Soooooo. You guys see anything AMAZING lately?
Before I launch into this week’s recap,
Dog Cousins of House Bolton,
Woof. Sire. Bitch. Woof. Sire. Bitch. To your breed, your coat, your pack be true. Wolf be true. Woof. Sire. Bitch. Yes, I’m officially using the password. The scumbag Karstarks and Umbers have switched sides, so everyone is fair game. I can’t tell you what to do, but let’s face it, Ramsay is the ejaculate of satan and we’re dogs. I repeat: DOGS. This isn’t our lane. We’re the good guys. Sniffing butts. Pissing on shrubs. Catching frisbees. Things like that. We’re not supposed to be eating people and you know it. Check your fur. See any stripes on it? Right. Because we’re dogs, not fucking tigers. I know he has to go. You know he has to go. Yes, there’s a very clear loyalty clause, but the great Pawvention of Bonehenge in 411 BC absolutely set the defining precedent in the case of psychopaths or uniformed delivery persons. All I’m saying is that if you get the chance, you have to handle it.
Apologies in advance for the raven that carried this note. He’s a wicked shitter.
Yes, Ghost was not on the field for the eponymous battle. That’s because when he checked his fur he didn’t see stripes either, because he’s not a fucking bullseye. Thank god.
Any time the warning thing comes up after the HBO splash screen and doesn’t say “Nudity” or “Strong Sexual Content” I whine “Awwww.” As if I’ve been personally screwed. Judging by the head shaking and sighs it elicits from Lady Castleton, I’m guessing she finds it charming.
That said, I don’t know if I’ve started an episode of television —ever— with more anticipatory anxiety than this one. I’m not actually an anxious person at all. I have almost a dangerous lack of fucks to give. But after reading Petr’s excellent piece on all the Game of Thrones episode nines, which I believe was entitled “Shitting your pants once a year, whether you want to or not” I was a smidge tense. I never expected to lose some of the folks we lost in the other episode nines. So I was unreasonably worried. “Please don’t kill Davos,” I whispered to the Old Gods and the New Gods. “Please don’t kill Tyrion or Jon or Brienne or Missandei or Sansa or Tormund or Bronn or Pod. Please don’t kill that rocket-hot new Red Woman (whose name I simply cannot remember) until we see her naked, ideally with Gendry. Please don’t kill Ghost or Nymeria. Please don’t kill the Hound … again. And please, above all else, please keep Lyanna Mormont Safe because, in the words of R.E.M., she alone — she is the everything. Amen.”
A pine tar coated projectile is launched from the Master’s ship and falls like a meteorite into the helpless city of Meereen. Made me instantly wonder about the ungodly amount of ballast you’d have to factor in to offset the weight of that sort of ordinance, not to mention the cavitation of onboard catapults, but that’s probably just me. Some dude in Meereen takes one right in the grill, and upstairs, in the penthouse suite, Tyrion whistles past the graveyard, trying to make polite conversation with an incensed Dany.
Tyrion: So! How was Vaes Dothrak? I hear the horse sex this time of year is not to be missed!
Daenerys: I will attack every city in the entire world and reduce it to dust.
Tyrion: Yeah. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, I guess.
So let’s take a minute here to admire Tyrion. Because at first it seemed like Daenerys had those ice-cold “I’m gonna kill someone” eyes and he was kind of workshopping the right excuse.
Meereen is actually doing great, despite the fire and mayhem and, y’know fleet of murderers in the bay and all. They like you! They really really like you! I mean not everyone of course, no leader in history has ever, I mean ::tamps forehead with a silk hankie:: what you must understand is…
I was just scanning the pyramid room they were in and making sure there weren’t any lit braziers she could push over. I was fresh off praying that the show wouldn’t just off one of my favorite characters and seconds in, Tyrion feels like he’s in the crosshairs of the Mother of Dragons. But the thing is, he was right. The Masters had to attack. I suppose he should have known that a few episodes ago, and this is what Grey Worm meant when he suggested the Masters would ‘use’ him, but regardless, the best part of Tyrion is his keen mind. There hasn’t really been a single situation in his life where anyone who outranks him has ever valued that. He did an amazing job as Hand of the King, and yet his accomplishments were reattributed to others and he was viciously discarded. So we wouldn’t blame him if he opted to not speak truth to power, because it had never worked before. But he did anyway.
