‘Game of Thrones’ 6.09 Recap: “Who Owns the North?”

The penultimate episode of the season is here, and ‘Game of Thrones’ fans know what that means. It’s time for a really big action set-piece. They’ve gotten to be predictable, and (in my opinion) often disappoint. This season’s, though…. Whoa, holy hell…

I’ve stated a few times before that the big battle sequences are typically my least favorite parts of ‘Game of Thrones’. The show hit its high water mark in that regard with the Battle of Blackwater in Season 2, and subsequent attempts to top that, such as the assault on the Wall in Season 4 or last season’s White Walker attack on Hardhome mostly felt like a bunch of random characters I don’t know swinging swords at green-screens while lots of CGI crap flittered around in front of them. I understand that I may be in a minority among fans, but my eyes glaze over at that stuff.

As such, when I saw that this week’s episode (called ‘Battle of the Bastards’) would focus on the big war between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton, I braced for disappointment.

I was wrong. That’s it, simply put. I was dead wrong.

I have to assume that this was the most expensive episode the show has ever produced. With not one but two massive action sequences (one better than the other, but both pretty good), it sure looks like an entire season’s budget was expended on this one hour.

In order to accommodate that, the episode hones in on just these two storylines. That’s actually a strength in its favor.


The Slave Masters continue their siege on Meereen, bombarding the city with flaming artillery catapulted from their navy armada. Daenerys has returned to her pyramid castle and looks a wee bit miffed with Tyrion for letting the situation fall so badly out of hand. He protests that the city had actually been in a period of recovery until this. She isn’t interested to hear it and simply asks, “Shall we begin?”

When Tyrion asks what she’ll do, Daenerys has a pretty simple plan: She’s going to utterly destroy the Masters and scorch the kingdoms they come from until there’s no sign they ever existed in the world – which is basically what she wanted to do to them from the start. Tyrion points out that Dany sounds an awful lot like her father, the Mad King. He proposes an alternate strategy.

Daenerys and Tyrion call for a parley with the three chief Masters to discuss terms of surrender. The Masters are arrogant and demand all sorts of terrible things, including the return of all slaves and the slaughter of the three dragons.

You can already see where this is going, right?

Daenerys informs the Masters that they are confused. The meeting was called to discuss their surrender. The Masters scoff. Then Drogon flies down and lands in front of them with a thunderous crash, looking about six times larger than they expected. The Masters collectively shit their pants. Dany climbs onto the dragon’s back and flies off. The other two dragons bust out of their cell and join her in torching the navy fleet.

On the ground, members of the Sons of the Harpy are interrupted from murdering innocent civilians when a tremendous Dothraki army rides in and slaughters them.

The tables turned, Tyrion tells the Masters that, as benevolent as the queen may be, their betrayal is too much to be forgiven. One of them must die. The three Masters turn on each other, squabbling to scapegoat the weakest member. Grey Worm steps in and slashes the throats of the other two. Tyrion tells the lone survivor to return to his kingdom and spread the word of what happened here, lest anyone else get the dumb idea to follow their example.

The next day, Daenerys entertains an audience with Yara and Theon Greyjoy, who’ve arrived just a little too late to be helpful. Tyrion remembers Theon from Winterfell and gloats at his misfortunes. They explain their situation and offer the queen their fleet of 100 stolen ships. Combined with the remains of the Masters’ confiscated armada, Tyrion believes this may be just enough to carry Daenerys’ army to Westeros.

Dany asks why she should make a pact with them rather than just wait for their uncle Euron to arrive with even more ships. They tell her about Euron’s intention to marry her and make her a submissive wife. Hilariously, Yara says that she won’t require marriage as part of the deal, though she’s up for anything.

Theon and Yara also assure Dany that all they want from her in return is assistance taking back the Iron Islands. They have no designs on the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys agrees, but on the condition that the Iron Islands will not be independent. The Ironborn must submit to her rule, and must also give up their marauding way of life. Yara realizes that she will get no better offer, and shakes Dany’s hand.


Against Sansa’s objections, Jon Snow moves forward with his plan to march on Winterfell with an army his sister believes is still insufficient. The day before the battle, the two of them meet with Ramsay Bolton on neutral ground. Ramsay is, of course, smug as ever. He says that he looks forward to taking Sansa back to his bed and feeding the rest of them to his dogs, which he’s starved for seven days in anticipation.

Jon Snow says that there’s no need for a battle, and suggests that they end their dispute the old way, with a one-on-one duel. Ramsay is amused but declines, even when Snow goads him by implying that his soldiers won’t want to fight for a coward. Ramsay then reminds him that he still has Rickon as a prisoner, and tosses out the decapitated direwolf head as proof. He bids them to rest well before the battle in the morning.

