Be warned for what lies ahead… I think I accidentally included speculation/leaky information here (I can never tell what’s fair game to talk about and what isn’t) so if you’re trying to be surprised as much as possible I’d steer clear. 🙂
Now that our worst fears have been confirmed, that the Umbers’ gift to Ramsay is little Rickon, awesome Osha, and SHAGGYDOG’S HEAD, I (erm) need to take a step back and a deep breath and maybe try to work this out.
The first question I have is: what fates are in store for Osha and Rickon? The episode makes some vulgar suggestions which I will now repeat at you to your delight I am sure: Osha will be Ramsay’s to do with what he wants, and apparently Karstark will be trying to/succeeding at raping Rickon. Nice, HBO, we need more of that going around. I can never prove this, but my feeling is whenever they throw in sexualized violence affecting men it’s an answer to criticisms they faced last season about controversial scenes involving women and sexualized violence. Theon’s season three of torture seemed like an answer to people who criticized the ugly nature of the nudity and sex during season two (think Joff making sex workers beat other sex workers), as in, “See? We do it to men, too.” If they do make good on that little throw-away pedophile accusation lobbed at Karstark then it’ll be an answer to everyone’s rage at Sansa’s rape scene, and possibly also that incredibly unnecessary scene where Ser Meryn hits girls to make them cry out in pain. Remember that Trent was another character that someone (Bronn?) made a throw-away “You like to beat little girls” statement at. I don’t have words to describe how angry it makes me that the potential motivation for all of those endless, unnecessary Theon torture scenes, and now maybe some Rickon ones, is to answer critics by adding gender equity to the show’s sexual violence. Just stop including this ugliness. Your instinct is to show a man beating little girls? Ignore it. Your instinct when criticized for such scenes is to flip the genders to prove how non-misogynistic you are? IGNORE IT.
I’m off track, though, because it’s more than possible that the creators are just following the instinct of “How can we make this scene/plotline/character arc AS DRAMATIC AND HIGH STAKES AND EDGY AS POSSIBLE?” Which is still terrible. And there’s nothing we can do about it now, so we might as well entertain some more hopeful ideas.
We began this season with Ramsay on his own at Winterfell without anyone we care about in his grasp. We were all certainly waiting for and dreading the baby-murdering, but that was taken care of in episode 2. So now Ramsay’s at Winterfell with an eye for holding the North to his whims. His plan seems to be marching on the Wall and taking down Jon Snow, and as that was the meat of Smalljon Umber’s discussion with Ramsay it looks like we’re getting an all out Northern civil war.
The show could expect its audience to be invested in Ramsay’s targeting of Jon, who we care about, but the two of them are not in close quarters. With each of them leading an army to fight each other an a large-scale battle that will likely be episode 9 of this season, there isn’t enough to make us truly fear Ramsay as we have in the previous seasons.
That’s the creative decision behind having Rickon be in Ramsay’s clutches. Because of this, I’m pretty sure that Rickon is safe, up until episode 8 or 9, where we may need to feel fresh Stark pain so that Ramsay’s death will truly be a catharsis. I don’t like any of this, by the way. I’m fine with Rickon being safe forever living in Skaagos or with the Umbers or wherever. I don’t need him and Osha to be burning on upside-down crosses to remember how much I want Ramsay to die.
Whatever happens later in the season, I expect over the next couple of episodes we’ll be treated to a couple of tense scenes where Rickon is in danger. Osha may die. She may be raped. She may be tortured. They may actually do one of those Ramsay hunt scenes which they’ve thus far had the decency to not adapt properly. Rickon and Karstark will have at least one tense moment unless that really was just a terrible joke. Ramsay may write the pink letter, which I hope for because it was atmospheric and a major call to action, and of course, Jon needs some motivation.
Probably there will be no pink letter though because this show likes bluntness better than atmosphere… but I can hope!
Speaking of hope, it would be so nice if Umber is putting on a mummer’s farce for Ramsay a la Wyman Manderly. There are a couple of reasons why I think it’s a bit of a stretch to hope for, but then there are more reasons that I think it could still be possible.
First, in the category of “The Umbers are plotting a coup? That seems like a stretch” would be that from the trailers, we know that the Umbers are marching with the Boltons. This could be just before they turn on the Boltons, but then what is our Bastardbowl going to look like? Manderly (I’m assuming) will turn on Ramsay, so if Smalljon does too then we’ve got Ramsay left with only the pedophile Karstarks. Since it’ll be Jon, the Wildlings (and Wun Wun), maybe some Night’s Watch, Davos, Sansa, and some other Stark bannermen (Mormonts likely, Cerwyns? Others I’ve forgotten?), and then Littlefinger and his Vale army show up, well… that seems like it’d be a little anti-climactic. The battle would go from being Ramsay’s advantage to Ramsay gets killed boringly on the battlefield in about five minutes. I’m really trying to work out a tv-writing perspective that allows the Umbers to be turncloaks at Winterfell with a Stark conveniently planted inside that doesn’t sacrifice what has been hyped to be a really intense battle episode, and I can’t, as yet. Sadface.
