What an episode. I’m going to get right into it.
Spoiler warning: This post is filled to the brim with spoilers. Please watch the episode before reading this post!
We only got to spend time in two locations this episode, so I’ll just be splitting this recap into two parts: Meereen, and the North/Winterfell.
We begin the episode in Meereen, with the ships from Volantis who are still pummelling the city with flaming projectiles. Despite the present state of affairs, Tyrion is flapping his gums about all the good work he did in Meereen whilst he ruled in Daenerys’ absence. Daenerys appears less than impressed. However, Daenerys also has a plan to set everyone on fire and ruin the other cities. Tyrion reminds her that this is exactly what her crazy dad, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen the Second wanted to do before he was usurped by King Robert Baratheon. Tyrion makes a reference to wildfire that was located underneath the city back in the day, which makes me ponder about the next episode and whether we’ll see a fireworks show. Daenerys seems to be getting a bit like her father – generally wanting to set fire to everyone who opposes her. Tyrion suggests an alternate approach. I like watching these two together.
Daenerys and Tyrion then parley with the leaders of Volantis, Yunkai and Astapor; the people who are leading the assault on the city. They refuse to back down until they get what they want; that is, to regain power over Meereen and to get their slaves back. They refer to Daenerys as a ‘beggar queen’, and they want her and Tyrion to leave, but they want to keep her army and slaughter her dragons. Daenerys counters this linguistic attack by informing the leaders that they’re there to discuss their own surrender, not hers, and that her reign has only just begun. Drogon the dragon arrives, and is hugely massive. Daenerys hops on Drogon in a confident manner and flies him over the city, scaring everyone. The other two dragons, Viserion and Rhaegal, escape from their cavern, joining Daenerys and Drogon, flying with their brother and mother. Meanwhile, the Dothraki arrive at the gates of Meereen and slaughter the Sons of the Harpy who are hanging out in front. Daenerys instructs the dragons to set fire to some of the Volantene ships – they clearly have the upper hand. Daenerys has full control of the dragons now, and they obey her command.
Grey Worm speaks to the army who are supporting the leaders of Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis, and they run back home like losers. Tyrion informs the leaders that they’ll be keeping the ships that are leftover from the dominated Volantene fleet. The leaders have violated the pact that they brokered with Tyrion, and this cannot be forgiven – one of them must die. It turns out that two of them die, leaving the man who, ironically, used to be a slave trader, quivering in his boots. Tyrion’s dialogue here, and throughout this Meereen escapade, is so great. This payoff is almost worth it for all the plodding throughout Meereen this season, and particularly the time-wasting joking that occurred the last time we saw Tyrion and friends.
Later, Tyrion and Daenerys meet with my favourite pirates, Theon and Yara Greyjoy, in Daenerys’ throne room. Tyrion reflects upon the change in circumstances for Theon, as they haven’t seen one another since season one. Theon and Yara inform Tyrion and Daenerys that they have brought her 100 ships following the Kingsmoot at the Iron Islands. Theon wants Daenerys to support Yara in her bid to become Queen of the Iron Islands. They explain how their uncle Euron just swooped in and murdered their father, and took the crown for himself, and he plans to come and take Daenerys as his bride. Daenerys and Yara reflect upon the fact that they share a common story; daughters of terrible king fathers who were usurped. Yara and Theon broker a deal with Daenerys. Since Daenerys wants to take Westeros, and the Targaryens took the Iron Islands from the Greyjoys back in the day, if Theon and Yara are to help Daenerys in her quest then she should return the Iron Islands to the Greyjoys when she is successfully crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys agrees, provided that the Greyjoys respect Daenerys’ rule over Westeros and do not reave, raid, or rape the mainland anymore; essentially, to give up on their pirating roots. They agree to this, provided that Daenerys agrees for Yara to be crowned Queen of the Iron Islands. Yara and Daenerys shake hands.