And this time, it worked.
And this is where we have to start to shift at least part of the credit to Daenerys. I’ve always enjoyed her scene stealing grandiose gestures. No one gets all nuded up in a fire pit and brings the heat like Daenerys Stormborn. That’s a fact. Haven’t ever been a huge fan of her, though. I tend to gravitate toward more of a ‘walk quietly and carry a big stick’ sort of hero figure. When they asked General Eisenhower about his former boss, the extroverted and outspoken Douglas P. MacArthur, he said “I studied dramatics under [him].” I love that quote. I’ve been hoping for a bit less Mac and a bit more Ike from the Khaleesi to end all Khaleesis, and thanks to Tyrion, we actually got it.
The transformation of Daenerys this week was almost too jarring. One minute she’s like “my plan is wholesale genocide!” She says it with such conviction that it’s alarming. What’s worse is that, since she’s surrounded herself with love slaves, people who literally owe her their lives, and servants, she’s been operating under the constant delusion that whatever plan she comes up with is, by virtue of her having thunk it, THE PLAN. Tyrion dispels that notion but offering another way to go about it and to her great credit, she listens.
She does kind of lash out “this is entirely different!”
“You’re talking about burning cities. It’s not entirely different.”
Some people have poked holes in the end of Good Will Hunting for fifteen “it’s not your faults” and BAM! He’s fixed! This was even less believable, but it somehow worked. It was as if Dany heard “there’s another option” for the first time and on top of that she could just go ahead and choose it. Now some people who aren’t necessarily Emilia Clarke believers will point to the lack of a tangible moment of realization on her face as proof of a deficit in her relative acting skill. I watched the scene several times and she’s stone-faced throughout. But a beat of understanding or catharsis about her similarity to her father must have happened because, without seeing her actually acquiesce to Tyrion’s plan, we smash to the parties on a granite lanai at the base of the pyramid.
The three main Masters: complete, disgusting douchebags in every conceivable way (more testament to the phenomenal casting on this show) are cocksure in their position, laying out the humbling terms for “The Beggar Queen” with the confidence of a man who assumes his right to own another man is divine law.
Daenerys is still sort of generally emotionless. “We obviously didn’t communicate clearly. We’re here to discuss your surrender, not mine.”
Now the Three Masters basically turn into the Khals. OHO they love a good joke. Uh, yeah! Us surrender? God you’re a dumb bitch! Can’t you see this battle is over? “It must be hard, adjusting to the new reality. Your reign is over!”
But they clearly didn’t get the memo about what the Mother of Dragons does to dayplayers who wear too much eye makeup. “My reign is just begun.” She says casually, and then Drogon BOMBS past them. If he’s not full size now, he’s certainly not on the junior varsity quidditch team anymore. What was that about how my dragons would be slaughtered?
Drogon plops down next to her and amazingly doesn’t crush any unsullied because he’s HUGE. Then he does a cool thing and basically makes a ramp of his wing for her to climb up onto his back with. Bad ass.
He takes flight and we get come sick aerial shots of Drogon in flight. As if by silent command, Rheagal and Viserion blast through a wall (where Tyrion unshackled them? I guess?) and for the first time since, like, season three, all the James boys are in the air.
We cut to a part of the city where, like, twenty-two Sons of the Harpy are murdering innocent civilians outside a gate for some reason. And then twenty-two million Dothraki ride them down. Um. Okay! This is the type of scene where HBO defenders are, like, “well this was a really expensive episode! They had to cut something!” Yeah. Here’s the thing: I hate that type of argument. If you’re HBO, the bird in the hand is one of the greatest television shows ever. Some would say the greatest. Spend the money. Spend whatever it takes. As a viewer, my only concern is a complete story that maintains the suspension of disbelief in a perfect continuum. Zero part of my concern is the prohibitive economics of any scene and the shoulder-shruggy acceptance that they couldn’t, for example, afford more than nineteen Sons of the Harpy. Like everyone else, the best experience happens when I’m spirited away by the story, not when I’m brought back to reality by the realities of cost. This show is the capo di tutti capi. HBO executives would do well to brush up on their Adam Smith: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Our interest is the best story possible, told using every means available, and to completion. We’ve all generally accepted that we’re getting one huge set piece per season because we ‘understand’ the economics. But HBO needs to take a hard look at expanding budgets for the remaining episodes, because things are only going to get bigger.
