Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon III, ACOK

“It’s not Torrhen’s Square I mean to take.”

Synopsis: Theon, Dagmer, and Aeron attack the Stony Shore and ambush the Wild Hares. Aeron insists on sacrificing Benfred

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

In my analysis of A Game of Thrones, I described Eddard XII as the point of no return for Lord Stark, the last opportunity he had to avoid his death on the steps of the Sept of Baelor. To me, Theon III is that moment, both for our eponymous point-of-view character and the fortunes of House Stark, as Theon’s departure from Balon’s battleplan leads to the fall of Winterfell and his own downfall.

The Battle of Stony Shore

Indeed, while Theon’s murder of the miller’s boys is usually held up as his moral event horizon, I think he actually crosses that line much earlier; it’s just that he doesn’t realize the impact of his actions until that moment. Consider what Theon has done here:

Of the fishing village, nothing remained but cold ashes that stank when it rained. The men had been put to the sword, all but a handful that Theon had allowed to flee to bring the word to Torrhen’s Square. Their wives and daughters had been claimed for salt wives, those who were young enough and fair. The crones and the ugly ones had simply been raped and killed, or taken for thralls if they had useful skills and did not seem likely to cause trouble. Theon had planned that attack as well, bringing his ships up to the shore in the chill darkness before the dawn and leaping from the prow with a longaxe in his hand to lead his men into the sleeping village.

This is not merely war waged on a civilian population, and indeed Theon’s conduct here is arguably worse or at least more comprehensive than Tywin’s chevauchée in the Riverlands, albeit on a smaller scale – the murder of the whole male population, the rape and sex slavery of the female population, is deliberately organized to provide Theon’s soldiers with the material and human loot that motivates their service, but also to produce a specific effect in the local defenders. In other words, this is atrocity as military strategy.

And, as I’ll discuss more in the historical section, it’s also something of an exaggeration of historical Viking raids (although there’s a rather large controversy on this point). However, just to address the recent controversy about GRRM and his depiction of both sexual violence and medieval society,  I think the exaggeration has a purpose. While Martin’s interpretation of the Middle Ages diverges from medievalists, I think we also have to remember that Martin is using history to reflect on our own times and our own society. His desire to depict war as  a horror waged against civilian population isn’t primarily motivated by an intense historiographical revisionism – I think it speaks to his attitudes about war in our own time. To me, the Ironborn’s slaughter of the entire male population is evocative of the ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s; the systematic use of rape and sex slavery can be seen in the actions of ISIS or Boko Haram (or rather pervasive scandals around sexual violence in pretty much all modern armies).

The violence of the attack on the fishing village parallels the way in which the actual battle is used to undercut “la gloire” of Theon’s little war when Benfred Tallhart and his Wild Hares arrive on the scene:

They’d been joking and even singing as they’d come on, the three trees of Tallhart streaming above them while rabbitskins flapped stupidly from the points of their lances. The archers concealed behind the gorse had spoiled the song with a rain of arrows, and Theon himself had led his men-at-arms out to finish the butcher’s work with dagger, axe, and warhammer….

He kicked at Benfred’s fallen banner, clutched in the dead hand of the squire who’d borne it. A rabbitskin had been tied below the flag. Why rabbitskins? he had meant to ask, but being spat on had made him forget his questions. He tossed his bow back to Wex and strode off, remembering how elated he’d felt after the Whispering Wood, and wondering why this did not taste as sweet. 

Theon feels undercut and deflated, because this wasn’t a heroic battle that could be described in poetic terms, like the Battle of the Whispering Woods. There’s not a lot of poetry in hiding in a bush, shooting a group of teenagers less than half your numbers, and then finishing them off when they’re down. Arguably, this is just as much a straight-up massacre as the attack on the fishing village, and once again Theon is directly responsible for the deaths, not of hardened warriors but a bunch of idealistic teenagers, the Northern equivalent of the knights of summer.”

Another thing that links the Wild Rabbits and the fishing villagers is the way in which both are used to critique the Old Way of the Ironborn. This is what “the iron price” looks like in practice:

The rest of his men were looting the corpses. Gevin Harlaw knelt on a dead man’s chest, sawing off his finger to get at a ring. Paying the iron price. My lord father would approve. Theon thought of seeking out the bodies of the two men he’d slain himself to see if they had any jewelry worth the taking, but the notion left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Strip away the romantic illusions, dispel the mythology, and look past the ideology, and what you have is a gang of cowardly murderers, rapists, and thieves, who strike from ambush, run away from a straight fight, and have the gall to think of themselves as hard cases. Compare Theon’s crew to the Bloody Mummers, and the latter come off better for their basic honesty of purpose. And the greatest moral failing of Theon Greyjoy is that, deep down, he knows that there is no glory in bushwhacking, no honor in robbing corpses, but he goes along with it anyway.

Two Executions

We can see this made manifest in two people who Theon specifically has killed – Benfred Tallhart and Todric – because Theon doesn’t consider peasants to be real people, he has to have it shoved in his face before he understands. It’s crucial therefore that Theon Greyjoy be responsible for the death or someone he knows:

“Robb will gut you, Greyjoy,” Benfred Tallheart screamed. “He’ll feed your turncloak’s heart to his wolf, you piece of sheep dung.”

Aeron Damphair’s voice cut through the insults like a sword through cheese. “Now you must kill him”…Uncle Aeron was relentless. “When he spits on you, he spits on all of us. He spits on the Drowned God. He must die…He must be given to the god. The old way…you will come as well. You command here. The offering should come from you.”

That was more than Theon could stomach.

There’s a strong parallel here to Theon’s feelings about Patrek Mallister – and ultimately to Robb Stark himself – in that Theon, ultimately cannot bring himself to kill someone in who’s company he had “spent a fortnight,” who he remembers mocking over his “neck thick as a boar’s, heavy with muscle and fat.” It’s almost as if, as long as he confines himself to fighting peasants, he can pretend that he’s not actually making war on his friends, but Benfred is too stark a reminder that it is impossible for Theon to avoid it if he continues on this path.

It is telling, therefore, that Theon cannot bring himself to kill Benfred in the name of a god Theon doesn’t believe in, but that he can when it comes to killing an Ironborn (albeit accidentally) :

Theon was quicker. He drew on the hand that clutched the drinking horn, figuring to give them a shot to talk about, but Todric spoiled it by lurching to one side just as he loosed. The arrow took him through the belly.

The looters stopped to gape. Theon lowered his bow. “No drunkards, I said, and no squabbles over plunder.” On his knees, Todric was dying noisily. “Botley, silence him.” Fishwhiskers and his sons were quick to obey. They slit Todric’s throat as he kicked feebly, and were stripping him of cloak and rings and weapons before he was even dead.

As with his actions to date and in the future, Theon kills here out of insecurity. Wanting to demonstrate his control over his own men, he winds up killing one of them for a minor offense – which normally would alienate men from their leader, except that the Ironborn show themselves to be so completely lacking in the basic loyalty between fellow soldiers that they eagerly participate in his murder for their own gain.

Theon and Identity 

The point of all of this is that in both his thought and action, Theon can’t bring himself to be an Ironborn – he doesn’t believe in the Old Way, he doesn’t believe in the Iron Price, and he doesn’t believe in the Drowned God. At the same time, Theon can’t quite bring himself to be a Northman instead, even though he can’t stop himself from reflexively “imagin[ing] what Eddard Stark would have said.” This habit of morals bothers Theon – “that thought made him angry too. Stark is dead and rotting, and naught to me, he reminded himself” – in no small part because you can’t be an Ironborn and adhere to Ned Stark’s code, but also because it undercuts his victimization narrative. How bad could Ned have been, if he remains Theon’s conscience?

Throughout the chapter, Theon insists that the Starks had excluded and oppressed him: “I am no Stark.” Lord Eddard saw to that...[Dagmer] gave me more smiles than my father and Eddard Stark together. Even Robb…he ought to have won a smile the day he’d saved Bran from that wildling, but instead he’d gotten a scolding, as if he were some cook who’d burned the stew.” HoweverTheon responds to comments about his worth by immediately referencing how “The Starks knew my worth. I was one of Brynden Blackfish’s picked scouts, and I charged with the first wave in the Whispering Wood. I was that close to crossing swords with the Kingslayer himself.”  Again, there’s an inconsistency – the Starks hardly could have consistently slighted him and denied him the praise he was due if they repeatedly honored his efforts in the war.

