By A.J. Chico
In the land of Westeros, the famous saying goes, “You either win the game of thrones, or you die.” Game of Thrones, an HBO television show that first aired in 2011, is based on the fantasy novels written by George R.R. Martin. The Game of Thrones television series takes place in the fictional land of Westeros, where rival families fight one another to maintain and acquire power through betrayal, espionage, and sabotage. These bouts for power can be seen between characters during somber moments or through the clashing of iron on the battlefield. As one watches the series, a question can be formulated: How far are characters willing to go to achieve victory and obtain power? This paper answers that question by analyzing the roles of Jaime Lannister of House Lannister and Ramsay Bolton of House Bolton as commanders who represent their families on the battlefield. Three character traits are compared and contrasted between both characters: bloodline and reputation, strategy, and persistence for peace. Both characters have their own reputations, but their family’s name provides different weight in Westeros, thus changing how their men and others see them. Both are cunning strategists, but the use of a hostage differs between Jaime and Ramsay. Jaime and Ramsay are persistent to pursue peace before their battles, but when peace is no longer an option, Jaime chooses a nonviolent path while Ramsay directly goes to war. Leaders have every intent to win, but the path and rationale to achieve victory varies from leader to leader.
To lead men, especially toward an impending battle, a commander must demonstrate why he is in charge. The blood of a commander, or the house he or she belongs to, as well the commander’s reputation are factors for the role of leadership. Jaime and Ramsay belong to rival families in Westeros: House Lannister and House Bolton. Jaime Lannister arrives in Riverrun with his small army to aid the Freys in taking over a castle. Jaime is an experienced soldier who built a reputation for himself as being a skilled swordsman, tactician, and loyal member of his family. The Lannister name earns the holder respect and power, as Lannisters are known for always repaying their debts. Jaime may have lost his hand, but even then he obtains obedience, as seen in the dialogue between Jaime and a Frey soldier:
BLACK WALDER: Edmure is a prisoner of House Frey.
JAIME looks BLACK WALDER up and down.
JAIME: Only a fool makes threats he’s not prepared to carry out. Now let’s say I threatened to hit you unless you shut your mouth, but you kept talking. What do you think I’d do?
BLACK WALDER: I don’t give a rat’s- –
JAIME hits BLACK WALDER across the face with his gold hand. BLACK WALDER staggers back beside LOTHAR.
JAIME: I’m here by the king’s command to take back this castle. Have him bathed and fed. Unless you’d like to take his place.
LOTHAR: Apologies, Ser Jaime (Cogman).
Black Walder could easily have disobeyed Jaime despite Jaime stating he’s there on the king’s orders, but disobeying Jamie Lannister would be a dishonorable act. Ramsay, on the other hand, rules his men through fear. Ramsay acquired the “loyalty” of his men through fear, as House Bolton is notorious for killing anyone who does not obey them. Ramsay himself obtained the reputation of being a psychotic torturer. Jon Snow and Sir Davos know this as they converse before the battle with Ramsay:
DAVOS: That’s not his way. He knows the North is watching. If the other houses sense weakness on his part, they’ll stop fearing him. He can’t have that. Fear is his power.
JON SNOW: It’s his weakness, too. His men don’t want to fight for him. They’re forced to fight for him. If they feel the tide turning… (Benioff).
Ramsay can not show weakness and remorse in front of his acquired men, so only by instilling fear into them can he insure that he keeps their cooperation. The reputation and bloodline of a leader gives that leader some credibility. However, reputation must be backed up with action, as we will see in the next paragraph.
The reputation of a leader can inspire or instill fear in his men, but the strategic mind of a commander can solidify a leader’s military reputation. Jaime held Edmure, the captured Lord of Riverrun, hostage. Ramsay held Rickon, the brother of Jon, a protagonist of the series trying to take Winterfell from Ramsay, hostage as well. A hostage, especially one who belongs to one of the main families of Westeros, is leverage, and both characters understood this. However, Jaime and Ramsay utilize their hostages differently. Although Jaime does not explicitly state on camera what he will do with Edmure, after a scene between the two conversing, Edmure convinces his men of the castle to lay down their arms:
GUARD CAPTAIN: Who goes there?
EDMURE: Edmure Tully, son of Hoster Tully, and the rightful Lord of Riverrun. I demand entry.
BRYNDEN: Don’t let him in.
GUARD CAPTAIN: He’s the Lord of Riverrun. I have to obey his commands (Benioff).
Jaime then marches his army into the castle, securing his victory. Jaime knew that the men defending the castle were still loyal to Edmure. Jaime took advantage of that to obtain the castle without having to lay siege to it. On one hand, Jaime and Ramsay understand the importance of holding a hostage. On the other hand, Ramsay takes the use of his hostage one step further. Ramsay acquired Rickon Stark, Jon Snow’s brother who Jon did not know was alive. On the day of the battle, Ramsay allows Rickon to run to Jon, but shoots him with an arrow, killing him. Jon irrationally charged at Ramsay followed by his army. This plays into Ramsay’s plan, as he needed Jon to act first to surround him later in the battle. Ramsay does not explicitly say on camera what his battle plans are, but the audience is shown how Jon and Sir Davos actually needed Ramsay to strike first for their own plan to succeed:
DAVOS: It’s crucial that we let them charge at us. They’ve got the numbers, we need the patience. If we let him buckle our center, he’ll pursue. Then we’ll have him surrounded on three sides.
TORMUND (to JON SNOW): Did you really think that he would fight you man to man?
JON SNOW: No. But I wanted to make him angry. I want him coming at us full tilt (Benioff).
During the entire episode, it seemed like Ramsay was going to defeat Jon Snow. Although Ramsay lost the battle due to unforeseen reinforcements coming to Jon’s rescue, as an audience member it was chilling to see how Ramsay manipulated Jon’s emotions and made Jon strike first. No episode in the series, prior to the three episodes analyzed for this paper, does the audience see Jaime or Ramsay enact strategic plans as complicated as what was just shown. Both leaders, in a sense, are military geniuses. They formed the outcome they needed through cunningness and the manipulation of their enemies. The strategies Jaime and Ramsay enacted play into their reputations as well. Jaime taking the castle with little force contributes to Jaime’s reputation as a cunning commander. Although Ramsay died, his action of killing his hostage and making Jon charge at him can contribute to his reputation of being a ruthless and feared leader and tactician.
Reputation and strategy can only reveal so much of a man’s true character. A leader knows when war is necessary, but a great leader is persistent in solving complications through peace. The analysis on persistence for peace builds upon the previous paragraph. Both characters sought for peace before having to use their hostages. Jaime met with the castle’s current leader in hopes to get him to surrender peacefully:
JAIME: It won’t stop with Edmure. You’ll force me to storm the castle. Hundreds will die.
BRYNDEN: Hundreds of mine. Thousands of yours. If you can breach the walls.
JAIME: We’ll breach them and kill every last one of you. But if you surrender, I’ll spare the lives of your men. On my honor ( Benioff).
Ramsay as well sought peace during his initial meeting with Jon Snow:
RAMSAY: Now, dismount and kneel before me, surrender your army and proclaim me the true Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. I will pardon you for deserting the Night’s Watch. I will pardon these treasonous lords for betraying my house. Come, bastard, you don’t have the men and you don’t have Winterfell. Why lead those pour souls into slaughter? There’s no need for a battle. Get off your horse and kneel. I’m a man of mercy (Benioff).
Both characters sought peace before the battle, but their pursuit for peace was shot down by their foes. Jaime attempts to pursue a nonviolent path one more time, while Ramsay directly goes to war. Building upon Jaime’s strategy of using Edmure, Jaime revealed his intentions with Edmure before Edmure retook the castle for Jaime:
JAIME: That’s exactly why I came here. I love Cersei. She needs me. And to get back to her, I have to take Riverrun. I’ll send for your baby boy. And I’ll launch him into Riverrun with a catapult. Because you don’t matter to me, Lord Edmure. Your son doesn’t matter to me. The people in the castle don’t matter to me. Only Cersei. And if I have to slaughter every Tully who ever lived to get back to her, that’s what I’ll do (Benioff).
Jaime is not afraid to threaten Edmure with taking his son’s life. It is a bold and cold move, but all Jaime wants to do is return to his beloved, Cersei, as quickly as possible. Although the audience knows Jaime is not afraid to kill, Jaime believes his method of intimidation with Edmure will save time and lives of men on both sides. Jaime’s plan is successful in convincing Edmure to convince the men in the castle to lay down their arms. Ramsay negotiates for Jon’s surrender, but Jon can not surrender because he is fighting to take back Winterfell, the land his family once owned. Ramsay knows he would lose a one on one fight with Jon, but he knows he outnumbers Jon’s army. Ramsay can not back down as well, in fear that his men will no longer be afraid of him and see him as a coward. The only option left for Ramsay was war:
RAMSAY: I keep hearing stories about you, Jon. The way people in the North talk about you. You’re the greatest swordsman who ever walked. Maybe you are that good. Maybe not. I don’t know if I’d beat you. But I know that my army will beat yours (Benioff).
Throughout the battle, Ramsay shows just how much he needs to win and the lengths he will go to achieve victory. As seen in the previous paragraph, Ramsay first kills his hostage. Whether it be in the real world or in Westeros, killing a hostage is severely looked down upon as dishonorable and cowardly. As the battle ensues, Ramsay orders his men to fire their arrows into the ongoing battle, killing men on both sides. To ensure his victory Ramsay knew he had to turn to a full on battle to decimate Jon. Unlike Jaime, Ramsay’s choice of battle cost the lives of thousands. The comparison of Jaime and Ramsay reveal two very driven men. They both have their reasons for obtaining victory as swiftly as possible. However, the comparison ends there. Jaime and Ramsay are different people complete with complex thoughts, rationales, and beliefs. Constrained to this paper and its details, Jaime saved the lives of thousands of men by using his hostage intelligently. Although Ramsay could have negotiated even more with Jon, he instead went to war with him, forcing both armies to clash.
A common theme within Game of Thrones is watching characters go to extreme measures to achieve victory. Complications can be solved through democracy within Game of Thrones, but conflicts are also settled with the clashing of iron and bloodshed. Leaders have every intent to win, but the path and rationale to achieve that victory varies from leader to leader. This paper compared and contrasted three leadership qualities between Jaime Lannister and Ramsay Bolton: bloodline and reputation, strategy, and persistence for peace. Both are members of rival houses, but Jaime’s reputation earns himself respect and obedience, even if he has to be confrontational at times. Ramsay’s house is notorious for murdering uncompliant allies and enemies alike, so Ramsay utilizes fear to obtain cooperation from his men. Jaime and Ramsay understand the importance of holding a hostage, especially if that hostage belongs to a rival house. Jaime uses Edmure to convince his men in the castle to lay down their arms. Ramsay kills his hostage, sparking Jon Snow to act irrationally on the battlefield, playing into Ramsay’s plan. Finally, both characters pursue peace before their battles. When peace is not achieved, Jaime tries a nonviolent method of winning. Ramsay turns to war to defeat Jon, causing the deaths of thousands. This paper has now answered the question posed initially, albeit only two of the numerous characters within the show were analyzed. As an avid viewer of Game of Thrones, I can say that none of the main characters are perfect. This paper analyzed three leadership qualities between two characters, but a new question can spawn from this paper: Can this essay alone group Jaime and Ramsay as either protagonist, antihero, or antagonist? That is a difficult question to answer. Readers of this paper can create their own rationales to group these two, but further analysis of past seasons and episodes would aid in grouping these two. Nonetheless, this paper analyzed just how far two warriors placed in leadership positions went to achieve victory for the sake of family and reputation.
Cogman, Bryan. “The Broken Man (Script).” Genius. N.p., 06 June 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.
Benioff, David . “No One (Script).” Genius. N.p., 13 June 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.
Benioff, David Of. “Battle of the Bastards (Script).” Genius. N.p., 19 June 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.