Anyway, that said, we see the Dothraki Horde charging full speed at a wall with Dreamy Daario at their head. He lops the head off the first Harpy’s Son and as it lolls casually end over end out of frame we get a great match cut of Drogon powering through the air. I know many people have knocked the dragon’s CGI in the past (and I’ll admit I don’t have the best eye for it) but I thought the dragon scenes looked amazing. They seemed to move the right way. When two of them opened fire, on what I’m guessing was the Master’s flagship, the streams of dragonfire seemed to cut through the hull as much as they burned it. The third dragon was still getting the hang of it all and just sort of prematurely firejaculating at things. But he’ll get it.
And in the legendary words of former Tywin Lannister actor Charles Dance’s second most notable role, that of Sardo Numspa in Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child, the battle was over “yoost like that.”
Makes you wonder a bit about why there was so much consternation and hand-wringing in the pyramid penthouse, like, 30 minutes before. Because this was pretty clear cut.
Back at the lanai, Grey Worm offers the Master’s guard the ability to leave if they want to. I thought they were new Unsullied, but he said “go home to your families,” so maybe they’re just mercs. Anyway, they drop their decorative curley-cue swords and bug out.
Tyrion, very casually, reminds the now shocked Masters that they made and broke a bargain, and that one of them must die. As if on cue, the two outside Masters offer up the middle one, citing that he’s lowborn. As if that talking point is going to sway this particular crew. He drops to a knee and Grey Worm, now fully healed, dispatches the two ‘highborn’ Masters with one fluid swing of his arm. Ahhh. So that’s what it looks like when an Unsullied has a bladed weapon! Like Kaiser Soze, Tyrion leaves one man alive to tell the tale, gently patting him on the shoulder as he walks past. There’s something that’s so easy and weirdly comforting about how Tyrion exerts his power. It’s an effortless genetic ability to always understand the stakes in every situation and react accordingly.
“Tell them what happened when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen.”
It’s quiet and relaxed. He has won. There’s no bluster or pageantry. He’s now just seeding the crops for the next harvest, and then he casually walks away, trailed by Grey Worm and Missandei.
Okay. Whew. Deep breath. We’re in the North, at long last. No one important died in Meereen. There was no culling of characters. Like Missandei gets a random arrow in her or something. The characters in Meereen are intact.
Which means that the stakes are now higher in the North. I’m starting to worry about a heart arrhythmia as a party of mounted men flying Flayed Man banners canters past for a parley.
And this is where things start to get really good.
Goddamn I love this show.
Jon Snow and Sansa Stark, with Ser Davos and Tormund, and of course the most important person in the universe behind them…
…sit across from Ramsay Bolton with Mountain Dew Karstark and Mountain Dew Umber behind him. Ramsay is predictably disgusting, leering at Sansa and thanking Jon for returning her to him. Jon, to his credit, isn’t rattled by the lasciviousness and the barely veiled contempt. He looks easy in the saddle, with even a relaxed smirk. When he speaks, his brogue comes out as rougher and more manly than Ramsay’s more trebled and enunciated speech. Let’s go one on one and end this right now, Jon suggests.
But that would require a game that wasn’t rigged, and that’s something that Ramsay can’t do.
I had gotten it into my mind that Ramsay is kind of a badass fighter himself. I guess it was that scene where he pretended to help Theon escape several seasons ago. Back then, when we looked at his face, we didn’t know he was evil personified. We didn’t know he was a mentally-ill psychopath. But as events took shape, and he achieved win after win after win, a pattern began to emerge, whether it was Roose Bolton or Osha the Wildling or Lady Bolton and her newborn. Ramsay doesn’t take chances. So he laughs off Jon’s suggestion and throws a barely noticeable glance behind him.
Shit. He didn’t expect this, and he plays right into Jon’s hands.
