“Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.”
Our long national nightmare with Ramsay Bolton is over, guys! As we all expected, “Battle of the Bastards,” the penultimate episode of this season six of Game of Thrones, ended with the death of one bastard: Ramsay Snow, who muscled his way into becoming Lord Bolton through sheer brutality, cunning and force, beaten into a bloody pulp by Jon Snow, onetime Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and member of House Stark, and then feasted upon by his own dogs.
This felt pretty inevitable over the course of the past few seasons as Ramsay grew more and more one-dimensionally villainous, and no one really thought Jon Snow would die AGAIN this week, did they? So in that sense, the last half-hour of “Battle of the Bastards” is an insanely visceral and chaotic ride, but it’s not a particularly surprising one. We’ve spent barely any time with Rickon, and once we saw him running in a straight line (everyone knows you zig-zag!) in a move straight out of Apocalypto, we knew his short life was coming to an end. Jon’s and Sansa’s narratives, if they continue to move forward, need to go through Ramsay, and after all this time, there’s very little left for Bolton to do. It was time for his death, and while “Battle of the Bastards” handled this all stylistically masterfully, this conclusion felt decided upon hours and seasons ago.
But still, there was a lot of well-done, thematically resonant stuff here. “They’re loyal beasts,” Ramsay says to Sansa, who is watching him through the bars of Winterfell’s cells. (The same place Ramsay watched his dogs eat his stepmother Lady Walda Frey and his new half-brother and his father Roose’s legitimate heir, if you recall.) “They were,” Sansa replies. “Now they’re starving.” As a line of direct dialogue gloating over Ramsay’s imminent demise, it’s great—but as a commentary on the entire state of the Seven Kingdoms so far, it’s accurate, too.
There have been battles, and wars, and violence in the name of kings, and kings killed, and men killed, and men disillusioned, and men hungry for something better. Ramsay’s dogs were loyal, until they devoured their master. The men of the various Five Kings were loyal, until their kings were killed, and they devoured each other. And now, as the Seven Kingdoms seem to be fracturing, at their most disintegrating, is the time for someone new to step up. Is that someone new Jon Snow, even though Tormund doesn’t see him as a king? Is that someone new Dany, who shows the true power of her dragons against the Masters?
“It’s what we have,” Jon Snow told Sansa of their rag-tag army of wildlings, Mormont men, and a few thousand others. It’s not nearly enough, but it’s what they’ve got. Working within limitations is something all of these characters have learned how to do, with suffering, hardship and trauma throughout. For the Starks at least, the limitation of Lord Bolton is finally gone. Whether it was worth the people they lost (Rickon, hundreds of wildlings, practically all of their army) and the alliances they made (with the likes of Littlefinger, who has had devious intentions for Sansa forever, and Melisandre, whose burning of Shireen is realized by Davos finding the Baratheon stag figurine he had given her) will be determined soon. Until then, let’s get into “Battle of the Bastards.”
+ “Remind them what happened when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen.” No, “Battle of the Bastards” wasn’t entirely about Jon and Ramsay, and yes, seeing Dany go full boss mode on the Masters is satisfying, gory fun. I could watch Drogon setting fire to shit all day! But there was more to this storyline than Dany flying around with her dragons and letting Yara flirt with her, so let’s look over some details, shall we?
At first, things seem bad for Tyrion, since Dany entrusted Meereen to him and then returns to a full-out attack by the Masters, whose catapults reach all the way to the highest level of the pyramid. It’s timely, since Tyrion is noting to Dany that “The people are behind you—well, not all of the people, of course.” But while Dany wants to “return their cities to the dirt,” Tyrion notes that there may be another way—some kind of compromise with the Masters, even though they already broke the agreement they made with Tyrion.
