Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon VI, ACOK


“If I die, I die friendless and abandoned. What choice did that leave him, but to live?”

Synopsis: Theon “wins” the Siege of Winterfell. And loses at life.

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:

One of George R.R Martin’s favorite tropes in ASOIAF is the meta-ironic revenge: he builds up a villain who you want to see punished for their misdeeds, and then makes their punishment so horrific that the audience recoils as GRRM advances on them wielding empathy like a cudgel. And here’s where it all starts, with a self-pitying teenage narcissist child murderer hitting rock bottom and then meeting one of the worst human beings ever committed to paper. And on a re-read, with full knowledge of what we’re going to learn in ADWD about what happened to Theon Greyjoy, the feelings of empathetic horror are intensified tenfold.

Teenage Identity Crisis

Theon VI begins in a sweaty, desperate, and sub-consciously suicidal scramble for any way out of the mess he’s got himself into that won’t involve acknowledging the huge mistake he made, despite Maester Luwin desperate attempts to get him to act like a reasonable and mature adult:

“My lord prince,” he said, “you must yield…my orders serves…the realm…and Winterfell. Theon, once I taught you sums and letters, history and warcraft. And might have taught you more, had you wished to learn. I will not claim to bear you any great love, no, but I cannot hate you either. Even if I did, so long as you hold Winterfell I am bound by oath to give you counsel. So now I counsel you to yield.”

“…You have no hope of holding here,” the maester went on. “If your lord father meant to send you aid, he would have done so by now. It is the Neck that concerns him. The battle for the north will be fought amidst the ruins of Moat Cailin.”

The instrumental obstacle to clarity and self-realization here is, as it as been since the beginning of the book, Theon’s daddy issues. Taking Winterfell was meant to be a demonstration that A. he’s really a Greyjoy and has triumphed over his Stark upbringing, and B. that he should be Balon’s favorite child and not Asha. Abandoning Winterfell would mean acknowledging that Balon was right and he really is a failure, and his ironclad belief that Balon will send help is a desperate last-ditch attempt to prove that his daddy loves him.

So when this stratagem fails, Theon looks to construct alternative identities as temporary props for the failure of his load-bearing sense of self-respect. The first attempt is “Theon, Ironborn Badass:”

“They made a pitifully small assembly; the ironmen were few, the yard large. “The northmen will be on us before nightfall,” he told them. “Ser Rodrik Cassel and all the lords who have come to his call. I will not run from them. I took this castle and I mean to hold it, to live or die as Prince of Winterfell. But I will not command any man to die with me. If you leave now, before Ser Rodrik’s main force is upon us, there’s still a chance you may win free.” He unsheathed his longsword and drew a line in the dirt. “Those who would stay and fight, step forward.”

“No one spoke. The men stood in their mail and fur and boiled leather, as still as if they were made of stone. A few exchanged looks. Urzen shuffled his feet. Dykk Harlaw hawked and spat. A finger of wind ruffled Endehar’s long fair hair.”

“Theon felt as though he were drowning. Why am I surprised? he thought bleakly. His father had forsaken him, his uncles, his sister, even that wretched creature Reek. Why should his men prove any more loyal? There was nothing to say, nothing to do. He could only stand there beneath the great grey walls and the hard white sky, sword in hand, waiting, waiting…”

“Wex was the first to cross the line. Three quick steps and he stood at Theon’s side, slouching. Shamed by the boy, Black Lorren followed, all scowls. “Who else?” he demanded. Red Rolfe came forward. Kromm. Werlag. Tymor and his brothers. Ulf the Ill. Harrag Sheepstealer. Four Harlaws and two Botleys. Kenned the Whale was the last. Seventeen in all.”

To begin with, let’s note that Theon’s bid for heroic immortality is inherently suicidal – this isn’t a plan for victory, it’s a suicide-by-cop pact masquerading as a glorious last stand. The pitch is far more successful than it has any right to be, given the military situation outside the walls, although whether that’s due to Theon’s essential charisma or the Ironborn’s devotion to their superior race/death cult mentality, I leave up to you. Unfortunately for Theon, this momentary high doesn’t last before the reality that it’s seventeen men against an entirely army comes crashing down on him.

File:Mark Evans Theon.jpg

Theon by Mark Evans

And so Theon does what he so often does when confronted with evidence of his own failure: he creates a new alternate identity to soothe his ego:

“I will not run.”

“I do not speaking of running, take the black….Ser Rodrik has served House Stark all his life, and House Stark has always been a friend to the Watch. He will not deny you. Open your gates, lay down your arms, accept his terms, and he must let you take the black.”

A brother of the Night’s Watch. It meant no crown, no sons, no wife…but it meant life, and life with honor. Ned Stark’s own brother had chosen the Watch, and Jon Snow as well.

I have black garb aplenty, once I tear the krakens off. Even my horse is black. I could rise high in the Watch—chief of rangers, likely even Lord Commander. Let Asha keep the bloody islands, they’re as dreary as she is. If I served at Eastwatch, I could command my own ship, and there’s fine hunting beyond the Wall. As for women, what wildling woman wouldn’t want a prince in her bed? A slow smile crept across his face. A black cloak can’t be turned. I’d be as good as any man . . .

The contrast between Luwin’s message of repentance and absolution, and indeed the far grimmer reality of life in the Night’s Watch, and Theon’s fantasies of power and pleasure is stark indeed. This is not a complete identity, in the sense of a fully-rounded and realized adult identity, it’s an adolescent power fantasy. All that he’s done is (literally, given his “tear the kraken off” thought) change costume from Theon Greyjoy, Ironborn Badass to Theon Greyjoy, Nineties Antihero.

Theon Turncloak

Unfortunately for the would-be prince of Winterfell, the borders of his fantasyland extend no further than the walls, because the moment he gets outside and has to talk to Ser Rodrik, the whole thing collapses into a mess of teenage emotional resentment:

“Ser Rodrik.” Theon reined to a halt. “It grieves me that we must meet as foes.”

“My own grief is that I must wait a while to hang you.” The old knight spat onto the muddy ground. “Theon Turncloak.”

“I am a Greyjoy of Pyke,” Theon reminded him. “The cloak my father swaddled me in bore a kraken, not a direwolf.”

“For ten years you have been a ward of Stark.”

As I suggested above, the Winterfell plot is inextricable from Theon’s identity crisis, and we can see here with the way that a parlay about how to resolve a siege immediately gets derailed by a fight over whether Theon is a Greyjoy or a Stark. Theon’s insistence that he is too a Greyjoy is made rather ridiculous by the fact that, for all that Theon protests, he can’t make up his own mind about which side he belongs to. Even after this conversation, we see Theon “Theon…brooding on the injustice of it all. “I rode beside Robb Stark in the Whispering Wood,” he muttered.” That sense of injustice, linked to his nostalgic memories of military service with Robb Stark, speaks to his continued (if somewhat subconscious) Stark identity.

Equally importantly to insisting that Theon is a Stark ward, Ser Rodrick provides Theon with a new identity, that of Theon Turncloak, the most despised man in the North, who has violated every custom that people hold dear. Theon Turncloak is the man who fought for Robb Stark at the Whispering Wood and then fought against him at the Stony Shore and Winterfell, despite being still in his service as envoy to Balon Greyjoy, the man who “murdered” his foster siblings and thus broke the taboos against kinslaying and the killing of children. Characteristically, Theon attempts to reject this label by pointing back to his Greyjoy identity almost like someone trying to claim the status of prisoner-of-war:

“Hostage and prisoner, I call it.”

“Then perhaps Lord Eddard should have kept you chained to a dungeon wall. Instead he raised you among his own sons, the sweet boys you have butchered, and to my undying shame I trained you in the arts of war. Would that I had thrust a sword through your belly instead of placing one in your hand…”

“…This is craven,” Ser Rodrik said. “To use a child so…this is despicable.”

“Oh, I know,” said Theon. “It’s a dish I tasted myself, or have you forgotten? I was ten when I was taken from my father’s house, to make certain he would raise no more rebellions.”

“It is not the same!”

“Theon’s face was impassive. “The noose I wore was not made of hempen rope, that’s true enough, but I felt it all the same. And it chafed, Ser Rodrik. It chafed me raw.” He had never quite realized that until now, but as the words came spilling out he saw the truth of them.

“No harm was ever done you.”

Theon gets the more cutting lines here, but I feel that Ser Rodrik is on the firmer ground here. Theon really has nothing to complain about when it comes to his treatment at Winterfell – yes, he occasionally got a few cutting remarks when he was acting like an entitled frat boy, but Jon Snow had a much colder reception and managed to refrain from rank betrayal. Theon, as Ser Rodrik points out repeatedly, was raised and educated exactly like Ned Stark’s own children, whereas he himself has treated his hostages with threatened and realized murder. His poor treatment is almost entirely a product of his own mind.  And throughout this scene where Theon and Ser Rodrik are arguing about whether the Starks were actually mean to him, I think what Theon is trying to say but can’t articulate verbally is: “MY DADDY DOESN’T LOVE ME, NO ONE THINKS I’M COOL, AND I CAN’T DEAL WITH HOW BADLY I FUCKED UP.”

Another thing I find fascinating about this exchange is that, as much as he protests, Theon actually starts leaning in to the Theon Turncloak identity as high emo, believing that “If I die, I die friendless and abandoned,” and complaining that “It was one thing to go into battle surrounded by friends, and another to perish alone and despised.” Since he’s believed to be a villain, he decides to act like one by threatening Beth Cassel’s life in pure Snidely Whiplash fashion, but he doesn’t have much conviction behind it as much as he has high levels of depression:

As the sun moved, the shadow of the tower moved as well, gradually lengthening, a black arm reaching out for Theon Greyjoy. By the time the sun touched the wall, he was in its grasp. If I hang the girl, the northmen will attack at once, he thought as he loosed a shaft. If I do not hang her, they will know my threats are empty. He knocked another arrow to his bow. There is no way out, none.

…They will attack, he thought gloomily, staring at the flames. Ser Rodrik loves his daughter, but he is still castellan, and most of all a knight…

To me, this reads like Theon having hit a complete dead end in terms of having a psychologically satisfying place in the world and attempting suicide-by-cop. Unfortunately for Theon, he doesn’t get his wish.

The Terms

Speaking of my suicide-by-cop theory, one of the reasons why I like it, is that I think it adds a lot to the next scene where Theon and Ser Rodrik finally get down to actually talking about the terms of surrender rather than squabble like infants:

“Say what you have to say, old man. What would you have of me?”

“Two things,” the old man said. “Winterfell, and your life. Command your men to open the gates and lay down their arms. Those who murdered no children shall be free to walk away, but you shall be held for King Robb’s justice. May the gods take pity on you when he returns.”

“Robb will never look on Winterfell again,” Theon promised. “He will break himself on Moat Cailin, as every southron army has done for ten thousand years. We hold the north now, ser.”

“You hold three castles,” replied Ser Rodrik, “and this one I mean to take back, Turncloak.”

Theon ignored that. “Here are my terms. You have until evenfall to disperse. Those who swear fealty to Balon Greyjoy as their king and to myself as Prince of Winterfell will be confirmed in their rights and properties and suffer no harm. Those who defy us will be destroyed…If this host is still in arms before my gate when the sun sets, Beth will hang,” said Theon. “Another hostage will follow her to the grave at first light, and another at sunset. Every dawn and every dusk will mean a death, until you are gone. I have no lack of hostages.”

