Regarding Reek

Posted: January 12, 2016 in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , ,

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…)

Theon1

“Torturous” prose? Seriously?

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.

Theon_Greyjoy

‘ere’s your sword, Guv’nor…

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…

game-of-thrones-season-2-finale-480x320

…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.)

gameofthrones1366-1369170266 (1)

Just wait until someone invents the Internet. I’ll be giving your accommodations a scathing ZERO-kraken review!

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.

Reekandramsaymoat

Today is going to be the best day! For me!

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.

SansaTheonJump

Theon: Just don’t land on me.
Sansa: AS IF!

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.

TheonReek

I heard Jon Snow was stabbed to death. I’d like to go join the Night’s Watch now, please.

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.

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Watch me dodge a bullet, Sansa.

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.

Wives

Wait. You’re comparing Theon to Max Rockatansky? You’re dead meat.

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?

If-you-can-be-whatever-you-want


(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

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Comments
  1. Desperado says:

    This is great. A whole post based on Theon. I love how his character developed and great post highlighting it.

    I don’t know if I like him or hate him though. He pissed me off but he is regretful… So, I’m going to leave it for next season. But I do prefer Reek over Theon though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. S. John Ross says:

    I’d just like to take this moment to mention my crush on Lily Allen. But yeah, her brother’s OK too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with every word of this (makes a nice change!). I read that the producers switched Sansa for Jeyne as they wanted a character that we knew and cared about to go through that… Not sure about the assumption that we wouldn’t care if it had been Jeyne, but that seemed to be the limit of it. My only hope is that this sets up Ramsay for a particularly nasty comeuppance… But the show doesn’t exactly have a rich history of that either!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right on! I’m glad we’re in agreement. I think you are recalling that correctly about the producers intent in conflating (is that even the right word?) Sansa and Jeyne to streamline stories and bring Sansa and Theon together. They certainly kicked the beehive when they did that.

      Man, I want Ramsay to end up gruesomely dead. Super dead. Un-reanimatingly dead. And soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lea Ault says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that Theon only regretted betraying the Starks because his betrayal didn’t work out so well for him…if he was still holding Winterfell and being hailed by the Ironborn as a big hero he’d be all, “Yeah, totally worth it.” But that didn’t happen. He has definitely gone through a growing period though, and it seemed that he was truly horrified by what his betrayal led to (besides torture to his dear self), specifically Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay (spit to cleanse mouth of Ramsay foulness).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lea Ault says:

    Because I’ve spent more time considering Theon instead of working – he’s one of those people who has to hit rock bottom in order to cop on to themselves. I’m sure the Bastard of Bolton (feh) would love the suggestion that he did Theon a favour. He’s gone through his crucible and hopefully things can only get better for him from here. By which I mean, hopefully Sansa didn’t abandon him at the bottom of the castle wall with a broken hip: “Sorry, Theon, you’re going to slow me down.” (Theon’s clearly malnourished; I diagnose osteoporosis.)

    In English Lit, we learn that the real story is about the character who changes the most, whose journey is about self-knowledge. In GOT there are definitely some worthy candidates (Jamie Lannister! Love.) and I nominate Theon for this even though he’s not really a main character by my reckoning. It’s wonderful that a second-tier character still gets his own character arc and a post by Pat all to himself.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Haylee says:

    I enjoyed that you referred to him as a douchey older brother – he really is a tool! I still enjoy his storyline though – obviously passed his failed Winterfell take over in the books – Ramsey is now in the house – and enjoyed the subtle differences from the show. However, I was really looking forward to the book version of his torture (sounds wrong, I know!) but nope, no Theon chapters for Haylee in this book!

    I feel pretty sorry for him at this show point and was rooting for him to redeem himself and save Sansa. I didn’t take the poll because my preferred option wasn’t there – I want an elaborate, dual attempt by Theon and Sansa to end Ramsey because they both deserve the retribution! But with Ramsey gone, who will we hate?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. chattykerry says:

    I am liking this post because I like you but can’t bear to look!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Speevers says:

    You know what I’m ticked about? I’m ticked that with all this talk about how the show runners needed to adapt this storyline to better fit TV, they left out some of the most cinematic parts of the story.

    I mean, what about the Northern Conspiracy? What about Mance and the spear wives? What an bout Theon finally getting his shit-eating grin back? What about: “see? This time I know you?”

    Those would have made for fucking awesome TV– and, hey, while we’re at it, it would have been a bunch of female warriors kicking ass who *aren’t* total bullshit, and kicking the ass of murderous woman-hating Ramsay to boot.

    I’m not a purist at all, but I hate changes for the obviously worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, I would love to talk to you at length about this, and we’re in agreement. I’ve kind of avoided talking about the Northerners and the Mance connection here, since I know non-book readers read my stuff and will one day read the books, and I’d like that stuff fresh for them.

      I’d be great if you’d visit my Safe Spoiler page section (I have a link to it at the bottom of every article) and I’d love to chat with you about those topics there.

      And thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it.

