The Writing On the Wall: Krakens, Wolves, and Broken Beings

Theon Iron Islands

Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.

Identity means everything in societies that encompass our world, and the societies within the traumatic realm of Game Of Thrones are no different. Identities are what societies use to define and categorize you, regardless of how that identity may actually reflect who you are as an individual. They are what societies use to marginalize you, exploiting a pervasive hierarchical mindset to limit who you can become in case you dare to push back against how your identity is being perceived and used as a weapon against you. On an individual level, for many of us the question of who we truly are is a question that arguably is never truly answered. We just try to get as close to that answer as we possibly can. Some of us are extremely confident about who we are, what we are, and what we are trying to achieve. Others find themselves entrapped on the opposite end while arguably most individuals are somewhere along that spectrum, comfortable in some aspects of their identities while grappling with others.

The role of society in crafting an individual’s sense of identity cannot be underestimated. There is a darkly comedic poetry to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) uttering the above line to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in particular considering the slowly unraveling mystery of his parentage, but there is nevertheless a significantly poignant note in the wisdom he is trying to impart in that moment. Jon is who he is, which seems a statement so simplistic that it defies logic to treat it as a profound understanding. Yet identities are complex beasts. Jon may not realize who he is a person (and no, that is not a question specifically relating to his royal lineage), but society has already decided how they will treat him based on his identity as a bastard.

Societies have distinct expectations and understandings of whom individuals are and what their respective places ought to be. In a feudal hierarchical society such as Westeros, this is reinforced on several fronts. Jon is a bastard and there are certain expectation of who he must be and what he must be allowed to achieve. Tyrion is a dwarf and as he so wryly noted, all dwarves were bastards in their father’s eyes. He really was not a “man” in the traditional sense of the word for he was not his brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who has the warrior’s broad shoulders and the machismo gravitas of leading a house. For Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), he was a fish out at sea whose identity was starkly divided between two families who had distinct ideas of what masculine identities looked like.

Theon Stormborn

Theon is the youngest son of Lord Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) and Lady Alannys Greyjoy. When he was still a young child, the Iron Islands rose up in open rebellion against the crown, a rebellion that was crushed along with Balon’s hopes of a male heir inheriting his position. He surrendered, but his position was kept intact on the condition that he would surrender his young son Theon to become a ward of Eddard Stark (Sean Bean).

Theon was raised well but throughout this adolescence and into his adulthood, he was never able to shake off that clinging idea that he was stuck between Winterfell and Pyke without the ability to truly place his feet within one home or another.

When Robb Stark (Richard Madden) sharply reminds Theon that he is not a Stark (“A Golden Crown”), that feeling of him being pulled apart at a juxtaposition of identity simply grows stronger. It explains some of his more derisive behavior as an attempt to define his own individuality, but is of course not a justification for some of his more lurid attempts at doing so. When a group of wildlings takes Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) hostage in a forest, Theon without a moment’s hesitation takes aim and shoots one of the wildlings dead. Robb is angry that Theon might have killed Bran by mistake, but Theon counters with an accusation that Robb was too hesitant to do what had to be done. In the Iron Islands, he contends, one does not become a man until one kills his first man.

When Eddard Stark beheads Will (Bronson Webb) for deserting the Night’s Watch, he does so on account of honor and justice for the man who delivers the sentence ought to swing the sword. Will had broken a sacred oath and he had to be punished for making that decision. Eddard did not enjoy killing and while the Hound (Rory McCann) takes umbrage with that sentiment, it provides a critical crux to the identity crisis Theon grappled with. While killing your first man on the Iron Islands was a badge of masculine strength, for Eddard and the values he tried to impart upon his children, it was a mark of somber responsibility. Masculinity was still unfortunately seen as a test of strength, but it was tied to the moral stamina of not taking a life simply because one had the ability to swing a sword at some godforsaken neck.

Theon burns the letter

As the War of the Five Kings kicked off in a bloody fashion, Theon was sent to the Iron Islands in order to forge an alliance between the Starks and the Greyjoys. While the memories of their previous conflict were still fresh, it made all the sense in the world to try and repair those wounds with the start of this new conflict. The ships of the Greyjoy armada wouldn’t hurt, either. When Theon arrives on Pyke, he is greeted by his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan) and an unimpressed Balon. Balon treats his son as if he is a pariah, looking upon him with an unearned, self-reflective disgust. The wounds of his life unfolding freshly before him, Theon begins to write a letter to warn Robb that Balon was sending Yara to attack an undefended Deepwood Motte. He gazes quietly in the amber light upon that letter and in a moment that might be his most significant, decides to burn it.

