7:08pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones' Releases the Dogs of War in 'Battle of the Bastards'
[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season six, episode nine of HBO's Game of Thrones.]
Every season of Game of Thrones comes equipped with an unforgettable penultimate installment, and season six more than delivered on that promise with "Battle of the Bastards," featuring not one but two of the single most epic war sequences in the show's history.
While most fans anticipated nothing but the war in the North between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), fiery fury blazed throughout Meereen as well, making it clear that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is more than ready to make her run at the Iron Throne.
Still, the main action was set outside of Winterfell. The fan-labeled "Bastard Bowl" was easily Game of Thrones' dirtiest and bloodiest battle yet, claiming key lives from both House Stark and House Bolton alike: Rickon (Art Parkinson), killed by an arrow through the heart; Wun Wun the Giant, killed by an arrow through the eye; and the archer himself, the ruthless Ramsay Bolton, ripped to shreds by his own starving dogs, with no one but a smirking Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) there to watch him die. How's that for Northern justice?
Here's how the episode played out, beginning out east.
The action starts right where things left off for Daenerys, who returned to her city in "No One," only to find it at the mercy of the slavers. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) insists that things are much better than they look: "Despite appearances, I think you'll find the city is on the rise!" Maybe not the best time to hype up his own political progress, but Tyrion has wise words for Dany all the same, once she starts speaking about ravaging the slavers without mercy.
"You once told me you knew what your father was," he says. "Did you know his plan for King's Landing when the Lannister armies were at his gate? He told my brother and Jaime told me. He had caches of wildfire under the Red Keep, and he would have burned every one of his citizens — the loyal ones and the traitors. Every man, woman and child."
Dany says she's not following in her father's footsteps, but Tyrion persists: "You're talking about destroying cities. It's not entirely different. I'd like to suggest an alternate approach."
The alternate approach ensues, and it still involves a heavy amount of fire. During a negotiation with the three main masters, Dany exhibits her true power, mounting Drogon and flying alongside her two other dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, as they incinerate one of the slavers' main ships. Meanwhile, Dany's Dothraki army, led by Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman), storms the gates of Meereen and eviscerates the Sons of the Harpy — unfortunately not in time to stop the Harpies from killing several innocents, but stopping them all the same.
As fire and blood fill the air all around them, Tyrion tells the three masters that their violation of the peace agreement cannot go unanswered; they must choose one of themselves to die. Two of the slavers point at Yezzan zo Qaggaz (Enzo Cilenti), and with that, the choice is clear: Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) kills the two and leaves Yezzan alive. Tyrion comes to Yezzan and places a hand on the man's shoulder, gently telling him to return home with stories about what he saw on this day.
"Tell your people what happened here," he whispers. "When they come forward with idea of retribution, remind them what happened when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen."
Later, Meereen receives another set of guests, but these ones come in peace: Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). Theon and Tyrion have a tense reunion, given where they left things when they last met in Winterfell. Theon insists that times have changed, and that he's here seeking House Targaryen's support for Yara's claim to the Salt Throne. Daenerys seems immediately intrigued by the prospect of a queen ruling over the Iron Islands for the first time, and Yara seems equally intrigued by Daenerys — perhaps a little bit more so.
The Greyjoys tell tales of Uncle Euron (Pilou Asbaek), who has his eye on aligning with Dany with the bonus of even more ships than Yara's small fleet of one hundred. However, he also comes with a drawback: a marriage proposal, in less polite words. Yara's offer doesn't come with any such ties, "but I'm up for anything." All she truly wants is independence for the Iron Islands, to stay separate from Westeros. In exchange, Yara will fully back Dany's claim for the Iron Throne.
Tyrion warns Dany that succumbing to Yara's demands is a dangerous precedent, but the Dragon Queen doesn't see it that way: "They aren't demanding. They're asking. Others are free to ask as well." Dany accepts Yara's terms, but only if Yara agrees that the Iron Islanders will never reave, raid or rape again — even though that's their livelihood. Yara reluctantly accepts, and the two shake hands, forging one of the latest and greatest alliances in recent Thrones lore.
In the North
Before arriving at the main event of the episode, there's the pre-game. Jon Snow's most trusted allies, Sansa included, meet with Ramsay on the field outside Winterfell, where they will fight hours later. Ramsay lays out his terms: "Surrender your army and proclaim me true Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North." In exchange, he will pardon all of the traitors. Jon does not seem likely to budge.
