Not Your Average Butterfly (Effect): Chaos Theory and Sansa Stark

1:23 PM

This week's episode of Game of Thrones really pushed the Jon Snow/Daenerys Targaryen parallels by splitting this episode between them. GoT has set something of a precedent for containing large-scale battles to capsule episodes but this particular dual arc episode works really well in emphasizing the Ice and Fire parallel that is present throughout the series.

That being said, I am really interested in looking, particularly, at the Winterfell piece of this episode.

Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow) is a character who thrives on predictable chaos. Although a supreme sociopath, Ramsay certainly understands people, their motivations, and how those motivations are likely to fuel their actions. His strengths in this area are arguably the reason why he is so great at being so evil to people in the ways that will affect them most viscerally. Ramsay lives in the comfort of his own ability to manipulate and predict the outcomes of the chaos he orchestrates.

This week, for example, Jon Snow is warned by Sansa that he should not do what Ramsay expects. Sansa understands that Ramsay's strength is in knowing how people will react to the chaos he sets in motion and that the only way to throw him off of his game is to resist acting with the predictability on which Ramsay will be banking.

Ramsay understands that the honorable tendencies of the Stark house have been a large factor in their own downfall. The murder-game that Ramsay plays with Rickon as he "releases" him to join Jon and his fleet is a well orchestrated plan to make Jon react according to emotion rather than follow through with smart battle tactics. Even those who know Jon best understand immediately how he is going to react upon Rickon's death. The camera moves to Tormund for a few moments following the arrow strike. We see him say under his breath - but clearly to Jon - "Don't." Tormund knows that Jon's reaction is going to be to charge Ramsay, leaving little choice for his men but to follow suit. Davos made it clear in the strategy meeting that any possibility of their success largely hung on Ramsay charging first. Instead Jon acts, predictably, on his emotions and the want to avenge his sibling(s), resulting in an ill-started and chaotic battle.

Here I think that it is pertinent to recognize the brilliance of the presentation on the part of the cinematographers and visual effects artists on the show. The eruption of chaos on the battlefield was beautifully shot and highly effective in  pulling the audience into the physical turmoil of the battle. Not to say that I am one to sit around thinking much about what it would be like to find myself in the middle of a Medieval ground battle, but I have once or twice (judge if you will) and imagine it would be utter chaos much in the way that it was presented in this episode.

Ramsay, of course, sits in the background comfortably enjoying the chaos he has put into motion. He understands exactly how this battle is to play out. However, Ramsay is only able to manipulate so many pieces of the tactical war machine he has devised. He fails to recognize that his creation of chaos is, in fact, predictable. Sansa Stark, as she professes to Jon, knows Ramsay well and is therefore able to act as something of a "butterfly effect" to the chaos Ramsay has devised. Sansa's delivery of a letter to Littlefinger completely changes the conditions under which Jon and Ramsay's army are fighting. Petyr's army from the Vale shows up just in time to disrupt the advantage that Ramsay's army had as a result of the chaos he created, allowing Jon and his men to come out on top.

This episode just goes to show that if one knows how best to manipulate or change the initial conditions of an event, one can effectively change the outcome of that event. As someone who has lived in chaos for a great number of years, Sansa understands the predictability of Ramsays brand of chaos and how best to disrupt it. Her intimate knowledge of Ramsay's mind and her anticipatory action in writing to Littlefinger makes her the ultimate hero of the day. Although I am still unsure if Sansa is a convert to the dark side, today I will climb the walls Winterfell and shout from the rooftop, "You go Sansa Stark!"

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  1. I watched it again last night just to check whose banner was flying at the end--it was the Starks, not the Vale, so apparently Baelish is not pressing his advantage quite yet. I am still a little troubled about the fact that Sansa couldn't say "Hey, Jon, you know I wrote Little Finger and he's going to bring his men. Maybe we should devise a plan to maximize that." She really doesn't trust her bastard brother--but then who does she trust after being sold out so many times? She certainly is evolving as a character.


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