In burning that letter, Theon signifies that his allegiance is shifting towards his own family, the one with whom he notably has a much more thin and fraught relationship with. He decides to take that familial relationship one step further and symbolically decides to take over Winterfell. As Yara later points out, the plan is strategically idiotic. In terms of his identity crisis, his horrific murders of Ser Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie) and two orphan boys pushes him into one of the series’s darkest corners, which is saying something. His transformation into Theon Greyjoy is seemingly complete and for the briefest of moments he feels a glory that he may no longer have to be reminded how lucky he was to have been a prisoner of the Starks. Then one of his men lands a blow to the back of his head and Theon’s identity crisis takes an even darker turn.

The writing for Theon’s arc was the weakest in the consistent torture porn sequences of season three, but what the writing in that season’s arc did manage to accomplish overall was his complete breakdown into Reek. The castration scene in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” a display of gratuity the show is guilty of dipping into more often than necessary, is nevertheless critical in that it shifts not just Theon’s opinion of himself but also the opinion of others who become aware of his castration. Theon is lost after that physical mutilation and his only semblance of certainty with his identity, his traditionally sexual masculinity, is taken away from him.

Theon Season 2

The masculine aspect of identity is critical to Theon’s struggle in Game Of Thrones. A heteronormative, patriarchal realm, Westeros is the kindest to the wealthy man who stumbles with the bravado of the swords he carries on his armor and within it. As Jaime’s hand was integral to his identity, Theon’s penis was to his. Theon was unable to assert himself as a warrior as he fell short of the prowess Jon and Robb displayed. He was unable to assert himself as a Stark man of honor, for the embodiment of that honor, Eddard, was also the man representing his status as a ward. So Theon aggressively asserts his identity as a man through sex until Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) takes that particular instrument away from him.

He languishes as a prisoner at the Dreadfort until one night Yara arrives with her Ironborn crew to rescue him. However, she finds a prisoner who is no longer mentally her brother and she turns back after a fight. Reek betrays his fellow Ironborn at Moat Cailin and then finds, to his horror, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) at Winterfell. He partially breaks out of his shell to find himself at the precipice of a Winterfell wall with Sansa before they make that fateful plunge, but his fate was far from being sealed at that juncture.

Upon his return to Yara, Reek began to transform more deeply with Yara and as Theon stood by her side when she brokered a pact with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Yet Euron (Pilou Asbæk), a man whose entire bravado seems to be brimming with ideas about how to embody toxic masculinity, attacks the two of them as they’re en route to Sunspears and takes Yara prisoner. Theon’s PTSD in relation to Reek comes back in full force and he finds an escape in the frigid waters.

Theon Dragonstone The Dragon and the Wolf

In “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Theon profusely apologizes to Jon for his actions, apologies that may not be enough or entirely earned but that nevertheless needed to be made. He confesses that his crimes were in part caused by him not knowing whether he was a Greyjoy or a Stark and where his entire identity as an individual stood. Jon brusquely makes critical notes of Theon’s confession but is able to forgive for what he is able and has a right to. Most importantly he notes that Theon doesn’t need to pick one aspect of his identity to define him as a whole. He is both a Greyjoy and a Stark and he need to move forward in life with that critical understanding intact. His identity may not be what he believed it to be or at certain junctures needed it to be, but that is in many ways irrelevant.

That provides Theon with a bit of galvanizing fire as he takes on a loud-mouth boorish Ironborn in a trial by physical combat. Each time Theon is knocked down by his opponent, he gets right back up. Time and time again he hears yells that if he rises up one more time, he will be killed. Yet time and time again, Theon rises right back up, for Yara’s life possibly depends upon it. It’s what he has left and he’s not going to let it go. In a moment of dramatic poetry, his opponent tries to use groin pain to bring Theon down, but with nothing there, he is able to turn the tables around and win the respect of the Ironborn around him.