"Come, bastard," Ramsay reasons. "You don't have the men, you don't have the horses, and you don't have Winterfell. Why lead those poor souls into slaughter?"
Jon agrees with Ramsay, that there's no reason for so many men to die. "Only one of us," he offers. "Let's end this the old way. You against me."
Surprising no one, Ramsay's not interested in a one-on-one battle against one of the North's most legendary swordsmen. He'll take his odds on the battlefield, with his numbers of six thousand men against Jon's three thousand. Ramsay also flaunts his ownership over Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), still his hostage inside of Winterfell. He confirms that he has Rickon by showing off Shaggydog's severed head. In response, Sansa stone-heartedly promises Ramsay: "You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well." She rides off, and Ramsay sees the rest of Jon's allies off with the threat of his very hungry friends.
"My dogs are desperate to meet you. I haven't fed them in seven days," he says. "I wonder which parts they'll try first. Your eyes? Your balls? We'll find out soon enough. In the morning then, bastard."
That night, Jon meets with his advisors about how best to handle the coming battle. Sansa is less than thrilled with her half-brother's tactics, insisting that her voice should be heard, considering what she knows about Ramsay on a personal level. Her advice sounds vague, but it's ultimately meaningful: "Just don't do what he wants you to do." Jon scoffs at that, saying that he's doing everything he can to make sure Rickon walks out of this alive. Sansa believes their brother is already a lost cause.
"Rickon is Ned Stark's true-born son, which makes him more of a threat than you or me," she says. "As long as he lives, Ramsay's claim will be contested. He won't live long."
Elsewhere, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) trade some final words of personal experience before the coming morning's battle, comparing and contrasting their conflicting views over the late Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), and ultimately agreeing on the same idea: "Maybe it's our mistake, believing in kings." Good thing Jon Snow isn't a king, they agree.
Davos rejects Tormund's offer to share a jug of sour goat's milk (apparently a more potent drink "then anything you Southern t—s have," according to the Free Folk's leader), and decides to go for a walk, which is how he handles the night before a big battle: "I think and I walk until I'm far enough away from camp that no one can hear me shitting my guts out." Fair enough.
In a separate tent, Jon meets with Melisandre (Carice van Houten), and asks the Red Woman to not bring him back to life if he falls on the battlefield. But she says she doesn't take orders from Jon; she answers to the Lord of Light, and if he declares Jon should rise again, that's what will happen.
"Maybe you're only needed for this small part of his plan, and nothing else," she says. "Maybe he brought you here to die again."
"What kind of God would do something like that?" Jon asks.
Melisandre offers her own answer: "The one we've got." It's an answer Davos learns all too well during his walk. As he travels through Lord Snow's base of operations, the same place that once served as Stannis Baratheon's camp, he finds a toy stag among a pile of charred bones. He immediately knows the bones belong to Shireen (Kerry Ingram), and instantly connects the perpetrator: Melisandre. But before he can act on it, Davos hears the sound of horns. Dawn breaks in the background. It's time for war.
House Stark and House Bolton's forces line up on opposite sides of the battlefield. Jon Snow rides his horse forward as soon as he sees Ramsay come forth with a familiar face in tow: Rickon, bound in rope. Ramsay removes a dagger from his belt and it appears that he's about to kill Rickon, but instead, he cuts the youngest Stark son's bindings.
"Do you like games, little man?" he asks Rickon. "Let's play a game: run to your brother. The sooner you make it to him, the sooner you get to see him again. That's it! That's the game. Easy! Ready? Go!"
With that, Rickon marches off toward his brother, but not at a brisk enough pace. Ramsay speeds things along with the threat of a bow and arrow, incentivizing Rickon to run as fast as he can. The young wolf sprints through the field, dodging one arrow, and then another. Jon Snow charges forward on his horse, breaking away from the battle plan, doing his best to save his brother. Another arrow slams into the ground. Jon's seconds away from grabbing Rickon — and then the fourth arrow slams squarely into Rickon's back and through his chest. He wheezes and bleeds out, dying quickly, right in front of Lord Snow.