The explanation for this contradiction is stated quite baldly – “I am a Greyjoy, and I mean to be my father’s heir” – but everyone around him is reminding him that that means disassociating himself from the Starks who Balon and the rest of the Ironborn hate: “Theon, the Boy Wolf is your friend, and these Starks had you for ten years.” This link to the enemy makes him suspicious to the tribe at large, such that “some of his men saw only a soft boy from the green lands when they looked at him.”  And to put an even finer point on this, Dagmer inadvertently adds to Theon’s raging insecurity and daddy issues ( by trying to explain that the reason Theon’s father is cold to him is that “it is only your lord father does not know you. With your brothers dead and you taken by the wolves, your sister was his solace. He learned to rely on her and she has never failed him.”

Theon’s Plan

So in typical Theon fashion, rather than gradually building up sweat equity and proving himself to be a reliable and dutiful son, he decides to go for a get-rich-quick scheme to catapult himself over his sister/replacement figure:

“If my sister can take a castle, so can I.”

“Asha has four or five times the men we do.”

“But we have four times the wits, and five times the courage…”

Note that the most frequent description of his plan isn’t how it’s going to be pulled off, but rather that it’ll be “a deed that the harpers will sing of for a thousand years,” and that the fact that Theon is horribly outnumbered means “fewer men means fewer glory.” This isn’t a plan meant ultimately to win the war for the Greyjoys, but rather to help Theon “prove myself with some great deed.” On the face of it, Theon’s plan has a pretty solid grounding on human psychology:

…you’ll take the great part of our force and march on Torrhen’s Square. Hellman Tallhart took his best men south, and Benfred died here with their sons. His uncle Leobald will remain, with some small garrison…you will make camp outside their walls and set to building catapults…let the raven fly. The castellan at Winterfell is a brave man, but age has stiffened his wits as well as his limbs. When he learns that one of his king’s bannermen is under attack…he will summon his strength and ride to Tallhart’s aid.”

The problem is that it only works because Theon knows Leobald Tallhart and Ser Rodrik Cassel. In other words, Theon’s plan only works because Theon is more of a Northman than he is an Ironborn. So regardless of whether he actually took Winterfell or failed, daddy is never going to love him for it.

But let’s assess the plan from a strategic rather than military perspective, shall we? To begin with, in addition to all of the problems with resupply, reinforcements, and logistics that Asha will bring up in Theon V, this is a plan that entirely relies on his enemies doing exactly what he wants them to do, which is always dangerous in military planning. But even then, it really requires Ser Rodrik to commit all of his men to the relief of Torrhen’s Square for it to work – had Ser Rodrick held back 50 or even a hundred men to guard Winterfell, Theon’s raid would have failed. In other words, we should see GRRM’s thumb pressing very hard down onto the scales of fate at this moment.

However, even with the demiurge on his side, Theon’s plan resembles his father’s quite a bit, in that he doesn’t really think about what comes next – rather than have Dagmer’s force try to slip around Ser Rodrick and make it to Winterfell, which would give Theon a big enough garrison to hold off a siege, he has them take Torrhen’s Square which isn’t of any use to Theon stranded some 200 miles away. Likewise, rather than skedaddle with Bran and Rickon once he’s captured them, he stays in place out of pure ego. Finally, Theon’s got no plan to deal with a siege of the North.

Historical Analysis:

So speaking of the Ironborn and the extent to which they’re an exaggeration of the historical Vikings…let’s talk about the origins of the Viking myth, the raid on Lindisfarne. The Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, at it came to be known, stands right off the coast of Northumbria, a tidal island that’s connected to the mainland during low tide and then isolated at high tide, much like the Quiet Isle in the Riverlands. It was originally founded by Irish monks under the direction of Saint Aiden in 634, and became quite distinguished when one of its abbots was canonized as Saint Cuthbert.

Unfortunately for the monks of Lindisfarne, the isolation of their holy isle, which had made it so perfect for secluding oneself from the secular world in contemplation of God, also made it a great target for an amphibious assault. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island (Lindisfarne), by rapine and slaughter.

It’s not exactly what you would consider a nuanced account – the attack on God’s house is presaged by supernatural portents, as a sign that the spiritual injury becomes an injury to the land in a kind of Christian modification of the old Fisher King mythology. And the emphasis is very much on the lurid violence, as it is in Alcuin’s version of the same story, saying “never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. . . .The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.” 

The attack on Lindisfarne was followed up by a number of similar attacks – Monkwearmouth–Jarrow monastery was attacked in 794, Iona abbey in Scotland was attacked in 795, and there would be a number of follow-up attacks through 806. Some revisionist historians have suggested that the repetitions are evidence that the grand guignol descriptions are somewhat exaggerated – after all, if there were follow-up attacks to previous raids, they couldn’t have been so comprehensively violent, since someone had to be left alive to stay at those monasteries to be raided later, and they must have restocked their treasures somewhat, otherwise why come back?

However, these raids are also important because they gave time for the reputation of the Vikings as pagan barbarians out for loot and plunder to be established, well before the 860s when the “Great Heathen Army” showed up as an organized military force which seized York in 866, overran Northumbria, Mercia, and East-Anglia, and formed a long-lasting Viking kingdom in the Northeast of England known as the “Danelaw.” (I’ll discuss the Great Heathen Army more in Theon V when Asha and Theon get into a debate over military strategy) The two images don’t really mesh very well – chaotic bandits looking only to smash and grab from civilized Christian Europe vs. well-organized armies capable of conquering and administering far-flung territories.

As the revisionist historians of the 1950s and 1960s suggest, part of the reason why we remember the former more than the latter has to do with the power of the clerical chroniclers to write the history books. These monks had a tendency to describe people in relation to how they dealt with the Church – the Goths who sacked Rome come off fairly well, in no small part because they spared Church property; the Vandals become synonymous with senseless destruction despite their track-record of good government in their newly conquered territories in Spain and North Africa because they didn’t.

What If?

To me, there’s only one main hypothetical here – what if Theon’s capture at Winterfell doesn’t happen? However, there’s a number of different ways this could happen, and I want to discuss them separately.

  • Theon sticks with the plan? This one is rather interesting, because it means that Torrhen’s Square doesn’t get taken. Ser Rodrik doesn’t get distracted by the need to relieve Torrhen’s Square and instead has a more free hand to mobilize the North once it becomes clear that this is a major attack (one of the things that isn’t clear is when exactly news of Moat Cailin’s fall arrives). Winterfell remains the locus of Stark control over the North, and with Ramsay in custody, the Boltons aren’t free to interfere with Ser Rodrik’s mobilization. For Theon, this means that Balon’s death makes him a leading candidate for the kingsmoot, which potentially splits or unifies the anti-Euron bloc depending on whether Asha and Theon can work out a deal and/or whether Aeron and Victarion consider Theon sufficiently Ironborn to get their support. It’s quite possible Theon might end up captured and/or dead at Euron’s hands, or flee like Asha to some unknown fate.
  • Theon gets turned back? Let’s say that Rodrik leaves more guards at Winterfell or somehow runs into Theon’s band on the way to Torrhen’s Square. This still leaves Winterfell intact, but raises the question of whether Theon decides to take Torrhen’s Square as his prize – it’s a decent holdfast, it’s right on a river (which allows for resupply), and with 200 men Theon could easily hold out against Ser Rodrik’s forces. With Deepwood Motte and Torrhen’s Square held securely, the Ironborn actually have a more decent hold on the periphery than in Balon’s initial plan. The main question here is what happens to the Iron Fleet at Moat Cailin, and what happens after Balon’s death – do the Ironborn follow up on these initial victories (say, by attacking Barrowton and giving themselves more of a contiguous territory to occupy/defend?)? Do these victories make it harder to persuade the Ironborn to abandon the North for the Reach? Even if Winterfell holds, can the Ironborn dig in as they have done in previous eras?
  • Theon gets captured? This is sort of the worst case for Theon, although it’s pretty close to what happens to him in OTL, albeit without his disastrous tenure as Prince of Winterfell intervening. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s not credible than Theon’s capture could get Balon to remove himself from the North (although Balon’s death will largely accomplish that). What’s more interesting is what happens after Balon’s death – is Theon in absentia a better candidate than Theon in person? Can Euron invade the Reach without being worried about the Northmen planting a puppet king in the Iron Islands in his absence? Does Asha try to reach out to the North with a variation on her OTL proposal, using the “latecomer” precedent to invalidate Euron’s kingsmoot (which probably is going to happen in TWOW with Reek)?

Book vs. Show:

There are two main differences between the book and the show on this point – first, after the streamlining of the Stony Shore/Torrhen’s Square business, Benfred Tallhart is replaced by Ser Rodrik, which works as the audience is familiar with Ser Rodrik and thus his death has emotional stakes that Benfred’s wouldn’t. Also, Theon kills him directly rather than allowing it to happen, which increases the impact on Theon’s character – I actually prefer this to Theon’s more hands-off version in the books.

