Always bet on a hound to get the last word on "Game of Thrones."

Thank you, GoT. Season 6, Episode 9, "Battle of the Bastards," redeemed itself -- or the showrunners redeemed themselves -- after last week's questionable Really, THAT's How Arya Survived? disappointment. The brilliant, powerful, incredibly shot "Battle of the Bastards" was perfectly satisfying on two fronts -- Winterfell and Meereen -- and not because it was a total win for our two "Ice" and "Fire" heroes. Neither side completely won. That said, the gains were huge:

WINS

• Thanks to Sansa Stark's smart-thinking to send a raven to Littlefinger, the knights of the Vale rode into the Battle of the Bastards just in time to save Jon Snow and our losing heroes.

Ramsay Bolton's cowardice was not rewarded. He rejected single combat, trusting his superior army numbers. However, when his army was defeated, he tried for a siege in Winterfell. When Wun-Wun blasted that theory, he tried to shoot arrows at Jon. That didn't work either. So...

• Jon Snow got to beat the living crap out of Ramsay Bolton. That was gorgeous.


Even better...

• It looked like GoT might pull a move from "The Walking Dead" comic with Ramsay kept in a jail cell, but no. The plan was much, much better. Sansa visited the tied-up Ramsay and told him he'd be forgotten soon, then showed him his killers would be his own hounds. Ramsay had starved them for seven days, expecting to turn them on the Starks, but instead Sansa sicced them on their daddy. Ramsay thought they'd be loyal, but no starving hound is loyal to anything other than his or her stomach. Hearing his screams as she walked away = priceless. Happy Father's Day, Ramsay. Happy Revenge Day, Sansa.


• The Stark banner flies once more above Winterfell, where it belongs.

Daenerys Targaryen saved the day in burning Meereen by riding Drogon while Viserion and Rhaegal finally got to see some action, burning enemy ships. She also compromised, no choosing total Death By Fire, ala her father the Mad King, showing she can be diplomatic. (Also, that wildfire reference will probably come into play in the finale, since it's most likely the "rumor" Qyburn and Cersei were talking about.)

• Two of the three masters were killed, with Tyrion Lannister telling the living one to go home and spread the word that Queen D is a BAMF and maybe stop trying to make slavery happen in Meereen.

Yara and Theon Greyjoy beat Euron to Meereen and Dany and Yara shook hands (and flirted?) on a deal for the Greyjoys to give Dany ships and back her claim for the Iron Throne, in exchange for her support for Yara as queen of the Iron Islands.

However...

LOSSES

• Sansa was right: They were never going to get Rickon Stark back. Ramsay played one of his games, setting Rickon free, then shooting arrows at him as the youngest Stark ran for his life, trying to get to Jon in time. Ramsay shot him dead, and there went the heir apparent. Even if Sansa knew it would happen, losing Rickon was huge for the Stark family. Ned. Robb. Catelyn. And now Rickon. This would affect us, as viewers, more if we had been able to follow Rickon and Osha when they parted from Bran's group. But that was not the choice. RIP, little man, we wish we had known you better. Shaggydog is waiting for you in Westeros heaven.

• Wun-Wun died after breaking into Winterfell to prevent a siege. He had so many arrows in him. RIP, hero.

Davos now finally knows what Melisandre did to Shireen, or at least suggested that Stannis do. He's not happy. But what is he going to do about it?

• Yara agreed to no more reaving, raping, and roming from Iron Island-ers, but will she stick to that, when that's pretty much their thing? Same question to the Dothraki, though. That's probably what they're looking forward to when they cross the Narrow Sea to Westeros. Dany is anti-rape and pillaging, though, so how is that going to work?

• The North is still in disarray, after so many casualties. Plus, the finale promo (see end of recap) showed the Freys and the Lannisters are working together again. Can everyone somehow come together to face the real threat, the White Walkers? And who will rule Winterfell -- Sansa or Jon?

• Meereen is also still in disarray, after casualties and an unclear future. How is Dany going to dis-engage from this -- leaving Grey Worm and Missandei in charge and leave for Westeros?


Check out this Inside the Episode video for more:

Next week is the finale, and there are so many loose ends to tie up. Can it possibly top this awesome? And will we finally get the end of that Tower of Joy scene, revealing that there were (at least) two Targaryen warriors in action tonight?


Read on for a full recap of Episode 9:

PREVIOUSLY: The "previously on" reminds us that it was Sansa's idea to fight for Winterfell, and when Jon wanted to fight with the men they had, she wrote her letter (to Littlefinger). We also see Shireen, and the two sets of Greyjoys ready to head out to Meereen, just in time for the old masters to attack the city.

THE MAP: Even though it looks like we're only visiting two story locations this week, the map takes us to King's Landing, Riverrun, Winterfell, The Wall, Braavos, and Meereen.