Second, the logic of this plan, if it were a plan, is off. That’s not to say the logic is on if Smalljon is actually telling the truth to Ramsay, because it isn’t. “Oh no, Wildlings, Jon Snow, I hate the Starks and my father here you go.” If Smalljon is being serious then his ability to make decisions and think things through has fallen victim to expediency in this tv realm.
Still, if this is a trick, putting Rickon in Ramsay’s grasp is hella dangerous. In the books, without Roose to keep Ramsay on a short leash you can’t trust him with anyone. But this is the show, and in the show this character is charismatic, appears to take long moments to ponder things, appears to actually feel sadness (there was no blankface or evil laughing when he killed his father, Walda, and the baby), and seems more like a Tywin Lannister who’s torture-happy enough to do his own torturing. At least in this season, so far.
But there’s something to be said for how nervous we all are on Rickon’s behalf, which is exactly what the show is going for. Osha’s presence is another problem. It’s tempting to think she insisted on going with Rickon if Smalljon decided to trick a Stark into Winterfell, because she wanted to ensure firsthand that he is kept safe. How exactly is she going to do that when Ramsay starts flaying her? Again, book Ramsay, who can’t look at a woman without flaying, raping, and murdering her, or locking in a tower to starve to death, would have Osha horribly put to death Reaver style basically right away. But show Ramsay might keep her around. He doesn’t have Miranda anymore. Maybe Osha has asshole-repellent powers – remember how she staved off Theon in Season 2, and it was all about keeping Bran and Rickon safe? OK, that was stupid, but it’s Game of Thrones. If Ramsay should magically find some way to justify not killing her my hope will definitely grow, but cautiously. Because episode 9 looms.
If Rickon is at the center of the Great North Conspiracy, it’s unwise, to say the least, to thrust him at Ramsay. Because of this, I’ll be watching the next couple of episodes that feature Winterfell closely, to determine if they leave room for further speculation, or if they start to close off all of the better possibilities.
Third, we’re all pretty sure Rickon isn’t important to the endgame of A Song of Ice and Fire. We knew he was out there, we knew Davos was going to go fetch him, and he was going to be at the center of the Great North Conspiracy, but we were all still pretty convinced that the child wouldn’t play a major role.
I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. I’ve heard the talk about “shaggy dog stories” and I’m still perfectly happy to believe that Rickon can return and be untouched. But there are some book facts to be aware of.
The Stark kids are all easy to root for unless you’re one of those Sansa-haters. And can I just be offensive here and point out how telling it is that of all of the Stark kids it’s the girliest one who’s romantic and sweet (she is a sweet kid; her human trait of occasionally being selfish enough to hurt those around her is just the nuance of a fleshed out character)? I saw a funny youtube comment recently responding to the question, “How can anyone hate Sansa at this point still?” with, “By having some depth and intelligence.” Gaze deeply into your mirror and reconsider your life. Seriously.
The point was that the Stark kids are all easy to root for. But Rickon has always seemed a little troubled. Mostly we know this by Shaggy’s behaviour. He’s wild and has on occassion savaged people, and, like Dany’s dragons, becomes worse when chained. There’s that memorable scene in the show where Rickon smashes nuts (he’s smashing nuts, right?) obnoxiously while Bran’s trying to lord over Winterfell. In the books, Rickon isn’t with the Umbers but among cannibals. We were all deeply hoping that he’d show up riding his crazed direwolf and eat some Freys.
Instead, he’s at Winterfell with Shaggy’s head and is a prisoner. And he may perhaps be murdered.
All I know is, it’s entirely possible that Rickon is reappearing in Book 6. And while apparently Bran doesn’t have to stay a tree forever, Rickon is still a more solid choice for Stark lord than Jon is. Even if we do sort out Jon’s heritage this season and nobody questions it, Jon is Lyanna’s son. Rickon is Ned’s. Bran can’t father heirs. Sure, we have Sansa, and we have Arya, but there’s still no reason, yet, to discount Rickon’s importance to the Great North Conspiracy.
As for the points I have that support Smalljon as a conspirator extraordinaire, we can start with that one. The Great North Conspiracy. The theory goes that the northern lords are working to place Jon at Winterfell, but we don’t know for sure that anyone has Robb’s will decreeing Jon as his heir. What we have, once again, is Manderly sending Davos off to fetch him a liege lord. Who is Rickon. I cautiously hope that this means Rickon’s plotline to come on the show has something to do with the conspiracy. Countering this is the fact that we know the show is streamlining things. If we’re to end up with Sansa at Winterfell (which is what Littlefinger wants) we don’t need Rickon, so expedience suggests we kill him horribly and incense our Stark fighters. I hate that. I’m done hurting for the Starks. I wanted this season to be a time for wolves, not “ohhh noooo the youngest just died like Grandpa and Uncle Brandon did” and you know what else? I’ve had just about enough child-burning for several thousand lifetimes thank you very much and IT’S TIME FOR THIS MADNESS TO END. But we’ll see.
Shaggydog: I don’t know about comparative severed-head sizing, but I do know that presenting a dead head mirrors Davos’s in A Dance with Dragons, and it also mirrors the dead miller’s boys that Theon passed off as Bran and Rickon. Would it be stupid for Shaggy to still be alive after we resurrected Jon this season? Maybe, but you’d have to be a special brand of cynical to actually be upset about the return of a direwolf. Especially Shaggydog.
