From the Maester’s Desk: A Flayed Man Holds No Secrets


The article contains spoilers from ASOIAF.

This isn’t happening to you for a reason. Well, one reason: I enjoy it!

Ramsay Bolton (formerly Snow) was for sure a villain we all loved to hate. Much as certain characters like to remind us how much of an unpleasant person Joffrey was, the boy king didn’t hold a candle to the bastard of the North.

Technically, he made his entrance at the end of Season 2, besieging the Ironborn-held castle of Winterfell, but budget and time constraints prevented him from making a proper appearance, leading to much confusion when we were shown a sacked and burnt castle and no real indication of what happened to the Ironborn who betrayed Theon.

The book version of the character does show up in the second book, A Clash of Kings, but under the guise of Reek. He plays Theon like a fiddle and poses as his servant and advisor, until he finally drops the facade (after slaying Ser Rodrik Cassel, who was the one besieging the castle) and takes Theon prisoner. Then Winterfell is torched, and its people (along with the Ironborn) are killed.

From that moment, Ramsay and Theon vanish from the novels until A Dance with Dragons, but both characters didn’t take a break from the show, returning in the third season. Ramsay is introduced simply as “Boy”, keeping his real identity concealed until the season finale (“Mhysa”).

Throughout Season 3, Ramsay takes on a “Reek”-like persona, pretending he’s an ironborn emissary sent there to help Theon escape the Dreadfort. It’s all mind games for Ramsay’s amusement, of course, and when the metaphorical mask comes off, he starts to do his thing with gusto: torturing Theon in a variety of ways and culminating with a very literal emasculation.


But before this article turns into a recap of sorts, I’d like to talk about some of the fundamental differences between both versions of the character. There are some in terms of story to be sure, but also in regards to the physical appearance and personality.

The same way Roose’s eccentricity was toned down for the show, Ramsay traded his fancy pink-and-red silk clothes for a black leather jerkin. Now, I’m not a member of the fashion police, but I feel the gaudy garments wouldn’t have worked all too well in the adaptation. It’s a similar situation to Daario’s blue beard and gold-tipped mustache: I think it would’ve been too distracting, to the point of looking downright silly.

Martin also describes him as a pudgy individual who’s on his way to become fat. Rheon’s version is far more athletic in comparison, as we could see in the infamous moment when he and his dogs made Yara and the Ironborn run away. The change makes sense, considering his love for hunting people for sport with said dogs, chasing unfortunate “prey” through the woods. He should look fit and not like someone who’d experience shortness of breath while running.

In terms of character, we can all agree the tv version kept the character’s sadistic impulses and glee for hurting other people through torture and/or manipulation. He’s not a muffin, that’s for certain.

Whereas the book version is said to be undisciplined and never taught at arms, using his sword like a butcher’s cleaver, in the show he’s portrayed as a capable commander, essentially winning two major battles – against Stannis and Jon Snow. Were it not for Sansa and the aid from the Knights of the Vale, the Battle of the Bastards would’ve had a different outcome. He was also shown as capable of wielding swords and using bow and arrow with great accuracy (sadly for Rickon). ramsay

The necessary streamlining of the story in the adaptation proved to be a double-edged sword in Season 5. I’m not too eager to delve into that particular controversy, but to dance around it and pretend it doesn’t exist would be a disservice to the article. So, onwards to address the elephant in the room:

I’ll just say that I understand the reasoning behind it, since Sansa took on the role of Jeyne Poole (a “fake Arya” in the books, so to speak) and Ramsay wouldn’t want to waste time to “consummate” his union with her. Was it necessary, however? I think some other options could’ve been explored, or the scene itself could’ve handled in a different way: an earlier fade to black when either Sansa or Theon realizes what’s about to happen, maybe. The implication is clear enough to be disturbing without going the whole nine yards.

What’s done is done, nonetheless, and fortunately the screenwriters have avoided similar controversies. I very much prefer (much as it tends to annoy me, I have to admit) to see polemic regarding traveling times or whether wights can swim or not.

Season 6 was the final one for Ramsay, and one that saw his personal pile of corpses rise ever higher. After dispatching his own father and stepmother (and his poor newborn brother too), Osha and Rickon fell at his hands, courtesy of the traitorous new lord Smalljon Umber.

I must say I was disappointed with the way Osha exited the screen adaptation. It was a rather short scene, and considerably lacking in suspense, almost feeling like an afterthought or a “let’s just get this over with” ticking of the box so we could move on. I’m of the opinion that most characters, even minor ones, have been given memorable or at least exciting enough demises. Even memes are born from some of them, like in the case of Tommen Baratheon.

Osha didn’t have such luck, a fate she shares with The Waif (whose off-screen death didn’t work the same as with Stannis, in my opinion), but I’m starting to digress.

ramsay osha

There can be no more guessing in regards to Ramsay’s future in the show. He’s dead and gone for good, as opposed to his book counterpart.

A Dance with Dragons left us in suspense, and we don’t know the results of the battle between Stannis’ forces and the Boltons’. I’m of the opinion that Stannis lost, not just because that’s the route the show took, but rather because I think Jon is in a way destined to either face off against his polar opposite (when it comes to northern “bastards”) or to avenge Robb.

Had Stannis won the fight, and liberated the North by himself, it would feel anticlimactic in a way, especially if we consider it was Ramsay’s letter what ended up triggering the mutiny at Castle Black.

I’m less certain about Roose’s fate. I doubt his bastard son will be the one who kills him.

The show surely went that way for reasons of simplification, positioning Ramsay as the sole antagonist, which works better than having two different baddies sharing the spotlight.

That’s not to mention how much more complicated the Winterfell scenario is in the books, with all the northern bannermen around (some of them already paranoid because of some mysterious deaths happening in the castle). Roose also seems to be aware that Ramsay would be more than willing to off any true-born Bolton born of Walda Frey, so he (most likely) can’t be surprised with his guard down.

The Bolton patriarch, despite his “peaceful land, quiet people” rule, has some serious reputation as someone who you don’t mess around with. Several POV characters think of him as an unfeeling, cunning, intimidating presence, way more malevolent than Vargo Hoat, but without all the theatrics. Ramsay, on the other hand, despite being feared because of his violent antics, is generally being frowned upon by everyone, and if I had to bet, I think his “mad dog”, unruly behavior will take him to an early grave, leaving Roose as the “final boss”.

Roose Bolton in Kill the Boy

Appearances can be deceiving, however. And having a fearsome reputation doesn’t amount to much in Martin’s world, as we saw with Tywin Lannister, who was caught with his pants down and died in the privy.

Since Littlefinger and Sansa have nothing to do with the Boltons in the books, I don’t see the Knights of the Vale pulling a last minute intervention. That is, unless Sansa hears of the situation in the North and is able to act from where she’s currently in.

The battle was always going to play out differently, regardless, since Davos, Osha and Rickon are in entirely different places and their paths are unlikely to intersect with Jon’s or Ramsay’s anytime soon. Also, the Smalljon Umber died at the Red Wedding, so he’s not fighting any more battles (and it’s doubtful he would turn on the Starks, anyway).

In the screen adaptation it was only fair that Sansa would carry out Ramsay’s execution, but I don’t think Jeyne Poole will get to do it in the novels. The Bolton bastard will probably die in similar fashion, though. If not eaten by his own hounds, then in some other messy way. But if it’s Jon who kills him in the end, I can see him going the clean, Ned-style way: a chopping block and a swing of the sword.

Despite being considered a one-note character (and it’s easy to see why), I’d say Iwan Rheon provided Ramsay with a surprising amount of depth and emotion. Some of the scenes he shared with Alfie Allen were really riveting, and I’m somewhat shocked neither of them ever made it to the Emmys. Alfie still has a chance for the final season, but Rheon’s time is up.

The character wasn’t deserving of any sympathy and his death, unlike the case of many other characters (Hodor comes to mind), was satisfactory and deserved. A brilliant performance, to say the least, and a haunting presence in both show and books.

12 responses

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    1. I’m less certain about Roose’s fate. I doubt his bastard son will be the one who kills him.

      I disagree with this. This was book theory long before S6 and it makes the perfect sense as the end of Roose’s characters. I see no better option for GRRM as well.

      Since Littlefinger and Sansa have nothing to do with the Boltons in the books, I don’t see the Knights of the Vale pulling a last minute intervention.

      I also disagree with this. Sansa and LF will come to North in the books, that was set up in AFFC and it is the only way to make Sansa Stark relevant in the books.

