We catch up with Theon in one of his final chapters as himself. Things are going exceedingly poorly at Winterfell – morale is low and paranoia and suspicion are high. The reveal that it wasn’t Bran and Rickon that Theon killed previously isn’t much of a surprise to us now, of course, but I do like how all the necessary information was just sneaked into the chapter, just under oblivious readers’ radar. Asha also meets up with Theon but for obvious reasons isn’t as pleased with him as he is with himself and the chapter ends on a foreboding note for the Prince of Winterfell and a moment of clarity.
“What?” Theon cried. Mercy. “What do you want? Why are you in my bedchamber? Why?”
This might be me reading too much into it, but there is something ominously prophetic about Theon crying out to Reek for mercy. It seems very clear that Martin knew exactly how things would pan out between the two characters and therefore there is plenty of foreshadowing in this chapter alone. It’s interesting to consider that Ramsay might have been able to break Theon as easily as he did because he knew so much of just what kind of person Theon was. There are hard men in ASOIAF; men who you couldn’t imagine bending to even Ramsay’s torture but Theon very clearly isn’t one of them. As Reek, Ramsay sees Theon’s inner softness and his indecisiveness, particularly stemming from his killing of the miller’s boys in place of Bran and Rickon.
At least Gelmarr did not haunt Theon’s sleep.
No matter how you look at it, Theon killing off his own men is a terrible idea. In his head, Theon is still thinking of himself as a rule and trying to establish Winterfell as his for the long run when in fact, he should be in survival mode and declare a state of emergency in the castle instead of trying to establish a rule of law. His murders of his own brethren are done in order to keep Theon’s secret but again shows that he is more concerned with his reputation than he is aware of the danger he is in. Killing off all the other witnesses ensures that only Ramsay knows his secret and we all know how that ends.
Cursing, he tore off the clothes and dressed again, in felted black wool and ringmail.
Clearly, appearances matter a lot with Theon. We have seen time and time again that is duped by appearances and tries to fool others with visual tricks as well. Consider him mistaking his sister for some commoner, or him mistaking Ramsay for Reek, or him trying to pass the farm boys off as the Starks – clearly, the whole appearances vs reality is a major part of Theon’s later arc as well. The irony here is that appearances matter more to him than they do to Asha and that by caring about her opinion so much, he is already lowering himself.
Winterfell wanted him dead.
This is a very interesting concept especially considering the Ghost in Winterfell in ADWD. We can quite safely assume that few, if any of the original residents of Winterfell survive Theon’s occupancy, Ramsay’s assault, the razing and later, the Bolton occupancy. This would imply that whoever is doing the killings now is unconnected to the real Ghost in Winterfell. However, this whole idea of Winterfell as an almost sentient entity that destroys its enemies has been brought up enough in relation to Theon that it seems fair to establish him as the Ghost in Winterfell,at least until we get a better idea of who could be involved. This all also serves to improve the ‘mystique’ of Winterfell as this ancient, mysterious castle that rejects all outsiders.
It took three more cuts to hack through all that bone and muscle.
No matter how hard Theon tries, he is just not going to be Ned. This whole idea of him even trying to do his own executions, when he clearly has no idea what he is doing, is a sign that not only does have an entirely inaccurate self-image but also that subconsciously he is trying to ape Ned in many ways. Of course, we’ve touched on this in previous Theon chapters but it’s both frustrating and a little tragic to see just how confused Theon’s identity is. Just think about it: of course Theon is going to try to emulate Ned – that’s the closest thing Theon has ever had to an actual father. Whether Theon liked it or not, he grew up believing that Ned’s way was the right way but never figuring out that Ned’s way was nothing like the Iron Islanders’ way. You have to wonder what his men must be thinking at this point; their ‘Prince’ is clearly more interesting in appeasing the local customs and population than he is with keeping them safe and it’s becoming increasingly clear that this entire mission was just a way for Theon to work his issues out. The only thing keeping them attached to Theon is that without him, they have no way back home.
How did I come to this? he remembered thinking as he stood over the fly-speckled bodies.
