Study Guide

The Boltons and Reek in A Clash of Kings

By George R.R. Martin

The Boltons and Reek

We heard a bit about the Boltons back in A Game of Thrones, but it isn't until this volume that we finally get to meet them face-to-face. Their sigil pictures a bloody man who has been skinned alive, and their house motto is "Our Blades are Sharp." After finally meeting the clan, we imagine they've tested this motto on more than a few occasions.

The Dynamically Disturbing Duo

Spoiler warnings are in total effect here because we really can't discuss Ramsay Snow and Reek without giving away a major plot twist. You've been warned.

Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton's illegitimate son, first comes to our attention when he kidnaps Lady Hornwood and forces her to marry him. Although Ser Rodrik kills Ramsay, he is too late to rescue Hornwood. Left in a tower without food, she starved to the point of eating her own fingers and dies before Rodrik can break the door down (36.Bran.63). Yikes.

The knight brings Ramsay's manservant, a fellow named Reek, to Winterfell to answer for his master's crimes. Reek, by the way, is aptly named, as the man smells like he has an allergy to taking baths. That would have been the end of the story, too, but then Theon.

When Theon takes Winterfell, he releases Reek, and Reek acts as a type of shoulder devil, whispering evil thoughts into the young Greyjoy's ear. For example, it is Reek who comes up with the plan to kill the miller's boys and then pass them off as the slain Bran and Rickon (51.Theon.117). He also convinces Theon to lend him money to find sellswords to help defend Winterfell against Rodrik.

Here's the crazy bit: When Reek returns under a banner of friendship, he kills Rodrik and all of his men and then reveals that he is actually Ramsay Snow. The real Reek was killed in Ramsay's place (67.Theon.118). After knocking Theon unconscious, Ramsay's men have control of Winterfell, but rather than preserve it for the Starks, they plunder the place and burn it to the ground.

We bring all of this up to ask simply: Why? Why does Ramsey/Reek work so hard to mess with Theon's head? Why does he burn Winterfell if the Boltons are supposedly loyal to the Starks? Why does he kill Ser Rodrik instead of helping him?

We'll have to see how this character develops in later volumes, but we're going to hazard a guess right now: Ramsay is a sadist and a sociopath, pure and simple. Like the Joker, he's the kind of guy who just wants to watch the world burn.

Apple and Tree

But what about his father, Roose Bolton? What's his end game? Well, we can't say. As of now, he seems to be on Robb Stark's side, but there are hints that this might not be the case.

What we can say about Roose is that he is a precise and cold man. He manages to take Harrenhal with little risk to his own knights by buying the loyalty of Vargo Hoat. Once castellan, Roose orders every man who officially worked for the Lannisters killed and puts their tarred heads along the battlements (65.Arya.4). You know, to send a message.

Although he is a Stark man, life at Harrenhal isn't any better under Roose's rule. Gendry notes the Brave Companions have grown crueler (65.Arya.17), and Roose's treatment of Arya is terse as he pays her as much mind as he pays his leeches (65.Arya.30). The tactics he develops for his soldiers are also very similar to Tywin's cold yet effective "kill'em and burn'em" (65.Arya.58) tactics.

He also doesn't seem to have much love for his illegitimate son, Ramsay Snow, either. In a letter to Edmure, Roose writes that Ramsay deserved his fate—back when they thought Ramsay was actually dead. It reads: "Tainted blood is ever treacherous, and Ramsay's nature was sly, greedy, and cruel. I count myself well rid of him" (46.Catelyn.35). In fact, Roose has an obsession with blood, as well as a compulsive need to remove bad blood from himself, as evident by his daily leeching sessions.

But we feel like there is a bit of important foreshadowing involving Roose. After his leeching, Roose decides he will spend the day hunting the wolves, whose howling has kept him up at night, and he returns that night with nine dead wolves, seven adults and two pups (65.Arya.75). Let's not forget that the wolf is the sigil of House Stark…

Theon also remembers that the Boltons of the past feuded with the Starks before swearing loyalty. Apparently, Roose's ancestors would "cloak themselves in the skins of dead enemies" including members of the Stark clan. Whether this ancient feud has been entirely forgotten is unknown, but Theon knows that "old ways die hard" (51.Theon.48). And given the bevy of dead wolves Roose brings home, we're thinking Theon has a point.