      Like

  9. joanna says:

    I really think it is time for book readers to stop wishing their favourite chapter, character or passage from one or all the books, is included in the show. Comparisons are mute – one medium is a collection of ponderous tomes, thousands of pages and minute details. The other is a little-under-60 minutes-ten-episodes-per-year TV show. GRR Martin said that it would be impossible to adapt the books in any shape or form, on any size of silver screen. And yet he joined forces with Benioff and Weiss, an implication which automatically implies that a) he approved and b) he knew there would be mega changes, and that there would have to be. We are talking about an adaptation ‘based on’ – not a ‘word for word representation’ with every teeny tiny detail, good or bad, rambling or succinct. Producing that kind of show would mean we would all be 120 years old at the finale.

    From what I read, a fairly large group of book critics wished that the last two published volumes had some kind of handy book editor close by. And that GRR Martin rambled on endlessly for 70 – 80 pages at one point or another, about characters wandering through the Riverlands and other some such destinations.

    Now back to Reek. In the beginning, Theon reminded me of a smutty younger brother, making bad jokes in an attempt to be noticed and liked. The one-in-the-middle-brother, he felt overlooked. The first son is the heir and most loved (Robb), and the youngest are the cuties of the family (Bran, Rickon) – Bran especially because he is impishly naughty and charming to boot. I think that Theon underestimated the affection the Stark household had for him. Yes, he was originally a hostage, and although the family never really forgot that, over time it seemed relatively unimportant.

    I believe he harboured unfounded resentment in the belief he never quite cut the grade. This is not unlike the sentiments held by Jon Snow, who went to the Wall to prove his worth. In Theon’s case, he had forgotten the reality of his entirely unpleasant father, Balon Greyjoy. The Starks are honourable, loving and true. Balon is basically a ‘we do not sow’ lazy bugger who pillages and slaughters to support his lifestyle.

    So why did he turn? Why did he betray the Starks? I believe he was caught between a rock and a hard place. He desperately needed to find his place. He didn’t expect his father’s reaction. And he was weak.

    On the Sansa, Reek, Ramsay ‘Bermuda Triangle’. Reek’s torture is unrelenting. But I have seen worse: Outlander S01 final episode – the whole 60 minutes are dedicated in minute camera detail to Jaimie’s rape and torture by an evil army officer, played by the gone-but-not-forgotten Edmure Tully actor, Tobias Menzies. That show has ‘goodish’ parts, but is never great. The culmination of the abominably wooden, irritating acting of the heroine, the sex scenes with no point “ok, let’s flash a boob here” attempt to follow (very badly) the supposed magic recipe for success, is a guarantee to turn it off and never watch again.

    Reek’s torture is perhaps a vehicle, a portrayal of a man broken down and taken apart, bit by bit, piece by piece. How far do you fall before you regain your humanity? It is intricately entwined with Sansa’s story, another broken victim with no particular role in life other than to make a good marriage. Merging Sansa with the Jeyne Poole arc is intrinsic with that. In a rare moment of honesty, Baelish told Sansa to stop being a bystander. Sansa has to hit rock bottom before she acts and rises to whom she is truly meant to be.

    Is it strange that I found the Ramsay – Sansa wedding ceremony eerily beautiful in spite of the monstrous groom?

    The Wedding Needs a Bedding: by now everyone should’ve realised that witnesses to the consummation of marriage was standard practice in medieval times. And men of that time tended to treat their women as chattels. In Ramsay’s case it was more than that. He is a sadist, pure and simple, with a massive bastard chip on his shoulder. This echoes Jon Snow’s story, and portents the “Battle of the Good and Bad Bastard”. There was no reason to think Ramsay had fallen in love with Sansa, as Baelish would like to believe. Ramsay is a sociopath, domination, manipulation, humiliation and torture are consummate to his personality. It should have been no surprise therefore that he chose to exercise all of the above on his Wedding night. And yes it was heartbreaking, but extremely well done. The showrunners used expression and atmosphere to portray this painful event. In this, they truly succeeded.

    The thing about Game of Thrones is that it is meant to provoke. It is meant to stir passionate and opposite reactions – love, hate, sorrow, joy. This is, after all, the Land of Ice and Fire.

    Like

    • I’ve defended Theon’s decision to back his father elsewhere, it wasn’t the decision we wanted him to make, but I think it was a rational decision.

      Good call on the comparisons between Theon and Jon Snow, who I think had very similar situations (mostly in the beginning) – which is why I want there to be some kind of Theon/Jon interaction in the future.

      You’re not wrong that the Grey Wedding was beautifully done. Sansa looked great, the snowfall ceremony by the weirwood tree was lovely. It’s just that we knew what was going to happen that made it rough. If anyone says that the actual wedding between Sansa and Ramsay was poorly executed, they’re lying, either to you or themselves.

      I hear what you’re saying about book readers being too attached to the books, but I don’t think that’s going to be something that they can get over soon. (Or ever.) I’m a big fan of both versions, and I find comparing the series differences at least interesting. Book readers are often critical of the differences, but wildly critical if the changes aren’t executed well (and even when they’re executed well, the nit-picking really begins.)

      Again, thank you for the giant comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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