Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon IV, ACOK

“Mercy was for the morning,” said Theon. It is better to be feared than laughed at. “Before they made me angry.”

Synopsis: Everything goes wrong for Theon all at once. Luckily, Reek is there to provide some sage advice.

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:

Theon IV is a stress-nightmare of a chapter, one of those ones where you can’t find what you’re looking for, you’re running late, everything you do is wrong, and every time you make a mistake everyone’s watching. And this queasy, sick feeling is absolutely necessary, because otherwise the sheer bro-tastic, entitled, fragile maschismo would be overpowering to the extreme.

Instead, what we get is Theon’s inferiority complex trying desperately to overcompensate, to reassure itself that everything’s ok. And because it’s Theon, he of course turns to sex and a bit of gendered oppression to bolster his sense of manhood:

All’s well, Greyjoy. Hear the quiet? You ought to be drunk with joy. You took Winterfell with fewer than thirty men, a feat to sing of. Theon started back to bed. He’d roll Kyra on her back and fuck her again, that ought to banish these phantoms. Her gasps and giggles would make a welcome respite from this silence.

Unfortunately for Theon, sex only works momentarily to exorcise the specters haunting 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 sand:

“Go back to sleep, this does not concern you.” Theon poured himself a cup of wine and drank it down. All the time he was listening, hoping to hear a howl. Too few men, he thought sourly. I have too few men. If Asha does not come…

He wondered if Stygg had reached Deepwood Motte yet. The man was not as skilled a rider as he claimed—none of the ironmen were much good in the saddle—but there’d been time enough. Asha might well be on her way. And if she learns that I have lost the Starks…It did not bear thinking about.

As I’ve said before, Theon’s capture of Winterfell is a microcosm of the Ironborn invasion of the North. Just as Theon doesn’t have enough men to hold the castle, so too does his people not have enough men to hold the North; just as Theon is separated from reinforcements, so too have the Ironborn put seven hundred miles of the North between their footholds at Deepwood Motte and Moat Cailin; just as Theon’s men are poor horsemen, so too are the Ironborn not suited for fighting in the vast interior of the North, so far from the water. And these weaknesses have directly lead to him losing his major prize:

Bran’s bedchamber was empty, as was Rickon’s half a turn below. Theon cursed himself. He should have kept a guard on them, but he’d deemed it more important to have men walking the walls and protecting the gates than to nursemaid a couple of children, one a cripple.

The Escape

Theon’s rest is cut short by a sudden realization of an absence – that Bran and Rickon’s direwolves are no longer howling, and that where the direwolves have gone, so too have the Stark princes. And this leads to an interesting digression where Theon suddenly turns into a detective. It’s a nice little moment that both reminds us that Theon is quite clever, but also allows George R.R Martin to show Osha’s cunning escape in a forensic retrospective:

They found Squint floating facedown in the moat, his entrails drifting behind him like a nest of pale snakes. Drennan lay half-naked in the gatehouse, in the snug room where the drawbridge was worked. His throat had been opened ear to ear. A ragged tunic concealed the half-healed scars on his back, but his boots were scattered amidst the rushes, and his breeches tangled about his feet. There was cheese on a small table near the door, beside an empty flagon. And two cups.

…Theon flung the cup into the hearth. “I’d say Drennan was pulling down his breeches to stick it in the woman when she stuck it in him. His own cheese knife, by the look of it. Someone find a pike and fish the other fool out of the moat.”

…”The direwolves,” Theon said. “Both of them, at a guess.” Disgusted, he walked back to the drawbridge. Winterfell was encircled by two massive granite walls, with a wide moat between them. The outer wall stood eighty feet high, the inner more than a hundred. Lacking men, Theon had been forced to abandon the outer defenses and post his guards along the higher inner walls. He dared not risk having them on the wrong side of the moat should the castle rise against him.

There had to be two or more, he decided. While the woman was entertaining Drennan, the others freed the wolves.

Theon called for a torch and led them up the steps to the wallwalk. He swept the flame low before him, looking for…there. On the inside of the rampart and in the wide crenel between two upthrust merlons. “Blood,” he announced, “clumsily mopped up. At a guess, the woman killed Drennan and lowered the drawbridge. Squint heard the clank of chains, came to have a look, and got this far. They pushed the corpse through the crennel into the moat so he wouldn’t be found by another sentry.”

As we’ll see, there’s an interesting parallel between Bran and Rickon’s escape from Winterfell and Arya’s escape from Harrenhal. In both cases, the putatively stronger guards are overcome by supposedly weaker protagonists – women, children (in Arya’s case both a woman and a child), the mentally handicapped, and the physically handicapped – who use subterfuge and their opponent’s weaknesses against them. In this case, we have Osha using lust to kill Drennan (a serial rapist, as we can see from his scars) and open the drawbridge for the direwolves, who in turn kill Squint. In Arya’s chapter, she uses Jaqen’s coin and the guard’s greed to carry out her first assassination and escape.

For Theon, though, this escape throws him into a tailspin of self-recrimination, second-guessing, and Monday quarterbacking. As we see above, Theon’s lack of manpower meant that his guards are working solo, with many watch towers with “torches, but no guards,” as “Winterfell has more turrets than I have men.” Both Drennan and Squint die alone, where even one man by their side could have saved them, or at least raised the alarm. But Theon’s mistakes don’t end there, as far as he’s concerned. In addition to blaming himself for not putting guards on the two princes, Theon muses that “…I should have had those beasts put down the day we took the castle,” when he contemplates the direwolves, and retroactively suspects “Osha…from the moment he saw that second cup. I should have known better than to trust that one. She’s as unnatural as Asha. Even their names sound alike.” (On a side note, look at how Asha is built up throughout this chapter as this ominous force that’s about to come crashing down on him in the very next Theon chapter.) 

Pictured: Not Theon’s relationship with the smallfolk.

Theon’s Idea of Lordship

All of these themes come together, as Theon assembles the smallfolk of Winterfell to address them as their lord. As we saw in Bran VI, ultimately he is attempting the impossible by trying to be both the conqueror and the protector:

Outside he heard sobbing as the castle folk were pulled from their beds and driven into the yard. I’ll give them reason to sob. I’ve used them gently, and this is how they repay me. He’d even had two of his own men whipped bloody for raping that kennel girl, to show them he meant to be just. They still blame me for the rape, though. And the rest. He deemed that unfair. Mikken had killed himself with his mouth, just as Benfred had. As for Chayle, he had to give someone to the Drowned God, his men expected it. “I bear you no ill will,” he’d told the septon before they threw him down the well, “but you and your gods have no place here now.” You’d think the others might be grateful he hadn’t chosen one of them, but no. He wondered how many of them were part of this plot against him…

The key line here is that “I’ve used them gently,” because it shows how genuine Theon’s narcissistic self-delusion is. In a brief few days, Theon has overseen the murder of Mikken, the rape of Palla, and the senseless execution of Septon Chayle (seriously, who ruins a potentially vital well?), and yet here he is absolutely dripping with outraged defensiveness that anyone might be upset at him, let alone help the boys escape. Theon believes that he deserves loyalty because he punished a rape committed by his own men after the fact – a violation that would not have happened if he hadn’t seized Winterfell – which is one of the worst cases of wanting praise for doing the bare minimum. At the very same moment, Theon both throws blame on his victims for making him kill them and darkly threatens (in the privacy of his own head) to do it again to anyone who doesn’t show him enough loyalty, which completely undercuts his pretensions to benevolence.

Ultimately, Theon’s quest for legitimacy and respect is doomed to failure, both because of his responsibility for everything bad that’s happened to the smallfolk of Winterfell (and indeed, everything that will continue to happen to these poor servants) and because both he and they know that Bran and Rickon are their true lords:

“Bran and Rickon have fled,” he told the castle folk, watching their eyes. “Who knows where they’ve gone?” No one answered. “They could not have escaped without help,” Theon went on. “Without food, clothing, weapons.” He had locked away every sword and axe in Winterfell, but no doubt some had been hidden from him. “I’ll have the names of all those who aided them. All those who turned a blind eye.” The only sound was the wind. “Come first light, I mean to bring them back.” He hooked his thumbs through his swordbelt. “I need huntsmen. Who wants a nice warm wolfskin to see them through the winter? Gage?” The cook had always greeted him cheerfully when he returned from the hunt, to ask whether he’d brought anything choice for the table, but he had nothing to say now. Theon walked back the way he had come, searching their faces for the least sign of guilty knowledge. “The wild is no place for a cripple. And Rickon, young as he is, how long will he last out there? Nan, think how frightened he must be.” The old woman had nattered at him for ten years, telling her endless stories, but now she gaped at him as if he were some stranger. “I might have killed every man of you and given your women to my soldiers for their pleasure, but instead I protected you. Is this the thanks you offer?” Joseth who’d groomed his horses, Farlen who’d taught him all he knew of hounds, Barth the brewer’s wife who’d been his first—not one of them would meet his eyes. They hate me, he realized.

Look at the way that Theon stumbles from posture to posture – first, he threatens them with punishment over disloyalty, but both he and they know it’s an empty gesture with nothing to back it up. Second, and the order is key here, he then tries to appeal to former friendships, but that doesn’t work after you’ve threatened some one. Third, he appeals to concern for Bran and Rickon’s safety, but that doesn’t work when you’ve already talked jovially about murdering the wolves who have saved the lives of the Stark children repeatedly. Fourth, he appeals to his supposed posture as their protector, but at the end of the day, all he’s offering them protection from is himself. And thus in a sickening silence, Theon realizes the truth; that his pretensions to be the Prince of Winterfell through some sort of consent are false, and that he’s outnumbered, surrounded, and very much alone.

So in the end, he has to resort to some of the most odious tactics imaginable to secure the minimum level of support:

…”Farlen, I’ll want hounds, and you to handle them.”

The grizzled kennelmaster crossed his arms. “And why would I care to hunt down my own trueborn lords, and babes at that?”

Theon moved close. “I am your trueborn lord now, and the man who keeps Palla safe.”

He saw the defiance die in Farlen’s eyes. “Aye, m’lord.”

Let’s start with the fact that Theon is basically threatening Farlen with having his daughter raped. That’s morally odious on its own. But to compound that by claiming he keeps her “safe” while ignoring the fact that Palla has already been raped on his watch is moral odiousness without moral odiousness’ basic honesty of purpose. And it’s a perfect encapsulation of how broken Theon’s theory of lordship is – demanding loyalty for doing the bare minimum, while threatening the weakest and most helpless into serving him. For all that Theon might think of Eddard Stark when he’s raiding the Stony Shore, he practices the opposite of Eddard’s hands-on benevolent paternalism.

