[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Theon III


Summary:

a-clash-of-kings

Benfred Tallhart spits on and insults Theon while being held by Stygg and Werlag. Aeron says he must die for it. Aeron takes him down to the shore and drowns him. Theon looks down on his men, including Tymor, Urzen, Black Lorren, Todric, Maron Botley, and Gevin Harlaw, as they loot the dead and finish off the wounded. Todric gets into a fight over loot, and Theon has Wex fetch his bow and gives Todric an arrow in the belly. Theon returns to Sea Bitch. He ponders the battle. They raided the fishing village before dawn and burned it to the ground. Benfred and his men came down the road, singing, without a single scout deployed. The ambush made quick work of them. Dagmer hails Theon from his ship, Foamdrinker. Theon had left him to guard the ships so that he would not get credit for the victory. Theon says they must talk, and Dagmer invites him aboard his ship. Theon says that they should not be doing reaving work and that he means to do something that will place them in the songs. He also flatters Dagmer by calling him the greatest warrior of the Iron Islands. Dagmer demurs, stating that he is old and Andrik the Unsmiling, a warrior in service to House Drumm, now has the most skill and renown, but it is clear he is interested. Theon plans to give Aeron six longships and have him continue the raiding. At the same time, Dagmer will take most of their men and pretend to besiege Torrhen’s Square to draw Ser Rodrik away from Winterfell. Theon will then take the defenseless castle.

Source

Commentary:

The great Ironborn invasion of the North begins, not with a bang, but with a whisper. Theon is going to learn the hard way that the battles he fought alongside the Starks were a kinder form of bloodshed compared to what his people have in mind. The idea of Theon being a turncloak has always fascinated me. It was an incredibly enlightening moment for me when Theon articulated the hypocrisy of calling him a turncloak; they never truly accepted him as a Northerner but at the same time they considered him enough of one that he was expected not to turn his back on the region. It’s little like having your cake and eating it too – either he is fully a Northerner or he isn’t at all. The matter gets a little more confused when you take into account the fact that Theon fought for Robb quite willingly in his battles so far and even went to Pyke fully intending to help Robb. That Theon himself is confused with his identity and struggles with the world’s expectations of him makes his character interesting (although not very likable) before he becomes Reek; afterwards, it makes him absolutely fascinating.

Down to the pebbled beach they would go, to drown Benfred Tallhart in salt water. The old way.

Theon’s delegation of drowning duties to his subordinates is something that struck me as very Southron in nature. I could imagine the likes of Stannis or Renly or Jaime ordering things like that done but it’s harder to picture the Ironborn or the North delegating those duties away. I’m biased though; in the North, the only ones who would do it themselves were Robb and Ned (Theon not doing it himself is especially interesting in light of this) but it’s the way the commands are issued and the way Theon carries himself that makes me think that he is more of a mainland, non-naval commander than anything else. His rejection of the traditional, religious custom probably wins him few fans as well.

He could imagine what Eddard Stark would have said. Yet that thought made him angry too.

This is what I’m talking about. There is this ongoing back and forth within Theon himself about what kind of morals he should follow and who he is supposed to look up to as a role model. He hasn’t known the Ironborn well enough to really understand which of them he can strive to become and in a lot of ways, it’s far too late for him to even try to be anything other than who he is now. It just goes to show that it’s not really possible to force yourself to be someone you’re not, especially when it comes to life and death.

“Anyone else have a thirst?” No one replied. “Good.”

So, two things here: one, it is incredibly lame to pretend that you meant to kill a guy when you didn’t and two, guess what is going through everyone’s minds right now? Our commander refused to kill a prisoner of war, a captive that would have happily killed us, despite said captive insulting him repeatedly but now he kills one of our own for breaking some stupid, small time rule? If there was one thing that Theon should have learned from Ned, it was how to keep discipline in an army camp. Well, ok, there are probably other things that would have been more profitable in the future.

“The living should smile, for the dead cannot.”

There are only a handful of cold-blooded killers in ASOIAF, believe it or not. I know, I know, am I insane? Have I forgotten the sheer numbers of madmen that this series is filled with? No, I have not, but my definition of a cold-blooded killer excluded a good number of them. Gregor Clegane has certainly killed in cold blood, as has Amory Lorch and Vargo Hoat and their respective crews but I don’t consider them cold-blooded killers. They are angry killers, men who murder with rage in their hearts (there are certain exceptions amongst those crews, however). Sandor Clegane as well. Dagmar Cleftjaw will kill with a warm smile on his face and not a shadow of a doubt in his heart, just like Bronn, Roose Bolton or Daario Naharis. It’s odd company to be in, but true nonetheless. I can understand why Theon thought that the Cleftjaw would be offended by being asked to guard the boats but the fact that he’s just brushing it off indicates that there is something up, to me at least.

Ugly as it was, that smile brought back a hundred memories.

I guess I spoke too soon. It seems that where Aeron is too pious, Victarion too stupid and Euron too insane, Theon has found a father figure in Dagmer Cleftjaw. It’s obvious in the affection with which Theon remember these memories and compares them with the frost he’s always received from the Starks and Greyjoys. For all its worth, the Cleftjaw talks a lot of sense – he bids Theon to take it easy and to not be in a rush to prove himself all at once but Theon, as only the young can, can’t see past the current opportunities and is only concerned with getting what is his, as soon as he can. It’s a little tragic to see this stone-cold killer give Theon a chance to save himself and just as sad to see Theon toss it aside without a second thought. Dagmer also knows Balon well enough that I think we can take his thoughts on Balon’s state of mind to be fairly accurate. It isn’t that Balon thinks Theon is completely useless but more that he doesn’t want him going back up against the people he’s spent all this time with. It makes perfect sense and while Balon is far from the smartest man in the series, we ought to give him credit for having this basic amount of insight into human nature.

Theon smiled. “It’s not Torrhen’s Square I mean to take.”

This is the line that seals the deal really. After this point, there is nothing that Theon can do or say that will save him. He will either die at the hands of Rodrik, be butchered by Balon if he goes back home (though that is by far his best option) or end up at Reek. Any hope of salvation was lost the second he went from just raiding and small league stuff to killing nobleborn heirs and taking castles. Taking Winterfell was just the one step he could take that would guarantee his removal from the Northern fold.

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