Major spoilers ahead for 'Game Of Thrones' S06E09 and next week's season finale.
That was intense.
Game of Thrones just delivered what may go down as one of the greatest battle sequences in the history of TV and film. This was the awful, bloody reality of a war several seasons in the making, and for a moment it looked like Ramsay Bolton might have gotten the better of the House Stark once again.
Somehow, the outcome — Ramsay's men taken out by the Knights of the Vale just as victory seemed within grasp, the loveably sick tormentor slaughtered at the fangs of his own, bloodthirsty hounds — both met and exceeded every expectation. We got the best of both worlds: A little more tragedy for the Starks to endure, followed by the vengeance they deserved.
But what really set "Battle of the Bastards" apart from the rest of this season (which has largely been brilliant, for my money) and from "Hardhome" (last season's epic battle north of the Wall) were the smaller moments.
In between all that bloodshed (and fuck, there was a lot of bloodshed), we witnessed the subtle evolution of Sansa Stark. It's not hyperbole to suggest that no other episode of Thrones has done more for a single character's development than "Bastards" did for Sansa.
As we head into the home stretch, let's take a look at five developments we should expect from next week's finale. Check out the trailer below for Season 6, Episode 10, ominously titled "The Winds Of Winter," if you didn't see it already:
1. Will Dany Finally Get Off Essos?
Essos is the cursed continent. The moment a character travels to Essos, they stagnate. Arya spent two years in Braavos learning to become an assassin, only to decide she was OK with being a Stark and pack her bags for the long trip back across the Narrow Sea. I don't even know what to say about Tyrion, except that he may as well have spent this season passed out in a brothel.
Daenerys Targaryen is Essos' greatest conquest. She's spent six whole seasons stuck on the sand continent, freeing slaves, riding dragons and having moments. Fiery moments. Speech-y moments. Preachy moments. I'm not convinced she's fit to rule Westeros, but there's only one way to find out: She has to get off Essos.
In "Battle of the Bastards," the new alliance formed between the Mother of Dragons and the fugitives of the House Greyjoy should finally allow Dany to head home. Here's hoping that happens in "The Winds of Winter," and may Essos go the way of Dorne, never to be mentioned again.
2. Vengeance For Princess Shireen
Amid all the chaos and gore of the battle, one stark piece of imagery stuck in the mind early in the episode: the sight of Ser Davos standing at the foot of the wood pyre on which Princess Shireen was burned, holding the wooden stag he'd given her as a gift back when Stannis was alive.
Cloak swirling in the breeze like Darth Vader, framed in silhouette against a peach sunrise, Ser Davos has a moment of cruel clarity. The trailer for the finale promises a long-overdue confrontation with Melisandre. Will she be exiled from the North for her part in the Princess's sacrifice, or might Ser Davos finally discover the Red Woman's centuries-old secret?
3. Ser Walder Frey, RIP?
What's this? A dinner party at the Twins? Ser Walder Frey toasting an army of foot soldiers from his own House and the House Lannister? Yep, that sounds like a prime opportunity for a nice dash of vengeance-slaughter.
Last week I predicted that Arya would go incognito at the Frey banquet to poison those who betrayed and murdered Catelyn, Robb and Talisa at the Red Wedding. I'm still behind that theory, but could there be a possibility that she'll wear the face of Jaime Lannister? His presence at the party contradicts the idea that he'll turn up in King's Landing in time to see Cersei unleash hell with Qyburn's wildfire.
If that is Arya, Jaime may already be riding for King's Landing. If it's Jaime, and Arya is undercover wearing another face, might the Lannister be fresh out of luck?
4. Can Jon Truly Trust Sansa?
In "Battle of the Bastards," we saw Sansa as something other than a Stark. This version of her, hardened and ground down by Ramsay's torture, not trusted to contribute to her brother's battle strategy, more resembled a melting pot of Lady Stoneheart (vengeance lust), Petyr Baelish (her dishonesty in withholding from Jon the arrival of Littlefinger's army) and (gasp) Ramsay himself. As he said to her, "I'm a part of you now."
Most telling was her cool acknowledgment of the fact that Rickon would not be returned to the Stark camp with his life intact. While Jon held out hope, Sansa recognized that her brother was a lost cause. In the trailer, Jon implores the importance of trust between the siblings. The question now is whether Sansa's definition of what it means to be a Stark is in line with her brother's.