The Winterfell Huis Clos


Beside Roose and Ramsay, the Dreadfort men do not seem to be of much importance by themselves. But they are not devoid of interest and looking at them gives us a glimpse of life at the Dreadfort. And after all, there are more than two thousand men sworn to Roose in Winterfell, and those who are named should be representative of all the unnamed ones.

Reek remains mysterious to me. And I realized that Walton Steelshanks might well turn out to be important, if Roose were to die. In that eventuality, something interesting would happen.

The Walders, and Maester Tybald, are to be examined separately.


1. The Dreadfort Feast
2. Walton Steelshanks
3. Reek
4. The Bastard's Boys
5. Ben Bones

1. The Dreadfort Feast

When he left to join the Young Wolf, Roose left an important garrison at the Dreadfort. It is described by Ramsay:
“And now, my sweet prince, there was a woman promised me, if I brought two hundred men. Well, I brought three times as many, and no green boys nor fieldhands neither, but my father's own garrison.”
(Theon VI, ACoK)

While the Umbers, for instance, sent their best men south, Roose has been prudent and has left important forces to defend his castle. At least six hundred men.

We see those men when Ramsay feasts the Karstarks and Umber in the Dreadfort's Great Hall.
Little Walder pushed him stumbling past the long tables where the men of the garrison were eating. He could feel their eyes upon him. The best places, up near the dais, were occupied by Ramsay's favorites, the Bastard's Boys. Ben Bones, the old man who kept his lordship's beloved hunting hounds. Damon, called Damon Dance-for-Me, fair-haired and boyish. Grunt, who had lost his tongue for speaking carelessly in Lord Roose's hearing. Sour Alyn. Skinner. Yellow Dick. Farther down, below the salt, were others that Reek knew by sight if not by name: sworn swords and serjeants, soldiers and gaolers and torturers. But there were strangers too, faces he did not know. Some wrinkled their noses as he passed, whilst others laughed at the sight of him. Guests, Reek thought, his lordship's friends, and I am brought up to amuse them. A shiver of fear went through him.
(Reek I, ADwD)

A few remarks: it's a world devoid of women. The last woman of importance we heard about is Bethany Ryswell, Domeric's mother. She seemed to have been well treated then, since she had perfume (which is likely to have been an expensive import). But Bethany is dead. She might have died long ago, perhaps before Domeric was sent as a page to Barbrey Dustin. The only feminine element in the Dreadfort seems to consist in Ramsay's bitches.

The men we see are bleak. The favorites are the Bastard boys, all wicked men, except perhaps Ben Bones. Others include gaolers and torturers, categories unknown in Winterfell, it seems. Their importance testifies of the brutal governance methods employed at the Dreadfort.

There is no maester present at the Feast, neither Tybald, nor Uthor. Is the maester in the dungeon?

2. Walton Steelshank

Walton Steelshank, a man wearing a Stark King name (Walton the Moon King is buried under Winterfell), is the only man Roose seemed to trust during his campaign in the south.

Roose introduces Walton to Jaime.
“You will leave when Qyburn says you are strong enough, with a strong escort of picked men under the command of my captain, Walton. Steelshanks, he is called. A soldier of iron loyalty. Walton will see you safe and whole to King's Landing.”
(Jaime V, ASoS)
Arya recalls him.
The Lord of the Dreadfort would not come after them himself. Roose Bolton would stay abed, his pasty flesh dotted with leeches, giving commands in his whispery soft voice. His man Walton might lead the hunt, the one they called Steelshanks for the greaves he always wore on his long legs.
(Arya X, ACoK)
Jaime describes Walton.
Steelshanks Walton commanded Jaime's escort; blunt, brusque, brutal, at heart a simple soldier. Jaime had served with his sort all his life. Men like Walton would kill at their lord's command, rape when their blood was up after battle, and plunder wherever they could, but once the war was done they would go back to their homes, trade their spears for hoes, wed their neighbors' daughters, and raise a pack of squalling children. Such men obeyed without question, but the deep malignant cruelty of the Brave Companions was not a part of their nature.
(Jaime VI, ASoS)
But Walton is greedy, and accepts Jaime's bribe.
“It will be so much easier if we just go back. We'd be on our way again soon enough, and I'd sing such a sweet song in King's Landing you'll never believe your ears. You'd get the girl, and a nice fat purse of gold as thanks.”
“Gold?” Walton liked that well enough. “How much gold?”
I have him. “Why, how much would you want?”
(Jaime VI, ASoS)
Then he is entrusted by Roose to bring "Arya" from King's Landing. There, he makes a comment.
“I smelled White Harbor. It never stank like this.”
(Jaime VII, ASoS)

So Walton has been to White Harbor, and is probably known there. So, we can imagine a situation where he would betray Roose for gold or silver. Ramsay has offered gold for the name of Yellow Dick's killer, and Manderly is the wealthiest man in the north. But at this stage, such developments are unlikely and everything points at Walton's loyalty.