In a stunning shot, Theon collapses in exhaustion upon his knees and lifts the salt water with which to clean his tattered visage. In that moment, it becomes clear that Theon has come to a sort of peace with his identity and is going to charge forth to rescue the only person who was there for him in his darkest hour of need. He may not ever completely be able to grasp who he is as a person or be able to reconcile his identity and society will never eschew the judgments it places upon his identity. But Theon, perhaps for the first time in his life, has a clear understanding of who he is as a person. At last, he is ready to wear his truest identity as armor and charge forth to whatever future lies across the golden waters of Dragonstone.

39 responses

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    1. This is what I wrote on Reddit Asoiaf. “Wear your weakness like an armor”… Theon did exactly what Tyrios said to Jon. And won.

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    2. Thoughtful essay but of course I do have my quibbles. First, let’s start with the hostage identity. Theon was taken as a child hostage to hold the Greyjoys in check. Clearly the sense here was to embue at least one Greyjoy heir (ok, make that the only traditional Greyjoy heir) with Westerosi values. Second, there is the issue of Theon’s rebellion and betryal. How better to present the essential conflict and ordinary fate of most highborn younger sons.

      I complete disagree that the writing in Season 3 and Season 4, while Theon was being completely brutalized by Ramsey (Snow) Bolton, was bad torture porn. Sexual violence and sexual exploitation happens to men as well as women. We barely talk about what happens to women. For the writers to push the envelope with a man, and let’s note for the record, not some exotic creature like a Varys or the army of the Unsullied, but your basic Nordic type dude, was exceptional. The most horrific of these scenes, from Unbowed, Unbent and Unbroken, required Theon to witness the marital rape of his foster sister Sansa by Ramsey, the sadist. This violated every rule of the “man code” imaginable. Yet it happened (as it does happen in reality).

      How to get past this stuff?

      The Theon Arc is among the most compelling in the film version of GOT. Alfie Allen’s commitment to the role is not only notable, but will unfortunately not be recognized for its depth and the almost harrowing impact. Allen plays it to the bone. He has been done in by the worst aspects of a patriarchal war-based culture.

      Yet he persists, he survives and he will regain his honor and his identity.

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    3. Very well written. Theon has come out the other side of the worst in humanity. He dealt with his identity crisis in the worst possible ways, but somehow is managing to find a way to redeem himself. He, Jaime, and the Hound are definitely the redemption characters of this story. I’d love to see similar article about the other two.

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    4. Riverhawk,

      Strongly agree with you on nearly everything except I actually believe that Alfie Allen will be submitted for an Emmy nomination next year. It seems to be the general and overwhelming consensus that he’s earned it and I honestly don’t see why not.

      To the writer: Thank you for a thoughtful article!

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    5. The scene between Theon and Jon in the finale was one of my favorite parts of the episode, but Jon’s advice that Theon doesn’t have to choose between being a Greyjoy or Stark is a little superficial. The turning point for Theon was when he absolutely did have to choose between being a Greyjoy or a Stark, and he chose poorly. He can try to be an honorable Greyjoy during the easy times, but as Maester Aemon says, there comes a time when it is not easy. Indeed, even after Jon’s speech and Theon’s supposed acceptance of this, in the fight with the other Ironborn guy, Theon goes full Greyjoy and kills the guy. The other guy was clearly trying to avoid having to kill him, but Theon kills him rather than just winning the fight, for no reason at all. So nothing really very transformative happened there, except that Theon finally started to take some real action on his own.

      On the other hand we have Jaime, who has been trying to be an honorable Lannister. He’s reached the point where he can no longer do both and he’s made his choice.

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    6. Very nice analysis and extremely well-done writing from Martin. It could have been easy to make his path back to honor so quick to make it unbelievable and Hollywood like. But they didn’t. The sequence with Euron was so realistic for once. He was still Reek and not Theon.

      And even the fight in the season finale, Theon was not portrayed as suddenly very brave and strong. He was portrayed as someone who had nothing to lose. And as many stated…”Wear it like an armor and it can never be used to hurt you”. Having nothing to lose is his new armor. It’s not an elegant armor, but at last it seems to be the right armor for him. At last, perhaps he can find a new identity as the author of this article brillantly wrote.