Second, given the absence of RamsayReek, Dagmer Cleftjaw is turned into the devil on Theon’s shoulder, helping Theon to capture Winterfell, prompting him to kill Ser Rodrik, suggesting the burning of the miller’s boys, and betraying Theon at Winterfell. It’s a simple fix, but I do feel that something was lost. Theon’s circular story in Season 3, the inconclusiveness of Asha/Yara’s storyline in Season 4, a lot of this is caused by the need to establish Theon and Ramsay’s relationship. Had they actually met in Winterfell, with Ramsay pretending to be Reek and pushing Theon to more and more evils, Theon and Asha/Yara’s storylines could have been cleared up substantially (possibly allowing for time to show Balon’s death), and Theon’s Season 3 plotline would have had much less of the “mystery box” feel to it and more emotional grounding on the sudden reversal of power relationship between these two characters.

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122 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon III, ACOK

  1. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Good recount, Steve.

    I think you meant to link your analysis on the previous Theon chapter in your second hypothetical.

    I don’t have much to say about this one, you’ve done a bang-up job. I agree with you in preferring Theon’s execution of Rodrik (it was this scene that I thought Alfie Allen started showing his acting chops and really growing into the Theon role, though that might just be that it was when Theon’s story really kicked off and Alfie just got to flex).

    While I don’t believe the Reekening should happen to anyone, early Theon, more than just the misogyny, is unbelievably and distastefully vain. Every time someone tries to get his head down from it’s massive swelling, he takes it so personally.

    • Crystal says:

      It goes to show what an eggshell-fragile self-image he really did have, and how much of his image was pure manufacture – “all hat and no cattle” as the saying goes.

  2. Sean C. says:

    As far as the show’s adaptation goes, Balon’s death has not happened for lack of time, but because the writers don’t want to introduce that plot point until the actual plot that springs from it will occur (evidently in season 6).

    Regarding the merits of the Ramsay/Dagmer switch and Ramsay’s absence from the season in general, that creates big problems for the climax, but as far as subsequent seasons go I don’t know that it would really have improved things. The only interesting part of season 3’s Theon story was Ramsay’s extended deception; if you remove that, you’re just left with a guy being tortured for an extended period by a sadist. There’s a reason GRRM skipped over that.

    • Winnie says:

      Agreed they’re saving Balon’s death and the whole Iron Born storyline, (including the Kingsmoot,) for Season 6. Be interesting to see what happens to Asha on the show-will she still be fleeing North and then get captured by whoever is holding it at the time, will she heading be heading somewhere South for some purpose, or is Asha going to die?

  3. artihcus022 says:

    I think the main reason they delayed Ramsay is that Book Ramsay!Reek is a more complicated part. You needed an actor to be a convincing lowlife and conman and believably a servant and then create that reversal. The one they come up with is more melodramatic and weird in my view.

    The point of the Reekening is simply — broken down, ugly, crippled and humiliated Theon, the representative of everything the Ironborn hate and condemn, and use to justify and oppress other people — is more of a man and braver than Original!Theon or any of the other Ironborn ever were. He paid his iron price and then some.

    • Mitch says:

      Taking away the Reek/Ramsay part from Season 2 was my least favorite change the show has made to date. It so perfectly sets up Ramsay’s guile and ruthlessness for the rest of the series and works as a fantastic plot twist at the end of book 2.

      The weirdest thing is that you cannot say they made the change for narrative streamlining, because they still spent substantial time in season 3 showing Ramsay playing mind games/torturing Theon. So it’s not like the change even helped them in that regard.

      I suspect the show runners just didn’t want to get too deep in the weeds explaning the Lady Hornwood situation, which serves as his entrance into the story.

  4. Adam Farmer says:

    Great analysis as always, I think that Theon is perhaps one of the great tragic figures in the novels. He is caught helplessly between to identities, is forced ultimately to choose, but is unable to fully commit to his choice when he does. He has spent a childhood fearing execution and as a defence has made himself into the persecuted outsider, at least in his mind.

    Martin uses Theon to wonderfully critique the mediaeval practice of hostage and ward taking. That is often forgotten I think by some people.

  5. Space Oddity says:

    One thing I do like about the Ironborn chapters is that they wind up making it clear that Theon, who imagines he isn’t like the rest of his family is… pretty much like the rest of his family, with the possible exceptions of Euron and Balon. They are all a bunch of sad, scarred, frightened people living out roles that make them miserable, and insisting that, no, no, they’re happy like this–Old Way all the way! Wooo! Even Victarion, who seems to be acquiring a mysterious reputation as ‘the worst Greyjoy’ in certain circles for some reason. (Which isn’t to say he isn’t bad, but to my mind there’s something pathetic about the man, with his constant reiterations of how he is a simple man, who doesn’t think about these things, which is why he can’t let them bother him. Nope. Can’t let them bother him AT ALL…)

    • winnie says:

      And Asha for all her proud Pirate Queen ways seems increasingly disillusioned with the whole thing too by ADWD but she can’t bring herself to admit aloud how stupid the whole thing really is. Frankly I think she should have taken Botleys suggestion about becoming merchants.

      • Andrew says:

        Unfortunately, even if she did agree to Tristifer’s plan, the attack on Deepwood Motte had already begun, and her position would be no different than it currently is. She is her father’s daughter in trying to create a kingdom in the North that any reasonable person would say is a pipe dream. She knows her dad’s plan for a kingdom in the North is a dumb idea, yet can’t seem to see that for her kingdom.

        • Winnie says:

          And her plan at the Kingsmoot basically amounted to, “Hold enough hostages and I can get the North to agree to colonial occupation and even being our allies against the Iron Throne.”

          I don’t think she’s stupid or crazy like Daddy and her uncles but the problem is she’s been conditioned her whole life to believe in the Old Way,that Greyjoys are conquerors, and that she’s *entitled* to her own Kingdom, and it’s almost impossible for her to give up those beliefs which are so central to her own identity.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Yep. It’s worth noting that Asha and Theon (pre-Reekening) are the sanest Greyjoys by a country mile–and they are underneath it all a couple of sad kids backing crazy partially for pats on the head from Daddy, and partially because DEY IRONBORN! It dere destiny to conkur!

    • Crystal says:

      And Rodrik Harlaw, Theon and Asha’s maternal uncle, who is really the smartest and most sensible of the lot, has just said “ah to hell with it” and retreated into his books. He and Sam and Tyrion could get together and bemoan the Westerosi anti-intellectualism…

      • winnie says:

        Poor Uncle Harlaw. He’s the Cassandra of the Iron Islands.

      • Mitch says:

        I rather hope Harlaw has some important role to play in future events. It would be a great irony if the man who personifies the traits the Ironborn find most objectionable ended up being the most influential among them (for good or bad).

  6. winnie says:

    Great point about how the hyper levels of rape and sexual violence being a mirror to what happened in Bosnia and Darfur.

    And yeah the Iron Born for all their boasts really are just cowardly, thieving, rapists, and killers. Not surprising they killed their own commander at Moat Cailin. And may I mention that one screen change I LOVED was having Theon’s own men turn him over to save themselves?!?

    And yeah, for all his attempts to claim otherwise, it looks like Theon was treated far better by the Starks than by his own family. Remember he had enough freedom and privilege not only to lead battles but to apparently whore his way all through the North and Riverlands.

    Theon killing Ser Rodrik was one of the most powerful scenes of Season 2, and I agree more effective as a moral event horizon than the book version. Incredible acting there by everyone but especially Alfie. I also think that moment served to be the impetus to convince Osha she *had* to get the little lords out of there even with the difficulty and danger of one being a cripple and the other so young-because she couldn’t be sure of their safety at WF even if it was more logical for Theon not to hurt the boys.

    Gods I hate the Old Way and the Iron Price. And gods but pre-Reek Theon was a prick. The fact that Alfie made me identify with him anyway show’s why he deserves an Emmy.

    • artihcus022 says:

      I prefer the book version, mostly because Show!Theon is made into this comical dark slapstick figure and his betrayal at the end comes as a joke rather a dark and frightening twist. Like even in the books Reek’s real identity and the burning of Winterfell is this dark twist of fate that is scary.

      One thing that the show downgrades heavily is that Book!Theon is the picture of macho pig lord but on the show he keeps getting insulted, like Tyrion mocks him for his whoring in S1 and then his lust and horniness is made into this punchline. I mean Book!Theon is very much DTF but he’s supposed to be a decent ladies man and a competent soldier warrior. That alteration ruins Theon’s characterization, its saying that he was never that good and great, rather than what he was good and great was bad in and of itself.

