This post will be discussing plot details of Game of Thrones, so I respect the opinion of anyone not wanting to be spoiled and wants to stop reading now. (I’ll pretend that it’s fear of spoilers and not my torturous prose that’s sending you away…)
Also, I’ll be discussing the Sansa Stark/Theon storyline from season 5. Since Sansa’s situation is a sensitive topic, I wanted to give a heads up on that as well.
Theon Greyjoy, As Changeable as the Seasons
I don’t know if anyone would say that Theon Greyjoy was their favorite character in Game of Thrones, but he’s certainly a compelling one. And one whose journey has taken the most dramatic transformations in fortune and allegiances. Should we root for Theon? Pity him? Hate him? I think I’ve done all three. Simultaneously.
Before I bloviate and opine about the prince of the Iron Islands, lets recap his roles in the seasons so far. (Feel free to skip ahead, I know, I know, oh oh oh…)
Season One Theon – He’s a Stark
In the first season of Game of Thrones, among all of the thousands of characters that viewers were introduced to, it was easy to not have Theon make that much of an impression.
He was with the Stark family and he possibly seemed to be Ned Stark’s squire. Right?
During the course of the season, both Tyrion and Maester Luwin made references that Theon was something like a prisoner of the Starks, but also kind of a guest? His biggest role was being Robb Stark’s shadow. He mostly hung around with Robb, offered rude suggestions, swore fealty to the new King in the North, etc.
The surface takeaway was that Theon was a secondary Team Stark character.
Season Two Theon – He’s a Prince (just not a prince of a guy)
Season Two introduced the first major shift in Theon’s character. Robb sent Theon as a diplomat to enlist Theon’s father Balon Greyjoy into the fight as an alliy, but Theon chose instead to betray the Starks when Balon insisted that the Greyjoy plan to independence involved invading the North. Theon went even further along these lines, deciding to capture Winterfell on his own initiative. (He had his reasons.)
It wasn’t a particularly heroic operation, nor was Theon particularly successful at it. Granted, he did control Winterfell for a bit…
…but he was not supported by his biological family (whom he had chosen over his foster family) and was eventually betrayed by his own men.
In that season, we got a much better sense that Theon had been a hostage of the Starks, but he had connected with them as a family.
Even though Robb and Bran considered Theon a brother (Bran considered Theon a douchey-older-brother) I felt the framework for his betrayal was well-grounded. And this provided a great amount of drama during his capturing and attempting to hold Winterfell. In some ways, Tyrion and Theon were the stars of Season Two.
Season Three Theon – He’s a Captive
Season Three could be subtitled Game of Thrones: Theon Gets Tortured a Lot.
Theon spent the season trapped and being tortured in the Dreadfort (other than a brief time when he thought he was escaping, but was being pranked by that whacky trickster, Ramsay.)
It was rough on Theon, and rough on the viewers who complained about what they considered torture porn.
(I think we can all agree that it was rougher on Theon.)
Theon’s third season contrasted in interesting ways with the previous 2 seasons. Before, he was technically a prisoner of the Starks to compel his father’s obedience, but he was well treated with appropriate Stark hospitality. Now he was no longer technically a captive. He literally was one. And poorly treated with typical Bolton hospitality.
Theon’s troubles in the second season stemmed from his decisions. When he was being “fostered” with the Starks, he had no real responsibilities, but once he became a prince of the Iron Islands, his choices led him to this sorry fate.
Things changed again when he was held by Ramsay. His ability to act, to have agency, was sharply cut off. (Along with other things. Boom! … Okay, I’m sorry about that one …)
Season Four Theon – He’s a Reek
Thanks to Ramsay’s unrelenting brain-washing, Theon ended up entirely identifying with the new name given him by Ramsay. Reek. Reek was an even more powerless character.
Following Ramsay’s orders, Reek pretended to be Theon and managed to convince the Ironborn soldiers holding the strategic Moat Caillin to yield the fortress. The Boltons then flayed the Iron Islanders because that’s what they do, that’s all they do…
So Theon had gone from betraying the Starks in favor of the Ironmen, to betraying his Ironborn countrymen into the flaying hands of his Bolton captors.
Season Five Theon – He’s … Theon again? Maybe?
The fifth season had Theon back where he’d started the show, living at Winterfell. The home-away-from-home that he’d ruined and was now being rebuilt in the image of the Dreadfort.
