“Ned Stark’s tree, he thought, and Stark’s wood, Stark’s castle, Stark’s sword, Stark’s gods. This is their place, not mine. I am a Greyjoy of Pyke, born to paint a kraken on my shield and sail the great salt sea. I should have gone with Asha.”
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.
If last Theon chapter is a stress nightmare, Theon V is the full-blown thing, a riotous jumble of horrific imagery haunting our point-of-view character relentlessly, because Theon has damned himself and the bill is about to come due. There’s a moment in many tragedies where everything is starting to go wrong for the villain, but the grand finale hasn’t yet arrived – where Macbeth learns that his wife has committed suicide but Burnham Wood has not yet come to Dunsinane, where Jocasta flees the stage but Oepidus hasn’t yet gone looking for her, where Medea has received the news that her poisoned wedding gift has slain Glauce and Creon but before she resolves to slay her own children – and this is that moment for Theon.
Dream Interpretation with Theon Greyjoy
And so it’s appropriate that, as Theon is about to realize that the jaws of a trap have clamped around his leg and that there will be no escape from the consequences of his actions, that his dreams have turned into nightmares, for he hath murdered sleep:
He crashed through heedless, breathless, icicles flying to pieces before him. Mercy, he sobbed. From behind came a shuddering howl that curdled his blood. Mercy, mercy. When he glanced back over his shoulder he saw them coming, great wolves the size of horses with the heads of small children. Oh, mercy, mercy. Blood dripped from their mouths black as pitch, burning holes in the snow where it fell. Every stride brought them closer. Theon tried to run faster, but his legs would not obey. The trees all had faces, and they were laughing at him, laughing, and the howl came again. He could smell the hot breath of the beasts behind him, a stink of brimstone and corruption. They’re dead, dead, I saw them killed, he tried to shout, I saw their heads dipped in tar, but when he opened his mouth only a moan emerged, and then something touched him and he whirled, shouting…
Unlike in real life, where dreams are just your brain trying to make sense of the random surges of electricity that ripple through your brain during REM sleep, fictional dreams get to be genuinely meaningful and frequently prophetic. So here, Theon is literally being pursued by his crimes, pleading for the mercy he denied to others, prefiguring that he will be denied mercy in his turn. That his crimes take the form of direwolves with human faces dripping pitch works on a number of levels – it’s a call-back to Jojen’s dream from Bran V, it’s a reversal of Theon’s failed hunt for the direwolves, and it’s a way for George R.R Martin to tease the reveal of what Theon actually did without showing his hand at the beginning of the chapter.
At the same time, given some of Theon’s other dreams, the fact that he also dreams about the trees having faces (oddly echoing Qhorin Halfhand) also needs to be analyzed for a second. Theon Greyjoy is not a character whose plot often intersects with the supernatural, and there’s nothing in his background that suggests that he has any magical abilities. So to the extent that he’s experiencing something prophetic in these dreams, you have to wonder whether the weirwood trees are an outside influence bringing about these dreams.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the second dream:
The night before, it had been the miller’s wife. Theon had forgotten her name, but he remembered her body, soft pillowy breasts and stretch marks on her belly, the way she clawed his back when he fucked her. Last night in his dream he had been in bed with her once again, but this time she had teeth above and below, and she tore out his throat even as she was gnawing off his manhood. It was madness. He’d seen her die too. Gelmarr had cut her down with one blow of his axe as she cried to Theon for mercy. Leave me, woman. It was him who killed you, not me. And he’s dead as well. At least Gelmarr did not haunt Theon’s sleep.
Here, we can see a number of things going on. To begin with, we see Theon’s ongoing obsession with proving his masculinity with sex, such that his anxieties about losing face manifest as castration. And of course, following ADWD, we know that this is quite literal foreshadowing that Ramsay will use this to destroy his self-identity and turn him into Reek. It’s also one of the few points that suggest Theon may be a kinslayer who killed his own sons in one of the worst ways imaginable. It’s also a sign that Theon’s barely-held together coverup (which I will discuss below) is starting to get to him, because he’s starting to betray the truth in his dreams – that the miller’s wife was killed when her children were taken, that Gelmarr was there and had to die for that reason. This flashback also gives a nice element of continuity between the two dreams with the running theme of mercy denied, as well as Theon refusing to take responsibility for his own actions and blaming them on others.
