Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Ramsay Bolton

Ramsay greets the newsest member of the Bolton clan.

HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be adjudicating a crucial question: Who is currently the Worst Person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate copy editor Heather Schwedel.

Brogan: Hi, Heather! Thanks for joining me to talk about “Home,” which fittingly shares its name with one of the most nightmarish X-Files episodes of all time. If this episode had a theme, it was probably about monsters being unleashed: We had a series of sequences in which barely contained forces of nature were freed from their chains—in some cases literally, as with the dragons and sometimes more metaphorically, as with Ramsay. But if the dragons needed Tyrion’s help to shake off their shackles, Ramsay was entirely in control of his own destiny.

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In one of several scenes that weirdly echoed The Force Awakens most shocking episode of familial murder, Ramsay stabs Roose and declares himself lord. In what follows, he lets the dogs out of their cages, setting them on his stepmother and newborn half-brother. It’s a horrifying moment, obviously, but it’s also a symbolically significant one. In many ways, Ramsay and those dogs are inseparable. The only difference is that he’s the monster who’s opened the door of his own prison.

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Schwedel: If Ramsay freed himself from his own cage, does that mean that he was in a cage before this? Like that he was trying to keep his behavior sort of in check and now is ​really ​going to go crazy? Because that would be truly scary. There was a moment there post-stabbing when I wasn’t sure if Lord Bolton had stabbed Ramsay or the other way around, and I thought maybe Ramsay was gone for good. I was briefly able to imagine a show without his character and I loved it?? He has done so many indescribably cruel things—to Sansa, to Theon—and I wasn’t particularly psyched to watch him kill a baby this episode, in addition to two other people. Why is he so evil? What are we gaining from watching him continue to be really evil?

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Brogan: I was right there with you when Ramsay knifed his father, hoping for a minute that he’d been stabbed instead. Ramsay’s almost too conveniently awful, and the show revels in that awfulness to a degree that has always been exhausting. His villainy lacks any subtlety, and I wish that we could move on from it. I imagine that when he finally does get his, it’ll be more satisfying for all of this icky stuff, but part of me just hopes that he just dies in his sleep and then no one mentions him again.

That said, at least his machinations are concrete and clear, unlike whatever was happening in the Iron Islands. Those scenes felt so detached from everything else that it was hard to know why we should care. It’s easy to identify Ramsay as the villain in part because he’s doing terrible things to recognizable people that we care about. By contrast I had to rush to the wikis to figure out who Euron Greyjoy is, and I’m still not sure why he threw his brother off a bridge. Maybe he’s the villain that we really deserve, but you wouldn’t know it from what we see here.

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Where does that leave us, though? Are we obliged to declare Ramsay the worst?

Schwedel: Right, maybe it’s the show’s writers who are the worst—introducing new characters and plotlines in Season 6 when there’s a long list of questions we’d rather have answered. We want to spend more time with Arya and Dany, not meet some random Iron Islands guy who thinks he has a claim to the throne, which is not even the throne we care about.

I was also totally confused about that bridge scene—had we ever seen or heard of that character before? If we have to spend some more time there, though, I’ve always liked Theon’s sister, Yara, so at least we’ll have her duking it out for dominion over the islands… until Ramsay Bolton finds an unthinkable way to kill her, probably. I do like thinking about how Ramsay will eventually get his comeuppance, but you’re right that maybe that’s more than we can hope for. Is Theon on his way to do it? I was sad to see him leave Sansa’s side, since they have so much history together, and they’ve finally gotten past him betraying her family, not helping her when Ramsay raped her, all that unpleasantness. But I guess nothing gold can stay on this show.

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Brogan: I enjoy Yara too, and, now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m digging the thought of her getting rid of Ramsay for us, which would at least resonate with some of the moments I liked best in the season premiere last week. But, as you suggest, she’s more likely to spend the next few episodes—maybe the next few seasons, given how glacial the pacing sometimes gets—fighting for control of yet another throne. To his credit, Ramsay, in his monstrous boldness, just went ahead and promoted himself to Lord Bolton, sparing us yet another struggle to decide who’s in charge.

Schwedel: At least “I prefer being an only child” was a pretty good quote. Wait, but, now that we know Melisandre can just bring back dead people, should we be worried that Ramsay will never die? That no one will ever really die? I also feel like they hit the Iron Islands motto, “What’s dead can never die,” pretty hard in this Jon-Snow-resurrecting week. I guess people have to like you to want to bring you back, and certainly no one feels that way about Ramsay.

Brogan: True, though the resurrection thing has me wondering: What if Melisandre’s the worst for not checking to see if she could bring people back from the dead before? Apparently all it takes is a quick hair cut. I’m still inclined to call this one for Ramsay, but…

Schwedel: Good point. And she had a very, very long time during which she could have checked, we now know!

But it’s still Ramsay.

Brogan: It’s always Ramsay.

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