Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Ramsay Bolton

It’s not like we really needed more reason to cheer for Ramsay’s death, but we got it this week.

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 staff writer Joshua Keating.

Miriam Krule: Josh! Thanks so much for joining me to discuss the incredibly disturbing “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” After last week’s Bolton slow burn, this episode is jam-packed with terrible people doing horrible things. A wedding in Westeros is never a good sign, but it hasn’t yet ended in a rape—one that could bring a deflated Reek to tears. Until Sunday night that is, when Ramsay, the current reigning champion of Worstness in Westeros, did what he does best and completely obliterated any sense of innocence and decency this show had left. (At least Tyrion is back, because I don’t think I could have survived the dourness of this episode if it didn’t involve him saving his own life by describing the best way to sell his most valued possession: “You can’t just hand a dried cock to a merchant and expect him to pay for it.”) But I’m getting ahead of myself—this episode is full of worst person all-stars: we have Cersei getting her way by incriminating Margaery and we have Littlefinger betraying Sansa Stark—seriously, that girl cannot catch a break. I know we’re here to discuss who the worst person is, but does anyone in Westeros have it worse than Sansa?

Joshua Keating: I didn’t think that anything could top the season-long transformation of Theon into Reek as a deeply unpleasant viewing experience, but that final scene may have just done it, particularly the last lingering shot on Theon’s anguished face that leaves you hoping in vain that he’ll overcome his programming until the second the credits finally rolled. We’ve had quite a few plots on Game of Thrones involving crafty strong-willed women like Daenerys and Cersei using marriages they were forced into to further their own interests. And that’s exactly what Littlefinger advised Sansa to do back in that very uncomfortable conversation in the crypt two episodes ago. And in the bath scene with the kennel-master’s daughter, Sansa is at least projecting confidence that she has the situation under control. But this episode grimly showed that becoming Lady Macbeth isn’t always that easy. In King’s Landing, Margaery’s attempt to manipulate the besotted tween king into sending his own mother out of town backfired in spectacular fashion. And at Winterfell, we got the moment the show has been queasily building toward for weeks. In retrospect, I can’t get Baelish’s knowing smirk when Sansa mentions that Reghar Targeryan raped her aunt out of my mind. He has my vote for worst non-Bolton person this week, but I’m curious, do you think he’s definitely betrayed Sansa? My read was that the veteran gambler is placing bets on both sides. Whoever wins the inevitable showdown between Stannis and the Boltons, he comes out on top.

Krule: This may come down to whose smirk is the most horrifying—every time Ramsay smiles I cringe. But his smile is of the psycho killer variety. Baelish’s is, as you said, knowing. He’s conniving and malicious, and I’m not sure which one is worse. Cersei has her issues, but I will argue, not necessarily convincingly, that the terrible things she does in this episode are, in theory, for her son, so she’s not in the running. (She won a few episodes ago because she was a terrible parent.) Ramsay’s motives are … to please his father? Gain control of the North? Just be a terrible person who abuses men and women for his own sick pleasure? I’m not really sure. Littlefinger, on the other hand, (and I prefer to call him that—it fits him so much more than Baelish) is just angling for power. This show has taught me to never hope for the best-case scenario, but even if I wanted to believe that Littlefinger is just hedging his bets, he’s betrayed Sansa in a way that he hasn’t betrayed Cersei, right? Yes, he has a plot with the Boltons, in theory, but he lied to Sansa about his allegiances. She’s not tied to the Boltons in a way that she’d betray him to them, so why wasn’t he honest with her?