BATTLE FOR MEEREEN
The episode actually starts with the battle in Meereen. Daenerys doesn't seem amused by how Tyrion Lannister has run things in her absence, but -- to be fair -- she fled on a dragon when the city was trying to kill her, so it's not like they liked her more. She stares Tyrion down as he tries to defend his decisions, saying Meereen is on the rise. Dany says she's going to set the masters on fire and free the people, etc. Tyrion says the Mad King's plan for King's Landing was to use caches of wildfire to burn all of the citizens. That's why Jaime killed him. (Cersei's plan for King's Landing now?) Tyrion wants an alternate approach for Meereen, but they are wasting time with this chat when the masters are attacking. What's his plan? Outside, one of the masters says he offered them peace but if she hadn't been so arrogant she could've left in ships. But now she'll leave on foot like the beggar queen she is.

So this is the "terms are rejected and accepted" of the synopsis? Tricksy.

Dany says they must not have communicated clearly, since they are here for the masters's surrender, not hers. They laugh and say her reign is over but she says her reign has just begun. She always has these confident mic drop moments. Cue the dragons! it's Drogon again, he appears to be better with his timing and easier to ride now. Where are the other two, though? They always miss out on the fun stuff, and they were locked up for Drogon's misbehavior, which was never fair. But wait! No! They finally get to join the fight, without their own riders (for now). On a second front, a giant horde of Dothraki ride over and slaughter the Sons of the Harpy. Dany drops her "Dracarys" line to Drogon to set enemy ships on fire. So she isn't just killing everyone, like the Mad King, she's being more discerning.

While Dany rides around setting foes on fire, Grey Worm lays down the law on the masters's soldiers. So they lose their armies. Tyrion thanks them for the free ships for their queen. (haha) Tyrion is upset that the masters betrayed them, and Missandei says their queen wants one of them to die. (Love Tyrion's line about other people's deaths being abstract.) So of course one sells another under the bus, saying kill him, he's an outsider. The two "sellers" are killed, the target outsider is spared and Tyrion tells him to go spread the word to his people. Diplomacy in action!

Halfway through the episode we return to Meereen and ... it's a reunion for Tyrion and Theon! Last time Tyrion saw Theon, Theon was poking fun of Tyrion. Now Dany gets to meet Theon and Yara. Theon tells Tyrion he didn't actually murder the Stark boys but he did things that were just as bad. Tyrion does the talking in the meeting. They brought Dany 100 ships. She figures they want her to back Theon's rule, but no they want Yara. Has the Iron Islands ever had a queen? No, but nor has Westeros. (Borderling flirtation happening ... and I like it.) The Greyjoys tell her about Euron's claim. Tyrion seems unsure, but Dany sets terms. They will support her claim for the Seven Kingdoms, but she says no reaving, no roving, no raping. Yara says that's all they have left. Dany says no more. Yara agrees. No more. Will she stick to it?



BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS: WINTERFELL

About 15 minutes into the episode, we head to Winterfell for, at first, a meeting between Sansa and Jon's small group and, on the other side, Ramsay and his team of Umbers and Karstarks. Ramsay says "bastard" Jon doesn't have enough men, don't lead his men into slaughter when there's no need. "I am a man of mercy." Jon says he's right, there's no need for a battle. "Thousands of men don't need to die. Only one of us. Let's end this the old way: You against me." Ramsay doesn't know if he'd beat Jon, but he knows his army of 6,000 men will beat Jon's. Jon makes a good point to say, will Ramsay's men fight for him when they know he wouldn't fight for them. Ramsay counters by asking if Jon is too proud to save his little brother. Sansa wants proof. They show Shaggydog's head again. Sansa decides it's a fight, tomorrow morning, and rides away. Ramsay tells Jon he's looking forward to having Sansa back, and feeding Jon and his men to his own dogs.

That night, there's a strategy meeting with Jon, Davos, Tormund, and others. Tormund is worried about all of their horses. Jon has a strategy plan, but the terms are clearly foreign to Tormund. Davos says it's crucial that they let Ramsay's army charge into them. They have the numbers, so Team Stark needs the patience. Jon wants them coming full tilt, angry. Sansa jumps in afterward, saying Jon made a quick decision with his advisors but didn't he consider asking her? She's the one who knows Ramsay. He loves to hurt people, he won't fall into a trap. Jon thinks Ramsay is overconfident, but Sansa doesn't think so. She also doesn't think they'll ever get Rickon back. Rickon is the biggest threat as a trueborn son, she knows Ramsay will never let him go. Sansa doesn't want Jon to do what Ramsay expects, and she didn't want to fight with so few men. Sansa says, if Ramsay wins, she's not going back there alive. Jon promises he will protect her, he won't let Ramsay touch her again. Sansa is more jaded now, she says no one can protect her, "no one can protect anyone." Speaking of No One, Arya Stark should step in and save the day.

Tormund and Davos have a nice chat about how they've been wrong in the past, believing in kings. Jon Snow is not a king. Convo ends with Tormund laughing, "happy sh-tting."

Back in the tent, Jon wonders why Melisandre wasn't at the War Council meeting. Her advice? "Don't lose." If he falls, Jon says, "don't bring me back." She says she'll have to try, but he orders her not to. She serves the Lord of Light and does what he commands. If the Lord didn't want her to bring him back, why did it work? Maybe He brought Jon here to die again. What kind of God would do something like that? "The one we've got." Nah. Jon is the ice master of "A Song of Ice and Fire."