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    7. I did not like Theon in the book, his actions in Winterfell were so unspeakable that I really couldn’t feel all that sorry that he became Reek. However as much as I hated the torture scenes in the show, it did show me what the book merely hinted at. Seeing Alfies acting throughout this series has been amazing to watch, as hie juggles with his identies, while at the same time dealing with PTSD, which Yara’s tough love was not going to fix. I now care very much what happens to him. Glad that Theon is in the last season It will be interesting where this journey ends up for him. Hopefully someplace good.

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    8. One of my favourite Theon scenes was sitting season 2, good conversation with Maester Lewin. When he talks about Ned Stark, Theon says “do you know what’s like to hear for your whole life that you should be grateful to your captor?”

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    9. The original Stargaryen,

      Mine also – “I will kill that man. I swear it to the drowned god, the old gods, the new gods, to every fucking god in every fucking heaven – I will kill that man!”

      and at the end of his epic speech to his men – “And whoever kills that fucking hornblower will stand in bronze above the shores of Pyke – What is dead may never die… Ahhhh!”

      Alfie Allen at his best 🙂

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    10. Nice essay! I have nothing to add more. Theon’s story is the most human and complex in the series thus it’s hard for appreciate for people that only care about boobs, dragon, straight nice people like the Starks or the “badass”. But Theon’s story values lies on whatever happen and whatever you’ve done, life goes on because “what is dead may never die”

      But still, Alfie Allen do need to be appreciated for his role. It’s a long shot and a lot of effort will be needed but damn, Alfie deserves some justice #EmmyforAlfieAllen2018

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    11. Leuf:

      Theon goes full Greyjoy and kills the guy. The other guy was clearly trying to avoid having to kill him, but Theon kills him rather than just winning the fight, for no reason at all.So nothing really very transformative happened there, except that Theon finally started to take some real action on his own.

      Did Theon kill him? There’s no evidence that he did that. He didn’t use a weapon, just his fists and no way does he have the strength such as The Mountain had when he crushed Oberyn’s skull.

      He certainly beat the shit out of the guy and left him unconscious with a bloody face, but as to whether or not he killed him is left open?

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    12. Great piece of writing. Theon is one of the most complex characters in the show universe, and Alfie Allen has been doing it more than justice. Thanks to Alfie’s immense talent, Theon has become my favorite character since early season 6. In a cast filled with a number of great actors, he shines in every scene he is in, and 7 season in he continues to be a joy to watch on screen. I sincerely hope HBO will finally submit his name for the Emmy nomination ballots in 2018, because the guy surely deserves it more than anyone at this point. His performance in episodes 2 and 7 this season in particular represents some of the best acting of the whole series in my opinion.

      Other than that, I am looking forward to seeing the continuation of his story next season. I am not sure whether his rescue mission will end up as a success, but I am more certain than ever that he’ll be the one to end Euron’s reign of terror.

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    13. Black Raven: Did Theon kill him? There’s no evidence that he did that. He didn’t use a weapon, just his fists and no way does he have the strength such as The Mountain had when he crushed Oberyn’s skull.

      He certainly beat the shit out of the guy and left him unconscious with a bloody face, but as to whether or not he killed him is left open?

      I believe so, it is left open whether Harrag survives Theon’s pummeling (the actor Brendan Cowell said so in an interview this week). But even if Theon did beat Harrag to death, what else was he supposed to do? Harrag was trying to kill him anyway by that point. What would be the non-Greyjoy (Stark?) way to deal with Harrag? To turn the other cheek?

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    14. A very interesting article, my bows to the author.
      Ever since season 1 – largely thanks to the Widling shooting scene (hell, Robb, how difficult can it be to both criticise someone’s rushed decision AND thank them for the result?) – I found Theon one of the more interesting characters (underlining that “interesting character” does not necessarily equal “character interesting things happen to”). Even at his darkest in season 2 I couldn’t bring myself to hate him (that being said, I also think of Joffrey as primarily an impossibly spoiled kid with some serious inbreeding in his nervous system…) Then seasons 3 to 5 happened and I was all fallen for that split identity battle/coexistence. During seasons 6 and 7, as well as at the predawn of 8th, when majority of morally ambigous characters has either been killed off or clearly placed on either side, Theon remains one of the few with a shakespeareanesquely grey vibe to him – which is what makes him my favourite (along with Allen’s acting).
      Still, I can’t agree that season 3 torture porn was badly written or purely gratuitous… I still remember first watching s3e8 and how when Myranda and the other girl appeared I just immediately knew where that scene is heading and how sickened I felt as it went on. The point is, I’m not against movies/TV exposing viewers to such almost physical experiences, as they can be (not necessarily always are) – in a way – thought provoking. The torture scenes set my attitude towards Theon until the end of season 5 to that undeservedly sympathetic fascination I can – with some grain of sand, of course – compare to that towards Alex from A Clockwork Orange. And that says a lot.
      I just so hope they won’t kill him off thus strengthening the all too strong belief that dying is more redeeming than staying alive…