“I keep hearing about you, bastard” he says, the word curling in his mouth with acid and self-hatred, “The way people in the North talk about you, you’re the greatest swordsman who ever walked.”
That’s pretty great to hear, as a fan of Jon’s, frankly. Because we don’t know what Ramsay knows about Jon. But apparently, this whole time, little whispers of Jon’s greatness have been trickling south. Ramsay must have been irritated to no end about the stories of Ned’s bastard: stories which, in direct contrast to his own rise to power, feature words like leader and character and courage. And as Ramsay sat across from that sort of confident power, that battle-tested assurance, it rattled him. He doesn’t know if he can beat Jon one on one, but he knows his army is bigger and his army will beat Jon’s.
“Yes, you have the numbers, but will your men fight for you when they find out you won’t fight for them?”
Ramsay laughs again, and looks at Sansa. “Oh he’s good. He’s very good.”
I really loved this moment, because it’s like a true crazy person to talk to the person he’d been terrorizing and raping and torturing for months like a confidant. As if they were picking teams for an impromptu volleyball game and she grabbed a great digger. “Oh, you! Nice pick!” Ramsay says. He’s a madman, but not without his skills, so he seeks to regain control of the interaction by showing his pocket aces: he has Jon’s little brother.
“How do we know you have him?” Sansa asks, speaking for the first time. Epic-disappointment-and-complete-fuckhead SmallJon Umber throws down ShaggyDog’s head. Ramsay smirks. He reads them. He can feel their anger. They are Starks, after all, and Starks aren’t great with subtlety.
“Now,” Ramsay begins, “If you want to save-“
“You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well.” Sansa says and rides off. I was like, “YEAH, SANS!” She’s not sticking around for any more of this dick measuring. She knows Rickon is as good as dead. She’s not going to hear any more. You’re gonna die, bitch! And she’s out.
“She’s a fine woman, your sister. I look forward to having her back in my bed.” Ramsay says. And now, very noticeably, that confident smile and relaxed posture of Jon’s is gone. Now he’s tight, like a coiled spring, and for a second it almost feels like he’s going to make a run at Ramsay right there. But he doesn’t.
Ramsay finishes with a flourish of pompous douchebaggery, talking about his ravenous hounds and what parts of Jon’s men they’ll eat first, and with a smile he rides away, Jon looking after him with concern etched into every part of his expression. But Jon has shown his hand, his family is his weakness.
Now we’re in the command tent. Jon says if Ramsay was smart they’d just hole up and wait him out inside the walls, but Davos points out that Ramsay needs a decisive win.
Tormund worries aloud about the Bolton cavalry and Jon assures him there will be no pincer moves tomorrow. ::blink blink:: Tormund has no book learnin’. They won’t be able to hit you from the sides, Jon assures him.
“Good” says Tormund.
And so now I’m sure Tormund is going to get killed from the sides by a cavalry charge. Sigh.
“It’s crucial that we let them charge at us. They’ve got the numbers, we need the patience.” Says Davos. And here’s where I will beat my goddamn drum yet again for Davos Seaworth, who sees the board like a Tyrion, though with considerably less wine and panache. He’s clearheaded and 100% right. The only thing they can’t do on the morrow is charge Ramsay. It’s academic. The tactical plan that Davos lays out is the actual plan of the Battle of Cannae in the Second Punic War. It’s fairly simple, in theory. You use the enemies greater numbers and overconfidence against them. You actually allow them to cave the middle of your formation and you pull back. When your center finally stops fleeing and turns to fight, the enemy is now enveloped on three sides. In this way, Hannibal won one of the most spectacular and world-changing battles in human history. And possibly the bloodiest. The stories of Cannae are legendary, and the thing that really hits home is the carnage. The inevitable, plodding massacre of the Romans in the center by a slowly advancing Carthaginian line on three sides. Forty-five thousand Romans were slaughtered in the center of that battlefield, penned in like sheep, and unable to move or adjust as Hannibal’s crack troops hewed them down.
Davos’ plan was for them to be Hannibal and the Boltons to be the Romans. The only thing that mattered was the iron-clad rule that the Boltons be the ones that charge.
And so we know that it’s going to happen. Because Game of Thrones.
