'Game of Thrones': Iwan Rheon on Ramsay Bolton's Dogfight for Winterfell

"He's not a complete and utter scumbag. He does enjoy people being strong," the 'Thrones' star says about his infamous villain.
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season six, episode nine of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

For all his loathsome qualities — the way he treated his prisoners, the way he treated his lovers, the way he combined the two concepts into one disturbing horror show — Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) knew a thing or two about winning.

The wicked Warden of the North might not have done well against Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in single combat, but he easily outsmarted the former Lord Commander of the Night's Watch on the battlefield. In the much hyped "Battle of the Bastards," Ramsay lured Jon out into the open by brutally butchering Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson) with a bow and arrow, breaking the Stark army with a single act of emotional manipulation. Minutes later, Jon's men were completely surrounded by House Bolton's forces, with no apparent way out.

"He doesn't fall into traps," Sansa warned Jon earlier. "He lays traps."

Ramsay's trap would have worked, too, if it wasn't for those meddling knights of the Vale, arriving in the eleventh hour to save the heroes from certain doom. The Starks were again in Winterfell, and the Bastard of Bolton was nothing more than dog meat — literally, as his own precious hounds feasted on his still-alive body, no longer loyal after seven days of starvation.

It was an appropriately disturbing end for one of Thrones' most disturbing characters, simultaneously one of the most gory and cathartic deaths in the show's lore. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Iwan Rheon for more on Ramsay's demise and the crimes committed during the ruthless character's life.

How's the face this morning, Iwan? No teeth marks?

Yeah, I'm doing OK. (Laughs.) Luckily it was just on the telly.

What was it like, watching it back, and seeing the death scene play out?

I haven't actually seen it yet! I mean, I saw the scene while doing ADR. I saw half of [the episode], and then my girlfriend fell asleep.

The only person on Earth put to sleep by "Battle of the Bastards."

Well, she had a long day, to be fair. It's on at two in the morning here!

Fair enough. This episode was Ramsay Bolton's swan song. Did his death measure up to the outcome you had considered for the character?

Definitely. I think it's very fitting. I think it's quite rewarding. He keeps going on about those dogs, doesn't he? I think it's just that they're finally the ones who got him.

Game of Thrones does not always give you what you want. The bad guys win sometimes. Did you ever think Ramsay might survive this show, or did a comeuppance feel inevitable to you?

Oh, yeah. It definitely felt that way to me. Every season, really. He's such an extreme character, and you get to a point where it's difficult for him to do anything worse. He reached his natural conclusion, I think. In terms of the storyline, it's great that the good guys won. It helps move us toward this great conclusion that I think we're all waiting for on the show. 

What do you remember about filming the death scene?

It was all right! It was quite uncomfortable. I had loads of fake blood and prosthetics, and was tied to a chair. We had to imagine that the dogs were there. A lot of that was done in postproduction because the dogs are actually brutal animals; they're not nice little dogs that you can pet. So I had very little time with the dogs. But it was a good scene. It was actually the final scene I ever shot, so it's kind of fitting.

Ramsay's final scene with Sansa is a powerful one. From your position, how do you think Ramsay views Sansa in the end? Does he recognize her strength?

I think he does. And I think it's great that we're seeing another brilliant female character emerging out of what was a horrific situation. Now, Sansa's going to take this new strength she's got and she's going to move forward. But I do think Ramsay is sitting there and thinking… well, he actually says it: "I'm part of you now." He's broken her, but it's made her stronger. I think he's still quite impressed with her. And he's impressed that she talks back to him during the parlay scene. It's like, "Oh! Hello! Who's this? She's grown up!" I do think he finds that in people. He's not a complete and utter scumbag. He does enjoy people being strong. But I do think he's the kind of person who doesn't think he's going to die until the very last minute, when a dog sinks its teeth into him. He has this strange arrogance about him.

Even in that moment, it's not until the dogs attack that Ramsay realizes he's finished? He still thinks he has a way out?

Yeah. But I think it's as soon as the giant comes through the gate. At that moment, I think he figures, "Well, I'm going to die here. Might as well go out with a bang." But he's the kind of person … it's something we played with while we were doing the scenes, actually. He kind of has this weird, strange arrogance that makes him believe that, no matter what, at some point, something is going to come in and save the day for him. He's going to get away with it. But in this instance, he's not. (Laughs.) Thankfully, for the world's sake.

Do you wish there was more closure between Ramsay and Theon (Alfie Allen)? Would you have wanted one more scene with your Reek?

Yeah! It would have been nice! But I'm very glad that Alfie is finally out of that bloody dungeon, and he doesn't have to be that subservient character anymore. He looks good in that armor. It's nice for him. I think he's doing a great job with how he's moving the character along. I'm very pleased for him, now that he's not just that subservient gimp character that he did so well.

What does Ramsay think of Jon Snow, when he's sizing him up?

I think he's excited to meet him. He has a lot in common with him, even if they're the antithesis of each other. I think he's impressed, even as he's bullying him a bit. They're both kind of doing that to each other. But I think he's impressed with Jon Snow's ballsiness, really, when he challenges him to a fight. Ramsay almost does it. He almost wants to accept the challenge. But for once, Ramsay calms down and realizes, "Wait a minute. I have the upper hand here. I better not do anything stupid."

It speaks to the fact that for all his faults, of which there are many, Ramsay is ultimately a strong tactician. He wins the Battle of the Bastards if not for the Knights of the Vale showing up. Are Ramsay's skills as a strategist innate, or are they learned?

I think it's learned, really. He's been around his dad forever, and his dad was an incredible tactician. Especially once he was legitimized, Ramsay became privy to all of these meetings and strategy talks. But he's also a very creative young man. (Laughs.) He can take things he learns from his dad and make his own thing out of them. 

What were your expectations for the battle as shooting unfolded? 

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to see, to be honest! (Laughs.) It took three weeks to film it, plus rehearsal beforehand. I was just sitting on a horse looking down and imagining this whole big battle going on. It's actually quite difficult to pretend. Then we would all go and sit together in a tent. [Director Miguel Sapochnik] was talking me through what I was seeing.

When the dust settles, when we look back on Game of Thrones in 10 years, what do you think Ramsay Bolton's legacy will be?

I hope that he'll be right up there with the most horrible characters in the show. I think he probably already is. But I think he's a villain with a slight difference. What's happened, which is amazing really, is that he's not just hated. People love to hate him, which is different from what characters like Joffrey had. People actually enjoy Ramsay, even though they hate him. They enjoy the hatred. I think that's cool. I hope he'll stand out in that sense.

Now that they're both dead, weigh in on the great debate. Who's worse: Ramsay or Joffrey?

I think it's Joffrey! Because he was all-powerful and he did things purely because he could, but he never did his own dirty work. Whereas Ramsay, it was a real battle for him to reach where he got — the heights of being Warden of the North. It was all against the odds. He's a bastard, and he had no right to be there in the world of the show. At least he does his own dirty work. I think there's something more to him.

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