Who Was Big Walder’s Accomplice ?
... Or maybe I should ask to whom was Big Walder an accomplice?
I started this a while ago as a response in @TheLastWolf ‘s topic suggesting “Aenys Frey Killed Big Walder”. (That might not be the exact title, sorry.) I realised pretty quickly that I had so much to say that it would be more like its own thread than a response to someone else’s. So, weeks later, here it is.
I think we can say that it’s generally accepted that the sheer amount of blood on Big Walder makes it plain that, if not the main perpetrator, he must have been present at the killing of Little Walder – involved in one way or another.
From ADWD, Theon I ...
Because of the way it's written, it's particularly the blood on Big Walder that set the horses to screaming. (The horses' reaction immediately follows the description of the blood on BW.) For me, this blood seems relatively fresh – at least not frozen like the blood on the body, The word "caked" seems to express it's in the process of congealing, but not yet completely dry.
Why is Hosteen caked with snow, while Big Walder is not? Why is there no mention of the Frey knights and men-at-arms being caked in either snow or blood? … It seems obvious that only Hosteen went wading into and digging around in the snow to retrieve the body.
I’ll come back to this further on.
In the Aenys Frey thread, some suggested that the identity of the Hooded Man might be a key consideration to take into account, but for me, it doesn't matter much to the question of who killed Little Walder. I don't think the HM had anything to do with the spate of killings inside Winterfell. … Nor would I accuse the spearwives (though maybe they were at least partially culpable in the case of the naked guy) … I don’t think we can argue that they were trying to foment chaos to provide cover for their escape when they hadn’t yet worked out what their escape plan would be.
Roose vs Ramsay inside Winterfell
The obvious tensions between the Frey and White Harbor contingents tend to overshadow the equally (if not more) dangerous tensions between Roose and Ramsay.
I’ve long thought that the killings up to and including Yellow Dick were the work of Ramsay, based, among other things, on Theon's feeling of deja vu - his first spontaneous thoughts on the string of killings in ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell...
In that previous case, Ramsay (as Reek) was the guilty party. In the present, I think Theon's subsequent suspicions (the HM, the spearwives) are simply a result of overthinking. … His harrowing conditioning as "Reek" cause him to be fearful of saying or perhaps even thinking anything against Ramsay,
Ramsay had been chafing at the bit to take the fight to Stannis since before they even left Barrowton. Roose disagreed. Once shut up inside Winterfell , Ramsay feels increasingly constrained by Roose and the presence of the other Houses – he can’t take the battle to Stannis on the road, can't go "hunting" , can't be as openly cruel to his new wife as he would like to be, has to put up with Barbrey Dustin, Wyman Manderly, and so on. To say the restrictions rankle would be a vast understatement.
If we suppose Ramsay is the killer in WF, of course Roose would find out about it. He knows Ramsay's character and he would have many sources of information close to Ramsay. We saw him question Theon in the presence of others, eventually dismissing him with advice …
… but we don’t know who or how many he may have questioned privately and what parting advice or directives he may have given them.
From ADWD, Reek III ...
First Roose and later Lady Dustin ask Theon to deliver important suggestions to Ramsay...
Both of these are warnings originating from Roose. Theon knows all too well that he mustn't dare to be the bearer of such tidings, but Yellow Dick might not have had the same trepidation. Whatever YD has been to Ramsay - man-at-arms, lieutenant, boon companion - he has not been Ramsay's victim and of course, we know that he is really Roose's man. He wouldn’t have anything like Theon's fear of Ramsay … or he might fear disobeying Roose more.
I think the fury expressed in the violence of YD's murder answers Roose's question to Theon ... Yes, Ramsay truly did believe Yellow Dick was his man. The rage displayed by shoving YD's cock in his mouth hard enough to break teeth is gruesome … but just an extreme example of a classic punishment for deceit. … Ramsay’s rage continues, driving him to the brink of outright rebellion against Roose by talking up the murder, offering a reward - when Roose specifically wanted it hushed up. (Roose didn't want fighting to break out inside WF, but didn't want to ease the tension by sending men out blindly, before receiving Arnolf's report.) That brings us to …
The Walders and Roose
For a long time, I was sure that Roose was the accomplice who orchestrated and assisted in BW's apparent killing of LW. While Ramsay's men are all Roose's, the Walders have not been. Ramsay claimed them himself, taking them under his “protection” when he sacked Winterfell.