That night, Jon strategizes with Davos and Tormund. He emphasizes the importance of luring Ramsay to their ground rather than charging at him, and avoiding getting pinned from the sides or surrounded. (Poor Tormund doesn’t understand any of the military terms, so Snow has to dumb the conversation way down for his benefit.) Sansa asks why Jon challenged Ramsay to a duel. He explains that he was trying to make him angry and reckless.

After the others leave the tent, Sansa argues with Jon about the danger of underestimating Ramsay. She says that he’s too cunning to fall into the traps they’ve laid. She once again insists that they simply don’t have enough men to win this fight. If they lose, she says that she’ll kill herself rather than allow Ramsay to take her.

Davos and Tormund take a walk, discussing the mistakes that brought down their former leaders – Stannis and Mance Rayder. Davos says that he never sleeps before a battle. They part, and he continues to pace the camp until he comes across the remains of an old fire, in which he finds the wooden toy that Shireen had played with. He begins to suspect what actually happened to the little girl.

Jon goes to Melisandre’s tent and tells the witch not to resurrect him if he dies again. She says that she’s obligated to do what the Lord of Light commands.

The next morning, an eerie quiet falls over the battlefield. Ramsay rides out to the front of his army, towing Rickon behind his horse. Jon Snow is immediately unnerved.

Ramsay pulls a knife but, rather than kill Rickon right there, cuts his bonds and tells him to run to his brother as fast as he can. As the boy runs, Ramsay draws an arrow and fires it at him, missing on purpose. Jon Snow jumps on his horse and charges across the field toward Rickon. His army, unsure what to do, hesitates for a moment before Tormund rallies them to follow behind Jon. Davos stays behind with the archers.

Ramsay flings another couple arrows in Rickon’s direction to keep him running, but doesn’t fire the kill shot until just before Jon Snow reaches him. An arrow plunges through Rickon’s chest and Jon helplessly watches his brother die. Enraged, he races forward toward Ramsay, his own army trailing behind him. This is precisely what they weren’t supposed to do.

Ramsay orders his archers to fire a volley of arrows, one of which takes down Jon’s horse. He then commands his army to advance forward. Jon scrambles to his feet and draws his sword, but looks utterly hopeless as the army bears down on him. Fortunately, the Wildlings catch up with Jon just before the Boltons hit him. The brutal battle commences, an orgy of chaos and blood.

Davos holds back his archers from firing, afraid that they’ll hit their own men. Ramsay has no such compunctions. His artillery launches wave after wave of arrows right into the heart of the fracas, indiscriminately killing men from both sides. Bodies pile up and more men scramble over them, only to build a growing mountain of corpses. Eventually, Davos and his men abandon their bows and run toward the battle to give Jon some backup.

Bolton soldiers with heavy shields and long spears swing in from the sides in a pincing maneuver and fully encircle Jon and the Wildlings, then slowly march forward, crushing them into a tight huddle. Everything Jon Snow had warned against in his strategy meeting has come true. The battle is a fiasco.

Davos tries to break the line from behind, but simply doesn’t have enough men to make a meaningful difference. Even Wun Wun the giant, stuck in the middle with Jon and the Wildlings, struggles futilely to smash an exit. As they’re pushed closer and closer, the mountain of bodies grows. Jon Snow is trampled and trapped underneath, desperately fighting to climb out. Tormund is wounded in the conflict but refuses to give up.

Suddenly, the sound of a horn blares from the hills. A new army on horseback arrives. It’s the Knights of the Vale. Standing behind them are Littlefinger… and Sansa. Yes, this must have been what her secret raven message was about.

The knights charge in and break the Bolton line, freeing Jon Snow and the remaining Wildlings. The tide of the battle instantly turns.

Exhausted but still able to fight, Jon sees Ramsay across the battlefield. Ramsay turns and rides back to the castle. Jon, Tormund and the giant chase after him but aren’t able to catch up before Ramsay seals the gates.

At this point, both armies are devastated. Ramsay doesn’t have enough men left to fight, but he does have the castle. Jon Snow doesn’t have enough men left to lay a proper siege. Ramsay believes that all he needs to do is sit tight and wait it out.

The gate shudders. A giant fist smashes through it. The Bolton archers lay into Wun Wun, but the giant smashes and smashes and smashes until the gate comes crashing down and the remaining Wildlings flood in, killing what’s left of the Bolton soldiers.

Filled with arrows, Wun Wun falls to his knees. One final arrow plunges through his eye, killing the giant. It was fired by Ramsay. He snidely offers to take Jon Snow up on that one-on-one duel after all.