As men in power always do, the Masters think that when Dany, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Missandei appear before them, that it’s their privilege to dictate terms: “You will flee Slaver’s Bay on foot, like the beggar queen you are,” they gloat, and try to lay claim to the Unsullied, Missandei, and Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal, who they say they will kill. But Dany’s face when she says “We’re here to discuss your surrender, not mine,” is excellence, as is her calmness when Drogon’s gigantic fucking self appears out of the sky, protecting her behind his wing, and then taking her airborne, where they’re joined by Viserion and Rhaegal, who broke out of the pyramid. How could any of the Masters, upon seeing that sight, disagree with Dany’s “my reign has just begun”?
But what will Dany’s reign entail? Upon crushing the Masters, theoretically once and for all, she’s visited by Theon and Yara (how did their 100 ships sail through the Masters’ armada and the wreckage of what the dragons had destroyed?), who appeal for her help against Euron. The terms are these: Dany will accept Yara’s and Theon’s 100 ships and help Yara and Theon fight Euron, supporting Yara’s claim for the Salt Throne, but “no more reaving, roving, raiding, or raping,” which Yara surprisingly notes is “our way of life.” But if the Greyjoy siblings want the Queen of Dragons’s help, they’ll have to agree—and so they do, in exchange for the Iron Islands becoming independent when Dany is queen. They shake on it, united in their quest to “leave the world better than we found it,” in contrast to their fathers, who were “evil men” (Happy Father’s Day, from HBO!).
But all the people arguing that Dany is the real villain of Game of Thrones have some ammunition here, right? Because here goes Dany again, basically forcing would-be allies to her will and to her idea of what’s right. For Dany, the barbarity of the Iron Islands needs to stop—and she makes it the central point of her working with Theon and Yara. It’s an elimination of their culture that is, in a way, similar to what she did with the Masters: Dany thinks they’re wrong, and Dany is going to use force against that, and if you try to fuck with the blood of the dragon, her REAL dragons will make you pay. We talk a lot about power in Game of Thrones, but who truly has more power than Dany, and who ever could stop her? (Ahem, book readers, do we think Euron’s secret weapon will come into play?) And what other ways of life will Dany force into changing because of her confidence in that power? This is the kind of colonialism-danger story GRRM was trying to tell in Dany’s storyline in the books, and I’m curious how much more we’ll see as this alliance with the Greyjoys continues.
Also, I could watch Yara and Dany compare feminist bona fides and flirt ALL DAY. Yara’s shrugging “I never demand, but I’m up for anything, really,” was hilarious, and I wonder if she regrets not finding that whore in Volantis who was dressed like Dany that Tyrion saw Jorah visiting all that time ago. It’s a small world, Slaver’s Bay.
+ “Who owns the North?” Weakness doesn’t survive in the North—physical or mental—and there’s something deeply gratifying and also horrendously sad about Sansa’s smile when she walks away from Ramsay’s death. This new version of Sansa is harder, more practical, and more cynical than the girl we used to know, but this is what playing the game makes you. This is how you survive in the North. And if there is anything Sansa and the Starks need to do right now, it’s survive.
So much happens before Ramsay’s demise, though, and practically all of it is centered on Jon and Sansa, who face off against Ramsay together, fight amongst each other, and then meet again against Ramsay. This is the Stark family unsure of a way forward and wary of a chance at success but committed to attempting it anyway, and each of them makes mistakes.
Jon fails to acknowledge Sansa and her personal knowledge of Ramsay (“I know how he likes to hurt people. He’s the one who lays traps”), but Sansa is frustratingly vague in her descriptions about her husband (“Just don’t do what he wants you to do”), and she’s holding back from telling him about her relationship with Littlefinger and her letter to him requesting the Knights of the Vale, too, which certainly would have affected their battle plan. Jon thinks the way to success is by making Ramsay angry, but he forgets that Ramsay is truly in the position of power here—he has their home in Winterfell, he has leverage in the form of Rickon, and he has the trauma he inflicted on Sansa, the emotional devastation he’s wrought upon her. “If Ramsay wins, I’m not going back there alive. Do you understand me?” Sansa commands Jon, and her rejection of his promise of help cuts deep: “No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.”