The Hunt

Thus, without willing support from the people of Winterfell, Theon sets forth to hunt the Starks in their own country. And as we’d expect, it all starts with Theon being ridiculously overconfident and brutal in a casual, bro-esque kind of way:

“Thus far hunting seems indistinguishable from riding through the woods, my lord.”

Theon smiled. “There are similarities. But with hunting, there’s blood at the end.”

And of course, it all falls apart immediately when Theon’s new macho identity – being a stud with Kyra didn’t work, being a lord with the smallfolk didn’t work, so let’s try being a hunter – is undercut by his sloppiness and overconfidence:

…Appalled, Theon saw it was true. The wolves had gone into the turgid brown water alone. “Osha must have turned aside back of us. Before the elk, most likely. She sent the wolves on by themselves, hoping we’d chase after them.” He rounded on his huntsmen. “If you two have played me false—”

…Somehow Osha and the wretched boys were eluding him. It should not have been possible, not on foot, burdened with a cripple and a young child. Every passing hour increased the likelihood that they would make good their escape. If they reach a village…The people of the north would never deny Ned Stark’s sons, Robb’s brothers. They’d have mounts to speed them on their way, food. Men would fight for the honor of protecting them. The whole bloody north would rally around them.

The wolves went downstream, that’s all. He clung to that thought. That red bitch will sniff where they came out of the water and we’ll be after them again.

Once again, Osha proves smarter than Theon, using the elk to get the hunters to tunnel vision the hunters into following the wolves and then setting up the river crossing to make Theon think that they’ve tried to hide their scent by going down the riverbed, but actually splitting up. And just as with his awakening and realization of the escape, Theon’s initial optimism is cut out underneath him, plunging him into sickening reality:

But when they joined up with Farlen’s party, one look at the kennelmaster’s face smashed all of Theon’s hopes to shards.

It was the same tale all over again when they rejoined Gariss, Murch, and Aggar. The huntsmen had retraced their steps halfway to Winterfell without finding any sign of where the Starks might have parted company with the direwolves. Farlen’s hounds seemed as frustrated as their masters, sniffing forlornly at trees and rocks and snapping irritably at each other.

The Dilemma of Mercy

The failure of his hunt leaves Theon standing at a practical and moral crossroads. On a practical level, he knows that he can no longer press on and recapture Bran and Rickon, returning to his shaky status quo: “When the woods began to darken, Theon Greyjoy knew he was beaten. Either the crannogmen did know the magic of the children of the forest, or else Osha had deceived them with some wildling trick.” On the other hand, he knows that returning empty-handed means a catastrophic loss of status: “...If he crept back to Winterfell empty-handed, he might as well dress in motley henceforth and wear a pointed hat; the whole North would know him for a fool. And when my father hears, and Asha…”

Once again, Theon is in danger of being held in contempt by both sides. If the North hears that Bran and Rickon are free, not only will he lose the fear that is his only means of holding onto power, but as he himself admits, “Ned Stark’s sons, Robb’s brothers” will provide a central point for the “whole bloody north [to] rally around,” in resistance to the invasion. (Indeed, as we’ll see in Theon VI, this happens even without the two boys) At the same time, if the Ironborn hear that Theon has been outwitted by children, he’ll lose any scrap of fame that they might have gained by exceeding his orders, and arguably be even less respected than he was back on Pyke.

On a moral level, ultimately Theon is wrestling with the question of whether or not to kill Bran and Rickon for publicly defying him, which in turn parallels his off-page decision to murder the miller’s boys in order to save face. Maester Luwin, as is his wont, argues for mercy: “this flight was great folly, but will you not be merciful? These are your foster brothers we seek.” And while this might seem like soft-heartedness or trying to protect the Starks who he’s still loyal to, there’s also political logic to it. As Theon himself has admitted publicly, Bran and Rickon are his foster brothers and killing them (or appearing or claiming to) will be seen as an act of kinslaying), provoking Northern resistance.

In his head, Theo knows that Luwin has a point. As much as ASOIAF fans love to exalt Machiavelli, this is a great counter-example, where the ruthless act is more likely to provoke hatred than compliance:

…Mercy, thought Theon as Luwin dropped back. There’s a bloody trap. Too much and they call you weak, too little and you’re monstrous. Yet the maester had given him good counsel, he knew. His father thought only in terms of conquest, but what good was it to take a kingdom if you could not hold it? Force and fear could carry you only so far.

The problem is that, as much as Theon’s head is in the right place, his ego and his fear of failure won’t let him do the right thing. If it didn’t cost him anything, Theon probably would have shown mercy. But because it would mean public humiliation, Theon will take the easy way out every time. We can see this with his thought that Bran and Rickon might fall into Asha’s hand – that threat of embarrassment alone prompts Theon to choose the darker path: “I’d sooner have them dead, he thought. It is better to be seen as cruel than foolish.” Similarly, Theon’s private condemnation of his father’s (although not his own) imperialism only extends as far as Theon’s typical gendered-self-aggrandizement: “A pity Ned Stark had taken his daughters south; elsewise Theon could have tightened his grip on Winterfell by marrying one of them. Sansa was a pretty little thing too, and by now likely even ripe for bedding. But she was a thousand leagues away, in the clutches of the Lannisters. A shame.”

And if it wasn’t bad enough that Theon’s natural tendency is to selfish douchebaggery, look at who he’s surrounding himself with. Long before the Red Wedding and well before the Freys learn of Robb’s infidelity, Big and Walder Frey are happy to hunt down their liege lords, while sharing their casual bigotry toward the crannogmen:

“We won’t find them,” the Frey boy said suddenly. “Not so long as the frogeaters are with them. Mudmen are sneaks, they won’t fight like decent folks, they skulk and use poison arrows. You never see them, but they see you. Those who go into the bogs after them get lost and never come out. Their houses move, even the castles like Greywater Watch.” He glanced nervously at greenery that encircled them on all sides. “They might be out there right now, listening to everything we say.”

“Frogeaters don’t smell like men,” Frey insisted. “They have a boggy stink, like frogs and trees and scummy water. Moss grows under their arms in place of hair, and they can live with nothing to eat but mud and breathe swamp water.”

As we’ve seen before, the Freys’ hatred of the crannongmen seems to stem from a past history of trying and failing to subdue the Neck – otherwise how would the these kids know so much about the crannogmen way of war? But while the geographic proximity between the Twins and Greywater Watch would make such an attempt at territorial expansion logical, there’s an interesting timing puzzle. The Freys have only been a noble house for 600 years,  and for the last 300 years the Targaryen monarchy would have dissuaded any open warfare between the Riverlands and the North. So the war between the Freys and the Reeds must have taken place very early in the history of the Freys, and yet it seems to have really stuck in the mind of the Freys.

I was going to put an image here, but trying to find any images of Ramsay as Reek leads you into very dark places on the internet where people seem bound and determined to ignore the elements of BDSM that stress consent and negotiation, to say nothing of safety. So here’s a picture of a cat on the Iron Throne instead.

More than anyone else, however, Theon’s got Reek sitting on his shoulder; the devil to Luwin’s angel, counselling him to “…strip off their skins…Lord Bolton, he used to say a naked man has few secrets, but a flayed man’s got none.” Again, this should be a huge red flag to Theon – why is this smallfolk servant who pledged himself to the Greyjoys so insistent on using Bolton mottos as his own? Theon’s not paying attention to those kind of nagging questions, because Reek (with all his skill at sniffing out human weaknesses) has offered him what he wants most, a way to save face.

The one part of Reek’s plot is that I’m not exactly clear how Reek (who’s been kept as a captive in the dungeons of Winterfell and never spent much time around the castle to begin with), knew about the miller’s boys and thus could say “The boys will shelter someplace nearer. Might be I know where.” That quibble aside, I absolutely believe that Ramsay Snow would have come up with the rest of the plan, given his experience in changing identities using corpses and the identifying clothing of nobility:

“M’lord prince?” Reek dismounted, and beckoned Theon to do the same. When they were both afoot, he pulled open the cloth sack he’d fetched from Winterfell. “Have a look here.”

It was growing hard to see. Theon thrust his hand into the sack impatiently, groping amongst soft fur and rough scratchy wool. A sharp point pricked his skin, and his fingers closed around something cold and hard. He drew out a wolf’s-head brooch, silver and jet. Understanding came suddenly. His hand closed into a fist. “Gelmarr,” he said, wondering whom he could trust. None of them. “Aggar. Rednose. With us. The rest of you may return to Winterfell with the hounds. I’ll have no further need of them. I know where Bran and Rickon are hiding now.”

This is Theon’s moral event horizon, and he barely blinks as he throws himself into it, so consumed is he by his desperate need to hold his fragile self-identity together. And while Theon is absolutely the perpetrator of this small, intimate horror, it’s also instructive to look at what Ramsay is manipulating Theon into doing. To begin with, Ramsay persuades Theon into becoming a child-killer, indeed quite possibly a kinslayer as well, completely tainting himself.

This has two benefits for Ramsay – first, it makes Theon dependent on Ramsay as the keeper of Theon’s secrets, which as we’ll see later is absolutely crucial for whether Theon lets him leave and rally the Dreadfort. Second, it makes Theon absolutely hated in the North, ensuring that there will be no peaceful resolution to the siege of Winterfell, and (this might be a bit of a stretch depending on how far Ramsay could actually plan this out) a perfect fall guy to take the blame for the Sack of Winterfell.

Historical Analysis:

When we last left off with the Princes in the Tower in May 1483, Edward, the Prince of Wales (later joined by his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) had just taken up residence in the Tower of London awaiting Edward’s coronation as Edward V, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland.

It was a coronation that would never take place, for at the same time as the putative king was being installed in his royal apartments, the political situation in England was undergoing a rapid shift. With the Woodvilles imprisoned, exiled, or in sanctuary, Richard of Gloucester moved quickly to have the council confirm him as Lord Protector (which the Woodvilles had attempted to forestall) and to have the coronation delayed from May to June. At the same time, Gloucester moved to shore up his position by making his supporter the Duke of Buckingham made the chief justice of both North and South Wales, and by executing Lord Hastings on charges that he had been communicating with the Queen Mother in sanctuary.

In late June, Richard made his intentions clear – on June 24th, the Duke of Buckingham gave a public address setting forth the accusation that Edward IV had secretly married Eleanor Butler before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, making Edward V and his brothers illegitimate and Richard the rightful heir to the throne. On the 25th, Buckingham made a second address in front of the assembled Lords and Commons, restating his case and unveiling a petition to be signed by them asking Richard to become king, in the same manner that Edward IV had been acclaimed in 1461. Richard promptly accepted and began his reign as King Richard III on the 26th.