However, it’s the third dream where things really go crazy, because even as a dream there’s some stuff going on here that does not make any sense that makes me think that Theon somehow spontaneously opened his third eye (not really):
That night he dreamed of the feast Ned Stark had thrown when King Robert came to Winterfell. The hall rang with music and laughter, though the cold winds were rising outside. At first it was all wine and roast meat, and Theon was making japes and eyeing the serving girls and having himself a fine time…until he noticed that the room was growing darker. The music did not seem so jolly then; he heard discords and strange silences, and notes that hung in the air bleeding. Suddenly the wine turned bitter in his mouth, and when he looked up from his cup he saw that he was dining with the dead.
King Robert sat with his guts spilling out on the table from the great gash in his belly, and Lord Eddard was headless beside him. Corpses lined the benches below, grey-brown flesh sloughing off their bones as they raised their cups to toast, worms crawling in and out of the holes that were their eyes. He knew them, every one; Jory Cassel and Fat Tom, Porther and Cayn and Hullen the master of horse, and all the others who had ridden south to King’s Landing never to return. Mikken and Chayle sat together, one dripping blood and the other water. Benfred Tallhart and his Wild Hares filled most of a table. The miller’s wife was there as well, and Farlen, even the wildling Theon had killed in the wolfswood the day he had saved Bran’s life.
But there were others with faces he had never known in life, faces he had seen only in stone. The slim, sad girl who wore a crown of pale blue roses and a white gown spattered with gore could only be Lyanna. Her brother Brandon stood beside her, and their father Lord Rickard just behind. Along the walls figures half-seen moved through the shadows, pale shades with long grim faces. The sight of them sent fear shivering through Theon sharp as a knife. And then the tall doors opened with a crash, and a freezing gale blew down the hall, and Robb came walking out of the night. Grey Wind stalked beside, eyes burning, and man and wolf alike bled from half a hundred savage wounds.
To begin with, Theon is seeing things here he really shouldn’t be; I could maybe buy that he’d heard the precise manner of Robert’s death, and perhaps he’d guess that Ned’s entourage is dead. But seeing Lyanna in full array – crown of winter roses, a blood-stained garment that suggests both Lyanna’s bed of blood and, for the reader only since that’s not a Westerosi tradition, a wedding dress – is clearly beyond Theon’s knowledge. (I’m also curious about the pale shades, which probably refer to the Stark dead in the tomb, but Theon’s reaction of “shivering” in fear and the “freezing gale” makes me think White Walkers) The capper, of course, is seeing Robb Stark bearing the wounds of the Red Wedding – although unlike in Dany’s visions he’s got his own head. This is just straight-up prophecy, as if the event is throwing ripples backwards in time and Theon is picking up the signal without any kind of heritage, training, ritual, or handy weirwood tree stump. The only explanation, to me, is that the sheer horror of the Red Wedding is so intense that the “dreamers” are picking it up.
The other thing that’s going on here is that we’re seeing a tiny bit of subconscious reflection from Theon about how badly he’s screwed up his old life, which was much better than he’s convinced himself it was. Granted, he’s not responsible for all of the death that’s ensued from the death of Robert to Robb’s death at the Red Wedding (unless you take the stance that by taking Winterfell he helped to convince Roose to pull the trigger, but that’s a stretch), but there’s quite a bit that he is responsible for.
Theon’s Dwindling Army and the Nature of Consequences
Speaking of things that Theon’s responsible, another thing we see in this chapter is the ramifications of Reek’s plan, which like all too good-to-be-true plans has a hook buried in it that you don’t notice until it’s too late.
