Month Of Thrones
We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.
Ramsay Bolton gets fed to the hounds
“Battle Of The Bastards” (season six, episode nine)
Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay Bolton is the closest thing Game Of Thrones has ever had to a sneering embodiment of pure evil. Think back on the most reprehensible characters to have graced the screen on the HBO series, and you’ll find nearly every single one was permitted the occasional moment of humanity. Even Joffrey, who easily claimed the Draco Malfoy Award for most punchable face, was ultimately just a kid who died before he could fully realize the depths of his depravity, the willful young king’s gurgling death by poison played for horror, not satisfaction. And while we were privy to rare moments of actual emotion experienced by Ramsay, it never left him relatable; at best, the hint of a deeper self he might’ve evinced was always another ruse in his plays for power, never more clear than when he murdered his father. His outcast status as a bastard is exactly the kind of backstory that could easily engender empathy; instead, the show made him a psychopath, the avatar of everything wrong with the world of Westeros.
Which is why his comeuppance is deeply satisfying, even if it’s a little too simplistic for the normally knotty storytelling of the series. When Jon Snow leads the Stark and Wildling forces to Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton is waiting for them, having already assumed control after the death of his father, Roose Bolton. He’s got the captive Rickon Stark in his possession, but after he laughingly refuses Jon’s proposal of one-on-one combat in lieu of a battle between their forces, Ramsay once again can’t let things play out without doing the most sadistic thing he can think of: sending Rickon racing across the field to join his brother, only to fell him with an arrow right before the younger Stark sibling reaches Jon.
Eventually, thanks to a last-minute rescue by Littlefinger and the Knights Of The Vale, Jon’s forces prevail against Bolton. (Though it does cost the life of poor Wun Wun.) And Jon, rather than beating Ramsay to death with his bare hands, imprisons him. Which is when Sansa makes her move: Visiting Ramsay in the kennels where he’s been imprisoned, she lets his dogs free on him, acerbically noting that he’s the one who let them starve for a week in preparation for a meal of living humans. Cue Ramsay Bolton having his face eaten off by his own animals. It’s a true just deserts moment for the megalomaniac, who had tortured, raped, and murdered his way to this ignoble ending. It’s also one of the purest “good guys beat bad guy” moments in a story where complications and conflicting loyalties usually render such deaths at least a little more emotionally ambiguous. Not so for Ramsay—Sansa may be smiling as he dies, but the viewer is just as likely to be applauding.
What we said then
In our “newbies” review, Brandon Nowalk mentions that he was loathe to “look a gift-horse in the mouth, but like a lot of the triumphs of this speedy season, it’s just a little easy. Ask anyone at the end of season five what they want to happen to Ramsay and the answer will be to have Sansa feed him to his dogs. Not that it doesn’t cost her to get there, but for once the expected doesn’t feel unexpected at all. It feels mechanical.” And the “experts” review extended that critique to the battle as a whole, noting the “switching of the banners felt perfunctory instead of powerful, muddled by the fact that none of the characters seemed to be feeling it as any type of climax.”
Elsewhere in the episode
The other big event in “Battle Of The Bastards” is Dany saving Meereen. The slavers’ fleet is threatening the city, but rather than follow her first instinct—burn the whole armada to a crisp—the Targaryen heir listens to Tyrion, and comes up with the plan of offering three Masters the opportunity to only let one of them die instead, while she hops on Drogon and flies off to incinerate a few key ships. But when two of them turn on their lowborn cohort, Grey Worm kills those two and lets the third live to warn the others of Daenerys. Meanwhile, Daario leads the Dothraki on a charge to root out and kill all remaining Sons Of The Harpy outside the city. Soon thereafter, Theon and Yara Greyjoy arrive and offer terms to Dany: Their fleet will join her cause if she helps overthrow Euron and let Yara rule the Iron Islands. She agrees, with one condition, which Yara begrudgingly accepts: Cut it out with the whole pillaging-the-mainlands thing.
There’s also a nice moment with Davos and Tormund where they admit they might not have been following the right king all this time—especially after Davos discovers the pyre where Shireen was burned alive.
Previously: “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell—and I’m going home”