Spoilers follow for Game of Thrones season six, episode nine, "Battle of the Bastards"
For the latter half of this episode, wildlings and Northmen cut each other to pieces with swords and arrows in increasingly brutal combat, in what was likely the biggest and most elaborate battle sequence in television history.
"In terms of numbers — number of extras, number of stuntmen, number of shooting days — it’s the biggest we’ve done," showrunner David Benioff told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year.
"We’ve always wanted to get to a place — story-wise and budget-wise and time-wise and resource-wise — where we would be able to do a proper battle, with one army on one side, one army on another side," Thrones writer Bryan Cogman told the magazine.
And, oh, did they pull it off. Plot-wise, the ultimate outcome, in which Jon Snow and his forces defeated Ramsay with a last-minute assist from Littlefinger and the knights of the Vale (who Sansa had secretly written to requesting aid), was pretty predictable.
But production-wise, the Battle of the Bastards was spectacular, easily topping any combat sequence we’ve seen on Thrones so far, thanks to director Miguel Sapochnik. And that stunning production and direction helped the episode become a tonal and emotional success — bringing home, for instance, just how desperate and beleaguered Jon’s army seemed to be against seemingly impossible odds.
Casualties of the Battle of the Bastards on the Stark side
The bodies piled up throughout the battle — literally so, since Jon’s army spent a good deal of time hemmed in by an enormous pile of corpses — but the main cast on the Stark side will live to fight another day.
Still, there were two big tearjerker moments for the good guys, albeit involving minor characters.
The first named casualty was, of course, Rickon Stark, the youngest of the Stark children, who became Ramsay’s prisoner earlier this season after being in hiding for a few years. Ramsay set Rickon free to run across the battlefield to his brother, but then shot a series of arrows at him, and eventually killed him.
Rickon wasn’t a particularly beloved or important character — until this week, he’d appeared onscreen for about 30 seconds in total in the past three years! But his death has resonance as the latest tragedy to befall our unfortunate Stark family of protagonists.
Furthermore, when Rickon’s name resurfaced in A Dance with Dragons, many book readers speculated that Martin had kept him in his back pocket to ultimately inherit Winterfell at the end of the series. Now it seems, though, that Martin may have only kept him in his back pocket so he’d have another Stark to dramatically kill off later on.
At the other end of the size spectrum, we have to sadly say goodbye to Wun Wun the giant.
Wun Wun was a definite star of the battle, and his strength and power heroically helped Jon’s army breach the walls of Winterfell, despite the fact that he took a seemingly endless series of arrow hits.
But because nothing can be easy on Game of Thrones, Wun Wun then took an arrow to the face from Ramsay and fell to his death.
His sacrifice, too, has some symbolic significance: He’s the only giant we knew of who was still alive, after we saw two of them die in a previous battle episode (season four’s "The Watchers on the Wall").
Ramsay Bolton finally, finally met his end
And of course, the casualty of the Battle of the Bastards that viewers will be most thrilled about is that one of the titular bastards — Ramsay Bolton — finally met his end.
There’s a strong case that Ramsay has been the worst things about Game of Thrones for years now. He’s a one-note sadist who nevertheless seems to constantly get his way in the show’s universe. Whenever he’s onscreen, gruesome torture and murder usually accompany him — but without much depth.
Once the Stark army breached the walls of Winterfell, Jon Snow gave Ramsay an incredibly damaging beatdown. But when he saw Sansa was watching, he backed off from delivering a killing blow.
That was left to Sansa, who finally got her revenge on her husband by letting his own hounds, which Ramsay hadn't fed for seven days, tear him to shreds in front of her. Sansa has of course been through the lot, so it's understandable, but that was still quite a dark moment for her.
What comes next for the North: Littlefinger’s arrival is a really interesting wrinkle
It’s true that Littlefinger’s eventual arrival in the North with an army to save Jon and Sansa is something that has been telegraphed since season five, and something that practically every fan predicted.
Still, I’m tremendously excited about it, because it introduces some very intriguing new political dynamics for the North next season.
Earlier this season, Baelish attempted to sow some doubts in Sansa’s mind about Jon, as a way to weasel himself back into her good graces. This, of course, led to Sansa surreptitiously writing to Littlefinger and requesting his assistance.
And now, Jon’s forces have been very, very badly depleted by this battle. So Littlefinger and his knights of the Vale — and, by extension, Sansa — seem to have the upper hand here in determining the future of the North. Plus, Jon and Sansa do owe him a very big favor.
So I look forward to seeing Jon and Sansa try to deal with the snake in their midst in season seven. I think it’s about time we dispensed with the repetitive and tiresome Ramsay Bolton strain of evil, and got back to Littlefinger’s clever and creative strain of evil.