WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the Game of Thrones TV series and A Song of Ice and Fire books. Do not read on unless you have seen Season 6, Episode 4, "The Book of the Stranger."
The latest episode of Game of Thrones may have wanted to draw our attention to Daenerys, but there was an undeniable undercurrent that seemed to be setting us up for the long-anticipated Battle of the Bastards or "Bastard Bowl," as it's been coined by fans. The battle will see Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton go head to head in a bid to take over (or take back) Winterfell and win (or keep) the title of Warden of the North.
All of the anticipation comes to a head toward the end of the episode when Jon receives a letter supposedly from Ramsay, threatening to attack not only Jon himself but also all of his family and new wildling friends. The letter might be signed by Ramsay, but I'm not so sure — and it would appear I'm not the only one. Book readers are already familiar with what has been coined the "Pink Letter" (due to its pink sealing wax) and have been skeptical of its true origins since it first turned up in A Dance With Dragons.
What first alerted me to the idea that Ramsay hadn't really authored the letter was the stark possibility that a certain someone else had. On my third (yes, third) viewing of the episode, a phrase uttered by Petyr Baelish — although subtle and completely out of context — still managed to catch my attention. Returning to the Vale from God knows where, Baelish presents young Robin Arryn with a gift. He says quite clearly: "My lord, come and see."
Having already heard the aforementioned letter read aloud twice, naturally the phrase stood out, and if you take a look at the full transcript below, you'll understand why:
To the traitor and bastard Jon Snow, You allowed thousands of wildlings past the wall. You have betrayed your own kind. You have betrayed the North. Winterfell is mine, bastard, come and see. Your brother Rickon is in my dungeon. His direwolf's skin is on my floor, come and see.
I want my bride back. Send her to me, bastard, and I won't trouble you or your wildling lovers. Keep her from me and I will ride north and slaughter every wildling man, woman and babe living under your protection. You will watch as I skin them living.
You will watch as my soldiers take turns raping your sister. You will watch as my dogs devour your wild little brother. Then I will spoon your eyes from their sockets and let my dogs do the rest, come and see.
Ramsay Bolton, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.
OK, I know the link is a little tenuous, but could Baelish be baiting Jon and Sansa back to Winterfell? Honestly, I wouldn't put it past him. I'll admit though, the more I think about it, the more holes I find in the theory, but even if it wasn't Baelish who wrote it, I really don't think it was Ramsay. In the book, the Bolton-sealed letter was actually given to Jon much earlier, right before he was stabbed in fact, and Tormund is candidly suspicious of its legitimacy.
Earlier letters sent by Ramsay in the Song of Ice and Fire book series have been written in blood and packaged with pieces of skin, and he had previously refrained from using the pink seal. So who else could be the real writer? Well, a few of you might remember a certain Lord Umber, one of the Starks' greatest allies, rocking up to Winterfell to deliver Rickon and outright refusing to swear fealty to the Boltons. I've already written about how I think he's setting Ramsay up, and I couldn't be more convinced now.
We know Umber is in Winterfell and we know he's smart. He's already convinced Ramsay to fight the wildlings. Is it totally inconceivable that he could be playing puppeteer with both sides, sending the letter as a sort of forewarning to alert Jon's attention to the impending battle? You could theorize that Umber is in fact setting up a rebellion, both providing a motivation and ensuring that when the bastards do come face to face, Jon is good and ready to take back the North.
This is all speculation, of course, but the consequences are likely to play out over the remainder of the season, and I've no doubt we'll find out soon. As the latest preview shows, there are more important matters on the horizon: Winter is coming, and it's coming fast. As far as most of Westeros should be concerned, the sooner the Starks return to Winterfell, the better. Watch the preview below.