Theon’s bluster here, his sneering villainy in threatening the lives of civilian hostages, is so over the top (and yet so ineffectual) that it really makes me think that he’s trying to provoke Ser Rodrik into storming the castle and killing him rather than taking him prisoner. I say ineffectual, because everyone at that parlay knows that Balon Greyjoy isn’t coming to rescue Theon, and that the Ironborn invasion of the North is never going to be successful. As Ser Rodrik points out, three castles is not a kingdom, and thirty men cannot hold Winterfell. There’s also a horrible irony in the fact that Theon places so much of his faith in the security of Moat Cailin, which he will be responsible for taking from the Ironborn once he’s remade as Reek.

At the same time, I do wonder to what extent Ser Rodrik might have had a better time of it had been less merciful and less honorable than he was here. After all, as we’ve talked about before, most sieges don’t end in assaults, they end with treachery or by surprise. Why not send 30 men over the walls in the middle of the night? Why not offer one of the gate guards a bag of gold and a fast horse? Because, at the end of the day, Rodrik Cassel is a good man who’s trying to win a battle without civilian casualties.

The Battle That Never Was

This is where we get to the most influential battle that never happened in the War of Five Kings. I say the most influential battle, because if this battle had actually happened, Robb Stark doesn’t have to march through the Twins back to the North, his political position is much restored among his own people because Winterfell has been retaken and his brothers are alive, and if word gets back to Catelyn soon enough it’s possible that Jaime Lannister isn’t let free. Even if the Red Wedding happens in this scenario, Roose Bolton will be fighting against a united North rallying behind another King in the North. But in order to make sure that never happens, GRRM has to pull off an audacious switcharoo,  stacking the deck against Theon:

“There will be no siege. Perhaps they will spend a day or two fashioning ladders and tying grapnels to the ends of ropes. But soon enough they will come over your walls in a hundred places at once. You may be able to hold the keep for a time, but the castle will fall within the hour…”
Theon climbed the watchtower at the angle where the eastern and southern walls came together to have a look at his doom. The northmen were spreading out to encircle the castle. It was hard to judge their numbers. A thousand at least; perhaps twice that many. Against seventeen. They’d brought catapults and scorpions. He saw no siege towers rumbling up the kingsroad, but there was timber enough in the wolfswood to build as many as were required.
Theon studied their banners through Maester Luwin’s Myrish lens tube. The Cerwyn battle-axe flapped bravely wherever he looked, and there were Tallhart trees as well, and mermen from White Harbor. Less common were the sigils of Flint and Karstark. Here and there he even saw the bull moose of the Hornwoods. But no Glovers, Asha saw to them, no Boltons from the Dreadfort, no Umbers come down from the shadow of the Wall.

If anything, this battle is somewhat over-determined – two thousand men do not need catapults and scorpions to overwhelm seventeen. Honestly, they probably don’t even need grapnels and ladders – they could probably take the walls by building a couple of human pyramids. Most likely, going by what we’ve seen of him before, Ser Rodrik deliberately over-prepared for this battle, probably trying to over-awe the defenders and win a bloodless victory, when he might have just rushed them and won his victory before anyone had a chance to stop him.

However, I think we can also see the legacy of the Hornwood crisis all over this battle that never happened. To begin with, the fact that there are no Glovers, no Boltons, no Umbers, few Karstarks or Flints, and no mountain clansmen point to the failure to mobilize that is Ser Rodrik’s ultimate downfall, as with a full mobilization, Winterfell wouldn’t have had to be rescued in the first place. In addition, while it’s still borderline possible that Ramsay could have sucker-punched the Northern army at 2,000 men, if the full 17,000 had been mobilized at Winterfell, there’s no way in hell that 600 men could have pulled that off.

Deliverance Unto Evil

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the moment where for five seconds, everything goes right for Theon Greyjoy. To begin with, note how GRRM has Theon hearing the news while waking from a dream, similar to how he’s been woken up by bad news in Theon IV and Theon V; he’s deliberately breaking the Rule of Three in order to off-foot the reader:

“PRINCE THEON!” The sudden shout shattered his daydream. Kromm was loping across the ward. “The northmen—”

He felt a sudden sick sense of dread. “Is it the attack?”

Maester Luwin clutched his arm. “There’s still time. Raise a peace banner—”

“They’re fighting,” Kromm said urgently. “More men came up, hundreds of them, and at first they made to join the others. But now they’ve fallen on them!…these are northmen, I tell you. With a bloody man on their banner…”

“By the time they reached the battlements, dead men and dying horses were strewn about the market square outside the gates. He saw no battle lines, only a swirling chaos of banners and blades. Shouts and screams rang through the cold autumn air. Ser Rodrik seemed to have the numbers, but the Dreadfort men were better led, and had taken the others unawares. Theon watched them charge and wheel and charge again, chopping the larger force to bloody pieces every time they tried to form up between the houses. He could hear the crash of iron axeheads on oaken shields over the terrified trumpeting of a maimed horse. The inn was burning, he saw…”

While this is without a doubt one of the bigger Deus Ex Machina moments in the entire series – Ramsay appears out of nowhere with a force of men who’ve barely been hinted to exist, like a heel coming out of the crowd to smack someone over the head with a folding chair – I’ve found that I don’t mind it as much on a re-read as I did the first time. For one thing, as I said above, 600 men vs. 2,000 is within the bounds of reason if we compare it to similar ambushes like the Whispering Wood, the Battle of the Camps, or Oxcross, and if you pay attention, you’ll note that Ramsay’s six hundred men are entirely cavalry, which gives them the advantage of speed and shock against a disorganized opponent. (Although the buildings should even up the odds somewhat, which is an odd detail to note) For another, on a re-read, I noticed that Ramsay’s sudden arrival to “save” Theon’s outnumbered defenders parallels the end of the Battle of Blackwater, with Tywin and the Tyrells coming in as the literal cavalry. It’s a technique that I’ll have to pay more attention to going forward, to see if GRRM does this battle-mirroring elsewhere.

It is also a fantastic reveal for Ramsay Snow Bolton, especially that the first words he speaks are a response to the question:

“Are you friend or foe?” Black Lorren bellowed…

“Would a foe bring such fine gifts?”

“”How many men did you lose?” Theon asked Red Helm as he dismounted.

“Twenty or thirty.” The torchlight glittered off the chipped enamel of his visor. His helm and gorget were wrought in the shape of a man’s face and shoulders, skinless and bloody, mouth open in a silent howl of anguish.

“Ser Rodrik had you five-to-one.”

“Aye, but he thought us friends. A common mistake. When the old fool gave me his hand, I took half his arm instead. Then I let him see my face.” The man put both hands to his helm and lifted it off his head, holding it in the crook of his arm.

Especially on a re-read, this couldn’t be more obvious. While he never lies, Ramsay never actually answers the question about whether he’s a friend or a foe and says straight-up to Theon’s face “he thought us friends. A common mistake. ” He’s all but carrying around a giant neon sign that says “I AM GOING TO BETRAY YOU.” Due to the fact that the Citadel has yet to isolate and electrify neon gas, Ramsay decides to make up for it by wearing some of the most cartoonishly evil armor this side of Sauron’s Spikes-of-Evil from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, not merely wearing the Bolton sigil of the flayed man but actually cosplaying as it.

Ramsay armor by LynxSphinx

Reek, Reek, it Rhymes with FUBAR

Here’s where we finally get the reveal of who Reek actually is, who has actually come to break the siege of Winterfell, and there is no explanation other than the overwhelming influence of Nemesis itself to explain why Theon doesn’t take one look at the man pictured above and realize exactly who he’s dealing with:

“Reek,” Theon said, disquieted. How did a serving man get such fine armor?

The man laughed. “The wretch is dead.” He stepped closer. “The girl’s fault. If she had not run so far, his horse would not have lamed, and we might have been able to flee. I gave him mine when I saw the riders from the ridge. I was done with her by then, and he liked to take his turn while they were still warm. I had to pull him off her and shove my clothes into his hands—calfskin boots and velvet doublet, silver-chased swordbelt, even my sable cloak. Ride for the Dreadfort, I told him, bring all the help you can. Take my horse, he’s swifter, and here, wear the ring my father gave me, so they’ll know you came from me. He’d learned better than to question me. By the time they put that arrow through his back, I’d smeared myself with the girl’s filth and dressed in his rags. They might have hanged me anyway, but it was the only chance I saw.” He rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. “And now, my sweet prince, there was a woman promised me, if I brought two hundred men. Well, I brought three times as many, and no green boys nor fieldhands neither, but my father’s own garrison.”

“…Ramsay.” There was a smile on his plump lips, but none in those pale pale eyes. “Snow, my wife called me before she ate her fingers, but I say Bolton…” 

A word on Ramsay. In part because of the way the show has, in my opinion, over-used Ramsay as a plot device, there’s a lot of debate in the fandom about Ramsay’s capability and intelligence. If we look at the way that Ramsay reveals how he faked his death, I think we get a pretty good picture of who he is – he’s someone who’s capable of pretty damn clever improvisation, but who is fundamentally an uncontrolled psychopath. Ramsay is captured in the first place because he’s incapable of overriding his appetites to the point of maintaining awareness of his surroundings. (Incidentally, while it’s a subject for another time, I do find the existence of Old Reek, and their shared fascination with sexual sadism, an interesting question of which one made the other. Probably a case of the chicken and the egg) And while he successfully carries out his disguise and tricks Reek into dying in his place, if it hadn’t been for the incredibly unlikely turn of events of Theon taking Winterfell, he probably would have died a captive at Winterfell.

However, I’m also fascinated by how Ramsay is working here thematically. His last line there perfectly sets up his core motivation of being recognized as a Bolton, but it also fascinatingly parallels Theon’s own arc. Both men are the youngest sons of disapproving fathers, motivated to impetuous action by the need for acknowledgement and respect. The difference between them is that Ramsay authentically is the kind of person Theon think he needs to be to win his father’s love, an imposing figure who commands fear and obedience from everyone around him, and I shudder to think how far Ramsay would have risen had he been raised on the Iron Islands and validated by the Old Ways. However, Ramsay is also a more realistic perspective on that kind of 90’s villain protagonist, a figure straight out of nightmare. (And while I recognize that kinkshaming is not in fashion in fanfiction circles, I really hope that people who make him the starring role in BDSM fantasies actually understand that real-world BDSM involves carefully negotiated consent…)

GRRM wastes very little time shining a spotlight on Ramsay’s villainy by showing us that, unlike Joffrey, here is a bully who is not a coward and who will respond to defiance with unrelenting violence. As I said in the introduction, this is also where GRRM punishes us for wanting Theon punished:

The Bastard’s backhand caught him square, and his cheekbone shattered with a sickening crunch beneath the lobstered steel. The world vanished in a red roar of pain.

Sometime later, Theon found himself on the ground. He rolled onto his stomach and swallowed a mouthful of blood. Close the gates! he tried to shout, but it was too late. The Dreadfort men had cut down Red Rolfe and Kenned, and more were pouring through, a river of mail and sharp swords. There was a ringing in his ears, and horror all around him. Black Lorren had his sword out, but there were already four of them pressing in on him. He saw Ulf go down with a crossbow bolt through the belly as he ran for the Great Hall. Maester Luwin was trying to reach him when a knight on a warhorse planted a spear between his shoulders, then swung back to ride over him. Another man whipped a torch round and round his head and then lofted it toward the thatched roof of the stables. “Save me the Freys,” the Bastard was shouting as the flames roared upward, “and burn the rest. Burn it, burn it all.”

As someone who recently went through two molar root canals in one year, I really don’t react well to any mouth-related trauma, and the way that GRRM describes Ramsay breaking Theon’s face with a backhand is eye-watering. And it’s all over incredibly quickly, with Theon’s would-be Ironborn heroes hacked down ingloriously within a few seconds.