Keating: He did warn us not to trust him! It’s a testament to Tommy Carcetti … I mean, Aidan Gillen’s performance, that viewers even entertained the notion that the man who betrayed her father could have Sansa’s best interests in mind, no matter his feelings for her mother or, it’s seemed in the last few episodes, his attraction to her.* My guess is that on balance he would probably prefer an outcome without her head on a spike—Cersei’s line was a very dark callback to the last sadistic psychopath Sansa was betrothed to—but that it’s an outcome he could live with. Speaking of thwarted plans, I really hope that’s not the last we see of the Sand Snakes in action. Given last week’s build-up, I expected something a  little more dramatic than the brief fight scene with Bronn and one-armed Jamie that was quickly interrupted by Doran’s guards. The episode’s title, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” is the motto of House Martell, but the Dorne plotline isn’t really doing it for me yet. Doran is pretty inscrutable so far. I don’t have a huge emotional investment in the fate of Myrcella Baratheon, who we’ve barely seen until now, and even the orientalist fantasy sets and costumes seem a little slapdash by Game of Thrones standards. At least, if nothing else, it provided a brief moment of sunshine in a very dark—in color palette as well as subject matter—episode.

Krule: Yes, thank the gods, the new and the old, that we had some brief relief with the Sand Snakes. I can’t imagine that will be the end of them, if anything, at least we’ll see their punishment—though I’m hoping there will be more than that, it’s not like Game of Thrones to build them up and then just end the story there—time is too precious on his show. Plus, one of them is an Academy Award nominee! (I’m still holding out hope that Arya befriends Obara—it’s also telling that in an episode with so much Arya news, she’s somehow the last story line worth talking about right now.) But speaking of being captured in Dorne, now that Jamie’s been caught, are we in for a repeat of “Jamie the prisoner”? I could do without that. I could also do without Sansa’s head on a stick, even if Littlefinger would seemingly be OK with that. I really think Littlefinger is the worst, but Ramsay is in a league of his own. The close up on Reek’s face meant only one thing to me—Reek will destroy him. Please don’t take that fantasy away from me!

Keating: Yeah, I think odds are good for a Reekvenge scenario. Ramsay letting him interact with someone from his former life and use his old name seemed overconfident even before what he was forced to watch in that last scene. And don’t forget Podrick and Brienne lurking in the hills, though given Brienne’s luck, they’ll probably show up three days after the climactic battle.

The only thing Game of Thrones’ writers love more than wallowing in abject cruelty is wise-cracking, bickering duos roaming the countryside. There are generally at least three in play at any given time. Brienne and Podrick got the week off this time, Bron and Jamie’s quest turned out to be as ill-advised as everyone told Jamie it would be. But as you noted at the top, we got a brief moment of quality time with Tyrion and Ser Jorah which seemed to be setting the stage for a showdown in the as-yet-unseen fighting pits/grayscale infestation in Slaver’s Bay/search for a reputable cock merchant. So far, this season has been stingy with the scenes of epic grandeur that make it worth sitting through episodes like this and Meereen seems like the best bet to provide one at least until the Boltons get their comeuppance. One the other hand, we’ve got yet another wedding coming up—Danaerys and Hizdahr zo Loraq—which as you noted, usually portends something horrendous.

Krule: Based on your equally fervent desire for a Reekolution (darn, that’s not as catchy as Reekvenge)—I think it’s safe to say that we’re in agreement? For the second week in a row, Ramsay wears the crown for Worst Person in Westeros. I thought Amanda Marcotte made a great point in her post about the rape—last season’s twincest rape was … poorly executed by the show runners and confusing to viewers. This one was terrible to watch, but that was the point—it was an act of war against the Starks.

Keating: Very true—this was unlike the Jamie/Cersei scene and the various horrors at Craster’s Keep in that the showrunners seemed completely conscious and intentional in how difficult it was to watch. It’s not like we really needed more reason to cheer for Ramsay’s death, Reek’s redemption, (Reekdemption!) and Sansa’s deliverance, but we’ve got it. But based on past experience, I’m dreading what we’re going to get instead.

Correction, May 18, 2015: This post originally misspelled Aidan Gillen’s first name. It also misspelled Rhaegar Targaryen’s name and Craster’s Keep.