Just when we all thought Joffrey was the main villain in the Game of Thrones series and possibly the worst thing to ever happen to Sansa Stark, along came Ramsay Snow. The bastard son of Roose Bolton and personal tormentor of Theon Greyjoy, Ramsay horrified characters and fans alike for the better part of five seasons. Show fans will know that Ramsay got the ending he deserved (and hopefully he’ll have a similarly satisfying book ending), but not before offing his father, mother, and baby brother–and they may not be the first family members Ramsay has killed. And that’s just one member of House Bolton. Don’t forget that Ramsay’s father, Roose, uttered one of the series’s most famous lines, “The Lannisters send their regards,” before making the killing blow on Robb Stark at the Red Wedding.
One of House Stark’s greatest historical rivals, House Bolton has never been content to bend the knee to the Wardens of the North. As soon as they got the green light from the Lannisters, the Boltons killed as many of the Starks as they could, married one (and in so doing turned her into a Bolton), and made themselves Wardens of the North. While their reign in the North was short-lived, it was definitely destructive, and what’s left of the Starks will spend a long time rebuilding their home.
Now that House Bolton is over and done in the show and will hopefully meet a similar end in the books, let’s take a look at some House Bolton trivia you probably didn’t know. Fair warning that there are major book and show spoilers ahead, so take all necessary precautions!
15. Bolton Symbols
Like all noble families in Westeros, the Boltons have a motto, a sigil, and house colors that mark them distinctly from the other houses. What’s significant about the Boltons is that they have a very dark, very specific history and their house is built around that history. The Boltons have always had a penchant for flaying their enemies; as such, their official motto is Our Blades are Sharp, reminding all who think to cross them what happens to their enemies. Unofficially, the Boltons are also associated with the motto, “A naked man has few secrets. A flayed man has none.” As if that weren’t enough, their sigil is a flayed man. The book sigil is a flayed man on a pink background with drops of blood dotting the background, but the show has taken a more realistic approach and put the flayed man on a white X over a blue background. No drops of blood.
The home of the Boltons is the Dreadfort, an appropriately grim castle for the family who has a flayed man for their sigil. The Dreadfort is situated on the banks of the Weeping Water between the Lonely Hills and the Sheepshead Hills, near the Hornwood estate, the Umbers’ Last Hearth, and the Karstarks’ Karhold. The Boltons once tortured their enemies and flayed their skins in the Dreadfort, and it is heavily rumored that those torture and flaying chambers are still there. The Dreadfort has high walls and merlons that look like sharp teeth. Torch sconces on the walls are shaped like skeletal hands–perhaps they are.
Many underestimate the power of the Dreadfort because it seems like any other castle. However, the walls and towers of the Dreadfort are thick enough to withstand a siege, and the spiked merlons make it difficult for enemies to climb into the fortress. Harlon Stark once laid siege to the Dreadfort, and it took him two years to starve them out; not once in those two years were his forces able to penetrate the Dreadfort walls.
13. Night’s King
There is a lot we don’t know about the Night’s King. We know that he was the thirteenth commander of the Night’s Watch and that he fell in love with a woman “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars.” The songs say that when he gave his seed to her, he gave his soul as well. He declared himself king of the Nightfort and made her his queen, and for thirteen years they ruled the Nightfort. Brandon the Breaker, King of the North, and Joramun, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, joined forces to bring down the Night’s King. Because he had been making sacrifices to the Others, the Night’s Watch destroyed all record of his reign, so there is very little we know about him.
Some speculate that the Night’s King was actually a Bolton. What this means for the series, we can’t say. It’s possible it means nothing at all. But if there’s a connection between the now-extinct Boltons and the legendary Night’s King, who many speculate was the father of the White Walkers, well the Starks have a whole new mess of problems to deal with.
12. Red Kings
Long before Aegon the Conqueror came to Westeros, the now seven kingdoms were divided into smaller kingdoms ruled by “petty kings.” Many noble houses were once a line of kings. The Boltons were known as the Red Kings, and their kingdom encompassed the area between the Last River, the White Knife, and the Sheepshead Hills.
Not much is recorded about the Red Kings because their reign predates written history. We do know that they were the mortal enemies of the Starks, who ruled most of the North at the time and were known as the Kings of Winter. The rule of the Red Kings ended about a thousand years before the events of A Game of Thrones.
11. Wars With The Starks
For as long as the two houses have existed, the Starks and the Boltons have been at odds with one another. Fighting over territory and perceived insults was common in the days of the petty kings of Westeros, but the rivalry between the Red Kings and the Winter Kings was bloody and brutal. How the conflict began is unclear, and whether or not this is where the Boltons first began the practice of flaying their enemies is also unclear. We do know that several Starks were slain and flayed, and their skins were hung up for display in the Dreadfort. According to rumors, several Boltons wore Stark skins as cloaks.