We've seen that Little Walder was fast becoming Ramsay's "best boy", so it seemed less likely that he would be swayed by Roose's intructions to tell Ramsay this or that - however, it’s not impossible. Then there’s Big Walder's ambition and cleverness … He would be able to figure that if anyone could help him to climb the order of succession to The Twins, it would be Roose. While LW wants to be Ramsay’s protégé in cruelty, BW shows a precocious tendency to cool calculation. Theon asks him about the missing Jared and Rhaegar in Reek III …
But unlike Theon, who is wary of Roose , knowing “the son is but the shadow of the father” BW’s youth and relative inexperience would make him more susceptible to any vague promises of future help or gratitude coming from Roose.
Considering all that, the situation could be ripe for a quid pro quo between them. In theory, by involving Big Walder in the killing of Little Walder, Roose would get rid of Ramsay's only remaining collaborator who was not under Roose’s control - keeping his hands clean, while bringing BW firmly into his camp. He may have hinted that he was willing to help remove other obstacles in BW’s path, and he might even do so if it suits his future plans. In the meantime, battle may be coming … and winter is hard on the young. Roose is always ready to adapt.
I still think this is all possible, but gradually, I began to see another possibility I now like more.
The Walders and Ramsay
Now I think it's just as possible (if not more likely) that Ramsay, himself, was the mastermind/accomplice to BW. It's possible that Little Walder did something to cross a line with Ramsay. It's possible that he had assisted in the murder of Yellow Dick (and others) and couldn't be trusted to hold his tongue. Perhaps he already said something to BW ... worse, perhaps he answered questions put to him by Roose. …perhaps he relayed a suggestion or demand from Roose that Ramsay should call a halt to his activities.
Any of these might be enough to bring about an alliance between BW and Ramsay. I think BW would take the opportunity to remove one competitor from the field - or could be persuaded to (think of how Ramsay as “Reek” manipulated Theon) - especially if BW felt he had no choice but to play along.
The possible clues to this scenario are scattered throughout the Reek/Theon chapters. I'm going to begin in the middle, in The Prince of Winterfell at the wedding, where there's a passage that helps to tie some clues together. Theon is observing the guests....
This hints at some truths about these characters and their motivations/intentions.
Lord Stout = mastiff = war dog
old Lord Lock = vulture = too old to be a warrior, waiting to feed off the corpses.
Whoresbane = gargoyle = wards off evil
Big Walder = fox = cunning, sly, quick, opportunistic
Little Walder = red bull = red= ruled by passions?... bull = powerful … but lacking a ring for his nose tells us he can't be led reliably/safely and so will be unpredictable.
Earlier, in Reek III, Roose asserted "Bulls are strong. Bears." (I'll give that whole quote in a minute) Although the passage is about Ramsay, he isn’t being equated with a bull ... It's just a general statement of fact, but I think it's meant to come to mind when Theon sees LW as a bull, stressing LW is strong.
As for Big Walder, the wedding scene is the first time he's likened to a fox, but later in Theon I, he's "fox faced and skinny as a stick"… not strong, then. Coming when it does, with BW suspiciously covered in blood, it reminds us that clever and scheming as he may be, BW should be no physical match for LW.
In a nice twist, Ramsay's appearance is not likened to any beast, though he does appear to be practically salivating in anticipation of getting poor “Arya” in his clutches.
“A smile danced across his face. "Who comes?" His lips were moist, his neck red above his collar. "Who comes before the god?"”
The others may seem bestial, but we know that when Roose tells Ramsay, “Your amusements are your own, I will not chide you on that count,” , he’s referring to behavior that we would call bestial … twisted. (And elsewhere Robbett Glover tells Davos that Ramsay "seems a beast in human form".)
So, adding to the case for Ramsay’s involvement, here's the pertinent quote I mentioned above from Reek III ...
And ahead in Theon I ...
Ramsay uses his sword like a butcher and LW was butchered. I don't think this use of language can be a coincidence. ... and Hosteen’s final "A boy" reminds us that BW is a boy too (besides skinny as a stick) ... hardly capable of carrying the body to its destination and "shoving it beneath a snowbank". This last phrase, separated from “butchered like a hog by “and” informs us that the body was likely put there after being killed somewhere else, either close at hand or farther away.
Let's look at Ramsay's behaviour...
