Warning: Season 6 spoilers abound.
It was the most shocking scene in an episode that otherwise played out precisely as expected. Walda Frey, the wife of Roose Bolton, gave birth to a son. (This was not the surprising part: The existence of another Bolton heir had been heavily hinted at last season.) The birth of a healthy baby—a boy, no less—was good news to everyone save for Ramsay Bolton, who “would prefer to be an only child.” So Ramsay, having murdered his father to ensure his accession to the throne, called for Walda and his new baby brother. He met the child, a cooing infant, and led them, casually, to a dog kennel. The dogs howled and growled and clawed at their cages. Walda realized, slowly, why she and her son had been taken there. She clutched the baby, a preemptive Pietà. She begged Ramsay to spare them. She reminded him that the infant in her arms was his half-brother. Ramsay, unmoved, uncaged the dogs. He gave them the order.
Mother and son, soft and unarmed and helpless, were mauled to death. We know this not because we saw it, but because we heard the human wails drowned, quickly but not quickly enough, by vicious growls.
It was the most horrifying Game of Thrones moment since, well, the show’s previous depiction of a child’s violent murder. But it was not at all unusual: The Bolton infant joins the increasingly populous parade of children who have met their deaths in the series’s eponymous game. Lommy. Joffrey. Zalla. Mycah. Shireen. Etc. Kid-killing, indeed, is so common on Game of Thrones that Vulture recently took it upon itself to rank the child deaths the show has thus far portrayed, according to their respective sadness. Last night’s death, however—its manner, particularly violent; its victim, particularly young—is the culmination of another kind of violence the show has leveled against children: violence not just against young characters, but against youth itself.