And sometime after that, the Princes in the Tower disappeared. When is a matter of some controversy – rumors of their death began circulating as early as June, but records indicate that they were last seen during a mayoralty of London that ended in October. Some scholars, like M.H Keen, point to the instability of Richard III’s early reign as reason why he would have wanted the boys eliminated as quickly as possible to prevent the Woodvilles from rallying around them. Other scholars, like the Victorian Ricardian Clements Markham, argue that there’s evidence from regulations of the royal household that they were still alive in July of 1484.

Just as controversial is the question of who killed them. Given an almost total lack of evidence or contemporary sources, there are many theories which depend more on whether one is a Ricardian (a supporter of Richard III’s legacy) or a partisan of Henry VII. Thomas More, whose account is perhaps the most historically influential as Shakespeare drew on it for his play, claims that Richard ordered an English knight known as James Tyrrell (the source for the ambitious House Tyrell?) to do it, although he wrote substantially after the fact and was a Tudor loyalist. Other Henricians don’t necessarily buy More’s story about Tyrrell but still argue that Richard is the most likely culprit.

Ricardians, in defense of their historical hero, have put forward rival candidates. Some scholars, like Michael Bennett and Paul Kendall, argue that the Duke of Buckingham, a skilled intriguer with his own claim to the throne of England, was responsible, given that he was the only one named as a suspect at the time. Others, like Markham and Bertram Fields, point to Henry VII, who did after all have Edward, Earl of Warwick (George Duke of Clarence’s son) executed to shore up his claim.

At the time, however, the key thing was that there wasn’t any proof either way, which meant that the Princes in the Tower might still be alive. Hence, throughout much of his reign, Henry VII had to deal with rumors of the princes, to say nothing of the impostors Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck (who’ll I’ll discuss later).

Here is where we see the influence on ASOIAF most strongly – the repeated sightings of Arya and Sansa in the Riverlands, Jeyne Poole as a fake Arya, Bran and Rickon’s miraculous escape and Wyman Manderly’s insistence that Davos return Rickon from his exile on Skagos, and indeed Aegon VI himself. As much as some fans insist that real-politik as all, we see repeatedly that the names of the dead have the power to move the hearts and minds of lords and smallfolk alike and shake the Iron Throne itself.

What If?

To be honest, there’s not a lot of scope for hypotheticals in this chapter, as really everything in this chapter is leading Theon to his inevitable fate. At the same time, I do wonder what would have happened if Theon hadn’t killed the miller’s boys, either because he’d successfully recaptured the two Stark boys (unlikely), or if he’d turned down the whole scheme, or if he’d used the miller’s boys as live decoys?

While the first isn’t going to happen because Bran has to get to the Nightfort and Rickon has an appointment on Skagos, and the second would probably end with Theon hanging from the walls of Winterfell, the third is more interesting. Theon’s trick with Bess Cassel might well have worked had he had a plausible couple of Stark boys up on the walls wearing their distinctive cloaks, thus pressuring all of the Stark bannermen rather than just Rodrick Cassel. While ultimately Theon would have had to abandon the castle to get home when Balon died – a major divergence for Theon’s story arc there – at least the castle would have been standing.

However, the more interesting consequence of not taking Reek’s advice is what it means for Ramsay. Without being compromised by his involvement in the deaths of the miller’s boys and the three Ironborn, Theon is far less indebted to Reek and might well not let him take a big sack of gold and flee the castle when it comes under siege.

Book vs. Show:

While I generally laud the Theon plotline from Season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have to say this was the one thing that really fell flat. The fake-out death of Bran and Rickon simply never landed; almost no one believed that they were actually dead, and the moment never really had the emotional impact it required, given that this is Theon’s undoing and the setup for his rebirth as Reek.

I’m not entirely sure what was the culprit here. Was it the too-obvious signposting of the miller’s boys from Episode 1, and the slightly confusing way in which Rickon’s odd love of smashing walnuts was used to maybe suggest that they had gone to the mill when Bran explicitly says that they won’t because it would put the smallfolk in danger? (Which is a bit logically confusing, since they get killed despite Bran and Rickon not going to the mill) Was it the fact that we see Bran, Rickon, Osha, Hodor, and the wolves escaping, as opposed to seeing it through Theon’s eyes, which makes us less likely to believe that they’ve been caught without seeing it happen? Was it the hamfisted reveal of two rather fake-looking burned corpses, complete with a Big No! from Maester Luwin? Was it the way that the reveal was undercut the next episode the moment we saw Osha scuttling around Winterfell?

Regardless, it was a real lost opportunity in Game of Thrones’ sophomore season which left the Winterfell plot ending with a whimper and not a bang – but more on that in the next Bran chapter.


126 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon IV, ACOK

  1. winnief says:

    I think the primary reason the Bran and Rickon fakeout didn’t work on screen is that tv is a medium infamous for having fake death scenes and the boys not dying on screen immediately telegraphed the truth.

    Love your analysis as always Steve but there is one more what if you didn’t address…what if Theon after he started killing his own soldiers to cover up the fact that he killed the millers boys instead of the Starks had killed Reek as a witness as well? After all Reek isn’t even his subject but a filthy prisoner and arguably the least trust worthy of all. Frankly it feels like Martin putting his thumb on the scales again.

    Loved your points about Theon’s capture of Winterfell as the whole Northern invasion in miniature….and that in turn makes me wonder if some of Asha’s criticism in Theon V isn’t her way of venting her true beliefs about Balon’s whole enterprise. ..which she can’t do aloud at any other time…maybe even can’t admit to herself.

    • Lann says:

      Would he have been able to kill Reek/Ramsey though? It was Reek who was doing the killings for him and Reek is cunning enough to know that he may be a target as well and prepare for it.

    • Ian G. says:

      I agree with Lann – once he gives Reek the latitude to participate in his murder of the miller’s boys, Theon is wildly unlikely to ever get the drop on him. If he tries, I suspect the outcome is Reek killing him instead and fleeing – and given the state of the North, I think he gets away. What this does to the longterm situation in the North is beyond me – Cassel retakes Winterfell, and Bran and Rickon are discovered, but everyone’s deeply shaken up. Meanwhile, Ramsay is still out there making mischief, but he’s supposed to be dead…I dunno. It occurs to me that this is one of the happier possibilities for the Starks. A lot depends on whether Roose Bolton needed Winterfell to fall in order to commit to the Red Wedding.

      Also, killing three of your soldiers to cover up a crime is one thing when you have a hundred. It’s another when you have 28. I suppose they could all grab Reek once he’s done his part in the masquerade and kill him – but the issue with that is that any sensible thug is going to wonder whether he’s next after Reek. I wonder whether this is why Theon didn’t eliminate the witnesses – he doesn’t have the men to spare.

      • Crystal says:

        I think that Roose did need Winterfell to fall in order to engineer the Red Wedding. With an intact Winterfell – especially if Bran and Rickon were alive or at least unaccounted for, not presumed dead – the North would have the tremendous symbolic and practical asset of Winterfell to rally round. We see how they don’t give up easily even with Winterfell gone; if it was still standing I don’t know if Roose would have stood a chance, at that time.

        I think it’s possible that Roose could have engineered a coup *later* – much later – if he could slowly bleed Robb’s forces and then have him killed in battle or something like that. But that would take a long time and be much chancier to pull off (what if Roose himself dies? what if Tywin dies? etc.).

        Roose said to Theon later that he ought to thank him for his wardenship, because the fall of Winterfell was what doomed the Starks.

        Thumb on scale indeed.

      • Yeah, it’s not a bad scenario for the Starks. Hopefully the shakeup is enough to get the North to stop fucking around and actually mobilize to push out the Ironborn.

      • Ian G. says:

        Having thought about it, assuming that Roose doesn’t go ahead with murdering Robb with Winterfell in Stark hands, I have to think that Ramsay is toast. No way his father doesn’t throw him to (har har) the wolves. He’s just screwed up too much, and as I say is supposed to be dead already. Maybe he can get beyond the Wall or something, and becoming the next Alfyn Crowkiller.

        If the Red Wedding goes ahead, then Ramsay makes his miraculous reappearance, but without the feather in his cap of sacking Winterfell. I think he’s got a lot less rope with Roose in that scenario, and given that this would involve an outright war for the North…all things considered, I can’t see how the Red Wedding goes ahead. Roose appears to have been telling Theon the truth, and his farcical turn as Prince of Winterfell was a necessary precursor to Robb’s death.

        • Winnief says:

          Yeah, also I suspect Roose couldn’t have been happy with Ramsay’s decision to torch Winterfell given that means Roose later has to deal with rebuilding it.

          And if Bran and Rickon are alive at Winterfell there’s no way Roose can proceed with the Red Wedding at that time, because it would guarantee him outright war to claim the North, (look at all the trouble he’s having even with the present circumstances,) and with Winterfell as the rallying point he wouldn’t win. For that matter, another consequence of Bran and Rickon being alive is that Tywin would be far less likely to try to steal the North himself via marrying Sansa to Tyrion. And really some of the point of the RW would be ruined for Tywin as well, because sure he’d have killed Robb and Cat but he wouldn’t have ‘wiped the Starks out’, in Rains of Castamere style like he *believed* he was doing in the books, and with Stark heirs controlling the North, it would just be a matter of the North rallying around them and maybe declaring themselves independent-and daring the South to try and invade.

          Hell even House *Frey* isn’t going to ‘win’ as much in that scenario since they can’t try to use their alliance with House Bolton to win good marriages and territory in the North, and Bran and Rickon would also have claim to Riverrun as well if Edmure died.

    • I don’t really see that happening – if Theon orders his men to kill Reek, what stops Reek from telling the truth?

      And Theon doesn’t have what it takes to kill Theon on his own.

  2. As much as ASOIAF fans love to exalt Machiavelli, this is a great counter-example, where the ruthless act is more likely to provoke hatred than compliance

    To be fair, Machiavelli himself is more nuanced than that; he writes that a prince should seek to be feared, but must at all costs avoid being despised and hated.

    • True, but ASOIAF fans tend to a rather crude Machiavellianism.

      • Winnief says:

        Which is a profound misunderstanding of the text. House Lannister, House Bolton, House Frey, and Littlefinger all reap massive rewards in the short run, but in the long run it’s becoming clearer every day they’ve screwed themselves and their antics have absolutely devastated the Seven Kingdoms leaving it ripe for the White Walkers to invade.