Walton is there when Theon and Roose have a conversation on the road from Barrowton to Barrow Hall.
“Walton, help him mount"
(Reek III, ADwD)
But it seems Walton couldn't hear it.
She was a gentle horse, though, and she knew the way to Barrow Hall. Lord Bolton fell in beside him as they rode out the gate. The guards fell back to a discreet distance.
(Reek III, ADwD)
In Winterfell, Walton is sent to bring Theon to Ned Stark's solar.
He was stripping off his wet clothes when Steelshanks Walton found him. “Come with me, turncloak. His lordship wants words with you.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

During the final scene at the Greathall, we see that Walton commands Roose's personal guard. His men quieted the fight in the Great Hall.
It took two score Dreadfort spearmen to part the combatants and put an end to the carnage. By that time six White Harbor men and two Freys lay dead upon the floor. A dozen more were wounded and one of the Bastard's Boys, Luton, was dying noisily, crying for his mother as he tried to shove a fistful of slimy entrails back through a gaping belly wound. Lord Ramsay silenced him, yanking a spear from one of Steelshanks's men and driving it down through Luton's chest. Even then the rafters still rang with shouts and prayers and curses, the shrieks of terrified horses and the growls of Ramsay's bitches. Steelshanks Walton had to slam the butt of his spear against the floor a dozen times before the hall quieted enough for Roose Bolton to be heard.
(Theon, ADwD)
We have again a soldier of iron loyalty, it seems, and who commands the obedience of his men.

Walton might play a key role in the eventuality of Roose's death. Then both Ramsay and Walda, through her unborn child, would have reasonable claim to the Dreadfort. In case of conflict of succession, it seems to me that Walton could be the kingmaker – indeed for the kingship of the north. The name Walton might seem close to Walder, perhaps indicating origins in the riverlands. In fact a Stark king was called Walton. Walton was with Roose all along during the War of the Five Kings. He was there when Roose married Walda, when he campained with Aenys and Hosteens. But Walton was not at the Red Wedding, since he had been sent to King's Landing to escort Jaime Lannister and take Jeyne Poole before bringing her to Roose Bolton.

Nevertheless, Walton has had ample time to become familiar with Walda. We saw that Roose and Ramsay don't speak to each other in Winterfell. Walton answers exclusively to Roose. Considering that the Bastard's Boys are Ramsay's favorites and might displace Walton if Ramsay were to inherit the lordship of the Dreadfort, it seems to me that Walton has all reasons to choose Walda over Ramsay.

As we just saw, Walton is greedy, and might sell his support for either party. We saw Ramsay willing to offer gold as reward.
“When we find the man who did this,” Lord Ramsay promised, “I will flay the skin off him, cook it crisp as crackling, and make him eat it, every bite.” Word went out that the killer’s name would be worth a golden dragon.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

We don't know where does Ramsay's gold come from. Ramsay left Winterfell with a bag of silver taken from the Stark treasure and he probably pillaged the castle afterwards. But it doesn't seem much gold was to be found in Winterfell. In any case, Ramsay understands the power of bribes.

3. Reek

The original Reek has much been discussed with Ramsay. The character is a mystery. Foremost, there is the awful smell.
“I knew the first Reek. He stank, though not for want of washing. I have never known a cleaner creature, truth be told. He bathed thrice a day and wore flowers in his hair as if he were a maiden. Once, when my second wife was still alive, he was caught stealing scent from her bedchamber. I had him whipped for that, a dozen lashes. Even his blood smelled wrong. The next year he tried it again. This time he drank the perfume and almost died of it. It made no matter. The smell was something he was born with. A curse, the smallfolk said. The gods had made him stink so that men would know his soul was rotting. My old maester insisted it was a sign of sickness, yet the boy was otherwise as strong as a young bull. No one could stand to be near him, so he slept with the pigs ... until the day that Ramsay's mother appeared at my gates to demand that I provide a servant for my bastard, who was growing up wild and unruly. I gave her Reek. It was meant to be amusing, but he and Ramsay became inseparable. I do wonder, though ... was it Ramsay who corrupted Reek, or Reek Ramsay?”
(Reek III, ADwD)

Perhaps Ramsay's mother corrupted both. Reek's contradictions are extraordinary: he was clean, but smelled badly. He wore flowers in his hair and slept with pigs. The story of the poisonous perfume makes us wonder whether the perfume did not poison Domeric, and Bethany. Reek speaks like a wildling, even like Craster. The death of Reek, as told by Ramsay, is bizarre.
“The wretch is dead.” He stepped closer. “The girl's fault. If she had not run so far, his horse would not have lamed, and we might have been able to flee. I gave him mine when I saw the riders from the ridge. I was done with her by then, and he liked to take his turn while they were still warm. I had to pull him off her and shove my clothes into his hands-calfskin boots and velvet doublet, silver-chased swordbelt, even my sable cloak. Ride for the Dreadfort, I told him, bring all the help you can. Take my horse, he's swifter, and here, wear the ring my father gave me, so they'll know you came from me. He'd learned better than to question me. By the time they put that arrow through his back, I'd smeared myself with the girl's filth and dressed in his rags. They might have hanged me anyway, but it was the only chance I saw.”
(Theon VI, ACoK)

Reek died impersonating his lord. It could be a form of foreshadowing, I imagine. Note that Reek practiced necrophilia, under all appearances.

Reek's real name is mentioned by Ramsay.
“Haven't fucked no one since they took me, m'lord. Heke's me true name. I was in service to the Bastard o' the Dreadfort till the Starks give him an arrow in the back for a wedding gift.”
(Bran VI, ACoK)

There is one name similar to Heke, it belongs to a ranger cook of the Night's Watch called Hake. Hake cooked during the great ranging and disappeared after the battle of the Fist of the First Men. He is noted for his knowledge of herbs.
Hake had known some herblore as well, being a cook, but Hake was also lost.
(Samwell II, ASoS)

So if Heke shared a background with Hake, he might have known a thing or two about herbs, perhaps poisoning, the reason for the death of Domeric. A very weak suggestion at this point.

I see Ramsay's fondness for Reek, and the fact that he could bear Reeks' extraordinary smell, as a sign of Ramsay's even more extraordinary nature. Ramsay's fondness didn't extend to the point where he lamented in any way Reek's demise. In fact, Ramsay sent Reek to his death.

4. The Bastard's Boys

We first met them at the Dreadfort Feast.
The best places, up near the dais, were occupied by Ramsay's favorites, the Bastard's Boys. Ben Bones, the old man who kept his lordship's beloved hunting hounds. Damon, called Damon Dance-for-Me, fair-haired and boyish. Grunt, who had lost his tongue for speaking carelessly in Lord Roose's hearing. Sour Alyn. Skinner. Yellow Dick.
(Reek I, ADwD)

We will look at Ben Bones separately. Grunt's punishment is there to remind all Dreadfort men what could befall them. Roose believes the Bastard's boys answer to him.
“As if he had secrets. Sour Alyn, Luton, Skinner, and the rest, where does he think they came from? Can he truly believe they are his men?”
(Reek III, ADwD)

All six are mean and cruel. Have they been corrupted by Ramsay, like Reek is suspected to have been? And like Little Walder seems to be?

Yellow Dick has been killed by Abel's washerwomen, possibly Holly, who had a knife. Luton died in the Great Hall of Winterfell.
A dozen more were wounded and one of the Bastard's Boys, Luton, was dying noisily, crying for his mother as he tried to shove a fistful of slimy entrails back through a gaping belly wound. Lord Ramsay silenced him, yanking a spear from one of Steelshanks's men and driving it down through Luton's chest.
(Theon, ADwD)

I wonder what was the effect of Ramsay's cruelty on the loyalty of the other Bastard's boys. The prospects are not good for Sour Alyn and Grunt, after they leave "Arya" escape.
Ramsay would flay them all when he learned his bride was gone, and what he would do to Grunt and Sour Alyn did not bear thinking about.
(Theon, ADwD)

That leaves us what seems to be the two most cruel of the Bastard's boys: Damon and Skinner. Theon makes a warning to Abel.
“Ramsay will use your women as his prey,” he told the singer. “He'll hunt them down, rape them, and feed their corpses to his dogs. If they lead him a good chase, he may name his next litter of bitches after them. You he'll flay. Him and Skinner and Damon Dance-for-Me, they will make a game of it. You'll be begging them to kill you.”
(Theon, ADwD)

The warning seems to be prophetic even if we all hope it isn't.

