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Forget the Clegane Bowl. That’s fan fiction until proven otherwise. Another “bowl” is almost upon us: the Snow Bowl — or the “Battle of the Bastards,” as Game of Thrones is officially calling it — pitting Northern bastards Jon (Kit Harington) and Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) against one another.
The ninth episode of the Emmy-winning HBO show’s sixth year continues the series’ even-seasoned tradition of loading its penultimate hour with furious action. Like season two’s “Blackwater” and season four’s “Watchers on the Wall,” the upcoming “Battle of the Bastards” sees two distinct armies colliding in spectacular fashion, with one major exception: The outcome is far from certain, given that this fight has not yet taken place in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire source material.
Not that expanding on the books is unfamiliar territory for episode director Miguel Sapochnik, who also helmed season five’s riveting “Hardhome.” And just as that shocking battle was never going to kill off Jon Snow — at least not permanently — the same should be expected of “Battle of the Bastards.” Fresh from death’s door and back in the land of the living, Jon’s odds of winning the war for Winterfell are strong, and not just because of his own proverbial plot armor.
Examining the numbers on both sides of the battlefield, Ramsay Bolton looks to have the advantage, holding a commanding lead of thousands and thousands of able-bodied soldiers in the North. Jon, meanwhile, has amassed an army consisting of some Night’s Watch allies, the Free Folk, and 62 Bear Islanders. Even with a giant on his side, it’s not exactly an even fight. But that doesn’t account for Jon’s seasoned experience in war time, nor does it account for Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and the Knights of the Vale, sure to join the fray despite Sansa (Sophie Turner) protesting otherwise. (In fact, the letter Sansa wrote at the end of “The Broken Man” looks to be an eleventh hour abandonment of her strict “No Littlefinger” policy.)
“Battles have been won against greater odds,” Snow says in the preview for the episode. “I fought beyond the Wall against worse than Ramsay Bolton.”
He certainly has a point, but so does Sansa, who quickly reminds her half-brother: “You don’t know Ramsay Bolton.” Other than knowing Ramsay through the written word, Jon really doesn’t fully comprehend what this monster is capable of — and it should be noted that even if Ramsay doesn’t win the day, he has enough power to put a dent into House Stark, considering he still holds Rickon (Art Parkinson) hostage. Even if Jon and Sansa win the day, it might not come without great cost to their family.
It’s why so many fans have held on to hopes for a “Grand Northern Conspiracy,” the term given to the idea that House Umber, for one, is not actually loyal to House Bolton, but is secretly working for House Stark. There’s a much better case for the theory in the books than in the show, where supposed Stark supporters willingly surrendered Rickon to a known psychopath — but it never hurts to hope.
Regardless of outcome, expect “Battle of the Bastards” to not only live up to the great Game of Thrones battle sequences of the past, but possibly even surpass it, based on the amount of effort poured into bringing the sequence to life.
“We had 86 hours of footage when we finished,” Kristofer Hivju, who plays Tormund Giantsbane, told THR about shooting the episode. “Some of the things we did, it felt like it was impossible. When you look at the storyboards, and the plans … it shouldn’t have been possible to do. It’s extremely ambitious. I know everybody — [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] and the directors and producers — really put their heads together to do something that’s just unique.”
Viewers will put their eyes on the unique episode Sunday, and when they do, they should count on a Jon Snow win, even if it’s bittersweet. After all, winter is coming — and there must be a Stark in Winterfell when the coldest winds finally reach Westeros.
Watch the below video for more on the final battles of the season.
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