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In Game of Thrones season 6 Ramsay was about to destroy Jon Snow and his whole army, when the Knights of the Vale suddenly appeared, and reversed the tide.

The key point was the element of surprise: if Ramsay would have known a big enemy army arrives, he would have stayed inside Winterfell and his downfall would have been prevented.

The Knights of the Vale are not exactly commando; They have many horses, they make lots of noise; They can't really hide their movement.

So how come it was a surprise attack?

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    How was he supposed to know they were coming? He’d either notice last minute from people watching out or through scouts. He might not have had scouts watching that route because 1) he’s over confident and 2) that’s not the direction he’s expecting Jon from and 3) the battle was already long underway when they arrived. Aug 8 '21 at 15:46
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    @TheLethalCarrot during times of war I thought it's trivial to place scouts all over the place, exactly for such cases, to avoid surprise attacks. Aug 8 '21 at 18:04
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    You could ask half a dozen such questions about this overrated episode. From military perspective this was all non-sense. More to the point, yeah, it's virtually impossible he wouldn't know about such army.
    – Mithoron
    Aug 8 '21 at 19:39
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    Related: (SF&F SE) How could the Battle of the Bastards end that way? Aug 9 '21 at 9:42
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    This scene annoys me because it'd make so much more sense and be in character if Ramsay thought Petyr was nominally on his side but scheming to take credit for his victory. Petyr even had a Royal Decree from Cersei to raise an army and "sort out" the north. They could have built tension with a little dialog like "Milord Bolton, Cersei's reinforcements are coming", "Dammit we don't need them, this is our victory. Tell them to raid the camps and countryside, bring Sansa alive, kill everyone else". Then just before the army rides in, the messenger returns - full of arrows. "Baelish you bastar..." Aug 9 '21 at 15:56
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It's a surprise attack because Ramsay had no clue that the army of the Vale was going to join the battle. Hell, even Sansa was not sure that they'd respond to her request till they actually arrived. Think of an actual medieval battlefield, where there are no advanced technology to know if more enemies are approaching. The battle has already started and halfway through when the knights of Vale arrived, so there's not enough time for Ramsay to retreat even he wanted to.

No matter how good a commander Ramsay was, he was engaged in the battle himself (there's a lot of noise... etc.) and could not know early enough the sound of the incoming army. Note how Jon nearly froze when he got stuck in the middle of the battlefield.

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    Well I mean using scouts around the area of Winterfell, placed on high hills or even roof tops. I'm sure even in those times, people used such tactics to be alerted of invasions before the invaders actually reached the place. Aug 9 '21 at 8:40
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    Sure, but if I am in the middle of a sword fight I might be a bit to busy to be paying attention to what my scouts are trying to tell me. Aug 9 '21 at 15:49

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