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[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season six, episode nine of HBO’s Game of Thrones.]
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Cersei Lannister’s (Lena Headey) haunting words to Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) have echoed throughout Game of Thrones‘ history, effectively serving as the show’s unofficial slogan. But there’s another phrase that would work as well: “Bad things happen to good people.” How else to explain Ned’s death, the Red Wedding and all the other atrocities committed along the way?
But in comes “Battle of the Bastards,” the penultimate episode of season six, to bust up the idea that the good guys never win. This time, they won decisively, as Jon Snow (Kit Harington) successfully led his army in the “Bastard Bowl,” beating Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) with the help of Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and the Knights of the Vale.
Who knows what Littlefinger is scheming for Jon Snow; that’s a future problem. And yes, we lost two treasured characters, but they can be mourned later. For now, focus on the prize at hand, as good finally won out over evil in what’s easily the most epic Game of Thrones battle yet.
Here are all of the biggest moments from the episode:
1. Knots Untie
In A Song of Ice and Fire, the novels on which Thrones is based, the Daenerys Targaryen storyline has become known among fans as “The Meereenese Knot,” referring to its intricate nature, difficult to unspool in just one or even two books. But the show exhibited its ability to burn right through the rope at the start of “Battle of the Bastards,” as Dany set the slavers on fire, thwarting their campaign in one deft move. Who knew the Bastard Bowl wouldn’t be the only rock star battle of the episode?
2. Flight of the Dragons
At the end of “Blood of My Blood,” Daenerys delivered an uproarious speech, one that cemented her new alliance with the Dothraki. But it also proved Dany’s mastery over Drogon, famously uncontrollable in the past. If that message went over viewers’ heads then, it’s received loud and clear now, as Dany not only flew Drogon over the slavers in this episode, but successfully directed him to target and incinerate a specific ship. Dany’s dragon skills are no laughing matter anymore, if they ever were at all.
3. An Iron Alliance
Who else is ‘shipping Daenerys and Yara, aside from the two leaders themselves? While marriage isn’t quite on the table (even if Yara is “up for anything”), the Dragon Queen and the aspiring Queen of the Iron Islands have become friends, promising to help each other in their respective bids to win the Iron Throne and the Salt Throne. It’s one of the great new alliances of the show, giving purpose to the Greyjoy storyline in a very real way.
4. A Promise of Fire
One last note on the battle at Meereen. Before Dany flies into action, Tyrion warns her not to follow in her father’s footsteps: “He had caches of wildfire under the Red Keep,” among all the other “major thoroughfares.” In other words, Aerys Targaryen stocked King’s Landing with wildfire in case of emergency. Guess who might be breaking the emergency glass on Westeros‘ equivalent of napalm in the near future?
5. The Ghost of Shireen Baratheon
Let’s turn to the North, but before the battle, there’s a discovery: Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) stumbles upon the remains of Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram), deducing what fans already know: She was burned alive by Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Expect whatever peace existed between these two to erupt in the season finale.
6. Rickon Rolled
It was hard to have much hope for Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), given the odds against him. Even his own sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner), didn’t feel confident in her brother’s chances of surviving. But the way he went out — at the mercy of one of Ramsay’s twisted games — was especially brutal, a memorable exit for a character who wasn’t always so front-of-mind.
7. Wun Wun Lost Lost
Pour one out for the greatest giant in Game of Thrones history, at least outside of Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Not only was Wun Wun a beloved hero in the show’s recent seasons, he was also arguably the most valuable player in the Bastard Bowl, knocking out shields and busting into Winterfell just in the nick of time. If he had to die, at least it was a giant-sized sendoff.
8. The Dogs of War
Here’s one death everyone can celebrate: Ramsay Bolton, ripped to shreds by his own dogs. It would have been nice if Ghost had gotten to sink his teeth into the Bastard of Bolton, but it is what it is. At the very least, the cruelest killer in Westeros is now literally dog meat, dead and forgotten as the show marches toward its end game.
9. The Flayed Child
Then again, how forgotten is Ramsay after all? Consider some of his final words to Sansa: “You can’t kill me. I’m part of you now.” Does he mean that he’s tortured Sansa so effectively that she’ll never wipe him from her mind? Or does he mean something even more suggestive and sinister — that Sansa is pregnant with his child? It’s not a pleasant thought to contemplate, but one that should be considered as we march into the final episode of the season.
10. A Time for Wolves
But enough dwelling on the negative. In what’s easily one of Game of Thrones‘ most unforgettable installments of all time, the good guys finally won, albeit with some major casualties. For the first time since season two, the Starks reign supreme in Winterfell. The wolves are back in a position of power, right when the Seven Kingdoms needs them the most — because even if House Bolton is in ruins, never forget that winter is coming, with White Walkers set to brush up against the Wall any day now.
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