Amidst the carnage, however, there are two very important political points. The first is that Ramsay says “save me the Freys.” As I argued back in Arya X, I think that the Freys and the Boltons agreed to betray Robb Stark before the news came back about the Crag, and this is an excellent point of evidence in my favor. There is no way that an uncontrolled psychopath like Ramsay would deliberately spare the life of any civilian child, much less adopt them as his squires, without being told to. And that requires Roose to have sent a message to the Dreadfort telling them to betray Rodrik’s force and prevent the retaking of Winterfell by loyalist forces, something he absolutely needed to have happened lest the North be held against him on his way home, and that message wouldn’t have included a strict instruction to preserve the lives of Walder Frey’s kin unless Frey had signed on the bottom line already.

Moreover, without the Red Wedding, Roose is exposed to accusations of high treason – there were several hundred survivors of Ramsay’s attack who could have sent a raven down to the Riverlands, and Ramsay’s force attacked while wearing Bolton livery and carrying Bolton banners. It’s a sign of how Ramsay’s uncontrollable tendencies are something of a liability; hence needlessly burning Winterfell, the one place in the North that is a safe refuge in the long winter, in the middle of autumn.

Historical Analysis:

The extent to which nobles are able to fake their own deaths in ASOIAF is actually one of the most accurate parts of the series. With the absence of photography, artistic traditions of realism, and more importantly mass media, most people didn’t know what powerful people looked like (yet another reason why sigils and heraldry were so important). Thus, faking one’s death was an option open to noblemen in desperate situations.

For example, in the Battle of Hastings, William of Normandy faked his own death in order to provoke his men into a “method” feigned retreat that would lure the Saxon infantry off the high ground and out of their shield wall to where his cavalry could effectively destroy them. Similarly, in Shakespeare’s version of the Battle of Shrewsbury, King Henry IV sends several decoys dressed in royal heraldry to distract Harry “Hotspur” Percy.

In non-pseudocide cases, Alfred the Great of Wessex was reputed to be a master of disguise – once disguising himself as a peasant when the Danes had routed his army, which is supposedly when the “try try try again” story with the burnt oatcakes (which also crops up in the legends of Robert the Bruce) happened, and another time disguising himself as a minstrel to spy on the Danish:

“[Alfred] played and sang in the very tent of Guthrum, the Danish leader, and entertained the Danes as they caroused. While he seemed to think of nothing but his music, he was watchful of their tents, their arms, their discipline – everything that he desired to know.”

(England Under The Good Saxon, Alfred, by Charles Dickens)

The list goes on and on: the Swedish House of Vasa, including Kings Gustavus I, Gustavus II (known to history as Gustavus Adolphus), Gustavus VI, and Christian X, seems to have made it a tradition to go out in disguise, which makes me wonder whether the Swedes were just humoring them after a certain point.

So at this point, I’m sort of surprised that so few people in ASOIAF are in disguise.

What If?

There’s are a ton of hypotheticals here, so I’m sure I’m going to miss a few. But here’s some that came to mind:

  • Ser Rodrik isn’t sucker-punched? As I said above, it was overwhelmingly likely that Ser Rodrik would win the Siege of Winterfell. This in turn would reveal that Bran and Rickon are, in fact, not dead. For several reasons, this might butterfly away the Red Wedding – not only does it remove much of the immediate reason for the Wedding’s setup, it also disrupts the Wedding’s potential effect by leaving Stark heirs alive. Possibly Roose and Walder go for capturing Robb rather than killing him in order to try to compel Bran to surrender rather than fight on.
  • Theon is captured by Rodrik? This one I find more interesting based on what happens later with Balon Greyjoy’s death. It’s quite possible that, in a scenario in which Robb doesn’t need to fight his way back home, the North might use Theon as a captured King of the Iron Islands to force an Ironborn withdrawal from the North, either through negotiation or through subterfuge as in OTL. It’s even possible, albeit highly unlikely, that Asha’s plan for the Iron Islands to switch sides after Balon’s death might be possible, with the North pushing for an Ironborn attack on Lannisport or the Shield Islands to force Tywin and the Tyrells to split their forces.
  • Theon goes to the Watch? This one gets really weird. Theon’s left it way too late to go on the Great Ranging, but he’d be right on time for the Battle of Castle Black. It’s possible he could die here, but it’s also possible that Theon might survive and try to run for Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, given his overweening arrogance.
  • Theon dies? This one is interesting. If Theon dies at Ramsay’s hands, this means that he’s not on hand at Moat Cailin. Now Roose will eventually push through, but not without taking a lot of casualties, which would definitely weaken him in the upcoming conflict with Stannis. He’ll have a bigger problem with legitimizing “Arya” at Ramsay’s wedding, but I don’t know how consequential that will be. The bigger issue to me is that it’s quite possible that “Arya” either never escapes (which is a horrible thought) or dies escaping, which is a huge problem for the Boltons.

Book vs. Show:

And so we come to the end of Theon’s Season 2 arc, which ended on a high note. Theon’s moment of despair with Maester Luwin, his frustration with the anonymous hornblower, and his defiant speech to the Ironborn are some of Alfie Allen’s best acting. I even don’t mind the way it left the mystery of who captured Theon and who destroyed Winterfell.

However, I do think that the show wrote itself into a ditch with this particular plotline. With Theon not appearing in ASOS or AFFC, this really only left them with interpolations and his few ADWD chapters, and pretty much all of the rest of the cast nowhere near him for at least a season. But even then, I think there was more they could have done to build a psychologically interesting relationship between Theon and Ramsay that didn’t make so much of Season 4 repetitious compared to Season 3.


173 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Theon VI, ACOK

  1. priddy says:

    Thanks for another great review, Steven. I have also wondered, what would have happened, if Winterfell got retaken by Ser Rodrik, and Bran and Richkon discovered alive and well. First of all, a lot of joy form the Stark front, but I fear that the Red Wedding probably still takes place. At this point Rob has already married Jeyne Westerling and Catelyn released Jamie. Lord Karstark is still going to commit the murder that will cost him his head and Robs the Karstark troops, which will leave his position even more weakened. More important, the Freys and Boltons have already switched sides and there is really no way for them to turn back now. The Freys fear the Lannister/Tyrell alliance too much, and Tywin won’t forgive a second betrayal. As for Roose Bolton, if he doesn’t go through with the plan, it is just a matter of time, until his sabotage of the Northern campaign gets discovered. So, yeah, the Red Wedding happens, just differently. I agree that in the new sceneario, Rob and Catelyn get taken alive as hostages.
    Lord Roose is probably still declared the new Lord Paramount of the North by the Iron Throne.
    Of course, things could never happen this way, because G.R.R.M. needed to get Bran on his way north to meet the three-eyed crow.

    • Winnief says:

      Thing is I think Roose *could* have still backed out. THe man’s no fool and he’d realize, that with living Stark heirs-and Winterfell-for the North to rally around he wouldn’t stand a chance. My guess is that Roose would just denounce Ramsay’s activities as his bastard son going rogue and let the Northerners slaughter him while he makes new heirs with Walda and figures out another play.

      And without Roose on board, no way Walder Frey pushes the Red Button. Logistically he probably *can’t* do it without Robb’s army absorbing the losses at Duskendale and Roose’s troops joining in the slaughter and perhaps even more important psychologically, I just don’t see Walder having the stones to try something like that on his own. Remember he’s only in *negotiations* with Tywin at this time.

      Also if word gets out that Bran and Rickon are alive and well in Winterfell, then its much, MUCH less likely the Sansa/Tyrion marriage takes place. I don’t know if that entirely stops the Purple Wedding, but it might complicate matters a bit there. And it would certainly put a crimp in Littlefinger’s plans to use Sansa as the Key to the North.

      • priddy says:

        I agree that Walder Frey, not matter how hurt his pride, is too much a cowardly weasel than to dare to betray Rob on his own. Likewise, with Bran and Rickon still alive, Rob’s life is relatively “less” in danger (he is still fighting a war, after all) and no one is in a great haste to marry Sansa Stark.
        However, bear in mind that the liberation of Winterfell does not equal the liberation of the entire North. As long as the Iron Men hold Moat Cailin, the troops can’t be refreshed with new men. Even the way over White Harbor per ship is blocked, with Lisa Arryn closing off the Vale.
        The big question is, if Roose Bolton can at this point in the conspiracy still simply step out. In my opinion, no. While the Lord of the Dreadford can distance himself, from his bastard’s actions (as he already did), he can’t hide forever from the treason he commited by sending the troops to the trap at Duskendale. In ASOS Roose is able to put the blame on Glover, but that was only delaying time. If Rob had lived to investigate the matter further – especially if he didn’t have to focus so hard on the North – , Roose’s deception would have eventually been discovered.
        So while a living Bran and Rickon would have complicated things for the Freys and Boltons (and for the Lannisters), I am certain that the high-treason-express had already left the station and was gaining speed.

        • Winnief says:

          With WF re-captured by Ser Rodrik, Robb doesn’t HAVE to mark back through Moat Cailin so quickly to re-take the North. And as we know from ADWD, the IB at Moat Cailin were succumbing to cold, hunger, and disease. Eventually they’d have either all died off or abandoned it of their own accord.

          • Crystal says:

            In that case, Robb could have just sent a raven to Howland Reed and asked for his help with the Ironborn – cue the IB picked off by Crannogmen quite a bit faster than in OTL.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree with this – I really think it was Bran and Rickon’s “deaths” and the taking of Winterfell that put Roose firmly on the path of betrayal. If Sir Rodrik had retaken Winterfell, and Bran and Rickon alive so far as everyone knew – what would Roose, or Walder Frey for that matter, get out of betraying Robb other than an axe to the neck? Bran, and after him, Rickon, would still be alive in an intact Winterfell. Meaning that even if Robb bought the farm, there’d be two more Stark heirs to rally around. The Stark name is magic in the North, and much of the Riverlands as well. No way would most people want Roose Bolton as premier Northern power, even with Bran disabled and therefore “less than.”

        It took Bran and Rickon’s deaths, and Winterfell taken beyond retrieving, that pushed Roose over the edge. He couldn’t gain anything otherwise, not with Bran and Rickon to go through.

        Walder – yes, Walder might do something stupid, because the RW is a colossally stupid move in the long run, but I doubt that he’d try a massacre under the circumstances.

    • Thanks!

      I think you’re right that the Freys abandon Robb, but would Robb still need to go North?

      • priddy says:

        Well, at this point in the timeline Balon Greyjoy is still alive and the Moat Cailin is still strongly held. Victarion doesn’t abandon his post and takes the main force with him until the kingsmoot, but, yeah, Rob probably doesn’t have to march back home, if Winterfell is retaken by Ser Rodrik. Yet the question remains, if Rob not returning to the North stops the Frey-Bolton conspiracy , or not. As I have argued before, the Freys can still back down, but in my opinion Lord Roose crossed a point of no return, when he send Glover’s troops under false orders on an ill-fated campaign with the intention to fail. Now, it would have been just a matter of time, until his betrayal would have been discovered.

  2. Winnief says:

    Brilliant analysis as usual Steve.

    I think you make an unassailable case here that Roose and Walder were *already* planning to betray Robb and so blaming it all on the Westerling marriage is a major fallacy. Also let us all take a moment to shudder at the thought of what Ramsay’s squires will soon be ‘learning’ from him.

    While Roose clearly did instruct Ramsay to take WF if possible, (and he HAD to be one to tell him to save the Frey’s,) I think it’s safe to say that Roose never said anything about *burning* Winterfell since that was such a pain in the neck for him later.

    I think while showRamsay is *slightly* more organized than the book version, he is also portrayed as being more cunning than wise, and they’ve done a good job showing ShowRoose’s growing frustration with his bastard’s son inability to think things through. I for one am keenly anticipating what might happen there next season.

    Love Ser Rodrik pointing out the obvious-three castles is not ‘holding’ the North. It just perfectly summarizes how ridiculous the whole thing is.

    ITA with everything you said about Theon as a character. And since it cannot be said enough, Alfie KILLED it in those final scenes.

    • Mr Fixit says:

      I think that much of the confusion around whether Ramsay acted with Roose’s knowledge comes from Martin’s iffy timekeeping. I think the argument goes that Ramsay simply had to time to reach Dreadfort, send ravens to Roose, receive his instructions, gather troops and march to Winterfell.

      • Mr Fixit says:

        Argh, no edit button. The second sentence should read: “…Ramsay had NO time to reach Dreadfort…”

      • Laural H says:

        Also, he’d already married Little Walder’s sister, so it’s possible that he had already sent orders to get the Freys to the Dreadfort.

      • I don’t think that’s quite the scenario – rather, Roose sent a raven to the Dreadfort giving them orders, and then Ramsay showed up in time to implement them instead of a flunky.

      • John says:

        Where even is Roose at this point? Is he still at the Twins, or is he at Harrenhal? Certainly Ramsay wouldn’t know he was at Harrenhal, so there’d presumably be even more delay if he sends a Raven to the Twins, and then another Raven has to be sent to relay the message to Roose. And the idea that Roose would have left standing orders to his castellan to get together an army to betray Rodrik both completely takes away Ramsay’s agency and seems wildly unlikely.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it.

  3. Iñigo says:

    Only three more chapters!

    You’ve really worked hard on this.

  4. KrimzonStriker says:

    I’m not going to feel this bad for Cersei when her time comes in ADWD, no one manipulated her in the end and she had the political highground in AFFC. Theon was doomed from the beginning, but Cersei I can well and truly say did everything she could to deserve what happened to her, quite frankly and unlike Theon she probably got off lighter then what her crimes warranted.

    • Cersei certainly suffers less physically than Theon does.

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        I would argue mentally as well, since she certainly didn’t have a sudden revelation/change of heart like Theon did at the end.

        Btw, Steven, are my tumblr questions getting through? Because I’ve forwarded a couple of questions to you a few weeks ago. Just want to know if there’s something wrong with my account settings is all, if you just couldn’t get to them I understand given how busy you must be.

        • If you’re sending them through as KrimzonStriker, sure. Anon is hard to tell.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            I believe I did send them as KrimzonStriker. There were two particular questions I remember, one was about how Doran is paying his armies to just sit there and wait when all the other sides in the war dealt with desertion or the prospect of plunder/glory to create buy in. Another was how any of the Free Cities allowed the R’hllorite religion to become so big as to have entire TEMPLES dedicated to it and openly preaching against slave masters like in Volantis. I used the example of Christinaity not managing to escape the persecution that would invoke until Rome converted/preached tolerance under Constantine.

          • The latter one I answered, I remember.

            The former I think got swamped in the queue.

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Ah it’s in the inbox. I don’t know if I quite agree with the Southern slave comparisons. One, white southerners were practicing Christians themselves, they kind of had no way of not exposing their slaves to their religion in that case. Two, they did everything they could to twist the Christian religious message to help reinforce the idea of bondage on their slaves. I don’t see the R’hllorites doing that exactly, though your point about them only really stirring when the comet came has merit, perhaps I’ve seen too much of Melissandra and Moqorro to imagine the Red Priests as having ever been passive.

    • As awful as Cersei is, being punished in such a sexual way for being a promiscuous woman by a religious zealot was enough to make me sympathize with her. Remember her walk was for screwing non-Jaime people after Robert’s death, not any of her real, horrific crimes. I still thinks she deserves to die but would be happy if she offs the high sparrow first.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree with you – while Cersei deserves some kind of retribution for all she’s done, the Walk of Shame is specifically for misogynist reasons. Sleeping around after Robert died is not a bad thing (striking and almost killing wounded Lancel was, but that’s separate from sleeping with him); all the torture she’s heaped upon Senelle, Falyse Stokeworth, Margaery, etc. and also ruining the kingdom, is.

        When it comes right down to it, having Margaery go free, then punching Cersei in the nose and sending her to the silent sisters would have been more satisfying…

      • KrimzonStriker says:

        I would agree with any other woman, just not Cersei though. And this is because ultimately she, more then any other person, brought it on herself. And no it’s not for her actual crimes but for her overriding arrogance, stupidity, and vindictive, self-destructive manipulation that led to her downfall. None of this would have happened had she just NOT gone after Margeary, had she focused on balancing the damn books and paying off the thrones debts instead of running up more expenditures, or given the Faith back its swords, or just had actual competent people in charge. And what gets me most is she STILL didn’t learn that lesson despite seeing what it’s cost her.

        • David Hunt says:

          Unfortunately for Cercei, she can’t put competent people in charge. The first thing any such person would do is move to minimize her own power. Can’t have that…

          • KrimzonStriker says:

            Had she been a competent person herself she’d make them, if not friends, at least reliable partners and lord knows HER power needs minimizing.

  5. Mr Fixit says:

    “But even then, I think there was more they could have done to build a psychologically interesting relationship between Theon and Ramsay that didn’t make so much of Season 4 repetitious compared to Season 3.”

    Maybe it would have wreaked a bit of havoc with timelines, but I think it would have been a good choice to leave Theon out of Season 3 (much like they left out Bran in Season 5 for lack of material), especially since D&D opted to split ASoS over 2 seasons. So we catch up with Theon post-Red Wedding at the beginning of Season 4 and the show can essentially adapt his Seasons 3 and 4 arcs over a single year. The first half of the season would include Ramsay’s crazy games about Theon’s identity, stripping him of both his flesh and his mind, and then at the end of the season there’d be Moat Cailin stuff and the legitimization of Ramsay, much like what really happened in GoT.

    This way there’d be less repetition of both “jesus, how much punishment can one guy take” and “man, this Ramsay is getting overdone”.


    • Winnief says:

      Agreed. In fact, I think one reason D&D decided to leave Bran *out* of Season Five was because they’d learned from the experience of Theon Season 3, how awkward such shoe-horning was.

      Though, to be fair, I’m sure at least part of theon Season 3, was just how much they loved what Alfie was doing in the part…and wanted to keep him on contract.

      • Mr Fixit says:

        Sure, Alfie *is* a revelation. And since he’s a grown actor, not a kid, there may have been some contractual obligation about leaving him out an entire year. Also, I’ll point out that I personally wasn’t overly bothered by Theon’s arc, but then again I love the show tremendously and may be somewhat uncritical when it comes to the show’s weaknesses. But yeah, consolidation Theon early ADwD/flashback material over one season instead of two would probably have been for the best.

        • Sean C. says:

          Leaving somebody out of a season does void their contract, which is why shows try to avoid it. With Bran they ultimately decided to bite the bullet by season 5; with Theon, of course, the material was suddenly there again and they didn’t have to.

          In terms of how Season 3 could have been done, I would suggest keeping his first three appearances more or less as is, concluding with the great shot of Ramsay’s sinister expression and Theon being locked up. Then cut the next two, which is where the “Christ, this story is just repetitive torture” narrative really set in. Conclude the season with the segue from Roose to Ramsay, but have Theon already in Reek mode (and perhaps with a bit more obvious physical transformation than the show did). The scene with Balon and Yara already established that Theon was castrated, if the audience really needs to know that, and Alfie’s acting and some decent makeup should be enough to convey the enormity of what happened, leaving the audience to imagine the interim.

          • Winnief says:

            ITA with everything you said about how the season could have been better edited.

            And the time they *didn’t* spend on gratuitous torture scenes could have been used for RW set-up like explaining why Robb’s army was in such trouble now with the Tyrell-Lannister alliance or character development for Sansa, or even just more snark from Olenna and/or Varys.

          • Laural H says:

            Wasn’t the castration episode scripted by Martin? The show runners just seemed really overly invested in the concept.

          • Sean C. says:

            Martin didn’t write the Theon scenes (he was eager to make that clear in the commentary track).

          • Laural H says:

            Yeah I never really thought it was his idea, he’s just writing the script.

          • Sean C. says:

            I mean literally, he didn’t write those scenes. They were originally part of a different episode and moved into episode 307 in post-production. There’s a number of scenes written by GRRM in 308, by comparison.

    • It is certainly an interesting thought experiment to see how the audience would have reacted had the show drip-fed hints about Theon.

  6. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Great review, Steve.
    This is my first time commenting here. I love your essays, and I really appreciate your real-life historical analyses.
    Alfred the Great posing as a minstrel to spy on the Danes? Wow, if only The Last Kingdom had included that part,

    “that message wouldn’t have included a strict instruction to preserve the lives of Walder Frey’s kin unless Frey had signed on the bottom line already.”
    I have to disagree on that. Roose could have just wanted the Freys as hostages or leverage for his negotiations with lord Walder.

  7. Andrew says:

    Another good addition.

    1. Regarding Luwin’s suggestion of taking the black. I think Theon will remember that in TWoW just as Stannis is about to execute him. Everyone knows Jon is the LC, and think he would likely make Theon’s life a living hell, so I think they would allow it. Besides, we have yet to see any request to take the black refused.

    2. “Robb will never look on Winterfell again.”

    The one thing Theon does prove to be right about.

    3. Ramsay’s lack of control over his baser instincts always comes back to bite him. His sport in hunting woman is just one instance. Burning down Winterfell is another, since it destroys the glass gardens that could have been used to feed the castle in ADwD.

    • winnief says:

      1. Yeah one thing I liked on the show was Theon specifically mentioning Jon’s presence at the Wall as a reason not to take the Black since he fears retribution.

      But it now looks like Theon will return to the Iron Islands…its Jaime who I believe will one day take the black.

      2. Sad because its true.

      3. And as Lady Dustin notes Ramsay’s abuse of fAyra is lethal to the Bolton cause. Plus everybody knows now you can’t hope for mercy from Ramsay even if you surrender.

      • Andrew says:

        Roose is not much different in showing mercy when he killed the squatters after they practically rebuilt Winterfell. Even Tywin knows “when your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you.”

        • Winnief says:

          True. I got tripped up because ShowRoose is portrayed as far more pragmatic.

          And once again, how do I love Rheon and ESPECIALLY McEllhatton in their respective roles?!? Let me count the ways

        • David Hunt says:

          Westeros has always had different law for smallfolk. Roose wouldn’t have done that to highborn. I don’t think he’d have subjected them to physical labor and definitely wouldn’t have executed them without trial.

          The nobles of the North may have thought those executions in bad taste, but it’s my understanding that Roose was entirely within his rights to execute commoners for squatting in Winterfell.

          Keep in mind that Roose’s snobbishness is somewhere in Tywin Lannister territory. He’ll cut out a servant’s tongue for speaking without him prompting after one warning. And that warning was given to Nan (Arya) who had greatly aided his taking Harrenhall.

    • 1. Maybe, but I don’t think that’s where Theon’s story is going. I think it’s more the Torgon Latecomer thing.

      2. Yep. Possibly because of the dream he had…

      3. Yep.

      • Andrew says:

        1. I don’t think he will take the black either, but that would be due more to fate. Maybe if the Weeper takes the Shadow Tower (which I think is likely with the chaos at the Wall) he will capture Theon’s party en route and put out his eyes. He would end up going back to the Iron Isles as a kind of Tiresias guided by Bloodraven and Bran. But that is all just speculation.