        • True. But you’d be surprised how many people are still in the thrall of that kind of thinking.

          • Winnief says:

            This series does tend to attract a disturbingly high number of nihilists.

          • No Westerlands Manderleys popping up any time soon.

          • Crystal says:

            @Milk Steak: nope, not a one is willing to do anything for Tywin’s little girl, are they? While the Lannister family is large, and collateral relatives will probably survive, Tywin’s children and grandchildren are doomed.

            The Freys are well and truly skroode even by AFFC. The other Riverlords are rude to them right in front of Jaime and Daven; and now that Jaime has commanded that all the Frey hostages be turned over to the Crown, the family is DOOOOOOMED because they won’t hold any more hostages. (And the Lannisters are NOT going to go out on a limb for them; they are going to wash their hands of the Freys.) I can only hope that Perwyn, Olivar, and Roslin (if she survives the childbirth) can become Rosbys.

            As for Littlefinger – I am sure he is going to suffer his downfall at the hands of Sansa once she gets her own power base – and she is going to keep her hands clean, you may be sure.

        • Andrew says:

          And people call me optimistic when I think all the kidStarks will survive through the series and be in control of their fate/the North at the end of it all…

          Seriously they’ve suffered so much them dying or failing would be just plain BITTER, not bittersweet. Besides, is there anything more bittersweet than the end of childhood? “Winning” doesn’t mean happily ever after- look at Ned and Robert, or even Dany and Jon and their problems after coming into power. Life is hard and painful and you don’t always win, but it’s still preferable to death, and the pain makes the joy all the sweeter.

          GRRM is a romantic, deep beneath the grit, and a lot of people seem not to fully appreciate that fact.

  3. Chinoiserie says:

    Shoudn’t Tyrion XI be before Theon IV?

  4. Winnief says:

    Also LOVE your observations on how Big and Little Walder, (and this is before Robb was even unfaithful period because he isn’t yet needing *comfort* for the ‘deaths’ of his brothers) are willing to stab the Starks in the back and collaborate with the likes of Theon and Reek, (hmm..again conspiracy theories there.) And their attitude to the Crannogmen is telling…what *did* happen there?!? Sounds like the Frey’s are still smarting centuries later from having their asses kicked, just as the Crannogmen later make life hell for the Iron Born.

    • Crystal says:

      I bet the Crannogmen soundly defeated the Freys more than once.

      And I think there might be something else there – if Meera is any indication (and not an exception like Asha), Crannogwomen are much more equal to men than in most of Westeros outside of Dorne. Those swamp devils are giving our women Ideas!

      • Winnief says:

        Good point. Meera’s very casualness about her badassery and independence, (as opposed to how Asha keeps re-iterating what an Exceptional Woman she is,) suggests she’s considered more within the norm of the Neck. My suspicion is that survival in the swamp lands can be so difficult that it was pretty much expected that women folk as well as the men, (and yep even *noble* women too,) had to learn to forage and hunt as a matter of course.

        Frankly the more I learn about the Crannogmen as a culture the more I like them though I worry a little about their poor nutritional prospects. I can easily see though why House Stark and House Reed have a long standing relationship and why, (despite House Reed’s poverty even among their fellow Northern Lords,) House Stark holds them in such affection and esteem.

        • zonaria says:

          Fenlands are great for subsistence, and you don’t even have to eat frogs – plenty of fish and birds. Reeds and bulrushes have useful edible bits too. Fens are not so good at generating income, which is why owners have tended to work on getting them drained.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        I very much doubt that the Freys resent the Reeds because they’re too egalitarian in their treatment of women- that’s based entirely on inference, and does it really look like the Freys have bothered to extend any effort into learning about the intricacies of Crannog culture?

        I think a large part of it is that Meera may simply be somewhat of an abnormal example because of her status as Howland’s heir.

        • Andrew says:

          Jojen is Howland’s heir, and Meera’s weapons, frog spear and net, are hunting tools. It could that in an environment like the Neck where the soil isn’t very good for growing crops, and much of the food is obtained by hunting, fishing and gathering with the focus being survival, then if a women has a frog spear and a net to feed the family it isn’t that big a deal compared to survival.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Legally Jojen is, yes, but he’s sickly and has had a vision of his own death before he sires any children, and informed his father of that vision. In that situation, I’d expect Howland to have started grooming Meera.

            Also, for what it’s worth, when they arrive at Winterfell, Meera is introduced as “Lady Meera” while Jojen isn’t called “Lord” or anything similar.

          • Yet Another Aegon says:

            Is Jojen the heir to Greywater Watch? I’ve always suspected that the crannogmen practice inheritance law similar to Dorne.

            At the harvest feast they both enter at the same time but the intro is:

            “The Lady Meera of House Reed,” the rotund guardsman bellowed over the clamor. “With her brother, Jojen, of Greywater Watch.”

            Maybe I’m nitpicking but they gave the guards their names and titles and she seems to be in charge of the delegation from The Neck. I think she’s the heir.

            The crannogmen are too thinly populated and probably have a higher than avg infant mortality rate, so gender preference is probably not a big deal there.

            The appendix also list her first under Howland Reed.

          • Yet Another Aegon says:

            Come to think of it, the joining and wedding of the crannogmen to the rest of the North was probably very similar to how Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms.

            Resistance and guerrilla warfare, then a royal marriage to the KitN.

          • Andrew says:

            Meera is listed first since she is the eldest child, and that is how the scheme works in the appendix, the eldest are listed first.

            There is no evidence of the crannogmen practicing equal primogeniture like the Dornish, or it would have been mentioned.

      • This is probably a case of environment-based gender equality – as with the Mountains of the Moon, life in the Neck is tough enough that you can’t really have much gender segregation in the “workforce,” which tends to ripple outwards to other areas of culture.

        • Crystal says:

          I think you are right – the Fenlands are poor, and unsuited for agriculture, so men and women alike have to hunt and handle weapons – and the training in weapons gives women power that they might not have otherwise.

          Plus the poverty of the Fens means that there are no rich heiresses. Even if Meera were to inherit if Jojen died, Greywater Watch is no Winterfell or White Harbor – no rich plum for a poor younger son to pluck.

          Bear Island seems to operate the same way – its economy meant that women had to fight and defend themselves while the men were away, and it is poor and remote, so its heiresses aren’t targets for southern fortune hunters.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if the harsh desert climate of Dorne helped the cause of equality there, too. The Rhoynar were gender egalitarian, and there were so many of them that they had a large influence on Dornish culture, but the Dornish climate is so unforgiving that the average Dornish family and lordship needs all hands on deck.

    • Thanks.

      Yeah, I find myself very curious about when that Frey/Reed war happened.

      • David Hunt says:

        Is it possible that conflicts flared up during one or more of the civil wars?

        • Possibly, but again, we’ve got a decent amount of information about the civil wars, and there’s no mention of the Freys invading the Neck and often a lot of info about them being busy elsewhere.

          Hence why I lean to the earlier period.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I get the sense that there is a long history of chronic conflict between the Crannogmen and the Frey’s, but that it has never flared up to the point that either side called for the arbitration of their superiors in the feudal hierarchy.

    • Andrew says:

      The Freys, like the Boltons, come across as utterly scummy right from the get-go.

      Just like Littlefinger, for that matter.

      I think people just have a hard time accepting that “good guys” like Ned or Robb can lose/die because of bad luck and circumstances beyond their control. It took a LOT of effort to make the dominoes fall as they did, and Ned/Robb came quite close to succeeding, before fate/GRRM cut them off at the knees…

      Seriously though, Robb should have broken both betrothals the moment he had the chance, for a much better alliance. The Freys are untrustworthy and basically useless match for the King of the North, he gained next to nothing and lost a lot from that match.

  5. Iñigo says:

    Wasn’t only Little Walder going to the hunt? I mean, Big Walder knows better than allying with a completely doomed lorling.

    • Andrew says:

      Big Walder is the same Frey boy who murdered his cousin when opportunity struck. He also knows he isn’t like to be blamed for anything that befalls the Starks, Theon would get the full blame.

      • Iñigo says:

        I’m not saying Big Walder isn’t evil, I’m saying that, unlike his cousin, he isn’t an idiot.

        • Andrew says:

          He doesn’t have much info outside Winterfell. Also if Theon kills the boys, Walder won’t be blamed by the Northmen. Few would be inclined to punish a child in such a situation without risking the wroth of the Twins.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          I think the text in Dance says Big Walder isn’t evil. It specifically separates him from the other young boys and Little Walder who are busily imitating Ramsey, and it’s usually theorized that one of the reasons he murdered Little Walder is to stop a second Ramsey from taking shape.

          • Andrew says:

            Casually murdering your own brother (or anyone, really, but especially a child) is pretty iffy even if he’s a future Ramsey, especially in this society where kinslaying is such a big deal.

            Not saying he’s full EVIL, but the idea that Big Walder is some misunderstood goody-two-shoes is kind of laughable.

          • @Andrew: But Little Walder is not his brother, he’s a cousin (and not a first cousin. either, IIRC). It’s made clear that the Freys only see the most immediate family (or at best, those descended from the same one of Lord Walder’s wives) as real family, and the other branches of the family as rivals.

          • Andrew says:

            @ TimeTravellingBunny:

            Cousin v.s. brother…. still not particularly flattering.

            More importantly I always thought Big Walder was acting in his self interest like so many of the other Freys- he saw a chance to bump himself up one notch on the ladder and took it. When Old Walder dies the rest of the Freys will be doing much the same right up until the Starks kill them all.

            All in all Big Walder is still a prick. Maybe less a prick than Little Walder, but he’s not some hero.

    • Actually they never say which Frey boy went.

  6. rewenzo says:

    Regarding the timing of the struggles between the Freys and the crannogmen, I bet small-scale shit happens all the time, even during Targaryen rule, e.g. Brackens and Blackwoods. Little border skirmishes probably arise pretty often and we just don’t hear about them. Not all kings are very active in policing small-scale conflicts until they blow up into something bigger.

    In the case of the crannogmen, it’s probably related to the crannogmen having a history of evading Frey tolls either by sneaking under their bridge (e.g. Howland Reed’s nighttime journey down the Trident) or using their secret network of streams and swamps. This probably flares up every now and then with the Freys sending a doomed expeditionary force into the Neck which nobody ever sees again. The Freys have no incentive to bring these embarrassing failures to the attention of the Tullys or the Throne, and the Reeds are thousands of miles from Winterfell and can take care of themselves and probably don’t do a whole lot of communicating by Raven anyway, due to the mobile nature of their bases.