So there’s tons of pressure upon Jon when he rides into battle the next morning, but all of the clues about how this is going to go are there. There’s Ramsay’s army, with hundreds of archers and hundreds of men on horseback. There are flayed men burning throughout the battle field, a living (or, I suppose, dying) manifestation of the House Bolton sigil. And then there’s Rickon, part of another of Ramsay’s games, shot to death by an arrow fired by Ramsay as he runs to Jon’s arms, Jon’s safety, Jon’s protection. The littlest Stark, the one who most needed his siblings—murdered as he ran to them. Jon wanted to make Ramsay angry, but Ramsay’s first blow is a brutal one—and, importantly, one fired from afar. Ramsay rejected Jon’s offer of a one-on-one duel, and Ramsay murders Rickon from what looks like hundreds of yards away. He can stab a dagger in his father’s gut, he can castrate Theon Greyjoy, he can rape Sansa—but Jon, he attacks from a distance. Jon, he knows not to fuck with. Jon is not a typical Stark.
What is there to say about this battle sequence aside from HOLY FUCKING SHIT, Y’ALL ARE GONNA WIN ALL THE EMMYS? Jon standing solo against the Bolton army’s galloping horses, raising Longclaw against the cavalry, only for his own forces to swarm around him at the final moment. That tracking shot of Jon, going all 300, slashing and hacking and bathing in Bolton blood as the chaos of the battle threatens to envelop him. The piles and piles of bodies, and the Bolton shields surrounding the remaining wildling forces and cutting them off. Tormund and the wildlings bailing and trying to escape, only to end up clashing with the Umbers—and Tormund biting out Lord Umber’s neck. (Revenge for Shaggydog!) Jon suffocating under the stampede of fighting bodies, finally clawing his way to the top of a sea of flesh, carnage, and violence.
The Knights of the Vale coming to the rescue like the Riders of Rohan, with Littlefinger’s smug ass satisfied as hell that Sansa asked for his aid. (Did Sansa leave to meet him somewhere? That was confusing.) Sansa’s face when she realizes, seeing Jon and Tormund and Wun Wun chase Ramsay, that Rickon is dead. Wun Wun’s death (for book readers, “I am the last of the giants…”), and the way Jon tries to reach for him before Ramsay shoots an arrow in Wun Wun’s eye.
And Jon’s face, so furious with rage, as he hunts down Ramsay, using a Mormont shield to catch his arrows, and then his look of resignation and exhaustion when he sees Sansa, watching Ramsay’s beating with something very close to triumph in her eyes. Stark banners flying over Winterfell again, where Rickon’s body will be buried in the crypt next to Ned’s. And yes, Sansa’s final smile at Ramsay’s death, at her victory over the Boltons. Arya may officially have her list of people to kill and her Faceless Man training to do it, and Bran may be the Three-Eyed Raven now, traveling through the past, but for fellow Starks Sansa and Jon, reclaiming Winterfell is an undeniable, unavoidable step forward for their family.
The North remembers, and Sansa and Jon have put power behind that saying by taking their home back from Lannister allies. What will Cersei think, or Jaime? What will happen to other Northern families like the Umbers, Glovers, and Karstarks, who had supported the Boltons? If there can be a King in the North, can there be a Queen in the North? What does the future hold for Jon and Sansa, both inside Winterfell and outside of it? Survival against the Boltons is great. But is survival against the Night’s King possible, too?
And finally, some odds and ends:
+ Where the hell was Ghost during this insane battle? Did all of the money for this week’s CGI get spent on Dany’s dragons and Meereen? Because I refuse to believe Ghost wouldn’t be all about ripping out some Bolton supporter throats, and yet … never seen once this episode.
+ I am going to need a gif of Grey Worm slitting those two masters’ throats IMMEDIATELY.
+ Tyrion warns Dany of her father Aerys’s madness, but also mentions the caches of wildfire Aerys had hidden throughout King’s Landing—including the Sept of Baelor, which happens to be where the High Sparrow has taken up residence and where Cersei’s judgment by septons will happen next week. Another clue that the “rumors” Cersei had Qyburn investigate were about wildfire, right? Perhaps a plan to burn down the Sept is in Cersei’s future?