Before Sansa clears out, she voices her concern to Jon. Um, I’m the only one who actually knows this demon, and I’m telling you, he’s going to play you like a fiddle.
No he won’t.
Yes, he will.
No, he won’t.
Yes, he will.
I don’t know, but he will.
Okay. I hear you and I’ll be on the lookout for that. Anything else you want to tell me?
And this is where our fanbase will fracture a bit. Because maybe this should have been where Sansa goes …”dude, just give it one extra day. Call in sick. Because I may have a line on some heavy cav out of Fort Eyrie. Just give it a day before we send everyone we know to be killed.”
But it wasn’t to be. If you’re a Sansa fan, you’re like “fuck this man’s world bullshit where the ONLY VIABLE STARK HEIR doesn’t have a voice. I’m sick to death of people marginalizing my girl! You think people are attacking Winterfell to back a ‘Snow’? This coalition has no teeth without an actual Stark in it. And what Sansa says was 100 percent right! Rickon’s already lost. Ramsay is the one who lays traps! Does she have to fucking draw you a diagram in crayon, Jon Snow? DON’T DO WHAT HE WANTS YOU TO DO. HOW MUCH FUCKING CLEARER CAN I SAY IT?”
If you’re not a Sansa fan you’re like “Do you know how many lives you could have saved if you had just told your brother, the military commander, about even the possibility of these troops? Jon wasn’t rude to her. The second she said she knew Ramsay better, he said you’re right! Sorry he can’t magically translate your pop psychology 101 analysis of your rapist into a tactical battlefield strategy! You’ve spent your whole life being a victim and when the time comes to finally step up you basically do jack shit and then lie to your own brother. The brother you treated like shit for your whole life. You wouldn’t have even gotten Bear Island’s 62 men had Davos not been there. No one is lining up to ride into battle behind Sansa Stark. Or Lannister. Or Bolton. Yes, everyone feels awful for what you’ve been through, but jesus christ. One word. One mention of the Knights of the Vale and this would have been something completely different.”
Wherever your loyalties lie, we learned something key about Sansa, absolutely the most telling thing she’s ever said. When Jon promises to protect her, she says:
“No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.”
And guess what? She’s right. Because even though Jon begged for her to tell him about the Vale troops, in the end, had the battle played out the way it was going, Jon wouldn’t have protected her. Ramsay would have gotten her back. And his words would have ultimately been hollow.
With that line, at long last, Sansa — like her or not — has learned something that no Stark before her ever understood. There is an inherent cruelty to the world that being a “good guy” doesn’t stamp out. In the end, you only can rely on yourself.
Elsewhere in camp, Davos and Tormund are sighing about the same thing. They compare notes about their failed bosses, and Davos says “Maybe that’s our mistake: believing in kings.”
Tormund goes off for a drink, to set up a nice sour goat’s milk hangover for battle day. Davos walks off to think and not sleep and be exhausted for battle day. He thinks and walks. He thinks and walks far enough away from camp so that no one can hear him shitting his guts out.
Tormund laughs. “Happy shitting.”
For the record: Tyrion drinks and knows things. Davos thinks and walks. Makes you wonder what the other characters’ skills are, if they had to be distilled into just two things.
Jon pops in to the Red Witch’s tent. Any advice?
OH, I’M SURROUNDED BY A BUNCH OF GODDAMN GENIUSES IN THIS CAMP! ONE SAYS DON’T DO WHAT RAMSAY WANTS ME TO AND THE OTHER SAYS DON’T LOSE. GEE THANKS! IT’S LIKE HAVING MY OWN ORACLE OF DELPHI ON RETAINER.
Jon: Okay fine, but if I die, don’t rez me.
Mel: Sorry, gotta try.
Jon: Yeah, I command you.
Mel: Uh, I don’t work for you, hoss.
Jon: Well I don’t want to be in “Jon of the Dead”
Mel: Tough shit. If the Red God wants you back, you’re coming back. End of story.
Why did the Red God bring me back. Jon asks. Why?
“Maybe he only needs you for this small part of the plan. Maybe he brought you back to die again.”
