Throughout this season, we have seen the old ways of life in both Westeros and Essos collapse under the actions of both the heroes and villains of our tale. Kings have fallen, kings have been crowned and kings have fallen again until now the power of the Iron Throne is weak. Noble houses have been ripped root and stem from the ground and cast into the pyres of war. Vassals have betrayed their lords so that, with a few key exceptions, there isn’t a single noble house who is now led by the man who led them at story’s start. The Faith has risen up in strength and power as a military force. The small folk seek shelter where they can. Slaves have risen up against their Masters. And far to the North, an undead army rises and marches.
There is always a sense of worry whenever Daenerys Targaryen speaks of leveling cities and toppling armies. Not that it is impossible, but that it’s spoken like the daughter of King Aerys II. The Mad King saw enemies everywhere and thought to deprive them of victory via his wildfire. For Tyrion Lannister, his goal is to help her find another way – a better way. And he gets his chance as Meereen is besieged by the Slave Masters of Astapor, Yunkai’I and Volantis – the men that had agreed to peace with Tyrion in Dany’s name. They arrive at a peace accord certain of their victory. Their navy bombards the city while the Sons of the Harpy butcher their way across it. This is their time of triumph, in which to forever stamp out the threat that Daenerys Stormborn presented to them: the terror of free slaves running things in Slaver’s Bay. They demand she turn the city over, leave the Unsullied and Missandei behind and slay her own dragons. In essence, they seek to rob Dany of all the vestments of her power and identity.
Except that they don’t realize how things have changed anymore. Because Dany has dragons. And, on the back of Drogon, Dany flies above the waters and burns their capital ships. Meanwhile, Dany’s Dothraki horde charge into the city and slay the Sons of the Harpy. In a matter of moments, the Slave Masters’ triumph is ripped from them – and for two of them, so are their lives. The last one is allowed to live to tell others what happened and what will happen to any who dare stand against the Mother of Dragons. The way of the Slave Masters is done. And they do not have the power to stop that.
Dany is not the only one looking to change the way the world works. After her victory, Yara and Theon Greyjoy arrive with a hundred ships of the Iron Islands. Their mission is to join forces under Dany’s banner and help ferry her now large army to Westeros. Their offer is smaller than the one Euron Greyjoy will arrive with, but it is free of the traditional attachments with which the Crow’s Eye’s offer will arrive. Euron will want a marriage pact with Dany for his armada. Yara and Theon want something far smaller: the Iron Islands. Dany agrees to their deal on the condition that they will cease their ironborn way of life – no more reaving, raping, pillaging or sacking. For Yara, it might be a tough thing to sell to her people, but if it will give her the crown that her uncle stole, she’s willing to change thousands of years of behavior for it. The old ways are dying around them and they just signed onto the strongest candidate’s side.
Strength is what Ramsay Bolton has always valued. Well, strength, cunning and viciousness. That is how he’s risen up in the world. That is why he betrayed and murdered his father and assumed the rule of House Bolton and of the North. That is why he assaulted his bride, Sansa Stark, in such horrible manner. Like all bullies and monsters, he relied on the strength that he created from the fear others had of him in order to get them to do as he wanted. Far from the respect that Eddard Stark used to rule the North, Ramsay Bolton would rule with terror and violence.
Sansa knew this best of all. But she also knew that the army her half-brother Jon Snow had cobbled together was not sufficient to best Ramsay. Jon knew it too, but he also knew that they had no more time and no more alternatives. No other houses remained loyal to the Starks and, with winter approaching, the time was either then to force the issue or never. So they turned their ragtag army of wildlings and small houses outside the fields of Winterfell to try and beat Ramsay Bolton and the various allies who swore allegiance to him. And Ramsay started by killing off Rickon Stark.
Make no mistake: Ramsay did this because he’s a manipulative schemer. He knew the bonds of love that tied the Stark siblings together and he knew that, whatever plan Jon might have formed, it would not stand against the opportunity to rescue his baby sibling. But he also did this because, as Sansa surmised, RIckon was the bigger threat to Ramsay. Jon is a bastard; unable to inherit. Sansa is his wife; a Bolton in name if not in form. Rickon, on the other hand, was the “last” living son of Eddard Stark. The last scion to the ancient Kings of Winter. Rickon alive was a threat to his rule. So he ended that threat and threw into chaos his enemies’ plans. His hope is that, with that act, the end of House Stark was at hand.
And it even looked that way as Sansa’s predictions came true. Jon’s plan was thrown in disarray. The superior forces and tactics of Ramsay and his allies meant that Jon’s army was bested. Ramsay even got to show off his vicious side by ordering his archers to continue volleying arrows into the fight that his own men where in – Ser Davos was incapable of making a similar call. It looked as if they would lose the day and Ramsay Bolton’s rule over the North would be secured. That is, until Sansa arrived with Littlefinger and the knights of the Vale to turn the tide of battle and secure their ancestral home for the Stark children.
One act was left to them: what to do with Ramsay. Jon was about to beat him to a pulp when Sansa strode into Winterfell. Instead, she found a way to dispose of the vicious Bastard of Bolton in a most gruesome manner: by feeding him to his dogs. The little girl who, a few years back, had left Winterfell with dreams of knights and of marrying a prince was now murdering her husband in cold blood. This is what the world has done to her. But not just her. To Daenerys. To Yara. To Tyrion. To Jon. It has taken their dreams and hopes and smashed them as it was being smashed apart and left them where, the only way to get justice, revenge or even peace, is to spill blood. It has also left them in positions of power and authority that were not normally left to women. The old world has been crushed and, in its place, a new one is rising.
When the world shifts so much as it has over the last few seasons, it creates opportunity for new leaders and new ways to come to the fore. This is what men like Littlefinger and Varys have been counting on – the opportunity to build a new one from the ashes with leaders that they would choose as their heads. They may, however, find that they are not the only ones who are looking to build that new world. It is being built even as the old one gasps its last breaths. It’s being built by Sansa Stark in the North and Yara Greyjoy in the West. It’s being built by Daenerys Targaryen in the East and by the daughters of Oberyn Martell in the South. It’s being built atop of ashes and atop of pain and misery. Because something new always rises out of the carcasses of the old. It’s the way history works.
And now, with Winterfell in their hands, Sansa and Jon can prepare for the enemy that’s coming. The enemy that’s looking to end all of history.