Updated: 20th April 2018

Game of Thrones recap: season six, episode nine Battle of the Bastards

Game of Thrones once more proves it is at its brutal best when dealing with the horrors of war

Spoiler alert: this blog is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sunday night and on Foxtel in Australia on Monday. Do not read unless you have watched season six, episode nine, which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 9pm, and is repeated in Australia on Showcase on Monday at 7.30pm AEST.

Maybe that was our mistake believing in kings.
And breathe. Game of Thrones is always at its brutal best when dealing with the horror of war and this excellent episode the best of the season was no exception. This was a taut and often terrifying hour in which scores were settled, battles waged and at the end the Stark banners hung once more from Winterfell. They did so at a terrible cost, however, and thousands died, on both sides. It was never comfortable to watch.

The tone was set early on when poor doomed Rickon ran for his life across the battlefield, desperately hoping his older brother would get to him before one of Ramsay Boltons arrows did. Watching at home, we knew he was bound to fail Ramsay doesnt start a game unless the odds are stacked in his favour and yet a small part of me couldnt help but will Jon on, hoping against hope that hed get to his brother in time. He didnt, of course, and what followed was a beautifully choreographed battle filled with chaos and mayhem. Intestines dripped from bodies, heads flew through the air and, brilliantly, we saw large parts of the action from Jons blurred vision as he slowly suffocated under the crush of dying men.

At that point I genuinely thought all was lost, that Sansa was right and Ramsay couldnt be beaten by conventional military tactics, that not even Jons talent for resurrection was going to be enough to see his raggle-taggle band win the day and that anyway the Stark brand is all about losing nobly in impossibly traumatic circumstances. That that dire prediction didnt happen was due to the arrival of Littlefinger for once apparently working no angles and the Knights of the Vale in a beautifully shot moment which also marked probably the only time Ive ever cheered the devious Petyr Baelish.

When the dust settled, there was little time for celebration and many reckonings still to come: with the surviving northern lords who didnt join the Stark cause and who must still be dealt with; between Jon and Sansa over Littlefingers future role; between Davos and Melisandre, after he found Shireens stag lying in the remains of her funeral pyre. The battle has been won, but if Game of Thrones tells us anything its that victory always comes at a price and the sweet taste of success has a nasty habit of turning to ashes in your mouth.

Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. My memory of you will disappear.

Ramsay Bolton finally pays the price for his awful ways. Photograph: HBO

One reckoning has already played out, however, as Sansa faced down her one-time husband, the blood from Jons beating dripping from his face, and then calmly fed him to his own dogs, in a moment that was both disturbing and horribly satisfying. For me at least, the most chilling part of the entire episode came not with the guts and gore of battle but with the small smile Sansa gave as she walked away leaving Ramsay to his fate. War is bleak and brutal and sometimes you pay the price in surprising ways: Sansa, cruelly mistreated few lines have ever been as devastating as her remark to Jon that no one can protect me has embraced her own darker side and that scene served notice that it is she and not Jon who will rule Winterfell. While her exhausted brother has to think about what and where his next battle will be and make no mistake Melisandre will be pushing him to march back north to face the Nights King Sansa will surely govern with the Machiavellian Littlefinger by her side. Will she make a good lady of Winterfell? In that, as in so many things on this show, the jury is out.

Tell your people what happened here. Tell them you lived by the grace of her majesty remind them what happened when Daenerys Stormborn came to Meereen.
So too is the verdict on Dany, who once again defaulted to burn them all mode before being talked out of it by Tyrions timely mention of her father. Does Dany have it within her to be a good queen? One of the interesting things about Game of Thrones is that it increasingly suggests she could fall either way. For now she remains on the side of the angels, listening to Tyrion and finding a compromise between her initial desire to raze Meereen to the ground and Tyrions more pragmatic approach. She suggests to Yara that just because they were both the daughters of bad men who were also bad kings it didnt mean they would have to rule in the same way. That said, surely I wasnt the only one to find it a bit rich that she was lecturing Yara about pillaging and plunder while commanding a Dothraki army whom she only recently convinced to join her in ravaging Westeros. One law for you, eh Dany

Additional notes
David Benioff and DB Weiss said before this season started that it was all about the women and so its proved with Sansa, Yara and Dany in the ascendant by episodes end.

All credit to director Miguel Sapochnik, who also shot the excellent Hardhome last season. This was a fantastically directed episode that made the most of its budget to present us with a battle that wouldnt have looked out of place on the big screen.

I cant help wondering what Brienne is going to make of Littlefinger. Im not sure thats a relationship thats going to work well.

Still, at least Tormund survived to flirt with her on her return.

It was a nice little touch that Tyrion recognised Theon wouldnt have found it easy growing up in Winterfell. This season has used Tyrion too much as comic relief it was great to see his astute understanding of human nature more to the fore.

Forget Daario or Jorah there was more chemistry between Dany and Yara in their brief scene than the Dragon Queen has had with anyone else on the show. Im almost rooting for these crazy kids to conquer worlds together. I never demand, but Im up for anything. Me too, Yara, me too.

Finally, a big well done for Grey Worm if I was going to save any of the despicable Masters it would have been the one played by Enzo Cilenti as well. We all have our weaknesses.

Violence count

One long orgy of violence Ian Whyte as Wun Wun on the battlefield. Photograph: HBO

In an episode that was essentially one long orgy of violence its impossible to note every act. But highlights included one siege of Meereen involving several slit throats, some burning ships and two dead Masters. One battle for Winterfell which featured flayed men, several dead horses, intestines spilling everywhere, stabbings, throat slittings, beheadings, men shot through with arrows and the deaths of both Rickon Stark and Wun Wun. Plus the end of Ramsay Bolton, beaten half to death by Jon Snow then fed to his dogs by Sansa. Truly the wrath of the Starks is something to behold.

Random Brit of the week
Goodbye to former basketball player turned actor Ian Whyte who started out in this show playing Gregor Clegane in season two before returning as Wun Wun, a giant of few words but great actions who pretty much singlehandedly kept Jon and co in the battle before his untimely death.

So what did you think? Was it the battle to end all battles? What did you make of Ramsays end and Sansas smile? And whats going to happen between Davos and Melisandre now that he knows about Shireen? As ever, all speculation and no spoilers welcome below

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jun/20/game-of-thrones-recap-season-six-episode-nine-the-battle-of-the-bastards