    • See, here’s the thing. Brackens and Blackwoods are an internal dispute, as was Osgreys and Webbers. You expect those sort of feudal disputes to happen all the time without bringing in larger forces.

      But the Freys trying to conquer the Neck would be much more likely to be seen as an attempt by the Storm King to shift the borders, requiring a retaliation from the King in the North. But we don’t have any records of a North/Stormlands war in this period.

      • rewenzo says:

        1. Not sure the Freys are trying to conquer the Neck at all, as opposed to just wanting to bloody their noses a bit.
        2. As you suggest, I would think the conflict the Freys are referencing would have occurred during the Targaryen era – it seems more recent. (It could also have happened during Aegon’s conquest before Torrhen Stark bent the knee, as part of a Riverlands-North border skirmish.)
        3. The locale in which the conflict happens – the Neck – is a black hole and I think the nature of the conflict would also militate against the higher ups being involved.
        4. It’s possible the Reeds raise a complaint with the Starks, and the Starks raise it with the Tullys or Targaryens and there’s some kind of apology or draw down. I don’t think every cross-region conflict turns into a big deal.

        • 1. It’s a long way to go to bloody noses, and given the Frey greed for land…

          2. Why would it seem more recent? It doesn’t seem to me.

          3. It’s not a black hole, it’s a border. The Starks have Moat Cailin right there in the neighborhood.

          4. It’s possible, but that sort of thing would generate evidence, records, memories. And we don’t have any of this.

          • Winnief says:

            I agree. Realistically it doesn’t make sense for the Frey’s to be heading into the Neck, UNLESS they’re hoping to expand their territory. Basically they were always greedy for Northern lands. Now it may have been pre Targaryen or Ante Targaryen, but clearly the disputes whatever they were did NOT go well for House Frey who continue to hold a grudge against the Crannogmen for resisting so fiercely…kinda like how the Iron Born nurse their sense of grievance against the Greenlanders for fighting back against reavers.

          • Andrew says:

            There may well have been conflicts with or without the lords of the Riverlands (Storm Kings or Ironmen) and Starks involved, but why would that necessarily come up unless it was really major? It’s not as if border skirmishes between kingdoms several centuries ago are going to be given much thought in the middle of a civil war, especially as the two kingdoms in question are now allied and would likely want bygones to be bygones.

            Incidentally this might also partially explain the poor reputation of House Frey (well that and general snobbishness which is reason enough for the bluebloods), if they had a reputation for causing a “diplomatic incident” or three.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        The Storm King? Wouldn’t these lands have been under Ironborn rule immediately before the Conquest?

        • The Storm Kings owned the Riverlands for more than 300 years, the Ironborn for only 3 generations. So in the 300 years before the Conquest, odds are Storm Kings are in charge.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Which suggests a lot about the Freys, if they came up to the Riverlanders during this time–namely, that the family proper probably started up in the Stormlands, which would explain why the first Frey of the Crossing got so much latitude in building something that most kings would see as a threat to their authority. It also suggests one reason the Frey are so despised–they’re not just the descendants of foreign Stormland conquerors–they’re the descendants of the second wave of carpetbaggers that followed the conquest…

          • Winnief says:

            And that tradition of carpet-bagging is one the Frey’s continue to this day. Hell that’s what motivated them to send a delegation of family members and half their army up North despite the obvious danger.

          • Crystal says:

            Space Oddity – I think that’s an interesting idea about the Frey’s origins! It makes a lot of sense.

            And the Freys are master carpetbaggers. I bet they were salivating at the opportunity to snag a rich heiress like Wynafryd Manderly. Little did they know that grandpa Wyman had no intention of letting them get away with that. I’m surprised that some Frey son or grandson low down in the family pecking order hasn’t tried to marry Alysane Mormont. She is an heiress, after all, even though she has two children “fathered by bears” that already stand to inherit.

          • Andrew says:

            if they were going to snag Bear Island capturing Dacey at the Red Wedding would have been one way to do it. How did they decide who to kill and who to capture? It seems like (except Catelyn, who we were told would have been made a prisoner if she hadn’t gone mad/killed Jinglebell) everyone with Robb in the dining hall was to be killed while everyone with Edmure was captured.

          • David Hunt says:

            @Andrew. Well, the DID capture the Greatjon who I thought was in the dining hall with Robb. Did I misremember?

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            The Greatjon was with Edmure, he’d left to help bed Roslin.

            @Crystal, Wynafryd is a really interesting subject. Wylla gets all the attention because of her impassioned speech but I think Wynafryd is a much more important player that we’ll see a lot more of in Winds, especially if Wyman doesn’t return from Winterfell.

        • Yes but the Iron Born didn’t have that long of a reign. After all Harenhall was just finished at the beginning of the invasion.

  7. Sean C. says:

    none of the ironmen were much good in the saddle

    Since you highlighted that, that doesn’t really make much sense, now that I think about it. Sure, the Ironborn are a naval culture, but they still live on land; you would need horses to move around the islands at any decent speed (and some of them are pretty large).

    As far as the fakeout deaths of Bran and Rickon are concerned, that would never have worked in a TV medium. Major characters are simply not killed completely offscreen like that, with no indication that they’re even present in the buildup scene.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      They’re not killed like that in books either, yet Martin did it anyways.

      The islands are large, yes, but I don’t think any of them are so large as to really promote the breeding of good warhorses. I think it’s specifically said that the closest the IB have to horses of their own, i.e. not imported from the mainland, are small ponies.

      Why bother riding when it’s quicker to take a boat most places anyways?

      • Winnief says:

        They specifically stated that Harlaw is known for the quality of its ponies…which does suggest they don’t do as much horse breeding.

        Aside from riding, it seems to me the biggest problem for the Iron Born is they’re not a disciplined army in the traditional sense. They’re reavers not soldiers and they’re definitely not equipped for long scale land invasions and/or sieges.

        • Steven Xue says:

          They do seem to do well at taking castles and cities by surprise at least. Moat Cailin, Deepwood Motte, Torrhen’s Square and even Winterfell are a testament of their lighting raid tactics employed at blitzing fortified strongholds.

          • Winnief says:

            Well Winterfell was always a fluke…but yeah the surprise raid is something they excel at, (look at the poor Shield Islands,) but they can’t *hold* territory.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            The ironborn are like wildlings with boats in terms of their fighting style.

        • Crystal says:

          I remember reading something about how Great Wyk was supposed to be about the size of Sicily. I do know that Lord Goodbrother (?) built his castle out of sight of the sea, as Aeron grumbled, so at least Great Wyk and probably Harlaw are quite large.

          And yes, Harlaw is known for its sturdy ponies. It’s also the most densely populated and richest island. They might well do some food exporting. (I wonder if the Reader paid the iron price for his book collection? I’m picturing him grabbing all the books and leaving while everyone else is plundering the gold!)

      • Sean C. says:

        Literature is a different medium.

        Granted, if you really stopped to think about Bran and Rickon’s deaths in the books midway through, instead of powering on chapter-by-chapter like GRRM wants you to, you’d probably question it more. But the experience of episodic television is completely different, and like I said, it has its own storytelling conventions that make such a death scene utterly impossible.

        • Winnief says:

          Agreed. That particular fake-out was just never gonna work on tv no matter how they staged it. So while there are plenty of legitimate complaints to make about D&D’s handling of Season 2, *that* one really wasn’t *their* fault.

          In fact for the record, I actually really enjoyed the scenes of Bran being acting Lord of Winterfell and having people come to him with requests…it was such a strong contrast to Joffrey’s lack of interest in actual ruling. The fact that a perfectly good decision, namely sending the orphan boys to help out the farmer had such horrific results was good dramatic tragic irony.

          Also as one Unsullied viewer stated they had a sinking feeling when Rodrik asked Bran for men to defend Torrhen’s Square because since Luwin and Rodrik were both such sympathetic characters, their disagreement meant *someone* was sure to lose no matter what happened which I liked.

        • Well, on my part, I read the book before seeing the show and I wasn’t spoiled about Bran’s and Rickon’s fate, but I never believed they were dead. It was against narrative logic. Why would GRRM kill off Bran, after having set him up as an unlikely hero, a disabled child (GRRM loves non-traditional heroes, that’s obvious – women, children, disabled people, people who are seen as not fitting into the traditional gender roles…) with magical powers that he is just starting to develop, and a lot of setup and foreshadowing? This is not like Ned or Robb, both of whom were fairly traditional heroes and both of whom had played a big role in the plot already.

          It may have been easier to believe if I had been one of those readers who think that GRRM just likes randomly offing his characters for shock value, but I have never believed that and I think it’s completely wrong. There’s a clear narrative purpose in all his arcs.

          Which is why he’s never been able to fool me with any of the fake deaths… The only one I wasn’t sure about was Theon, but I thought at the end of ACOK that could go either way. Of course, in ASOS it became clear he would be back eventually.

  8. Winnief says:

    Also, I just realized we have only four more chapters til Blackwater Week!

    I’m getting shivers…:)

  9. If the fakeout was never going to work, I wonder if it would have worked better to avoid it completely, and focus in instead on Theon thinking through his plan and having to steel himself to do the inexcusable.

  10. Jake Drake says:

    With the Freys, considering that the story about Howland Reed getting bullied, it might just be a wider perception. Big Walder seems to be one of the smarter Freys, so maybe he read a book or two, told Little Walder and let the prejudice change the facts for them. Living in swamps and marshlands become being half-man half-swamp.

    On Theon’s ego and fragile sense of self-esteem, I do wonder what Asha thought was going to happen after basically destroying the pillars holding up his plan in front of everyone, and then going for the soft approach. She probably thought he wasn’t ‘real Ironborn’ and would just fold after getting intimidated because Dat’s What Softy Greenlanders do, and was surprised when he decided that death was preferable to being a social outcast at best.

    She might have done better had she moved him to somewhere private, gave a few bones/lies (good job on grabbing Winterfell, almost did it) and then suggest that he’s done all he could and that their mother would really prefer seeing him again to hearing about his death. Then again, it depends on how much Asha actually knows about Theon’s mental state, and if he isn’t too trapped in a cycle of having to prove himself via acting like A True Ironborn i.e. stupidly stubborn and obstinate, looking stupid, and then trying to redeem himself by doing the same thing, to accept the out his sister is giving him.

    • Winnief says:

      Thing is as someone noted in another thread, Asha actually *repeats* Theon’s mistake of refusing to leave in ADWD. After she returns to Deepwood Motte following the Kingsmoot, she’s surrounded by hostile hill tribes and Tristefer Botley tells her they should go, but she insists on staying arguing that if she can’t inherit her father’s kingdom then why not carve out one of her own along the Stony Shore?!?

