Game of Thrones
Who Will Survive The Battle of the Bastards?
The biggest battle in the history of television is coming. Surely not everyone will make it to episode ten.
For Game of Thrones fans, episode nine of every season has long been the most vital appointment viewing. This is something reflected heavily in my own ranking of the first 50 episodes: “Baelor” (Season 1), “The Rains of Castamere” (Season 3), “Blackwater” (Season 2), “The Dance of Dragons” (Season 5) and “The Watchers on The Wall” (Season 4) all found themselves in the Top 15. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Game of Thrones has built a formula around building its seasonal narratives toward a penultimate moment that later comes to define its season. Ned Stark’s execution, The Battle of Blackwater, The Red Wedding, The Battle at Castle Black, Daznak’s Pit: all sequences that were both climactic and propulsive. They all paid off the season’s rising tension and raised our expectations for what comes next.
Needless to say, the pressure has never been greater than it will be when “The Battle of the Bastards” airs this coming Sunday night. The ninth episode of season 6, written by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, will prominently feature the battle for which it is named. Since his resurrection from the dead and reunion with his sister Sansa, Jon Snow has been on a collision course with The North’s boogeyman, Ramsay Bolton. The two men have had similar paths, though they exist as polar opposites on the spectrum of good an evil. Both were the ill-regarded bastards of two major Northern houses. Both found legitimacy in their own way – Jon as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Ramsay in becoming the heir to his father’s title of Warden of the North. Their clash is one of destiny – Thrones’ most consistent hero vs. its most reviled villain.
When Thrones delivers what they’ve already billed as “the biggest battle in the history of television,” there’s bound to be some carnage. Plenty of characters whose names we don’t know – and probably a few whose names we’ve only recently learned – are going to die in service of television history. But what of the fates of the characters we do know and potentially care about deeply? Who among them is most likely to survive until Season 6, Episode 10?
Based entirely on the deep science of the gut and some mild rumor-chasing, here is a power ranking of the most likely candidates for survival, ranked from most likely to survive to least likely to survive:
1. Lyanna Mormont
Game of Thrones has no problem offing children (we’ll get to that in a moment), but there’s almost no path toward the death of 10-year old sass-machine Lyanna Mormont. She’s with Jon, Sansa and the gang, but there’s little chance she’ll be anywhere near the vanguard. Barring a complete rout by Ramsay’s forces – which would be a monumentally depressing story turn, even by Thrones standards – there’s no chance that she’ll ever do anything but ride her horse past some dead Bolton men on the way to the victory party.
2. Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
The hype for the Knights of the Vale entering the fray is very real. And Sansa’s Uncle/marriage broker Littlefinger will be there to see them help turn the tide, one way or the other. But let’s remember who we’re dealing with here: this man is always one step ahead of everyone who might try to kill him. There’s a higher chance of him pushing Lord Robin out onto the battlefield or using him as a human shield than there is of Littlefinger getting within arm’s length of anyone but the leadership of the side he believes is about to win. His only potential downfall will be at the hands of Sansa Stark, but her attention will likely be elsewhere.
3. Sansa Stark
Sansa didn’t make that badass new dress just to get blood on it. Of all the players in this battle, almost no one actually wants Sansa dead. Jon wants Sansa safe and ruling in Winterfell. Littlefinger wants her safe and… (ew). Ramsay would simply like to have her back, which isn’t safe but certainly doesn’t involve death. He needs her in order to maintain his dominion over The North, after all. Does the fact that no one wants her dead increase her chances of dying? That concept is very Thronesian, but it’s hard to imagine Sansa not making it at least a little while longer.
4. Ser Davos Seaworth
This man didn’t survive threats against the Red Woman, being blown up at the Battle of the Blackwater, being imprisoned by his own king, more battles on behalf of Stannis, the fall of Stannis’ regime, and the death of Jon Snow for nothing. That’s not to mention the things Davos did to survive and rise during Robert’s Rebellion (he smuggled onions into the most heavily fortified structure in Westeros). This man is a survivor. And the gods aren’t done with him yet – there’s a Davos/Lyanna Mormont spinoff series likely in development at HBO as I type this. Fear not for The Onion Knight.
