In a series full of unhappy unions, last night’s Game of Thrones just introduced the unhappiest of all: As some fans predicted, Sansa Stark is indeed going to marry Ramsay Bolton. The impending marriage is a wholesale plot invention by producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — in the original novels, Ramsay seals the Boltons’ hold on Winterfell by marrying Sansa’s friend Jeyne Poole, who’s posing as Arya Stark, while Sansa is betrothed to a young lord in the Vale. Needless to say, book readers flipped out at the prospect of one of their favorite characters being married off to yet another bloodthirsty maniac. “If Ramsay touches Sansa, I will burn everything to the ground,”tweeted one. Others were more optimistic, like the fan who hoped Sansa eventually “drives a stake through Ramsay’s dick.” In the wake of this overwhelming dismay, we’ll be the first to offer the young couple a hearty congratulations! Because this new engagement is one of the best things that could have happened to their characters.
Well, the best thing that could have happened to them narratively, at least. We’ll admit that, as far as bachelors in Westeros go, Ramsay is hardly the one you want standing outside your window with a boombox. In a series that’s already full of gratuitous violence against women, the things he does to Jeyne Poole in A Dance With Dragons rank among the vilest degradations George R.R. Martin has ever written. But Sansa Stark is not Jeyne Poole. She arrives in Winterfell a genuine political strategist, with years of experience dealing with sociopaths and the full support of Littlefinger behind her. She may have assumed her old friend’s role, but that doesn’t mean she’ll share her fate.
But what will be her fate? The best thing about this change is that even book readers don’t know for sure. Sansa’s scenes in Winterfell last night crackled with potential storytelling energy. How long until Ramsay’s inner psychopath comes out, and how will she react when it does? Sansa is in Winterfell to avenge her family. Is Ramsay her only target, or is she going to take down his whole house? In last night’s episode, a serving woman tells Sansa, “The North remembers” — a catchphrase from the books that marks membership in the anti-Bolton conspiracy. What part will Theon have to play? What’s Myranda going to do? And what the heck is in all those ravens Littlefinger keeps sending? We’re so far off Martin’s road map that literally anything could happen.
Ramsay doesn’t quite have the fan base Sansa does (which is kind of like saying Arya doesn’t have quite the height Brienne does), but it’s easy to see how marrying Sansa could improve his story line, too. Like Frank Underwood on House of Cards, Ramsay has been able to follow his worst impulses more or less unimpeded. He’s been beating up on cardboard-cutout victims for three years now — seeing him abuse Jeyne Poole wouldn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before. But now he’s finally matched up against an opponent who won’t run at the first sight of dogs. Heck, Sansa’s held her own against the Hound, and Joffrey, too. What’s one more bastard?