SPOILERS!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Over two hundred named characters have died on the Game of Thrones TV show. Including unnamed characters, that number shoots up to somewhere over sixteen hundred. But there’s one death I think about more often than all the rest. It’s not the one that made me cry the hardest (Hodor), or the one that makes me yell “DON’T GET COCKY!” at the screen every time I see it (Oberon), or the death that motivated me to go online and seek out pictures of Rose Leslie and Kit Harington happy and together on a romantic getaway in sunshiney Greece (Igritte).
Nope, it’s Rickon Stark.
Here’s a little reminder of what I’m talking about:
Now first off, let’s get that whole “zigzag” thing out of the way, okay? Sufficeth to say, Ramsay never would have let Rickon go if he wasn’t 100% confident he’d be able to kill him from that distance. When Ramsay was done messing around and missing on purpose, he shot Rickon straight through the heart. Even if Rickon had “serpentined,” Ramsay would probably still have hit him, albeit less accurately. If he’d missed completely, he’d probably just order a volley of arrows from his archers to do the job. Ever seen a cat mess with a mouse before it eats it? It likes to let it go and see it run…but not farther than it knows it can reach it.
Sansa knew this. The day before the Battle of the Bastards, John asked her, “How do we get Rickon back?” And she answered, “We’ll never get him again.” She didn’t know the future, she knew Ramsay. There was never a chance that Rickon would have survived that day, and the delusion that there was any chance at all was nothing but a sadistic manipulation.
On top of that, the actor who played Rickon, Art Parkinson, gives us a glimpse into what Rickon’s emotional state might have been as he was running when he said in an interview, “…in the moment, I really wanted him to make it. I put everything into it.” It sounds to me like Art understood the desperation his character would have been feeling at the time. That he was abandoned by his family and betrayed by his protectors at the age of six, and that this glimpse of hope, a loving brother with the power to save him just out of arm’s reach, would have overridden any tactical planning on his part. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and as Art said, “I really wanted…to make it.”
And if we’re going to talk about “stupid mistakes that resulted in unjust deaths,” we’ve got a long list starting at — oh I dunno — the Children of the Forest.
That aside, I’m not saying Rickon’s death is the saddest, or the most gruesome. It just bothers me more than any of them. And here are five reasons why:
- Wasted Magical Potential
Now, I don’t know if all of the Stark children can warg or whatever, but Rickon is clearly and plainly clairvoyant. Throughout the show we see Bran develop these skills, but Rickon demonstrates these abilities even before Bran does. What’s more, he’s quicker to believe and act on the revelations he has. Here’s the conversation they have when Rob leaves:
Bran: “They’ll be back soon. Rob will free father, and they’ll come back with mother.”
Rickon: “No, they won’t.”
By the time Bran gets to the family crypt, Rickon is already there, and we get this conversation:
Bran: “That’s where I saw father.”
Osha: “You see? He’s not here.”
Rickon: “Here, Shaggydog.
Osha: “That beast is supposed to be chained in the kennels!”
Rickon: “He doesn’t like chains.”
Bran: “What are you doing down here? Come back up with us.”
Rickon: “No! I came to see father.
Bran: “How many times have I told you he’s in King’s Landing with Sansa and Arya?”
Rickon: “He was down here. I saw him.”
Bran: “Saw him when?”
Rickon: “Last night. When I was sleeping.”
Of course most people remember this scene. Far fewer catch Rickon’s prophetic statement about chains, the house sigil of Umber, the family who would later decapitate shaggy dog and betray Rickon to the Boltons.
- Wasted Strength-of-Character
Beyond his potential magical abilities, Rickon’s personality was actually an interesting one. Like his wolf, he became something of a feral child, but his early experiences clearly resulted in a strong sense of familial duty. When Bran tells him going North isn’t safe for him, and they must split up and Rickon must go with Osha, this dialogue happens:
Rickon: “I’m coming with you.”
Bran: “No, you and Osha and Shaggydog head for the Last Hearth. The Umbers are our bannermen. They’ll protect you.”
Rickon: “I’m coming with you. I’m your brother. I have to protect you.”
I’m sorry, but if you spend two seconds thinking about this you’ll realize how heartbreaking it is. Rickon really just has one rule: protect your family. Why? Because his family failed to protect him.
- A Childhood of Suffering
Rickon was old enough to comprehend the love of his family, and he was old enough to comprehend its loss, but he wasn’t old enough to comprehend WHY everyone he loved was abandoning him. He spent his entire childhood in confusion and fear. He spent it hiding and starving and nearly freezing to death. Osha, bless her heart, kept him alive, but was never able to relieve his emotional pain or provide for his temporal needs. In the end, all of her efforts and sacrifice did nothing but prolong Rickon’s suffering.
- He Never Wanted to “Play the Game”
In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. Most (though not all) of the deaths on GoT are suffered by characters who choose to play the game in one way or another. I’m not saying they deserved what they got, or anything of the sort, I’m just saying that the fact that Rickon never volunteered to be involved in his family’s war makes it all the more unfair that he would be the one MOST affected by it.
- The Cruelty of Hope
The “hope” Ramsay instills in Rickon in the moments before his death are really just a metaphor for what George Martin, DB Weiss and David Benioff have done to their audience. On an intellectual level, I give them credit for excellent writing. On an emotional level, I’ll never forgive them, hahaha. The fact is, Rickon’s clear potential, his hard childhood, and his survival against all odds, led the audience to hope, and hope is a cruel mistress.
Now, some viewers, I’d say most viewers, didn’t care a whole lot about Rickon, and his death got reduced to a “could Rose have just shared the door with Jack?” argument. But the fact that Rickon felt like a “throwaway” character, or that his storyline seemed like a “waste,” conveys a really powerful message that spills into the real world. And that is, that every war is a war on children. That what once could have been a beautiful and interesting and complex life, has suddenly been smothered in ashes and blood and wiped off the pages of history. Children go missing. They suffer without understanding why. And when they die, no one seems to care.
And I think about that. A lot.