“Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.
Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.
I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want this wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
Ramsay Bolton, Trueborn Lord of Winterfell.”
There are a great many reasons to doubt that Ramsay is the author of the “Bastard Letter” or “Pink Letter”. First, the letter is sealed with “a smear of pink wax”. Even though Clydas might have opened the letter poorly and hastily resealed it, the pink wax is a dead giveaway that it is not from Ramsay Bolton, formerly Snow. “Ramsay” signed the letter as the lord of Winterfell and Winterfell uses white wax for its correspondence. It would also have the appropriate seal. Ramsay is nothing if not a stickler for these details. He is constantly trying to prove himself a legitimate member of the nobility in spite of his humble upbringing and bastard status. Seals and the proper wax are just the kind of signs of his rank he would be most attentive to.
Second, we already know what kinds of letters Ramsay writes from the one he wrote to Asha at Deepwood Motte. That letter was decidedly formal, written in blood, accompanied by human skin, and other signatures. It is that combination of striving, over-done, Bolton to the max, sociopathology that makes Ramsay Ramsay. In sharp contrast, the Pink Letter uses jargon, colloquialisms, mangles syntax, and seems strangely worded almost as if its author feels compelled not to use names for everything and everyone except Mance Rayder. A Northman like Ramsay is also highly unlikely to refer to the members of the Night’s Watch as “black crows”. That is a Free Folk/Wildling term. Its author is also overly concerned with the Free Folk/Wildling submission ceremony. It demands people like Val and Mance’s baby, who are of no interest to the Boltons. The letter also contradicts itself. It commands the return of various people, some of whom Jon has no authority over, then tells Jon to see the heads of the “king’s friends” and to come and get Mance Rayder if he wants him. Last, and certainly not least, the threat to eat Jon’s heart is decidedly not like Ramsay, who always threatens to flay people.
Third, the details it conveys are completely implausible and occasionally just wrong. It did not take the Boltons seven days of battle to defeat Stannis if that happened at all. Two and three day battles are extremely rare unless there was a siege, and there was none. Stannis was in no position to conduct a siege for one thing. Thus, the Boltons would have done the attacking. Having Mance Rayder in a cage “for all the world to see” makes no sense. Keeping Rayder alive is pointless. Putting him on display as if he were significant to the North is even less so. Giving him a cloak of his spearwives also seems weird. Ramsay and the Boltons wear the skins of their enemies themselves. Ramsay’s routine threats are to wear the skins of his victims. Why would Ramsay clothe Mance in skins? Last, but not least, the letter accuses Jon of burning the King-Beyond-the-Wall, but that was Melisandre and Stannis, not Jon.
Fourth, the letter is remarkably detailed in items that Ramsay should be keeping to himself. The author is telling Jon about Mance and the spearwives’ presence at Winterfell. It lets Jon and potentially everybody else at the Wall know that fake Arya has escaped. It drops the detail of Stannis’ sword despite that being of no interest to anyone except those in Stannis’ party and the Free Folk/Wildlings who participated in the submission ceremony where Stannis drew the sword. It also communicates that the false king’s “friends” are dead. What friends? Stannis does not have any friends. Does the author mean allies or co-conspirators? It is an odd word choice unless it means something else.
Despite these oddities, many commentators still maintain the authenticity of the Pink Letter. They point out that Jon would recognize Ramsay’s handwriting. What evidence they have that Jon is good at spotting handwriting styles and knows Ramsay’s writing well enough to discern a fake is a mystery in and of itself. They point out that the letter matches what we last learned about Stannis’ dire situation – isolated, increasingly desperate, and about to be attacked by vastly superior forces. They also state that arguing for another author is just too conspiratorial. Yet, in the face of all of the counter-evidence and Martin seeding “A Song of Ice and Fire” with conspiracies, it is hard not to conclude that Ramsay is not the author of the Pink Letter. They will conclude by noting that none of the suspects fit the authorship of the Pink Letter including Stannis, Asha, Theon, Mance, Wyman Manderly, or Mors Umber. That much is probably true. See below.
