HBO's latest season of Game of Thrones was a very uneven one. The
season had some indisputably great moments (the finale may very well be
the best one of the season so far), but the progression of the narrative
was painfully slow at times, with the beginning in particular feeling
like the show was dragging its feet. Being "Game of Thrones", even at
its worst it still made for excellent television, but coming from a show
that has been so consistently excellent in the past, this season sadly did
not meet the expectations that had been set for it.
One major aspect that was problematic was the character of Ramsay Snow, who filled the role of this season's main villain. It is sad to say, but as a leading villain the bastard of House Bolton simply failed to deliver. Yes, the character was undeniably the most loathsome we have seen since Prince Joffrey, and his ultimate demise at the hands of Sansa Stark was probably the most satisfying to watch since the aforementioned prince met his untimely end at the Purple Wedding, but as the main villain he simply did not deliver.
Which should not be surprising because it is a role that the character never actually fills in the books (at least so far - that may change as the books progress and catch up to the narrative we have seen so far on the show). In the literary world of Westeros, Ramsay is every bit as much of a sadistic beast he is on the show but he very much is a henchman to his father, Roose Bolton, who clearly is the only person he fears. While still despicable, Ramsay also shown to possess serious weaknesses. He lacks skill as a fighter, and while undoubtedly sly in a cruel and sadistic way he also comes across as lacking in long-term strategic thinking.
None of this complexity is there in the television version of Ramsay, who the show runners instead decided to cloak in an aura of bland invulnerability. In the books, he is ferocious but unskilled swordsman whereas in the show in dives into a melee with a crew of Ironborn warriors not only unarmored but actually shirtless and emerges without so much as a scratch. In the books, he is impulsive and somewhat simpleminded but in the show he is a master strategist who outmaneuvers both Stannis Baratheon and Jon Snow on the battlefield. In the books, he is very much the lackey of his father, who openly opines that he will never successfully succeed him as ruler of the North, but on the show Ramsay assassinates Roose without hesitation and easily wins the loyalty of the Bolton forces and their allies.
This last part is the greatest weakness of Ramsay as the season's major villain. One part of his character that is consistent in both the books and the show is his sociopathic nature and merciless cruelty, and this is a serious obstacle for taking him seriously as the main antagonist for it is never answered satisfactorily how he is able to command any authority or loyalty as a leader. In the real world, utter psychopaths never last very long as leaders because people rightly balk at the sheer unpredictability and constant terror that is associated with them; even the most loyal of men will eventually rebel simply to put an end to the untenable situation of constantly living in fear of their own ruler's wrath.
In the case of Prince Joffrey, who was an even greater sadist than Ramsay and lacked even his rudimentary shrewdness, this is easily explained away by the fact he clearly was never more than a powerless figurehead, with the real control being held by his various family members. Even then, we have numerous moments where Joffrey almost brings disaster upon himself when he does exercise the power of his position, whether it is by almost being torn apart by a mob he inspires to riot or nearly losing the battle of Kings' Landing when he abandons the defence of the gate out of cowardice. It is very clear that see it not for the skill and acumen of people such as Tywin or Tyrion or even heaven forbid his mother Cersei he would not last a moment on the throne.
Ramsay never has this issue. Despite a one-liner by Sir Davos on how fear is the only thing keeping his followers in line, Ramsay's supporters stay loyal to him to the very end. This is a major error on the part of the show runners, who easily could have rectify this at numerous points in "Battle of the Bastards" where Ramsay finally faces off against Jon Snow & Sansa Stark. His order for his archers to fire into the battle (killing both his own men and Stark loyalists) could have been shown to spark dissent amongst his soldiers and eventual desertion when the tide of the battle begins to go against them or his allies such as Smalljon Umber could have turned on him once the battle was lost. None of this ever happens, and the result is most unsatisfactory.
Ultimately, a story is only as good as its villain. They are ultimately what raises up our protagonists and gives us the dramatic tension that keeps us on the edge of our seats. On this front, the latest season of "Game of Thrones" failed. In their eagerness to exploit the pure villainy of Ramsay, and very likely repeat the success they had with Joffrey, the show runners unfortunately ended up presenting us with an unrealistic main antagonist who despite being utterly psychotic was actually quite bland at times as incredulous as that seems. Hopefully, this mistake will be learned from and not repeated in the final two seasons.