      And Ramsay vs Jon’s battle will happen in the books as well. Everything in the North in the last 2 seasons feels like an outline from TWOW and ADOS.

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    2. We know that Jon will be KITN in the books, so I expect that he will earn it somehow. The battle with Ramsay makes the most sense, since it was foreshadowed in the books and there are interviews where GRRM makes parallels between Jon and Ramsay.

      Also I think that Sansa and LF will arrive to save the day, because that’s what LF wants in the books and I don’t see a better way to make Sansa relevant for the plot again. In Sansa’s fist chapter in TWOW she is thinking about Jon for the first time in ages, so for me this feels like a set-up for meeting later in the book. And Jon and Sansa being the first Starks to reunite is something that feels like GRRM for me. And there is foreshadowing of LF’s death in WF.

      So what I want to say is that for me the northern plot in S6 and S7(together with Arya and Sansa resolving their problems, which is something GRRM also talked about) feels like an outline of ADOS and TWOW.

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    3. I don’t know why people find it hard to see past 20 pages of where we last saw the characters in the books.It’s always like ‘that can’t happen in the books X is there and Y is there’.I find it possible that Jon Rickon and Sansa’s stories may very well intersect in the book.After all isn’t the plan for all of them the same:Davos is sent to bring Rickon back,Lf’s plan is to reveal Sansa and take her and the knights of the Vale north and we can all agree that Jon ain’t staying in the Night’s Watch anymore and we have Robb’s will in there somewhere so something similar with their storylines could happen.Obviously the battle is gonna be different by default.I doubt we will have a ‘sorry I didn’t tell you I have a secret army from the man who wants to bang me cause I wanted to look good for the camera on top of the battlefield lol’ but the jist of it might still happen.Anyway I agree that Jon will probably kill him in the books.

      Oh and the Emmys don’t work that way.As long as the lead actors are nominated in the supporting categories no supporting actor like Alfie or Iwan are getting nominated.

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    4. I must say I was disappointed with the way Osha exited the screen adaptation. It was a rather short scene, and considerably lacking in suspense, almost feeling like an afterthought or a “let’s just get this over with” ticking of the box so we could move on.

      Lacking in suspense, really? It was a short scene, yes, but I was on the edge of my seat and I really thought Osha was going to get him. Then Ramsay wiping the knife to carry on eating his apple was typically chilling.

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    5. Grandmaester Flash: Lacking in suspense, really?It was a short scene, yes, but I was on the edge of my seat and I really thought Osha was going to get him.Then Ramsay wiping the knife to carry on eating his apple was typically chilling.

      Well, of course it’s my subjective opinion, but I knew what was going to happen as soon as Osha entered the room. No way she was going to be able to pull the same trick as with Theon.

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    6. The show [email protected] was controversial but can you imagine how much worse it’d be if they had fully adapted the book version? Along with this one and the Lannister loving at the Great Sept, Martin is one sick individual. Remember the rather vivid description of Dany getting the pale mare sickness? Oh dear God

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    7. The power-struggle for Winterfell is far more interesting in the books and what makes it so much better than the show version–if you ask me–is the absence of any Stark in the plot. Allows more of a neutrality experience for the reader and makes it more intriguing.

      There are turncloaks on both sides-The Manderlys in Bolton camp and the Karstarks in Stannis camp. There’s also Mance and Tycho Nestroris and Greyjoys and Freys involved. Lady Dustin-whose side is she really on? Who is the Ghost of Winterfell? Is Roose conspiring against his son?

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    8. I miss Iwan Rheon. I miss Michael McElhatton. What I wouldn’t give for a Roose vs Night King staredown!!!!

      I thought the Osha/Ramsay scene was a good way for her to go. She tried, but he was smarter. She didn’t have some drawn out death.

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    9. Excellent article, as always. Rheon really did flesh out the character of Ramsey, who I honestly did not pay much attention to when I was reading, at least not the first time. He really does come alive on the screen and subsequent readings have been much more interesting because of it (and since Reek’s torture happens off stage/page, seeing how Alfie fills that character makes the reader really feel for him, despite what he had done)

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    10. I have to be honest and say I believe Ramsay in the show is way better than his book counterpart although clearly aided by the visual medium which allows more character development.

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