One of the more interesting and understated characters on HBO’s Game of Thrones is Roose Bolton, the Lord of the Dreadfort.
Usual spoiler warnings apply: One cannot talk about Roose Bolton without dropping massive spoilery details for the series.
Still here? Awesome.
Roose Bolton, in charge
Season Six of Game of Thrones included Roose Bolton’s abrupt exit from the story, but before he was unceremoniously killed by his son, Lord Bolton got to have a rather subtly important scene. (At least it’s important to me. Your mileage may vary.)
Following the battle outside of Winterfell, where Stannis Baratheon’s army was obliterated, Roose had a brief conversation with his son Ramsay.
Roose: Your command of the cavalry was impressive. Thanks to you, the false king Stannis Baratheon is dead. Do you know who struck the killing blow?
Roose: A shame. I’d reward the man. Still, a great victory.
Then the conversation kind of turns.
Roose: Do you feel like a victor? I rebelled against the crown to arrange your marriage to Sansa Stark. Do you think that burning wagons in the night and mowing down tired, outnumbered Baratheons is the same as facing a prepared and provisioned Lannister army?
Roose is appropriately chiding Ramsay for creating the conditions that convinced Sansa Stark to escape. Sansa is a fugitive from the Lannister-aligned crown, and the Bolton action of adding Sansa to the family is clearly a power move in defiance of King’s Landing. Roose has plans on ruling the North, not by being backed from a king in the south, but by producing a Bolton heir that undeniably has the Stark bloodline.
With Sansa on the loose, the Boltons have no leverage to coerce the North to resist any Lannister-led reprisals.
But that’s not really what I want to dwell on. There existed another lever that could have been used to short-circuit Lannister reprisals. A potential lever that was broken by the battle.
Still, a great victory. Still?
In the initial exchange, Roose asks if it’s known who the man was who killed Stannis Baratheon. No one has come forward on this, and Roose remarks that it’s too bad, because such a kingslayer is deserving of a reward.
Roose: Still, a great victory.
Roose almost makes it sound like not knowing who killed Stannis casts a shadow on their victory against the threat of the ragtag Baratheons.
Roose: A shame. I’d reward the man.
Is Roose actually bummed by the lost opportunity of rewarding one of his soldiers? Maybe that fits in with his management style, but I don’t think that’s what happening here.
I’m fairly convinced that the reward Roose had in mind for whomever killed Stannis was something extremely unpleasant.
A dead Stannis Baratheon is just another corpse. But a living Stannis, sequestered in the dungeons of Winterfell (or at the Dreadfort, if Roose feels better about that) would undeniably be a valuable political asset. With Stannis in his pocket, Roose Bolton would have had something to talk to Kevan Lannister about.
If that had been the case, let’s imagine the raven exchanges between the Winterfell and King’s Landing rookeries.
Roose: S’up, Kevan.
Kevan: I understand that you have married my nephew’s wife to your bastard, Ramsay. It might be true that Aegon the Conqueror had two wives, but I don’t think the same indulgences can apply to Sansa and multiple husbands.
Roose: The youth of today. What can you do?
Kevan: Well, since Sansa is a wanted regicide, I recommend you deliver her to us immediately, and bend the knee like no man’s knee has bent before. If you wish to keep your head, that is.
Roose: I think I’ll keep my knees and head as they are. At the moment, I am quite busy playing host to the queen-regent’s brother-in-law, Stannis.
Roose: Indeed. It would be quite a turn of events if I were to, say, put him on a boat bound for Dorne. I understand that there is considerable bad blood between your family and the late Prince Oberyn’s kin?
Kevan: What do you want?
Roose: My needs are few. You tend to your affairs below the Neck, I’ll tend to my affairs in the North, and there is every reason that Stannis Baratheon can continue to enjoy Bolton hospitality. Indefinitely.
Stannis might not have had an army after the defeat at Winterfell, but he still had a solid claim to the Iron Throne. If he were to be handed over to the
Martells Sand Snakes, this would create more problems for the Lannisters since Tommen’s rule could never go unchallenged as long as Stannis drew breath.
And Stannis would be under the control of a kingdom ready to go to war against the Lannisters, using him as a symbol to weaken the authority of their enemies.
Roose would recognize the loss of opportunity in Stannis’ death, so I felt that short bit of dialog between Roose and Ramsay, if interpreted the way I’m choosing to, is a nice nod to Roose’s big picture thinking.
But it’s probably not.
In all likelihood, the post-battle dialog was simply to answer this question from the viewers: Is Stannis dead?
There were those who hoped that Stannis was still alive going into Season Six. He was last seen alive in the books, and the Baratheon Bossypants does have his fans, even after burning his daughter Shireen.
Even people who are not fond of Stannis might believe he was alive, merely because we didn’t conclusively see Brienne kill him. Corpus delicti is not a bad requirement when someone’s death is reported on the show.
Despite the lack of visual evidence, the scene at the top of this post pretty much answered that question, at least to my satisfaction: if Roose was talking about Stannis being dead, then he was probably dead. Roose doesn’t seem like a half-measures guy to me.
Am I right about Roose doing these calculations, about the loss of opportunity with Stannis dead? I don’t know. If the writers of the show intended for Roose Bolton to be irritated by Stannis death (or not) Roose took his opinion with him to the grave when the bastard of Winterfell murdered him in the following episode.
RIP, Roose. You betrayed the Starks and you weren’t a good person, but you were probably more interesting and complex than the show fully took advantage of.
To be fair, a lot of interesting and complex characters were unceremoniously bumped off in Season Six, before they could be fully taken advantage of.
I’ll admit that some of my emphasis on why Stannis’ death is a blow to the Boltons has less to do with hypothesizing what an intelligent person Roose is, and more about defending Brienne of Tarth.
Brienne got a fair amount of heat from viewers for abandoning her watch for Sansa’s signal, to hunt down Stannis after the battle. I’ve heard it said that this was another example of why pursuing vengeance reaps negative consequences on Game of Thrones, since Brienne missed Sansa’s candle in the tower window.
I’m not really a fan of that criticism, since karma is probably not a driving force in the cosmology of Westeros, and in my opinion, Brienne’s execution of Stannis theoretically weakened the Bolton cause by denying them this particular playing piece. (Also, it’s still unclear what Brienne would even be able to accomplush if she saw the candle.)
Regardless, the Bolton family has now been exterminated (in large measure by Ramsay himself) and the Starks just need to deal with the threats from the further-north. And the from east, since Dany might harbor a resentment against the Starks, whom Viserys referred to as the Usurper’s Wolves. And from the west, since the new King of the Iron Islands might want to hit the North again. And from the south, if the Lannisters ignore everything else going on and make a move against Sansa and Jon Snow. (Okay, that’s pretty unlikely, but I wanted to hit all the cardinal points of the compass.)
We’re almost through January (which has been kind of crappy and rainy around here, and not all that wintery.) Next week, my topic will stay up North as I talk about a family with close ties to the Starks. The Karstarks.
They say you can choose your friends, but not your family. That applies pretty strongly to the Karstarks.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there. (Just not the actual text from the show, of course.)
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