Josh Drummond re-enacts Game of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards in Total War: Warhammer, and it makes much more sense than it did on TV.
The television world went barking mad for the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ episode of Game of Thrones last week, with viewers howling at their TV screens at the sheer drama as Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton clashed in the frozen fields outside Winterfell. The cinematic battle was tense, televisual genius, like Lord of the Rings but better. It was also a load of old bollocks. In the traditional morning-after Game of Thrones debriefing at work, it was decided that the way Jon fought the battle was a series of catastrophic, compounding tactical errors that the protagonists were only able to get out of thanks to the Lord of Light turning on God Mode for Jon, and a late intervention by Chekov’s Knights of the Vale. It was proof, if any was needed, that Jon Snow really does know nothing, except maybe how to put a sword in a guy.
So what would happen, asked my boss Ollie (a medieval warfare buff and total Total War fan), if someone who did know something about battles simulated the Battle of the Bastards in Total War?
With hundreds of hours logged in Total War between us, 100 percent of them by Ollie, we decide that he will command the Boltons. As I know nothing about Total War, I’ll make an excellent Jon Snow. We use the excellent (if clumsily-named) Total War: Warhammer as our Game of Thrones battle sim, for the sole reason that the Greenskins faction has access to giants, and we want one for maximum historical accuracy
Warning: Game of Thrones spoilers follow.
Of course, that meant that notoriously handsome ladykiller Jon Snow has to be an orc.
We figure it makes sense – wildlings are meant to be wild, right, and what’s wilder than a bunch of Savage Orcs?
We play online, helped by a lag-free VDSL connection from our sponsors at Bigpipe, and set the armies up much as they appear in the show.
Ollie plays as the Boltons, who enjoy vast numerical superiority and a commander who isn’t a total noob – both in the show and the game.
Ollie’s Imperial army lacks a few key features of the Game of Thrones version. The main difference is not having a hostage that he can use to force my commander to do something heroically stupid, so naturally we’re going to have to send our Jon Snow charging blindly into bowshot for absolutely no reason, which amounts to the same thing.
OrcJon gets lavishly filled with arrows and immediately loses a shitload of health. His troops back in their lines start to freak out, as their commander has run in to get comprehensively rekt for no apparent reason. Naturally, Ollie’s Boltons take this opportunity to charge.
Then things take a turn for the realistic and in the second major departure from the show, OrcJon gets smashed by Ollie’s Bolton charge.
OrcJon’s cavalry arrive slightly late and start a grand old scrap in the middle of the battlefield. Naturally, in our recreation, the wildling orc army are mounted on boars.
Following the show, I then sprint my troops to the battle and all of them arrive utterly exhausted and in no shape to fight. I also send in my archers to fight hand-to-hand with the footmen, which makes as much sense in the game as it does in the show – which is to say, it makes no fucking sense at all.
“We may as well be taking shits out here!” says brave Ser Davos, leaping off his horse to uselessly charge his specifically non-melee units on foot the two kilometres to where Jon’s cavalry are being converted into landfill.
In the show, Ramsay Bolton orders his archers to rain arrows on the all the men in the melee, including his own, which creates tactically-dubious but very telegenic heaps of corpses. Our recreation lacks the friendly-fire mechanic, but my orc-wildlings get messed up all the same.
It’s the perfect opportunity to surround the brawling warriors with shield-bearing spearmen and murder everyone in the middle, so that’s what happens.
You might have wondered why, in the show, the men didn’t rally behind Wun-Wun the giant and smash through the spearmen’s lines. Well, we can finally answer that question: it’s because spearmen have the “anti-large” trait, which gives them a +10 bonus against giants.
Things look pretty dark for our orc heroes, as Ollie’s spearmen force them into a crush. Some break and flee, and get impaled for their trouble.
Only a miracle can save OrcJon and friends now! Conveniently, there’s one just around the corner. It’s the
Riders of Rohan Knights of the Vale Boars of the Vale!
In the show, this moment requires a bit of suspension of disbelief – we’re meant to rationalise that Ramsay Bolton is actually incompetent enough not to have someone in a tower that might notice three thousand or so knights moving moving at a brisk trot across a large, open plain. In the game, Ollie has had to suspend belief because my boar-knights in dank armour have quite obviously been lurking in a corner of the battlefield, waiting for the right time to pounce. Which they do, and it’s quite satisfying.
With the spearmen routed by the Boars of the Vale, OrcJon, Wun-Wun, and another commander who was too unimportant to mention until now, head off in chilly pursuit.
Unfortunately for Wun-Wun, his commander has seen fit to charge his unarmoured main battle-asset straight into a line of archers, which goes as well as you’d expect for the giant.
So now it’s time for the final showdown. I clean up the archers with a few spare orcs and boar-cavalry, and OrcJon is left to face down… ShinyRamsay.
In the show, the Battle of the Bastards ends with Jon beating the living snot out of Ramsay. In our re-enactment, our leaders fight, but OrcJon is so wrecked from being riddled with arrows, lanced in the knee, and speared multiple times that he breaks and runs for his life, leaving ShinyRamsay to glory in victory – for about five seconds, until my remaining cavalry come in and stomp him good and dead.
At the end of it, our renactment turns out to be an educational experience. I get to play an excellent new game, and we discover that, even with the Knights of the Vale, there is absolutely no way that Jon could actually have won the Battle of the Bastards without Ramsay actively trying to lose. From the moment he gallops out into a rain of arrows he’s boned. In fact, ShinyRamsay wins all of our prior warm-up matches, even though Ollie’s doing his best to rig it so I win.
But that, of course, wouldn’t have made good TV. Far better to turn the characters into complete idiots so the plot can swoop in and save them. That’s entertainment!
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