, Jon marches towards Ramsay in the courtyard with the aid of the Mormont infantryman’s shield. Ramsay is described as flustered here. Twice he fumbles with his bow, which is in contrast to the calm and collected Ramsay in the scene. Also, Littlefinger is on the scene in the script. If he’s there in the episode, we don’t see him.
After Jon beats Ramsay to a pulp, the Bolton banners come down, and we get a little insight into Melisandre’s thoughts.
Melisandre watches it happen from the covered walkway where Ned Stark once stood. Her prophecy, fulfilled. If only she’d been able to see the truth of it earlier. Jon, the king she was meant to serve, confers with Tormund in the courtyard.
Then, after Rickon’s body is taken to the crypts of Winterfell, we get the final moments: Sansa’s confrontation with Ramsay.
The dialogue between the two is largely the same, but the script notes that Ramsay is unable to break Sansa’s “composure,” and that doubt begins to creep into his mind. The descriptions are pretty brutal, with his screams described as “wet wheezes as the dogs go to work on his throat.” Poor guy. (Not really.)
Also, the script doesn’t contain
Some other fun bits:
- Description during the negotiation scene between Daenerys, Tyrion, Yara and Theon: “Dany tries not to betray that she likes this girl.”
- “Wun-Wun run fast!”
- At one point, the script calls Ramsay “a psychotic William Wallace.”
- You’ll remember that, at one point in the battle, Davos tells his archers not to fire into the fray, since “we’ll kill our own men!” There’s another side to that conversation that didn’t make it into the finished episode, between Ramsay and the Smalljon.
SMALLJON: “Our cavalry’s engaged with his.”
RAMSAY: “Yes, and we have twice their numbers. Reducing the field’s in our interest. Simple arithmetic.”
Now if we could only get the scripts for season 7…Just for a grammar check, we promise.