Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

The Monstrous Ramsay Bolton

The formidable villain in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation, Game of Thrones, is Ramsay Bolton. The Westeros region is full of evildoers preying on commoners and nobles alike; their offenses range from petty offenses to heinous atrocities. Ramsay occupies a terrifying middle position on the crime spectrum. He unleashed terror against his people with a level of savagery rivaled by few. Although the geographic scope of his crimes may have been limited to the northern regions of Westeros, a strong argument can be made for how the sadistic pleasure he derived from inflicting suffering exceeded that of any antagonist encountered throughout the world’s long and tumultuous history. However, there is a possibility how other characters might one day match (or even surpass) Ramsay’s ability to commit horrific atrocities. Nevertheless, the question remains: what exactly makes Ramsay bear such a terrifying resemblance to a sadistic monster?

First, we will look at how Ramsay’s origins are depicted in the book. Before his arrival, Ramsay’s existence was tarnished by acts of barbarity. He was treated not because of love. Rather, it was through acts of violence committed by his father Roose Bolton. While engaged on a hunting expedition along the Weeping Water (a tributary running through Roose’s domain), he chanced upon the young wife of a miller. Angry at daring to marry without his knowledge and denied the now-forbidden privilege of prima nocta (a nobleman’s right to sleep with a commoner on the wedding night), Roose invokes the ancient custom. To further punish the couple for their alleged transgressions, Roose orders the execution of the miller; he proceeded to attack his widow in front of her late husband. The act of cruelty resulted in the birth of Ramsay Snow nine months later.

A Tainted Beginning

Driven by an unknown determination, the unnamed woman (Ramsay’s mother) travels to the Dreadfort—Roose’s seat of power, with the goal of having her son recognized by his father. Upon their arrival, Roose nearly sentences them both to death. When he looked into the boy’s eyes, Roose held his hand. Thus, Ramsay and his mother were spared execution. Despite Roose not being able to stand it if the embodiment of his transgression was inside the Dreadfort, he admits little responsibility. He bestowed ownership of the factory to Ramsay’s mother and ensured their survival through an annual stipend of food, coin, and a servant to help him raise the son (known only as Reek). It’s how the woman remains silent regarding Ramsay’s true origins.

Although fate offered Ramsay the potential of an unknown life in a factory, the course of his existence changed dramatically. Domeric Bolton (the legal heir to Roose Bolton) initiated contact with Ramsay. However, the relationship tragically proved short-lived. Driven by a darkness not yet fully realized, Ramsay poisons Domeric. The act of fratricide deprived Lord Bolton of an heir; it forced him to legitimize Ramsay as his son. With legitimacy comes access to the immense power held by House Bolton. In this privileged environment, Ramsay’s brutality actually began to develop along with his physical maturity.

A Portrait of Evil

Theon Greyjoy (a first-hand witness to Ramsay’s monstrous nature) gave a chilling description of his appearance at the party. Ramsay wore a flamboyant look with contrasting colors: black boots covered his legs, a black belt and sarong adorned his waist, and a black leather jacket provided a counterpoint to the bright pink velvet doublet underneath; it is further emphasized by dark red satin slashes. One striking detail completes her ensemble: a garnet—carved into the shape of a blood drop to shimmer on her right ear. Even though he looks dashing, Ramsay’s physical form shows deep ugliness. His large-boned body, slumped shoulders, and thickening around his middle suggest a future marked by obesity. His skin was pale pink, covered in patches, while his wide nose dominated his face. His small and unattractive mouth completed his image, and his black hair, long and unkempt, added the final touch to his overall unattractiveness. In essence, Theon’s description paints a portrait in which outward arrogance only serves to mask the ugliness lying beneath him.

In lieu of a conventionally proportioned mouth, the man has wide, fleshy lips in its composition. However, it wasn’t that feature that initially attracted the attention of men meeting him. Instead, their gazes were fixed on his eyes. The eyes are a hereditary trait, passed down from his father. The small size and the location are abnormally close together on his face. The color is an unsettling pale variety, thus prompting men to describe them as pale gray, while others use the term “very pale.” In more precise terms, it could be said that the eyes hardly have any color; it resembled a pair of shards made of ice that had been dirty.

Despite the horrific circumstances surrounding his birth, it cannot be said for certain how each child (regardless of his or her origins) was predetermined to become a monstrous creature. The same principle applies to Ramsay. Therefore, the question arises: what factors in his childhood ultimately shaped Ramsay into the monstrous figure he became?

