At the very least, “Battle of the Bastards” lived up to the hype, making great use of misdirectional foreshadowing and the show’s bloody reputation to suggest that Jon Snow and his merry band of Wildlings were making a fatal mistake in taking the fight to Ramsay Bolton. The battle itself was brutal: mud-spattered, gory, and wincingly intimate, a combination of Braveheart-eque savagery and the frenetic, high-impact filmmaking of the Jason Bourne movies. It unfolded in successively dispiriting stages, each a testament to Bolton’s evil genius (I caught myself muttering, more than once, “You know nothing Jon Snow”). At one point he looked done for, gasping for air under a heaving sea of bodies.
The deus ex machina—never has anyone been so happy to see Littlefinger!—was as surprising as it was satisfying. The taking of Winterfell was blessedly swift. Bolton’s end—nearly beaten to death by Jon, then devoured by his own wild dogs—formed such a perfect symmetry with his sins that it could have been a punishment from Dante’s Inferno. Sansa Stark, after so many seasons of being held hostage, emerged as the true heir of Winterfell and the queen of the North.
The Starks will have plenty to wrestle with going forward, starting with Littlefinger and Robin Arryn. But one of the great things about this George R.R. Martin-less season is that storylines do come to an end, and in spectacular fashion. RIP, Ramsay Bolton, the best of the Game of Thrones villains.