      And when Ramsay comes in…I find the depiction of Ramsay offensive mainly because the book character is psycho-rapist from day 1 whereas Ramsay apparently has girlfriends and the like. This ruins Book!Ramsay whose relationship with Theon is very much the parvenu wanting to usurp and copy and imitate the Lord and make the Lord into his Servant. Ramsay’s treatment of women and other people is only Theon’s macho behavior taken to the logical unfettered conclusion. In the show its just further emasculation on top of everything else.

      • winnie says:

        I disagree. I think the decision to tone down Book Ramsay and make him seem a *little* more logical and more functional makes it work better since its really hard to believe the book version ever could have survived this long instead of ‘falling down the stairs’

        And the way the show makes fun of Theon’s attempts to prove his masculinity and IB bonafides not only fits with his identity crisis and the psychological underpinnings of his decisions which are rooted in his personal feelings of humiliation but is also a potent criticism of that kind of frat boy posturing. Basically *real* badasses don’t act like this…only pathetic little boys pretending to be men.

        • artihcus022 says:

          I disagree. I think the decision to tone down Book Ramsay and make him seem a *little* more logical and more functional makes it work better since its really hard to believe the book version ever could have survived this long instead of ‘falling down the stairs’

          Well, the show version of Ramsay is even less logical. He’s some kind of mutant with super villain powers. The main thing is that the show version of Ramsay’s resentment about being a bastard is gone. In the books, Ramsay was raised by a psychopath, never trained by a Castle Master-At-Arms and picks on weaker people. He’s incapable of attracting any girl consensually. The show version’s resentment makes zero sense. He’s not a low-born bastard acting out his resetnment, he’s a bastard raised and spoiled by Daddy. It’s an adaptation choice that makes his psychopathy more unreal and of course until Season 5, we never see or hear him rape any girl, which is what allowed people to see Ramsay as Westerosi Joker for so long.

          You know its weird but Iwan Rheon looks more like Book!Theon than Alfie Allen does, and I think that GOT would have been a better show if Ramsay was played by Alfie Allen and Theon by Rheon. The drama of this good-looking handsome warrior creep being undone and tortured by this ugly ratty-guy (Not that Alfie Allen is ugly but he’s certainly plainer) would have leaped from the book to the show.

    • Crystal says:

      Alfie has done SUCH a great job with Theon – even though he doesn’t really resemble the description of book!Theon, I don’t care – he’s terrific to watch.

      As far as the treatment of book!Theon is concerned, I remember Theon II when he appeared before Daddy Dearest all decked out in greenlander finery, paid for by the gold price. Ned Stark’s gold, I’m sure. (I don’t think Balon sent one single copper star for Theon’s upkeep.) The fact that a ward and hostage could go swanning around in finery (and pay for whores!) indicates that, one, the Starks were not poor – not as rich as the Lannisters or Tyrells, but certainly not the genteel poverty that some people assume. And, second, that Theon was treated quite decently.

      Ned was bests with Robb, and had hopes of marrying Sansa. I think Ned would have rejected the latter with extreme prejudice, but less because Theon was a hostage than because he was a womanizer and pompous prick, and Ned and Cat wanted a much richer marriage for their attractive eldest daughter.

      • winnie says:

        Yeah I don’t see Cat or Ned giving their beautiful elder daughter to Theon of all people but Robb may have been willing as part of a Greyjoy/Stark alliance-perhaps offering his hand to Asha as well. Politically it would have made perfect sense but it would NOT have been so good for Sansa. For Theon yes but not Sansa.

        And good point that Theon was obviously on a very generous allowance-he always had money for horses, drink, and whores too its worth noting. Frankly he was living more comfortably as a Stark than he ever would have as a Greyjoy. In fact on the show it felt like part of his motive was that he was if only subconsciously feeling homesick for WF.

      • Roger says:

        NEd was willing to give Sansa to Jeoffrey. And we don’t have any proff he disliked Theon. After all, his pal Robert was a womanizer, too. With two bastards daughters before 20. And Eddard didn’t have in problem with him marrying his sister.

        • David Hunt says:

          Ned may have had the technical option to refuse Robert’s proposal to marry Sansa to Joffrey, but he didn’t dare refuse him. I think it would have been as bad or worse than refusing the Handship.

          As to Lyanna and Robert, Ned didn’t have even a theoretical say in that match as he was the second son of the father who made it. However, I recall him remembering a conversation with Lyanna where we see that they have a very realist view about how Robert would not be faithful to her. I think the lordly husband tomcatting around was just something that highborn wives usually had to put up with in Westerosi society. Exceptions would exist for wives with powerful families willing to exert influence or wives able to exert some other form of exceptional influence, but in general, men get to spread it around and women just have to deal with that.

        • Crystal says:

          As David pointed out, I don’t think Ned had any say in who Lyanna married. As for Joffrey, I don’t think Ned knew just how psychopathic the boy was until too late – and in any event, it would be difficult for him to refuse the King.

          I do think that Sansa was raised from birth for a grand marriage – if not to the Crown Prince, then Willas Tyrell, or, even (ironically!) Harry the Heir and the Eyrie if Lysa couldn’t produce a living child. (And, considering that Tytos Lannister’s bannermen felt they had the right to openly disapprove of Genna Lannister’s misalliance, I can see Rickard Karstark and/or Greatjon Umber getting really shirty if Ned proposed sending a daughter to Pyke instead of Harrion or Smalljon…especially Rickard, who wanted his daughter to marry Robb and I could see him wanting Harrion to marry Sansa. He’d be PO’d.) Ironically, if Theon had married one of the Stark daughters it would have neutralized any potential Northern invasion.

          I am sure Ned and Cat knew what happened to that unfortunate Lannister woman who married one of the Hoare kings of Pyke. Her own son tortured and blinded her because Old Way and The Priest Told Me To. I don’t think that encouraged many fathers to want to marry daughters into Iron Islands families, yikes.

          • winnie says:

            Not to mention the fate of poor Vic’s wife…

          • Space Oddity says:

            I get the impression that Vic’s wife isn’t well known outside the Isles. (Hell, I get the impression she was some poor Stepstones’ girl he picked up on a raid that no one but Victarion really cares about in the grand scheme of things.)

          • John says:

            It seems unlikely to me that Ned didn’t become aware of Joffrey’s prickishness at Winterfell, because Joffrey made no effort to hide it. And certainly he was aware of it at least after the incident with Nymeria at the Crossroads.

  7. SummerIsComing says:

    Putting aside that giving more to do to Ralph Ineson (FINCHY!) is never a bad thing, I disagree with you and others about switching Ramsay as Reek into Dagmar. S2 is about trying to reclaim his Ironborn identity so it makes sense for him to impress Dagmar rather than a random stinky servant. We know who the stinky servant becomes, but 99% of the audience doesn’t so Dagmar pushing for it makes sense at the time. At the start of S3 when Iwan Rheon was just “The Boy” and rescuing Theon and being his new BFF and the audience is on his side and we get why Theon is giving all his secrets away to him, it wouldn’t really make sense if we’ve seen that character plotting to kill Ser Rodrick and the two orphans the previous season. The “Oh crap” moment when “The Boy” relieves the wooden X is ruined because yeah, “The Boy” sucks already for killing the two orphans. It doesn’t work for book readers who I remember were weirdly frustrated all season with “The Boy” kind of obviously being Ramsay Snow, but for 99% of the audience it does fine or at least their issues with it are unrelated so him not having Ralph Ineson’s role in the plot of S2.

    • winnie says:

      Yeah, I found it kinda strange in the book that Theon a guy who doesn’t even consider peasants and servants ‘real’ was taking advice from filthy stinking underling fresh out of the dungeon. It would have been even less credible on screen.

    • Fourten says:

      The Ramsay reveal in the show was its best use of the medium’s limitations and advantages thus far. Setting up Ramsay/Reek as being in Winterfell when Theon returns would have taken half a season at least, plus an episode or two of NotReek playacting. Insted in the show we get to go crazy with Theon and avoid having to learn who Ramsay is and how nuts he can be twice.

      Plus nothing in the book can recreate the fridge moment of hearing Ramsay blow his horn to wake an imprisoned Theon, realize that it was the same sound that kept Theon awake during the brief siege of Winterfell and know despite everything that Theon will kill ‘that hornblower’ as likey the last thing he does.

      • artihcus022 says:

        I just can’t agree with the principle that a full season of Theon being tortured is good television.

        • SummerIsComing says:

          That’s why I put that line about “their issues with it are unrelated so him not having Ralph Ineson’s role in the plot of S2.” Plenty of other folks had legit non-book-fundamentalist problems with Theon tortured for the season, but whether or not Ramsay as Reek’s role was handed over Dagmar in S2 wasn’t the cause of them.