Among the six Bastard's boys, Theon frequently singles out Damon and Skinner in his fears. The Bastard's boys bring Theon to the bedroom for the bedding.
As they climbed, Damon Dance-for-Me whistled, whilst Skinner boasted that Lord Ramsay had promised him a piece of the bloody sheet as a mark of special favor.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)
Theon makes a comparison with Rowan.
In her own way, this one was as dangerous as Skinner or Damon Dance-for-Me.
(Theon, ADwD)
Most likely, Damon is in charge of the whipping and Skinner of the skinning.
Damon Dance-for-Me gave the freerider a few lashes with his long greased whip.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)
And we see often Damon with his whip: in Moat Cailin, the night before the escape etc.
No pain Theon had ever known came close to the agony that Skinner could evoke with a little flensing blade.
(Theon, ADwD)

Skinner evokes Roose's saying that a skinned man has no secret.
Roose Bolton's pale eyes were fixed on Theon, as sharp as Skinner's flaying knife.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

Most curiously, Skinner is aware that Ramsay killed Domeric. Given that Roose cuts the tongues of his men when they speak carelessly, Skinner is speaking with Roose's leave.
Once he had heard Skinner say that the Bastard had killed his trueborn brother, but he had never dared to believe it.
(Reek III, ADwD)

5. Ben Bones

We see him at the Dreadfort Feast, described as.
Ben Bones, the old man who kept his lordship's beloved hunting hounds.
(Reek I, ADwD)

He is counted among the Bastard's boys and has a place of relative honor at the Feast. However, he seems a bit different from Sour Alyn, Skinner etc. Indeed, he has some compassion for Theon.
Lord Ramsay laughed. “You're not a man, Reek. You're just my creature. You'll have your wine, though. Walder, see to it. And fear not, I won't return you to the dungeons, you have my word as a Bolton. We'll make a dog of you instead. Meat every day, and I'll even leave you teeth enough to eat it. You can sleep beside my girls. Ben, do you have a collar for him?”
“I'll have one made, m'lord,” said old Ben Bones.
The old man did better than that. That night, besides the collar, there was a ragged blanket too, and half a chicken. Reek had to fight the dogs for the meat, but it was the best meal he'd had since Winterfell.
(Reek II, ADwD)
Ben Bones is always with the bitches.
Ben Bones led the way, with the girls baying and barking all around him.
(Reek III, ADwD)
The hunters strode into the hall, all but Ben Bones, who was cursing at the dogs to stop them fighting over the severed head.
(Reek III, ADwD)

We did not see Ben Bones after the incident with the freerider. Then the bitches are on their own in the Great Hall, apparently. 

The passage that sets Ben Bones apart might be here.
Ben Bones, who liked the dogs better than their master, had told Reek they were all named after peasant girls Ramsay had hunted, raped, and killed back when he'd still been a bastard, running with the first Reek. “The ones who give him good sport, anywise. The ones who weep and beg and won't run don't get to come back as bitches.” The next litter to come out of the Dreadfort's kennels would include a Kyra, Reek did not doubt. “He's trained 'em to kill wolves as well,” Ben Bones had confided.
(Reek III, ADwD)

So he has been taking care of the dogs since Ramsay had been been admitted at the Dreadfort. Let's look at the signs of his cruelty. First there is the story of the free rider who mentioned Melisandre's power.
The man spoke too loudly, and in the hearing of Yellow Dick and Sour Alyn and Ben Bones. When the tale reached Lord Ramsay, he sent his Bastard's Boys to seize the man and drag him out into the snow.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

Possibly Ben Bones reported to Ramsay, but he did not take part in the subsequent cruelty. Later, Theon expresses his fears to Abel.
“We will be caught before we leave the castle. Even if we do escape, Lord Ramsay will hunt us down, him and Ben Bones and the girls.”
(Theon, ADwD)

So I see no conclusive proof that Ben Bones is as sadistic as the other Bastard's boys. I hesitate to say that he is the most humane creature around Ramsay, since he remained kennelmaster at the Dreadfort despite Ramsay's depravity. But we can infer that the younger generation if worse than the older generation at the Dreadfort.

The Winterfell Huis Clos