Defending Ramsay Bolton

Posted: June 13, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , ,

This post will be about Game of Thrones and its reprehensible monster of a villain, Ramsay.

Reprehensible? Me??? – Well, I suppose that’s fair. Carry on.

Game of Thrones is a rare story in that so many of its villains have sympathetic traits, and its well-intentioned heroes more often-than-not struggle with the consequences of questionable choices.

Not every character can be described as that complex, though.

Ramsay Snow, by contrast, seems uniformly awful. And he is.

Although this post is called Defending Ramsay Bolton (look, I’ll just be shifting back and forth between Bolton and Snow, for absolutely no reason) – I’m not in this to justify or condone his actions.

Rather I’ll be defending his place in the story of Game of Thrones. To be specific, Ramsay on the show since I don’t know if the same things that I’ll say here can be said about Ramsay in the books.

Season Five: A Plot Point Too Far

I noticed a fair amount of Ramsay Bolton backlash during the infamous fifth season of Game of Thrones, where Sansa Stark replaced Jeyne Poole as Ramsay’s bride from the books. (Jeyne, unfortunate collateral damage from the Lannister coup in the capital, was forced to impersonate Arya Stark and was married off to Ramsay to secure Bolton legitimacy in the North, with the blessings of the Lannister-held crown.)

I understand backlash against Ramsay. No one likes that guy and no one should like that guy. (There were other reasons, Sansa-related reasons, to be mad.)

But some of the backlash was a bit more meta than merely hating on a hate-worthy monster of a character. The sentiment was more or less saying that a character like Ramsay Snow shouldn’t be in the show in the first place.

That’s a weird thought, that the show shouldn’t have a villain. Okay, maybe no one is actually saying that there can’t be villains on the show, but it felt like that’s what they were saying. Or rather, that Ramsay was too villainous. And maybe too cartoonishly villainous.

I don’t necessarily agree, particularly because the Ramsay on the show is arguably a better character than Ramsay in the books. This isn’t a dig against George RR Martin or how he writes the books. It’s just that book-Ramsay kind of occupies the same under-developed zone as Vargo Hoat or Gregor Clegane. They’re awful, and he’s awful. And not necessarily developed beyond baseline awfulness.

Ramsay is clearly more important to the story than the character of Lord Vargo, who was swapped out of the show and replaced with the Bolton henchman, Locke. I don’t know if the story taking place in the North, particularly with Theon Greyjoy’s participation, would have worked out without a Ramsay Snow to have betrayed Theon. Or if it would have worked with a somewhat gentler, or less brutal Ramsay.

In a way, we were given a more versatile Ramsay on HBO, although I might not be giving enough credit to the evil bastard in the books.

Roose: Evil? That’s my boy you’re talking about.

His scenes with his father, Roose Bolton, were always gripping (mostly because Roose was consistently an aspect out of Ramsay’s control, until it was time for kinslaying.) We can debate my interpretation, but Ramsay Bolton somehow hid his rampant sadism while face-to-face with Littlefinger. That’s quite a poker face.

I’ve busted on the show for making Ramsay overly-competent at times – but finally his luck ran out with Sansa’s reinforcements from the Vale of Arryn saving the day as Jon’s northern coalition was close to extinction. Now that Ramsay is dead, I assume that people who were uncomfortable with him being in the show will be more comfortable with him having been in the show.

He did have a thematic and brutal ending.

Ramsay: I’ll just use my heretofore-unsupported ability to skin-change into the dog, and not eat my face. That might work!
Rickon: We meet again. Sorry, but there’s no room in this dog’s brain for both of us.
Ramsay: Whoa. I wasn’t expecting this twist.

Ramsay, the Malignant Mirror

Ramsay Bolton serves a functional purpose in the story as a baseline reference of badness for gauging other characters. He’s a good foil for discussing the virtues and vices in others.

I previously wrote about Ramsay filling the villain hole left by Joffrey’s demise (who was worse, I wonder? Joffrey or Ramsay?) – but I preferred comparing Ramsay Snow to Jon Snow, since Ramsay was the kind of person that Catelyn was afraid Jon might turn out to be.

We have more comparisons that are worthwhile.

This most recent season’s finale kicked off with the beleaguered Queen Cersei achieving a stunning victory over her foes by detonating a cache of hidden wildfire. Her victory was somewhat marred with the news that her remaining child, King Tommen, had leapt to his death from the Red Keep. King’s Landing, indeed.

When Cersei was shown Tommen’s body, she had no comment. When asked about a funeral ceremony for Tommen, she dispassionately suggested that he be burned and that his ashes be spread where the Sept once was, so he could be with his grandfather and sister. And she left as if leaving behind some dirty laundry for someone else to clean and mend.

This is reminiscent of Ramsay’s story, from the end of Season Five and into the beginning of Season Six.

Ramsay had achieved a stunning victory over his foe, Stannis Baratheon, outside of Winterfell. Ramsay’s victory was somewhat marred with the fact that during the battle his wife Sansa escaped over the walls of Winterfell, but not before his creature Reek had killed Ramsay’s lover Myranda by pushing her off the same walls. Winterfell, indeed.

Ramsay: I can’t believe Reek pushed you off the wall. I was going to do that myself, but not for a couple more weeks. I was going to sing you a song before I pushed. That’s ruined now.

Ramsay had an unusually tender moment while viewing her corpse, wishing that she could be with him when he avenged her. But when asked if a grave should be dug or if the men should build a pyre…

Ramsay: Buried? Burned? She’s good meat. Feed her to the hounds.

The similarity of these story beats suggests a connection being drawn between the vicious Bolton and the cruel queen. We’ve known that Cersei can be nasty and vindictive, but her behavior when faced with Tommen’s death implied that she’s graduated up to a new level and she’s going to be more like Ramsay.

Cersei isn’t the only Lannister with a Bolton resemblance.

Across the Narrow Sea in Braavos, Arya Stark — forgive me, No One, was casing out a troupe of mummers as part of an assassination detail. She watched several performances of The Bloody Hand, a retelling of recent political events over in Westeros.

Hopefully their corporate funding won’t be cut.

It was quite clear that the playwright for The Bloody Hand had decided that Tyrion Lannister, the evil Imp, was the architect of all of the misfortune in Westeros. The play’s sinister dwarf gleefully took advantage of the king’s death, betrayed Hand of the King Ned Stark, sated his lust on young Sansa Stark, and murdered his nephew Joffrey as well as his own father, Tywin.

In this not-exactly-accurate portrayal of the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister is presented as a monstrous schemer. Almost like Richard III in his Shakespearean evilness.

Or rather, almost like Ramsay Bolton, who behaves in the “real” world of Westeros the way the mummer troupe’s version of Tyrion behaves in the play’s fictional world.

The lies about Tyrion (told not only in plays in Braavos but also in rumors of the Demon Monkey in King’s Landing) are Ramsay’s reality.

Betrayals? Check. Kinslaying? Check. Abusing Sansa? Check. (I’m talking about the show here for Ramsay’s list of crimes, but I don’t want to diminish Jeyne Poole’s pains from the book either by implying only that Sansa’s virtue is important.)

The reason I feel this is important: at some point, Arya on the show will hear about the torment that Sansa suffered as Ramsay’s bride. And she’ll remember what she saw in Braavos and most likely add Tyrion to her list. On the assumption that Tyrion probably was as bad as Ramsay.

Ramsay, the Guide Through Hell. Or Act Two. One of Those.

I come not to praise Ramsay Snow, nor bury him (since he was good meat and Sansa did right by Ramsay’s starving hounds) but to defend his position as an element in the narrative.

I’ve heard it suggested that A Song of Ice and Fire is roughly a three-act story, broken up something like this:

  • Act 1) The Hour of Treachery
  • Act 2) Didn’t Expect That, Eh?
  • Act 3) The Next Thing That’s Been Brewing aka ???

Okay, I just made up those names but in rough terms, the Lannisters rise up against the Starks treacherously. Joffrey beheads Ned, Tywin orchestrates the Red Wedding. This sets the stage for honor seemingly being worthless in the face of sly opportunism and organized betrayals.

Joffrey’s the guy we hate in Act One.

In the second act, the betrayers are the ones brought down by treachery from those close to them, and the honorable are still dangerously sticking to their principles. Joffrey gets poisoned by his allies, Tywin gets arrowed by his son.

Likewise, Roose Bolton is killed by his son and Ramsay enjoys the edge against Jon’s vulnerable forces but is blindsided by Sansa’s allies.

Ramsay’s the guy we hated in Act Two.

The first act breaks the equilibrium in favor of the villains; the second act somewhat moves things back into balance, but not quite. Roose-Ramsay act as a sort of northern mirror image of the Lannister team of Tywin-Joffrey (with poor Sansa playing a role in both locations.)

The third act will be the endgame, and I’m not going to speculate too much.

I think it was important for Ramsay to have carried the villainous load up in the North. Roose Bolton was too much like Tywin for him to feel like a separate threat, and the Starks needed to actively take Ramsay down as opposed to Joffrey who was taken down by others. (Yes, Sansa had the poison, but that’s not an active move on her part.)

So just like Cersei leveling up to Ramsay-levels of behavioral aspects, the Starks have leveled up on dealing with the villains, from passive participants to active protagonists.

Don’t be ridiculous. I’m the protagonist here. Northern bastard, rises up against all odds, kicks out the Ironborn, only hope to stop the wildlings. I’m the Prince Who Was Promised. Just with more flaying.

As well, Ramsay is kind of a bridge-villain between flawed human Joffrey and the inhuman Night’s King. Joffrey had the potential to be manipulated, but Ramsay was the manipulator. At least he was still human.

That’s can’t be said about the Night’s King.

I’m assuming that the Night’s King is the villain to supplant Ramsay in the story. I guess I won’t really know that until the show is over.

But it just seems like our antagonists are appropriately getting worse and worse. And I don’t think it would have worked as well to have gone from Joffrey to the Night’s King, without this transitional villain to make the hand-off.

So, thank you Ramsay.

Alright, I’ll wrap this up. I’m not sure if this article was all that substantial. I don’t really feel like I defended Ramsay from anything other than a seemingly straw-man “He shouldn’t be in the story” assertion. Fair enough.

But hopefully whatever passed as insights in this essay had some merit. That there was some overall structural element to the story that Ramsay Bolton brought.

In fact, let’s test this out. Imagine you can go back and edit one of two elements away from Season Five. What would it be?

There’s no wrong answer, but honestly I’ll be surprised if people opt to keep the Dornish plot. It was poorly executed, and received more consistent bagging on then Ramsay. But I could be wrong.

Maybe now the Dorne-admirers can be emboldened to vote to remove Ramsay instead, and feel good about their choice.

It’s just not how I’d vote. Even if I defend Dorne on the show. Yes I have done that. More or less twice. Ramsay and the story in the North is better than the Dornish storyline.

I’m certainly glad Ramsay Bolton is gone now, even if he’s out to make room for someone or something worse. But I will miss seeing Iwan Rheon on the show. He brought a certain magnetic quality to the role that is absent (in my opinion) from Ramsay Snow in the books.

Thank you Mister Rheon. (Rheon, Rheon, it rhymes with Theon.)

Okay, we’re just over a month away from the start of Season Seven. I’d say it’s torture to have to wait another four weeks, but I don’t want to press my luck and mention torture in an essay about Ramsay.

Everyone keep calm for the next 33 days or so. We’ll get there.

(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.

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

  1. forthejokes says:

    I voted to keep the Dornish plot, although I basically flipped a coin. I’m still annoyed that Arianne Martell was left out of the show, and I never had any particular interest in the Sand Snakes.

    I voted Ramsay out mainly because of the rape stuff, even though the Starks need to have antagonists in the North. Losing Winterfell was a result of Stark actions on the show, and they needed to win it back. They can’t secede from the Seven Kingdoms if they don’t control the North. Maybe I should have voted the other way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jennnanigans says:

    “(Rheon, Rheon, it rhymes with Theon.)”
    OHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! I see what you did there.

    Masterful summation, as always! And I think you did a good job defending Ramsay’s place in the narrative – his actions are indefensible, let’s be honest.

    I think what bothered me most about the Ramsay plot is how it broke credibility of the show’s carefully constructed rules. It’s established VERY early on that no matter how good a fighter anyone is, that nobody is indestructible or untouchable. Then Ramsay saunters in to a fight with NO SHIRT. And then he takes down Stannis’s camp with ‘twenty good men.’ Then he somehow gets the drop on Roose Bolton. THEN – he feeds Walda Frey and Roose’s son to his hounds. I get that it was supposed to show how the power of the Freys had been reduced because there are no repercussions, but it still seemed overly careless on Ramsay’s part. A friend used to use the phrase ‘overpowered’ to describe him, and I think that’s accurate.

    But as you said, he’s doggy chow now, so it’s all moot. I wonder who the writers will beef up as a villain to replace him? And I wonder what book-Ramsay’s fate will be?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your assessment of Ramsay being OP is pretty much on point. I sometimes joke that Ramsay is the secret leader of ghouls who gave him access to tunnels leading under Stannis’ camp, which is the only thing that makes sense.

      I appreciate the feedback, J! I hope everyone finds the post as entertaining as you did.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. joanna says:

    Hey Pat,
    I’ve never understood book readers who complain about the show. It’s unrealistic. And it’s basically impossible to adapt books of this size and detail [word for word] to one hour episodes. Mammoth is the task of adapting GRR Martin’s occasionally [often] rambling narrative into some kind of coherent screen form.

    TV is different, film is different. Changes will be made. It’s inevitable, unavoidable. We should appreciate the differences and the wonder of it all. GoT is quite simply amazing. Back seat drivers are the worst. Let us give thanks. And leave it at that.

    That said, I voted on your poll: Dorne of course. Yeah, total disaster. I’m not quite sure what happened there. Or who is to blame.

    I really don’t get the reaction to Sansa’s nightmare wedding night. It wasn’t inserted gratuitously – and so what if it was Jeyne Pool in the books. Yes, it was excruciating but you didn’t see anything. The use of sound and facial reaction was masterful. It was left to the audience’s imagination which made it ten times worse.

    The scene portrayed the utter debasement of both Sansa And Theon. It was instrumental in Theon’s redemption, fighting his way back to humanity, their leap of faith from the battlements of Winterfell. It led to Sansa’s bonding and forgiveness of Theon, finding her courage, the blessed relief of a hug from the closest thing to a family member after years of terrible strangers doing terrible deeds.

    And so many other things such as: Sansa’s rejection of Baelish. Hopefully we won’t get a nasty surprise in a few weeks. Anyway, my point is the follow-on effect of that night is bigger than we think.

    Who was the bigger villain? Joff vs Ramsay? Ramsay of course 🙂

    Do people say he shouldn’t have been in the show? I didn’t know that. I disagree for numerous reasons but this is already getting way too long.

    And here’s me nitpicking again:

    Ramsay had achieved a stunning victory over his foe, Stannis Baratheon:
    – Not really. It was a turkey shoot.

    As Roose famously said: 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?

    Ramsay won because Stannis made criminal mistakes:
    – He ignored Davos
    – He burnt Shireen
    – He forgot his military commander expertise
    – He believed Melisandre to the letter, because quite simply he wanted to

    So his army dumped him

    I agree with the dispassionate [what to do with the body] similarities – up to a point – Cersei with Tommen and Ramsay with Myranda. I noticed it at the time. But, there are some important differences:

    Ramsay was always this way. Cersei became this way.
    Cersei loved her children. Ramsay loved no-one but Ramsay

    Cersei’s grief at the death of her last living child was muted, but it was there: in the glistening of the eye, insistence to view the body and severity of her tone. Maggie the Frog’s words haunted her and she’d given up. She was numb.

    It’s ironic that Cersei fixated on Tyrion all her life [as a Valonqar candidate], and completely ignored predictions about her children. Talk about selective information filtering.

    Ramsay’s reaction to Myranda on the other hand was comically macabre.
    “I will revenge you my dear, but my dogs fancy a fresh hamburger. You don’t mind do you?”

    Hmm, interesting idea but not really convinced about this one:

    “Arya on the show will hear about the torment that Sansa suffered as Ramsay’s bride. And she’ll remember what she saw in Braavos and most likely add Tyrion to her list”.

    Surely Arya knows the play was based on Lannister version of events – Cersei propaganda. Why would she single out Tyrion as the bad guy when she knows the rest was a perversion of the truth?

    And how will she hear of Sansa’s torment if not from Jon or Sansa? Both of them have a high opinion of Tyrion. What do you have in mind? C’mon, spill the beans 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a huge comment!
      I will have to reply at length later, but ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

    • Alright, here goes… (I have to have two windows up, one with this reply field, and one window with your reply… it was so long!)

      We’re on the same page when it comes to separating the books and the show. They can both be good in different ways. The differences can be interesting to discuss, but if the show’s changes can stand on their own, that’s not a weakness. Like the Sansa storyline in Winterfell. It makes for a stronger story for her, and a tighter story in adapting and discarding a bunch of stuff from the books, that are working really well in the books, but might not work as well on screen.

      Ramsay is indeed to bigger villain than Joffrey.

      Hey, turkey shoots can be a stunning victory! Okay, I see your point, my point was using similar language in comparing Cersei’s situation and Ramsay’s situation. I won’t try to change your mind, and you’re not wrong in what you’re saying.

      I don’t know if we are disagreeing when it comes to Myranda/Ramsay, Tommen/Cersei. My point was to show that Cersei had somewhat moved closer to Ramsay on the evil spectrum, not that she had been there the whole time. You’re right that Cersei was different, she loved her children, I don’t think Cersei would go out of her way to be evil if things were going her way (I don’t believe Cersei is necessarily a sadist to anyone other than those who have crossed her) – but I’m saying that Tommen’s death, and her indirect role in it removed some humanity, and had her swimming in Ramsay’s pool now.