Davos finds what he gave Shireen. He pieces together what happened. Gorgeous scene, visually, in the early morning light, even if the context is tragic.

That morning, the armies face each other for battle. Jon's small group gets a look at what they're facing. Flayed people burned?

Ramsay drags Rickon behind him, tied up like a slave. Jon watches. Ramsay breaks out his knife and frees Rickon's rope. However, he asks Rickon, "Do you like games, little man? Let's play a game." Run to your brother. The sooner you make it, the sooner you get to see him. But as Rickon runs, Ramsay does his favorite thing, and treats Rickon like a hunting target. Jon rides out as fast as he can, but it's not fast enough. Ramsay casually takes a few arrow shots, misses the first couple, then kills Rickon.


Sorry, little Rickie.

Sansa was right. And Jon reacted the way Ramsay wanted -- by being the one to get mad, taken by surprise. He took the bait. The armies charge, and it is BEAUTIFULLY shot. "The Revenant" and "Battle of the Bastards" -- ugly things depicted at their most gorgeous. Jon stands in front of the charging army, looking ready to be killed, when forces on his own side charge from behind, saving his butt. We see Jon go FULL POWER STARK on the Boltons, slaying on the field, with blood on his face. Love that head-butt at one point. And it's awesome to see Longclaw in this game, Valyrian steel on the field. Ramsay watches from a safe distance and orders more arrows every so often. He doesn't need to break a sweat to win at this point, so he won't bother.

Davos was with a group in the back, but said they may as well be chicken sh-ts back there, so they charge. Ramsay stays put, but the Umbers (and Karstarcks?) burst forward and surround Jon, Tormund, Davos, and that army. Very clever, you have to give Ramsay points for strategy even if he's the most evil piece of filth that ever didn't quite exist.

It looks hopeless, but our team puts up a fight to break their ranks, with Wun-Wun swatting away shields, and -- ugh -- people climbing over dying bodies is brutal. Tormund is hurt! Team Bolton charges forward with shields, with no exit behind them. Goddamn Jon looks hot with that dirt and blood and armor. Just saying. Jon and others are trampled in the fight. Tormund takes on Umber. We barely see anything from Jon's perspective, being stepped on from the ground. Such amazing cinematography. What a horrible way that would be to die -- to be trampled to death in battle. But it doesn't happen to Jon. He gets up and almost crowd surfs in the crush. Ramsay, of course, watches it all from a safe distance. Poor sweet Wun-Wun is covered in arrows. Love the Tormund/Umber battle, which goes to our ginger hero.

Suddenly we hear horns. It's the knights of the Vale! They charge in just in time, as Ramsay looks on in surprise. Haha. Avenge them. That was the plan. We flash to Littlefinger, smirking, next to Sansa, who also looks pleased. She's finally going to get her revenge. Jon stands with sword in hand, facing a shocked Ramsay. Dirty Jon is ready for blood. Ramsay, coward to the last, tries to ride away. Jon has to follow on foot. Where can you go, Ramsay? Where can you hide? Or does he want one last bit of revenge before the end?

Ah, he wants a siege. But it doesn't work. Not like Riverrun, 'cause Riverun never had Wun-Wun. It's Wun-Wun's last great act. He dies. Ramsay tries for one last attempt at one-on-one combat and breaks out his arrows, but Jon has a shield and just keeps coming. Suck it, Ramsay. Jon gets him down and beats the crap out of him. Yes! He loves it, though, the sicko. Jon punches and punches and punches and there's blood everywhere. Jon looks up at Sansa. What does she want? Jon walks away, leaving Ramsay on the ground. Alive?

The Stark banner returns to Winterfell. Davos glares at Melisandre. Jon tells them to bury Rickon in the crypt next to Ned Stark. Sansa wants to know where Ramsay is. He's alive, tied up. Beat up. But alive. Sansa goes to see him. She lets him speak. Jesus, just kill him already. He asks if this is where he's staying now. She says nothing, but he says their time together is about to come to an end. But he's inside her now, forever. (Nasty. But no one ever said rapists were charming. She's not pregnant, I hope. It's just Ramsay playing his mind games.) Sansa says his words will disappear, his house will disappear, his name will disappear. All memory of him will disappear. His hungry hounds are there. Ah, that's a fitting fate. "My hounds will never harm me." Sansa reminds Ramsay that he said he hadn't fed them in seven days. They were loyal, but now they're starving. Genius. He tells them to get down, but they attack and eat him, as Sansa walks away. Brilliant!


WHAT'S NEXT?
It's finale time! Episode 10 is called "The Winds of Winter," which is also the title of the next book coming from author George R.R. Martin, so if you weren't worried about the show spoiling the book before, it's now time to worry. Here's the description for "The Winds of Winter": "Cersei (Lena Headey) faces her trial."

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Game of Thrones TV Show Poster
Game of Thrones
HBOTVMAApril 17, 2011
Based on 29 critics

Noble families in the seven kingdoms of Westeros vie for control of the Iron Throne. Read More