Flaying, also called skinning, is a method of slow and painful torture or execution in which skin is removed from the body.
The best known practitioners of flaying in Westeros is House Bolton where they are known for their practice of flaying their enemies. According to the Bolton servant "Reek", Lord Roose Bolton believes a naked man has few secrets, but a flayed man has none.
The Boltons are said to have flayed the skins of several Stark lords and hung them in the Dreadfort. According to rumor, some Bolton lords wore the flayed skins of their enemies—including Starks, such as the son of Bael—as cloaks. This practice has given the Boltons a sinister reputation.
The Chronicles of Longsister state that during the Rape of the Three Sisters by the Kings of Winter, which occurred two thousand years ago, Belthasar Bolton had a Pink Pavilion made from the flayed skins of a hundred Sistermen.
Approximately a thousand years ago, the Boltons bent their knees to Winterfell and agreed to abandon their practice of flaying their enemies. For many centuries the Boltons have remained loyal to the Starks, but old ways die hard and rumors persist that they continue to flay their prisoners in secret and maintain a hidden chamber in the Dreadfort to display the skins of their enemies.
Ramsay Snow is fond of the old Bolton custom of flaying their enemies alive. He enjoys having young women released into the Bolton forests, before hunting them with his pack of feral dogs. He gives a quick death to women who give him good sport, then flays their corpses. The women who do not give him good sport are raped and then flayed alive. The skins of his kills are brought back with him to the Dreadfort as gruesome trophies. The bodies of the woman are fed to his dogs.
Flaying is looked upon with disfavor by most people in the Seven Kingdoms. For example, when Roose Bolton presents Catelyn and Roob Stark with skin from Theon Greyjoy's pinky finger as small token of revenge Ser Wendel Manderly turns his face away, Robin Flint and Smalljon Umber exchange a look and the Greatjon snorts like a bull. Part of Catelyn wants to clutch the grisly trophy to her heart but she makes herself resist and asks Roose to put it away.
A Game of Thrones
Robb tells Bran that when Roose Bolton looks at him all he can think of is that room the Boltons have in the Dreadfort where they hang the skins of their enemies. Bran tries to tell him that that is just one of Old Nan's stories but a note of doubt creeps into his voice.
A Clash of Kings
With Winterfell under his control, Theon Greyjoy takes Bran and Rickon Stark hostage. Bran and Rickon manage to escape with the help of Osha, Hodor, Meera and Jojen Reed. Theon fails to track the boys down, however following the advice of "Reek", he kills two peasant boys around the same age from the Acorn Water mill and presents their flayed corpses as the Starks'.
A Storm of Swords
Lord Roose Bolton delivers a piece of skin from the little finger of Theon's left hand to King Robb Stark and his mother, Catelyn Tully, shortly before the Red Wedding. Theon is reportedly being flayed alive by Ramsay Snow, the Bastard of Bolton, at the Dreadfort.
A Feast for Crows
In the House of Black and White when the Kindly Man asks Arya Stark if she can stand very still she tells him yes, remembering that she had served as Roose Bolton's cupbearer at Harrenhal and he would flay you if you spilled his wine.
A Dance with Dragons
Theon convinces the ironborn garrison of sixty-three men at Moat Cailin to surrender. The ironborn are escorted to the Bolton camp, where Ramsay Snow has them flayed alive despite his promise of safe passage. The next day their skinless bodies, still dripping fresh blood, are impaled on pikes and displayed along the causeway.
When Lord Roose Bolton, the new Warden of the North, arrives at Winterfell he finds the ruined castle a refuge of more than two dozen squatters. He tells them he will be merciful if they serve well, and they are used as labor to partially restore Winterfell. After the work is completed Roose has them all hanged; true to his word he is merciful and does not flay a one. Theon Greyjoy warns Abel that Ramsay will flay him and he, Skinner and Damon Dance-for-Me, will make a game of it. He tells Abel that he will be begging them to kill him.
It is not happenstance that they put a flayed man on their banners.
If Abel's scheme went awry, Ramsay would make their dying long and hard. He will flay me from head to heel this time, and no amount of begging will end the anguish. No pain Theon had ever known came close to the agony that Skinner could evoke with a little flensing blade. Abel would learn that lesson soon enough.—Theon's thoughts
When we find the man who did this, I will flay the skin off him, cook it crisp as crackling, and make him eat it, every bite.
References and Notes
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 56, Theon V.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 51, Jon VI.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 9, Davos I.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Vale.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 50, Theon IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 53, Bran VI.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 12, Reek I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 49, Catelyn VI.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 35, Bran V.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 22, Arya II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 20, Reek II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 37, The Prince of Winterfell.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 51, Theon I.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 46, A Ghost in Winterfell.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 69, Jon XIII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 3, Jon I.