Hello there! I’m back with the second part of my countdown of my favourite POVs from A Song of Ice and Fire. Number two: The Turncloak himself, Theon Greyjoy.
Spoilers, of course.
I love Theon Greyjoy. Well, reading about him, anyway.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that Theon is a godawful mess of a person. He betrays everything he’s ever loved over and over again, he kills innocents to assuage his ego, he’s weak when he needs to be strong and bull-headed when he should be feeling empathy for other people. He’s got a massive chip on his shoulder, a ton of daddy issues and a stick so far up his ass that a year or so of torture couldn’t quite pull it out. He betrayed the Starks and even made Bran and Rickon cry, and that’s unforgiveable. And hey, I agree! He was a scumbag. Even after A Dance With Dragons, he is still basically a scumbag. So why do I love him so much?
hes kind of a shady guy and you never know what hes thinking about
Theon is one of the first POV chapters of A Clash of Kings. I managed to not get the addition of extra POVs spoiled for me, so seeing chapters with ‘Theon’ and ‘Davos’ over the text was really exciting! Why do I prefer Theon to Davos, though? Davos is well-written and his ACOK chapters are really interesting (I love Team Stannis!), but Theon brought something new to the table. Tyrion is morally grey at times, but as of ACOK Theon was the first truly antagonistic POV. It was a surprise to read his perspective and his character. What impressed me was how much the reader can connect with Theon, regardless of the fact that he’s a turd. Unlike with other villain POVs in novels I’ve read Theon is genuinely a relatable character, no matter how many horrible things he does.
His trip back to Pyke and his internal monologue give the reader a fantastic sense of what kind of background Theon came from, and that informs his personality and decisions in ACOK. He’s not just a jerk for the sake of being a jerk – the origin of his issues is clear and present. Anyone who’s ever felt isolated by their family and friends can relate to Theon’s struggle. Anyone who’s ever been angry and made a situation worse over and over can relate to Theon’s regret over staying at Winterfell.
A brisk autumn wind was swirling through the battlements. It reddened his cheeks and stung his eyes. He watched the forest go from grey to green below him as light filtered through the silent trees. On his left he could see tower tops above the inner wall, their roofs gilded by the rising sun. The red leaves of the weirwood were a blaze of flame among the green. Ned Stark’s tree, he thought, and Stark’s wood, Stark’s castle, Stark’s sword, Stark’s gods. This is their place, not mine. I am a Greyjoy of Pyke, born to paint a kraken on my shield and sail the great salt sea. I should have gone with Asha.
(Note: Relating =/= Supporting. He’s still a horrible person.)
Theon Greyjoy blew the doors open for truly nebulous point of view characters. Jaime is fantastic and the cavalcade of Greyjoys and Martells we get in AFFC/ADWD are really interesting, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the first: Theon.
Theon’s chapters are also the most thematically tight in the series. GRRM’s favourite themes seem to be those of identity, transformation and family and Theon’s story revolves around those themes. From the very beginning we are presented with a character constantly at war with himself and his identity. Theon Greyjoy has been alienated from both of his families and finds himself with none and he is desperate to fit in. And every part of his story, almost every action he makes, is him desperately trying to make some peace between the two sides of his heritage, the Greyjoy and the Stark, while carving out his own identity.
This gets even stronger in A Dance with Dragons, where his arc focuses around his identity. Is he Reek or Theon? Can he come back from what he’s had to deal with? Can Theon’s already divided personality overcome a year of torture? These are the kind of questions that GRRM narrows in on in the Theon chapters of Dance, and hot damn does he do a good job. Even a first-time reader can see what GRRM was doing with this story from how his chapter titles go from ‘Reek’ to foggier titles like “The Prince of Winterfell” to finally a triumphant return to ‘Theon’.
Like many of the characters of ASOIAF, Thepn battles against the worse parts of himself – his cowardice, his weakness of personality, his inability to take responsibility for his actions. Unlike many of those others Theon leaves ADWD a better person than he began. Maybe it isn’t as viscerally exciting as the Northern politics, but it’s beautifully written.
His lips skinned back in what might have been a grin. Half his teeth were gone, and half of those still left him were broken and splintered. “Theon,” he repeated. “My name is Theon. You have to know your name.”
Speaking of writing, the descriptions of Winterfell in ADWD are some of the most beautiful prose GRRM’s put to paper. Ramsay’s wedding to Jeyne is horrifying but the descriptions of the Winterfell godswood are breathtakingly beautiful.
The mists were so thick that only the nearest trees were visible; beyond them stood tall shadows and faint lights. Candles flickered beside the wandering path and back amongst the trees, pale fireflies floating in a warm grey soup. It felt like some strange underworld, some timeless place between the worlds, where the damned wandered mournfull for a time before finding their way down to whatever hell their sins had earned them. Are we all dead, then? Did Stannis come and kill us in our sleep? Is the battle yet to come, or has it been fought and lost?
In fact generally GRRM nails the harsh winter:
Endless, ceaseless, merciless, the snow had fallen day and night. Drifts climbed the walls and filled the crenels along the battlements, white blankets covered every roof, tents sagged beneath the weight. Ropes were strung from hall to hall to help keep men from getting lost as they crossed the yards. Sentries crowded into the guard turrets to warm half-frozen hands over glowing braziers, leaving the wallwalks to the snowy sentinels the squires had thrown up, who grew larger and stranger every night as wind and weather worked their will upon them. Ragged beards of ice grew down the spears clasped in their snowy fists.
ASOIAF often takes some flak for its prose, and some of that is deserved (fat pink mast, anyone?), but moments like these serve to remind us why we love these books.
A Northern Perspective
Theon’s ADWD chapters give us a massive insight into Northern politics in ADWD. Gutted from the television show, post-Bolton Winterfell is a powder keg constantly on the verge of exploding and oh boy, is it great. With most of GRRM’s work when dealing with the politics of a kingdom we have to take a bit of a wide perspective. There’s a lot of ravens flying about, a lot of work done behind the scenes; a good example of this is the Hornwood Affair as it is explained to Bran in ACOK. We never get to meet the movers and shakers or see them in conflict – it’s interesting stuff, but it all happens offscreen. Not so with Theon’s ADWD chapters.
With the snowstorm outside Winterfell, nearly all of the lords of the North are trapped in Winterfell with a lot of conflicting personalities and personal beef to deal with. The Manderleys hate the Freys openly, the rest fear them. Dustin’s running some kind of game, but who can tell to what motive? Roose, the calm chessmaster who plays with people, is uneasy, there are Wildlings about and someone is killing Dreadfort men on the sly. On top of this we have Theon, who forces himself to think as little as possible about everything he sees but just has to consider them. We have a similar handy ‘camera’ POV in Theon as we do in Areo Hotah, but unlike the Camera That Rides we also get Theon’s juicy interior monologue constantly attacking itself. In the arena of Winterfell we see some of GRRM’s most well-drawn secondary characters face off and it’s in equal parts atmospheric and exciting.
So, that’s why I love Theon. Sometimes good, often bad, always conflicted and always beautifully written, Theon’s one of the best characters in A Song of Ice and Fire and I can’t wait to see where Martin will go with him in The Winds of Winter. Has saving Jeyne redeemed him? Can he be redeemed? For someone as broken as Theon, does it even matter? If you’ve any thoughts on the Turncloak put them down in the comments, I’d love to talk about them.