Warning: This article contains spoilers and speculation for future Game of Thrones episodes.
A battle is brewing up in the North, and weve nearly arrived at the first blows.
HBO this week released the names of the final two Game of Thrones episodes this season after theyappeared on HBO’s schedule. Confirmingearlier revealstranslated from Sky Germany, episode 9 is Battle of the Bastards and episode 10 is The Winds of Winter. The name of the season finalewhich is the same asGeorge R.R. Martins next book in theA Song of Ice and Fireseriescould mean anything,but the potential rumble for Winterfell is already building hype with fans.
First, the ninth episode of every Game of Thrones season to date has more than delivered. They can be devastatingNed Starks death, the Red Wedding, and Shireen Baratheons sacrifice were all ninth episodes. They’ve also depicted battles of epic proportions, like season 2s Battle of the Blackwater or season 4s Battle of Castle Black. On the surface, Battle of the Bastards will likely fall in line with an epic battle more than soul-crushing death, but were not ruling out the latter just yet.
Its definitely the biggest , Game of Thrones writer-producer Bryan Cogman told Entertainment Weekly of the then-unnamed battle in March. Weve always wanted to get to a placestory-wise and budget-wise and time-wise and resource-wisewhere we would be able to do a proper battle, with one army on one side, one army on another side.
The name Battle of the Bastards first appeared in fandom from initial set reports, although some have referred to it as BastardBowl in part to callback to often theorizedCleganebowl. Either way, it has a lot to live up to.
We have yet to see an official episode description and we dont yet know if the upcoming Battle of the Bastards will take up the whole thinglike with Blackwater and Watchers on the Wallor just be a significant part of it such as season 5s Hardhome. But the battle (and its ultimate outcome) will have a crucial effect on the real war, as Davos Seaworth told Lyanna Mormont: the one between the living and the dead.
But first, the fight for the North.
A tale of two bastards
Westeros is full of bastards of all shapes and sizestheres even one sitting on the Iron Throne right nowbut the titular bastards in the Battle of the Bastards are easy enough to identify: Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton. They couldnt be more different from each other, but they both have worn one of the lowest shrouds you can in Westeros, that of a bastard. And while theyve never met, they have every reason to want to kill each other.
According to public knowledge in Westeros, Jon is the product of Ned being unfaithful to his wife Catelynwhile away at war, although the belief that Jons parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, also known as R+L=J, is one of the most popular and best known fan theories Game of Thrones has to offer. He was raised alongside his Stark siblings, although he sometimes felt alienated due to his bastard status before joining the Nights Watch.
Jon has made enemies, but hes respected by many of his brothers and wildlings alike. He became the Lord Commander by popular vote and elected to let the wildlings pass through the gates before hes killed in a mutiny by a faction of the Nights Watch.
Ramsay on the other hand, was conceived when Roose Bolton raped a woman for marrying a miller without Roose’s consent beneath the tree where he had hanged her new husband. Ramsays mother came to visit Roose a year later with a baby in her arms. Roose could tell the boy was his son and let him live.
Indeed, Ramsay is a Bolton through and through. Hes manipulative and cruel, he has openly tortured and flayed his enemies (including removing Theon Greyjoys penis), raped and beat Sansa Stark, and hes not below kin-slaying. He may have been legitimized by Tommen Baratheon, but the moniker of bastard still haunts him; Sansa reminding him of his former status is one of the few times someones gotten to him.
Now Ramsay is the lord of Winterfell, which was given to the Boltons after the Red Wedding, while Jon abandoned the Nights Watch after executing the men who killed him. They both have men willing to fight for them.
There will be a Rickoning
Looking back, the matchup between the Starks and the Boltons seemed inevitable. Their rivalry dates back to just after the Long Night, according to The World of Ice and Fire, and since Game of Thrones began, the Boltons betrayed the Starks at the Red Wedding (Roose killed Robb himself), Ramsay raped, beat, and tortured Sansa, and they’renow holding the last legitimate male Stark south of the Wall as prisoner.
Any of those grievances are enough for the Starks to want revenge, but its the last one thats led brought them to where they are now.
In Book of the Stranger, shortly after the happy Stark reunion weve been waiting for, Jon receives a strongly worded letter from Winterfell. The letter is crass and a little repetitive, but Ramsays demands are clear. Hes holding Rickon hostage and he wants Sansa back. If he doesnt get her back hell kill every single person under Jons protection, feed Rickon to his dogs, and force Jon to watch as all of his men rape Sansa before killing him too.
Any hesitation Jon, still newly risen, had about going to war once again after a lifetime of fighting and death was gone. Now it was personal.
A wolf pack gathers
The Stark side may have more people we know and care aboutJon, Sansa, Davos, Melisandre, Tormund Giantsbane, and new fan favorite Lyanna Mormont to name a fewbut that matters little when the Boltons have more men.
When Ramsay proposes marching to Castle Black and murdering Jon (not knowing Alliser Thorne got to him first), Roose dismisses him because thats essentially crazy talk. But, as Ramsay points out, they have the forces of the Karstarks, the Umbers, and the Manderlys behind them, and thats more men than the rest of the Northern forces combined. And they have control of the North; according to Sansa, Ramsay has about 5,000 men who were prepared to march on Stannis.
Meanwhile, Tormund figures he has about 2,000 (and a giant) who could march and fight, which isnt nearly enough to match Ramsays numbers, and Brienne of Tarth is sent to Riverrun to try and recruit Sansas great-uncle Brynden Blackfish Tully for aid.
They need more men, which leads to Jon and Sansas trek to parlay with the Northern lords. Jon and Sansa may have the Mormonts (and their 62 men) on their side, but in some cases like the Glovers, Robbs follies have run too deep for them.
And of course, Melisandre, who believes Jon is the Prince That Was Promised and saw the great victory in the flames, will follow Jon to the end.
But more men may come in the form of the knights of the Vale. Littlefinger offered them at one point to Sansa, who refused after he left her with Ramsay, but according to the analyzation of the letter she wrote in The Broken Man, she might try to get them back.
Winter is comingand the dead with it
Well have to wait until Battle of the Bastards airs to see how it truly plays out, but given the size and scope of the battle it was impossible for Game of Thronesfilm it without some details getting out.
The biggest one? Easily Kit Harington in Stark colors on-set in Belfast seven months before the show revealed his resurrection; a shot of what appeared to be Jon in the first trailer also fueled that speculation.
The set reports revealed some of the players involved and even more evidence of Ramsays cruelty: the burning, flayed men shown in the trailer looks to occur around the Battle of the Bastards.
Snow v Snow: Dawn of Justice?
Ramsay needs to die; thats not really up for debate. But will he?
We dont have the answer to that just yet. Whats more likely is some of the people we know and love will die. Jon, as the subject of a giant prophecy who has a red priestess by his side, is probably safeand he probably didnt come back just to die so soon at Winterfell (although we could be wrong). Sansa hasnt been shown fighting just yet so she might be on the sidelines or stay at the camp. Everyone else? Good luck.
And while Ramsay has his men and cruelty, Jons got destiny (and hopefully six seasons of reasons to avenge the Starks) on his side.
I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell, Melisandre, deep in her crisis of faith, said of Jon before she resurrected him. An episode later, she called it the great victory.
We sure hope shes right.
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