BRR! BRR! You know the drill: spoiler time once again, and a couple of biggies this episode. Some bigger than Drogon.
Going against this season’s tradition of starting every episode up t’North, we find ourselves in Meereen which, at the end of the last episode, was being firebombed by the Master’s fleet of ships. Understandably, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is not impressed; sure it’s been a while since she was spirited away, but it was barely any time in the grand scheme of things. It even served her well, as she acquired an army of Dothraki (read: every tribe) in the process. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) actually looks sheepish as he answers to his queen on the how’s and why’s of the city being bombarded. Together with Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), the pair state their claims: that the Masters broke their agreement with Tyrion and, in attacking Meereen, they are being treacherous. Daenerys frees Rhaegal and Viserion from their prison – the pair are noticeably smaller than Drogon – and together the three destroy the Master’s army (all, somehow, without burning their fleet of ships. Convenient, right?).
The three Masters are informed that one of them is to be a sacrifice, at which two of them push forward the third, who is apparently of lower class. What bastards. As the third knees and begs for forgiveness, Grey Worm steps forward and slits the throats of the other two with one stroke. It is simultaneously hilarious and badass, and Tyrion informs the last Master that he return to whence he came and inform his followers that Daenerys is their queen. Touché.
Finally, the Dothraki army storm into the citadel and trample the Sons of the Harpy under their hooves. It has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Though it isn’t made clear whether each and every one is killed in the attack, it puts Daenerys in good stead for setting off for Westeros. She has an enormous army and she has ships, which are added to once again when Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) unexpectedly turn up on Dany’s doorstep. They detail the beef with their uncle Euron who – if you recall – murdered their father, contested Yara’s claim to the throne and is now after their heads. Oh, and he intends to marry Daenerys, which rankles her so much that she accepts Yara’s offer to support her claim to the throne (much to Tyrion’s distaste) on the condition that, should Daenerys be successful, the Iron Islands become an independent entity from the Seven Kingdoms. May this be the start of a long and fruitful… bromance? (What’s the female equivalent to “bromance” anyway?)
This episode is all about female empowerment and – as I’m sure we can all agree – it’s high time we get some of that on Game Of Thrones. But it has to be earned of course.
The main event this episode is obviously the titular Battle of the Bastards. As is customary in Game Of Thrones, episode 9 must always culminate in a stupendous fight sequence. The previous ones have been some of the best TV ever broadcast: the execution of Ned Stark (season 1), the Battle of Blackwater Bay (2), the Red Wedding (3), the Battle of Castle Black (4) and Drogon spiriting Dany away from the Sons of the Harpy (5). Battle of the Bastards is no different. It is spectacularly choreographed and shot, the shoot for which took a reported 25 days, and included 500 extras, 600 crew members and 70 horses. Dare we ask the cost?
But let’s start at the beginning. In discussion prior to the battle, Jon (Kit Harington) challenges Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) to one-on-one combat, as it should be, to spare their men. Ramsay declines, for he’s heard all about Jon; a full on assault it is. And then there’s Rickon (Art Parkinson): where exactly is he? Ramsay throws forth Shaggydog’s severed head as proof, and Sansa believes he is as good as dead. She and Jon argue over the matter: she knows Ramsay in ways Jon never will, she knows his cunning and love of making others suffer for enjoyment. But Jon is a war hero of course, he knows how to organise a battle in ways that Sansa doesn’t. He thinks it is worth trying to save Rickon. He also thinks that their army is big enough, though given Sansa’s raven to who-could-guess, we can bargain that we know exactly what she thinks of that.
The armies assemble and Ramsay steps forward – with Rickon, dragged along by a rope. He cuts him free. He tells him to run.
And run the boy does. Jon sees him first and rides forward to meet his younger brother. Ramsay is evidently baiting them both, separating Jon from his army and shooting arrows at the youngest Stark as he desperately tries to reach safety. Ramsay has shown himself a skilled archer time and again; it is clear that he is pretending to miss.
Until he doesn’t.
Rickon is speared through the heart, and dies lying on the ground choking on his own blood. One more Stark gone, and just like his companion Osha, Rickon was ultimately only brought back to die.
(Why the boy didn’t veer to the right or the left, we’ll never know.)
The Bolton army storms forward, the Northern-Wildling conglomerate does too and the fight is truly begun. Swords clash, limbs flail, spears tangle and horses collide is a fury and frenzy that is disorienting. Jon is luckier than the majority, for time and again an arrow hits an ally or a horse dispatches a foe. Tormund (Kritofer Hivju) and his wildlings run forth with gusto, yet after so long it is clear that the Bolton army is purely larger. They circle what is left of Jon’s army, trapping them against the (mostly) dead bodies of their own soldiers. Shields and spears barricade them in, and not even the lone giant can break through their wall.
Just as it looks as though all is lost, who is to appear upon the crest of the hill by Sansa and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). The Knights of the Vale storm down and break through the Bolton defences, reinvigorating the fight once again. Jon would do well to trust his sister it seems; she was right about the army, and she was right about what Ramsay would do to Rickon. Yet it is Littlefinger who we have to watch from hereon in. Somehow, in all of this mess that he helped to construct, he has emerged favourably and smelling of roses, having successfully absconded from the Lannisters in Kings Landing to a new Northern ruler. And let’s remember, Sansa will (or should be, for Jon is a bastard) queen of Winterfell, and presumably she will need a king. Let’s hope that is neither Littlefinger, or the whelp he is manipulating, Robin Arryn.
The Bolton army is decimated and Jon and the Northern-Wildlings storm into Winterfell, drop the Stark banners and take Ramsay, who Jon takes great relish in deploying his anger upon. He stops short of the mark when Sansa walks in. This is her revenge.
They tie Ramsay in the dungeons, bleeding and bruised but still intact and feed him to his starving dogs. The hounds rip off his face, before setting into his gut.
So where do we go from here? Chips are being set into place for season 7 (yipes). Let’s recap:
Daenerys has an army, a fleet, two Greyjoys, three (presumably) obedient dragons and no impending enemies. Will she finally set sail for Westeros? Ramsay Bolton is finally dead, and Sansa is (also presumably) Queen of Winterfell. Out of the Starks, only she, Jon, Arya and Bran survive. Will they encounter the other two in the next season? Also, Littlefinger is now in Sansa’s favour, but will Jon agree on the sentiment? What is Littlefinger set to gain? He clearly wants power, but what will he do next to get it?
Next week is a big one, too. Cersei finally has her trial, we have yet to hear of Bran, Meera and Benjen and Arya is set to leave Braavos. Episode 10 is on its way; who can believe it’s almost over for another year already?
(Also a sad goodbye to Iwan Rheon, who – in his portrayal of Ramsay Bolton – successfully became the most loathed bastard on TV.)