Snow picks up a shield and marches forward. Ramsay fires three arrows at him in succession, all blocked by the shield. Jon runs up and knocks him down, laying into Ramsay with his fists and pulverizing his face. He looks up for a second and sees Sansa, then stops short of killing Ramsay.

New flags and banners unfurl over the castle. Winterfell belongs to the Starks again. Jon Snow orders his brother Rickon to be buried in the family crypt. Davos eyes Melisandre suspiciously.

Ramsay, his face a bloody mess, is tied to a chair in the dungeon. His former wife Sansa pays him a visit to tell him that he will die and all memory of him and his house will disappear from history. She then lets his dogs into the cell – yes, the dogs he’d starved for seven days. Poetic justice!

Ramsay defiantly insists that his dogs are “loyal beasts” and would never harm him, but his voice betrays that he doesn’t believe his own words. The first dog gets a scent of the blood and brings its face up to meet his. Ramsay commands the animal to sit. It doesn’t sit. He orders it again. The dog takes a big bite of his face. The other dogs lunge in to get theirs.

Sansa leaves the dungeon to the music of Ramsay’s anguished screaming, a sly smile spreading across her lips.

Episode Verdict

This episode is incredibly satisfying in ways that the others I mentioned earlier weren’t (for me). It starts strong and keeps getting better through to the end.

The Meereen battle is the weaker of the two. It relies too obviously on CGI and nearly falls into the trap of looking like a bunch of pixels fighting other pixels, but the visual effects are quite good and the scope of the scene is epic. Perhaps more problematic is that all of Daenerys’ storylines over the past couple of seasons have felt like they’re going in circles, and this is no different. She has to fight the Masters to assert her dominance again. Haven’t we gotten past that yet? I’m getting antsy to see her finally move into Westeros, but that’s a small complaint. The scene is very rousing, and I appreciate the acknowledgement that Dany’s rule is uncomfortably starting to resemble her father’s.

I have nothing but good things to say about the battle for Winterfell. It’s, in a word, awesome. I have no idea how something like this was produced for television. It puts most summer tentpole blockbusters to shame. I loved the emphasis on the strategy of the battle, and watching Jon Snow fall into all the traps he tried so hard to avoid. And what a memorable end for one of the show’s most despicable characters!

The last-minute rescue by Littlefinger is perhaps a deus ex machina, but the show set it up earlier with enough clues that it doesn’t come from out of nowhere. I also expect that an alliance with Littlefinger will be cause for plenty of interesting drama later.

This is the type of episode you immediately want to watch two to three times back-to-back. Fans will buy the eventual Blu-ray box set just to get this particular episode in the best quality. I rarely find the time to rewatch TV episodes, but I may need to play this one again before next weekend’s finale.


  1. T.J. Kats

    Agree with everything. The big battle scenes are usually my least favorite thing on the show but everything about this was awesome.

  2. T.J. Kats

    Also I was one of the few that didn’t care at all for Hodor dying but felt that Wun Wun’s death was extremely well done and had good emotional value.

  3. eric

    Somebody has to do a video with Kit Harrington making fun of Jon Snows horrible negotiation tactics. The only people he seems able to get to follow him are Wildlings.

    In this recap you totally left out all the awesome innuendo and bonding going between Yara and Dany. Also, worth noting the potential power shift to the women. Both big battles won by women this week and Yara is getting in on the girl power action too. Times are a changing.

    Giving up the marauding way of life doesn’t seem like a big deal for Yara and Theon but I am sure that will be a hard sell further down the line to everyone else of the Iron Islands.

    You totally missed the part where Sansa drops the mic on Ramsey, telling him he will die tomorrow. Yep, he did.

    How pissed should Jon be, but won’t for narrative purposes, that he got most of his men and Wun and Wun killed when he could of just waited another hour if Sansa had been straight forward with him about additional soldiers coming. then again if she told him Jon may not have believed her anyway. But then again if Jon hadnt been stupid and just run in that would have probably saved a few lives and definitely saved Wun Wun’s life.

    Someone should of taught Rickon the disadvantages of running in a straight line when someone is shooting an arrow at him.

    I would of preferred that Jon wasn’t saved by Littlefinger and instead Little Jon Umber would have a change of loyalty once he and his men saw that Ramsey was recklessly slaughtering just as many of his own men. That would have been more interesting.

    I was hoping that we would get to see the 60 men that House Mormont provided, and I was hoping they would be bad ass or weird. Atleast they had Lady Mormont there looking mean in the background.

    Why would Ramsay choose to kill Wun Wun instead of Jon in that situation. He could of clearly killed Jon.