          • artihcus022 says:

            I don’t think anyone has to be a book-fundamentalist to have issues with the show’s choices. But you know Theon’s occupation of Winterfell was entirely his idea in the books and a lot of the stuff he did there was something his fellow ironborn weren’t keen on either. Here its more superficial, its Theon was corrupted by evil Dagmer and evil Ironborn culture(which is evil, no doubt) and I just see that as way more superficial and melodramatic.

          • winnie says:

            Show Theon still came up with the idea to invade WF on his own AND to kill the orphans, (remember he sent Luwin away so no witnesses.) So I think his internal struggle was there all right.

          • SummerIsComing says:

            That’s what I said plenty of people had non-book-fundamentalist issues with Theon’s torture, but I think Steven’s lament about Dagmar-instead-of-Ramsay seems like good old “books=better” thing. Considering there were about 48 trillion other storylines going on, I thought they gave Theon plenty of screen time and if anything his motivations seems more nuanced and human in the show version.

          • winnie says:

            Agreed. The torture in season 3 was too gratuitous-no argument there. And perhaps there should have been hints to Bolton involvement when Osha, Bran, and Rickon saw the ruins of Winterfell (like a flayed corpse or two perhaps,) but I think Theons whole story arc was just about perfect and one of the best points of season 2. Though, arguably Alfie deserves more credit for that than D&D but frankly I think the show version works even better than in the books.

        • Fourten says:

          No, it wasn’t good television, it was fantastic television. Non-book readers don’t have the benefit of internal monologs, there can’t be a paragraph on screen that reads ‘the torture went on for months.’ The audience needed to be sold on what’s going on with Theon and what kind of person Ramsay is. They need to experience it getting worse and worse for him no matter how impossible that even happening seems to be or no one would have bought Theon’s transformation because no viewer thinks that kind of complete mental break could really happen despite what they might have heard on the news or from doctors or whomever.

          The best part is they didn’t even gore it up, most of what happened to Theon was in your imagination, just off screen.

          • artihcus022 says:

            Well in the books, we bought the torture not from internal monologues or paragraphs that Theon has been tortured. We read Reek’s POV and it took us a while to cotton that its actually Theon. We could have seen Theon!Reek months later and slowly gather hints that its Theon and learn what has happened to him.

            The fact that the show has prettied up Theon!Reek (no white hair, broken fingers and teeth, which considering that he’s not as much of a dandy handsome guy as book!theon works fine for the show) only makes it more unbelievable. The real trauma is the castration which is only suggested in the books and not the thing that Reek!Theon sees as the worst breaking point for him. In the show, its the culmination of an emasculation ritual.

          • Winnie says:

            I still thought it was excessive, but I admit I was grateful, we didn’t actually *see* the castration, (though don’t know if they had to keep that particular detail of Martin’s-not unless it has larger significance later on, because Theon can never have heirs.)

            I have to say though, that Alfie did act the hell out of it all-especially, “My name is Reek.”

          • Sean C. says:

            Season 3 permanently turned a lot of viewers off Theon’s arc (judging by reactions since then), so I don’t think that can be considered “fantastic television”.

            And I don’t think it was necessary for us to see all of that. Often what you don’t see is more effective (particularly when there isn’t actually much to “see” in terms of story).

          • Crystal says:

            And there’s also limits to what can be done with a real actor – it wouldn’t do to starve Alfie or cut off his fingers, and, besides, what can fly in a book is overdone with visual media. I think they did fine with the show Reekening.

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah, Alfie with false teeth, wrinkled skin, and white hair wouldn’t have really worked. But all that was unnecessary anyway because his thousand yard stare as Reek is actually much, MUCH more disturbing and effective than any of that ever could have been.

    • Roger says:

      It is not true Theon didn’t like common people. He was in friendly terms with many Winterfell servants, and felt guilty about their deaths.

  8. Keith B says:

    “In other words, we should see GRRM’s thumb pressing very hard down onto the scales of fate at this moment.”

    God is all powerful, so if He wants to destroy you, He will. Granted, the Theon chapters are great for showing how his sense of inferiority and wounded vanity are causing him to do horrible things. But the events are simply ridiculous:

    1. Robb would never have sent Theon to negotiate with his father. You don’t, you just don’t, give up your only leverage over someone who hates you in exchange for nothing. If Robb had tried to do that, not only his mother but all his advisers would have told him he was an idiot.

    2. Theon’s plan depended on Winderfell being completely defenseless, and Theon would know that would never happen as a result of attacking Torrhen’s Square. So he wouldn’t have done it.

    3. Even an eight year old like Bran Stark would know better than to send all of Winterfell’s troops. And if he didn’t, the grownups in charge would have overruled him.

    On what planet is this considered good story telling? Especially since GRRM is capable of doing much better. In the south, the only thing that can save the Lannisters is if their enemies fight each other, and there are perfectly good and almost inevitable reasons why that happens. But the Theon story makes no sense at all.

    Destroy your heroes if you must, but please try to convince me that it’s believable.

    • winnie says:

      You forgot to include the part where Balon invading the North without any dissident voices but Theon made NO SENSE.

      Martin gets praised a lot for his ‘realism’ but the fall of the Starks happened only because he wanted it…something a lot of people tend to forget who think the Starks were ‘inevitably doomed.’ They weren’t and they aren’t. …now the *Lannisters* on the other hand….

      • artihcus022 says:

        Well this is fantasy history, the questions asked is what if the Yorks lost the early part of the War of the Roses and Edward IV paid for his bad marriage choice. In history, King Edward IV got away with very little consequences for marrying Elizabeth Woodville, well at least as long as he was alive. The Lancasters were the underdogs and on the defensive during that war.

      • Crystal says:

        I thought the whole Ironborn invading the North plot was not very plausible in a number of ways. Balon was an idiot who could barely tie his own shoelaces, let alone rule, and I too wonder at the lack of dissenting voices. And why weren’t more of Robb’s bannermen – or at least the Blackfish! – saying WTF were you thinking sending Theon? I can see the author’s thumb on the scale here more than anywhere else, really.

        • Winnie says:

          Yeah, you’d think the Riverlords in particular would damn near mutiny at even the suggestion of releasing Theon.

        • “I thought the whole Ironborn invading the North plot was not very plausible in a number of ways. Balon was an idiot who could barely tie his own shoelaces, let alone rule, and I too wonder at the lack of dissenting voices.”

          Balon’s claim on power is predicated on his ability to make war on the rest of the 7 Kingdoms. The exact instant he saw vulnerability in the North he pounced like the jackal he is. Did it make sense? Not to us, and not really for the Iron Islands. But if not Balon, then _someone_, and over Balon’s dead body. So in a very real way, it made sense for _him_.

          Putting it differently: in contemporary gangs, the job of the leader is to direct violence by group members to targets outside the group, or else it will explode within the group.

          The fact that Balon helped create a system of incentives which would inevitably end in a stupid war is a whole other problem. But as an American who lived through 2003, I can’t say it’s implausible.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Right. The Ironborn are REALLY into their whole “born conquerors” mythology for the most part. I’ve no doubt plenty of people grumbled about Balon’s “Grand Conquest, Take 2”–in private. Do it in public, and there was a good chance you’d wind up beaten up, and possibly drowned. It’s easy to look at Quellon Greyjoy and say ‘why didn’t this keep going?’ and forget that Quellon based his reforms on being one badass mofo that you didn’t want to mess around with.

          • Lann says:

            The Old Way was probably much more effective when the Seven Kingdoms were seven different kingdoms and even more before that when there were ‘100’ petty kingdoms. Harrenhall is evidence of this. Once Aegon did his thing however some of their leaders failed to realise that it wouldn’t work any more.

      • Amestria says:

        It’s kinda implied that Balon did get talk back from the lords, what with his Northern invasion being so small.

    • Mr Fixit says:

      Yeah, this may be one of the least plausible plot twists Martin has written. I will never ever buy that an experienced commander like ser Rodrik would leave the capital of the whole damn kingdom defenseless in the middle of a war with enemy troops conducting surprise offensive operations in relative vicinity. That’s just preposterous.

      And even more preposterous is that once Rodrik chases off the Ironborn attacking Torrhen’s Square, he simply turns around, apparently takes even TS garrison with him, and marches back so that now a handful of Ironborn can conquer another worthy prize! I’m sorry but all of this makes no sense.

      • Roger says:

        Ser Rodrick is an experienced warrior and a drill sergeant. Not a veteran commander.

        • Mr Fixit says:

          You don’t need to be a veteran anything to understand that you don’t leave your capital undefended when there are enemy forces not so far away.

      • Lewis says:

        I never thought it was unrealistic, mostly for the reasons Asha gives Theon when she visits him at Winterfell. The Iron Men’s strength is in their navy. Balon and the other captains only strike at positions near the sea, they never contemplate an inland invasion because they don’t have the manpower. They’re just raiders and it seems to me Rodrik must have realized this. The attack by the Iron Men wasn’t a full scale invasion but a glorified raid. He must have figured the attack on Torrhen Square was also a raid, and that he could smash it before any reinforcements could march to Winterfell from Deepwood Motte. Those at least were my conclusions as I was reading the novel, and I they’re the same ones anyone would come to seeing the situation as it developed. Theon’s plan works because Rodrik doesn’t except the Iron Born to act like Northmen and strike a target so far inland.

    • Amestria says:

      I guess Rodrick just fell victim to the majesty of unconquerable Winterfell. He believed deep down that no one could ever harm it and so gave little thought to the necessity of its protection. Leaving Winterfell on the other hand appeared to him an extremely risky proposition and required nearly every man.

    • blacky says:

      Exactly. There were several points throughout the series where I could no longer suspend disbelief. I do like the world-building but the characters and plot have to make sense and ended up disappointing me. Maybe GRRM has spent too much time writing for the idiot box.

  9. David Hunt says:

    Another great chapter analysis, Steven. I was just trying to figure out why these Theon chapters evoke such different feelings than Cercei’s chapters in AFFC. Both of them are working hard at engineering their own destruction. However, with Cercei I find the whole book to be like the fascination of watching some traffic accident about to happen. You know it’s coming and it’s going to be brutal, but you can’t look away. With Theon, I just feel a growing disgust with him. I speculate that it’s Theon’s whininess in his internal monologue versus Cercei’s classical raging against fate.

    Sidenote: one of my favorite Theon moments is coming up next. Right after he takes Winterfell he tells the assemble residents that he’ll be as good a lord and kind a lord as Eddard ever was while, at that very moment, some of his men are beating a man right in front of them. It’s the emblematic pre-Reek Theon for me.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      That’s because Cersei’s entire life plan revolves around a vague prophecy she heard 20 years ago, whereas Theon’s just a garden variety idiot.

    • winnie says:

      Also besides the dramatic irony of Cersei’s attempts to subvert the prophecy only making it all the more likely there was a certain schadenfreude in seeing Tywin’s daughter burn down his whole legacy. You got a sick satisfaction picturing him grinding his teeth in hell. It was as poetic as it was inevitable.

      While Theon by way of contrast wasn’t just guarantering his own self destruction but also hurting Robb’s campaign and the reason WF got burned

      • David Hunt says:

        Tywin wouldn’t grind his teeth in Hell. That would be Stannis’ thing. Tywin would simply glare at her from Hell and she’d feel uncomfortable for no discernible reason.

    • Crystal says:

      Pre-Reek Theon reminds me a bit of uncle Vic in his self-righteous pissantry. “Waah! Daddy loves my sister more than me, I’ll show both of them!” “Waah, my brother raped my wife so now I simply HAD to beat HER to death! I’ll steal HIS future wife, that’ll show him!” I can’t say that any of the Greyjoy males we have seen, except Euron, are overburdened with brains.

      Asha recalled that her mother, Alannys, raised her to be fierce, so I wonder how much of this was vengeful on Alannys’ part. I can’t imagine being married to Balon Greyjoy was much fun for her. Having to watch two of her sons die and a third get taken hostage due to a dumb war your husband started had to have hurt. No wonder she had a nervous breakdown and went back to live with her brother.

      • Winnie says:

        And Asha was clearly influenced by the Reader who was (unsurprisingly considering the competition,) her favorite uncle.

      • Space Oddity says:

        To be fair to Victarion–and I can’t believe I just wrote that, but there you go–I get the impression the major reason he makes the entire matter of his late wife about HIM is because if he didn’t, he’d have to admit much of his grief is guilt over doing a bad thing. And that would mean acknowledging he saw his salt wife as a person, and that he is capable of missing her as more than just a convenient bedmate. Which goes against everything he has trained himself to believe, so it all goes into the box of things Victarion refuses to look into and he constantly tells himself that he hates Euron because of what he did to HIM and HIS honor. And nothing else.

        • David Hunt says:

          There’s no problem with being fair to Victarion, or anyone else. He comes out looking really bad under a fair assessment. So do Tywin, Littlefinger, Euron, Joffrey, etc. You can still be fair to them while drenching them in scorn. Tywin made a good decision in sending Tyrion to King’s Landing. That doesn’t mean that his war crimes as policy in the RIverlands isn’t monstrous. A good does not wipe out the bad, or a bad the good. I think I read that somewhere…

  10. winnie says:

    Two more points I need to add….

    1. Loved Steve’s comment about Thein going for the get rich quick scheme over a sweat equity strategy….but isn’t that typical for the Iron Born in general?!? They’re not interested in building up trade and/or industry but simply appropriating what isn’t theirs.

    2. Thanks for getting this up so quickly! We all needed a distraction after that last episode.

  11. new djinn says:

    Good analisys. GRRM plotting for Theon’s victory is obvious, even blatant. Actually, the show choice of avoiding Ramsay works best, it avoids the somewhat convoluted reason to keep Reek/Ramsay around in WF. Of course, it also creates some problems down the line, but those could be solved easy enough. It’s funny how the ”Old Way” elevates martial virtues but loyalty doesn’t seem to one of them, when push comes to shove, ironborn always betray others(even each other).

    • artihcus022 says:

      In the books they don’t. The only time the Ironborn betray is at Moat Cailin after the Iron Fleet leaves for the Kingsmoot and the crannogmen snipe them enough till they have no choice left but to frag their boss and surrender.

    • winnie says:

      True but in the books we also learn that Greyjoys have a long history of murdering each other and there was Steve’s point about how they happily rob their own dead. No, solidarity doesn’t appear to be a long standing virtue among IB ‘soldiers’.

      • artihcus022 says:

        Its just one of the many tiny adaptational choices the show made. I mean at the time I didn’t mind it so much, but in retrospect after Season 5, you can see they fundamentally misread the books every step of the way. Ironborn culture is evil but the Ironborn soldiers aren’t worse/ more incompetent than the soldiers of other armies.

        And Theon’s story in Book 5 is gone. The reason most of the torture is off-book is that it wasn’t the author’s story. It’s about Theon becoming the Theon he should have been at the start, after having everything taken from him (his good looks, his youth, his skill at arms) and finally becoming Theon again. The show is about Theon becoming Reek and then redeeming him by reducing everyone to his level. Not creative or worthy of the slightest respect.

        • Winnie says:

          I think we *are* going to see Reek become Theon again-it’s just that its taking time. Yes, we saw Theon become Reek in seasons 3&4, so now we’re seeing what returns him to Theon again in Season Five. His admitting the truth to Sansa about Bran and Rickon was a sign she’s starting to get through to him.

          • artihcus022 says:

            The point is even in the books Theon slowly stops being Reek less and less as we read him. The chapter titles shows this, he’s only Reek for the first three of his 7 POV chapters in the books, the minute he comes to Winterfell, his identity starts shifting and his guilt towards his childhood and the Starks take over.The torture he suffers in the books is more extensive but its not as effective in the show, Reek never really has his identity erased he’s just been stimulated by torture.

            And I am sorry, I just cannot imagine Book!Theon being in that situation with Sansa and not snapping back. His equation with Jeyne, his guilt towards the Starks would not let him do that to him even under the worst torture. After seeing the show do that, I honestly don’t care about Theon’s redemption.

    • Mitch says:

      Eh, I loved the Reek/Ramsay reveal at the end of ACOK and don’t think it would’ve been all that difficult to set it up in season 2 of the show.

      Also, I don’t think it requires too much thinking to see why Theon made use of Reek when he first took over Winterfell: Theon assumed that the enemy of his enemy was his friend. Ramsay made it even easier by making himself quite useful in the meantime until he was presented with an opportunity to gain the upper hand.

      He’s such a spectacular villain, I felt a little let down by the show portrayal, if only because show Ramsay has a dark sense of humor and a little mischievousness mixed with his evil, whereas book Ramsay is just pure, uncut evil.

  12. Winnie says:

    For the record, I know you believe Steve, that Theon is going to go back to the Iron Islands with Asha so another Kingsmoot can be held, but I wonder how he’s going to avoid being killed by Stannis first. I’m not saying there couldn’t be a last minute save there, and Chekhov’s Gun is in play but maybe Martin, (crafty bastard that he is,) is trying to subvert Chekhov’s Gun by giving us a Red Herring.