Roose Bolton’s Influence

Roose blames Ramsay and Theon’s mother (now known as Reek) for his son’s descent into a monster. Roose stated, “I bestowed upon him the gift of Reek, with the intention of being a source of entertainment. However, an unexpected bond developed between them, and they became inseparable friends. However, one wonders, which one corrupted the other? Did Ramsay distort whether Reek was a negative influence on Ramsay? Furthermore, that woman dared to go against my will. You witnessed Ramsay become a monstrous creature—that was her doing, because she cultivated darkness within him.”

Roose goes on to describe Reek as a constant negative influence; he whispered lies about Ramsay’s claims being considered legitimate. In Roose’s perspective, Reek is nothing more than a commoner supposed to be satisfied with a life of manual labor.

Of course, it is more logical to state how Ramsay’s sadistic nature arose from various factors, rather than simply linking him to the event of his birth. Although his parental role cannot be denied, we should not ignore the influence of his father’s offspring. Roose embodies a powerful combination of sadism, brutality, cunning, and sharp wit.

Now, people are arguing how Theon has hidden cruelty, and how Ramsay could have learned that disgusting behavior from him. Additionally, the revelation of his mother’s true lineage may have fueled Ramsay’s desire to emulate his father. However, the most plausible explanation is likely a synergistic explanation—a combination of inherited traits and environmental factors shaped Ramsay into a monster.

As Theon himself observes in the book, there is a strong resemblance between father and son with the son appearing as a kind of “shadow of the father.” In Ramsay’s case, the similarities manifest in their propensity for violence and cruelty. However, Ramsay’s savagery and uncontrollable impulsiveness often undercut his father’s more calculated cruelty. Ramsay’s lack of planning and tact created a situation ultimately contrary to Roose’s goals.

Additionally, Ramsay’s status as a bastard undeniably fueled feelings of inferiority and intense anger issues. The insecurity forced him to overcompensate in a desperate attempt to gain his father’s approval. Any mention of his son being a bastard was a trigger, making him angry often resulting in torture or execution for the unfortunate soul daring to utter the word “bastard.”

Despite an examination of their respective actions offering comparisons between father and son, it is important to acknowledge Ramsay’s undeniable brutality. Indeed, he received significant help from his group of loyal rogues. However, his personal capacity for cruelty far exceeded any offenses committed in his name.

Ramsay’s Ruthlessness

As an illustrative example, the books introduce us to Ramsay through Lady Hornwood’s visit to Winterfell. Sharing a border with Bolton, Lady Hornwood expressed her great concern regarding the large force Ramsay had gathered at the Dreadfort. Not long afterward, Ramsay committed a cruel act during the Harvest Feast celebration at Winterfell. He kidnaps Lady Hornwood and forcibly takes her back to the Dreadfort, where he forces her to become his wife at swordpoint. After the despicable act, he next forced Lady Hornwood to sign a forged document declaring her as his heir. With a disregard for human life, Ramsay then imprisons Lady Hornwood within the Tower; he sentenced him to a slow and painful death by starvation. Driven to the brink of madness due to her miserable circumstances, Lady Hornwood reportedly resorted to eating her own fingers in a futile attempt to survive.

Relentless in his savagery, Ramsay continues to wreak havoc on the lands of House Hornwood. Reports emerged of the assault and murder of a young woman from the North. The heinous act prompted Wyman Manderly (Lady Hornwood’s cousin) to send troops from White Harbor to aid him and succeeded in driving the Boltons from his territory. As a quick response, an army led by Rodrik Cassel of Winterfell arrives to quell the increasing strife between the two houses. Ultimately, Ramsay’s own forces were defeated in the ensuing battle. In a desperate attempt to avoid accountability for his crimes, Ramsay committed acts of fraud. He exchanges clothes with his servant and is then killed in his place—allowing Ramsay to escape Manders’ impending punishment.

Roose Bolton’s Red Wedding

Next, we’ll turn our attention to one of Roose’s most notorious criminal acts: his participation in the disgusting Red Wedding. In a secret maneuver, Roose conspires with the Freys and Lannisters. Their goal is the total extermination of king Robb Stark—along with his fiancée (with a baby in tow) and his mother most of his military forces. It included his most distinguished commanders and a large number of nobles. The chosen instrument for the betrayal? Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey’s wedding celebration.

By carrying out the evil plan, Roose violated the sacred law of guest rights. The barbaric act had a dual purpose. First, it creates a devastating shock for his former ally, Stark. Second, he eliminated (in one vicious blow) most of his most powerful enemies. The calculated brutality paves the way for Roose’s unhindered journey north. There, he intended to consolidate his new power as Warden of the North—a title bestowed upon him by the formidable Tywin Lannister.

The Peril of Impatience

When comparing their cunning tendencies, significant differences emerge between Roose and Ramsay. When formulating a plan, Roose exerts his utmost effort to carefully organize every aspect of the subsequent plot. The careful planning ensures his implementation runs flawlessly thereby minimizing potential damage to his reputation or personal interests. Although Roose is prepared to use extraordinary cruelty and brutality as a means to facilitate the achievement of his goals, he does so in a calculated manner. The calculated approach served to reduce the potential negative impact that might be incurred by him or House Bolton as a result of his machinations.

Instead, Ramsay’s main consideration is his own wish fulfillment when he thinks of an idea. He then devises the most sadistic and satisfying plan imaginable; it a plan guarantees the realization of his goals. However, Ramsay shows a lack of planning regarding the potential consequences of his actions. His plans are often impulsive and made without considering potential consequences.

In his greed for the Hornwood estate, Ramsay proved to have chosen the most inappropriate moment to pursue his ambition. Following Lord Hornwood’s death and his appointed heir, the only legal route to acquiring the fief was through marriage to the widowed Lady Hornwood. Instead of using conventional courtship methods or even using more subtle means of coercion perhaps forcing her to give her consent, Ramsay instead demonstrated a lack of self-control. He instead chose an act marked by savagery: kidnapping Lady Hornwood and imprisoning her in a tower where she ultimately suffered a cruel death from starvation.

The impulsive act of savagery then sparked outrage throughout the Hornwood area; Ramsay acts with the unbridled cruelty of a cruel despot. The consequences of his actions proved to be very severe. Not only did he nearly lose his own life, but his reputation, and that of House Bolton, suffered irreparable damage. The events further eroded any remaining trust or respect the Northerners might have had towards House Bolton.

Had Ramsay had the ingenuity and foresight to emulate his father’s machinations, his capacity for cruelty would have increased exponentially. In contrast to his forefathers (covering up his depravity with calculated strategy), Ramsay’s trademark is the search for immediate gratification through acts of unimaginable barbarity. He exploits anything that arouses his sadistic desires, relishing the terror and suffering he inflicts on his unfortunate victims; not realizing the potential consequences may result from the action.

Jeyne Poole and the Stark Legacy

The ultimate illustration of his compulsion to self-harm is his mistreatment of his second wife: Arya Stark. In fact, the poor young woman is Jeyne Poole (former confidant of Sansa Stark and daughter of the late maid of Winterfell). Ramsay began a nightly campaign of physical and psychological torture against Jeyne; it reflects his brutality in the series towards Sansa. It may also force Jeyne to commit depraved acts with his dogs. The relentless brutality experienced by Jeyne manifests in constant fear and sadness and is expressed through wailing and her incessant crying.

Although Ramsay may have committed the atrocity with little discretion (thus reducing the potential for public outrage), he chose to indulge his sadistic impulses with reckless abandon. The savagery occurred within the walls of Winterfell at a time when his father hosted a delegation of critical Northern rulers and was instrumental in the continuation of their tenuous rule. As Barbrey Dustin astutely observed, the constant wailing of the new Walda Bolton posed a significant threat to House Bolton’s precarious position.

Lady Dustin explains it with chilling clarity: “The bride’s incessant weeping,” she said, “Lady Arya’s imposition of Stark colors, it would do no good if the girl were left to weep uncontrollably. The Freys might be indifferent, but the Northerners, although they may fear the Dreadfort, still hold the Stark family in high regard. The Old Harlot’s presence here stems solely from Greatjon Umber’s captivity by the Frey family. And can anyone really believe that the people of Hornwood have forgotten the fate of that bastard’s previous wife? Left to perish from hunger, driven to gnaw off her own fingers? What unsettling thoughts do you imagine plaguing their minds when they heard the cries of their new Mistress? The anguished wails of Lady Arya, beloved daughter of the valiant Ned Stark, wreaked havoc greater for our purposes than the entire combined might of Lord Stannis’ army.”

Lady Dustin emphasizes the parallels between Ramsay’s treatment of Jeyne and his previous cruelty towards his first wife. The two events had significant political and ethical implications. Additionally, Ramsay’s depiction of Jeyne and Sansa in the series ultimately becomes the catalyst for Theon’s act of defiance and their eventual escape. Although Ramsay cannot be classified as an intellectually deficient person, the grip of his unyielding sadism always clouded his judgment ultimately becoming his greatest undoing.