      The plan is utterly delusional as Tris points out, but Asha is too stubborn to leave-and like Theon earlier it seems to be coming in part from a need to cling from her one true victory after a very thorough rejection, (i.e. the Kingsmoot favoring Euron over her,) has left her adrift with a defeated sense of self. And like Theon, Asha had plenty of foreshadowing-Uncle Rodrik told her outright she couldn’t win at the Kingsmoot and that she’d only be painting a target on her back by going but she tried her luck anyway. And may I note in retrospect it was foolish of her not to try arrange a political marriage before Kingsmoot, if not to Tris then to someone else who could have secured her more support AND helped address the unspoken specter in the room namely who would be heir to Asha if she were to rule. I’m not saying it would have turned the tide but it couldn’t have hurt.

      And though, Asha isn’t getting anything like the Humiliation or Trauma Congo lines that Theon did, I suspect her time with Stannis among the Northerners may be acting as a much needed splash of cold water for her, because for her to have ANY future, she’s gonna have to accept some hard truths about House Greyjoy and the Old Way.

      • That is a good point. Hadn’t drawn the parallels.

        On the other hand, Asha didn’t have many alternatives. Can’t go home, rebel and pirate anywhere outside of the Iron Islands, etc.

        • Andrew says:

          I’m sure Asha was thinking about Theon’s predicament during her time as a prisoner in Stannis’ army.

          But yeah, I think the fact that FREAKING EURON was waiting for her (along with that old dude who was her “husband…”) had something to do with it.

          All that said I think it’s important to remember that Asha herself is still a Greyjoy, meaning she suffers from the same hubris and poor political sense…. it’s true that their whole house is one big plot device (Balon for not sacking Lannisport (again) and therefore dooming the lions too early, Theon for taking Winterfell and dooming Robb plus putting Bran/Rickon/Sansa/Arya/Jon on their paths, Victarion for getting Dany a fleet and/or dragonbinding horn, Euron for smashing the Reach/Highgarden in time for maximum chaos in the Second Dance) but at the same time, that sort of blind stupidity is not utterly implausible… though I question as to why almost everyone on those islands seems to be going along with it.

        • Winnief says:

          No, it’s true her options are limited, (so were Theon’s for that matter,) but Botley’s notion of a voyage to Asshai was not a bad one. Or a voyage to Essos to see what chances she could have there. Staying in the North in the forlorn hope of clinging to her “entitlement” to a throne may well prove to be her ultimate undoing. (Just as “Prince” Theon probably should have just taken the black, and thus spared himself unimaginable misery.)

    • David Hunt says:

      By the time that she met with Theon, she knew about his murder of “Bran and Rickon.” Form a brutally pragmatic POV, Theon was toxic waste at that point. He’d poison whatever stronghold he sheltered at, contaminating anyone who helped him. If he comes back to Pyke with, he’ll remain a hated figure that the North can rally against. They might even find a way to invade the Iron Islands to get him eventually. If he dies trying to hold Winterfell, then the hated child murderer has been caught and executed. There will still be elevated animosity against the Ironborn because of his actions, no matter what, but that’s the way that elevates it the least. Plus even Theon’s token force will mean that Winterfell has to be taken and that sucks up the Northmen’s time and he’s likely to take at least as many of them down as his own numbers.

      So it’s actually to Ironborn’s military advantage that Theon attempts a doomed siege defense at Winterfell as well to Asha’s personal political advantage of removing Theon from the line of succession via brutal execution. Whether those thoughts were in her mind when she meets with him…I don’t know. My recollection is that I got the impression that she really tried to get him to burn Winterfell and retreat. Unfortunately, she felt he need to dress him down for his idiocy first, so he wasn’t receptive to anything she said. She was totally correct that Theon would have been much better served by taking Bran and Rickon and making for the coast.

      • Winnief says:

        Taking Bran and Rickon *would* have been a better strategy, (assuming Theon could make it to the coast without getting caught,) but contrary to what Asha believes it wouldn’t have won them the war in a single stroke. She’s making the same fallacy there she later made with the Glover’s and the stony shore-assuming that taking enough women and children hostage could make the Northerner’s agree to colonial occupation. Realistically, Bran and Rickon being held hostage isn’t going to make Robb say, “Fine, Balon, I surrender the North to you,” and even if it *had* the rest of the Northerners weren’t going to accept the Iron Born. It’s funny…Asha of all people ought to know the limits to hostage taking as a strategy, since Balon started his invasion fully expecting Theon to die.

        • Space Oddity says:

          But these are Northerners, not Ironborn. They’re weaker and softer.

          As fun and likable Asha is, it’s easy to miss that she possesses the same cultural blinders, puffed-up ego, and over-sized emotional investment into her public persona as all her kin.

          The Greyjoys really could benefit from some group therapy, assuming they didn’t all kill each other during a session…

          • Jake Drake says:

            I think the part about investment into her public persona is something to add. She wants to make her mother happy by bringing Theon back, but Asha The True Heir to Balon can’t resist making sure that everyone knows how Green Theon is now. His great moment of triumph has to be cut down lest people start thinking he might get better at being Ironborn.

            Only it then ruins her true desire for him to see sense and come home.

          • Andrew says:

            Weaker and softer? Say that to the Ironborn getting picked off by crannogmen at Moat Cailin, getting crushed by Rodrick Cassel at Torrhen’s Square and their ships put to the torch at the Fever by the Dustins and Ryswells and getting annihilated at Deepwood Motte. The Ironborn aren’t generally any tougher warriors than any other people. They just use that as excuse for their poor treatment of others.

            The Greyjoys would be just as likely to kill the therapist in that one.

          • Space Oddity says:

            That was irony for the Ironborn view of the matter.

        • That’s not really the same thing, since Robb does care for his brothers, while Balon didn’t give a damn about Theon.

          Would it have won them the war at once – of course not, that was an exaggeration, but it sure would have been a powerful card in their hands.

    • I’m guessing it’s more family lore, deliberate Othering of the enemy.

  11. Jake Drake says:

    Considering Theon’s ego/fragile self-esteem, I do wonder what Asha thought was going to happen after she humiliated him in public again when she privately asked him to cut his losses. Do you think she still thought he was A Softy Greenlander who’d do what she said? Or that she didn’t notice the fragile self-esteem and thought that her egotistical little brother needed a bit of cutting down to size.

    In turn, had she taken him in private first and gave him a few bones (‘good job, you took Winterfell, no one could have held it’) and then reminded him that their mother would prefer to see her son at least one last time, would that have helped? I don’t think she’s the type to go for that, and it might have been too late for Theon to escape the cycle of trying to prove that he’s a true Ironborn, failing because of his time at Winterfell, and then trying again.

    • I think Asha was trying to play the card she knew worked – push his buttons, get in his face, and he’ll back down.

      But once those miller’s boys died, I don’t think Theon could have left. It would mean that everything he’d done was for nothing.

      • Winnief says:

        Luwin-“I’ve known you a long time Theon. You’re not the man you’re pretending to be. Not yet.”

        Theon-“Maybe but I’ve come too far to pretend to be anything else.”

        • Haplo-6 says:

          I think, just because she’s not the mentally anguished Theon, that Asha gets far too much of a break. She’s a well-respected Ironborn captain and leader, which means she’s a horrible person. She’s a bully, a thug, and cold-blooded murderer responsible for civilian death, rape, enslavement, and torture. How else was she going to respond to Theon? It seems impossible for her to be anything but mocking and belittling to Theon in these encounters, because she is a champion of Ironborn culture which is morally repugnant in every way.

          However, Asha’s chapters in AFFC and especially ADWD offer a very captivating view of her character. We do see that she is more dynamic than her father or her uncles, and perhaps the Kingsmoot soured her on the role the Ironborn play with regards to the rest of the world. But still, at this point in her narrative, she’s not at all capable of providing any real helpful guidance to Theon besides being a bully.

  12. MightyIsobel says:

    For what it’s worth, when I watched binge-watched Season 2 as an unspoiled sweet summer child, I totally thought Theon killed Bran and Rickon. Fool me once, and all that.

  13. One big difference between this and the mystery of the “Princes in the Tower” is that, in this case, there is no doubt whatsoever that a murder of two boys has been committed. The issue is only the identity of those two boys. There is no doubt that Theon (and Ramsay, of course, but it’s just one of Ramsay’s many crimes) is guilty of the murder of two innocent boys, even though those boys are not Bran and Rickon.

    And since GRRM is a good writer and has some ethical sense, he seems to understand that this is important, just as the suffering of all the “unimportant” lowborn people/non-protagonists is important. That’s why Theon’s redemption in ADWD is not saving a Stark, but saving a girl who is “unimportant” and just used as a stand-in for a Stark heir (just like the miller’s boys were used for Bran and Rickon) – everyone else who is trying to save Jeyne is doing it because they think she is Arya Stark; the northern lords assembled in Winterfell may suspect or know that she’s fake, and one wonders if that’s the cause of their complacency regarding her abuse.

    Now, if you’re a bad writer with messed up ethical views, you may instead conclude that it would be much more meaningful if Theon got to save a real Stark, and that this is also the only way the audience could care – because you would give a damn about a young, innocent girl being raped and abused if she’s just some “nobody”, rather than one of the major characters and from the same family as our male heroes, right? And then it’s not surprising if you also think that Theon hasn’t really done anything that wrong by ordering/condoning a murder of two anonymous and “unimportant” children, and that someone who is a nice person – say, Sansa Stark – would, naturally, hate Theon to the point of telling him she’d love to have tortured them the same way as their common abuser had, as long as she thinks he murdered her brothers, but would immediately be OK with Theon the moment she realizes he “only” murdered some other boys.

    To be fair, this kind of terrible writing isn’t limited to Benioff and Weiss; I offer you the example of another badly written quasi-medieval TV show, the BBC/Starz mini-series The White Queen, which was based on Philippa Gregory’s novels about the Wars of the Roses. (I must add as a disclaimer that I haven’t read any of them – at least not in full – I tried to read two of them, but I was quickly put off by some of the same problems that the TV series had, only amplified. So, I don’t know for sure how much of this comes from her novels and if the TV adaptation changed anything.) This is how The White Queen dealt with the mystery of the “Princes in the Tower” – SPOILERS, obviously (but not for who is or isn’t responsible for the murder/disappearance of the boys; I won’t reveal that as it’s not important to the issue in hand)


    The writers of TWQ wanted to have their cake and eat it: in this version, two boys are (probably) indeed murdered (we get a few suspects and a strong indication who was probably responsible, though it’s not 100% clear), but the younger son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Richard, Duke of York, escapes abroad and becomes the pretender known as “Perkin Warbeck” (because he later appears is another one of Gregory’s novels). How? Through an incredibly ridiculous plot point: Elizabeth Woodville secretly hides and later sends her son Richard abroad, and finds some other, anonymous boy to take his place, when a delegation comes to ask for him to be taken to the Tower. How does she manage to hide the fact he’s not Richard, Duke of York? Well, she claims her son has a cold and ties a piece of cloth over (most) of his face!!!! That’s right, and Richard and everyone else around him never recognize that he’s some other boy, just because he has a piece of cloth over his face!