    Also again, there is the matter that Theon can’t father children, so any future heirs would *have* to come from Asha (perhaps be fathered by Krakens-unless she changes her mind about Tristefer.) Unless of course, Martin plans to have at least *one* pretty important injury of Theon’s healed via magic which seems unlikely. Especially since the only kind of magic that could do something like that, is probably blood magic and/or sacrifice and who could even do the spell…or who could be the ‘offering’ is hard to figure out. Still Martin *has* used such magic as a plot device before; Bran waking from his coma, the dragons hatching, Renly’s murder via Shadow baby, Lady Stoneheart, etc. etc, which makes Theon’s future path even harder to predict.

    • Grant says:

      I think that Bran may be the one to stop Stannis. I recall hearing that the execution was set up to take place at a weir wood.

      • Winnie says:

        Good point, but what would make Stannis start listening to Bran?!? Unless Bran’s going to help Theon and/or Asha escape somehow which seems unlikely.

        For that matter why would it be important to *Bran* that Theon live?!?

        • Grant says:

          If he’s to be executed for the murder of Bran and Rickon Stark, then this would at least clear those charges (though Theon is still a child murderer sadly). The question of why Bran would want to help him is a good one. It’s possible that it would be due to the old memories of times before Eddard went south, or maybe Brynden would see a use for him. Only Martin can say, and he hides his secrets behind symbolism, plot points mentioned three books ago and side conversations between characters so minor they don’t even get a name.

        • John says:

          My heart tells me that Theon has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bran may rule the fate of many.

          • Winnie says:

            I think you may be right but determining Theon’s future role is tricky-ESPECIALLY since a lot of people at this point, feel it might be more merciful to just kill him and end his suffering.

            Unless Theon’s death *is* the role he must play-some kind of blood sacrifice for some greater goal.

        • Bran knows things. If there’s a secret way into Winterfell, possible futures etc.

  13. John says:

    Are you going to address later the WI of Theon taking Bran and Rickon (and the Freys, and Jojen and Meera) hostage and heading back to the Iron Islands instead of trying to hold Winterfell? Because I think that’s a significant one.

    • John says:

      All right, since nobody else is replying, I’ll elaborate a bit myself. Firstly, Theon comes off this looking pretty decent. He launched a daring raid that netted him some valuable hostages, while also accomplishing his mission. If he can take Torrhen’s Square, too, he might be able to get Tallhart hostages, as well.

      Bran and Rickon would be valuable hostages for getting Robb to potentially offer some kind of terms, if Balon has an interest in that. Furthermore, I’m sure Balon would very much enjoy the reversal of fortunes, of Ned Stark’s sons being his own hostages, just as his own son had to be Ned’s for so many years. I’m not sure the practical benefit, though, since even threats to Bran and Rickon aren’t going to get Robb to concede the North to the Ironborn, and that is supposedly Balon’s goal.

      Jojen and Meera would also be *very useful* hostages, because their father is the primary opponent of the main Ironborn invasion force. Their presence as hostages would be intensely useful for the health of Victarion’s army at Moat Cailin.

      • winnie says:

        Both good points. I don’t think it would have made much difference in the war but it *would* have put Theon in a very good position at the Kingsmoot (especially if he’d had the sense to also make a deal with Asha and/or one of his uncles.)

        That is assuming Euron didn’t kill him as well but since he probably didn’t have 2 dragons eggs to trade there’s a chance Theon might have survived a little while.

  14. Andrew says:

    1. Dagmer is actually one of the few Ironborn I actually like besides the Reader and Asha. He may believe in the Old Way like the rest of the sheep, but he is practically the only Ironborn who shows Theon any humanity and compassion. From what Theon thinks, Dagmer was more a father to him than Balon on the Iron Isles.

    2. As for the attack on the fishing village, there is a level of hypocrisy to the Ironborn. They call the crannogmen cravens for using guerrilla tactics yet to give the crannogmen credit, their targets are fully-armed warriors while the Ironborn’s targets are unarmed civilians.

    3. Dagmer mentions that the Old Way disdains siege warfare. If that is the case, then Balon’s plan is made more daunting by the fact that he will need to take WF eventually, which has walls 80 and 100 feet high respectively. From the look of it, the Ironborn method of taking a castle is by storming it, a good way to maximize casualties.

    • Winnie says:

      1. Good point about Theon looking to Dagmer as a daddy figure-if only he’d met up with uncle Harlaw instead….

      2. Agreed. And the crannogmen are defending their homeland from invaders.

      3. Again…nothing about Balon’s plan ever made sense. NOTHING!!!

    • Grant says:

      Well, the Ironborn probably haven’t stormed many castles in centuries. That’s their problem, it’s been a very long time since they’ve done any kind of major action besides ships (and look how well that went for their last rebellion) so they don’t really have much realization of just what they’re planning entails.

      These aren’t the same men who dominated the Riverlands and cut down armies of the Storm King, but they insist they can replicate those feats.

      • Andrew says:

        That’s because Harwyn Hardhand was experienced in combat on land, and they used the density of rivers in the region to their advantage being able to transport large numbers of men more quickly than anything on land akin to the Prussians using trains to transport large numbers of troops, giving them one advantage over the Austrians. The people of the riverlands were also largely opposed to the Storm Kings’ rule with a number of riverlords joining Harwyn against the Storm King.

        The North has no such benefits with a lower density of rivers combined with being close to the same size as the rest of the 7K in terms of landmass. The Northern lords and smallfolk with the exception of the Boltons were supportive of the Starks’ rule. No one was going to side with the Ironborn in the North.

        • winnie says:

          Sadly, with the exception of the Reader none of these people seem to have read their history.

          Also their relative isolation from the Green Lands is working against them too. Asha became more skeptical about the Northern invasion only after she’d seen the North for herself. I think she was just too divorced from mainland politics and warfare all her life to realize how crazy Balon’s plan was but she got a crash lesson by AFFC. Too little too late though. ..

          • Space Oddity says:

            Look, if it isn’t clear the “Old Way” is basically a bunch of old pirates bitching about how back in the good old days the Ironborn were real men, not like now, with little actual resemblance to the real old days…

          • Crystal says:

            @ Space Oddity – I recall Steven comparing the Ironborn longing for the “Old Way” with the Southern whites who long for the “good old days” of the Confederacy. I think this is so apt. They think they’re tough and badass, most people see meth-addled braindead losers strutting around.

          • I don’t think she was that isolated. She did travel and raid other places. I always got the impression she was going along with the plan to secure her position and curry favor. It’s why I’ve never liked Asha. Theon was stupid in how he approached his father but he was right. Asha seemed to be playing into her father’s madness.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Asha has likely raided the Stepstones on occasion. That is not the same thing as having conducted a war, or spent enough time immersed in mainland culture to really get it.

            Though it has likely swollen her head just a tad. She and Theon are very much siblings, even if Asha is just a tad more self-aware.

          • winnie says:

            I think like Balon, Asha made the mistake of assuming that the relatively easy victories in piracy she made in the Stepstones were a sign of exceptional military prowess. Only later after the Northern invasion did she begin to realize how unsuited the Iron Born were to land war.

            And yeah megalomania definitely runs in the family. You definitely get the sense of her getting a rude awakening in ADWD not only by the desperate nature of the military situation but because of the fact that she was rejected politically in part because of her gender which must have been very bitter since she tried so hard to stylize herself as an Exceptional Woman.

      • WPA says:

        Also, the “Old Way” probably eschews sieges for very good reason: it’s based on quick, highly mobile attacks transported by small, shallow-draft longships. They’d have a hard time producing, much less transporting siege equipment to the mainland- and so they’d have to produce their own on the spot by logging- except that also runs contra to their ethos- while also hindering their mobility.

        So yeah, it seems their general rule would be storm, raid, or bust.

        • Andrew says:

          Goo point. Hit and run is the preferred method, true. That is the result of the Iron Isles being the least populous of the Seven Kingdoms, and would want to avoid pitched battles.

          The focus is on raids on the coast or ship-to-ship combat not land-based warfare.

  15. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, please allow me to compliment you on turning out another finely-polished and keenly-honed article; Everybody else, will you please allow me to join the DAMN THE IRONBORN club?

    (Speaking of which, Maester Steven may I please ask if you believe the rumours that King Baelor the Beloved was planning to join those ranks by launching a Holy War against the Iron Isles and the North? One must admit that given his long history of genuine pacifism it seems very hard to swallow this claim, although that all-encompassing piety of his makes the Septon King something of an unpredictable fellow).

    I really loathe those ******* pirates and I’m not too keen on The Vikings either (the revisionist historians should perhaps remember that ‘Alive’ doesn’t necessarily mean “Healthy, happy and unharmed”).