    Why didnt Ramsay and his men destroy the crypts or burn all the stark banners?

    – Davos and his mean are also stuck in the middle with Jon and Wun Wun and the Wildlings.
    – Daenerys informs the slave masters that they are in fact her to discuss their surrender, not Tyrion.
    – Davos eyes Melisandre because of what he now knows about what happenned to Shireen, it has nothing to do with Rickon.

    • Josh Zyber

      I do my best to make these recaps as detailed as possible, but I’m simply not able to capture every single incident that happens in the episode.

      The sentence about Davos eyeing Melisandre suspiciously was not meant to be connected to the previous sentence about Rickon. I was merely rattling off a list of things that happened in the aftermath of the battle.

      • eric

        Keep the reviews/recaps coming (to bad only one episode left) because my week isn’t complete until I have watched the latest episode and then read this recap and all the colorful comments attached to it. I don’t always agree with your take but I appreciate the work and effort and still enjoy reading every time.

    • T.J. Kats

      “Why would Ramsay choose to kill Wun Wun instead of Jon in that situation. He could of clearly killed Jon.”

      He’s a torturer. He knew he would die either way so making Jon watch another die brought him more joy. This is also why he didn’t just shoot Jon when Jon was riding to try and save Rickon. He could have just as easily killed Jon then and that may have won the battle right away.

  4. This was an excellent episode, but I have one little gripe…and it’s the timing of the Knights of the Vale. You’d think they would have been there a little earlier or – if there were issues being on time, too late. The only reason they arrive exactly at the right time is screenplay writing. Yeah, it’s a great “woo hoo” moment, but next time maybe show up before half the guys (or two-thirds) you’re coming to help get slaughtered. So an “A” for excitement, but a “C” for ‘realism’…well, as ‘real’ as a show like this can be conveyed. It reminds me of last season when Dany’s dragon showed up at ‘exactly’ the right moment in the arena.

    • eric

      Maybe the timing was purposeful, maybe Little Finger was hoping that most of Jons army and maybe even Jon Snow himself would be eliminated.

      • T.J. Kats

        This is definitely possible. The only misstep he has made the entire show was when he first approached Sansa earlier this season.

      • Shannon Nutt

        You know, that’s a good point. I’ll go with that – it will make me feel better about the epiosde. 🙂

    • “The only reason they arrive exactly at the right time is screenplay writing. ”
      Disagree. It is fair common to enter a battle only when the parties involved are already exhausted. This is tactics.

      But I concur that is strange the fact that neither the Bolton’s forces nor Jon’s forces noticed they were nearby before the battle.

      My gripe is about Bolton’s cavalry. I do not recall precisely, but it seems it suddenly disappeared. It made the first attack and afterwards it was gone. Where did all the horses end?

      • Josh Zyber

        I assume the horses were killed, either by Jon Snow’s army or by Ramsay’s archers indiscriminately firing arrows into the battlefield. That cavalry did its damage but was expendable (to Ramsay).

        The only issue I have with the theory that Littlefinger deliberately held back his army until the end is that Sansa was with him. Would she have let him stand by while Jon Snow was in mortal danger?

        (On the other hand, she’d already written off Rickon as a goner…)

        • Pedram

          I agree with that. She wouldn’t have let him do that, unless she was much more of a sneaky tactician than we thought and wanted Winterfell for herself after he died.

          The other real convenient writing moment was the fact that Rickon just ran a straight line instead of running all over the place to avoid the arrows, and Ramsay finally hit him when he was farthest away and most difficult to hit.

          Also, why did Jon’s forces just stand there and let themselves be surrounded by the guys with shields? Why did the giant not just run forward and kick a bunch of them and create a hole? And why doesn’t Melisandre do something to help the battle? Maybe make another demon baby or use her magic in another way?

          It seems the episode is much more enjoyable if you just don’t ask any questions.

          • Josh Zyber

            Ramsay could have killed Rickon at any point during the run. He missed on purpose to keep him running (he wasn’t even looking in the kid’s direction during one shot) and saved the killing blow until Jon Snow had nearly gotten to him.

          • eric

            Yep, I wondered the same thing about why Wun Wun didn’t just barrel through the line of guys with shields. And, I also was wondering why Milesandre didn’t help or just kill Bolton herself, this would have been more in line with the anticlimactic story lines RR Martin would write.

          • Shannon Nutt

            Yes, Ramsay was obviously missing on purpose…but come on – you make it a lot harder for him if you zig-zag all over the place…he has to guess where you’re going to be – you run in a straight line and he knows EXACTLY where you’re going to be.

