[WARNING – This article contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 9, as well as open discussion of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
Like in seasons before, Game of Thrones season 6's ninth episode was not to be missed. 'Battle of the Bastards' was climactic in epic fashion, taking us up and close with not one battle, but two. The first was the war raging in Meereen as the Slave Masters' forces mercilessly attack the city. The second was the episode's title match, which didn't comprise nearly as much of the one hour runtime as expected, but was still absolutely thrilling to behold. These were also the only two plots the ninth episode checked in on, giving its full focus to the horrors of war.
An Alliance Forged of Fire and Iron
After Daenerys and Tyrion combined their strengths - his for talking, her's for dragonfire - proving again what a formidable team they make, the Slavers' siege was ended almost as quickly as it began. Now seated atop her pyramid, Daenerys is again the undisputed ruler of Meereen. Meaning, it may be time she start getting serious about making her way across the Narrow Sea, lest she is challenged again - except, she still needs more ships. Those ships of the Slave Masters' fleet she didn't have her dragons set aflame will surely help, but they aren't enough.
Enter the Greyjoys, specifically Yara and Theon with their lion's share (kraken's share?) of the Iron Fleet. And though we knew this was coming, it's still jarring to see it come to pass so quickly. Still, they've arrived and the deal is struck: in return for supplying the necessary ships to bring Daenerys' army to Westeros, and presumably aiding her in the war for the Iron Throne, Dany will grant the Iron Islands sovereignty with Yara as their queen. There's a catch, however, as Dany also demands the Ironborn no longer "reave, rove, raid, or rape" along the coast of Westeros. This has Yara taken aback, seeing as reaving is the very foundation of which Ironborn culture is built, but she agrees nonetheless. (Though it remains to be seen how the men she commands will react.)
Though their meeting was telegraphed like so many of season 6's "surprises", the recognition Daenerys and Yara share as being kindred spirits - both determined women vying to rule in a man's world - is palpable, and it promises to be an interesting new element for the upcoming finale and season 7. As for this ever happening in the novels, I wouldn't count on it. Yara (née Asha) isn't on her way to Meereen, she's still a prisoner of Stannis Baratheon (yeah, that's how different and far behind some of these novel narratives are), and it's instead her other uncle, Victarion who's sailed the fleet to Meereen on Euron's orders. There's a very good chance Victarion will betray Euron, however, presenting himself as possible husband instead of bringing Euron's proposal, but it still leaves Daenerys' needing to choose between the ships she needs and another marriage. There's also the whole 'Victarion has a magical, dragon-controlling horn', which places what's happening on the show and what could presumably happen in the books even further apart.
Still, until The Winds of Winter is published, what's happening on the show is the best intel we have, and what it's suggesting is Daenerys, an invading Targaryen, will arrive in Westeros aboard Greyjoy ships. That's going to unsettle most if not all of those currently in Westeros, potentially setting up a clash between two forces that audiences have come to like. The true battle between Ice and Fire is still very likely White Walkers vs Dragons, but who's to say someone like Jon Snow or Sansa will immediately ally themselves with an invading army? Is Daenerys about to strike deals with every ruling lord, leaving herself less than Seven Kingdom to rule over? It'll be interesting to see how the Dragon Queen is received once she returns home, but she also better keep minding Tyrion's advice, unless she wants to add another name to her list of titles: the Mad Queen. (Also, please note we have yet another mention of King Aerys' stockpile of wildfire, and specifically that which is stored under the Sept of Baelor. Hmm...)
The Battle of the Bastards
Here we have again an event which fans have been expecting all season long - the Battle of the Bastards, Jon Snow vs Ramsey Bolton. To say this battle was hyped would be selling it short, as ever since rumors of its enormity began to surface audiences have been waiting for this showdown with bated breath. And Game of Thrones did not disappoint, with director Miguel Sapochnik and a crew of hundreds of stunt performers outdoing themselves, even topping last year's impressive sequence in 'Hardhome'.
However, as has been a recurring theme in season 6, we have no such battle from the books with which to compare. Presumably, this is where events are heading, with Ramsey having sent his taunting letter in the novels even before Jon was murdered and resurrected. For history nerds (of which there are many among ASOIAF fans), 'Battle of the Bastards' did pull influence from several real world battles, including the English victory at the Battle of Agincourt, the Roman defeat at the Battle of Cannae, and the unbelievable carnage of the American Civil War. Yet, there's no mistaking that a battle of this intensity is better served visually than it ever could be on the page, and getting to witness the medieval brutality up close - especially in what is a breathtaking tracking shot of Jon fighting his way through the field of battle - makes for an unforgettable episode.
