'Game Of Thrones' – The 10 Most Important Moments In "Battle Of The Bastards"

HBO hasn't been shy about letting everyone know that "Battle of the Bastards" would feature the biggest battle we've seen on Game of Thrones and for the most part, it delivered. However, this episode wasn't just about the action. The bloody showdown between House Stark and House Bolton marked a huge turning point in the fortunes for many of the show's most important characters and a few major characters were wiped off the game board entirely.

Daenerys and Tyrion Reach an Understanding

Last's week episode concluded with a cliffhanger in Meereen, with Daenerys finally returning from her "sabbatical" to find the city of Meereen under siege courtesy of the Masters. From her perspective, things had clearly from bad to worse – a city at war with itself was now at literal war. The expression on her face, directed at Tyrion Lannister, said it all: What did you do to my city?

While the bulk of "Battle of the Bastards" was centered on the gruesome goings-ons in northern Westeros, the episode also found plenty of time to start tying up loose ends in Meereen and the relationship between the Imp and the Mother of Dragons was one of the most subtle-but-important of them all. It may have looked like Dany was prepared to give Tyrion a stern talking-to (or something much worse), but her newest advisor managed to talk his way out of this particular jam. After all, talking is his great talent. He notes that Meereen was peaceful and that the city was safe once more and commerce was returning. He had negotiated them out of a tight spot and prosperity was on the horizon. They're only being attacked because they were faring so well.

Daenerys is a woman of action, the kind of person who want making grand, sweeping decisions and pointing armies in the right direction. However, she lacks the tact and guile of Tyrion, who proved himself to be her most valuable new ally several times this episode. He not only explained the complicated situation with the Masters' fleet, he showed total fearlessness by standing up to his new boss and talking her down from considering drastic action that would have put her on the same psychopathic level as her father, the late Mad King. Madness runs in the Targaryen DNA, but with the help of someone as level-headed as Tyrion, those worst impulses may be kept in check. Not even Daario or the long-gone Jorah had the nerve to do that.

Terms of Surrender

In a rare Game of Thrones moment, the clash between Daenerys and the slavers wrapped up with an unqualified victory. Dany faced off against the bad guys and won. No strings attached. It was almost unpredictable in its predictability – it was such a traditional outcome that you don't expect to see it happen on this show.

Let's run down what happened real quick. Daenerys and her dragons, who seem to have fallen in line now that big, bad Drogon has been tamed, put on a show of roasting one of the enemy ships. An excessive show of force – that's Dany's power. Meanwhile, Tyrion kept the fleet's leaders busy in negotiations, offering a charming and malleable mouthpiece for them to bounce against. A masterful conversationalist – that's Tyrion in a nutshell. And then Grey Worm ruthlessly executed two of the Master leaders, leaving only one to tell the story of just how badly they got their butts handed to them. A man willing to get his hands dirty – that's Grey Worm. Toss in Varys and Missandei and Daario, briefly seen leading the Dothraki forces into battle, and you have a team that covers all of the bases. This wasn't just a definitive victory for Team Fire and Blood. This was a test run for how well they're going to operate across the Narrow Sea in Westeros...and they're looking pretty darn good.

The Targaryen/Greyjoy Alliance

Shippers, prepare your fan fiction. If there aren't thousands of pages of Yara Greyjoy/Daenerys Targaryen fanfic floating around the internet by the time the week is over, then I don't understand this planet anymore.

In all seriousness, the arrival of the Greyjoy siblings with their one hundred ships and their offer of loyalty is huge. Of all the great houses I could have imagined joining the Targaryen cause a few seasons ago, this was the absolute last one. But desperate times call for desperate measures and Yara and Dany hit it off instantly, kind-of-sort-of flirting their way toward an agreement. They will lend their power to Daenerys' cause and help her take the Iron Throne and she will deliver them the Iron Islands (and remove Euron from the picture). The one caveat, and this is a biggie, is that Yara must pledge to stop doing all of the pirate business that has defined her kingdom for centuries. In other words, Daenerys has demanded that her new ally swallow her pride and force her homeland to grow up. It's the kind of conversation that would have never ended well if Euron (or let's face it, just about any man) was involved. This season has leaned heavily on its female characters outsmarting the patriarchy, if not directly battling the men who dominate their world. In Daenerys and Yara, we have found two women sidestepping the traditional systems altogether to form a pact that could completely change their world. Westeros is a gigantic mess right now and this collection of people – dragon queens and pirates and sellswords and exiled lords and former slave soldiers and Dothraki warriors – may be the only thing that can save the kingdoms from themselves.

Also, when is Theon going to find time for a conversation with Grey Worm? If anyone is going to help him learn to cope with his condition, it's him. However, the verbal smackdown he gets from Tyrion, which is rooted way back in season one, was oddly satisfying.