Probably more than one someone had displeased him. My guess is that LW displeased Ramsay somehow, and paid the price... and though Ramsay has been displeased with Roose since Barrowton, imagine his mood if he has recently become aware that his men are obeying Roose’s bidding over his own…
I wonder if Ramsay is buckling on his sword belt having just got up and dressed, or if he’s been up all night .. um .. expressing his displeasure and needed to change his clothes and clean his sword before going to the Great Hall?
The action in the text, from the time Ramsay enters the hall, through the argument, to the confrontation over the body is overlaid or interspersed with Theon's thoughts, and a brief whispered exchange with “Abel” and the spearwives. This makes it feel like three separate mini-scenes or events, when it's really one sequence playing out. All of Theon's thoughts and remembrances take much less time to occur in his mind than it takes to articulate them. Many of them can occur simultaneously.
So - Ramsay enters, makes his way to the dais and to judge from how little time has elapsed, immediately engages in an argument with Roose, terrifying Walda . Then Hosteen enters with the body. ... When “The doors to the Great Hall open(ed) with a crash”, it appears that interrupts the argument. Theon tells us nothing to indicate it was resolved or discontinued beforehand.
Theon can’t hear what the Boltons’ argument is about but “the fear on Fat Walda’s round pink face spoke volumes” tells us that it’s a very serious disagreement.
She may not be a warrior princess, but Walda hasn’t exactly been sheltered from the death and destruction that has been prevalent in at least the last few years. She was present at the Twins during the Red Wedding and its aftermath. She’s been aware of the ever changing order of succession of her House (and the attendant rumours). She would hardly be so terrified by yet another disagreement about whether or not to ride out to fight Stannis, or by the discovery of just another random body. There were corpses hanging and scattered around Winterfell when she arrived.
However, Little Walder was her younger brother. This would bring the horror very close to home. I think that some mention of his death during the argument is the only thing that could account for the fear on her face speaking volumes.
Simply the news that his body had been found would probably evoke shock and grief rather than fear. But accusations or admissions of involvement, or threats of retaliation by either Ramsay or Roose would very likely strike fear into her heart.
A little earlier…
“Roose Bolton entered, pale-eyed and yawning, accompanied by his plump and pregnant wife, Fat Walda.”
Roose is yawning, but the drums probably kept many people awake. …There seems to be nothing out of the ordinary here, just business as usual (of course, Roose is so deadpan it’s hard to be 100% certain). Still, I think Ramsay, in some manner, must have introduced the news of LW’s murder. This would mean that he had some knowledge of the murder prior to Hosteen’s entrance – either because he’d been told of it or because he was one of the perpetrators.
But back to the arrival of the body…
To me, the whole interrogation of Big Walder always had a suspiciously theatrical air, which is what got me to thinking about it in detail in the first place.
It’s logical that Ramsay knows about the death before entering the great hall judging by Walda’s terror. He’s admitted to killing, even boasted of killing children to Roose before, in Barrowton. He’s ready to act when Hosteen enters, and “quickly descends” to the body.
Because Roose “rose more slowly, pale-eyed, still-faced, solemn” , I think he’s having to assess a new situation and formulate his own best response in real time … He tries to take charge by speaking more loudly than usual and his pronouncement, “This was foul work” , is almost melodramatic, seeming more like what he thinks he’s expected to say than his actual sentiment. (Remember how casually he told Theon about Domeric’s murder and the expected murders of Walda’s future offspring.) Roose, himself, is quite inured to “foul work”, but many present would not be. (See the general contempt for those who kill children.)
If Roose is thinking on his feet “Where was the body found?” is a good starting question, one that might suggest things beyond the location and buy time to help him formulate the next question, proceeding step by step.
Hosteen had carried the body in and had been the first to speak.. It would only be natural for Roose’s question to be directed to him (and I assume it was). … But Big Walder jumps right in, not only answering the question, but volunteering additional information without waiting to be asked… which in turn gives Ramsay the perfect opening to take control by demanding a name which conveniently leads to accusing White Harbor men - though not without some nervous hesitation from BW. It’s a bit like an actor momentarily forgetting a line, or missing a cue and making up for it. … I think his story demands scrutiny.
First, let’s remember the liar’s rule – to be believable, a lie should have some resemblance or connection to the truth. Let’s bear that in mind for a little later on.