With the battle over and Winterfell won, it's easy to feel relief for the Starks. After seasons of unimaginable losses (including yet another last night, as poor Rickon was mercilessly killed), giving the family a win is a very welcomed change of pace. But on Game of Thrones, nothing is ever that easy. Though he eventually won the day, it seems highly unlikely Jon will be able to serve at Winterfell as its lord, raising questions of just what he'll do next? Because let's be honest, even if Jon's true parentage is what we all suspect, and even if that's revealed to audiences this season, it won't be common knowledge in the kingdom anytime soon. And if it's Sansa who's placed in control, will she be forced to marry? She may now have earned herself enough clout (more on that below) that she can decide whether or not that happens, but even still, where does this place the North in relation to the Crown?
Tommen still rules the Seven Kingdoms, and while Roose was Warden of the North he was loyal. Then Ramsey took over and that loyalty was thrown into doubt, though he didn't hang around long enough for it to ever really matter in the South. Now he's gone and the Starks rule the North once again. Do we really expect them to bend the knee? Obviously, King's Landing is embroiled in its own drama which is likely to come to head in the finale, so we may not learn what consequence the Battle of the Bastards has for the kingdom as a whole until next season. After all, if Cersei is planning to blow up the Sept of Baelor with a cache of wildfire, there may not even be a king next season. Could we be witnessing the disillusion of the Seven Kingdoms? The North may use this opportunity to truly break from the Crown, as had been the plan when they crowned Robb the King in the North. And with Sansa being the oldest known surviving legitimate child of Ned, how about Queen in the North? It has a nice ring to it.
Hell Hath No Fury
Without question, Sansa has emerged as one of Game of Thrones most compelling characters. From the onset she was a character few really liked, often overshadowed by her more adventurous sister and painted as naive and foolish girl who was only ever a pawn in others' plans. But over the course of six seasons, Sansa has transformed into a formidable woman, one who could easily find herself ruling the largest territory within the Seven Kingdoms on her own terms.
For book readers, what makes this so interesting is wondering just how will she reach this point in the novels? The whole plot of Sansa being married to Ramsey is one that didn't and won't happen in the novels, meaning she won't be seeking bloody vengeance for his abuse. There is another character that Sansa could see herself married to, and he seems to be a real jerk, but Ser Harrold Hardyng is nowhere near the sadist Ramsey was. With Sansa still in The Vale as of A Dance With Dragons (and The Winds of Winter, according to preview chapters) presumably her continued ascension to being one of the most powerful women in Westeros will occur there, as there seems little reason for her to travel to Winterfell just yet. And in The Vale she has one ally, only one person who knows her true heritage - Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. While masquerading as his bastard daughter, Alayne, Sansa has grown in confidence, even finding ways in which she can bend Littlefinger to her will. That will undoubtedly continue, but just how and when she'll be able to eventually tip the scales of their relationship in her favor, as she has on the show, remains to be seen.
On Game of Thrones, her "alliance" with Littlefinger proved to be what won the Starks the day in the Battle of the Bastards, for the battle was all but lost until the Knights of the Vale arrived. Now the Stark cause is once again indebted to Littlefinger, which is a precarious position to say the least. Surely, Jon won't be all too happy when he learns of the dealing Sansa was doing behind his back, possibly causing a rift between the recently reunited half-siblings (or cousins?). More importantly, in what we can glean from the next time preview, Littlefinger seems to think he's owed for his timely arrival on the battlefield, but I wouldn't be so sure. Supplying the Knights of the Vale was supposed to his way of paying Sansa back for setting her up with the absolute worst husband imaginable, making them for all intents and purposes, even.
Sansa has just had her first taste of true power, and she likely won't be ceding control all too easily after that. Like a true Stark, she was one to pass the sentence on Ramsey and swing the sword-- er, release the hounds. This is significant moment of progression for her character, and it would be downright unbelievable were she simply to back down and accept whatever it is Littlefinger suggests. Then again, Sansa may see a way to use Littlefinger's very obvious interest in her to her own advantage. She has, after all, been in the company of some of Westeros' best players - Margaery, Tyrion, and now Littlefinger - making it entirely plausible she'll find a way to use Littlefinger's affection. We got a taste of that in their tense meeting earlier this season, and one could argue Sansa has only been strengthened through the justice she served Ramsey. (That small smile when she's walking away from the kennels really says it all.) In the end, Littlefinger may come to regret taking Sansa under his wing.
Game of Thrones season 6 will conclude next Sunday with ‘The Winds of Winter’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: