Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Ramsay Bolton

It’s a tough call, but Roose Bolton is a saint compared to his son Ramsay. 

Photo by Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 5, we’ll be discussing a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, Slate assistant editor Miriam Krule is joined by Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton.

Miriam Krule: Jack! Thanks so much for joining me to discuss “Kill the Boy,” or, as I like to call it, “Wait, This Show Is Now About the Boltons?” Yes we have Stannis correcting the grammar of the Night’s Watch under his breath and Dany quietly torturing the masters of the families with her dragons and their fiery breaths, but the heart of this episode was the uniquely fucked up family we know as the Boltons.* Not a single scene in this episode took place in King’s Landing and Tyrion’s brief—and slightly terrifying—appearance is the only Lannister we see. That is crazy! The stories in Game of Thrones run deep, but last season’s B plots are now the heart of the story. Episode 4 dwelled a bit on what it means to be a parent on Game of Thrones: Do you think Papa Bolton and Bastard Son Bolton are getting the spotlight because they’re the only father-son story left on this show?

Jack Hamilton: Before we begin I’d like to suggest renaming this award the Brandon Stark Worst Person In Westeros Award to honor Bran’s historic streak of (unofficially) capturing this title every single week from Seasons 1–4. That whiny tween can cool his heels in the skeleton cave with those kids who shoot fire for many winters to come as far as I’m concerned. Anyways, yes, the spotlight on the Boltons was both unexpected and weirdly riveting. They’re both just so terrible. Ramsay once again laid claim to being Westeros’ most illustrious sadist (and body-shamer, apparently) but man, his dad is a real asshole, right? I do think there’s some sort of inverse Stark thing going on here, where Roose and Ramsay are essentially the anti Ned and Jon, and the fact that they’re kicking back in Winterfell makes it all the more perverse. Particularly now that Sansa is there. And Theon. Or are we calling him Reek too?

Krule: Reek was the second biggest surprise to me in this episode—after I found myself unexpectedly wishing that we got even deeper into the Bolton family history. Theon was a classic Game of Thrones character when we met him: confused loyalty, daddy issues, womanizer—he was the complete package. But, like a Stark kid (it really is interesting how much of a Stark trajectory he has!), his life has completely changed and he is forced into a situation where he has no control. He even got a new name. (By the way: When it comes to his name, my strategy is refer to him as Theon pre-Ramsay and Reek post-Ramsay.) He is a character, who, as Stark fans, we detested with greater passion as the show progressed, but he has somehow earned our compassion and this episode was our perverse payoff. I’m nervous for him, but also have no idea where his story can go from here, which just means that the main thing we have to decide this week is who’s worse: Roose or Ramsay?

Hamilton: I’ve gotta give it to Ramsay, although it’s a close call. How close? During the scene when Roose describes killing Ramsay’s mom’s husband and then raping her underneath his dangling corpse, I actually found myself wondering if Roose was making the whole thing up just to fuck with Ramsay. THAT’s how bad Roose is. But Ramsay, good lord. From his seemingly hellish relationship with Myranda the kennel master’s daughter—if there’s Savage Love in Westeros, Myranda should really be writing a letter right about now—to his ongoing torment of Theon/Reek (Theek?) to his virtuosic humiliation of the entire Stark clan at dinner for no apparent reason other than his own amusement, dude is pretty terrible. Roose at least seems to be making his wife happy? I’m sure that new kid will grow up juuuuuuuust fine. All that said, in the early part of this episode I was almost wondering if Daenerys was going to lay claim to this award again, feeding rich dudes to her dragons and whatnot. And now she’s engaged!!! The apparent elevation of Hizdahr zo Loraq from occasional political nuisance to Future Stepfather of Dragons was maybe the most shocking development of this episode, at least until the stone people started flying off cliffs and onto boats.

Krule: Seriously, when did Game of Thrones become a horror show? That build-up from seeing the majestic city of Valyria—and that amazing impromptu poetry recital—to Tyrion’s eyes when he saw the dragon and then: ZOMBIES. No, I know they were stone people, but they really looked like zombies and that’s basically what they are, no? Dead people who infect the living. I think we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see what’s going on there, but I kind of loved Dany’s drastic change of heart. She even added some humor to her inane rulings, telling the masters of the families she doesn’t want to overfeed her dragons; that’s why she’s only killing one of them! That, oddly enough, endeared her to me more.

That speech she gave Hizdahr zo Loraq in his cell was how a queen SHOULD speak: It takes courage to admit mistakes, look how courageous I am! Oh and also, you’re marrying me. She’s gone way up in my book! No, it’s definitely between the Boltons, and I’m going to have to agree that Ramsay takes the cake. No matter how perverse his father is, Ramsay created Reek and that will forever be his legacy. That heart-to-heart about his mother also goes to another favorite trope of mine, and bear with me: Every character is a foil for Jon Snow. We all have theories (duh, he’s the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark) but Ned promised he would tell him who his mother was, and then he died. It’s one of the enduring mysteries of the show and yet, Ramsay NEVER ASKED who his mother was. If this story is true, and we have no real reason to doubt it is (do we?), is this really the father-son legacy we’re left with in Westeros? I hope a new generation saves us soon. After all … “Winter is ALMOST upon us.”

Hamilton: Parading Reek around in front of Sansa was next-level on Ramsay’s part, and sealed it for me; even Roose seemed disturbed by that little flourish. Did Sansa already know that pre-Reek Theon had (pretended to have) killed Bran and Rickon? I couldn’t remember—she didn’t seem shocked, but at this point what’s shocking for Sansa Stark? Kid’s seen it all. It is telling that Ramsay never asked who his mom was, and I think just gets to the bottom line that Ramsay is out for Ramsay and Ramsay alone. I’m not even sure his dad trusts him, nor should he—he CERTAINLY shouldn’t let him babysit his forthcoming little brother, that’s for sure. As for Jon Snow’s parentage, so glad you brought up that Rhaegar/Lyanna theory, which I LOVE. It’s both totally zany and weirdly makes complete sense, although it’d throw a wrench into the future Jon Snow–Daenerys coupling I’ve long been foreseeing since I guess that’d make Dany Jon’s aunt. But hey, crazier incest has certainly happened in Westeros. In the meantime let’s get those Wildlings inside the wall and hope for the best!

Correction, May 11, 2015: This post originally misidentified the Night’s Watch as the Knight’s Watch.