There have been three previous mentions of men dicing in Theon’s storyline… Lady Barbrey to Theon in The Prince of Winterfell… “Some men hunt, some hawk, some tumble dice. Roose plays with men.”
In The Turncloak… “the benches below the salt were never less than half-full with men drinking, dicing, talking, or sleeping in their clothes in quiet corners” .
And in A Ghost in Winterfell … “The Bastard's Boys gathered beneath a wall sconce where a torch was flaming smokily. Luton and Skinner were throwing dice.”
Only Luton and Skinner are ever identified throwing dice. Do we suppose Luton and Skinner are the only members of the “Bastard’s Boys” who dice? . Now - the Walders have been with Ramsay about a year, or close to it. It would be strange if the Walders hadn’t picked up or been taught at least the rudiments of dicing in that time. Little Walder, at least, would certainly have been up for it.
And let’s not forget the boys are Freys. I don’t think Manderly’s men would be going out of their way to indulge them. (They’re not guests/spies in White Harbor.) … Also, let’s not forget that Ramsay knows the Frey / Manderly hostilities are close to boiling over and adding fuel to the fire might be the easiest way to force Roose to send men out. At the same time, BW’s whole story seems concocted and is played out in such a way as to let Ramsay take it where he wants it to go.
However, remembering the liar’s rule, some elements of the story really could have been “true” in the sense that they could have been used to lure LW to his end. Suppose it was Big Walder who said he had to see a man who owed him silver – perhaps Luton or Skinner … but he (being skinny as a stick) didn’t want to go out alone…What with the blizzard, the drums and warhorns, some convincing may have been necessary. Little Walder was bigger and stronger (and Lord Ramsay’s best boy, besides) wouldn’t he come along as back up? Luton or Skinner or whoever wouldn’t dare refuse to pay up if Ramsay’s favourite was with him. (It never hurts to boost a bully’s ego.)
If this sounds far-fetched, I ask you to remember Ramsay’s actions back in ACoK ; the deceptions, the murders, the schemes to “help” Theon that wound up getting Ramsay what he wanted… These are really quite “of-a-piece” with the possibility I’ve suggested .
Ending Where We Started
Back to the blood and butchery. When we think of a body being butchered we probably think of many serious cuts or slashes being inflicted. That may indeed be true in the case of Little Walder, though we don’t have an actual description of his wounds. But stop and think of “butchered like a hog” and the blood on Big Walder.
When an animal is to be butchered, you’d probably start by slitting its throat. Any further “hacking” would come after it’s dead, or dying. I think the blood spattered on BW’s chest, arms and cloak would be consistent with BW being in front of LW while his throat is being slit by the actual “butcher” behind him. The blood “caked” on BW’s gloves suggests he may have been trying to keep LW’s arms from getting in the way, or maybe supporting the collapsing body, or a number of other scenarios, any of which could result in BW’s gloves being caked with his cousin’s blood.
(Yes, you can think of scenarios wherein BW wields the blade, but only if someone bigger and stronger was restraining the victim … and I still think “butchered” evokes numerous vicious blows.)
“Where was the body found?” is not the same thing as “Where was the boy killed?” We don’t know where the Walders were housed, but if Theon had a room, it’s likely the Walders did, too. As Walda’s relations and supposedly under Bolton protection, it’s unlikely they were housed in barracks with the common soldiers. I wonder if LW actually ever made it outside. (We don’t have a description of his clothing) For all we know BW may still have some cleaning up to do.
There may be a bit of foreshadowing back in ACoK, Theon IV… As Theon is arranging the hunting party to go after Bran and Rickon…
In that case, “god knows what” was Bran and Rickon’s clothing in preparation (from the outset) for killing the miller’s sons. I wonder if a washerwoman’s sack might have been overstuffed with LW’s body to get from point A to the snowbank.
There are too many unanswered questions to know the exact how of it yet, but I think the fact that the blood on BW is not described as frozen while the blood on LW’s body is, means that BW waited for a time indoors before going for Hosteen - long enough for the body to be deposited and whatever else his accomplice/leader had to do - which was enough time for the blood covering the body to freeze.
To conclude, while I think you can still make a logical case for Roose being behind it, I doubt he would be quite so personally hands on in the situation he’s in. Of course, he could have designated an accomplice, but I can see no sign of any of his other men assisting skinny little BW.
Being personally hands on would only be a bonus for Ramsay.