The penultimate episode of each season of Game of Thrones is the climax; the moment when the storylines being built all season come to a head. The show has alternated between a shocking death and a massive battle from season to season (Ned Stark’s surprise execution, the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the Battle of Castle Black, the burning of Shireen), so it’s logical that this season we’d get a big battle. In fact, we get two.
This episode features two repeat battles for famous fortifications — the second Battle of Winterfell (Stannis lost the first), and the second siege of Meereen (Dany’s was the first). The only thing for sure is that a lot of people are going to die. Sansa, for her part, seems to know who at least one of them will be. At a pre-battle parley with the Boltons, Sansa tells Ramsay he’s going to die. And there’s all sorts of ironic foreshadowing; “I wonder which part they’ll eat first; your eyes? Your balls?” Ramsay says to Jon Snow’s people, not knowing he’ll be the one who’s eaten. “I wanted to make him angry. I want him coming at us full tilt,” Jon Snow says, even though he’ll be the one manipulated into meeting Ramsay’s entire army head on after Rickon is murdered before his eyes in one of Ramsay’s “games.”
After their war council, Jon treats with Sansa, who STILL won’t tell Jon that she’s hollered at Littlefinger and his knights of the Vale. It’s important to remember here that Littlefinger originally offered Ned Stark an alliance, but he turned it down, because he was too righteous. He died for it. Sansa has lived enough of life in Westeros to realize the foolishness of such righteousness.
The battle rages on, and due to Jon’s “full tilt” assault, his forces get surrounded, penned in by a wall of corpses on one side, and a circular phalanx of shield and spear everywhere else. As Jon is trampled by the free folk trying to climb over the corpse wall, it looks as if all is lost… until Littlefinger’s knights of the Vale come charging over the hill, mowing down Ramsay’s remaining infantry, and sealing the victory. Jon, Tormund, and Wun Wun pursue Ramsay to the castle, where his fate is all but sealed. The only thing preventing Jon from beating Ramsay to a pulp with his bare hands is Sansa, to whom he leaves Ramsay’s fate. It ends just as Ramsay thought it would, but instead of his enemies providing his dog’s next meal, it was himself. As Sansa walks away from the kennels where Ramsay is tied up, listening to him scream as his starving hounds tear him apart, the little smirk on her face betrays her satisfaction — and her graduation from the school of Littlefinger.
Over in Meereen, Dany has returned, and is ready to burn everything to the ground. Tyrion suggests more tact; he compares her bloodlust and desire to burn cities to the ground to her father’s madness, and he’s more than a little right. Meereen needs to be held up as a shining example that a Slaver’s Bay city can work without slavery, and if she burns everything down, her liberation experiment will have failed. There’s a comical negotiation in which the masters think they’re negotiating for Daenerys’ surrender, but it’s soon it’s quite clear who was always going to win this battle. Dany still gets to flex her muscles (or more accurately, Drogon’s), but she can’t burn ALL the masters’ ships…she’s gonna need them to sail her armies (the Dothraki horde, the mercenary Second Sons, and her Unsullied) across the narrow sea. As she rides Drogon over Slaver’s Bay, and Viserion and Rhaegal break out of their underground prison to join them, we get our first taste of dragon battle, and it’s kind of badass. It almost ends too soon.
Post-battle, when Tyrion, Dany, Theon and Yara treat in the throne room, Tyrion recalls the last time he saw Theon, and they dance around how Theon has paid for his sins without actually saying it. Yara and Dany make eyes, smiles, and ultimately, a pact with each other — Dany gets the ships and men to sail them, and Yara and Theon get the Iron Islands. But no more reaving, raiding, and raping. Not sure how that will go over with the rest of the Ironborn.
One question from last week that remains unanswered — where did Varys go? We thought he might be trying to catch up with Yara and Theon, but it seems they made it to Meereen in time. What (or who) could he be seeking out? And where the F is Bran?!?