The Death of Rickon Stark

The night before Jon Snow marches into battle, Sansa warns him about Ramsay Bolton. He will not play by any traditional rules, and he will never do what you expect them to do, and he will find a way to hurt them. In true Stark fashion, Jon is too stubborn to listen before the fight and in true Stark fashion, he plays right into Ramsay's hands once the battle begins. Jon's blunders on the field of battle are Ned Stark-level idiotic. He almost gets his entire army killed, starting his own self.

Sansa was right – Ramsay does have a plan and that plan involves letting the captive Rickon Stark loose and giving him the opportunity to flee toward the relative safety of his half-brother's army. This is Ramsay Bolton though, a sadist and a psychopath, so this little game also involves firing arrows at the youngest Stark as he flees. When young Rickon is struck down, erasing the Stark with the best claim to Winterfell from the list of the living, Jon does exactly what Ramsay wanted him to do. He abandons all pretense of strategy in a flurry of rage. All of the previous night's plans go right out the window and all of Team Stark suffers for it.

Of all the important characters on Game of Thrones, Rickon was arguably the least interesting. He was too young to be complicated or layered when we first met him and he's barely had any screen time since he has returned. His death hurts because it hurts Jon and Sansa and the Stark cause, not because we actually cared about the little git. The fallout from his death will be more interesting than he ever was in life.

Claustrophobia and Terror

Although the titular "Battle of the Bastards" is technically the biggest battle on Game of Thrones to date, it's a genuinely claustrophobic affair that emphasizes the confusion and terror of battle rather than a grand scope. It lacks the slow-burning tension of "Blackwater," the splattery joys of "Watchers on the Wall," and the fantastical scale of "Hardome," but it finds its own voice. No large conflict on this show has ever felt similar to another and that is something to celebrate.

Director Miguel Sapochnik takes his camera right into the chaos of the fight, watching as arrows rain down upon friend and foe alike and bodies pile high in the mud and allies trample each other to death in desperate retreats. His pre-battle shots, full of wide vistas and painterly compositions that are often unnervingly beautiful, contrast with the actual battle itself: close-ups of terrified and bloody faces, the frame filled with shields and spears, lingering close-ups of the living and the dead alike littering the battlefield. Soon enough, Jon's army is overwhelmed and completely surrounded on all sides. When Sapochnik does take his camera wide, it is only to sell just how compact things have gotten, how Jon's dwindling army literally has no room to breathe and no room to escape. These wide shots of the battle don't showcase anything exciting or epic – they showcase something grim and horrible, a brawl where Jon Snow can fall to the ground and almost perish from the feet of his own men and the bodies of those who have already fallen. Jon wears more plot armor than anyone else on this show, but watching him struggle to breathe as his army retreats over him is terrifying.

The most important thing about this fight, the aspect that may be lost in the wake of a sudden reversal in fortune, is that Jon Snow essentially lost the fight. He played right into Ramsay's trap and his men followed him into a slaughter. Jon may be our hero and one of the few truly noble people in Westeros, but he lost and he lost miserably. There was only one real hero in this fight and his name is Petyr Baelish. We'll get to him in a moment.

Battle of the Beards

Before the episode began, I would have put good money on Tormund Giantsbane not surviving the events of this episode. After all, he's a beloved character who could be removed from the plot without too much collateral damage. He felt like a goner. And while he does walk away from the battle, he tempts fate more than a few times, being one of the few wildlings bold enough to breach the line of Bolton shields (and getting beaten to hell for his efforts) before going head-to-head with Smalljon Umber, the Bolton bannerman who personally delivered Rickon to Ramsay in the first place.

Their fight is typical Game of Thrones: it's mean and nasty and brutal and Tormund only emerges victorious because he takes a page from the Book of Bronn and fights dirty, ripping out his opponent's throat with his teeth before repeatedly stabbing him in the face. The fact that Tormund was allowed to survive feels like it means one of two things. Either he has an important role to play in the events ahead or the showrunners have grown as fond of this burly warrior and his magnificent beard as we have.

Littlefinger, the Vale, and Future Promises

When all seems lost, the world's most predictable deus ex machina rides into the fray. Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish and the Knights of the Vale break the Bolton lines, decimate the infantry, and allow Jon and the remaining wildling forces to storm the gates of Winterfell. Without Littlefinger, who was quietly invited to the fight a few episodes ago by Sansa, Ramsay Bolton would still be Warden of the North and House Stark would have officially and fully fallen. As usual, the sneakiest man in Westeros managed to find himself on the winning end of a battle. That's his great talent, after all. He gambles on which team is going to come out ahead and aligns himself accordingly...and he's the best gambler in the Seven Kingdoms.