    But aside from the obvious idiocy of this plot point, it’s also really messed up on the ethical level. So, we see this boy brought and told he’s doing an important service to the king (Edward V) by impersonating his brother; we don’t learn anything about him, who he is, where he came from, if he has living parents, what his name is, he barely speaks a word, and then he presumably gets murdered alongside Edward V. Now, one may say it’s not surprising that Elizabeth Woodville then just mourns her Edward and says she’s happy her other son is safe, and never seems to spare a word for the fate of the anonymous boy; after all it’s a human thing to care more about one’s own children than about strangers. But there’s absolutely no indication in the narrative that we’re supposed to give a damn about that anonymous boy, either. Nobody mentions him again, we don’t learn anything about him. He wasn’t important.

    Not that this was the only ethically messed up thing about the way they did this storyline, but that’s a different story. Namely, in TWQ, Elizabeth Woodville is actually a witch (sigh), and so are all the women of her family, but that’s supposed to be an awesome, empowering, positive sort of thing, and Elizabeth is supposed to be our heroine who is awesome and beautiful and a magical descendant of a water goddess, or some crap like that (sigh). Even though every time we see her using those witchy powers, she’s either cursing someone who’s crossed her, or trying to control weather so a battle would go the way she wants it to. Anyway, our heroine Elizabeth and her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York, who is portrayed as sweet and compassionate, do a spell cursing whoever the unknown murderer is, that his/her firstborn son would die and all the firstborn sons in their line, and his/her line would die out. Then they’re like “and then we will know who is the murderer!” Which is also really stupid, since child mortality was so high back then, so good luck figuring it out that way. The writers must have thought was an incredibly smart plot twist, because “oh, oh, now when Richard and Anne’s son Edward dies suddenly, that will look like it was from the curse” (well, he was just Anne’s firstborn son, but the series completely ignores the existence of Richard’s illegitimate son and daughter fathered before his marriage), “but then of course Henry’s and Elizabeth of York’s firstborn son Arthur will die aged 15, and Edward VI will die young, and the Tudor line will die out!” Gregory/TV writers of TWQ never spared a thought, apparently, for the fact that they were writing those character that we’re supposed to sympathize with, including the series’ supposed heroine, essentially murdering someone’s innocent child out of revenge.

    Which, I guess, is another similarity to the writing of Benioff and Weiss and their “revenge is totes awesome!” theme.

    • Andrew says:

      Vengeance is a theme in the books, certainly, but I think it’s not so clear cut as vengeance=bad. I think something can be both justice AND vengeance: if say Lady Stoneheart brutally murders Walder Frey I think it would qualify as both. GRRM is forcing us to consider the ramifications of sticking to our guns on a flat ethical claim- war is awful, and causes the suffering of thousands of innocents for only a partial gain at best, but peace too has its problems as Dany’s trials in Mereen demonstrate.

      Is “peace” worth compromising on fundamental moral principles e.g. the abolition of slavery, or would it have been better if Dany had simply broken up the slaveowners’ caste by force and wiped the slate clean from the beginning? The crimes of e.g. Bolton and Frey and Lannister have destabilized the realm, led to the deaths of countless innocents, and attempted to defend a regime that is cruel and vicious (Joffrey) or inept and corrupt (Tommen) at the cost of thousands of innocent lives. Should we then support yet another war to overthrow this tyranny by force and institute an alternative- say Stannis Baratheon? Would it be “better” if say Faceless! Arya murdered all the guilty parties as an assassin?

      It’s rarely a clear-cut answer and that’s part of what GRRM is getting at.

      • Winnief says:

        Agreed, but there is one caveat to all that-namely the White Walker issue. For instance while in ADWD, I was beginning to think that Tommen with Kevan as Regent, *might* be an acceptable option, (which makes Varys’s murdering Kevan have a greater impact,) the question that goes begging is what happens if/when the White Walkers finally get past the Wall? Because something tells me the current regime is NOT equipped to deal with that. In fact they’re actually part of the problem and that’s a good argument for shaking up the current power structure. (Though the best way to shake things up, is certainly open for debate.)

        Similar thinking, I imagine will influence Jon’s decision in Season 6 to try to take WF back from the Boltons, (ESPECIALLY if as we suspect there really is some sort of mystical significance to “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.”) Plus one of the biggest driving forces of the Great Northern Rebellion isn’t vengeance for the RW, or loyalty to the Starks but terror of the prospect of Ramsay Bolton as the Paramount Lord of the Region….and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment.

        So yeah, I agree at some point in the narrative there’s be a crossroads where someone from Team Stark, (not Arya) has to decide whether to pursue vengeance at all costs or maybe make peace with the hated Lannisters for the greater good and they choose the latter. Of course for that strategy to work you need someone reasonable to make peace with like Tyrion or even Jaime…something tells me that it’s gonna be *impossible* to come to fair terms with the likes of Cersei because she’s increasingly too nuts. If Tywin were alive then the thought of him, Jon, and Dany trying to negotiate amongst themselves and work together against the White Walkers is enough to give me shivers-I mean *would* have been a terrific storyline of having people with such incredible mutual hatred being forced into the world’s most uncomfortable alliance…but that can’t happen with Cersei because Cersei is incapable of allying with ANYONE even her own kin.

        Also, while you can agree not to pursue further bloody vengeance against the guilty, you can’t very well let them continue to profit from their misdeeds either, (it does after all send a horrible message) which is why the Frey’s can’t keep Riverrun for instance and yet another reason the Lannister’s can’t keep the IT.

        • I don’t see any Starks making peace with Tywin (but thankfully he’s dead) or Cersei, but they could do so with Jaime, Tyrion and the rest of the Lannisters. Families are not Borg collectives with a hive mind, even though the fandom sometimes disturbingly treats them like that (see, especially, the fans who want ALL Freys to die; this is the Tywin Lannister “Rains of Castamere” mindset).

          I don’t see any of them making peace with the likes of Roose, Ramsay or Walder Frey (and a few other, most culpable Freys like Black Walder or Lame Lothat). And frankly, I don’t think they should, not even because of the Others. If the likes of Roose and Ramsay are to be free to continue doing what they’re doing, the humanity is in such a sorry state that I’m not sure if it’s worth fighting for not to be wiped out by Others. If I had to choose between being a mindless wight slave of the Others and being a conscious torture/abuse victim of the Bolton father and son duo, I think the latter is probably worse.

          • Winnief says:

            I sometimes get into “kill the frey’s” mood myself, but then I remember the likes of Fat Walda and the children and I reconsider. Sometimes I feel a more elegant solution would be to simply kick them out of Riverrun AND the Twins as punishment on their House and let them try to make their own way.

          • There’s also Robb’s squire Olyvar Frey and, I think, his brother (? I can’t remember the name), who weren’t at the Twins, probably because they didn’t want to participate in the RW, and poor Roslin, who clearly didn’t have a choice being used like that by her family and hated it, even crying throughout the wedding.

            Many others actively participated in what happened. But what complicates things is that, in Westeros, people are brought up to stick with their family and obey all the orders of their patriarch, no matter how horrible he may be to everyone, including them. We see that with Walder Frey, and with Tywin Lannister.

      • I never said GRRM’s story is as simple as “vengeance is bad”. There’s moral ambiguity that makes these stories of seeking revenge interesting. In many of the cases you mention, there’s an overlap of vengeance and justice. It’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins. When it’s clear that no system of justice will punish the guilty – and that happens a lot in Westeros – Not to mention that some of examples you mention may also fall into the realm of not even revenge, but practicality: sometimes murder is the only way of removing a terrible ruler, or protecting your own (As when Olenna poisoned Joffrey to protect the future of Margaery and her family. The hypothetical example of Arya killing people like Roose, Walder Frey etc. would arguably have a lot to do with that, rather than just simple revenge.)

        In some cases, it’s obvious that it’s pure vengeance, and that of the worst kind, a blood vendetta that doesn’t make a difference between the guilty and the innocent, such as Karstark murders two Lannister boy prisoners. But other cases are not that clear cut. Wyman Manderly’s revenge against the Freys (if the Frey Pies theory is right, and the hints that it is are far too strong) is something that we are tempted to cheer, but that’s also horrifying. The Sand Snakes’ ideas about revenge for their father are also quite disturbing, from Nymeria’s wish to murder a child king, among others, to Obara’s wish to sack Oldtown and start a war that would take many innocent lives. Although it’s difficult not to cheer Arya at times (as when she kills the Tickler), or not to sympathize with her anger over all the terrible things she has seen people commit and her desire to enact justice of her own, it’s also disturbing that an 11-year old is living that life – and it’s clear that her she is in essence a traumatized child who’s trying to cope, and that none of the killings are making her any happier in the end. Both Arya and Sansa have a feeling of emptiness when Joffrey dies – feeling that it simply doesn’t matter, compared to the fact that their own family members are dead. Lady Stoneheart is especially Martin’s tragic story of revenge – at first, what she and the BwB are doing seem like justice, and the only justice the victims of the Red Wedding are ever going to get, but when we see them hanging a 12-year old boy who’s done nothing wrong except squire for a woman that LS suspects to have betrayed her, it starts to look like they are going too far and that their murders are getting less discriminate, with “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality. The “monstrosity” of LS’s nature and appearance is reflective of her ruined psyche and her lack of hope. I don’t think that killing someone who is guilty of a terrible crime is a bad thing in itself, but it’s certainly bad to become so obsessed with revenge to not be able to focus on anything positive and life-affirming.

        • Winnief says:

          Precisely. And to be fair to the show, they make a point of showcasing the Sand Snakes retribution against Myrcella as being a terrible crime and the last thing that Oberyn would have wanted. Sansa *hated* Joffrey and naturally wished ill on him and Cersei, but she never had anything against his younger siblings and prays for mercy on Tyrion whom she pities, (even if she doesn’t want to marry him.)