"Don't," Tormund Giantsbane whispers as he watches Jon stare at Ramsay from across the way. It's apparent to everyone on the field that the battle is about to begin, and not on House Stark's ideal terms. True to his nature, heartbroken and headstrong Jon rides forward, all on his own, charging at the Bolton forces. The Snow Bowl is officially underway.
Arrows hum through the sky, whizzing into bodies, lodging into Jon's horse, sending him flying. Ramsay unleashes his calvary, charging directly at Jon, seemingly alone on the field. He unsheathes his Valyrian sword Longclaw, prepared to die fighting. But he does not need to fight alone: Jon watches in wonder as the Bolton horses smash into the House Stark forces, now battling on his behalf.
Jon cuts into his enemies, dodging sword swings and delivering several of his own. Arrows rain down upon him, and only by the good grace of a higher power (or a lot of luck) do they miss their mark. Several times, death nearly comes for Snow, but either his remarkable skills as a swordsman or fine timing from an ally spare him from dying a second time.
Soon, all of Jon's men — including Tormund, Davos and Wun Wun — are on the battlefield with him… just as Ramsay wanted it. Smalljon Umber (Dean S. Jagger) leads his men to form a huge wall of shields around the Stark forces, boxing them in and steadily tightening the space, marching forward with sharpened spears. Their only way out is backward, but even then, they'll have to climb a wall of corpses — a wall commanded by Ramsay's forces.
"Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" Umber's men cry out as they stab forward, slicing Tormund at one point. Wun Wun takes his fair share of hits from the spears, but delivers his own brutish power, ripping an Umber in half with ease. But the odds are severely stacked against the Stark loyalists, with Tormund getting ruthlessly beaten by Smalljon Umber, and Jon himself nearly suffocating under the weight of so many bodies.
Suddenly, horns start sounding, and the tides turn: the Knights of the Vale arrive, with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Sansa riding alongside them. They beat back all of the Umbers. Tormund bites open Smalljon's throat and stabs him in the face. Jon climbs over the bodies and emerges on the other side, sword in hand, Ramsay across the way. True to his nature, Ramsay turns and flees for Winterfell.
When he enters the castle, Ramsay gloats that the Stark army is gone, apparently paying no mind to the fact that his own army has been ruined by Littlefinger's reinforcements.
"They don't have the men to pull off a siege," he says. "All we have to do is wait."
But Wun Wun waits for no one. The giant smashes through Winterfell's front door, collapsing in a heap, finally succumbing to the hundreds of arrows and spears poking out of his body. Jon attempts to reach out to his giant friend, but before he can, Ramsay Bolton puts an arrow through Wun Wun's eye.
"You suggested one-on-one combat, didn't you? I've reconsidered," Ramsay tells Jon, loading up his bow. "I think that sounds like a wonderful idea."
As before, Ramsay looses three arrows at the Stark. As before, they all miss the mark, piercing Jon's shield. There isn't a fourth arrow. Jon reaches Ramsay just in time, pummeling him into the ground repeatedly. But before he beats Ramsay to death, Jon sees Sansa in the distance, and decides to hold back. What's the point? The battle is won, and the Starks have Winterfell again, evidenced by the Direwolf sigil hanging from the castle.
As the chaos settles down, Jon vows to bury his brother beside his father in Winterfell's crypts. Sansa decides to go into the underbelly of Winterfell as well, seeking out the imprisoned Ramsay Bolton. He's tied to a chair in a cell, blowing out bloody bubbles of air from his ruined teeth.
"Ah, Sansa," he wearily taunts. "Hello Sansa. Is this where I'll be staying now? No. Our time together is about to come to an end. That's alright. You can't kill me. I'm part of you now."
Sansa is firm in response: "Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear."
She backs those words up with action, as Ramsay's own dogs slowly stalk into his cell. Ramsay insists his pets will never harm him. Sansa thinks otherwise; they haven't been fed in seven days.
"They're loyal beasts," Ramsay swears.
"They were," Sansa replies. "Now? They're starving."
Indeed they are, as one of Ramsay's dogs saunters right up to his face, and smashes his teeth into the Bastard of Bolton's flesh. The others follow suit, ripping Ramsay apart, killing him just as he killed so many others. As for Sansa? She's walking away from the violent display, smirk on her face, like an action hero walking away from a massive explosion — just one more of House Stark's monstrous enemies erased from existence.
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