+ So how did the Dothraki horde arrive in Meereen from Vaes Dothrak? Didn’t they need boats to get there? I am confused.
+ My nerdy, craving-continuity self is very happy that Drogon is HUGE, and also happy that Viserion and Rhaegal are appropriately smaller after being locked up in the base of the pyramid for so long.
+ Loved Drogon flying in the background of the shot when the Masters were lecturing Dany with “I imagine it’s difficult, adjusting to the new reality.” Nah, it’s pretty easy when you have dragons, actually.
+ When Yara asks Dany for her help, she requests assistance in murdering “one or two” uncles who don’t think Yara should rule. Is that another acknowledgment that the Drowned God priest is Uncle Aeron, who still hasn’t been mentioned by name on the show? ACKNOWLEDGE DAMPHAIR FOR US BOOK READERS, GODDAMMIT.
+ “Has the Iron Islands ever had a queen before?” “No more than Westeros.” Given Dany, Yara, Sansa, Margaery, and Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in Dorne (which, I beg, let’s never see them again), times are changing. #fighthepatriarchy, etc.
+ Liked the before-battle convo between Davos and Tormund this week, as two men who used to be on opposite sides—Davos supporting Stannis, Tormund supporting Mance—acknowledged their differences and similarities as they prepared to fight for Jon Snow. “I believed in him … I was wrong, just like you,” Tormund says, and it’s a stark reminder of how many would-be rulers we’ve cycled through at this point.
+ “Happy shitting!” may be the best thing Tormund has ever said. Best facial expression is still his leering at Brienne, though.
+ What exactly did Davos DID think happened to Shireen? Yes, he and Melisandre learned at the same time that Brienne executed Stannis. But he never asked Melisandre what happened to Selyse or Shireen? It’s been WEEKS, right? I refuse to believe he would have let this much time pass before asking about this little girl who he treated like his own daughter. Does not track with the Onion Knight we know.
+ Lyanna Mormont’s stank face GIVES ME LIFE.
+ “I wonder what parts they’ll try first. Your eyes? Your balls?” Oh, Ramsay. So glad your threats are over.
+ Can we PLEASE stop suggesting that Sansa is pregnant with Ramsay’s baby by cutting the shit with ambiguous lines like “You can’t kill me. I’m part of you now”? Because I swear, if Sansa is carrying Ramsay’s heir, I will have A LOT OF PROBLEMS UP IN HERE.
+ We haven’t had much time with Melisandre in the back half of this season, but I liked her interactions with Jon this week, from her “Don’t lose” piece of advice to her refusal to accept Jon’s demand not to resurrect him if he died. “Maybe he brought you here to die again” is a depressing-as-fuck analysis of the Lord of Light, but at least Melisandre is being honest about her inability to understand all of his signs. Plus, Jon’s question of “What kind of god would do something like that?” gets a good answer with “The one we’ve got,” a nice echo of Jon’s admonishment to Sansa earlier about their army. Jon may think he knows more than Sansa about the world, but Melisandre knows more than both of them. Bitch is like 1,000 years old! You don’t question that kind of life experience.
+ And finally, on next week’s finale, “The Winds of Winter”: The High Sparrow presides over Loras’s trial and we see Cersei, Margaery, and Tommen all get ready; Jon tells Sansa “We need to trust each other” before kissing her forehead (please, get out of my life, Jon/Sansa shippers); Jaime Lannister visits the Freys, where they echo the Red Wedding with “the Freys and the Lannisters send their regards”; Littlefinger creeps on Sansa under Winterfell’s weirwood tree with “I thought you knew what I wanted” (GROSS); Davos narcs out Melisandre’s killing of Shireen to Jon; it looks like Lancel is walking out of the Sept of Baelor; and Tyrion advises Dany that “the great game is terrifying.” See you then!