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    15. Rex: I believe so, it is left open whether Harrag survives Theon’s pummeling (the actor Brendan Cowell said so in an interview this week). But even if Theon did beat Harrag to death, what else was he supposed to do? Harrag was trying to kill him anyway by that point. What would be the non-Greyjoy (Stark?) way to deal with Harrag? To turn the other cheek?

      Okay, it’s ambiguous whether he beat him to death or not. It’s not ambiguous that that other guy was doing everything he could to NOT kill Theon. When you say “Stay down or I’ll kill you” and they get back up and you knock them down again and say “I said stay down or I’ll kill you” and they get back up again and you knee them in the groin, you aren’t trying to kill them. Theon clearly keeps punching him in the face after he’s already knocked out.

      Of course, the Stark kids haven’t exactly been honorable with their defeated enemies either, but that was eye for an eye stuff. The other guy was more honorable in that fight than Theon. It is an interesting play on that trope of the underdog winning the respect of the bully by not staying down and they become friends, ala Cool Hand Luke. It’s just incongruous with the whole you can be a Stark and Greyjoy at the same time thing that it follows.

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    16. I despised Theon from the first episode. Which gives major credit to Alfie Allen for turning him into one of my favourite characters. I so want him to succeed, it’s maddening. The conversation with Jon (which I don’t believe Theon would have had the guts to even start until that episode), and the shot of him washing the blood off his face (if he doesn’t have a broken nose, I have no idea how) were wonderful.

      Mind you, being female and a past baseball player, I can tell you that an impact to the junk still hurts like hell even if you don’t have the dangly bits!!!

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    17. Pigeon:
      I despised Theon from the first episode. Which gives major credit to Alfie Allen for turning him into one of my favourite characters. I so want him to succeed, it’s maddening. The conversation with Jon (which I don’t believe Theon would have had the guts to even start until that episode), and the shot of him washing the blood off his face (if he doesn’t have a broken nose, I have no idea how) were wonderful.

      Mind you, being female and a past baseball player, I can tell you that an impact to the junk still hurts like hell even if you don’t have the dangly bits!!!

      I think it has more to do with the fact that Theon has a pain tolerance level that is off the chart. He was subjected to every form of torture imaginable as Ramsay’s prisoner… his body had to quickly adapt to deal with extreme physical pain (one associated with flaying, for instance). The guy is tough as nails.

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    18. The castration scene in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” a display of gratuity the show is guilty of dipping into more often than necessary, is nevertheless critical in that it shifts not just Theon’s opinion of himself but also the opinion of others who become aware of his castration.

      Well Book!Theon is certainly castrated in the books ( he admits he can’t have sex with Jeyne Poole as he “lacks the equipment”). OK the act isn’t described in the books but it’s also not actually that graphic in the show with much left to the audiences imagination ( insert wave-sausage.gif ). Now with GRRM basing the Ironborn to a large extent on the Vikings we should note:

      Some Vikings raped (forcibly sodomized) and then castrated the men they defeated. They did this to “unman” and humiliate the conquered – since, from a Viking perspective, losing masculinity and submitting were the ultimate degradation.

      Knowing this suggestion of perpetrator as victim of their own punishment adds context to the brutality and explains Balon’s reaction, and also shows that real life was just as horrific as fiction. Theon’s journey is one of the most interesting arcs in the show, and I await to see how GRRM develops it in TWOW and ADOS.

      It’s surely beyond dispute anyway that thanks to these unpleasant scenes, Alfie had a great outlet for his acting talents and certainly made the most of them – and IMO merited an Emmy nomination.