That’s the end of Meereen for this episode! I loved seeing the Greyjoys and Daenerys together and actually talking, but it feels strange, like worlds colliding that almost shouldn’t be. Out of any of the Houses from Westeros, I never would have predicted Yara and Theon to be the ones to figure out a deal with Daenerys. But at the same time, I really enjoy it. And is it just me (spoiler: it’s not) who noted a bit of sexual tension between Daenerys and Yara? Great!
We’re about to experience the titular Battle of the Bastards, located in the outskirts of Winterfell. Ramsay Bolton and friends meet with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark and friends (including Tormund the wildling and my favourite Davos Seaworth). Ramsay gives a speech and wants Jon to kneel to him, but Jon politely declines. He invites Ramsay to a one on one fight, and Ramsay also politely declines. That’s not the way Game of Thrones works – we need a big battle scene in episode nine. Ramsay reminds Jon and Sansa that he has their little brother Rickon Stark, throwing them the head of his pet direwolf Shaggydog as evidence. Long story short, they all plan a battle for tomorrow morning.
Jon and friends plan out the battle strategy. However, Sansa warns Jon that he doesn’t know Ramsay like she does; she has some insight into the way his twisted mind works, and she knows that Ramsay will have some trick up his sleeve. Sansa also knows that Ramsay will kill Rickon one way or another, since Rickon is the biggest threat against Ramsay’s claim to the North. Sansa and Jon argue about what to do next. But Sansa is sure that if Ramsay wins, she will not return to him alive. Jon vows to protect Sansa, but Sansa says (quite accurately) that no one can really protect anyone.
Then, Tormund and Davos have a chat. I like seeing these two together. They chat about Davos’ loyalty to Stannis Baratheon, and Tormund’s loyalty to wildling king Mance Rayder. They reflect that perhaps their big mistake was believing in kings. Luckily, Jon Snow isn’t a king. Foreshadowing? Jon Snow takes the Iron Throne at the end of the seventh book? Who knows!
Davos then goes for a walk because it calms his nerves before battle. He discovers the pyre on which Shireen Baratheon was burned last season (still mad about it, to be honest). Davos discovers the figurine of the stag that he carved as a present for Shireen, amongst the burned remnants of the pyre. Davos instinctively knows that Shireen must have been burned. He looks back towards the camp. I know shit is going to go down between Davos and Melisandre next episode, and I can’t wait.
Jon asks Melisandre for advice about the battle and she says basically don’t lose. Jon doesn’t appear to find this particularly helpful, and tells Melisandre that if he dies, he doesn’t give his consent to be resuscitated. However, Melisandre confirms that she will revive him if that’s what the Lord of Light wants. Jon seems to think this is a cruel thing, but Melisandre is pretty matter of fact about her following of the orders of the Lord of Light, as she has been throughout her entire time on the show.
In the North before battle, the little Stark army spots the massive Bolton army. The Bolton army appears very well organised and well resourced. We see Ramsay Bolton leading someone out onto the field via a rope – it’s Rickon Stark. He cuts Rickon free and instructs him to play a game – run to your brother, the quicker the better. Ramsay has his crazy face on, and that’s how you know something bad is going to happen. As Rickon runs, and Jon Snow rides his horse towards him, Ramsay fires arrows at him, narrowly missing. There is some amazing cinematography in this scene. Rickon continues to run as Ramsay shoots arrows in the air. Just as Rickon makes it to Jon, he is shot through the heart with an arrow. He dies on the battlefield, the first casualty. The battle begins.
I’m not going to get too detailed on the battle part of the episode, because whilst watching I was mostly crying out “Noooo” and various expletives which I’m not able to post on here due to their severity and repetition. But holy moly was this battle tense, with some wonderful shots of arrows flying through the air, following them to their targets, and some of the most brutal murdering and viscera we’ve seen this season. Some moments of guts and blood reminded me of The Walking Dead. There was great music, thumping drums, increasing the tension as the battle went on. What I really loved was the escalation of brutality and threat as the Stark army dwindled, eventually fighting on top of piles of dead bodies. There was some amazing editing as we cut between Ramsay’s calm, focused demeanour and the frenzied, bloody chaos of the battlefield, where Jon Snow fought with god-like odds; somehow missing out on every blow that was aimed in his direction, and only getting squashed a little bit beneath the crush of bodies. Ramsay’s battle strategy was an interesting one, cornering the Stark army between shields and spears and a wall of dead bodies, until they were at his mercy.