    I do have to admit that it is interesting to wonder if the raiders who sacked so many of the Island Monasteries and the invaders who fell in with the ranks of the Great Heathen Army were one and the same or if the latter represents a mainstream of society following some of the wilder fringe into strange new worlds …

  16. Roger says:

    Even the more severe commanders have problems controling their men. Even the most sensible Soviet officers thought twice before trying to stop their drunk, heavily armed, shellshocked men from sacking and raping Germany. Especialy after Stalin’s propaganda had depicted Germany as a monstruous agressor deserving vengeance.

    Theon is in a similiar position. He doesn’t like what his men do, but he knows he can’t stop men. They are obeying his father’s orders. And Damphair is here to tell them that’s their religious right, too. And if Theon gets troublesome, uncle Aeron can take his command.
    Of course a highly moral man would refuse to follow that murderous orders, but Theon is not that man.

    Theon is self-compassive, right. Self-righteous, right. Somewhat spoiled, right. But he has some good reasons for it. Eddard Stark wasn’t a surrogate father, for him. A fatherly figuere sometimes, yes. But that doesn’t mean there was love. He was there. And also was Ice. The sword that would have beheaded Theon, had Balon rebeled again. Eddard was Theon tutor and gaoler.

    Theon liked Robb, yes. But sometimes Robb treats him like some sort of lackey. A lackey he apreciates, yeah. Like Jory Cassel. He uses him as explorer and soldier, yes. But not as officer. He doesn’t promises him lands, the hand of an apropiate woman, nothing.

    What future has Theon in the North? If Robb dies, he is lost. The other Starks aren’t as apreciative of him. Catelyn Stark mistrusts him, and never gave him any love. Other Northermen and Rivermen mistrust him too, even after fighting with them. No lands, no titles, no money. No future in the North. Even Jon Snow had better perspectives.

    Being a dutiful son is no option. Balon Greyjoy won’t respect a son unless he’s as bold as himself. That’s why he chosed Asha instead of Victarion as his heir. Also only an espectacular victory can impress his father’s vassals.

    • winnie says:

      True being a dutiful son probably wouldn’t have impressed Balon but Asha and the Reader would have respected Theon a bit more and he may have even had a chance at the Kingsmoot-and most importantly he would never have fallen into Ramsay’s clutches.

      • Crystal says:

        And there was Baelor Blacktyde, the Botleys, and Lord Merlyn, all of whom seemed receptive to a “New Way” as it were. (Tristifer Botley’s dad was killed by Euron for saying that Theon was Balon’s rightful heir.) One of Theon’s weaknesses when going to the Islands was not being able to take advantage of a potential coalition. Unfortunately he thought only in terms of “I want to impress Daddy and be a REAL Ironborn!”

        • Roger says:

          I think WINNIE, CRYSTAL had an interesting idea: Theon and Asha forming a “peace party” at the Kingsmoat could have been a winning combo. Until Uncle Crow’s Eye blows his horn…

      • Roger says:

        Theon didn’t really knew Asha. And she didn’t take any step to win his friendship. In fact, she did exactly the oposite.

        • Crystal says:

          That’s a good point – Theon was ten and Asha thirteen (or so) when Theon went to live at Winterfell. There is no indication that Theon corresponded with his birth family from there. It seems that they were practically strangers when they met again.

          In Asha’s POV chapters in AFFC we don’t see her reminiscing about the older two brothers (Rodrik and Maron) very much, either. Her nostalgia is all for her mother and uncle and the time she spent at Ten Towers. I surmise that Asha spent *much* more of her childhood pre-Balon’s-Rebellion at Ten Towers with her uncle (who seems the type to wish he had a daughter) instead of at Pyke with her parents and brothers. Then her two oldest brothers are killed and Theon sent away and all of a sudden Daddy brings her back to dote on and *then* she bonds with him. I don’t think Asha was close to any of her brothers, ever.

  17. Roger says:

    I’ve an interesting idea for a what if: WHAT IF THEON HAD REMAINED AT PYKE?

    Let’s imagine Balon mistrusts Theon so much he decides to keep him at hand. Not as a prisioner, but in the Islands. To visit his mother, show him the land, mock at him, milk all possible info about the North, etc. Damphair and Dagmer can sack Stony Shore as well as anyone.

    Let’s suppose Theon doesn’t lose the time chasing skirts (not many pretty girls on the Isles, after all) and talks with his father’s liege. There are many who don’t want a war. The Reader. Young lord Blacktyde and Theon has suffered similar experiences (war, exile, raised in different cultures). Other lords will follow (Farwind, for example).

    He can create a “peace party”. Or a pro-Stark party. After their rebellion is AGAINST Jeoffrey in the first place. They attack Starks first, yeah. But the first juridic act is proclaming independence from the Iron Throne.
    With Asha, Victarion and Aeron far from home, it could be a good moment for changing things at home.

    • David Hunt says:

      That’s an interesting idea, but there’s no way in the Seven Hells that Theon would ever be the guy to do that. Plus, if Balon didn’t even trust Theon enough to send him on a reaving mission with the Damphair looking over his shoulder, then the moment that Theon started making noises about peace, the best he could hope for is to stuck in Pyke and never let out, perhaps to tragically fall from one of the bridges one night leaving his other “son” Asha to inherit.

    • winnie says:

      If Theon stays on Pike my guess is he’s either killed by Euron or has to flee like Asha.

      Of course either way he never goes near Ramsay so that puts him ahead and WF never falls so that puts Robb ahead.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, I’m re-reading and just got to the chapter in ADWD where Roose tells Reek/Theon that he owes him a great debt because the moment Theon took Winterfell, the Starks were doomed. I interpret this as him admitting that the moment he heard about this was when he decided that he was going to betray the Starks to the Lannisters in addition to sabotaging his rival lords by sending their men into the meat-grinder portions of battles, etc

        Of course, anything that Roose says there is suspect as he absolutely knows that anything he tells Reek will get back to Ramsay. Therefore, all the BS he says about how it’s probably better if Ramsay kills any sons he gets on Fat Walda needs to be considered in the light that he knows Ramsay will hear that. His reasoning that boy lords are the bane of noble houses may have some truth, but it rest on the presumption that Roose thinks the Ramsay isn’t going to be even worse. I think that he’s saying this convince Ramsay he’s got plenty of time and put him at ease so he won’t see the knife coming. He won’t feel the need to kill off Walda on the quick before she can produce a son.

        • winnie says:

          I think its entirely possible that Roose will turn on Ramsay who has not only outlived his usefulness but is now a serious liability.

          But I do think he was telling the truth about the fall of WF sending him into outright treachery. He was always playing the angles at his rivals expense but prior to the loss of Winterfell I don’t think he was ready to risk the RW.

          • David Hunt says:

            Oh yeah. That’s my assessment as well. I’d only amend my previous statement to say that when Roose heard about the fall of WF was when he COMMITTED to betraying the Starks to the Lannisters. I suspect that he was looking for a viable offramp from the beginning…just in case. That’s who he is. If Robb had achieved all his aims and gotten the Iron Throne to recognize an independent North, Roose would have been the very model of a loyal vassal. He’s the CONTROLLED psychopath in the family.

            I agree that he was telling the truth about that point, as it’s important to him that throughout this conversation, he keep treating Reek like Theon Greyjoy so that he can see if he’s up to playing a part in Ramsay’s wedding to fArya. He didn’t say anything that could really be considered incriminating and he’s almost certainly planning on getting rid of Theon when he kills Ramsay.

        • Crystal says:

          I have always thought that Roose was telling the truth (for once) that “the Starks were done and doomed once you took Winterfell.” That was when Roose (and Walder Frey) full-on turned traitor. Roose was always hedging his bets, true – he wanted plausible deniability no matter who won, and Robb could well have crushed the Lannisters while Winterfell was intact, so Roose wasn’t going to do *much* until then. I think that the sack of Winterfell was the turning point.

  18. […] Ironborn he wants to be – almost against his own will, and certainly contrary to his comments earlier, Theon keeps equating Eddard Stark with the way a lord should behave, but finding it impossible to […]

  19. Darren Wagner says:

    We can see this made manifest in two people who Theon specifically has killed – Benfred Tallhart and Todric – because Theon doesn’t consider peasants to be real people, he has to have it shoved in his face before he understands. It’s crucial therefore that Theon Greyjoy be responsible for the death or someone he knows:

    The number of Nobles that consider peasants real people in this series can be counted on one hand.

  20. […] his dreams. Because he’s a self-delusional man but not a stupid one, Theon knows that his storied accomplishment is built on foundations of […]

  21. […] the past, I’ve talked a bit about the early Viking attacks on England. But it was a far distance from these opportunistic raids to the kingdom that would be known to […]

  22. […] that’s due to Theon’s essential charisma or the Ironborn’s devotion to their superior race/death cult mentality, I leave up to you. Unfortunately for Theon, this momentary high doesn’t last before the […]

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