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    19. Wasn’t the episode in question in season 3 penned by GRRM though? I admit I found it very grim and had to fast forward past that particular scene. Mr Martin does do bleak in the novels though (Ramsay’s book wedding night being even worse than the show version, albeit book Ramsay married a character who has been cut from the show).

      I agree with all the comments about Alfie Allen having good acting chops. I suppose it’s in the genes with him being Keith Allen’s son, though I’ve mostly seen his father in comedy drama productions. Also I should compliment Petra on the article.

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    20. Dame of Mercia,

      Yes you’re quite right, GRRM did write the screenplay for “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”. It could well be of course that the director ratcheted up the visual depiction; but as you say GRRM is no stranger to grim.

      BTW to clarify when I said about Balon’s reaction I mean his disgust at Theon as an Ironborn allowing this to happen to himself rather than the act itself.

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    21. I dont often write in online forums but i have to say this has been one of the most thought pieces i have read in quite some time.i agree with both the author and with the comments that have followed. A tragic character who has in a way transformed within himself rather than his outside self transforming(aside from the castration).I seem to remember B. Cogman saying he was his favorite character back around season 2 or 3 and it shows.plus… alfie kills it

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    22. It’s actually not true that young Theon lacked warrior prowess. He had that along with the sex, and very much enjoyed it. He really liked going to war with Robb, and fighting battles. He is the best archer we meet on the show, we don’t know who was the better swordsman between him, Robb and Jon. All fine, probably. Now Jon is best, no doubt.

      He will probably get that back, because it’s just that kind of show. And we did see how much he enjoyed winning a fight last episode.

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    23. ash: Seeing Alfies acting throughout this series has been amazing to watch, as hie juggles with his identies, while at the same time dealing with PTSD, which Yara’s tough love was not going to fix.

      Thank you for mentioning Yara’s “tough love,” which, to me, did almost as much damage to him as any enemy. If you go back and watch their interactions through the seasons, she wasn’t only tough, she was brutal, mocking him in front of his men and her men unnecessarily, telling him that he betrayed her.

      On another thread last week, I mentioned this, and didn’t see that someone had questioned that she actually said he betrayed her. It was in Season 6, ep 4. Theon had escaped Ramsey and now was returning to Pyke. He walks into the room, where Yara sits by a fire, his head hanging apologetically, as usual. The scene went like this:

      Yara: They told me you were home and I didn’t believe it. ‘Theon Grayjoy?’ I said. ‘He’s dead. He’s been dead a long time.’ He let you go?

      Theon: I escaped

      Yara: … Look at me. LOOK AT ME! Men died trying to rescue you. Good men. My men.

      Theon: I’m sorry.

      Yara: You were my brother – you were a spoiled little cunt but you were my brother. I risked EVERYTHING for you, and you betrayed me.

      Yes, she actually did use the word “betrayed” which left me incredulous. That’s why I remembered it so clearly. If ever anything would affect his identity issue, this would. Betrayed?!! He was practically dead at the time she attempted to free him, and so brainwashed and abused it’s a wonder he had a functioning brain cell left at all.

      I hadn’t been a huge Theon fan, but I couldn’t watch the torture scenes. Then, when Yara’s attitude toward him on his return was not that she misjudged the effect his injuries had on him but that SHE was the wronged one, I had little use for Yara, and a great deal of pity for Theon.

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    24. Leuf: Okay, it’s ambiguous whether he beat him to death or not.It’s not ambiguous that that other guy was doing everything he could to NOT kill Theon.When you say “Stay down or I’ll kill you” and they get back up and you knock them down again and say “I said stay down or I’ll kill you” and they get back up again and you knee them in the groin, you aren’t trying to kill them.Theon clearly keeps punching him in the face after he’s already knocked out.

      Of course, the Stark kids haven’t exactly been honorable with their defeated enemies either, but that was eye for an eye stuff.The other guy was more honorable in that fight than Theon.It is an interesting play on that trope of the underdog winning the respect of the bully by not staying down and they become friends, ala Cool Hand Luke.It’s just incongruous with the whole you can be a Stark and Greyjoy at the same time thing that it follows.