These days, he took guards with him everywhere he went, even to the privy. Winterfell wanted him dead. The very night they had returned from Acorn Water, Gelmarr the Grim had tumbled down some steps and broken his back. The next day, Aggar turned up with his throat slit ear to ear. Gynir Rednose became so wary that he shunned wine, took to sleeping in byrnie, coif, and helm, and adopted the noisiest dog in the kennels to give him warning should anyone try to steal up on his sleeping place. All the same, one morning the castle woke to the sound of the little dog barking wildly. They found the pup racing around the well, and Rednose floating in it, drowned.
Given that Theon took Winterfell with around thirty men, the loss of three of them is a price that Theon can ill afford to pay, even before we learn that he’s ordering the death of his own men to cover up that he killed the miller’s boys and Bran and Rickon are still alive. Leaving aside the fact that this is kind of insane military strategy, it’s another glaring signal that Theon should be paying attention to that something is wrong about Reek. Because for all that fans have given the show shit about Invincible Shirtless Ramsay the Military Genius, his Northern Ninja routine is rather impressive here. At the same time, though, the killings create the impression that there’s a Stark loyalist insurgency operating inside Winterfell, and given his recent unveiling of the two children, there’s every reason to believe one exists:
…Theon could feel the blood rushing to his face. He took no joy from those heads, no more than he had in displaying the headless bodies of the children before the castle. Old Nan stood with her soft toothless mouth opening and closing soundlessly, and Farlen threw himself at Theon, snarling like one of his hounds. Urzen and Cadwyl had to beat him senseless with the butts of their spears. How did I come to this? he remembered thinking as he stood over the fly-speckled bodies…
He could not let the killings go unpunished. Farlen was as likely a suspect as any, so Theon sat in judgment, called him guilty, and condemned him to death. Even that went sour. As he knelt to the block, the kennelmaster said, “M’lord Eddard always did his own killings.” Theon had to take the axe himself or look a weakling. His hands were sweating, so the shaft twisted in his grip as he swung and the first blow landed between Farlen’s shoulders. It took three more cuts to hack through all that bone and muscle and sever the head from the body, and afterward he was sick, remembering all the times they’d sat over a cup of mead talking of hounds and hunting. I had no choice, he wanted to scream at the corpse. The ironborn can’t keep secrets, they had to die, and someone had to take the blame for it. He only wished he had killed him cleaner. Ned Stark had never needed more than a single blow to take a man’s head.
The killings stopped after Farlen’s death, but even so his men continued sullen and anxious. “They fear no foe in open battle,” Black Lorren told him, “but it is another thing to dwell among enemies, never knowing if the washerwoman means to kiss you or kill you, or whether the serving boy is filling your cup with ale or bale. We would do well to leave this place.”
“I am the Prince of Winterfell!” Theon had shouted. “This is my seat, no man will drive me from it. No, nor woman either!”
The execution of Farlan the kennelmaster, whom Theon promised protection to in his previous chapter, is the perfect example of the injustice and misrule that he has brought to Winterfell. For all his promises of good lordship, for all his comparing himself to Ned Stark, at the end of the day Theon Greyjoy is fundamentally selfish and only uses power to advance his clumsy sense of his own interests, while making everyone else pay the price for his mistakes. No wonder therefore, that Theon botches the job and fails to pass the test.
At the same time, one can see yet another parallel for the futility of the whole Ironborn invasion here. Even at its most leaderless and most divided, the North is not like the Riverlands during the time of Harwyn Hardhand and the Ironborn are not prepared to conduct an occupation in the face of an entrenched resistence. What Black Lorren says here at Winterfell will be echoed a thousand-fold by the poor bastards who get left behind to die at Moat Cailin or the men who die in the woods running from Deepwood Motte.
Asha Arrives To Make Things Worse
In addition to the nightmares, another running theme is Theon’s complicated feelings at the thought of Asha’s arrival: he wants to get back at her by flaunting his new status, he deeply resents the fact that he’s dependent on her aid, and he fears that she’ll mock him because of that dependence:
Theon washed the sweat and sleep from his body and took his own good time dressing. Asha had let him wait long enough; now it was her turn. He chose a satin tunic striped black and gold and a fine leather jerkin with silver studs…and only then remembered that his wretched sister put more stock in blades than beauty. Cursing, he tore off the clothes and dressed again, in felted black wool and ringmail. Around his waist he buckled sword and dagger, remembering the night she had humiliated him at his own father’s table. Her sweet suckling babe, yes. Well, I have a knife too, and know how to use it.
Last of all, he donned his crown, a band of cold iron slim as a finger, set with heavy chunks of black diamond and nuggets of gold. It was misshapen and ugly, but there was no help for that. Mikken lay buried in the lichyard, and the new smith was capable of little more than nails and horseshoes. Theon consoled himself with the reminder that it was only a prince’s crown. He would have something much finer when he was crowned king.
Asha. It was her doing. My own sweet sister, may the Others bugger her with a sword. She wanted him dead, so she could steal his place as their father’s heir. That was why she had let him languish here, ignoring the urgent commands he had sent her…
The fact that Theon is so profoundly traumatized by his one encounter with Asha speaks to an underlying fragility in his psyche lying just beneath the surface, and it’s this weakness more than anything else that ultimately makes it impossible for him to be an Ironborn. Compare Asha’s easy confidence and sang-froid to how quickly Theon’s bravado crumbles in the face of her mockery:
He found her in the high seat of the Starks, ripping a capon apart with her fingers. The hall rang with the voices of her men, sharing stories with Theon’s own as they drank together. They were so loud that his entrance went all but unnoticed. “Where are the rest?” he demanded of Reek. There were no more than fifty men at the trestle tables, most of them his. Winterfell’s Great Hall could have seated ten times the number.
…Theon Greyjoy strode to where his sister was sprawled. Asha was laughing at something one of her men had said, but broke off at his approach. “Why, ’tis the Prince of Winterfell.” She tossed a bone to one of the dogs sniffing about the hall. Under that hawk’s beak of a nose, her wide mouth twisted in a mocking grin. “Or is it Prince of Fools?”
“Envy ill becomes a maid…What else would you call it? With thirty men, I captured Winterfell in a night. You needed a thousand and a moon’s turn to take Deepwood Motte.”
“Well, I’m no great warrior like you, brother.” She quaffed half a horn of ale and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I saw the heads above your gates. Tell me true, which one gave you the fiercest fight, the cripple or the babe?”
Both in her person and the revelation that she’s only brought twenty men with her, Asha s an instant reminder to Theon that there is no cavalry coming, no way for him to escape this situation with face intact. Not that he has much face when Asha verbally emasculates him once again, showing how little respect his whole “no mercy” response to Bran and Rickon’s escape has won him. Even in a culture that historically has not blushed at the murder of children – see Qhored the Cruel’s murder of the Justman heirs for one example – Theon’s actions have won him no respect, either from his own men or from his sister, because they can sense that these are actions taken out of desperation and fear rather than from a position of strength and dominance.
And just like in a stress nightmare, the situation only gets worse for Theon once he and his sister have a private conversation, because why not combine public humiliation with private humiliation?
“How do you expect me to hold Winterfell if you bring me only twenty men?”
“Ten,” Asha corrected. “The others return with me. You wouldn’t want your own sweet sister to brave the dangers of the wood without an escort, would you? There are direwolves prowling the dark.” She uncoiled from the great stone seat and rose to her feet. “Come, let us go somewhere we can speak more privily.”
She was right, he knew, though it galled him that she would make that decision. I should never have come to the hall, he realized belatedly. I should have summoned her to me.
It was too late for that now, however. Theon had no choice but to lead Asha to Ned Stark’s solar. There, before the ashes of a dead fire, he blurted, “Dagmer’s lost the fight at Torrhen’s Square—”
“The old castellan broke his shield wall, yes,” Asha said calmly. “What did you expect? This Ser Rodrik knows the land intimately, as the Cleftjaw does not, and many of the northmen were mounted. The ironborn lack the discipline to stand a charge of armored horse. Dagmer lives, be grateful for that much. He’s leading the survivors back toward the Stony Shore.”
