WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones' Season 6, Episode 9, "Battle of the Bastards."
This week's Game of Thrones might have just about been the most hyped episode in the show's history, and it did not disappoint. "Battle of the Bastards" was a tour de force, enormous in scope and breathtaking in execution.
It gave us everything we'd been waiting three seasons for: An epic battle between two large armies, thrilling one-on-one combat between hero and villain, a little heartbreak, a well-deserved victory and, most satisfyingly of all, the delicious sight of Ramsay Bolton being feasted on by his own meat-deprived hounds.
But quietly, cleverly, "Bastards" did something more than simply maneuver the pieces of the chess board of Westerosi politics back in House Stark's favor: It signaled the transformation of Sansa into a ruthless strategist. She may be a Stark in name, but this hardened incarnation of Ned's daughter is beginning to look distinctly like Littlefinger's greatest student.
There were three key developments in "Bastards" that signaled how far Sansa has come and how far removed her mentality is from that of her elder brother Jon. In the first, Sansa cuts short Ramsay's negotiation with Jon, telling her estranged husband in no uncertain terms that he'll be dead within a day. Her parting shot, "Sleep well," was dripping with acid.
Back at Camp Stark, Sansa berates Jon for excluding her from strategy planning — "Did it ever occur to you that I might have some insight?" — but crucially decides not to inform him of her plea for Littlefinger to march on Winterfell.
By withholding information that could completely alter Jon's strategy if everything was on the table, Sansa dices with the fates of thousands of Stark soldiers. What if Littlefinger didn't show? The risk pays off, but it's a gamble that's not entirely hers to make, and by making it Sansa displays a very Littlefinger-esque shrewdness of approach. Why does she trust him — the man who pushed her into marriage with a monster — over her own brother? It's not emotional, but strategic.
Secondly, in the same scene, Sansa flatly declares that Rickon is as good as dead already. Ramsay stands to gain nothing from returning him, and therefore he won't be returned in one piece. She's proven right before the battle even begins. It's more than just the product of her time spent at Ramsay's side; she second-guessed the enemy's tactics because she too has learned to think that way.
Sansa is now a slick political operator, her methods almost entirely unrecognizable from the honor that Ned Stark always preached. He would have led a thousand soldiers into battle and allowed them all to die for the sake of returning Rickon safely. But while Jon resembles Ned in so many ways, Sansa feels much more like the product of the man who took her under his wing in Riverrun.
Finally, after feeding Ramsay to his own bloodthirsty hounds, Sansa turns to leave, but then pauses, fixing her gaze on her old tormentor a second or two longer. She takes pleasure in the most painful, most disgusting of deaths. The smirk she allows to briefly dance across her face as she walks away in the episode's closing shot confirms what we already suspected: This grown-up, jaded version of Sansa Stark has a sadistic streak.
Is that more evidence of Littlefinger's influence? Perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as Ramsay's parting gift to his wife. That element of his dark and twisted soul that now lives on in a woman who, for the most part, is good. In his own words, "I am part of you now."
Littlefinger is part of her now, too. And for that reason, Sansa Stark might be the smartest, most dangerous woman in Westeros. She learned from the best. Check out the trailer above for next week's finale, when we'll find out exactly what debt Sansa owes Lord Baelish.
For more of Thrones, check out 4 Things To Expect From Next Week's Finale