At some point, the Red King Royce II once burned down Winterfell, and three hundred years later Red King Royce IV also burned down the Stark stronghold–so it’s fitting that hundreds of years later, Ramsay Bolton also burns down Winterfell.
10. Rogar the Huntsman
Over the years, the many petty kings of the North gradually bent the knee to the Starks until only the Red Kings of House Bolton remained defiant. But thousands of years after the fighting began, for whatever reason, the Boltons bent the knee to the Starks. Perhaps they were tired of fighting. Perhaps they realized that they had no more allies against the Starks. Whatever the case, at the same time the Andals began their invasion of Westeros, the Red King Rogar the Huntsman bent the knee and became Lord Rogar Bolton. To solidify his vow of allegiance, he sent his sons to Winterfell as hostages to ensure that he would not rebel; if he did, his sons would pay the price.
Rogar did not rebel against his king, but some of his descendants did. The Boltons allied themselves with the Greystarks of Wolf’s Den and rose up against the Starks. The rebellion was unsuccessful, leading to the end of all the Greystarks. The Boltons bent the knee again before they could meet a similar fate. Still, the Boltons never quite got over it, and when Roose Bolton saw an opportunity to betray the Starks and become Warden of the North, he took it.
9. Pink Pavilion
Two thousand years before the events of Game of Thrones, the islands of the Three Sisters were independently governed and similar to the Ironborn in that their way of life was pirating and pillaging. When the Sistermen, as they came to be known, tired of pirating and pillaging, the North laid claim to the islands. Many atrocities were committed, including killing and eating children, disemboweling men and displaying their entrails, and three thousand warriors were even executed in a single day.
Because the Boltons had bent the knee by this point and were the Starks’ bannermen, they accompanied the other northerners on this siege and added some standard Bolton grimness. The Boltons flayed a hundred Sistermen and used their skins to create a “Pink Pavilion.” Perhaps this is why the Bolton color is pink?
Roose Bolton is mildly creepy in the HBO series, but in the book Roose is really creepy. When he isn’t killing Starks and flaying his enemies, he’s getting leeched. Yep, as in letting leeches crawl all over his body and suck his blood. Unlike Melisandre, he isn’t using these leeches for any divine purpose; Roose seems to believe that a man must purge himself of bad blood if he is to live a long and healthy life.
Many cultures believed in leeching in our world, too. The Ancient Indians and Greeks believed that humors dictated a person’s life, and too much of one humor could create an imbalance. Some people were believed to have an excess of blood in their bodies, so physicians would put leeches on them to remove this excess blood and re-balance the humors. The practice continued as late as the nineteenth century, and it is believed that too much blood-letting was the cause of George Washington’s death.
7. Bethany and Barbrey Ryswell
Roose Bolton has had three wives. The first wife we know nothing about, including her name, but at least we know that much about his second wife. A noblewoman named Bethany Ryswell, Roose’s second wife reportedly “never made a sound in bed.” It is implied that they had multiple children who did not survive infancy, but one of them did–a boy named Domeric. We’ll get into him later. At some point, Bethany died of a fever.
Bethany had a sister named Barbrey. When we meet her in A Dance with Dragons, Barbrey is now Lady Dustin, and because she is a childless widow, she is now the head of the Barrowton estate. Lady Dustin has sworn fealty to the Boltons, presumably because her late sister was Lady Bolton; when talking to Theon, however, she confides that her real motive is that she hated the Starks because she wanted to be one. She was in love with Brandon Stark, Ned’s older brother, and gave him her maidenhead. They were going to marry, but the Stark maester proposed he marry Catelyn Tully instead. Barbrey married Lord Dustin not long after, who rode to aid Robert Baratheon during Robert’s Rebellion. Lord Dustin died, and Barbrey always hated Ned because he would not bring Lord Dustin’s bones north to be buried. Now she has sided with the Boltons, and if the show is any indication, that’s a decision she’ll live to regret.
Fans have gotten used to the idea of Ramsay being Roose’s only son, but that wasn’t always the case. Roose and his second wife, Bethany, had a son named Domeric, reportedly their only child to survive past the cradle. Domeric was quiet and accomplished; he read history, played the harp, and rode as if he had been born on the saddle. When Domeric was a boy, he spent four years serving as a page to his aunt, Barbrey Dustin. After this, he spent three years squiring for Lord Redfort in the Vale- Lord Redfort believed that Domeric would do well in tourneys.
After returning from the Vale, Domeric learned that he had a bastard half-brother. Roose bid him not to seek out Ramsay, but Domeric had always wanted a brother and rode out to find his brother. Not long after, Domeric died. The maesters deduced that it was a “sickness of the bowels,” but Roose believes that Domeric was poisoned. And who was the culprit?
You may remember Ramsay telling Walda that he prefers being an only child. Such was the case with Domeric; Roose believes that Ramsay killed Domeric so that he would be Roose’s only son and, eventually, would be legitimized and made Roose’s heir.
5. Ramsay’s Dogs
Ramsay has a pack of hunting hounds who many people call “the bastard’s girls.” These are hounds that he has trained to be bloodthirsty killers, as we’ve seen in the HBO series. The “girls” are mean-tempered, made that way because they are often denied food for days at a time. Ramsay has even taught them to kill wolves so that they will be even more fearsome. One of Ramsay’s favorite games is to take women–particularly local peasant women, but almost any woman will do–imprison them, make them think they have escaped, and then chase them down with his dogs. When he catches them, he rapes and kills them. If the women have given Ramsay “good sport” (as in, given him a good chase and put up a fight), he gives them a quick death and names one of his pups after them. If they have not given him a good sport (gave up instead of running or fighting), he flays them alive and feeds the corpses to his dogs, and none of his pups are named after them.
4. Roose’s Cupbearer
Show fans will remember that in season two, Tywin Lannister and Arya Stark both cross paths at Harrenhal and he makes her his cupbearer. In A Clash of Kings, the second installation in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, things go a bit differently. Tywin leaves Harrenhal and, in his absence, it is seized by Roose Bolton. Arya has already been at Harrenhal, and because she is pretending to be a commoner named Nan, Roose has no idea who she really is. He takes her as his cupbearer, and Arya gets to hear Roose’s meeting with the Freys–while he is naked and covered in leeches. Arya plans to follow Roose to the Twins and meet up with her family, but Roose is unkind when she asks what will happen to her and she decides against it. Good thing, too–that’s one less Stark killed at the Red Wedding.
3. Lady Hornwood
Believe it or not, Sansa (or Jeyne, depending on which version you prefer) was not Ramsay’s first wife. That unfortunate distinction goes to a woman named Donella Hornwood. Lady Hornwood was a cousin of Wyman Manderly’s who had married Lord Halys Hornwood. Together, they had one son: Daryn. As bannermen to the Starks, Lord Hornwood and his son met the Lannisters in battle–unfortunately, Lord Hornwood and his son were killed. This left Donella as proprietor of the Hornwood estate until she remarried, at which point her husband would become the new proprietor. Almost all of the Northern lords sent proposals of marriage to Lady Hornwood in the hopes that they could acquire her highly-sought-after lands, but Lady Hornwood was still too grieved over the loss of her husband and son to consider another marriage.
Because Lady Hornwood did not make a decision, Ramsay made one for her. He and his men captured Lady Hornwood when she was riding back from Winterfell and he married her that night. Having married her and gotten what he wanted (access to the Hornwood lands), Ramsay locked her in a tower and refused to feed her. By the time she was found, she was dead and had chewed off several of her own fingers in hunger.
2. Fat Walda Frey
Walda Frey is Roose’s third wife and likely the most interesting. Walder Frey offered Roose any of his daughters, with the promise that he would pay the bride’s weight in silver for her dowry. Therefore, Roose chose the fattest of Walder Frey’s daughters, a girl so heavy that people called her Fat Walda. Walda sent constant letters to Roose while he was at Harrenhal, telling him how much she missed him and longed to give him sons. Roose let Arya read some of these letters, but he always burned them after.
Walda was present at the Red Wedding, but left before the bedding ceremony; because she was a Frey and married to Roose, she almost definitely knew what was going to happen. When Walda and Roose moved north, he confided to Theon that he is “oddly fond of my fat little wife.” Roose also confided that he knew that Ramsay would kill all of his sons by Walda, something that does happen in the show.
1. Jeyne Poole
Jeyne Poole is a character who only appears in the books, but her appearance is fairly significant. In the books, Jeyne is the childhood friend of Sansa Stark and accompanies her to King’s Landing. When Ned is imprisoned, Cersei orders Littlefinger to take Jeyne away. It is heavily implied that he keeps Jeyne in his brothel and even makes her work.
Littlefinger later decides that Jeyne looks vaguely similar to Arya Stark and could be passed off as such. He dresses her in gray and white, puts a wolf clasp on her cloak, and sends her north to marry Ramsay. “Arya” becomes his bride and is kept locked in her room where he abuses her. Jon Snow, believing that it is the real Arya, sends Mance Rayder and some wildling women to free her. Mance disguises himself as a singer named Abel; together, he and the wildling women help Jeyne and Theon escape from Winterfell.
Sansa takes Jeyne’s place in the HBO series by marrying Ramsay and escaping Winterfell with Theon. Fans were disappointed when they thought the showrunners were going to get rid of Jeyne’s graphic storyline and then gave it to Sansa instead, but as we can see, the North remembers–and so does Sansa Stark.