Updated: 19th April 2018

Game of Thrones: where have all the baddies gone?

The White Walkers may be an unstoppable force and an unkillable foe, but where are the living, breathing human villains to root against?

I doubt there was a single viewer not squealing with joy when Ramsay Bolton the biggest bastard in Game of Thrones was eaten alive by his own dogs. Ramsay has raped, beaten, flayed, castrated and murdered his way through the show for three seasons, and, frankly, its just a shame Melisandre couldnt resurrect him so he could die twice.

There was a collective cheer, too, when Joffrey choked to death on poison, Tywin took an arrow to the chest on the toilet, Viserys got his golden crown, and when Jon hanged Alliser Thorne.

We love a villain on Game of Thrones, but not as much as we love a villains gory, well-deserved and preferably poetic death (Viserys finally getting his golden crown was one of the shows most satisfying comeuppances). After all, the baddies job is simple: to make our heroes lives miserable until they ultimately triumph over them.

But with the loss of Ramsay Bolton a man who made Joffreys excesses look reasonable Game of Thrones villains are suddenly thin on the ground. We know the show is nearing its endgame, with only 14 episodes to go (if the showrunners are to be believed), but thats 14 episodes without a decent villain besides the White Walkers.

Whos left? Walder Frey, a man who is petty and ineffectual without Lannister backing? Theon and Yara Greyjoys uncle, whose name weve barely even learnt? Ellaria, over in Dorne, who murdered the king then vanished from our screens? Littlefinger but is he even a villain? Six seasons in and were still not sure. Now that Sansa Stark and Jon Snow are in his debt, we might finally find out what he hoped to achieve by marrying her off to Ramsay and taking over the Eyrie.

Then theres Cersei, the last of the great evil Lannisters, but shes no longer a full-blown villain. Her walk of atonement was a turning point she was shown as vulnerable and defenceless on top of the things we already knew she was: a grieving mother, overlooked daughter and unhappy wife. By pitting her against the High Sparrow and his merry band of religious extremists, shes being remade into something like an antihero.

Similarly, its hard to see the High Sparrow as all-bad. Hes the only one since the Starks with the guts to stand up to the Lannisters, and hes right about the corruption of the high-born families, and the people of Kings Landing certainly seem to agree with him, given the violent hatred they showed Cersei on her walk of atonement. But the High Sparrow is also threatening to execute Loras Tyrell for being gay, so we still wish him a horrible death.

Supernatural threats do not suffice a White Walker. Photograph: Allstar/HBO

There are, of course, the White Walkers the biggest threat of all, killing anyone they come across and resurrecting them as wights to join their army. Every battle against them leaves them with more bodies to convert to their side, making them a seemingly unbeatable foe. You might say thats enough. Does Westeros really need antagonists when it has a horde of unkillable monsters heading its way?

Well, yes. If all thats left is for Daenerys to conquer Westeros and all our heroes to team up against the White Walkers, thats too easy. Supernatural threats do not suffice. You need self-serving human villains, constantly putting their own needs above the greater good, to keep things interesting and mess things up for everyone else. You need someone like Ramsay Bolton to decimate the North just when they should band together to fight the far greater threat of the White Walkers.

Consider The Walking Dead. Theres a reason everyone was so thrilled for Negan to show up at the end of the last season: a villain with a motive and a nasty streak is far more thrilling than a horde of mindless monsters, obeying their basic instinct to eat people. The Walking Dead had gone far too long without a compelling human villain to drive the story forwards.

Now take Game of Thrones two most epic battles Hardhome in season five, pitting the Nights Watch and the wildlings against the White Walkers, and the Battle of the Bastards in the latest episode. Both were brilliantly shot spectacles. But the Battle of the Bastards was more emotionally engaging and an even more nightmarish vision, because both sides were driven by human desires and flaws. Jon Snow was reduced to swinging his sword frantically and panicking, knowing that his own weakness his love for his brother Rickon had been exploited by Ramsay, and that his recklessness had caused the death of hundreds of his men.

Jon Snow reduced to swinging his sword frantically in the Battle of the Bastards. Photograph: HBO

The show must have something major up its sleeve for the season finale and beyond. Perhaps Daenerys quest for power will actually turn her into the shows ultimate villain, or perhaps Cersei is poised on the edge of an act that will finally make her an irredeemable monster, like her son. Fans are speculating that Cerseis scheming with Qyburn and Tyrions casual comment about the Mad Kings Wildfire stockpile are related is she plotting to blow up Kings Landing, just as the Mad King would have done if Jaime hadnt killed him first?

Where else could it go from here? Dragons v White Walkers? As viewers, we instinctively respond more to human drama than supernatural. Daenerys dragons are instantly more engaging when shes riding one of them, or commanding them. Otherwise, were just watching a CGI nature documentary. We sincerely hope Game of Thrones has more than just visual spectacle to rely on. It needs bastards too.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jun/22/game-of-thrones-where-have-all-the-baddies-gone-ramsay-bolton-white-walkers