Theon Greyjoy in my opinion is one of the most interesting characters in a Dance with Dragons and a Clash of Kings. Admittedly, he commits a great deal of crimes, murder for one, and others on this forum have argued that rapist can be added onto his list of crimes. But I find Theon still to be one of my favourite characters. Don't get me wrong, Theon is not the most likeable person, but throughout the series he shows such a transformation that is just a mixture of joy and horror to read. I am always glued to his chapters. He has such an inner complexity and inner turmoil that I just find so rich in a character.
I can't easily defend murder, but I can give reasons and explanations that can somewhat explain Theon's actions. Firstly, Theon has, at the start of a Got, as many characters in books do, no sense of purpose or comfortability in his environment. I don't need to explain the reason that Theon essentially grew up in Winterfell, but the fact that he did under such awkward circumstances can explain his personality prior to his transformation into Reek. His childhood was cruel, he was merely a third son who was told that his two elder brothers were dead (admittedly two he did not care for in reality) and that he would be sent away from home, away from the people he was supposedly meant to rule one day. Theon grew up with Starks that were not his own kin, and in a castle that he would never rule, although he mentions that he had somewhat of a brotherly relationship with Robb, the remainder of the Stark children do not seem to have any affection for Theon. Theon notes that he had hoped to wed Sansa Stark as a fantasy.
This all good and true, but Theon did not suffer physically in Winterfell, he was given a home. Theon did embrace his new home, was taught arms by Rodrik Cassel, as stated, had a relationship with Robb, and was generally a well mannered yet arrogant young ward. Yet there remains a sense of alienation and isolation in his new home. He is not where he should be. His upbringing causes an identity crisis within himself, a need to stay Ironborn, yet to remain loyal to the Starks. Yet he decides to assault Winterfell, kill many of the people within in the castle, and is ultimately responsible for the "death" of Rickon Stark and Brandon Stark. Winterfell treated him kindly, and did not do the same. Theon should be held accountable for his actions, and in some sense he is in ADWD, but the people I feel play such a huge impact in his life and ultimate decision to become Theon "Turncloack", are his blood kin. Balon Greyjoy aspired to become a King of his own, I will not explain his reasons but we know that Balon bent the knee and in return had to lose his only remaining son. But instead of understanding that Theon had no option in the matter, he invested all his efforts to the idea that Asha would one day succeed him when instead, Asha herself shows no sympathy to Theon. With these feelings of hatred emanating from his own family, both his father whom merely sees his son as a tainted Iron Islander, stained by the Wolf, and his sister, a woman who should embrace the return of a brother she should love, both utterly spurn the return of the man who they believe is inadequate to rule. These feelings from his family, result in a deep seated urge to prove himself as a Greyjoy, as a man capable of leading and ruling over the Iron Islands.
The embarrassment and harassment that he suffers at the hands of his family whilst he is on an envoy mission gives him in his life, a mission that gives him purpose. What he does he does for himself, and for the pride of his name, rather than as a ward for an old enemy. People will say that Theon made a new family in Winterfell, but blood is blood. We cannot fault him for choosing to forsake an allegiance to a House that does him no justice, or would offer him any personal satisfaction. He needs to accomplish something for himself. He obviously fails to accomplish anything and he destroys any good reputation that he may have retained whilst at Winterfell. It is again easy to say that his decision was wrong, that by choosing blood over his friends he deserved what he got. But it such a difficult scenario for Theon, why should he retain a loyalty to House Stark, the reason he was there wasn’t of his own accord. Yet in a desperate attempt for his family to approve of him, he is forced to betray people he became accustomed to know. Not an easy choice, blood or “friends”. Yet his dilemma is an effect of his totally over ambitious father who does not understand that he grabs more than he can eat. The Greyjoy’s may have a great fleet, and the Iron Islanders may have a great navy, men, and a cool God of their own. But geographically they can never hope to control anything more than the North. The loss of Moat Catillin, Winterfell, and Deepwood Motte, only confirms the point that the Ironborn are meant to remain on the sea. Again I understand that complications had obviously arisen with the Crow’s eye and that all these castles were not well protected. But the Greyjoy House has neither friends nor alliances. Offers to ally themselves with the Lannisters are frequently spurned or not replied to. Balon is in my opinion, one of the worst characters in the book, not because of his cruelty to his child Theon. But just the absurdity that he deserves to be a King. Sure the Iron Islanders have a great heritage, and I am not denying that Balon is a strong or capable leader. His ambitions are too unrealistic, his strength is the sea. Yet Balon’s idea to become King and attack the North only motivates his son to rashly take Winterfell in an attempt to prove his loyalty to his blood, and that developing from a boy into a man at Winterfell has not changed him from who he is, an Ironborn. His sacrifices to the Drowned God are again merely motivations to prove himself as an Ironborn, Damphair has changed and is overly religious, and is overly aware that Theon has been exposed to different God’s and needs to prove that he really is loyal to the Drowned God and the old ways of the Iron Islands. His executions are often suggestions by his own ironmen and Reek if I recall, he screws up one in the books which was a bit grim. But it’s this need to portray him as strong and most importantly, the idea that he is his own man that consumes him. He knows he has messed up his situation, but still hopes to keep that sense of his real identity.
We all know it ends badly, Theon holds off the Cerwyns and Rodrik only by the threat of execution of the citizens remaining in Winterfell. Cley Cerywn is killed by an arrow through the eye, Rodrik is killed, and Winterfell burns by the hand of Ramsay Snow. Theon’s problems are so immense; we read an excellent paragraph in which he contemplates the idea of becoming a member of the Night’s watch. Theon notes that there is good hunting, the Wall would offer Theon a release of the false loyalties he is expected to keep, a chance to finally do something for himself without a higher power above him. Winterfell was stupid campaign, one that strategically made minimal sense, but Winterfell once represented the seat of power in the North, and for Theon taking it would only show his Ironborn and family that he holds no loyalties to the House that once raised him.
Yet through all of this, Theon shows character. His decisions and identity struggle are something that feels so real. All this talk of remaining loyal to your house is easy for many other characters, they know their house, know their people. Theon has not had that luxury, he suffers from one of the greatest dilemmas. Robb Stark grew up a Stark, Joffrey a Baratheon (Lannister), Jon Snow a bastard with Stark blood yet no Stark name. All these characters have an idea of where they are from and what they fight for (sorry not really Jon). Robb fights for family, Theon does not know his family, but fights for them anyway. A mistake. Theon has no cause, when he should have embraced Robb’s cause he embraced that of his blood. He needed the sack of Winterfell to realise where his real loyalties lay, that sometimes sharing blood with someone is not always a gift. Theon, for all his problems and mistakes, shows a loyalty to his blood that most people in his scenario would refuse to do. And again it this huge pressure to perform and live his life as an Ironborn that gives him these reasons to do what he does. He chooses his real family over his friends, a decision that is not easy, a decision that costs him, and a decision that he ultimately regrets. Theon did see Robb as a brother, and realises he should have died with him, but his mistakes can be redeemed.
People want Theon dead for what he has done, he has in reality not killed the Stark children, but killed many people of Winterfell. Yet people seem to despise him for this. He is no worse than Cersei or Jaime. We see an excellent transformation in Jaime, people I know really like Jaime as a character, yet he has done terrible things, things that I too am willing to forgive. Theon pays for his mistakes more than he should. Ramsay’s crimes in themselves are just incomparable to Theon. Theon deserved death for his crimes, all these explanations providing why he did what he did does not excuse the fact that he should be executed for what he has done. But some things are worse than death. Theon at the hands of relentless torture is no longer himself. His ability to be a bowman is gone, implied in the book is the idea his ability to reproduce has gone too, the show made that quite clear. He suffers in agony, yet no character in the book would I wish to suffer the same, even Joffrey. His torture is worse than death. He no longer needs to worry about his identity, he is just Reek, it rhymes with shriek. Again he shows no increased sense of total cruelty, all he does he does for his blood. His total adoption of his persona Reek is just amazing to read. He suffers such a physical and emotional change that the man is no longer Theon. He used to joke around and visit brothels, he is just so incredibly different it’s a wonder to read. He has such a nice complexity as a character which is just great to be a part of and great to watch Alfie Allen portray in the show.
I still think Theon is an absolutely fascinating character. In my mind he redeems himself just by bloody surviving the torture he receives. But he does save a young woman from the Bastard of Bolton. He has potential to correct the wrongs he has done, the torture is enough punishment for him. I would like to see Theon at peace. He is still by right the heir of the Iron Islands, Damphair may wish to have him reinstated, Victarion may realise that following Theon may be better than Euron. At this point I really don’t know. I don’t want him to die, I want him to keep redeeming himself, but most of all I want people to give the guy a break. He did get his dick cut off for Christ’s sake.