She knows more than I do, Theon realized. That only made him angrier. “The victory has given Leobald Tallhart the courage to come out from behind his walls and join Ser Rodrik. And I’ve had reports that Lord Manderly has sent a dozen barges upriver packed with knights, warhorses, and siege engines. The Umbers are gathering beyond the Last River as well. I’ll have an army at my gates before the moon turns, and you bring me only ten men?”
Here, we learn that the situation is even worse than it initially appeared – Asha’s only lending him ten men out a residual sense of pity and empathy (note how throughout this conversation Theon is always a step behind his sister, both in taking the initiative and in information) and Dagmer Cleftjaw has been soundly beaten at Torrhen’s Square. If we needed any further confirmation that the Ironborn’s dreams of conquest were lunacy, here we learn their crippling vulnerabilities when it comes to warfare against the rest of Westeros. While skilled in naval combat, marine operations, and amphibious assaults, the island-bound warriors have no cavalry of their own and lack the training mainland infantry get to stand up to cavalry assaults, which virtually ensures that they will lose any major battle they fight.
Reconciling the Ironborn’s history of conquest with this is a bit tricky – one answer might be that the Ironborn were more prepared for war during the time of Qhorwyn Hoare and Harwyn Hardhand, that the Riverland’s access to water allowed them to conquer territory through command of the rivers without risking open field battles, that once they had the Riverlands they could draft compliant houses into providing cavalry auxiliaries (in a weird crossover between the Vikings and the Romans), and that once you got to the second generation there were “ironborn” who’d grown up in the Riverlands colonies trained in mounted combat.
These two themes of the Ironborn way of war and the complicated (if not entirely broken) family dynamics between Theon and Asha come to an immediate clash when Asha tells him to abandon Winterfell and he refuses:
…“Father commanded me to take Deepwood Motte,” she snapped. “He said nothing of me having to rescue my little brother.”
“Bugger Deepwood,” he said. “It’s a wooden pisspot on a hill. Winterfell is the heart of the land, but how am I to hold it without a garrison?”
“You might have thought of that before you took it. Oh, it was cleverly done, I’ll grant you. If only you’d had the good sense to raze the castle and carry the two little princelings back to Pyke as hostages, you might have won the war in a stroke.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To see my prize reduced to ruins and ashes.”
“Your prize will be the doom of you. Krakens rise from the sea, Theon, or did you forget that during your years among the wolves? Our strength is in our longships. My wooden pisspot sits close enough to the sea for supplies and fresh men to reach me whenever they are needful. But Winterfell is hundreds of leagues inland, ringed by woods, hills, and hostile holdfasts and castles. And every man in a thousand leagues is your enemy now, make no mistake. You made certain of that when you mounted those heads on your gatehouse.” Asha shook her head. “How could you be such a bloody fool? Children…”
“You are blood of my blood, Theon, whatever else you may be. For the sake of the mother who bore us both, return to Deepwood Motte with me. Put Winterfell to the torch and fall back while you still can.”
“No.” Theon adjusted his crown. “I took this castle and I mean to hold it.”
There’s an irony here in the fact that both of them actually have a point – Theon’s right that the North cannot be held without Winterfell, that it is the political heart of the country, and that it will be a symbol of resistance for the divided Northmen to rally around (as they are in fact doing already); Asha is right in that the Ironborn do not have the capacity to do so and can only securely hold those areas accessible by the sea, in a watery form of interior lines. But that raises a major question about whether Asha is dissenting from Balon’s plan, because her critique of Theon could equally apply to the whole of Balon’s plan. If the Ironborn cannot fight and win major land battles, if they cannot dominate the vast interior of the North, then regardless of whether Balon gets his alliance from the Lannisters that he proposes in Theon XI, he’s on a fool’s errand. On the other hand, Asha’s mentioning that Theon should have taken hostages and razed Winterfell suggests that she’s not so much abandoning Balon altogether as preferring her own peripheral strategy, whereby the Ironborn stick to grabbing coastal territories and using hostages to keep the North quiescent. But we’ll have to wait for AFFC before we get to the problems with that strategy…
At the same time, however, Asha is positioning herself here as the dutiful child and her brother as the screwup black sheep, perhaps because Balon’s plan has gotten her territory that is genuinely defensible from an Ironborn perspective. And, as with all siblings, that’s the worst possible position for her to take, because it makes Theon instantly defensive and cling harder to the one thing he’s got that makes him something more than Balon Greyjoy’s least favorite child. Which does make me wonder how sincere Asha’s being here – after all, Balon Greyjoy’s getting up there in years and we know that Asha is his preferred heir. Why not make certainty doubly sure by making a token effort to persuade Theon to leave, while ensuring that he’ll stay and die in Winterfell?
