(Spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the June 19 “Game of Thrones” episode, “Battle of the Bastards.”
In the wake of #BastardBowl at Winterfell and the total domination of the Masters of Slaver’s Bay at Meereen, it’s easy to ooh and ahh over the incredible battle scenes, marvel at what had to be a ridiculous budget HBO spent making this episode happen — and forget why, in the end, it mostly worked out for the good guys.
The thing is that that it really shouldn’t have. Tyrion should be a pile of bones under a burning pile of rubble in Meereen after the bad deal he struck with the Masters earlier this season went sour. And Jon Snow should be just another body in the mountain of dead outside Winterfell.
But they’re not. The Masters were defeated, and the Boltons were wiped out. Because the women — Daenerys and Sansa — made it happen.
Against the advice of Missandei and Grey Worm — you know, the locals who know what’s going on — Tyrion had allowed the Masters of Yunkai and Astapor to bring back the practice of slavery, for a period of seven years. When that term was up, the Masters would have to go slaveless — the seven years was to allow them to figure out how they would rework their economy without relying on slave labor for everything.
It was a stupid thing to do, of course. Tyrion was dealing with the Masters like he would deal with Westerosi folks. He didn’t understand how bad of an idea that was. Last week, it looked like he might have to pay dearly for that mistake, when the Masters sailed their ships to Meereen and began bombarding it. Daenerys’ timely arrival at the end of the episode gave us hope that the situation would be resolved without everyone’s favorite character being added to the list of major character deaths.
This week, Dany flexed her muscle. She took her three dragons into battle and mauled the Masters’ ships. She left her lieutenants to strike a new deal with the the three head Masters: one of them must die, Tyrion says, and the remainder must submit. Two of them pushed forward the third, claiming he was lowborn and not worthy of the station the way they were. With a single slice, he cut those two Masters’ throats, leaving the supposed lowborn one — Daenerys’ real orders being to trick them into revealing which of the three were the most awful.
After the battle, Theon and Yara Greyjoy showed up with a hundred ships of the Iron Fleet, offering them to Daenerys. Tyrion stood there scoffing at Theon for making fun of him years before. At a time when a crucial deal was being offered, Tyrion did nothing but resurrect petty personal conflicts. After he finally shut up, Daenerys was able to make a deal with Yara — she gets to use the ships, and Yara will sit on the Salt Throne at Pyke after they take out dear uncle Euron. A deal made no thanks to Tyrion.
Back in Westeros, meanwhile, Jon Snow was trying as hard as he could to get himself and Sansa and everyone he knows murdered by Bolton forces. Sansa repeatedly told him they needed to wait for additional aid, and that their battle plans wouldn’t work because Ramsay was an excellent trickster who would do everything he could to trap them. Jon, as he did any time Sansa disagreed with him, loudly and impatiently mansplained that they should go ahead with the forces they have, and he would know that’s the right move because he’s a warrior and she isn’t.
Sansa was correct on all counts. With battle lines assembled, Ramsay released his hostage, Rickon Stark, and began firing arrows at him. Jon rode out to get Rickon, hoping to save him, but Ramsay shot Rickon through the heart just before they came together. There was Jon, by himself between the lines — and his forces abandoned their plan to have the Bolton forces come to them. Both sides met right where Jon stood, a wall of bodies slowly building on one side and Bolton men with shields and pikes surrounding Jon and his wildlings on the other three sides. Ramsay had trapped them, just as Sansa said.
It was a hopeless situation, salvaged only because of the aid Sansa had been waiting for: the knights of the Vale riding in to knock down the wall of Boltons, because of Sansa’s demand that Little Finger to send them. Maybe if Jon had been patient and actually heeded the advice of his sister, the battle would have been much easier. Maybe most of the wildlings wouldn’t have been killed. Maybe Rickon could have been saved. But no. Jon had to do it his way, and it almost cost them everything.
This is the new status quo of “Game of Thrones.” Brainless men have been ruining the world for thousands of years, and this season it’s been the women cleaning it up.
And it looks like it’s working out.
All through season 6, Sansa has been steadily climbing our rankings of every major “Game of Thrones” characters. Find out where she lands after the “Battle of the Bastards” below.