      You’re not the only one defending Arya. I might have misspoke when I said Arya would put Tyrion on her list from the play, I mean, she’s not saying his name now, but if Arya was co-located with Tyrion, she at least would know (however propagandized) that Sansa had been forced to marry Sansa, and if she hears any rumor of Sansa being abused by “her husband” before getting the real story from Jon or Sansa, then she might have cause to threaten Tyrion. I mean, any Lannister might be fair game. Arya in disguise was eyeing up Jaime at the Twins, and he have never been on her list. She might have been trying to gauge if she could take out Jaime and Walder Frey too.

      If I have cast aspersions on Arya Stark’s sterling character, I will apologize to her. If she gives me the chance. She might not.

      Thank you again for the big comment, and I value your insight, as always.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bugs94 says:

    i mean i obviously did/do hate ramsay and especially as i am a Theon fan but IR did such a good job with that tbh its almost a shame hes not going to be the show anymore in the books hes more more one dimensional

    Liked by 1 person

  5. erinb9 says:

    Whoa, I just HAD to immediately read this, after seeing you were about to defend Ramsey Bolton. Could it be done??

    I suppose, in the sense of whether he should’ve been excised from the story (the route you were critiquing, if I understood it right). And in that sense, I agree with you- he’s an important element of the plot and someone we love to hate.

    Plus, he makes a good rock bottom for all the moral relativism of the story. He makes Jaime Lannister seem fairly reasonable, by contrast, and that’s a guy who threw a kid off a tower. With all the heinous behavior going on, why wouldn’t there also be a full sociopath? It only makes sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erin, thank you so much!

      I admit that the headline was rather click-bait-esque, but you’re right, I was defending him from stuff that came out during season 5. It was the same kind of things like the occasional complaint that GRRM was sexist, because he could write his fantasy novel to have the genders be equal, and not so patriarchal.

      I think the sexism in Westeros is a topic worth discussing, but without necessarily casting value judgments on George. The same with Ramsay and his awfulness.

      Your example of Jaime looking pretty good in comparison to Ramsay is an apt one, because Jaime does look GREAT compared to Ramsay, even after pushing Bran out of the tower.

      Thanks for reading, I appreciate it, and for the comment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • erinb9 says:

        Ooh, sexism would be an interesting topic to explore. I could imagine so many arguments on both sides.

        I don’t think they could kill the patriarchal part without messing up the sense that we’re vaguely in medieval Europe + forest magic place. It’s less sexist than medieval Europe probably was, at any rate. GOT has some very strong female characters.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post as usual, and I agree Ramsay a) sets the standard for Westerosan awfulness and b) was very convincingly portrayed. Not easy to make evil look so…natural.

    On a side note, I did not buy Cersei becoming so callous towards her beloved Tommen. She had always talked a good line about her kids. Seems like a missing scene or two showing her development to that level. Would have been nice to see her really erupt about her shaming, or some other issue which portrayed her obsessing over power to the point that maternal love was set aside. The scene itself was well acted, her journey to that point, where she can take both the sudden loss of yet another child, and his explicit rejection of her ambition, with little regret.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And Rheon, like Jack Gleeson who played Joffrey, is reportedly a great guy in person. (I am hoping to hear him talk in a few weeks at Con of Thrones in Nashville.)

      I appreciate your criticisms of Cersei and Tommen. I might suggest that Cersei’s reaction to Myrcella’s death set the stage, since she had adopted a somewhat doomed fatalism about it.

      But having Cersei freak out over Tommen’s death would have been very realistic, I agree.


  7. I never understood the folk who argued that Ramsay shouldn’t haven even been a character in the show. He raped, he tortured, he mutilated and he was an amazing villain. He was the guy that you cheered for when Sansa delivered him to his hounds. It was a moment that we earned because of how much we hated him and in that regard, he’s one of the best villains I’ve ever witness across any medium. Next season I know they’re setting up the Night King to be the big villain, but I doubt Cersei is going to let him take that title easily. I can’t wait!!

    Also, would you be interested in sharing your work on Movie Pilot? I’d like to invite you to the platform as one of our content creators. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail, my contact details are on my “About” page. (o^.^)b

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there! Thanks for commenting on my post about Ramsay, especially about how his death was so satisfying.

      Thank you for your interest in my work, I will be in touch – it’ll be a few days before I can get back to you, there’s a holiday coming up that will be grabbing my attention, as well as other obligations.


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