As hard as this was to hear for Jon, somewhere in his psyche, this was a very helpful conversation, actually. Because it basically made him functionally immortal. Unlike others, for whom death is a finality, for him it’s only a waystation. Unlike everyone else, he can come back from it, like a bad paper cut. In any battle, a certain percentage of anyone’s mental real estate will be wrapped up in the looming scythe of the grim reaper, but Jon can just not worry himself about it. He may get what he wants, and die and be left dead, or he may be brought back, but what the Red Woman is saying is that the decision is very clearly NOT UP TO HIM. So he can just not worry about it. It’s interesting how that ends up playing out.
Shireen’s Burning Site
Now we see what a hero looks like. Davos stumbles upon the wooden stag he carved for Shireen and he realizes what happened to her. He turns and looks back toward camp with a resolute countenance of malice, and of course he’s going to go back and plunge his sword into Melisandre. But he doesn’t.
This is what a leader looks like. This is what self-control looks like. Because when someone you love is affronted, it stirs up a well of primal rage inside of you. The question is whether or not you act on it. Do you guide the rage or does the rage guide you?
Back in Meereen, Yara and Theon are standing in front of Daenerys and Tyrion. Tyrion is horsewhipping Theon verbally, and Theon is taking it. One of the benefits of having been Reek is that everything else is a goddamn summer cakewalk, especially a browbeating from a pint-sized Lannister at the edge of the world.
Things with Daenerys over the past few seasons have gotten so questionable that you see articles springing up all over the internet like “Is Daenerys Targaryen actually the bad guy of the show?” We’re not exactly sure how to feel about her.
But in this meeting, it is Daenerys, seemingly reborn through the Tyrion-inspired victory into an actual ruler, who is the story of this encounter. As Tyrion shames Theon, Daenerys is the one who cuts through the bullshit. She wants to know what they want in exchange for transport. In the conversation, a natural affinity is struck between Yara and The Unburnt. And they’re both, somehow, infinitely likable. The mildew-smelling pirate and the screech-queen who lists her titles any time things get hairy. A deal is stuck, and it’s kind of natural and marvelous. Two female leaders, both admittedly the offspring of shit fathers. Shaking arms like only men have before them. Even though it pulled us away from the tension in the north, it was important and powerful. That’s all we end up seeing of Dany, but man, I love V.2 or whatever iteration this is. Let’s keep this Mother of Dragons around.
Having said that, there’s no way in hell the Ironborn are done “reaving, roving or raiding.” You don’t take a fleet of pirates and magically turn them into midshipmen on the word of one person. It’s a pipe dream. Still, a very nice scene.
The Battle of the Bastards
And now we come to it. The very battle itself. The armies have taken the field and it’s a waiting game. They both need each other to make the first move.
Predictably, Ramsay leads Rickon out by a rope.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. My heart started to race, knowing what Ramsay is capable of. Rickon, a lamb, stands there placidly, accepting his fate. Ramsay holds up a dagger for everyone on the battlefield to see.
This might be the time where a commander, saaaaaay…Jon Snow, may have kind of thought “I feel like this might be a staged manipulation, designed to force me to make a tactical mistake.”
This also may be the time when we see Rickon Stark act like, y’know, a Stark. Or at least what we’ve come to identify as a Stark. Passionate, brave, and pretty dim. I think that about sums it up. Maybe a little brooding and possibly a tad self-righteous. Okay, so show us, Rickon! Go out like a Stark. Turn and bite Ramsay in the face! Kick him in the balls! Die FIGHTING! Show us the long list of survival tricks that Osha taught you over the last couple of years.
Nothing. Rickon knows nothing. He is the Mark Hamill of this movie: they’re not going to let him say one word, and he’s off and running.
I’m not going to get into all of the things Rickon could have done, because the fact of the matter is he was never going to make it anyway. Rickon Stark has been a plot thorn in the showrunner’s side from the get go, and when they wrote this scene fourteen months ago and killed him off, (and made sure during the battle to nail him a few more times for good measure and later to show him dead) they popped a bottle of hard cider and doused each other with it and licked it off of each other they were so fucking relieved.
So Jon, conversely, IS a Stark, and mounts his horse and is off at a full gallop before he has time to think. That’s because thinking isn’t always his friend, and in history, men have often thought themselves to death. Sometimes it takes a man of action to make the first move.