This was the season that Theon was most confronted with his past mistakes, as Sansa Stark was brought to Winterfell to marry Ramsay Bolton. Reek was forced to apologize to Sansa for murdering Bran and Rickon (who are still alive) as a means by Ramsay to harrass both Theon and Sansa. Sansa pled for Theon’s help, and later demanded it, but he wasn’t Theon anymore, he was Reek. A cringing wretch who could only serve Ramsay.
Until he seized an opportunity to escape over the walls of Winterfell, after pushing Sansa’s tormentor (and Ramsay’s special lady friend) Myranda into the inner bailey of the castle with head-popping results.
It’s too early to say if Theon had fully shaken off his Reek persona. (It’s also too early to say that Theon and Sansa aren’t dead at the base of the walls of Winterfell. But let’s be optimistic… even if optimism is a crazy thing to have in Westeros…)
But if he is at least more Theon than Reek and wants to help Sansa, his story has sort of nicely come full circle. Theon has betrayed the Boltons to serve the Starks.
Rock, Paper, Scissors – Stark, Kraken, Flayed Man
Hopefully, Theon can pick a side and isn’t going to be pressured into more allegiance rotations. At least he seems to regret betraying the Starks moreso than his selling out of the Ironborn to the Boltons (and correctly so, what have the Ironborn ever done for Theon?) so we can hope that he ends up trying to make right by the Starks, in what little way he can.
I think it’s important that he does so. Otherwise, it makes the time spent with Theon being tortured in Season Three unjustifiably extensive (other than as an establishment of Ramsay’s HORRIBLENESS.)
Issues with Season 5
The fifth season really did a number on me, when the show-runners swapped Sansa for Jeyne Poole as Ramsay’s bride. People rightly pointed out that Jaime’s Dorne adventure was a total show invention (and underwhelmingly done) and Sansa should have been chilling out in the Vale and totally not-being-raped by Ramsay.
Theon’s story was weirdly changed as well, and not just by the element of Sansa being the target of monstrous matrimony.
Reek (Reek, Reek, it rhymes with weak) in the books has no investment in who Ramsay is marrying. He knows who Jeyne Poole is (Jeyne, Jeyne, it rhymes with pain) but he’s not internally motivated to help her. Really, Reek’s only motivation is to avoid pain as much as possible.
But book-Theon receives tremendous external pressures to rescue Jeyne from Ramsay. (I’m deliberately avoiding talking about details. People, if you want to talk about the book situation and the specifics on how the show diverged, I have a Spoiler Page for that type of talk.) Season 5 removed almost all of the book-elements relevant to what takes place in Winterfell, which in A Dance With Dragons set up the leap of faith into the snow with a certain level of desperate satisfaction.
Those missing pieces makes everything on the show feel rather hollow.
I was also in the awkward position of rooting against the idea of Sansa killing Ramsay or something along those lines on the wedding night. I have a preference for the A Song of Ice and Fire narrative and I don’t want the show to go too far astray. Sansa’s story had already been compromised, I don’t know how the show narrative and the book narrative will sync up, but they probably will at some point. Unless things get more and more off track.
I’m still glad for Jeyne Poole on the show, for avoiding her fate.
Like I mentioned, watching the events unfold at Winterfell was complicated. I have an interest in the storylines from the books playing out on the show, so I don’t want Theon’s story to go too far off track, but I didn’t want Sansa raped. She’d been shoe-horned into the Jeyne Poole role (who I am sympathetic to) – Jeyne was an extremely passive victim, and I didn’t want that for Sansa. Reek in the books was extremely passive as well, so maybe there was an opportunity for Sansa to save herself and coerce Reek into reluctantly helping her.
Which didn’t happen, or at least didn’t come across all that well. And I don’t know if it would justify Sansa being raped just to tell that story. I don’t like promoting the idea that a decision in the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, one that adds a rape onto a character’s story, can be justified based solely on how well the show might execute it.
But I’m also not saying that it’s impossible or de facto inappropriate to tell a story of a tortured wretch helping someone flee from monstrous domestic sexual abuse. 2015 featured a movie that did exactly that.
Anyway, watching Theon’s story in Season 5 might have been more uncomfortable than watching his ordeal in Season 3. Your mileage may vary.
Let’s wrap up with a poll. Assuming that Ramsay can actually be killed in the saga, and isn’t going to end up on the Iron Throne of something, or redeemed bizarrely… I’m hoping that someone kills him in Season 6. (It doesn’t *have* to be Season 6, as long as someone kills him eventually.)
But who? Who would you like to see end Ramsay’s odious existence?
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) Image of Immortan Joe’s brides are from Mad Max: Fury Road. An awesome movie.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved