A final goodbye to Ramsay Bolton, TV's most hated villain

For a while, a week at least, Westeros and its viewers can sleep content.

 |  5-minute read |   22-06-2016
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A few days ago, “the most hated man on TV”, who unseated the much-reviled Joffrey Baratheon from that coveted spot, took his last breath in a particularly gory, and satisfying manner.

Ramsay Snow slunk his way onto our TV screens (or laptop screens, usually, if you’re in India) in 2013 as a seemingly lowly guard, and plotted, manipulated, and tortured his way to Warden of the North, leaving a string of bodies, flayed men and well-fed dogs behind him. On his journey, he managed to kill his father, castrate one of the heirs to the Iron Islands, take over Winterfell and finally, shred the last illusions of hope and romance that still, in spite of all she had been through, shone in the eyes of Sansa Stark. In return, he received unremitting hate from millions of viewers around the world.

But now he’s gone, and it’s left for us, like Jon and Sansa, to take stock of what he’s left in his wake. Will the North be united under the Starks, and become once again the “honourable” foil to the politically-riven South? Will Littlefinger smarm his way to becoming Sansa’s ‘protector’ and de facto ruler of Winterfell? Or will little Lyanna Mormont dress him down and stop him in his tracks? A girl can dream.

For all his excessive cruelty and often hard-to-watch scenes, Ramsay played an important role in the world of A Game of Thrones. And I’m not talking purely in terms of plot. In this ‘grey’ fantasy realm, where even ‘villains’ like Tywin Lannister have their pathos and admirable qualities, he stood out as someone with, seemingly, no scope for redemption. His one true attachment seems to have been his hounds; he even feeds them the corpse of Myranda, the one girl who gloried in and encouraged his violence to others. This makes his end even more ironic: surrounded by hate or, at best, duty under duress, Ramsay’s death comes at the hands, or jaws, of creatures he actually cared for, but unfortunately for him, not enough to feed.

Also read: How all men must die makes Game of Thrones so brilliant

Ramsay could be seen as a foil to Jon Snow—both bastards, both raised by powerful Northern lords, aware that their place is never going to be up at the high table with the ‘real’ family. While Jon, whose family generally appears to treat him well (apart from coldness from Catelyn and Sansa), makes peace with his lot and removes himself to the Wall, Ramsay’s dissatisfaction ends up murdering his legitimate brother(s), and finally, Roose himself. A child of rape, Ramsay has never been wanted, or loved by his father, and this causes him to scramble for whatever approval he can, even if it comes at a horrible cost. To be fair, Roose never explicitly disapproves of that cost, so long as the ends are achieved.

The overlooked and hence maliciously evil bastard has a grand literary tradition, figuring most prominently in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester, tired of being cast aside in favour of his brother Edgar, blinds his father and then exacerbates the conflict in the realm by playing Goneril and Regan, Lear’s daughters, against each other, promising them both his love. Ramsay follows in this path, manipulating people’s emotions to get what he wants, as we saw in that last episode. In King Lear, Gloucester constantly goads his bastard child, reminding him that his mother was not his wife, that he took his pleasure of her and that he lives in the court at his pleasure. Roose does the same with Ramsay, thus allowing us to conclude that it is a combination of nature and (lack of) nurture that make the man what he is.

ramsay-got_062216063837.jpg Ramsay was the worst of humanity magnified and put on a screen.

But though he lost his ability to surprise, he never ceased to cause shock and outrage. Ramsay was the worst of humanity magnified and put on a screen; he was a collection of the worst of Westeros: its patriarchy, its institutionalised cruelty, its aristocratic entitlement. In him, the show runners concentrated many of the traits that can be found in other characters, great and small, and gave viewers one man they could safely hate.Was Ramsay a good villain? Yes and no. No, because he was a little too perfect. He was horrible, had little to no good in him, and worst of all, he knew exactly how to get what he wanted. His scenes were often endless rounds of cruelty for cruelty’s sake, offering little shading or new information to viewers, unless you count all his inventive tortures. In a series that often prides itself on its ability to surprise and confound expectations, Ramsay’s horribleness was taken for granted, and unlike Jaime, he didn’t exactly turn around and give us a new take on flaying Theon, or raping Sansa. He was a monster, and monsters aren’t known exactly for their depth.

Westeros is a land of compromise, of putting aside moral scruples in favour of an abstract ‘greater good’. In short, it’s much like ours; even the Big Bad Others are the result of humanity’s sins and slaughter of a different people. There are few characters whose actions we can wholeheartedly endorse, and even fewer we can completely condemn, knowing as we do their circumstances and their motivations.

Also read: Boo hoo! Too bad if you can't bear Game of Thrones spoilers

Ramsay was one of the latter. By giving viewers the chance to hate someone unabashedly, to condemn them as ‘evil’ and root for their downfall, Benioff and Weiss also gave us the chance for catharsis, to feel some element of uncomplicated relief and joy when Sansa Stark spoke those words:

‘Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.’

With Ramsay Bolton nay Snow went anger, hatred, and outrage. And with their disappearance has come a sweet, if temporary, sense of peace. For a while, a week at least, Westeros and its viewers can sleep content.

Writer

Achala Upendran Achala Upendran @achalaupendran

Editor, reader, Sindarin Elf. Reviews books for @NewIndianXpress. Blogger for @momentumbooks.

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