The fallout will be enormous, of course. Jon will have words with Sansa about why she didn't inform him of this potential ally, which is surely going to tear open a few wounds. More importantly, Littlefinger is essentially in position to ask for whatever he wants and we all know what he wants. He wants Sansa. Who is now Lady of Winterfell. Which makes her the Warden of the North. Littlefinger has never hidden his ambitions, and controlling the North as well as the Vale feels like the next big step for the schemer who would happily rule the ashes of the kingdom he helped burn down.

Jon Snow and the rest of Team Stark don't know Littlefinger like Sansa knows him. He is their strongest ally, the man who literally saved their lives. They will surely do anything to maintain this new alliance. We'll probably discover their proper definition of "anything" in the season finale.

Pour One Out For Wun-Wun

Although the losses in the battle for Winterfell were great, only one named character on Team Stark actually fell, but he will be gravely missed. Wun-Wun the giant, who began his existence as one of Game of Thrones' greatest special effects before evolving into a familiar and welcome presence, fell in the Winterfell courtyard. Although he endured dozens of arrows and countless stab wounds, one final arrow fired by Ramsay finished the job, taking one of the finest warriors in the continent off the board. He doesn't even get to finish his final touching exchange with Jon Snow before perishing.

In the grand scheme of things, Wun-Wun dying doesn't mean much. He's not a major player in the game – he was foot soldier, albeit a foot solder who can tear down castle gates with his bare hands and rip armored soldiers in two without breaking a sweat. He served as a constant reminder of the magical and the mysterious that lurk around the edges of Westeros. His presence in this battle helped us remember that there is more at stake than a family getting their castle back. After all, he's from a land that has already been taken by the dead. And the dead are coming.

Jon Versus Ramsay

The best and worst thing about Ramsay's final showdown with Jon is that he remains Ramsay until the bitter end. Even after realizing that he's lost and finally "agreeing" to Jon's initial suggestion of a one-on-one showdown, he begins firing away with a bow and arrow. In his eyes, fair fights are for cowards and weaklings. The thought of picking up a sword and engaging Jon in a proper fight between two warriors, is nothing short of contemptible. Ramsay is the anti-Stark.

It's telling that Jon is forced to drop Longclaw to defend himself from Ramsay's final, desperate assault. He picks up a shield to block the barrage of arrows and charges his opponent, knocking the Bolton bastard to the ground and going to work on him with his fists. In a century of so, people will sing songs of the the Battle of Winterfell, of how Jon Snow felled Ramsay Bolton in singe combat in the courtyard of the castle. They probably won't mention the part where it's reduced to a fistfight in the mud, where all sense of chivalry is cast aside in favor smashing in the face of a man you simply hate with every fiber of your being. There's no room for reality in songs. Like Ned Stark surviving the Tower of Joy thanks to luck and a well-timed backstab, Jon Snow's victory over House Bolton is as deeply unpleasant as these things can get.

Sansa Gets Her Justice

After terrorizing Westeros for nearly four seasons, Ramsay Bolton is dead, torn apart by his own hungry dogs as Sansa Stark looks on. It's hard to imagine a more appropriate end for such a monster and there was no one else more deserving to enact his demise. In true Stark fashion, Sansa passed the sentence and swung the sword. Well, she opened the dog kennels, but you get the point.

Sansa's justice (or her revenge, take your pick) has been a long time coming, with the seeds first planted during one of season five's most controversial storylines. Her marriage to Ramsay Bolton, and her abuse at his hands, inspired more think pieces and hot takes than anyone thought possible, but now it's clear that Game of Thrones has been playing the long game with her arc. If season five was about making Sansa a victim, season six was about her coming to terms with the violence she suffered and rising up to fight for herself, her family, and her honor. We can argue about the effectiveness of the arc, and we can argue about whether or not feeding your rapist to a couple of hounds is empowering or terrifying or both, but this particular chapter in the life of Sansa Stark has officially come to a close. Now it's time to break out those hot takes. All of the appropriate context now exists.

The most important detail here is not the actual death of Ramsay, although it was perversely satisfying to listen to him finally get a taste of his own brutal medicine. The takeaway here is that Sansa is the one who made this happen and that she didn't look away and that she even cracked a smile once the deed was done. Sansa, the poor little girl who just wanted to marry a brave knight, has become a hardened woman of the North. She has allowed a little bit of darkness into her soul. Like Jon, like Bran, and like Arya, she has had to become something of a monster to fight the monsters. And with literal monsters on the other side of the Wall, it's not a moment too soon.

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Spoiler Corner

Random speculation and book spoilers follow. Read at your own risk.

  • Gee, this season has been bringing up the Mad King a lot. More specifically, this season has gone out of its way several times to remind us that the last Targaryen ruler of Westeros stashed wildfire underneath the city and planned to ignite the whole thing when the Lannister army was at the gates of King's Landing. Anyone willing to bet on what Qyburn discovered last week and what Cersei is planning to do to save her skin and take down the High Sparrow?