Monday’s Game of Thrones episode, The Battle of the Bastards, has been hailed as one of the best episodes in the entire series, and more importantly, the battle sequence has been described as one of the greatest battle scenes in television history.
Ramsay Bolton employed tactics which would involve Jon Snow giving up his advantageous, defensive position; Jon Snow fell for it. He charged forward, alone, as Bolton slaughtered Rickon and Jon Snow’s army was forced to follow their commander, straight into the trap laid by Bolton. Bolton’s archers released arrows, encircled Jon Snow’s army with rows and rows long spears and shields as Jon Snow’s army became trapped between that and the mounds of corpses.
Cinematically, the battle scenes were amazingly shot, each and every shot very artistically and mindfully built- but to my mind, it just brought one poem which I had studied in my literature course. The poem was written by Wilfred Owen, one of the greatest English poets of World War I, and was titled Dulce et Decorum est.
The poem is named after the old Latin saying Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori, which translates to meaning, it is a great honor to fight and die for your country. For is that not how they make people go to war? Is that not how they convince that this is the right thing to do, that this must be done, that our country must be defended and the other attacked? Do they not tell us that there is pride and glory in laying down our lives for something that is much bigger than us, than our circles of friends and families?
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge
This is how Wilfred Owen begins to describe the soldiers of the Great War- like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed and coughing like hags. They were all ‘drunk with fatigue’ he said, before Owen sees his comrade dying in the poisonous gas. ‘Guttering, choking, drowning’, Owen said, his comrade was simply dying, helpless, in the most pathetic way possible.
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Not much glory in gargling from ‘froth-corrupted lungs’, ‘obscene as cancer’ and in ‘vile, incurable sores’, is there?
This is exactly what the Game of Thrones episode showed. As Bolton’s army collided with Snow’s, man fell against horse and there was absolute chaos; heads went flying about, horses maimed, limbs cut off as Jon Snow went about in utter confusion, trying to distinguish friend from foe, killing those who attempted to slaughter him. Blood poured in every direction, arrows rained upon men as swords were wielded without knowing what they would destroy. As Snow’s army was encircled and trapped, Jon Snow got trampled beneath the ensuing chaos buried under heaps of corpses and flailing soldiers who attempted to run and defend themselves. With difficulty, he emerged from within the riot of bodies, covered in blood and grime, only to stare at death in the face.
That, then, is perhaps the reality of wars and battles; not pride, not honor and definitely not the sweet taste of glory- just a bunch of ragged limbs, barely functioning, arms outstretched, trying to gain a semblance of reality, a perspective about the senselessness, all around.