In summary, the Pink Letter is unlikely to be from Ramsay. Its purposes, word choice, means of transmittal, and odd construction practically scream coded message. If we translate the code, we not only learn what the Pink Letter is actually communicating, but who wrote it as its purposes become clear.
The first paragraph informs its intended reader that Stannis has faked his death, used his glowing sword tactic to dispose of the attacking forces, and, over the course of seven days, seized Winterfell and the Dreadfort. This information is to be relayed to Melisandre, who not only asked for this letter repeatedly, but told Jon to come to her first before doing anything else. The “seven days” relates the amount of time between this letter and Stannis’ last communication.
The second paragraph lets the reader know that the appropriate flags are flying from the walls of Winterfell and that Stannis’ forces are to relocate there. The “heads” mean the sigils of the loyal houses. For the first, but not the last time, the Free Folk and Stannis’ adherents learn that the Mance Rayder mission to Long Lake has ended up in Winterfell. More importantly, Mance has cast off his Rattleshirt disguise and is out in the open. The Free Folk, particularly Tormund, have the signal they need to launch their other operations.
The third paragraph confirms that Mance succeeded in his mission of rescuing fake Arya. It also contains phrases “for all the North to see” and the number of spearwives – six – in order to confirm that Mance is alive and well. The cage is a reference to the Free Folk/Wildling submission ceremony that only those who were there would know about or care about. The detail about the number of spearwives helps confirm the authenticity of the communication. Mance’s own phrase – “for all the world to see” is a Melisandre expression. It lets Melisandre know that Mance is alive. Melisandre can now proceed with her part of the operation.
The fourth paragraph is the list of people who are to go to Winterfell, now that it is firmly in Stannis’ hands. The reference to Reek, an individual Jon would have trouble identifying, gives away an important detail about the authorship. This paragraph also repeats the provocative use of bastard to refer to Jon, something Jon is known to find infuriating, particularly in his communications with Stannis, but also something Theon, having grown up with Jon, knows too.
The final signature signifies that the letter is written in code and that Stannis controls the Dreadfort. “Ramsay” is writing as Lord of Winterfell. Therefore, the wax should be white not pink. Pink wax symbolizes the Boltons and the Dreadfort revealing the true location for the source of the letter. “Trueborn” is such an obvious lie it means the letter is the opposite of what it states. Ramsay is a legitimized bastard, thus, not trueborn. He is also not entitled to Winterfell by birth at all. Roose gave it to him as Lord Paramount of the North. All told, the letter itself communicates its double meaning.
Thus, the Pink Letter communicates an immense amount of information about the tactical and strategic situation in the North. Because its information is only of use to and coded for members of Stannis’ party at the Wall, its source must be Stannis. However, its word choice and concern with the submission ceremony show that Mance Rayder is the main influence on its content. Last, but not least, the writing style, Reek reference, handwriting, and use of “bastard” to infuriate Jon reveal Theon as the physical writer of the Pink Letter. This is the reason the letter does not perfectly fit with any one author. It was a group effort.
In conclusion, contrary to popular misconception and a surface reading, the Pink Letter shows a Stannis victory in the North, the defeat of the Boltons, and a purposeful incitement of activity at the Wall. Unfortunately for the Stannis cause, Jon Snow did not perform as expected. Instead of consulting with Melisandre first, he shared the contents of the letter with Tormund, planned with Tormund, and gave the ill-considered Shieldhall speech in which he revealed the letter’s contents with not only the Free Folk leadership, but Melisandre and a group of conspirators hostile to Jon’s leadership. Melisandre had warned Jon of “daggers in the dark”, but Jon proceeded to recklessly declare his violation of his Night’s Watch vows before all and sundry. His assassination not only became inevitable, but justifiable. (As Cantuse has explained on his blog, “Meditations on A Song of Ice and Fire”, it is highly likely Jon’s sweetwine was laced with a single drop of sweetsleep ever since Satin became his steward bringing on dreamless slumbers and also a reckless courage.)
Note: The foregoing is largely derived from Cantuse’s “Meditations on A Song of Ice and Fire” and Preston Jacobs’ You Tube videos, “The Pink Letter”.