Reek, Reek, It Rhymes With Nemesis
Once Theon has made his terrible, terrible decision to stay, Reek suddenly appears, now that there’s no escape from his clutches. And unfortunately for him, this is the moment Theon decides to worry that Reek might be a baddie:
Theon had not heard him approach, nor smelled him either. He could not think of anyone he wanted to see less. It made him uneasy to see the man walking around breathing, with what he knew. I should have had him killed after he did the others, he reflected, but the notion made him nervous. Unlikely as it seemed, Reek could read and write, and he was possessed of enough base cunning to have hidden an account of what they’d done.
“M’lord prince, if you’ll pardon me saying, it’s not right for her to abandon you. And ten men, that won’t be near enough.”
“Well, might be I could help you,” said Reek. “Give me a horse and bag o’ coin, and I could find you some good fellows…a hundred, might be. Two hundred. Maybe more.” He smiled, his pale eyes glinting. “I was born up north here. I know many a man, and many a man knows Reek…”
Leaving aside the fact that Theon should have known something was off when Reek showed himself capable of killing veteran Ironborn soldiers in a full-blown paranoid defensive posture, it’s really not a good idea to wait until someone has a secret to blackmail you with to start thinking about maybe killing him. But honestly, Reek is throwing out red flags left and right with the extent that I’m pretty sure he’s doing it on purpose to see how far he can push it before Theon sees what’s going on:
- While portraying a smallfolk best known for atavistic depravity, he reveals that he can read and write at a time where almost no smallfolk can.
- He tells Theon that he can find hundreds of Northmen willing to fight for the man who just condemned himself as a guest-right breaker, a kinslayer, and a murderer of child Starks, when anyone in their right minds would get the hell out of Winterfell and never come back.
- The only thing he asks for in return is to sleep with a woman, and like any case when a contractor offers you a suspiciously low bid, this should have put Theon on alert.
- His eyes – for the love of the Drowned Gods, Theon, you’ve met Roose Bolton before, what’s your excuse?
And so Theon, in the grand tradition of tragic protagonists who put their own necks into the noose, decides to give Ramsay everything he asks for and hope for the best. And given that he decides to take out his frustration and desperation through a vicious rape of Kyra, I’m not feeling a whole bunch of sympathy for him.
In the past, I’ve talked a bit about the early Viking attacks on England. But it was a far distance from these opportunistic raids to the kingdom that would be known to history as the “Danelaw.” In 865 CE, the leaders of the various Viking bands who had been doing quite well from themselves with shipborn raids decided to first merge, and second abandon their previous strategy in favor of one of history’s greatest gambles. Under the leadership of Halfdan and Ivar the Boneless, two sons of Ragnar Lodbrok (who fans of the History Channel’s Vikings may be familiar with), they landed in numbers in East Anglia. In a stunning act of short-term thinking, the Saxon King of East Anglia gave them horses and supplies in return for them attacking someone else, because giving Vikings mobility on land always works well for the land-based Saxons.
By 867, the “Great Heathen Army” had conquered Northumbria, which at the time was divided by civil war between the rival Kings Osberht and AElla, captured the great Northern city of York. After installing the Saxon Ecgberht as a puppet king – the Vikings often liked to work through quisling rulers, the origins of Asha’s strategy from AFFC – they proceeded to invade Mercia and hold the city of Nottingham to ransom, after a failed siege from the combined forces of the Kings of Wessex and Mercia. Temporarily balked in the west, the “Great Heathen Army” turned east and invaded East Anglia, defeating their King Edmund and conquering the Kingdom in 869. (Fans of BBC America’s The Last Kingdom will recognize the rather brutal death of King and future saint Edmund from Episode 2)
Two years later, the Vikings’ numbers were swelled by a second Danish army and they made a push to wipe out the interfering West Saxons, only to be unexpectedly defeated by King Aethelred at the Battle of Ashdown – the death of said King in that battle clearing the way for the ascension of Alfred to the throne of Wessex. Alfred, something of a cool customer, bribed the Vikings to go away and attack someone else. Which they did, conquering Mercia in 874.
In less than a decade, the Vikings had gone from opportunistic pirates to the masters of three out of four of the great Saxon Kingdoms, and they’d done it by ignoring the rules of Viking warfare. So maybe Theon’s gamble wasn’t such a bad one, after all.
In the next Theon chapter, I’ll discuss how the Vikings lost it all.
There’s two hypotheticals I want to address in this chapter, so let’s dig in:
- Theon had gone with Asha’s plan? This is an interesting scenario, because it creates some rather large ripple effects, not all of them beneficial to the Ironborn. While certainly Theon would gain great renown among the Ironborn for taking Bran and Rickon prisoner, things would get complicated indeed following the Red Wedding, when the Greyjoys would have to deal with the fact that A. they’re definitely not getting a treaty now, and B. their would-be puppet leaders now have two mainland oppositions in the form of the Lannister-backed Boltons (who now have a problem that the Starks have heirs who they can’t get to) and Ser Rodrik’s loyalist rump centered around White Harbor (who have the same problem for different reasons). It’s possible that Theon and Asha together, plus the two Stark kids, could have sold Asha’s peace policy at the kingsmoot, but I doubt that Euron was going to take no for an answer. So possibly Stannis captures many more prisoners at Winterfell? Or possibly Asha and Theon flee and try to work out a deal with Ser Rodrik? At the same time, Bran’s path to the Three-Eyed Crow gets that much more difficult, with attendant and unknown cosmic consequences.
- Reek hadn’t gone/had been killed? Here’s where you really get GRRM’s thumbs on the scale; I’ll talk about this more in much more detail in Theon VIII, but the short version is that without Reek’s WWE-style out of nowhere hitting Ser Rodrik from behind with a folding chair, Winterfell is retaken by Ser Rodrik and the Northmen. Bran and Rickon emerge from the crypts and the North emerges in a stronger position, having been unified in the defense of its capital and liege lords. While it’ll take some time for the process to complete itself, the Reeds go into their full-scale guerilla warfare against Victarion Greyjoy as the men of the Barrows and Rills cut as much of the Iron Fleet off from the sea as they can and Ser Rodrik sends one of the Starks up into the hills to rally the clans and Bear Island for an attack on Deepwood Motte.
- Which in turn means Robb Stark has no need to march north to his doom at the Twins. And without a free hand in the North, Roose Bolton’s political options narrow significantly…
Book vs. Show:
As I’ve said before, HBO’s Game of Thrones generally handles Theon’s Season 2 plotline very well, anchored by an amazing performance from Alfie Allen. While there’s quite a bit of stuff that didn’t make it from page to screen – most critically Ramsay and the deaths of the Ironborn and Ser Rodrick’s siege – the central confrontation between Asha (I refuse to say Yara) and Theon.
Gemma Whelan has not exactly been given the respect from the show fandom that she deserves; after all it’s not her fault what happened with her character (and indeed, the entire Ironborn story arc) in Season 4. But I defy anyone to say that she hasn’t absolutely nailed the complex relationship that her character has with Theon, the exasperated, condescending, fiercely loyal attachment of an elder sibling for a screwup younger sibling. Her heartfelt plea to Theon to “don’t die so far from the sea” is absolutely essential for anyone to buy her dramatic, season-ending speech from Season 3 where she pledges to bring him back, come hell or high-water. (Note to the showrunners: don’t write that kind of a narrative check without being very sure that you can pay it off later on. Because if you bounce that check, perhaps with some hunting dogs, you only alienate the audience)