5. Tormund Giantsbane
For those of us on Team Ginger Beard and Team Tarthbane, this would be a tough loss. Kristofer Hivju has been one of the rocks from which this show’s charm is squeezed like water. And if setting up the whole Tormund/Brienne thing was a heart-string diversion before killing off this big, beautiful man, some tears will be shed. That said, he’s one of this world’s freakishly talented fighters. He’s a master of close quarters combat and a man strong enough to “wrestle” bears. Unless one of Ramsay’s goons gets stabby from the shadows, Tormund is probably going to be more than okay, he’ll be victorious.
6. Jon Snow
If you watch the episode preview carefully, you can smell it in the air. HBO’s marketing machine wants us to believe that Jon Snow isn’t going to make it. That makes Kit Harington’s claim of “no longer being involved with the show” true and brings to close a painful span in HBO’s ability to hide the obvious from its attentive fans. Jon is also a man who knows that there’s nothing after death, so he’s ready to go out and die for some worthy cause and be done with it. Do we believe that Game of Thrones will ever give us a single resounded victory for the good guys? If so, this feels like the time and place. If not, it’s back to the darkness for Lord Snow.
In the episode preview we see a shot of Ser Davos inspecting what remains of the spot where Lady Melisandre torched Stannis’ daughter Shireen (a.k.a the only other member of his book club). Surely this is a deed that will not remain unpunished forever. At this point, there isn’t anyone protecting The Red Woman. Jon and Sansa don’t need her magic as Stannis did. Not anymore, at least. The question for Ole Mel is less about making it through the battle and more about making it to the battle.
8. Wun Wun
In professional basketball, there’s a term known as the podium game. It’s an honor reserved for any player, on any night, whose performance is so profound that they are invited to meet the media. It’s often associated with players who don’t play often, but come out and have the game of their season on that given night. “The Battle of the Bastards” will likely be the Wun Wun podium episode. He’s had small, endlessly enjoyable moments, but the last giant of Westeros is about to be the centerpiece of the Wildling army. Many Boltons will be splattered and squished, but ultimately (and likely for budgetary reasons) Wun Wun will fall. It’s going to be heartbreaking to lose yet another big mamajama this season, but we can hope that he takes out as many Boltons as possible before he goes.
9. Rickon Stark
Poor Rickon Stark. He’s spent most of his life either obliviously smashing walnuts or running for his life throughout The North. His direwolf is dead, his caretaker is dead, and Art Parkinson’s growth spurt has made him nearly untenable as a featured player. He’s the Stark with the least to do, which means he’s the Stark with the highest likelihood of being struck from this mortal coil. He is also, as you may recall, a prisoner of Ramsay Bolton. Thrones loves its bittersweet (and sometimes just bitter) moments. What’s more bittersweet than seeing Jon and Sansa retake Winterfell, then immediately have to burn the body of their youngest brother?
10. Ramsay Bolton (né Snow)
Long have I defended Game of Thrones as a show that only dabbles in, but does not completely subscribe to, nihilism. This episode will be a navigational marker for the show’s true moral direction. Every major milestone covered in blood – from Ned to Robb to my beloved Oberyn Martell and even Jon Snow – has been guided by the principle that decisions have consequences. And those consequences are dolled out with disregard for a character political allegiances or moral goodness. The good people die because of their mistakes just as often, if not slightly more often, than the bad people. The defeat of Ramsay Bolton is the ultimate high watermark for this guiding principle. He has done nothing but make harmful decisions and continually wrong everyone that has come into his line of sight. Unlike the petulant child Joffrey, Ramsay is a self-aware machine of pure evil. At some point, even he will meet the consequences of his actions. If Game of Thrones is ever going to balance the checkbook of consequences, this is its moment. Unless it really is a nihilist tale, then you can flip this list upside down and kiss all the feisty women of The North goodbye.
Read more Game of Thrones coverage:
- Game of Thrones: The Retirement Plans of Westeros
- The Game of Thrones Death Panic Index
- Game of Thrones: Who is the Real Villain of This Story?