Game Of Thrones has had many, many characters, ranging from instantly likable to “please get eaten by a dragon immediately.” Olly, Robin, and the Sand Snakes are popular choices for most hated character but, for my money, the character that irritates me the most is easily Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow). And the fact that he’s easily the evillest character has very little to do with this.
As a refresher/primer for people reading this that don’t watch the show, Ramsay Bolton is the bastard son of the also despicable but less so Roose Bolton. He loves raping women and flaying people alive. He plays mind games with the people he tortures and turned Theon Greyjoy, formerly a prideful idiot, into a meek servant named Reek. He’s played Iwan Rheon who, to his credit, portrays Ramsay well and has absolutely nothing to do with why I hate Ramsay so.
As I mentioned in the intro, Ramsay being the evillest has nothing to do with why he’s my least favorite character. Joffrey Baratheon is the second evillest character and I don’t hate him. Well, I do hate him but it’s intended hate, not irritated hate if that makes sense. Cersei and Tywin Lannister are evil characters and they’re two of my FAVORITE characters. What makes me hate Ramsay way more than them? The reason is, they don’t cheat.
Joffrey, Cersei, and Tywin’s victories are earned and make narrative sense. Joffrey having Eddard Stark beheaded? He’s already in custody and Joffrey is an impulsive enough idiot to do something like that. Cersei having the Great Sept of Baelor (and all of her enemies inside it) blown up? No one inside could have comprehended it happened and no one in the city besides Cersei and her underlings knew about the Wildfire cache hidden underneath it. Tywin colluding with Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to murder the Stark forces at The Red Wedding? Robb Stark and his bannermen had no reason to expect that they were going to be betrayed, which is part of the reason why The Red Wedding was so shocking.
Ramsay’s victories, on the other hand, are terribly unearned and violate narrative logic. This first reared its ugly head in the episode “The Laws Of Gods And Men.” In that episode Yara Greyjoy and what she described as “the best killers in the Iron Islands” attempt a rescue mission on her brother Theon. Ramsay is able to fight and kill most of the “best killers in the Iron Islands” and scare the rest off with his dogs. Also, he does this all while shirtless.
The worst example of this is without a doubt in the episode “The Dance Of Dragons.” At the start of the episode, Ramsay and 20 good men sneak into Stannis Baratheon’s (one of the best military leaders in the series) camp and sets several simultaneous fires, destroying his food supplies, sieges weapons, and killing most of his horses… without him or any of his men being seen. Pardon my Dothraki but come the fuck on! They try to handwave it away with “The Northmen know the territory better” but that doesn’t even begin to make up for how implausible this is. This explanation MIGHT have worked if we got a quick shot of Stannis or Davos or Melisandre or at least SOMEONE watching Ramsay and his men riding away (and would have explained how Stannis somehow knows it was exactly 21 men that ruined his camp). This doesn’t just violate narrative sense, it violates common sense.
When Ramsay’s not violating narrative sense to win, he has victories given to him on a silver platter. Littlefinger, someone with supposedly a great spy network, has no idea what a psycho he is and willingly gives him Sansa Stark, a woman he loves, to marry. Smalljon Umber, who openly hates Ramsay, willingly serves him despite that (and hands over valuable hostages) because he hates the Wildlings that much. Roose spent most of Season 5 fretting that the Northern lords wouldn’t accept Bolton rule and then most of them end up not helping Jon Snow out when he asks for help to fight against him. It retroactively makes Roose a less competent ruler if all it takes to unites most of the Northern lords is to yell “Wildlings!”
Another issue with Ramsay, beyond his horrible unearned victories, is that, intentionally or not, the show seems to end up glorifying him at times. In that fight with “the best killers in the Iron Islands,” it’s shot like a badass fight scene. To draw from an example from earlier seasons, when Eddard Stark and his guards are slaughtered by Lannister forces in “You Win Or Die” back in Season 1, it’s shot like the slaughter that it is. He’s also given a legit, actual love story with a show-original character named Myranda. Going by the episode “The Red Woman,” he seemed to have actually loved her. It’s seemingly a sincere moment and, if it was supposed to be, it’s one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve ever seen. (I should add now that, despite finding the scene where he rapes Sansa disgusting and poorly handled, I don’t believe they were glorifying him there and it doesn’t come off that way either.)
This wasn’t an issue with Joffrey because the show never has an pretense of him being anything other than a petty, pathetic bully that happens to be the most powerful man in Westeros. Fuck, him being slapped by Tyrion was a goddamn running gag. Could you imagine something like happening with Ramsay? I don’t know about you but I can’t.
Ramsay also has a terminal lack of personality beyond loving to torture people and some insecurity over being a bastard. All of the other major villains have rich personalities. Joffrey is a sadist and an idiot but it’s clear that most of the things that he does is to impress Robert Baratheon, who he thinks is his father. Cersei is a vain villainess but it’s clear that societal pressures to conform to JUST being a wife and mother played a role in how she turned out. And
Tywin is a cruel, cruel man but he has a seeming obsession with family honor and shows respect to people he deems worthy, like with Arya in Season 2. Ramsay? Aside from some bastard angst, he just lives to kill and torture and rape and just be unpleasant.
The final reason (and this is in pedantic nerd territory) is how he’s adapted from the books. Book Ramsay and show Ramsay are similar in broad strokes. They’re both the bastard son of Roose Bolton and they’re both incredibly evil. In fact, he’s eviller in the books (his wedding night is way grosser yet not skeezy if that makes sense) but, as mentioned at the start, him being evil has nothing to do with why I hate him. But, as they say, the devil’s in the details.
Ramsay is underdeveloped in the books too but, unlike in the show, he’s a secondary character and more forgivable. He’s a supporting character in Theon’s storyline while it’s the other way around in the show. I’m not saying writers should get away with underdeveloped characters in general, there’s a difference here. Ramsay is the sort of character that’s somewhat interesting in small doses but, when turned into a major villain, he flounders. Of course, there’s other reasons for why he comes off more interesting.
Unlike in the show where he has many victories, he only has one major victory in the books and it’s *gasp* EARNED! He backstabs the Northern forces left to defend Winterfell and slaughters them by surprise. No killing the “best killers in the Iron Islands” while shirtless, no destroying one of the best military mind’s camp with only 20 good men, an actual earned victory! Book Ramsay is more of a schemer than a fighter. He plays long cons like posing as Reek to survive certain defeat from Northern forces and ends up corrupting Theon even further.
In addition to all of this, the books unambiguously don’t glorify him. He’s never in any true fights in the books because he doesn’t know how to fight in the books. He’s compared to a butcher slicing up meat when he fights and several characters declare he’d get killed quickly in an ACTUAL fight. In contrast to pretty boy Iwan Rheon, Ramsay is frequently described as being big and ugly in the books. He has no love interests, no badass fights with the Ironborn, and no great acts of sabotage. He’s just a pathetic sadist that only gets by thanks to his father.
Before I end this, I’d to say again that, despite my issues with Ramsay, I have nothing against Iwan Rheon. He’s a fine actor who did his best to try and elevate a less than stellar character. He’s the only reason his scenes aren’t completely painful.
Thanks for reading my nerdy treatise!
(Also, thanks to RiverSong for helping with the images. I couldn’t have done this without you.)