And the winner of #BastardBowl is... Sansa Stark.
The much-awaited ninth instalment of this season, ominously called "Battle of the Bastards, delivered what it promised...with a twist. Subverting expectations, the episode began in Meereen, still under fire by the masters. (Has no one reminded them that Daenerys has DRAGONS? They are pushing their luck.) Inside the pyramid, Tyrion tries to reassure his queen that despite appearances, all is well. She doesn't buy it. "I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleet on fire. Kill every one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt," she vows. Tyrion points out that this smacks of the Mad King. "You once told me you knew what your father was," he says. "Did you know what his plan was for King's Landing?"
As we know, Aerys kept stores of wildfire under the Red Keep as a contingency plan. (This emphasis on the fire, combined with Cersei's conversation with Qyburn in the last episode, has me convinced that we're about to see something — or someone — go up in flames really soon.) Whatever, Tyrion. Daenerys just wants revenge, it's not the same at all. But is it? "You're talking about burning cities. It's not entirely different." So they try it his way. Sort of. A meeting with the masters reveals that if Daenerys surrenders, she will walk away from the city penniless. Her Unsullied will be sold; Missandei will be sold; and the dragons will be slaughtered. But wait, there has been a misunderstanding. As she puts it: "We're here to discuss your surrender, not mine." "Your reign is over," the master scoffs. "My reign has just begun." Right on cue, Drogon appears. There she goes, playing favourites again. (It's a satisfying sight, but also strangely disappointing. Can she not wield power without being on the back of a fire-breathing dragon?) We finally get to see the other two dragons, who have been locked under the pyramid for the last two seasons. The whole family has come to play. Down below though, things are not so badass. The good citizens of Meereen are getting slaughtered by stray Sons of the Harpy. Until, oh wait, here comes the Khalasar. Daenerys sets most of the fleet on fire, and the masters surrender. But there's a catch. One must die for the collective's crimes. A man is volunteered by his two more cowardly friends. Greyworm promptly kills those two. Tyrion warns the survivor: "Tell your people what happened here. Tell them you lived by the grace of her majesty." Basically, forget retribution. "Remind them what happened when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen."
Mansplaining Is Coming In the North, Jon is being kind of a dick. He and his posse are meeting with the Bolton crew, and he would rather Sansa didn't join. She stays. After a manly pissing contest of wits, Jon challenges Ramsay to one on one combat. This way, they can avoid the whole war thing. #BastardBowl Ramsay has other plans. He has the numbers, and so would rather not risk it. Instead, he goads Jon. "Will you let your little brother die because you're too proud to surrender?" Jon, of course, falls right for Ramsay's spiel. Sansa does not. "You're going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well." (YAAAS KWEEN!) Later, Ser Davos, Tormund and Jon plan for battle. Sansa looks bored. She clearly has ideas and no one is consulting her, something she makes clear to Jon after the others have left. "So, you've met the enemy, drawn up your battle plans. You've known him for the space of a single conversation," she spits. Yet, his "trusted advisors" are more qualified to judge what actions to take. Obviously. Because they have penises. "I lived with him. I know the way his mind works," she continues, adding: "Did it ever once occur to you that I might have some insight?" TBH, probably not. Jon tries to defend himself, but Sansa is on a roll. She's had enough of being sidelined. This is personal and Jon is walking into a trap. "Don't do what he wants you to do. If you had asked for my advice earlier, I would have told you not to attack Winterfell until we had more men." And then, the kicker: "If Ramsay wins, I'm not going back there alive. Do you understand me?" Jon is all "I'll protect you, I promise." "No one can protect me," she says. "No one can protect anyone."
Yanerys Shippers, Unite! Yara and Theon have finally reached their destination: the Meereen throne room. Tyrion is not overly fond of Theon, as the last time they met, the Greyjoy heir made quite a few lame jokes about his height. But the siblings press on, explaining why they're here (they want Daenerys' help) and what they have to offer (100 ships from the Iron fleet). Daenerys interrupts: "Has the Iron Islands ever had a queen before?" "No more than Westeros," Yara quips. We proceed to witness the beginning of a beautiful friendship that one can only hopes blossoms into many, many, many versions of fanfiction. These two would-be queens have a lot in common: their fathers were terrible kings, their brothers have been truly disappointing and they both have unapologetic sexual appetites. Euron, Yara explains, demands an alliance by marriage, whereas, "I never demand but I'm up for anything really." (I could literally hear the tweets flutter by as these words were uttered.) The final conclusion: Daenerys will back Yara's claim, if she backs her own claim in return. What's more, the Ironborn must stop all raids on Westeros. "No more." The two shake hands like the lady bosses that they are. Feminist hearts everywhere explode.