Now here’s where the fanbase will split on Jon. Based on responses from the poll last week, people believe in Jon. They think he’s the prince who was promised. So people love him. I love him, too. So is this ride the act of a selfless man or the final blunder of an overpowered moron?
Jon Snow, for the record, has never won a real battle. He’s had moments of personal success, but he got his fucking ass handed to him at Hardhome.
If you like Jon Snow, his ride was a necessity. The act of a selfless man propelled, COM-pelled by everything worth knowing to save his little brother. It had to be him. Yes, it put him in harm’s way and forced his army’s hand, but what could he do? Send other men to die in a rain of arrows? It was a split second decision and it had to be him. Because no one else has the do-over potential he has and no one else on that field loves Rickon as much as he does.
If you don’t like Jon Snow, you’ll point out that Davos lost the person he loved most in the world and still put on his grownup britches and went to work. Because there are things in this world bigger than passion. Just as Robb Stark. There’s duty to your men. There’s the larger picture of Westeros and the Night’s King and the fate of the entire world. Jon Snow, by riding forward, not only immediately lost the battle in one decision, but possibly ushered in the death of the world as well.
Because, barring some completely foreseen by everyone “surprise” ally showing up, he killed them all. It was over. Ramsay was like Iceman and Jon was like Maverick.
It took five full minutes from the time we saw Rickon for him to die on the ground at Jon’s feet. And then Jon charges Ramsay. Davos and Tormund are forced to order their men to charge as well. The trap closes around the Stark army. Jon’s horse is shot down. And then we get what was one of the most amazing shots in television history: Jon, takes off his sword belt, drops his scabbard and faces the oncoming Karstark cavalry charge.
It’s EXACTLY what happened to Stannis.
It was over. Stannis knew it. He pulled his blade and readied himself for the inevitable. It was over.
Jon does the EXACT SAME THING.
And my heart is racing because I’m not ready to see this fool killed again. I believe in him. This can’t be happening the way it appears to be happening.
And then, chaos.
Jon avoids the charge, his men catch up to him and it’s just a fucking donnybrook like nothing we’ve ever seen on camera. Chaos. Just the finest representation of battlefield chaos I’ve ever seen. And then Ramsay orders his archers to just drop arrows on everyone. Because who gives a shit? What’s a few less Karstarks? Like Edward Longshanks, we’ll hit our own guys but we’ll hit theirs, too! It’s a confluence of superior numbers and a sociopath as commander.
Now the arrows come down and the whole thing turns into muck and blood and more chaos. But, whether Jon is your huckleberry or not, he’s fighting like a wolf in the middle of all of that madness. If there was any doubt about whether or not Jon Snow is a BAMF, this scene put that question to rest once and for all. He was amazing. Slashing, dodging, parrying. A comrade is shot in the face inches from him. Hails of arrows miss him by a hair’s breadth.
He kills ten men in the space of two minutes and still Ramsay keeps raining arrows down on him. Bodies pile up, a huge mound of them, right in the center of the battlefield. Davos realizes his time for arrows won’t come, and with a growl he leads his men forward into the kill box. At the same time, Ramsay, who has outwitted, outplanned, and outfoxed his opponents, orders SmallJon Umber in for the coup de grace.
And SmallJon is pretty kick-ass, which only makes me angrier. Stupid fucking asshole. You’re leading your men to kill the house your family swore allegiance to for hundreds of years. What a piece of shit.
“Who owns the North?” He yells.
“We do!” His men yell back.
“Show me!” He says and they charge.
It’s over now. The Stark army is hemmed in and exhausted. The Boltons surround them and put up a shield wall. Wun Wun is full of arrows and didn’t think to bring, like, a big tree into battle to hit people with.
There’s a moment of silence as the phalanx sets up around the Starks and with a HOO HOO HOO they step forward and start the reaving. It’s just numbers at this point. Unless you can break the wall, it’s over.
Tormund gets slashed through the wall and I’m, like, “NO!” Because it’s starting to feel like Tormund will become the sacrificial lamb. But he reverses direction, sending his men toward the pile of bodies and the one possible way out of the fracas.
