Game of Thrones’ Ramsay versus Joffrey: A Comparison
To the near universal delight of Game of Thrones’ fans everywhere, the most recent episode finally brought an end to the bastard of Roose Bolton, Ramsay Snow. After being decisively defeated in battle outside the walls of Winterfell by a combined force of Stark loyalists, wildlings from beyond the Wall, and last minute reinforcements in the form of the Knights’ of the Vale commanded by Littlefinger, Ramsay’s brief and inglorious reign as Warden of the North ended as he was torn apart by his own hounds, loosened upon him in cosmic justice by his much abused “wife”, Sansa Stark. In terms of fan delight and voyeuristically fulfilled anticipation, it was an end on the show only rivalled by that of Prince Joffrey’s at the Purple Wedding.
This is apt given that ever since Ramsay was introduced to the Game of Thrones’ universe there has been no end of comparisons between him and the boy king. Both Ramsay and Joffrey were characters that viewers loved to viscerally loathe; both constantly invoked the question of whether they could possibly sink to a deeper level of cruelty and outright heinousness, and then proceeded to answer that why yes they could indeed; both found visceral delight in the torments they inflicted upon those around them. Naturally, this also led to much debate amongst fans of the world of Westeros as to who truly was the greater villain.
On the face of things, Ramsay Snow would actually appear to be the more threatening of the two. While Joffrey’s sheer horribleness was unquestionable, it was rivalled only by his stupidity. It should not be forgotten that this is the character who almost managed to get himself and a good deal of his family torn to pieces when he made the mistake of setting his handful of guards loose upon a starving mob in King’s Landing in response to having a single cowpie thrown at him. Left to his own devices Joffrey would have likely lasted for a span of five minutes if he was lucky, and his all to brief reign only lasted for as long as it did due to people such as Tywin and Tyrion and even Cersei (which truly says something), who managed to keep him on the throne very much in spite of himself.
Ramsay, in contrast, is every bit as cruel and vindictive as Joffrey but also happens to be a good deal shrewder. Even the book version of the character (who does not suffer from the air of “bland invulnerability” critics rightfully identified the HBO character as being afflicted with) was an able if not exceptional fighter, contrasted with Joffrey who in one notable scene was disarmed of his sword by Arya who was armed with nothing more than a broom-handle, with a canny talent for manipulation and treachery. He also, for all his sociopathic tendencies, possessed a degree of common sense, as witnessed by Ramsay’s often shown deference to his father, Roose, out of acknowledgement that he was the more powerful of the two. Again contrast this with Joffrey, who will go down in the show’s history as the one character foolish enough to actually tell off Tywin Lannister to his face (a scene that most humorously ended with Joffrey being sent to bed early like an errant schoolboy, still having very much not learned his lesson).
Despite this however, what on the surface seems to be Joffrey greatest weakness may in fact be the most terrifying part of him, his sheer uncontrollable unpredictability. Joffrey is, at the end of the day, the King of Westeros; as much he may rely on the skills and intelligence of his family and their allies to maintain that position he is the one who ultimately holds the power of that office, which in the hands of an utter beast such as himself is a very dangerous thing not just to his enemies but to everyone around him. For proof of this look no further than the most defining moment of both the show and the books, the death of Ned Stark. It was an outcome that none of the parties involved in the event actually wanted (be they the Starks, the Lannisters, or the ever-scheming Varys himself) and everything necessary had been arranged for it to be avoided. The one thing that could not be controlled for though was Joffrey himself, thus Ned did in fact die and his death set in motion the chain of events that would see the Seven Kingdoms reduced to utter ruins before they had finished playing themselves out.
If Ramsay is a high functioning sociopath, then Joffrey is chaotic evil in its ultimate form, unpredictable and treacherous and impossible to contain. He is a character whose next act can never truly be anticipated, unlike Ramsay who does have a basic degree of consistency to some extent. Take the scene when Joffrey finds two beautiful, naked whores in his bedchamber. Joffrey, in a move uncharacteristic of teenaged boys everywhere, decides to have one beat the other brutally before him to send a message to his uncle that he cannot be bribed. In another scene, Joffrey decides at the last minute to rescind his decision to kill a drunken knight who spoiled his tournament because Sansa Stark subtly suggests he had actually cleverly intended to just make him his new fool and the idea stoked his ego. This unpredictable nature might greatly curtail the long term odds of him surviving, as evidenced by the fact that Joffrey is ultimately killed by his allies, the Tyrells, when they realize the utter impossibility of being in alliance with such an unbalanced character, but while he is alive such a person is terrifying simple because no one can ever know where exactly they stand with him or when his wrath may be turned upon them.
Which of the two is truly the worse villain? It is hard to say because for all that they are compared with one another, Ramsay and Joffrey are very different in this sense. One is a snake, cold and calculating and deadly, while the other is a wildfire, short-lasting but utterly devastating and impossible to predict. Ultimately, however, I actually find myself coming down on the side of Joffrey. For all Ramsay’s cruelty, the terror of unpredictability that surrounds Joffrey actually makes the damage he potentially could inflict that much greater. Ramsay might flay a village alive to send a message, but Joffrey might have it burned to the ground simply on a whim. History is full of examples of cruelty and heinous violence, but the characters that most terrify our imaginations even to this day are the Ivan the Terribles of this world; the people who not only are capable of barbarism but can direct it at anyone without predictability or notice.