  8. Keith B says:

    “Roose … sent a message to the Dreadfort telling them to betray Rodrik’s force and prevent the retaking of Winterfell by loyalist forces…”

    Sent a message to whom? Who would Roose have trusted to carry out those orders? He had every reason to believe Ramsay was dead. Steelshanks Walton was at Harrenhal. Who else did Roose have?

    Anyway, the Winterfell mission depended on knowledge that only Ramsay possessed. Ramsay alone knew that Theon was trying to hold the castle with 30 men. It could as well have been 200. Ramsay alone had a deal with Theon to bring help. Theon would not have opened the gates otherwise.

    Ramsay would not have stayed at the Dreadfort to exchange ravens with Roose. He had already made his plans, and he needed no further orders. He was in a hurry to get back, else he might have found Rodrik already in possession of the castle. Ramsay’s actions at Winterfell were completely on his own initiative.

    He spared the Freys because he knew that Roose had married Walda (who was Little Walder’s sister). The decision to make them his squires came later, after he had returned to the Dreadfort and learned more of Roose’s intentions.

    • Grant says:

      This is the same maniac who would waste time on raping a woman to death. We shouldn’t assume he’d have the ability to restrain himself from killing anyone he could absent direct orders from his father.

      • Winnief says:

        My sentiments exactly. He doesn’t just restrain himself from killing the Frey boys-he’s actively giving orders they’re to be safeguarded and the ONLY person who could make Ramsay do that, (or make Ramsay do anything really) is Daddy.

      • Keith B says:

        I think there are strong objections to the theory that Ramsay was acting under direct orders. As for the Freys, the fact that one was the brother and the other the cousin of his new stepmother was a good reason to protect them without the need for orders. Ramsay was desperate to obtain his father’s approval, and killing his father’s new relatives clearly wasn’t a way to do it. If you need more reasons, Ramsay knew the Freys and was aware that they weren’t sympathetic to the Starks. One of them willingly volunteered to help hunt down Bran and Rickon. They were both rather vicious people and Ramsay believed they could be useful to him.

        If you’re completely convinced that Ramsay was such a maniac that there’s no way he would refrain from killing the Walders without an explicit command, there’s probably no argument that would persuade you otherwise. If he’s that much of a madman, though, I wonder why he would hold back even with such orders. After all, Roose is thousands of miles away and Ramsay could always claim that the Freys were killed by the Ironborn or by accident.

        • Grant says:

          Out of fear of Roose. And we’re convinced he’s that crazy because he doesn’t do much (or really anything) to suggest otherwise.

        • Crystal says:

          I think that’s a good point, that both Freys were kin to Roose’s new wife. Little Walder is her full brother. When you consider that kinslaying is one thing that Roose Bolton hesitates at (he wanted to kill Ramsay for allegedly poisoning Domeric, but stopped because That Would Be Kinslaying) – I think that Ramsay knew Daddy would be *furious* if New Stepmom’s brother and cousin were killed.

          Because otherwise, yes, the Walders are too far down in the Frey succession to be valuable hostages (unlike Sansa Stark, potential heiress). It makes me think that Poor Quentyn is right and Big Walder might have a bigger part to play later. Otherwise, it’s as if Big Walder was sent to Winterfell because his name was picked from a hat. Little Walder is Walda Bolton’s brother, but Big Walder is far down in the succession and not related to anyone important.

          • Andrew says:

            Meh, there’s basically no chance of Big Walder making it out of the North alive. Angry northmen, winter, and the Others are all on their way…

          • David Hunt says:


            I think he might make it out, actually. He’s a loathsome human being and he almost certainly murdered his cousin and namesake, but he’s still a kid. I figure there’s a good chance that Stannis’ forces will spare him when they take Winterfell. After that, he’s in Winterfell,. Even though it’s in ruins, it’s still probably the best place in the whole of the North to make a stand against the Others. I’d say he’s got a chance to get out alive and maybe even inherit the Twins after the slaughter that’s coming with RW 2.0

          • Keith B says:

            To put it another way, he’s a loathsome human being, therefore in GRRM’s world he has an excellent chance for a long and successful life. But with all the other sub-plots that need to be wrapped up in the last two books, there may not be enough time to tell what happens to Big Walder.

          • Andrew says:

            Even if any Freys survive (I would not put it past GRRM to have them all brutally murdered to prove a point about revenge…) I simply cannot see the Freys remaining in power. Hell I half think someone might torch the Twins themselves…

            I think Edmure’s brat inherits it IMHO. That or the Starks/Tullies simply claim it for themselves.

            The idea that the Freys would keep ANYTHING post Red Wedding is rather incredible. Everyone hates them.

    • Nittanian says:

      I vacillate between Ramsay acting independently or acting on Roose’s orders, mainly because of the timeline issue. In support of the former, it’s possible Ramsay was impressed with the Freys while claiming to be Reek (one of the Walders volunteers for the hunt for Bran and Rickon) and decided to spare them.

    • Steelshanks Walton is not the only vassal Roose Bolton has. I think he sent the note to the Dreadfort in the expectation that the castellan of the Dreadfort would carry it out.

      I disagree about the knowledge – Roose would have known that a small party had seized Winterfell because the news had been spread all over the North when Rodrik raised the banners to retake the place.

      • Keith B says:

        Roose doesn’t seem to have many reliable lieutenants. Whenever he needs anything done, it’s always Steelshanks who does it.

        That Theon took Winterfell with so few men is a closely guarded secret, even much later. Roose tells Robb that the Ironborn killed Rodrik Cassel, Leobald Tallhart, and Cley Cerwyn, and burned down Winterfell and the Winter Town, and it’s only because of Ramsay that he was defeated. Nobody wonders how that’s possible if there were only thirty. Rodrik doesn’t know what a small force Theon has until he gets to the castle and sees that there’s hardly anyone defending the walls. If they knew the truth, why did Leobald Tallhart bring his entire garrison, leaving Torrhen’s Square to be taken by Dagmar Cleftjaw, and what was the need for all the Cerwyns, Flints, Karstarks, Manderlys, and Hornwoods, plus the siege equipment?

        Not only did the plan to take Winterfell require intimate knowledge of the local situation, but attacking and destroying a much larger force required guile, ruthlessness and boldness. It’s not a task that Roose might have entrusted to just anyone. If it weren’t for Ramsay’s super-villain talents, it might well have failed and revealed Bolton’s treachery to everyone. Roose wasn’t reckless enough to do it; but Ramsay was, and Roose was quite willing to take advantage of it when it succeeded.

        On your theory, Ramsay wasn’t really essential to Roose taking the North, because Joe Nameless in the Dreadfort could have done the same thing. I think that’s a serious underestimation of Ramsay’s talent and luck.

        • John says:

          Right, exactly this. Roose absolutely does not know enough about the situation at Winterfell to be willing to order his random castellan, who also doesn’t know anything about the situation at Winterfell, to betray the Starks despite having no particular likelihood that this wouldn’t backfire on him horrendously. I really don’t think Roose knew anything about this until after it happened.

          We should also note that none of Roose and Ramsay’s conversations in ADWD suggest any involvement by Roose in destroying Winterfell.

          The only argument Steven has for Roose’s knowledge is “Ramsay would never save the Freys without direct orders from Ramsay.” And I just don’t see why that’s the case, nor do I see why, if Ramsay is that much of a rabid monster, he’d bother to obey such orders from his father. He saved the Freys because they’re related to his father’s new wife, and he still wants to earn his father’s approval (remember, he hasn’t yet been legitimized at this point), and because he already knows them and thought they could become useful proteges.

  9. Sean C. says:

    I thought Theon was dead after reading this chapter, so I was quite surprised to see him turn up in A Dance with Dragons (his absence from the intervening books reinforced that impression).

    • David Hunt says:

      I’m pretty sure that Roose mentions that Theon is a prisoner at the Dreadfort. He gives Catelyn a bit of Theon’s skins that Ramsay had flayed from him sent with a message.

      • Sean C. says:

        You’re right, I believe, but that detail didn’t really register with me.

        • Ditto on believing Theon dead. And while I do recall Roose’s mention of holding Theon in ASOS, at the time I chalked it up to a jumble in the narrative timeline or a miscommunication from the Dreadfort. But I soon forgot all about that considering that Roose’s comment comes mere pages before the RW.

    • It certainly helped that Reek I wasn’t titled Theon I.

  10. Ethan says:

    I don’t know that Ramsay’s sparing of the Freys’ necessarily dictates that the Red Wedding is already planned or just that Roose is considering it and wants the Freys’ as leverage to encourage Frey compliance.

    • Winnief says:

      I think Roose would need more ‘leverage’ than two boys who are far FAR down in the line of ascension to compel compliance from House Frey on something like this. No it’s more likely he and Walder were already plotting *something* even if they didn’t have the details worked out just yet.

  11. thatrabidpotato says:

    “Reek, Reek, it rhymes with FUBAR” LMAO. You do have a way with words, Steven.

    This is one of the most pivotal moments in the whole series, and another reason why I hate Clash, because it’s one of the most blatant Diabolus Ex Machinas out there, on par with the Shadow Baby as unbelievably saving Lannister/Frey/Bolton hides.

    • Thank you! It’s kind of why I love Clash, because you really don’t see this coming the first time.

      • Winnief says:

        Not saying the unpredictability nature isn’t fun for the series, but I agree Martin puts his thumb on the scale here too hard sometimes. Perhaps we can forgive Shadow Baby since assassinations (whether supernatural or not,) do indeed shape Westeros and feudal politics in general. But Ramsay’s bush-whacking, ON TOP of Theon taking WF and the whole IB invasion of the North seems not a little excessive use of Deux Ex Machina.

        It also makes me wonder if Martin might have plans to *somehow* let Euron’s lunatic plan to invade Oldtown and the Reach, even *succeed*-at least for a time, so Euron survives long enough to face Dany.

        • Mr Fixit says:

          I know it had to happen to propel the story forward, but Theon taking Winterfell is the single most unbelievable moment in the series thus far. A lot of other things can be excused by luck (favouring the bold), careful planning, etc. But this… come on! To take the capital of an entire goddamn kingdom in the middle of the war with 20 men is just bullshit, pure and simple. No one is such an idiot to leave the center of their authority and power, not to mention royal heirs, totally undefended when you have confirmed reports of sizable enemy forces operating not so far away.

        • Crystal says:

          I agree with both your comments. I think ACOK was full of thumb-on-the-scale moments. While Theon is a fully realized character in his own right (and his arc in ADWD is one of the best in the series along with Sansa’s and Jaime’s), outside of that, his arc in ACOK is there to weight the scale against the Starks. Robb’s (IDIOT) decision to send Theon back to his father, Balon’s (COLOSSALLY IDIOTIC) decision to invade the North, and then Theon’s taking Winterfell. So much of it not believable.

          • Andrew says:

            Reality is unrealistic. The Ironborn are as mad as Imperial Japan. Or the Third Reich for that matter…

            It’s definitely putting the thumbs on the scale, yes, but that doesn’t make it unrealistic, on the contrary people are capable of doing very stupid things when they can.

            For that matter look at the 4th Crusade- the Byzantines were likely on their way out or at least in for a few rough decades, but I doubt anyone would have predicted a blind octogenarian, leading a Crusader force, would end up sniping the greatest city in Europe.

          • Mr Fixit says:

            I bet he didn’t snipe the city with 20 men though! Nor did Japan or Nazi Germany lose because of awesome 20 men.

          • Andrew says:

            Twenty men against a skeleton garrison and led by someone who lived there for nearly a decade? Theon pulled a classic decapitation strike after a bait-and-switch, and he got very, very lucky (because GRRM needed him to be). It’s not utterly impossible on the face of it and it makes a good story so I’m willing to let it slide, this one time.

            Constantinople is much, much bigger than Winterfell.

    • Metacod says:

      I’ve tried thinking of ideas that would have made the fall of Winterfell more plausible, and I have two, although I’m not sure they work logically or thematically. The first is if Balon initially gave more manpower to Theon. Even while keeping Asha as the favored child (giving her the same 30 longships with 900+ men, and handing her the primary responsibilities in battle) and insulting Theon for his greenlander ways, Balon could have given Theon more men (400-500 rather than the 240 or so he got), more trust, and more of a chance to prove his worth. If Theon used the same number of Ironborn for the diversion at Torrhen’s Square, the number of Ironborn available for taking Winterfell could increase to 200-300. Also, the increased trust by Balon could make Theon seem less delusional with his belief that he has chance to win his daddy’s favor.

      The other idea is if Theon showed up to Winterfell openly and claimed to be on the Stark side, having brought Ironborn troops to support them, and then once inside the castle walls took Bran and Rickon hostage. With the advantage of being able to ambush from inside the walls, it might have been possible for the takeover to work even if Rodrik had left more troops. If a couple hundred Stark soldiers are present (300-500), and Theon comes with 250 or so Ironborn and is welcomed into the castle, a combination of taking Bran and Rickon hostage and ambushing as many soldiers as possible might convince the Stark troops to stand down. It’s a long shot, but it would seem less ridiculous, and would allow Rodrik and Luwin to seem less stupid by having left some soldiers to guard the castle. Again, there are probably several problems with these ideas, so feel free to point them out.

      • blacky says:

        Metacod says:
        March 8, 2016 at 4:52 am
        I’ve tried thinking of ideas that would have made the fall of Winterfell more plausible:

        Liked your plausibility ideas. I did the same on some of the other unlikely plot points that GRRM misused to move the plot forward. I found it frustrating that such a vast literary world would have such unbelievable concepts that seemed to be rushed and inconsistent.

        Now I’m starting to think that GRRM is merely a good TV writer where logic and continuity oftentimes fail due to time constraints…

  12. Sean C. says:

    Theon gets the more cutting lines here, but I feel that Ser Rodrik is on the firmer ground here.

    I don’t. Theon was a hostage. A well-treated hostage, to be sure, but he was still a hostage, and under the threat of death if Balon acted out of line.

    It’s obvious why the Northerners view him as a turncloak, but I don’t think that’s objectively a fair characterization. He didn’t owe the Starks any more loyalty than Sansa owes the Lannisters, and he was entirely within his rights to side with the Ironborn against them. Theon’s real crimes are those committed against civilians and his own men.

    • Winnief says:

      “Do you know what it’s like to be told how lucky you are to be somebody’s prisoner? To be told how much YOU owe them?!? And then to go back home to your real father?”

      You gotta give the show this-they made Theon’s betrayal of the Starks much more emotional but also gave a lot more insight into the psychology behind it and how fucked up his whole situation really was-without absolving him of guilt for killing the boys.

      • Sean C. says:

        The discussion Theon has with Rodrik makes the same point, more or less.

        On the larger point, I disagree. The show approaches the story from a very different place; the writers themselves refer to Theon’s betrayal of the Starks as his “original sin” — hence, he redeems himself by saving a real Stark and does so after Sansa repeatedly berates him for his lack of loyalty and insists that Bran and Rickon were his brothers too (which the books really don’t support). So they due view his feelings of resentment as basically unjustified, and that he did owe the Starks loyalty.

        • In the show, he swears his sword to Robb of his own free will, so he’s more directly compromised.

          • Sean C. says:

            Is that really of his own free will? He’s still Robb’s hostage. When you’re a hostage, swearing allegiance to your captor, even one where you’ve developed a decent personal relationship, is rather problematic.

            Put another way, if Theon hadn’t been forcibly taken by the Starks to Winterfell, would he be swearing allegiance to Robb? Clearly no.

          • I think it is. He doesn’t have to swear personal loyalty to Robb Stark, but he does, and he does it on reciprocal terms. “Am I your brother, now and always?”

        • Andrew says:

          See the problem with that is that it reduces Sansa to a mere object in Theon’s storyline which is 1. misogynistic, 2. ignores that frankly she’s much more important than he is both meta-textually and in story.

          Also the whole point of Jeyne Poole is that Theon is risking his life to save an innocent nobody, that no one else (whether or not they thought she was real- my gut says that they all suspect/believe she’s fake) could care to lift a finger for.

          THAT’s his redemption, especially as he murdered two children to cover for his petty pride and participated in a horrific invasion rife with warcrimes.

          • Especially since there is a strong parallel between the two lowborn boys that Theon thought expendable and murdered them to use them as stand-ins for the two Stark heirs, and lowborn Jeyne, seen as expendable by almost everyonr and used as a stand-in for a Stark heir.

            Of course, another similarity is that in both cases, they were directly victimized by Ramsay. Who was it that said that Ramsay is thematically the Devil who both tempts Theon into his gravest sins, and then imprisones and punishes him in Hell?

      • David Hunt says:

        Doesn’t Theon swear loyalty to King Robb with all the Northern and River Lords at the end of AGOT? He doesn’t have to do that. He doesn’t have to fight for Robb at all if he’s just a hostage. He does it anyway.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Every ward can theoretically become a hostage if their parents disagree with their hosts. Ned could’ve been a hostage at the Eyrie if Rickard Stark and Jon Arryn suddenly went to war.
      Does that theoretical possibility completely let Ned off the hook from having to be grateful for how well Arryn treated him?

      • Sean C. says:

        If Jon Arryn had actually seized Ned and made him a hostage, or if such danger had ever presented itself, then yes, Ned would have a legitimate case. But that wasn’t what happened.

        Ned’s situation cannot be compared with a ten-year-old being taken hostage to a distant land with the understanding he’ll be killed if certain conditions are not met.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          You missed my point. The “certain conditions” WERE met. Instead, Theon WAS given an upbringing in a larger and richer castle, in a more stable and loving environment, learning how to exist in the very highest tier of nobility, and generally treated very well. And he turns on the Starks anyway.

          I brought up the point about Ned to illustrate that every ward theoretically faces the dangers that Theon did, no matter the circumstances around their original fosterage. Yet at the end of the day, Theon and Ned both came out of their situations just fine. You’re trying to excuse Theon on the basis of what COULD have happened, not what DID.

          • Sean C. says:

            No, it’s not a question of what could have happened. It is a question of what did happen. Namely, Theon was a hostage, and always knew that, having been forcibly removed from his home, and always with the understanding that he could be executed a moment’s notice. The certain conditions weren’t met; Balon never rebelled again after 289 AL.

            Ned was never a hostage, nor even in a situation where that prospect was threatened.

            You’re trying a compare a situation where a group of armed men burst into a family home and drag the kid away to another house, where he’s kept under guard, but otherwise treated peaceably enough, but for the knowledge that they might have to shoot him at a given moment; with a situation where a kid’s parents send him off to live with a family friend for a few years. Sure, the family friend could turn out to be an abusive dick, but if he’s not, the situations are not remotely the same.

            And as I said, this is not about “excusing” Theon. He commits numerous crimes in this book which are not justifiable. But siding against the Starks is not one of them.

        • artihcus022 says:

          I am currently stringing up the world’s smallest violin to cry for those poor widdle noble hostages who get the most luxurious of prison suites, at the lord’s table with the lord’s children, while the poor sods who waged battle for them, if they survive, can best hope to attain a pilgrimage to the Quiet Isle.

          For someone with the privileges that Theon has simply by dint of his birth in a highly unequal society, that strikes me as being very much a fair trade.

          • Sean C. says:

            That’s basically just another version of the argument that Sansa shouldn’t complain about how the Lannisters treat her because she’s well-fed and other people in Westeros are starving.

            Yes, Westeros is a seriously unjust society, and many people have it worse than Theon. That doesn’t mean that Theon being a hostage is suddenly fine and he is required to be loyal to the people taking him hostage.

          • David Hunt says:

            Sean, isn’t Theon one the people proclaiming Robb King in the North and pledging loyalty to him at the end of AGOT? I may be misremembering, but betraying Robb after that is not just a hostage striking at his captive. There’s a real betrayal there.

          • Sean C. says:

            He was there. I don’t think that matters. He was Robb’s hostage, and his time with the Starks even, from his POVs, affected his thinking (hardly unusual), not to mention there’d be an inherent pressure to go along with it.

          • artihcus022 says:

            ”That’s basically just another version of the argument that Sansa shouldn’t complain about how the Lannisters treat her because she’s well-fed and other people in Westeros are starving.”

            Where have the Starks done anything like betray, lie, usurp, kill Theon’s family and then use him as a pawn to claim the Iron Islands?

            Your argument is one should give Theon a pass simply for being a noble hostage because that position is inherently so unfair that Theon has every right to spite the Starks. Well it doesn’t.

          • Sean C. says:

            Your argument is one should give Theon a pass simply for being a noble hostage because that position is inherently so unfair that Theon has every right to spite the Starks. Well it doesn’t.

            Yes it does. Hostage-takers are not entitled to the loyalty of their hostages simply because they are nice to them. Theon owes the Starks nothing.

            This does not in any way exempt him from the ordinary laws of war and basic good conduct, which he repeatedly breaks throughout A Clash of Kings.

          • Sean C. says:

            Where have the Starks done anything like betray, lie, usurp, kill Theon’s family and then use him as a pawn to claim the Iron Islands?

            I never said they did (though the wardship of Theon is, in effect, using him as a pawn to exert influence over the Iron Islands). The point is that it is specious to argue that Theon is not allowed to view his situation as unjust because there are other people suffering more than him.

          • artihcus022 says:

            The point is that it is specious to argue that Theon is not allowed to view his situation as unjust because there are other people suffering more than him.

            It isn’t specious at all. It’s similar to Jon Snow angsting about being a bastard in the Night’s Watch when by Westerosi standards he got a very good deal. As harsh as Catelyn was, she treated him far better than Cersei did Robert’s bastards or the Shield Island family treated their bastard step-child.

            I don’t think Theon’s situation was especially unjust, except in the sense that he has to be taken hostage for his father’s crimes…but then Theon has a claim to the Iron Islands throne on account of his father’s claim as well.

          • Lya says:

            What absolute nonsense. Your entire argument boils down to nobles having no grounds for complaining about anything that happens to them because of their privilege. This would justify what happens to Sansa, Arya, Tyrion and Bran. All of them receive privileges for their noble birth, in addition to suffering injustices for their gender or disabilities. The injustices still are injustices. As are Jon’s injustices, even if he could have had it worse. “It could be worse” isn’t an an argument that the status quo is okay. Not for Theon or Jon, any more than for the Starks.

          • Lya says:

            Where have the Starks done anything like betray, lie, usurp, kill Theon’s family and then use him as a pawn to claim the Iron Islands?

            To the Lannisters? The Starks were betraying Joffrey. They were justified, because Joffrey was a monster, but they were still betraying them. The Starks’ betrayal does not mean Sansa owes the Lannisters any loyalty, and she would not even if Joffrey were trueborn and not a sociopath.

          • Lya says:

            Also, exactly none of this is a reason for Theon owing the Starks loyalty. Even if it’s not unjust for one person to hold another prisoner–and it’s really ridiculous to say that about a child whose life is being threatened to ensure his father’s compliance–that doesn’t make the prisoner owe any loyalty to his jailer.

          • artihcus022 says:

            What absolute nonsense. Your entire argument boils down to nobles having no grounds for complaining about anything that happens to them because of their privilege.

            That’s not really my argument. What I am saying is that Theon being a Noble Hostage is a mark of privilege. It’s an unusual and weird situation to be in, but as a nobleman it’s not atypical at all. Theon doesn’t deserve special sympathy simply for being a noble hostage in a feudal system.

            Being treated especially worse by kind and degree despite being a noble hostage is grounds for complaining. Sansa gets abused, emotionally, physically and psychologically and is treated as a punching bag by Lannisters far beyond proportion.

            Theon gets treated better than Jon Snow. Despite the fact that a Northman would have many justified reasons to hate the Ironborn, he gets treated with dignity and firmness.

          • Lya says:

            Typicality doesn’t justify anything. A major point of ASOIAF is the monstrosity of many typical feudal structures. Being a noble is a mark of privilege, but being a noble hostage is every bit as much of an injustice as being a noble girl subject to gender oppression, or a noble-born dwarf or “cripple” subject to disability-based oppression even though they are better off than someone like Penny.

            Also, I’m not even sure Theon’s situation is “not atypical at all.” How many noble child-hostages do we see? There’s Theon, Sansa, Bran and Rickon when they’re being held by Theon himself, and some of the Trident people in ADWD, if I recall it right. There are the wildlings and Dany’s hostages, but those aren’t Westerosi nobles. Anyway, you admit it’s unusual. There’s no reason to say Sansa is unusual enough to merit sympathy but Theon isn’t. Especially since violence against women and girls, including nobles, in Westeros is hardly atypical, and Sansa doesn’t even get close to the worst of it. Tyrion doesn’t even rape her, which would be a “typical” thing to do on her wedding night. But what happens to her is still awful.

            And no, I don’t think Theon was treated better than Jon. Theon’s life was under constant threat, which was the whole point of his presence at Winterfell. Jon’s was not. Theon was snatched from the only home he knew when he was ten and made to live among strangers hostile to his family, even if they were decent strangers. Jon was not. Jon also had to bear indignities Theon didn’t endure, but it’s not clear to me that one was worse off than the other.

          • Hedrigal says:

            This is long past the point where people care, but I think the point at issue here is that in spite of Theon being a hostage of the Starks, he was raised as if he were a real ward of house Stark, getting the same treatment as was given to the Stark children. Theon is not wrong to resent the conditions of his being hostage, but it is a very real difference between the regular abuse Sansa suffered at the hands of the Lannisters and his being treated as a fostering, raised alongside the other children.

            More to the point, I just don’t think Theon is being honest with himself when he says that he always felt the noose around his neck, that he was always aware of his status as a hostage, and that he was always treated akin to how he treated Bran and Rickon. Because it doesn’t at all line up with his deeply contradictory feelings about the Starks, and his situation as their hostage. He’s probably not inventing these feelings out of whole cloth, but they were accentuated and made a fixation because he had sided with the Greyjoys, but that only made him miserable. He wants to be certain about his actions having been right, but he doesnt really believe it.

        • Laural H says:

          I prefer to compare Quentyn Martell to Theon, as far as noble hostage situations go. Oberyn was almost as crazy as Balon was…

          • Sean C. says:

            Quentyn wasn’t really a hostage. His wardship was something his dad suggested as a diplomatic tool to get the Yronwoods on his side, and Quentyn doesn’t appear to have been isolated from his family as a result.

          • Mar says:

            It had the same consecuences thought. His sister and future heir think their brothers are aligning with their foster families/are culturally asimilated to their foster family, and their are consider outsiders from their birth place.

    • bookworm1398 says:

      IMO, the hostage question is irrelevant. Even if he had been fostered at Winterfell, choosing to war against the Starks was a legitimate choice – the whole point of this war is that it is morally ambiguous. There is no clear rule to say who has the greater claim on your loyalty, the king, your immediate lord, your family – no matter which you choose, some people will think you made the wrong choice.

      • Sean C. says:

        Also a fair interpretation. I’m just taking issue with the specific idea that he owed the Starks loyalty. The fact that your hostage-takers are nice to you doesn’t entitle them to your loyalty, even if you become so accustomed to it that you may at the time feel otherwise (that’s called Stockholm Syndrome).

        And none of this, incidentally, means that the Starks are blackhats in the matter. From their POV, and the way medieval society works, taking Theon hostage makes sense. They want to protect themselves. But that doesn’t mean that Theon has to accept it either.

        This sort of complexity is what I love about GRRM’s writing.

        • Crystal says:

          I think what might trip some readers up is that Ned Stark is a decent guy and the Starks are (for the most part) a happy, functional family. The Greyjoys, OTOH, are a family of morally ambiguous to utterly awful people (the late Grandpa Quellon excepted; and Rodrik and Alannys, who are Harlaws, not Greyjoys, anyway). Balon is such a repellent idiot that you want to scream at Theon, “Why side with HIM?!” Of course that is seeing it through our eyes, not Theon’s. It’s much easier to see with Sansa, because Cersei and Joffrey are, like the Greyjoys, awful people, and one of the reasons that many readers disliked AGOT Sansa is that she *did* feel she owed loyalty to her fiance and his family. By Westerosi standards, she did. Modern reader sensibility clashed with medieval politics (and gender roles in Sansa’s case).

          • Winnief says:

            I think Crystal nails it. The reaction of a lot of viewers to Theon’s choice was to wonder how big an idiot he was for picking a family who clearly didn’t give a damn about him, (the Greyjoys) over a family who did. (Whatever Robb’s faults he *did* love Theon like a brother as Theon himself recognized.)

            But Theon’s speech to Luwin was I think a great way of addressing the core problem; that Theon *was* a hostage albeit a hostage who was being treated extremely well and even given a great degree of latitude. (He had both the money and freedom to pursue whoring around.) His comparison isn’t quite like that of Sansa’s since again Theon was never abused and arguably got a better education and greater degree of comfort with the Starks than he would have at home. But Alfie definitely conveys how genuinely confused and emotionally divided Theon was.

      • Andrew says:

        The point of the story is that even a “just war” (if such a thing exists, which GRRM- and I- both think does) is still a war, and awful for everyone involved.

        I don’t think how anyone in the audience can equate Renly (would be kinslayer and usurper) and Joffrey (murderer, tyrant, bastard) or Balon (madman pirate scum) with Robb or Stannis. The latter two are not saints, no, but they have legitimate grievances against their opponents, and did not instigate the war themselves and were attacked by the other factions.

        • Grant says:

          Actually Stannis was the one who decided to sail against a castle held by a lord loyal to his brother. Legally speaking Stannis definitely has the better claim to legitimacy, but both he and Renly are acting against the Lannister regime (Stannis with more legal reasons).

          Also let’s not forget that Stannis is an actual kin-slayer, or at least as much one as Renly wanted to be. He just hasn’t admitted that to himself yet.

          So I’d say that if we’re going to be rating them in some way, it’d probably be Robb or Stannis first (depending on your view of their arguments and facts), then Renly a pretty distant third, then Balon and Joffrey at the very bottom.

          • Andrew says:

            Yup, no argument here.
            Robb and Stannis are not squeaky clean by any means, but both can claim the moral high ground relative to their peers in the WotFK. Also neither of them instigated the war, and generally we place a greater onus on instigators of conflicts under the assumption of their agency/choice having had a greater impact on starting the whole mess and consequently having greater culpability. Combined with their underdog status and the real grievances and the fact that the majority of the PoVs depicting them have been allied or neutral and it’s easy to see why they garner sympathy.

            I will note that Stannis’ Kinslaying is not explicitly tied to him (I think he wasn’t consciously aware of it and he certainly didn’t order it) and Renly, literal hours before his death, was blithely discussing how Stannis’ death would improve his prospects for the throne.

            I’m not sure about Westeros but the moment Renly crowned himself he basically declared his intention to kill Stannis and take his stuff. The assassination was practically self defense at that point.

          • This is something really weird I’m sure I’ll never do again: but I have to sort of defend Joffrey. As awful as he is in every way, he actually believes he is the rightful king, as a trueborn son of king Robert, and that Ned and Stannis are traitors. In that respect, he is at least morally on a higher ground than Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion or Kevan, who are well aware that Joffrey has no right to the throne (Tywin is sticking his held in the sand and chooses not to believe it).

    • Eh. Hostage-taking is ultimately a custom meant to foster trust and a less violent means of carrying out war, so I don’t see it as an exception to the fostering system. Theon is generally considered to be the foster-brother of the Starks, which kicks in the kinslaying taboo as well.

      But more importantly, Theon himself doesn’t have any real personal cause to turn on the Starks. No one made him fight for the Greyjoys, nor did anyone make him take Winterfell. He did it of his own initiative.

      • Sean C. says:

        Abducting a kid on the threat of death if his parents don’t comply is not a psychologically healthy thing to do to the kid in question, and it certainly doesn’t entitle you to his loyalty.

        Theon’s a Greyjoy, and the Greyjoys went to war, which is how loyalties are generally determined in Westeros. What more cause does he need?

        • It does in their culture.

          • Sean C. says:

            The Northerners are perfectly entitled to think that, but that doesn’t mean Theon or the audience has to or should, anymore than they should accept any of the other bullshit social conventions here.

            Though I don’t think the idea that hostages owe their captors loyalty is such a convention. Would Sansa owe the Lannisters loyalty if they weren’t beating her up?

          • Tywin of the Hill says:

            No one seems to call Kevan traitor or kinslayer for helping his brother in the Reyne Rebellion.

  13. So, recently I’ve been slowly picking my way through Sean T Collins’ suggested FEASTDANCE mega-book-combo (It’s quite fun, try it next time you do a re-read). And unless Steven quits sleeping we won’t get to a particular chapter for a while, but since this is our last ‘Ironborn’ chapter for some time, I would like share my revelation here.


    The entire Kingsmoot chapter in AFFC is GRRM’s prophecy of the 2016 Republican Primary. “A prophecy you say?” Yes, indeed. Baked into this pivotal chapter is a ‘Da Martin Code” if you will, demonstrating how the GOP Primary would play out over a decade after its publication. With each of the main contenders for the Seastone Chair representing one of the more significant contenders in early 2016. (Of course there isn’t an Ironborn for every GOP candidate, this series is plenty long as is)

    Let’s Rock!

    Gylbert Farwynd – Ben Carson: Guy enters race out of left field, spends a lot of time talking about far fetched stuff that confuses the hell out of people.

    Erik Ironmaker – Jeb!: Would’ve made a fantastic candidate years ago, cannot stand up under pressure.

    Dunstan Drumm – Scott Walker: Decent early pitch, ultimately squanders candidacy by talking too much about past glory days.

    Victarion – Marco Rubio: Last best hope of the establishment, pegs candidacy on one recent success in the north.

    Asha – Rand Paul: Reformer who believes that they can somehow pick & choose which parts of their electorate culture can be kept and which can be jettisoned, doesn’t realize how much they’re missing the zeitgeist.

    Damphair – Ted Cruz: Thinks they can hold back the tide.

    Crow’s Eye – Trump: Let’s Make The Iron Islands Great Again!

    *doffs tinfoil cap* You’ve been a wonderful audience, thank you!

    • Winnief says:

      LOL! I was just saying in another thread how I consider Donald Trump to be the Euron Greyjoy of American politics. An obvious megamaniac, a blowhard whose boasts don’t stand up under scrutiny, treats family (and women!) like crap, clearly doesn’t share the same religious beliefs of the ‘devout’ people he would lead…but still finds a path to victory by appealing to the absolute *worst* instincts of his followers. The followers being a bunch of bigots who are reeling from the discovery that they aren’t as dominant as they believed to be their birth right, and want to take vengeance for all the humiliations they’ve suffered.

