(Editor's note: Spoilers ahead for season six of Game of Thrones.)
The ninth episode of each season of Game of Thrones is coupled with fans' fervent anticipation, as the series traditionally leaves some of its most thrilling moments for its penultimate hour.
It's in each season's ninth episode that we've witnessed Ned Stark's unexpected execution; the Battle of Blackwater Bay; and the infamous Red Wedding. This Sunday should be par for the course, as we'll finally be treated to the "Battle of the Bastards."
The bastards in question: Northerners Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton, who will lead the Stark and Bolton forces, respectively. But unlike the aforementioned narrative turns in the series, the forthcoming battle is an event that has yet to happen in George R.R. Martin's books — at this point, the show has almost entirely surpassed the books.
While fans can surmise who will come out on top — and who will die — we won't have definitive proof until Sunday. However, here's what viewers should expect from the epic clash, based on earlier hints.
Littlefinger could be the trump card for House Stark. We haven't seen much of Littlefinger this season, aside from his profuse apologies for Sansa Stark's torment and repeated rape at the hands of Ramsay, who he married her off to. Sansa and he did not leave in good graces when they met earlier in the season. However, through Robin Arryn, Littlefinger does have control of the Knights of the Vale — renowned fighters, who have been on the sidelines for the entire show.
Many fans theorize that, at the very least, Sansa has reached out to Littlefinger in a letter she wrote prior to the fight, in lieu of the unimpressive numbers the Stark forces have. Some have even deciphered almost in full what Sansa's letter said. Enough of it implies she is expecting his support.
Aiding Jon and Sansa in the battle wouldn't just allow him to curry favor with, presumably, the reestablished rulers of the North; it would likely redeem him for what he put Sansa through with Ramsay, at least in part. Littlefinger has already made it clear that he's willing to use the chaos of Westeros as a ladder for political ascension, and helping the Starks reclaim the North fits that narrative.
The North (might) remember. While Jon and Sansa's efforts to rally the North against Ramsay proved futile — aside from the 62 men from House Mormont and the Wildlings — there is reason to believe they'll have more support than expected. It harkens back to a theory that's more prevalent in Martin's novels, known as the Grand Northern Conspiracy.
Essentially, this would mean the other houses in the North are subtly conspiring against the Boltons. It wouldn't be hard to see why, considering Ramsay's method of ruling over the other houses involves flaying people alive. It's even possible that House Umber, who have pledged fealty to the Boltons, would be part of this conspiracy (in the books, their loyalty to House Stark is unquestioned), despite handing over Rickon Stark to Ramsay earlier in the season.
While the show hasn't been as forthcoming about the intentions of the other Northern houses, there have been enough hints to suggest it could still be in the cards. At its most basic, it's a choice between a fearful rule under a well-established psychopath in Ramsay, or an honorable house that's ruled the North for centuries in the Starks. Perhaps, still, the North remembers.
Even if Jon Snow wins, Winter is Coming: Battles, and important scenes in general, are rarely straightforward in the series, which makes Jon and Ramsay's clash so fascinating. Jon and House Stark are near-universally expected to win the fight — why else painstakingly bring Jon back from the dead?
However, in customary Game of Thrones fashion, the reason it looks predetermined could harp back to what Ser Davos told Lady Mormont to rally her troops: The fight with Ramsay isn't even the one that matters.
Rather, it's the impending, ominous threat of the White Walkers, who have all but established themselves as unbeatable following the Massacre at Hardhome. They haven't made it to the Wall yet, but fans are theorizing they'll arrive by the season finale. What's more, though the Wall is comprised of magic that should prevent the White Walkers from crossing over, Bran Stark could be a catalyst for the Wall's destruction.
As we previously saw, the Night's King marked Bran during one of his visions, and afterward, was able to enter and raid the Three-Eyed Raven's cave. Before that, like the Wall, vaguely defined magic prevented the White Walkers from passing through.
If Bran were to cross through the Wall and back to Westeros, that same mark could effectively end the Wall's effect — allowing the Night's King to finally march the army of the undead further south. For Jon and Sansa, reclaiming Winterfell would be a very brief victory if the White Walkers were an immediate threat to the Realm.
In the meantime, however, Jon and Sansa have to take care of the Boltons, and fans certainly hope they're successful. Ramsay is regarded as not just the worst character in the entire series, but one of the most deplorable characters in modern television. While the Starks are expected to win, Ramsay's (hopefully brutal) demise makes the fight must-watch television. The Twitterverse certainly can't wait for what fans are dubbing the "Bastard Bowl."