          There’s a case for punishing the guilty, and there’s a certainly a public safety argument for taking the likes of Joff or Ramsay out, but ‘an eye for an eye,’ isn’t a great philosophy

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          Podrick, Hyle, and Brienne absolutely deserved to be hanged from Lady Stoneheart’s point of view. Look at the facts as she knows them:

          1. Brienne is carrying a Lannister sword made from the metal of her husband’s sword.
          2. Brienne has been crying out Jaime’s name.
          3. Brienne staunchly defends Jaime Lannister, and when you consider the last words Lady Catelyn ever heard, there isn’t any “suspects of betraying her”. The evidence is about as ironclad as you get.
          4. Podrick ADMITS TO KILLING MEN IN THE SERVICE OF HOUSE LANNISTER. That makes him an enemy combatant. If he wanted to be treated like a little kid, he should’ve acted like one.

          • I must have missed that part where “enemy combatants” Podrick, Brienne and Hyle Hunt were attacking the Brotherwood without Banners and Lady Stoneheart, so BwB and LS had to hang them in battle.

            It’s probably one of the deleted scenes from the books, together with the scene in which Rickard Karstark and his men killed Martyn Lannister and Tion Frey in self-defense.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            *Willem Lannister

            Simply put, all the evidence is that Brienne HAS betrayed Lady Catelyn. We the readers know she hasn’t, but there is simply no way for the BWB to know that.

            Also recall that even with that, Brienne was still given a chance to prove her faithfullness and declined in favor of staying loyal to Jaime. Really, was Cat supposed to just give her a pat on the head and let her go free? You’re influenced too much by Brienne’s POV, and not realizing just what her actions look like to someone who doesn’t know about her interactions with Jaime.

    • Winnief says:

      To be fair I think D&D didn’t put Sansa in Jeyne’s role, because they figured a common girl wouldn’t matter but because they were too cheap to try to use another character or do a Vale storyline for Sansa.

      Never read TWQ by Gregory and now I’m glad of it. I have other issues with her work though, like how she turns Anne Boleyn into a 2-d caricature who not only boffed her gay brother but practiced dark magic and how she wrote Queen Elizabeth I as a bitch on wheels. I think Gregory has issues with women who unapologetically wanted power.

      • Not because she’s a commoner, but because she’s a minor character and not one of the Starks. They have said in interviews that they wanted to “put Sansa and Ramsay together” (what a euphemism) since season 2 (!), and also that they “used” Sansa for “this storyline with Ramsay” (a very telling choice of words) essentially because the audience would care more:

        “You have this storyline with Ramsay. Do you have one of your leading ladies—who is an incredibly talented actor who we’ve followed for five years and viewers love and adore—do it? Or do you bring in a new character to do it? To me, the question answers itself: You use the character the audience is invested in.” (Bryan Cogman)

        So, it was basically “let’s make Ramsay rape and abuse Sansa, because that would shock people much more” and everything else was secondary to that. I think they’ve also said that Theon’s redemption is meaningful because he is saving a Stark. It’s not really about Sansa’s personality or arc or anything, it’s just that 1) it’s one of the main stars of the show and an actress the audience has been watching since she was 13, so that will shock people more, and 2) she’s a Stark, one of the family of our heroes.

        Re: Gregory: definitely. I’ve heard that about her portrayal of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, and it made me instantly never want to read those books, but it appears in her other books as well.

        I listened to the audiobook of “The Lady of Rivers” (haven’t finished it), her novel about Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, and there’s a similar one-dimensional negative portrayal of another woman who “married up”, Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester. She only makes an exception for Elizabeth Woodville, but to make her a heroine, she reimagines her as someone who’s not ambitious at all, but only motivated by her love for her family, and her “true love” with Edward IV (which is totally implausibly portrayed; we’re supposed to think they are in true love after having known each for something like a few hours, during which he’s acting as a jerk and just wanting to get her into bed, and even, as portrayed in TWQ, tries to rape her at one point). Everything she does to further her family’s interests and power is portrayed as just motivated by trying to protect them from evil Warwick and other bad snobby people who dislike them. But as a result, she ends up looking clueless to the point of being annoying (her mother has to explain to her that there’s a benefit in being married to the king; she’s SHOCKED! when Edward murders Henry VI; she’s SHOCKED! that a known horndog Edward has mistresses, even after they’ve been married for years; she’s even SHOCKED! that their eldest son is going to be living in a separate household in Wales, even though she should know by that time that this is standard practice for heirs to the throne, etc. And every other female character who is not Elizabeth or someone from her family (Margaret Beaufort, Margaret of Anjou, Cecily Neville, Anne Neville, Isabel Neville) is portrayed as either a scheming, power-hungry harpy, or a pathetic, jealous snob, or both.

        She also really likes incest and witchcraft as plot points. If someone was ever rumored or accused by their enemies of incest or witchcraft, she assumes it was true, portrays it like that in her books, and claims that it’s “historically accurate”.

    • Urg….Phillipa Gregory is awful. I despise her entire oeuvre.

      Well, I’d say it’s going to be quite similar once Rickon is brought back from Skagos.

      • winnief says:

        Agreed. Whether Rickon is returning from Last Hearth or Skagos he’s an obvious rallying point for Northerners who (quite rightly given Ramsay’s behavior) want to avoid Bolton rule at all costs.

        Rather than Gregory try “The Last Boelyn” by Karen Harper which is a very good book and to my mind a far more balanced portrayal of all three Boelyn siblings. It doesn’t gloss over their flaws but its very humane. (Though daddy Thomas Boelyn inevitably comes across as a total dick.)

        Wolf Hall is of course amazing but I do feel that Mantle has fallen in love with Cromwell too much to the point where she’s trying to skate over his dark side and ignore how brutal the man truly was and how he created a police state in England- and how devastating The Reformation really was.

        “The Tudors” for all its horrible inaccuracy in other ways felt a lot more to me where Cromwell was concerned in great part thanks to James Frain. His Cromwell was indeed a ruthless bastard but damn if you didn’t feel for him. I also thought Tudors did the best balancing act on Thomas More between the saint of a man for all seasons and the monster of Wolf Hall. And of course Sam Neill as Wolsey was just awesome, (he and Northam as More together were spell binding) and Naralie Dormer was my favorite Anne Boelyn yet.

        Damien Lewis though was a better Henry Viii and generally Wolf Hall is more accurate even if it lacks the exciting international politics of The Tudors or inside look at what happened to the monasteries. And the final ten minutes of episode 6 were freaking terrifying.

        • I saw the 1960s movie “Anne of the Thousand Days” on TV many years ago, when I was still a child, and though I don’t remember many of the details, nor do I know how accurate or not it was, Genevieve Bujold was spellbinding as Anne Boleyn, she’s etched herself into my brain ever since and it would be hard for another Anne to replace her.

        • I never saw The Tudors from start to end, just casually watched a random episode on TV when it came up. Right from the start, I was put off by how much Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks unlike Henry VIII. Yes, Henry was fit and considered attractive when he was young, but why would you cast a medium height, thin, brown haired actor to play a man known for being tall, big and red haired? And then it gets worse later, when Henry famously got very overweight and unhealthy, and JRM just keeps looking the same, only with greyer hair. The actor who played Buckingham looked a lot more like (youngish, pre-fat) Henry. (The real Buckingham was quite a bit pudgier, going by his portraits.) Then there’s the super-hunk Charles Brandon – who was actually far less attractive, had a big beard and was several years older than Henry. A part of that is the Hollywood habit of casting pretty people, many of the other male figures like Cromwell, More and others also are considerably better-looking in The Tudors than they really were. And they almost had a blonde Anne Boleyn, but Natalie Dormer insisted on dying her naturally blonde hair.

          I have to give credit to The White Queen there – the one area where it was surprisingly accurate is that most of the characters looked quite close to their historical counterparts (though it helps that those historical people were quite attractive to begin with). Except when they tried to make the 20-something actor who played Edward look like a fat 40-year old – it didn’t work. At least they tried, but it looked like he just had a cushion under his shirt. Maybe that’s what the lack of budget does (which is probably why all battles seemed like skirmishes between some 20 men in some forest or other).

          In “Anne of Thousand Days”, Henry was played by Richard Burton, who also didn’t look like Henry, but they did a really good job making him look like a very tall, big man that Henry was but Burton wasn’t. Probably a combination of costuming and small co-stars.

          • Winnief says:

            Meyers is a very good actor but there’s no question he was miscast as Henry VIII. (As I say Damien Lewis is my favorite version-he always looks like he stepped out of the Holbein painting.)

            Agree Cavill was a pretty inaccurate portrayal of Brandon as well, but man was he good eye candy.

            I actually really enjoyed “Wolf Hall’s” take on Mary Boelyn and thought Charity Wakefield was excellent in the role with that apple cheeked beauty and her new take on the Boelyn family “bad girl.” Problem was that she was almost *too* good-as some critics noted, Claire Foy’s Anne always looked terrible compared to Mary as well as being less fun.

          • Crystal says:

            I actually saw the movie “The Other Boleyn Girl” and one thing (yes, I know, just one!) that got to me was the casting of Ana Torrent as Catherine of Aragon – I think they wanted someone who was stereotypically Spanish looking, thin and dark, but Catherine was a short, stocky, gray-eyed redhead – not at all what we think of as “Spanish” looking. I know that real-life actors can’t match up perfectly to historical figures, but you’d think they’d try to get the coloring right at least!

          • Movies and TV shows almost always get Catherine of Aragon’s looks wrong. It’s because they want a stereotypical “Spanish” look. In “Anne of Thousand Days” she was played by Irene Papas, and in “The Tudors” I think they even dyed Maria Doyle Kennedy’s hair black. Only the BBC miniseries “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” had a historically accurate, red-haired Catherine.

            The casting directors of “The Tudors” generally seemed to hate gingers. They also cast brunettes (and never dyed their hair) as Henry VIII and his sister (in the series, he only has one sister, who was a merge of his two sisters Mary and Margaret – she was Mary in everything but name, but she was called Margaret, and for some reason married to the king of Portugal rather than France; it’s lucky that they didn’t make a sequel about Elizabeth, because they’d have trouble explaining the existence of Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI/I!) and his daughter, the future queen Mary I.

          • winnief says:

            Word about how they always get Catherine of Aragorn’s appearance wrong. I’ve watched the Six Wives of Henry VIII and enjoyed it though it can be a bit slow. The actresses they cast though were uniformly excellent.

            Again Damien Lewis is naturally a ginger and over 6 feet tall, (as well as hunky) so he certainly matches the part.

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