          • Timcharger

            Rickon’s lack of zig-zag running was fine
            with me. It didn’t bother me.

            He’s what, a 10 year old kid? I know the actor
            grew awfully tall, but Rickon is not a mature,
            battle-hardened soldier who knows the
            maximum range of longbows.

            Rickon was likely jailed in the dungeon for
            months. He knows he’s also running from
            all of Ramsay’s army and those hundreds of
            horses. He didn’t know Ramsay was missing
            on purpose. Any second, Ramsay could have
            ordered all his archers to fire, so zig-zagging
            would be useless there, and keep Rickon
            closer to Ramsay’s archers.

            Running as fast as he could to reach his
            brother was fine with me.

  5. Timcharger

    Back in 6.02, I thought:

    “Ramsay must die a painful death.

    Who are the candidates and how?

    Theon makes sense. But I don’t know what Theon can
    cut off that can one-up what Ramsay did. I don’t mind
    at all if Theon did it.

    Ramsay being flayed makes sense. But at the same
    time, flaying is what the Boltons do. And I think I prefer
    flaying being completely outlawed as Ned Stark wanted,
    that seems right.

    Jon Snow killing Ramsay makes sense. The two bastards.
    B v B: Dawn of Justice.

    Since Ramsay likes dogs, Ghost eating Ramsay will bring
    me much pleasure. I like that.

    Or maybe someone out of left field. Super assassin
    Arya Stark meets Ramsay one night in the kennels.
    Ramsay’s hounds need to be fed.”


    Bravo, GoT writers, bravo. I do like Sansa being the
    candidate and certainly the how. I thought her
    younger sister would have more of the stomach to
    pull it off. But I like it.

    And I caught it. It was a nice subtle move. When
    the hound first took a bite, Sansa recoiled slightly.
    Her face moved slightly off-frame. But then, she
    moved back into center frame; she wanted a better
    look. New Sansa. Nice touch in the writing.

  6. Timcharger

    Instead of screaming at Rickon to zig-zag,
    after Rickon falls dead before Jon, I’m screaming
    at Jon. Just like Tormund did. Jon needs to ride
    his horse back to his army’s frontline.

    I get it. Jon is so mad, he just wants to charge
    head-on at Ramsay. But all by himself? What is
    he and his one horse going to do? We see that
    Jon’s loyal men charge after him, but they are
    racing in from the far end of the battlefield. Jon
    is at the center. It is just suicide at that point for
    Jon to charge at Ramsay’s army alone.

    Grab Rickon’s body as a shield (he’s already
    skewered) and ride back, Jon, and then order a
    full-scale charge. Jon, lead your men by a 2-3
    yards, don’t lead the charge by 200-300 yards.

  7. Timcharger

    About the knights of the Vale arriving at the
    perfect dramatic time during the battle, that would be
    by Littlefinger’s design. No matter what, Baelish
    would have waited until both Jon’s and Ramsay’s army
    were soundly weakened before deploying his knights.

    As for Sansa not allowing this, Littlefinger would keep
    repeating to her, that his forces are just over that hill,
    around that bend, and will be here any minute now.
    Littlefinger would have instructed his cavalry to be
    just behind the the treeline until he gave the signal.

    Sansa would keep asking Littlefinger why the bulk of
    his cavalry isn’t here yet, and he would make up an
    excuse like, Baelish and his personal guards travel on
    light horses. Where the cavalry ride with heavy armor
    on heavy horses and are likely half a day behind.

    LIttlefinger would likely appeal to Sansa that he risked
    much to rush to meet with her. Littlefinger rode on
    ahead of his army with only the swiftest of his
    personal guards, just for Sansa.

    Yeah, Sansa wouldn’t have waited for the Northern
    Houses loyal to the Starks to be pinned and
    slaughtered. But Sansa wouldn’t likely have been
    able to do anything about LIttlefinger’s lies and his
    battle plan.

  8. Timcharger

    Josh, your selection of “Who Owns the North?”
    Is that what Smalljon Umber shouted to the Bolton
    foot soldiers before they charged the field?

    I guess that’s an alright selection. I would have
    gone with the more memorable line by Ramsay.
    “They are loyal beasts.”

    Hearing that quote, I will easily remember which
    episode it is from. I will grin like Sansa and know
    it was the penultimate episode of Season 6. And
    I’ll recall Sansa’s response, “but you starved them.”

  9. Timcharger

    The episode was so well done, I didn’t even
    notice that Jon’s direwolf wasn’t there. Where is
    Ghost? He’s still alive. Dany has gotten a better
    control of her dragons, but Jon is getting worse
    with his direwolf.

    I read that Ghost wasn’t shown due to budget

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