Picking someone to cheer for in Game of Thrones has been a real challenge throughout the entire series. The minute you say to yourself, “I really like (insert character name here)– they are my favorite,” you can be sure that said character will be dead by the end of the season if not the end of the episode. It’s as if naming someone as a favorite started a countdown clock to the worst day of their lives.
Even characters who survived aren’t safe. Take for example the ‘heroes’ of Game of Thrones– The Stark Family. Bran is stranded in the land of always winter and doomed to watch the world unfold around him through a series of prophetic dreams – that’s less than ideal. Arya was brutalized and nearly killed by her teachers at The House of Black and White– that’s bad. Jon was betrayed by the Night’s Watch, murdered by his ‘brothers’ and resurrected for reasons unknown to him– that’s even worse. Sansa has gone from frying pan to fire to funeral pyre in a series of betrothals to terrible men– that’s a living nightmare. As horrible as their current predicaments are, compared to the rest of their family– Ned, Catelyn, Robb, and Rickon– the living Starks are doing okay. Not to sound too cavalier about it, but at least Jon, Sansa, and Arya are alive.
If Game of Thrones were truly a hero’s journey type of story, the surviving Starks, having lived through this series of terrible ordeals, are now on the road to a happy conclusion. However, based on my understanding of Game of Thrones, these characters simply haven’t faced their true one bad day yet, and that’s saying something considering the monumental battle most of their family just survived.
As crazy as this sounds, I’m going to miss Ramsay Bolton. I really am. While the true heroes of the story are hard to spot because ‘heroes’ on Game of Thrones die faster than raven emails get sent from castle to castle, the true villain of the TV version of Game of Thrones was Ramsay Bolton. As despicable a character as he was, the depths of his treachery made everything the characters we do root for that much better. The light would not be as bright were it not for the vast emptiness of the dark. Ramsay Bolton made all the heroes better because his villainy is what makes them heroes by comparison.
While there were other tyrannical bad guys throughout the first six seasons of Game of Thrones– King Joffrey, Tywin Lannister, The Mountain/FrankenGregor, The High Sparrow, everyone else on Arya’s Kill List– they were all bad guys in a very classic bad guy sense. Joffrey was a bully. Tywin was an old rich manipulator. The Mountain is essentially a James Bond henchman (think Jaws, not Blofeld). All of these characters are bad guys, but they’re not villains. According to Chuck Klosterman in his book, ‘I Wear the Black Hat’, a villain is someone who knows the most and cares the least. Joffrey was a bad guy because he was an emotional monster who knew so little about what was going on around him, he didn’t even know he didn’t know what was going on around him. Tywin was close to being a villain because he knew a great deal, but also cared a great deal. His caring so greatly about his legacy was ultimately what lead to his downfall.
Ramsay is the truest villain in Game of Thrones because not only did he know the most and care the least about the repercussions to his actions, but because the reasons for everything he did were in service to something else entirely. He was measured and calculating far beyond the animalistic butchery he displayed throughout his arc on the series.
It wasn’t until Sansa spelled out for the audience why Ramsey needed Rickon to hold the North that we realized Ramsey knew the most. It wasn’t until he murdered Rickon in front of Jon that we realized he cared the least. It wasn’t until he drew Jon’s army into fighting an emotionally fueled war on his terms that we realized he killed Rickon for something else entirely. Textbook villainy in it’s purest form.
I’ll miss Ramsay Bolton because Ramsay is essentially The Joker of Westeros. Even though I’m more of a Marvel Comics kind of guy, The Joker is hands down the best villain in the entire medium of comic books. There is one stand-alone Batman story called The Killing Joke that immediately comes to mind as it perfectly illustrates why Ramsay and The Joker are so much alike. Towards the end of the story, The Joker is soliloquizing to Batman as to why they aren’t all that different and why they are destined to battle each other until the end of time.
I’ve proved my point. I’ve demonstrated there’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up as a flying rat? You had a bad day, and it drove you as crazy as everybody else… Only you won’t admit it!
A similar version can be seen here as Heath Ledger acts circles around Christian Bale in this pivotal scene from The Dark Knight.
On paper there isn’t that much of a difference between Ramsay and Jon, just as there isn’t that big of a different between The Joker and Batman. This dichotomy is what makes the Battle of the Bastards so interesting. Both bastard sons of noble houses. Both named Snow. Both from The North. Both doing everything possible to rise above their station and carve out a name for themselves regardless of social and cultural predeterminations. All it took was one bad day to define Ramsay Snow’s villainy; I wonder what moment will wind up defining Jon?
More so than any other character, Ramsay Bolton was honest with himself about the type of world he was living in. He knew that even if he was the most obedient soldier his father could ask for, it wouldn’t amount to anything because he was a bastard. Even after he was legitimized from a Snow to a Bolton, he knew it wouldn’t mean anything if his father’s new wife produced a male heir. Ramsay probably made more messes than any other character, but rather than get someone else to clean it up, he was willing just roll around in it and try to get everyone else dirty. What made him a villain was that his goal was trying to make everyone around him see the world through his eyes with a clear understanding of the situation, and blatant lack of caring about the consequences.
Ramsay’s title as true villain of Game of Thrones is fortified by the effect he has had on the other characters. No disrespect to recently re-christened Prince of the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy, but his greatest villainy is on display in what he has done to Sansa Stark. The physical abuse aside, his influence is sowing the seeds for Sansa to blossom into Cersei Lannister 2.0. Her blind hatred for Ramsay made her emotionally compromised when it came to negotiating with bannermen, it made her desperate in asking for help from Littlefinger– a decision that comes home to roost next week– and prevented her from being completely truthful with Jon; actions that could have easily lead to them being killed or captured. Essentially, they just got lucky that they survived the day. While Jon’s battle at Winterfell was technically a win, it can be chalked up to timing finally working out for House Stark– lord knows this win has been a long time coming.
While the actual Battle of the Bastards was all we could have hoped for and more, Jon is going to be able to put this behind him and deal with the next enemy that comes knocking at the gates. The lasting effect of the Battle of the Bastards has fallen hardest on Sansa. Sansa’s character arc is the most emotional of the entire series. Every other character seems to have a path laid out for them– even Arya and her deadly internship across the Narrow Sea came with a graduation date– while Sansa gets a new gauntlet thrown down at every turn. This constant battle for survival has come at a cost the eldest living Stark. She’s changed, and not necessarily for the better.
From lying to Jon and Brienne about her involvement with Littlefinger, to holding back information about the involvement of the Vale, to coming to grips shockingly fast about the likelihood of Ramsay killing Rickon, Sansa is a shell of her former self. I’m saddened by the fact that in his last act in the show, Ramsay told Sansa that he’d always be a part of her… and I’m pretty sure he’s right.
- Seeing Dany unleash all three dragons on the Masters was awesome. The undercard to The Battle of the Bastards was awesome, huh? That was like the Steamboat vs. Savage of Westerosi WrestleMania III.
- The Greyjoys teaming up with Dany and her team is going to be interesting. I wonder if they’ll team up with the Sand Snakes in Dorne and all the most Dangerous Women in Westeros make a run at the patriarchy in King’s Landing?
- That is of course assuming King Tommen survives next week which I sincerely doubt he does.