Ramsay and Roose are destined to end up in one of two equally terrible scenarios: Ramsay will succumb to the machinations of killing his father or Ramsay himself will usurp his father through violent means. In the novels written by Martin, the ultimate fate of the Bolton family is still shrouded in a veil of uncertainty. At the end of A Dance with Dragons, reports show how Ramsay has replicated his feat in the series in destroying Stannis Baratheon’s army. However, the narrative does not provide a definitive answer regarding Roose’s current status after the momentous event.

In contrast, the televised adaptation provides a definitive resolution to Ramsay’s narrative arc. The catalyst for Ramsay’s downfall was the brutal murder of his own father. Upon receiving news of the arrival of his newborn half-brother, Ramsay’s murderous rage manifested—culminating in the horrific act of stabbing his father in the stomach. The act of patricide was followed by even more heinous cruelty as Ramsay’s newborn brother and his stepmother were savagely fed to his voracious dogs. In the aftermath of the series of horrific events, Ramsay began to consolidate his grip on power as Warden of the North. Strategically, he strengthened his alliances with the Karstarks and Umbers—two families whose loyalty would prove invaluable in the impending conflict against Jon Snow and his formidable army of wildlings in the Battle of the Bastards.


Ramsay’s terror escalated with the cold-blooded execution of Rickon Stark. In a show of sadistic amusement, he forces Rickon to participate in depraved games before ultimately killing him. It was the beginning of a colossal battle that almost confirmed Ramsay’s position as the undisputed Warden of the North. In fact, he may even have the ambition to become King in the North. However, the timely intervention of the Knights of the Vale resulted in the destruction of Ramsay’s forces. Effectively, it destroyed his aspirations for mastery. The decisive military defeat marked the culmination of Ramsay’s reign of terror; it caused his final and irrevocable downfall.

Unfortunately, Ramsay probably could have achieved better results in his confrontation with Jon in the absence of a smarter approach to interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution. The possibility is strengthened by a hypothetical scenario in which he refrains from eliminating his own father. However, the narrative forces us to reflect on the consequences of his actions when the dust begins to settle on the battlefield and Ramsay finds himself face to face with Sansa in the cage once his instrument of terror.

Ramsay’s desperate plea to Sansa, “You can’t kill me. I’m part of you now,” contains an unsettling truth. Unfortunately, those who have experienced horrific trauma or abuse have indelible marks of horror on their souls. Although time can be an effective medicine (gradually reducing the intensity of the initial pain), the wounds inflicted by the experience leave permanent scars. In this way, Ramsay remains in his victimhood; His presence was an unwanted echo stored in their memories as long as they took a breath.

The Scars Remain

Although Sansa’s statement about how Ramsay will forever be denied the ability to cause further suffering does have some truth. However, guessing how he will disappear completely over time is still debatable. Most likely his legacy will be one of unbridled brutality, a mere footnote in the vast history of Westeros. However, the footnotes are a stark reminder of the depths of human depravity.

Finally, the dramatic irony of Ramsay’s death becomes clear when Sansa curses him to be eaten by his own dogs. In his characteristic arrogance, Ramsay expresses an unwavering belief in the loyalty of the animals. However, Sansa delivered a devastating counterpoint; she highlights their state of starvation. Ramsay’s previously cruel act of starving the dogs in anticipation of eating them along with his enemies now becomes the instrument of his own death.

Similar to his treatment of his starving dogs, Ramsay had the capacity to develop a vast network consisting of loyal servants, loyal friends, loyal family members, trustworthy companions, and tough warriors. However, each individual must have experienced starvation at Ramsay’s hands both literally and metaphorically. Everyone who had the misfortune of crossing paths with Ramsay found themselves tainted by his evil presence, corrupted by his barbaric actions and the relentless cruelty that defined him. Either the dogs he entrusted to him or the countless other dogs he tormented throughout his life, Ramsay was destined to be eaten by the people he blamed. As a result of his horrific, disgusting, and truly horrific crimes, fate saw him devoured with a very brutal ending.

Nature or Nurture? A Final Consideration

There are opinions about how the circumstances surrounding Ramsay’s birth and lineage undeniably had a major influence on his life. The disadvantageous position may be worth a little leniency when assessing his character and the choices he makes. After all, as much as any human had become a monster, he had never actively sought to become the embodiment of cruelty.

If the considerations are juxtaposed with the totality of his actions, a different picture emerges. The many demonstrably cruel and inhumane acts Ramsay committed throughout his life cannot be ignored. The countless lives he damaged or destroyed irreparably is clear evidence of his own depravity. Therefore, considering the enormity of the crimes he committed and his unwavering commitment to evil, whatever sympathy one might initially have towards Ramsay will ultimately be negated.


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