Another possibility is that Shaggy died some other way. Maybe the Umber men attacked Osha and Rickon when they found them, or just seemed enough of a threat for Shaggy to go nuts, and he was killed trying to protect Rickon. That doesn’t make sense for his head to be exceedingly fresh three years later but I can still hope that, if he really is dead, Rickon doesn’t have to follow him.
Smalljon himself: likable guy, right? Especially for someone dumping a boy and a woman for Ramsay’s disposal. Also a direwolf head.
So here’s the thing: Game of Thrones is not very good at nuance. Which is to say it is usually awful at it. Consider Tyrion, a likable guy in show and books, who hits rock bottom in book five and we actually see him rape a young woman. He spends his time hoping to someday return, triumphantly, to Westeros, and his main goal is to rape and murder his sister. Cersei is awful but no, Tyrion. Also his disgust towards Penny was just hard to read. The dude was in such bad shape that it became very difficult to want him to succeed anymore… particularly when his goal in life is raping and murdering his sister.
The show nicely cleans this up by turning the rape scene in the book into a scene where Tyrion actually convinces the sex worker to have sex with him by being witty and nice, and then he’s like, “You know what, I actually can’t do this. Whoops.”
The show took away the rapeyness of The Hound, which I was down for. Sure, he still tells Arya he regrets not raping Sansa, but he was clearly saying it to get her to kill him, whereas in the books it’s a little clearer that his intentions were a horse of rape colour, especially during the battle of Blackwater.
My point is, if we like the Smalljon, even when he’s saying things Allister Thorne and Olly would have said about Jon’s wildling policies, and he’s dumping Stark babies and women and direwolf heads at Ramsay’s feet, he can’t really just be that terrible. He can’t be the sort of person who forgets his allegiance to the Starks and is suddenly gloating about and totally cool with leaving Ned’s youngest to a horrible fate. If it turns out Smalljon is serious than the show will have pulled one hell of a fluke on us. But we were promised that the north remembers. Sure, the show didn’t really promise us that, but we were promised it nonetheless. And the best use of it was Manderly, talking vaguely about his plans to betray the Boltons and the Freys, and planting Rickon at Winterfell, which was a slow-burn plan, and last we saw Manderly was at Winterfell himself, making jokes about growing up to be a Frey. If all we get is that suddenly in episode 9 Manderly’s like, “Just joking, THE NORTH REMEMBERS!” that simply won’t be good enough. We need to see the northmen’s ability to set a plan in motion. That’s what I think, anyway, and once again I hope I’m right.
Lastly would be the scolding Roose gave Ramsay in episode one of this season. Roose sort of taunts Ramsay about how he can’t hold the north without a Stark. Sure, Sansa would give him a Stark heir who would also he his heir, and Rickon obviously can’t do that, but if Ramsay is spending the season preparing to kill Jon and not out looking for Sansa, then was the only point of that dialogue to lead up to the shocking Roose murder in the next episode? I don’t think so. I also don’t think it’s unimportant that Roose tells Ramsay that his plan to murder the Lord Commander of the Night’s watch is a surefire way to lose the north. As far as the Smalljon knows, Jon is still Lord Commander, and even if he despises wildlings enough to want Jon dead he’s got to know that such a plan is dangerous. All I’m saying is we have a nice teeter-totter going on three episodes in:
Episode 1: Roose tells Ramsay killing Jon is a stupid plan that will lose him the north.
Episode 2: Ramsay murders Roose.
Episode 3: The Smalljon shows up and has a cracking plan to kill Jon.
Are we really to believe there’s more than one hapless Ramsay enabler in the north?
Anyway. I’m going to hope. If ensuing episodes begin to unravel my convictions I’m going to be sad. I was desperately hoping for Stark vengeance this season, and if Rickon has to die before it’s all over, and if we don’t get a full-on Great North Conspiracy, then I don’t really know what the point is.
Some Manderly love, because it’ll likely be sparse in the show:
“A thousand years before the Conquest, a promise was made, and oaths were sworn in the Wolf’s Den before the old gods and the new. When we were sore beset and friendless, hounded from our homes and in peril of our lives, the wolves took us in and nourished us and protected us against our enemies. The city is built upon the land they gave us. In return we swore that we should always be their men. Stark men!”
– Wylla Manderly
“Foes and false friends are all around me, Lord Davos. They infest my city like roaches, and at night I feel them crawling over me…. My son Wendel came to the Twins a guest. He ate Lord Walder’s bread and salt, and hung his sword upon the wall to feast with his friends. And they murdered him. Murdered, I say, and may the Freys choke upon their fables. I drink with Jared, jape with Symond, promise Rhaegar the hand of my own beloved granddaughter… but never think that means I have forgotten. The north remembers, Lord Davos. The north remembers, and the mummer’s farce is almost done. My son is home.”
– Wyman Manderly. Now, his son may not be home, but Rickon is. Let’s hope it means what Manderly would like it to mean, shall we?