Well, Theon, one idiotic step at a time. Still, it says something that Theon is willing to acknowledge that this was not how it was all supposed to turn out. It’s this morality (despite his actions) which really separates him from people like Tywin, Cersei and even Stannis. Those characters would never be caught dead thinking ‘How did I come to this?’ It isn’t because they lack the morality (though that’s definitely a factor) but also that they do not consider anything that they do wrong. If Tywin did what Theon did, he would view it as a necessary step and then move on, not feeling any real sense of guilt or shame. It this moral self-awareness that makes Theon’s story all the more tragic – in his mind, he isn’t really the bad guy (this is a trademark of Martin’s writing, really) but rather that he has just been forced into increasingly unfavourable positions that required him to take increasingly drastic measures; measures that he later rued, if he is to be believed.
Krakens rise from the sea, Theon, or did you forget that during your years among the wolves?
Well, he did forget, but thanks for reminding him after all has been said and done! I guess, in Asha’s defence, Theon does have a final out but when phrased the way she did, it’s supremely unlikely that he’s ever going to accept it. There is a bigger point here about how, despite all Westerosi modelling their psyches so much around their sigils, Theon forgets what his stereotypical traits are supposed to be – this could be Martin’s way of suggesting that it is nurture, not nature, that determines what a person ends up as. If that sounds obvious, consider that there are very few people apart from Theon who differ strongly in temperament from their families; perhaps Tyrion, maybe Sansa too but barely any others.
“Do as you say and you’ll not find me ungrateful. You can name your own reward.”
This is one of those moments that just has to be case in platinum and wrapped in gold for being one of the most dramatically ironic moments in the series. As it turned out, Ramsay did exactly as Theon said and Theon (eventually) was not ungrateful. Ramsay even got to name his own reward, just as Theon said. These little bits of irony don’t really have a purpose in the bigger scheme of things, of course, but they sure as hell are entertaining.
Suddenly the wine turned bitter in his mouth, and when he looked up from his cup he saw that he was dining with the dead.
So, in our long standing tradition of overanalysing dreams, let’s give this one a shot. The general tone of this dream is clearly negative; there is a prevalence of death and ill-feeling after a seemingly innocuous start but the interesting bit is the foreshadowing it provided, specifically Robb’s own approaching death. I find it strange that Theon sees visions of people he has no real connection to; he isn’t a Stark, no matter how much he wanted to be one but he still sees visions of Lyanna Stark and her brother and father. It could just be a nightmare, yet another sign that Theon’s guilt and inner conflict at ruining the home and lives of people he grew up around is worsening or it could be something a little more powerful. Consider the following:
He wants me to sleep, yes . . . to sleep and never wake. He’d like that as much as Asha would.
There are two ways to take this, really. On one simple level, Theon simply does not trust Asha and is incapable of objectively evaluating her advice. Yet, when taken in combination with this idea of Winterfell repelling its enemies, we begin to see a pattern. First, the nightmares, then this general sense of paranoia after soldiers turn up dead; it all seems like something the Bolton’s will find when it becomes their turn to occupy the castle. On their own, these symptoms seem perfectly natural – after all, when you’re barely holding a castle by force and the general population hates your guts, you will feel a sense of paranoia and general ill-ease. However, think about the Boltons’ time here – they were the majority then, everyone was, ostensibly at least, allied and friendly but the negative atmosphere was as bad then, if not worse. We don’t know enough to suggest some kind of magical intervention or anything as overt as that, but rather this could just be one of those subtle bits of the supernatural that Martin might have injected without feeling the need to explicitly explain.
This is their place, not mine.
I chose this quote to end this long chapter discussion with because it captures everything I’ve been trying to say about why Theon’s brief occupation of Winterfell went so poorly. Firstly, Winterfell was never his and it could never have been his – he was no Stark and the people did not acknowledge themselves as his. More than that, the quote above captures that moment of clarity when Theon realizes that not is a happy ending particularly unlikely at this point, but that it had always been unlikely right since the beginning. Theon will have one more chapter in which to rue his fate before his drastic, disturbing transformation into Reek.