On the way, Jon is knocked over and so begins the most claustrophobic, helpless scene in TV history. The music kicks in as Jon is swarmed over. He’s dying, in front of our very eyes. Dying in the saddest and most pathetic and ignoble manner possible. A fuck you from Game of Thrones to all of us. I see your hero and I squash him like a fucking bug.
“NO NO!” I yelled.
It was the longest two minutes of television I’ve ever experienced. And then an arm, and Jon is willing himself, pulling himself North, out of the quagmire of death. Out of the scrum and to the light.
“CLIMB! CLIMB!” I’m yelling. “CLIMB, DAMN YOU, CLIMB!”
He breathes and all of us breathe and goddamn it, there’s hope in the world again.
And we get this amazing bookend to the Mhysa shot of Daenearys.
But as Jon looks around, it’s complete misery. His soldiers have no will left and are so pressed together they can’t even raise their arms. SmallJon Umber is one on one with Tormund and he’s fucking HAMMERING the Wildling’s face bloody with repeated head butts. It’s gruesome. Even Davos, who always knows the lay of the land, is looking around in a mini-panic. He and Jon lock eyes. There’s nothing left to do but be culled.
Then, a horn.
A horn sounds and the charge we all knew was coming finally comes. Sansa is somehow seated next to a smug-as-fuck looking Littlefinger, as the fully Arthurian, decked out head to toe in heavy plate Vale Cav comes charging in.
Tormund takes advantage of the distraction to bite a hole in SmallJon’s neck and then stab him in the face several times.
TORMUND LIVES, Y’ALL. TORMUND LIVES.
The Cavalry rends the Bolton line like Alexander the Great at Gaugamela and the Boltons fracture. Ramsay watches his forces get annihilated and turns away, but not before he and a filthy, mud-covered Jon lock eyes.
Jon and Tormund and Wun Wun take off to chase a fleeing Ramsay.
And here we get an interesting look from Sansa.
I contend that she was worried about her brother, charging without backup like that into danger.
Lady Castelton thinks Sansa was worried that Jon was going to be the one to kill Ramsay and take Winterfell.
It’s tough to say what she was thinking, but I’m sure you guys will debate the hell out of it in the comments.
Ramsay makes it to the city and immediately closes the gates. With a last effort, Wun Wun powers through them with no less courage than Magg the Mighty himself, and is killed with an arrow through the eye by Ramsay Bolton himself.
And now, it’s really over the other way. Ramsay is alone. Jon can have his men fill him with arrows and be done with it. But Jon instead drops his sword, picks up a Mormont shield and charges.
Mano y mano. One on one, like they did it in the old days.
But now Jon Snow is an animal. More beast than man. He is the complete result of every unspeakable violence he’s witnessed that day, not the least of which is the death of his little brother ten feet from him at the hands of this man.
Jon fights off three killing arrows and knocks Ramsay back, mounts him and starts to beat him down with lupine vengeance.
As he closes in on a killing blow, Jon sees Sansa there, watching, and he pulls back. Ramsay’s death is not his to own. It rightfully belongs to his sister, who has endured the most unspeakable of tortures at the hands of this monster.
After the battle, Sansa visits Ramsay in the kennels, where he has killed so many helpless people. We’ll never get the death we want for Ramsay, but a rigged game with him on the losing side, and his own hounds finishing him off is about as good as we can get.
As Sansa walks away, she allows herself the tiniest of smiles, and we, as an audience smile with her, as behind her, a man is disemboweled by hounds. And more than being happy, we’re fucking thrilled.
If you ever wonder about the power of good drama, look into your heart, and how you felt when Jon Snow was hitting Ramsay in the face over and over again. Look how you felt when that dog bit Ramsay in the face and we heard that motherfucker scream in pain. How satisfying was that scream? How long have we waited to see pain visited upon him?
Only the best show could make us all fall to that level of depravity and viciousness. Only the greatest show could get us to feel that amount of desperation and stress and pain and relief. We are all watching storytelling magic happen right in front of our eyes, and as we head into the final episode of the season, we can take a deep, deep sigh of relief.
The Boltons sigils will disgrace the north no more. They will be forgotten. Damnatio Memorae. The Stark sigil hangs from the walls of Winterfell once again, and for six more blessed, peaceful days, everything is right in the world.