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