Despite waiting over a year for his eventual death, when it came time for Ramsay Snow's demise on Game of Thrones , I shocked myself when, against all odds, I cried. I wept big, mascara-running-down-my-face tears. Before you click away from this page because these are clearly the words an insane person, I should state that I don't miss Ramsay or want him back on the show. I don't side with him. I don't support any of his sadistic, maniacal games. I don't even worry that we're losing our source of drama without him. My tears may have been spurred on by Ramsay's death, but I wasn't crying for him. And it took me a minute, but there's a very real reason why, and it's exactly how "Battle of the Bastards" became a historic moment, not just for Game of Thrones, but for television as we know it.
As fans know, the ninth episode of each Game of Thrones is season is expected to be a complete doozy. But Sunday night's "Battle of the Bastards" was unlike any other doozy of an episode before it. Yes, previous ninth episodes have given us highly emotional, mental wrecking balls like the Red Wedding, the Battle of Blackwater, and Ned Stark's death, but no ninth episode has ever struck so many chords so successfully and with such a relentless pace. What's remarkable is that this particular gut punch from the beloved HBO series was no tragedy. This time the emotional wrecking ball was served up, not with the blood of characters we love, but with the blood of their enemies, and it was perhaps more emotional and satisfying than any previous episode that has ripped our hearts out.
Part of the credit goes to the perfect execution of events that we've been waiting eons for, namely Daenerys finally taking control of a full army with all three of her dragons breathing fire in a perfect trifecta and the death of Ramsay at the hands of Sansa Stark.
With Dany especially, we've been hearing this character threaten to take hold of an army and march towards her destiny for years, all the while feeling uncertain that we would ever get off this endless trot through a desert of obstacles and not much else. We waited for the dragons, only to have them separated and then locked away in a dungeon. We watched Dany take Mereen as the lynchpin in her grand plan, only to lose it shortly thereafter. For the first time in the series' existence, this victory of Dany's makes good on seasons old promises and it actually feels like permanent progress. After all her hard work, she's not standing on a hill made of sand, ready to slide away at any moment. She's reached a point of no return — every step from here on out is a step towards her ultimate victory or ultimate failure.
And that soaring feeling, the sensation of a heart full of pride at watching this woman we all believed in finally get what she deserves, happened just 15 minutes into the episode. We could have seen just that and walked away happy, but the emotional onslaught had only just begun.
Even the small details between Dany's victory and the actual battle between Jon and Ramsay's armies — Sansa defiantly telling Ramsay he should prepare to die in battle, Yara and Dany teaming up, and Davos finding out Shireen's devastating fate — wrenched hearts in a million different directions. Pride, joy, and devastation enrapt viewers in a matter of minutes before the real battle began.
Though every outcome was nearly a foregone conclusion — we all knew Rickon would be lost at the hands of Ramsay, that Jon Snow wouldn't leave us again so soon, and that Ramsay would fall — the lengths to which the writers and producers went to undermine the truth we all knew at every moment were incredible and brutally effective. When Jon Snow struggled under a pile of bodies and his breath escaped him, I couldn't breathe either. When Sansa gave a speech to her abuser that made me swell with pride on her behalf, I worried that some cruel twist of fate would wrench this victory away from her.
This is an episode in which we nearly lost our hero Jon, our beloved Tormund, and all hope. And every second leading up to Sansa striding in on a white horse with the Knights of the Vale was dripping with the pain of potential loss. And, when it was finally over, when Jon looked at Sansa and acknowledged that this was her battle to close out and not his own, I couldn't hold back any longer. Tears flowed down my face for the remainder of the episode, intensifying when Sansa delivered her empowered speech and the last words Ramsay would ever hear, and reaching near incomprehensible heights when Ramsay's dogs finally finished him off and Sansa's sly smirk was the last thing we saw.
And, the thing is, I know I'm not alone in this.
What Game of Thrones has done — at the risk of nearly quoting Parks and Recreation's Ben Wyatt — is create characters who feel so real, so entirely human that it doesn't matter how absurd the fantastical circumstances that surround them are. It doesn't matter that Jon Snow is some sort of handsome, jedi zombie. It doesn't matter that Dany has hair brighter than the sun and three loyal pets that just happen to pack the punch of 40,000 flamethrowers... each. It doesn't matter that the world feels light years away from where we currently live and watch this show.
We truly, deeply care about these characters on a very human level. And while it's easy for writers to make audiences feel something upon witnessing tragedy that befalls any well-written character (seriously, give me some violin music and a single other character mourning someone's passing and I've got some serious feels), it's far more difficult to elicit the same veracity of emotion when that character is succeeding.
And that's why I, and many other Game of Thrones fans, cried from the moment Ramsay Bolton's fate was sealed until the minute Sansa left him at the mercy of his own hounds. After countless huge successes for characters who've more than earned every miracle moment in which their storylines somehow didn't end; after fearing that we were wrong and Jon Snow would never crawl his way out of that mountain of dead soldiers; and after dreading that Sansa's life might be defined by her abuser, these characters all achieved glorious, entirely unlikely victories. And the fact that a television show can pack that much plot and that many victories into one episode and have them all matter enough to drive its fans to fits of jubilant tears is why we've stuck with Game of Thrones through all the heartbreak. It's why we can't bear the thought of a time when it didn't exist. And, it's why I'll be awaiting my next emotional meltdown at the hands of our friends in Westeros with baited breath.
Bring it on.
Images: Courtesy of HBO (4)