But lo, a horn sounds in the distance! And just as we were wondering what Sansa was doing during the battle, and whether the time was truly up for the Stark army, the Knights of the Vale show up. Sansa’s letter a couple of episodes ago must have been sent to Littlefinger to enlist his help. And indeed, he’s sitting atop a horse, smirking next to Sansa. Sansa, really? Trusting this idiot again? Mistake. Although it certainly did work to their advantage here. Ramsay looks really annoyed. The Vale knights destroy Ramsay’s army, and Jon, Tormund and Wun Wun the giant (whose ripping of a man in half was one of my battle highlights) emerge from the scrum of bodies to see Ramsay escaping from the battlefield via horse, back to Winterfell like a real coward.
The Boltons shut the Winterfell gates, but they’re knocked in by the one and only Wun Wun, the best giant of all. Both armies have been well and truly devastated, but Ramsay still holds Winterfell and is enacting Plan B; just to wait things out in the safety of the castle. Wun Wun arrives, but he’s shot down by so many arrows – eventually, an arrow through his eye from Ramsay takes him down. Jon shares a look with Wun Wun as he collapses and dies.
Ramsay engages Jon in one on one combat like Jon suggested earlier, as Jon walks forward and blocks his arrows with a Bolton shield. Jon dominates Ramsay and punches him in the face, again and again, delivering to Ramsay what the viewers have wanted for a really long time. Sansa arrives, and Jon stops punching, knowing that it’s only right for Sansa to have the killing blow.
The Bolton banners are removed from Winterfell, and in one of the most beautiful moments of the entire series since the Starks ruined everything for literally everyone back in season one, the Stark banners are flown over Winterfell once more. Davos watches Melisandre from afar, holding Shireen’s stag figurine in his hands. Jon reveals that he plans to bury Rickon in the Winterfell crypt, next to Ned Stark. But Sansa wants to see Ramsay.
Sansa goes to see Ramsay, who is all bloodied up and tied to a chair in the kennels. They have a brief conversation where Ramsay acknowledges the damage he caused Sansa, continuing to take pleasure in it. Sansa tells Ramsay that he will disappear – his words, his name, his House, and all memory of him. Ramsay’s dogs begin to growl, and Sansa reminds Ramsay that he hasn’t fed them for seven days; they used to be loyal dogs, but now they’re starving. The dogs emerge, and Sansa watches as the dogs begin to lick the blood from his face. Ramsay begins to struggle, and in one of the more satisfying deaths of the show, we see the beginnings of Ramsay getting eaten alive by dogs. How ironic, given that this was one of his preferred methods of killing others. Sansa goes to walk away, but instead chooses to watch as he dies. When she is satisfied that he’s dead, she leaves, and the last we see of Sansa this episode is a satisfied smile as she walks back within her home, Winterfell, which belongs to the Starks once more.
What an episode. In a series of many and varied amazing episode nines, I do think this was one of the better ones; not as great as the classic season one and season three episode nines, but definitely better than last season. Great direction and cinematography, amazing music as per Ramin Djawadi’s usual fare, great editing and effects. Both the Meereen segment and the North segment of the episode were equally satisfying, as we see beloved characters affirming their places in positions of power. The game is well and truly progressing.
Next episode is the very last episode of season six! Entitled “The Winds of Winter”, the trailer for the next episode contains some killer moments. We get to see Cersei’s and Loras’ trial at the Great Sept of Baelor, Loras looking particularly rough, Sansa and Jon in a post-battle Winterfell having a chat about their many and varied enemies, the Freys and Jaime Lannister having a drink at the Twins (uh oh), Sansa and creepy Littlefinger (NO), Davos confronting Melisandre, Bran doing stuff, Daenerys and Daario, and Daenerys and Tyrion reflecting on their present circumstances. Looks to be a good one! Can’t wait!