"Come, Bastard." Up north, the time has come. Both armies stand on the field of battle, separated only by a handful of burning flayed men. Ramsay approaches the no man's land, holding a rope. Rickon is attached. He unsheaths a dagger. Jon dismounts. After a tense moment, Ramsay cuts the rope that binds the youngest Stark child. "Do you like games little man?" he asks. "Let's play a game. Run to your brother." This cannot be good. Rickon starts walking towards the Stark camp, obviously confused. "No, you have to run remember, those are the rules." Rickon, along with the audience, suddenly realizes what this game is all about as Ramsay grabs a bow and arrow. At this, Jon loses his cool and gallops forward. Ugh. SANSA TOLD YOU NOT TO FALL FOR IT. The arrows miss Rickon until the last possible second. As Jon is getting to him, the final arrow goes right through the boy. Rickon dies in front of a distraught Jon. At this point, Tormund, who knows his friend, whispers: "Don't." In vain. Jon charges like the brainless, loyal fool he is. Will he never learn? Davos spent the entire battle planning session repeating that it was essential that Bolton charge first. The Stark army follows into what is possibly the most gruesome battle ever captured on television. There are bodies everywhere, literally mountains of them. And the living are fighting on the mounds of the dead. I won't give you the play-by-play of the battle, because I admit that I spent most of it hiding behind splayed fingers trying to avoid the squelching gut zoom-ins. But it suffices to say that what must happen happens. The Bolton army surrounds the Starks. It looks like the end. Jon almost gets trampled to death and emerges into a teaming mass of men, cornered and about to die a terribly violent death. BUT THEN!
A bugle sounds. The Knights of the Vale are here! (Game of Thrones' trusty last-minute-save-by-random-army trick strikes again!)
As many suspected, the letter that we saw Sansa writing two episodes ago was addressed to Littlefinger, who stands alongside her now. She has saved the day and she knows it. Her face bears the most exquisite expression of disdain and triumph. Jon, still eager to prove himself, spies Ramsay running back towards Winterfell. He follows. Ramsay takes shelter in the castle, probably forgetting that the other side has Wun Wun, who is quite capable of taking down a measly wooden gate. He does, but not without injury. As Jon watches, Ramsay deals Wun Wun a final blow by arrow, killing him. "You suggested one-on-one combat didn't you?" Ramsay says. "I've reconsidered. I think that sounds like a wonderful idea." He shoots off some more arrows at Jon, who, seeing it coming, has grabbed a shield. This is pretty much the end for Ramsay. Jon literally beats him to a pulp.
Kween In The North As the Stark banners are unfurled over Winterfell once again (I cheered), they bring in Rickon's body. "I'm going to bury my brother in the crypt, next to my father," Jon declares. But Sansa has business with him first: "Jon. Where is he?" He, of course, refers to Ramsay, who is still alive, and tied up in the kennel. He wakes to a quietly staring Sansa. "You can't kill me," he jeers at her. "I'm part of you now." Her reply is scathing: "Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear." And then, the growl. How fitting. "My hounds will never harm me," Ramsay says. "They're loyal beasts." Except oops, he hasn't fed them in seven days. Poor planning on his part. "They were," Sansa responds. "Now they're starving." One by one, the hounds appear. Ramsay panics. We hear him pleading with his beasts. The attack comes swiftly and violently as Ramsay succumbs to the same death he has inflicted on countless others. Poetic justice has never been so satisfying. (In all honesty, it's all a little too clean for my taste, but I'm so happy they've finally killed him off that I'll let it slide.) Sansa watches as the dogs rip her torturer to shreds. As he shrieks, she turns and leaves him to his fate. At the door, she smiles. She has won, but at what cost?
Random Thoughts: - Tormund's confusion about Stannis' metaphorical "demons" proves why he is the much needed comic relief on this show. In other words, please don't kill him. He and Brienne have unfinished business of the sexy variety. - Ser Davos staring at Melisandre after having found the embers of Shireen's pyre does not bode well. Those two are due for some closure.