Smalljon Umber, son of Greatjon Umber, was introduced in the third episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. The Umbers, known as a loyal house to the Starks, where Rickon went in hiding since Season 3, had suddenly turned cloak and headed to Winterfell to seek help from Ramsey Bolton, offering Rickon Stark as a gift of loyalty.
But what if there is more than meets the eye here? What if the Umbers were actually acting a ruse to infiltrate the Boltons, acting as “double agents”, and eventually avenge the Starks? Many hints so far in the series lead to that theory as being a plausible one:
The Umbers And Their Oaths
The Umbers are chosen by Bran to have Rickon go in hiding in season 3 for 2 very specific reasons: their loyalty to the Starks, and their beliefs in their oaths.
Having Smalljon refuse to bend the knee or pledge allegiance to Ramsey in the 2nd episode of the 6th season (aptly called “Oathbreaker”) might just be a move fueled by pride that the Umbers have towards their Oaths and Honor. By never pledging anything to Ramsey, he could not feel like an Oathbreaker himself when it’s time to strike back in the name of the Starks.
The Importance Of House Umber For Control Of The North
In the second episode, Ramsey suggests heading to Castle Black and killing Jon Snow since he’s a Stark. His (More Strategic) Father Roose warns him that killing the Lord Commander of the (Always Neutral) Nights Watch would turn all the Houses of the North against them. Ramsey retorts by saying they don’t need all the Houses, only the Karstarks, the Manderlys and the Umbers.
Since it’s clear the Karstarks are loyal to the Boltons (Thanks to Robb Stark beheading Rickard Karstark’s head in Season 3), and that the Manderlys are loyal to the Starks (Although this is from the books – we have yet to see them in the show), the allegiance of House Umber is then the defining factor on who has the advantage in the North between the Starks and the Boltons.
Possible Foreshadowing: Winterfell’s Defensive Position
In Season 5, Roose Bolton reminds Ramsey as Stannis is preparing his attack in Winterfell, that this castle’s walls provided an advantageous defensive position from any type of siege. Ramsey goes ahead with his “20 Good Men” mission to hurt Stannis’ army before defeating him on the fields near Winterfell. Nevertheless, it seems like Ramsey is not aware nor appreciative of the strategic position he has in Winterfell
Possible Foreshadowing #2: Roose’s “Mad Dog” Line To His Son
“If you acquire a reputation as a mad dog, you’ll be treated as a mad dog. Taken aback and slaughtered for pig feet”.
This one is pretty straightforward.
Ramsey Cleans His Knife
Right after Ramsey stabs his father in the exact same way that he had done to Robb at the Red Wedding, he is seen cleaning the blood of his knife over a map of Winterfell, symbolizing the end of strategizing and planning over at House Bolton
Another Foreshadowing: A Stark Through The Door
In the second episode of the 6th season, just before Roose Bolton is about to get murdered by Ramsey, Lord Karstark says “Your hold on the North will never be secure as long as a Stark can walk through that door”.
He points and glances at the very same door that Rickon will be brought in by the Umbers in the very next episode.
Theory: Jon Snow Was Already Legitimized By Robb Stark
A Theory with regards to the Grand Northern Conspiracy from the books, which the show is re-interpreting in a different way; it claims that Robb Stark had, prior to his death at the Red Wedding, legitimized Jon Snow as a Stark, and true heir to Winterfell should he fall during the War of Five Kings.
Remember that at that time, Bran and Rickon were believed to have been killed by Theon Greyjoy, hence why Robb saw Jon as the only possible heir to Winterfell and the North.
If that’s the case, then the “Stark through the door” comment made by Karstark has more reasons to have Ramsey worried and wanting to kill Jon, despite him being in the Nights Watch (where he took a vow to never take lands, for life).
Osha Being Present
So why is Osha there in the first place? Smalljon Umber clearly stated he hates Wildlings, has been fighting them all his life, and wants to hand over Rickon Stark to Ramsey. If that’s the case, then why is he letting a Wildling girl alive? Her duty of protecting Rickon was done once they reached House Umber for safety and shelter in Season 3.
From a production point of view, she was most likely brought back so that viewers would recognize Rickon Stark who hadn’t been seen since Season 3, and has considerably grown since.
UPDATE: Ramsey kills Osha in the third episode, so it looks like she was only here to remind the viewers who Rickon is. If the Umbers really are up to something, then the plan isn’t starting too well so far.
Shaggydog’s Head, Or Is It?
The shot of what is allegedly Shaggydog’s head can be seen above with (heavy) filtering and brightening to get a better view of it. Doesn’t that wolf’s head seem to small to be one of a Direwolf?
A Direwolf is much larger than a regular wolf, and the surviving ones have considerably grown since they were adopted by the Stark children.
Remember Grey Wind, Robb Stark’s Direwolf? His head was big enough to fit in Robb’s body after the Freys killed them both and paraded them at the Twins during the Red Wedding.
It could be possible that Smalljon used a regular wolf’s head to pass as Rickon’s Direwolf to gain the trust of Ramsey, since he wouldn’t know the difference between the two.
The Army Of The Vale
Littlefinger manipulated the young Lord of the Vale Robyn Arryn into preparing the Knights of the Vale to march North to save Sansa Stark from the Boltons. Although Littlefinger’s motives to tend to lie on the blurry side, there is still an army of Knights heading North to attack the Boltons. At least that’s what Smalljon seems to be aware of.
Having the Knights of the Vale from the South and the Wildlings coming from the North, Smalljon may have convinced Ramsey to make a wrong move by abandoning the defensive and strategic safety of the walls of Winterfell, and go out in the open fields
The Umber Sigil Fighting With The Bolton Army
This shot from the first trailer (which has been removed from the official channel, but is available here) shows Bolton Archers about to shoot at an opposing army. The Umber Sigil is briefly visible in the background so… Either the Umbers haven’t yet found their moment to strike at the Boltons before the battle, or sadly, maybe they have become traitors after all.
The North Remembers
In any case, expect a Battle of Epic Proportion to occur in the North between Ramsey and Jon’s Forces; Bastardbowl as many fans like to call it. Episodes 9 and 10 are both directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who had already directed both “The Gift” and “Hardhome” from Season 5. If what he delivered with the Battle (more like Massacre) of Hardhome is any hint of what’s to come, we can expect 2 fairly bloody episodes at the end of this season.