      I disagree with you that what Theon’s doing is without honor or incongruous to the whole “you don’t have to choose” speech. I disagree with you when you say that Harrag didn’t mean to kill him. True, Harrag gave him a fair warning twice but Theon could not back down. He could not allow himself not to fight until the end. I see no dishonor or anything wrong with that at all. He had only 2 options, lose or win. And yes, his beating of Harrag was gruesome and deliberate, but Theon needed those men’s respect and again, he had no choice but to beat Harrag until Harrag was finished off. He may be a reborn “Greyjoy/Stark” but his men aren’t there (yet.)

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    25. Just out of curiosity, mods, why would that comment I just posted be awaiting moderation? I used no swear words, did not denigrate either the actor or the character other than to say I disagreed with Yara’s opionion that SHE, not Theon, was the wronged party, and quoted exactly the dialogue from the episode mentioned. I can’t see why the comment would be questioned.

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    26. Stoneheart:
      It’s actually not true that young Theon lacked warrior prowess. He had that along with the sex, and very much enjoyed it. He really liked going to war with Robb, and fighting battles. He is the best archer we meet on the show, we don’t know who was the better swordsman between him, Robb and Jon. All fine, probably. Now Jon is best, no doubt.

      He will probably get that back, because it’s just that kind of show. And we did see how much he enjoyed winning a fight last episode.

      He had gotten it back already during the naval battle. Theon fought very well during it, cutting down many of Euron’s men with his sword and dagger. His training with Ser Rodrik obviously shows.

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    27. singedbylife: but Theon needed those men’s respect and again, he had no choice but to beat Harrag until Harrag was finished off. He may be a reborn “Greyjoy/Stark” but his men aren’t there (yet.)

      Exactly right. His entire life now is defined by his need to rescue Yara. He can’t do it alone, and unless he gains their respect, there is no way they will go with him, especially when Harrag echoes their combined opinions that Yara is dead already, anyway. Just getting Harrag to back off isn’t going to do that, he has to beat Harrag to death to get through their thick skulls. That’s all they understand. You are exactly right, they aren’t there (yet), the “yet” being a sign of hope that they may someday alter their thinking.

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    28. I am interested to see Theon rescue Yara , a reversal of a season’s past story.
      I guess that means confronting Euron.
      Can’t figure out what will happen.

      I picked up that Yara would be back when Gemma Whelan was on the Graham Norton Show and let slip she would be going back to filming in the future, she tried to back track that ….

      (I am surprised Yara had zero lines of of dialog after capture , also thought she might turn up at the Dragon Pit meeting.)

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    29. The identity Theon needed to understand his choices and to receive forgiveness was that he could be a Stark and a Greyjoy. The identity he needs to claim to go forward is “cockless.” And to recognize that in the world of GOT not having full masculinity is in some ways a hinderance, yes, but can also be a source of strength for men with access to power through family/station because it allows you to operate outside the rigid structure of the ideal society.

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    30. Ser Not Appearing in this Series,

      Actually, I wasn’t having a pop at you, SerNot – there were as per normal a few comments to the effect that the show is all about shock value, which I think is oversimplifying. It’s true that that particular instance is more subtly addressed in the books – Reek says something like “If I had a tail he’d cut if off” about Ramsay and “it’s not as if they see me naked” but I was just making the point that the episode in question was written by GRRM (so I presume he was okay with it).

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    31. Such a good essay. Thank you. Can we get more essays like this on where character arcs stand after season 7?

      I really would love to see an essay on Tyrion since in some ways he was in a similar position to Theon in season 2 of being between two families – his blood family and the family that chose him (Dany) – and having to navigate the situation. While he didn’t make a definitive choice like Theon who embraced his Greyjoy side, it does feel like his lack of definition in the end was just as costly given Cercei’s betrayal.

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    32. Great essay! Well reasoned and written, thank you! Like others, Theon was not a favorite character of mine at first but now I am anxious to see the outcome of his story. Bravo to Alfie Allen!

      Ditto on the request for more posts like this and some of the other more in-depth posts we have been reading here recently. I love the fun stuff (I’m looking at you Axey and your round-up of tweets) but I also love pieces like this and the one on Lyanna Stark a few days ago. The diversity of offerings is one of the reasons this is such a worthwhile site and a good reason to support it.

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    33. Bravo, well said! I hope Jon remembers his words to Theon about not having to choose when he learns he is both a Targ and a Stark.

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    34. Dutch Maester,

      I think the Game Revealed episodes are only available to HBO subscribers (cable and online). The first episode last week was given for free to whet our appetites.

      The second episode is available on my HBO Nordic (online) subscription. It’s 14-15 mins long. The most interesting part for me was seeing how crowded the filming of the sea battle really was, with real embers flying and real fire all around.

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    35. Thank you, Akash, for this great piece on Theon. So much food for thought.

      Theon, books and show, is such a layered, complex character. I know people have even written books analysing him! And Alfie Allen does such a marvellous job of portraying him.

      I think the show needed to have Theon’s torture scenes in S3 (plus betraying the Ironborn in Moat Cailin in S4). In the books Theon disappears in book 2 to only re-emerge in book 5 and the torture (“Reekification”) is given in flashbacks. That obviously wouldn’t work for TV. However, the way the scenes were done was a bit OTT and too explicit for my taste, and the naked ladies seemed a bit gratuitous. (Also, I only came to GoT in S3 so had no idea who this poor guy was = instant sympathy for him, lol!)

      Theon’s struggle with his identity is, of course, the key to understanding his character. Everything he does, thinks and feels is, one way or another, tied to that. His desperate need to fit in and seek validation from those around him; his early braggadocio, his frustration in not being recognised and regarded as highly as he thinks he deserves, the way he treats the captain’s daughter… The list just goes on, and this desperate need leads to his betrayal of Robb and the atrocities he commits in Winterfell (In the books, there’s this phrase something like

      It’s better to be thought cruel than laughed at, which demonstrates this mindset and leads him to go along with “Reek’s” (=Ramsay’s) plan to murder the farm boys and present them as Bran and Rickon. Just so that his Ironborn wouldn’t laugh at him.

      ) .

      In a way, what Ramsay did to him, making him Reek, is an extreme version of Theon, of this need to fit in, to please “his master”. Uugh, poor Theon.

      So, when Theon slowly begins to re-emerge from the Reek persona, he in a way has confronted the worst of himself. He has been stripped so bare he has a chance of rebuilding himself, acknowledging what went wrong the first time, trying to do better this time. Wow, I don’t think any other GoT character has had to self-examine (think about identity…) as much as Theon.

      It’s a slow process, though. It begins with Sansa in Winterfell in S5. But once they flee, he in S6 again flees (from Jon’s wrath), not really facing up to his past. He tries to reclaim his Ironborn identity by supporting sister Yara but he’s still a wreck of a human being. Yara and Theon flee from Euron. Yara’s “tough love” in Volantis shores him up for a time but doesn’t really address his underlying issue (identity) and his PTSD. This all comes horribly apparent when he’s “triggered” during the sea battle in S7, and again flees.

      The Theon/Jon scene in S7E7 was wonderfully acted, especially by the talented Alfie Allen, but at first viewing, I remember thinking WUT? The hero Jon Snow says Theon can also be a Stark, and all will be well? Like… is being a Stark somehow the ultimate goal, the epitome of GoT goodness? (Well, it is, to some fans 😉 ) At first this seemed such a simple cop-out. Yay! Jon says, and now Theon is healed and will be Team Stark foreverandever.

      But Jon was actually the first to address Theon’s core dilemma. Greyjoy or Stark? Who am I? His identity. For Theon, it’s always been about identity. Jon gave him a huge building block. You can be a Stark (whatever that means) and you can be a Greyjoy (whatever that means). Jon gave Theon validation. Jon gave Theon something he’s been craving for most of his adolescent and adult life.

      So, is it any surprise Theon, despised by Harreg and the other Ironborn with him, directly challenges Harreg, and fights it out the Ironborn way. Rises harder and stronger (or at least rises, wobbly) every time Harrag knocks him down. His special handicap becomes a surprise strength. I think the picture of Theon staggering to the sea, falling to his knees and washing his face = babtising himself with salt water, must be one of the top GoT moments of all time.

      Theon apparently has won over the Dany-loyal Ironborn, he’s on a quest to save his sister (where is Yara? KL? Iron Islands?), and he’s firmly on Team Breathing with Dany and Jon Snow. He’s a “good guy”, but what a journey!

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    36. Thank you all for commenting and engaging! I love reading through your discussions just as much as I enjoy writing these pieces.

      These pieces will definitely continue – I’m thinking Cersei next!

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