      Also like your take on Asha and Victarion there.

      That of course raises the obvious question…who are Balon Greyjoy and the Reader?

      Actually I’m not sure Rodrik Harlaw’s equivalent can even be found in the Republican Party these days.

      • Laural H says:

        Balon is GWB obv

      • Crystal says:

        Rodrik would be the guy running a political blog, not one of the candidates. I am not up on who the big-name Republican bloggers are; Rodrik is pretty soft-spoken, so he’s not one of the shouty types, and he seems to prefer the platonic company of women, so not one of the blustery misogynists either.

    • HAR!

      Well, I will be working on the Kingsmoot sooner than later because it’s one of the bonus essays from the Kickstarter.

    • bookworm1398 says:

      I would match Damphair with Bloomberg, but otherwise love it. Thanks for the laugh!

    • Andrew says:

      HA!! That’s a good one.

  14. John W says:

    How much wrestling do you watch?

  15. Steven Xue says:

    I love this Theon chapter most of all. One thing I think you should have mentioned was despite his impending doom he still narcissistic enough to make sure he was well dressed before dying in battle. Like a US marine about to commit suicide in their dress uniform, Theon seemed very concerned as always with looking good as he puts on his best clothes and made sure he looked all sharp and stunning when preparing to fight his last battle. All this because he is vein enough to “not go to my grave in dirty clothes.”

    • Winnief says:

      Yeah, the part where he thinks about how his existing wardrobe would work at the Wall once he tears off the Krakens would be just *hilarious* if it wasn’t so pathetic. It’s also a detail that makes you realize how Iron Born he *isn’t* since real Iron Born warriors like Asha scorn the idea of wearing finery-unless of course you raided it from a corpse.

      • Steven Xue says:

        I could just image Theon showing off his expensive clothes to the other members of the Night’s Watch. Of course given how cold it is up at the Wall I doubt he would have a chance to put his exquisite wardrobe to any use since silks and velvet aren’t very practical if you are going out ranging beyond the Wall.

      • David Hunt says:

        People who are convinced their death i(n battle or not) is imminent will often try to make themselves more presentable. The Spartans did it before the third day at Thermopylae. First class passengers on the Titanic put on their tuxes so they’d go down like gentlemen. If that is a expression of narcissism, it seems to be a very common one.

        Of course I don’t remember the actual passage. I’m sure Theon managed to insert emo whining into it.

        • Steven Xue says:

          While that’s true Theon on the other hand has always been a very snappy dresser. So much so that Roose even mocks him about it later on.

    • That’s an excellent point.

    • Crystal says:

      Rather like Waymar Royce swanning around in his sable-trimmed finery before buying it at the hands of the Others…

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Never understood why Royce gets such a bad rap. The reader is meant to think that what we have in that prologue is an idiot greenhorn ignoring his more qualified subordinate, but actually read it and you realize that the one being sensible based on what they know at the time is Royce. Not to mention he’s the brave one in the end.

        • Winters king says:

          Agreed. i think its rather telling that so many characters in a song of ice and fire have a lot of fans disliking them, solely based on other characters opinion of them.

          a lot of the dislike of baelor the blessed comes from the fact that tyrion thinks he was a fool, which a lot of fans take on face value without taking into consideration that anything baelor did might have actually been good. which is a good lesson actually. that we should be critical of characters view on others.

          tyrion dislikes baelor for his piety, because tyrion regards religion with disdain, while having no problems with pedophilic priests, and probably thinking that baelors forgivness strategy was complete bullshit, while at the same time, not caring about the thousands of lives. which shows that deep down, tyrion is an aristocrat, with very little empathy with the commen people(though addmitingly, he does posses it, unlike most of his family)

          Benjen Stark(a northerner, who’s people have never had a single farmstead, town or castle raided or sacked by dornishmen) skoffs at daerons invasion of dorne as if it was impossible, that there was no other reasons for it than vanity and that he never understood what he was doing, ignoring completely that daeron was actually winning the war, and if not for being to trusting of the rules of war, he would eventually have subjegated the dornish. also ignoring that the subjegation of dorne would mean a drastic decrease(if not complete removal) of darnish border raids, thus sparing thousands of westerosi the fate of getting their property stolen, they wives and daughters kidnapped into sexual slavery, their sons killed and homes burned etc.

          We get a similarly dismissive view of royce from his brothers on the wall.
          Royce, is regarded by his fellow black brothers as an arrogant lordling, having no fighting abilities, and only rising so high because of his station as an actual lord and knight. all of this without ever having actually seen how he’ll do beyond the wall. this is clearly a case of the brothers classism actually, as seen when they mock him for actually coming prepared with black equipment(unlike, say, Samwell Tarly). The lowborn brothers look down on him, for being an “arrongant lordling”, when there isnt really much evidence for it at that point.

          all of these points of views have some truth to them. Baelor had many, many faults for which you can rightly critique him(book burning, the maidenvault and so on), but he did many good things for the realm. he feed the poor, consolidated the faith organization around kings landing while at the same time achieving this without ever giving into demands to rearm the faiths militant. and he, and he alone realised, and was willing to consider peace, a REAL peace to be an option.

          Daeron, was by all accounts a warmongerer, but at the same time, its not as if the conquest of dorne was completly unprovoked. the sympathy that most fans have for the dornish independence cause might be far less sympathetic, if all fans knew that the dorinsh made competition out of which one of them was the best raider of westerosi and competed for their princess favor by killing and raiding the innocent farmers along the border. Unlike the unflattering image benjen pictured of a boyking who could never hold his territory, we now know that daeron actually was winning against the uprising, and had he not trusted the rules of war too much, he would have won.

          Royce, who, while a bit arrogant, demanded his own command when he was sent on his first ranging, and didnt want to be seen as a “failure” on his first trip, showed himself to be suprisingly competent, was probably the smartest of the three prologue characters. he realised there was no way the wildlings froze to death, the only one of them to actually care that their mission was to make sure a certain wildling party was destroyed(why these ones in particular had to be destroyed we dont know addmitingly) rather than just wanting the whole thing over with and refused to take information that logicly seemed to be faulty on its surface. and when it came down to it, he, and he alone of the three, never wavered once in his oaths, while the one who who mocked him as “our mighty warrior” ran away with his tail between his legs, and the one who “would not have given a prayer for the lordlings life” if he an gared came to blows just sat and watched.

          looking at it that way, royce really is a tragic character, a smart, competent, brave and skilled man, reagrded as a laughing stock by men who when it comes down to it, might be more experienced than him, but are still men who’ll break and run away, rather than uphold the laws they have sworn to upheld. a man that in an effort to prove to the ones who laughs about him in their cups that what he truely is, is a man who swore the words and not a child who got everything handed to him, and in trying to do his duty, he’s killed in the line of fire, partially because his two subordinates betray him in various ways(one by silence, the other by running). addmitingly, its a small hope, but royce might have survived had gared and will warned him, and the 3 of them started to flee immediatly.

          all of this goes to show, that you shouldnt take characters opinions on others at face value. its when push comes to shove, that you find a mans true character. and often they might suprise you. many talltalkers like gared will flee, while seemingly spoiled men will hold strong and true.

          • Mar says:

            I like this comment, the value of the unrealible narrator is that we have others opinions as true. I specialy like in the WOIAF book, being writen by a clear Lannister lackey, Tywin ruthless disregard for others is applauded and his persona is put up like a Messiah, the salvador of the Realm.And we the reader know Tywin as Tyrion awful father.

    • The most hilarious part of his fantasy is “what wildling woman wouldn’t want a prince?” Oh, Theon. So clueless.

  16. LadyKnitsALot says:

    “what Theon is trying to say but can’t articulate verbally is: “MY DADDY DOESN’T LOVE ME, NO ONE THINKS I’M COOL, AND I CAN’T DEAL WITH HOW BADLY I FUCKED UP.””

    This is incredibly accurate. I hated Theon first time reading through. It will be interesting to see if my feelings to him change on a read through knowing what he goes through as Reek.

  17. Another brilliant review. Love these TV Tropes mentioning pages. And I agree the show is overusing Ramsay, S4 was really too dragged out, meaning S5 was a mess. And that 20 good men bit was frankly laughable and contrived, the writers forcing something, way more then Theon’s taking of Winterfell. Look forward to the next review.

  18. darah tinggi says:

    BRILLIANT! indeed Theon is an interesting character to be observed. His self centered mind and unwittingly awareness had cost him many things. cost him everything eventually. Hard to speculate this character evolve to greater good. Theon is indeed one of the overpunished character who still GOING ON even death in this movie is not the ultimate Punishment! Well Done!

  19. […] grand guignol of A Storm of Swords that A Clash of Kings ends with a brutal comedown of its own. Just last chapter, we we saw Theon in the hands of Ramsay. And here we see Tyrion, the main protagonist of this book […]

  20. […] Speaking of which, Bran VII opens with another wolf dream that shows us the damage that Ramsay hath wrought: […]

  21. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    I have some sympathy for Theon’s initial situation – I think he’s in one of those oath dilemmas that Jaime describes so well.

    Since Ned reserved the right to kill Theon for possible future transgressions of his father makes me think that Theon isn’t subject to the obligations of guest right as we understand it as we’ve understood it so far. Plus, generally once you leave, the obligation expires.

    On the other hand. Rob is his foster brother and battle companion, and I’ll assume Theon swore personal fealty to the King in the North.

    Back on the first hand, Balon is clearly Theon’s lord, and Balon has declared war on the Starks.

    Back on that other hand, the only reason Theon is even free to follow Balon is that Rob released him.

    It’s a mess – Theon sort of resolves the issue by being a magnificent, vainglorious douche. As Asha said, if he’d just sacked Winterfell and run for the coast with Bran and Rickon, he’d be an Ironborn hero for the history books, but he can’t help playing double or nothing.

  22. […] so while the cudgel of empathy is still in full effect, it works differently in this case – whereas in Theon’s case […]

  23. […] loyalists if Robb had brought them with him to the Twins). While surprise attacks can sometimes overcome the odds, Walder is far too much a coward and Roose far too clever to betray their king in that environment. […]

  24. […] there are reasons to believe that this diagnosis may be somewhat premature, but in the wake of the Sack of Winterfell, it’s easy to see why he’s come to that […]

  25. […] not most) of them completely unforeseeable (to say nothing of unlikely) – like Theon taking or Ramsay burning Winterfell. This in turn means that it can be difficult to sort out the truly consequential […]

  26. […] that what gets Jon over his inhibits is his Stark blood, his family and home (even though after the fall of Winterfell they exist more in the abstract than as reality). In other words, everything that Maester […]

  27. Brad says:

    Ramsay’s story about hunting women in the woods with Reek reminds me of Robert Hansen, the Alaskan serial killer.

  28. […] Lannister strategy is founded not on martial ability but a combination of underhanded scheming and GRRM’s thumb firmly on the scales of fortune. Which makes Mace Tyrell’s self-satisfied comment that “the boy must abandon the […]

  29. […] as really off-putting and repellant, and deliberately so. As we’ve seen with the test case of Theon, GRRM likes to maximize our disdain for his villain protagonists right at the moment where he hits […]

  30. […] of the mysteries of this period is what happened to the Ironborn war effort between Theon’s defeat at Winterfell and the Kingsmoot. The fact that “there’s squids in the wolfswood” is intriguing […]

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