Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 2, Episode 2: “The Night Lands”
Original Air Date: April 8th, 2012
Director: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
How do you feel about Theon Greyjoy right now? The last we saw of him he was standing beside his sister trying to make an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen, and now he is sailing back to Westeros with the Mother of Dragons to face his Uncle Euron. But has Theon been redeemed in your eyes? Is he even someone worthy of finding redemption?
I have hated few characters on Game of Thrones as much as I have hated Theon Greyjoy. His betrayal of Robb has always bothered me more than any other double cross. When he took a sword–repeatedly–to Ser Rodrik’s neck after claiming Winterfell, I knew I could never forgive him. No bad that came to him would be enough, so while he was being tortured and mutilated by Ramsay Bolton I had no sympathy for him. Theon wasn’t worthy of feeling badly for, and he wasn’t worthy of empathy.
And I was probably wrong.
That doesn’t excuse what he did to House Stark or those two young farmer’s boys, but this episode, where he returns to his homeland on the Iron Islands for the first time since he became a ward/prisoner of Ned Stark, feels much harsher and sadder now.
Rather than be happy to see his son, Balon scolds him for having been made a “daughter” of Ned Stark. His own sister mocks him (and yeah, that creepy brother/sister feeling up on the horse is as terrible as ever, more so on a re-watch because we know who Yara is). Balon insults his clothes, he questions his loyalty, he is disgusted at the way he lives, and he questions if he remembers his two dead brothers.
Theon had been with the Starks longer than he had been on Pyke. For nine years he was Ned’s ward, so he was just a little boy who saw his two brothers killed in a stupid, foolish, shortsighted rebellion by his father against Robert, who was then shipped away to pay for his father’s sins and guarantee his peace.
We saw in season one Theon never truly fit in at Winterfell. You can be treated with love and respect, but Westeros is a world of families, and he was not a Stark. So here he comes with this offer from Robb that he came up with, expecting to be the returning hero where he will be greeted by every important person on the Iron Islands, and what he finds is that he doesn’t belong here either, and that no one cares about him.
His father refuses the offer to be King of the Iron Islands if he supports Robb, and instead tells Theon he will take his throne by paying the iron price, though not against the Lannisters. Stand with his father or stand with Robb?
Theon Greyjoy isn’t really a Greyjoy, but he’s not a Stark either. He is basically a bastard that is despised by his father for being one, even though his father made him this way.
We know Theon screwed up. He had sworn that Robb was his king and that he would stand by him, but he was always just that scared kid that was sent away by his father. We don’t have to forgive Theon’s decisions to understand them; we can empathize with him, and from there we can maybe hope to see him redeemed.
I know his story is about to grow tiresome soon enough, when his season of being tortured by Ramsay goes on way too long, but Theon is the de facto high born bastard of Westeros, only without a family where that is the only thing that matters. Jon might not have been a Stark in name, but he was a Stark in blood. What did Theon have? No home, no family, no respect, and no one to empathize with him.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that someone treated with such contempt by those that should have loved him ended up being so contemptible, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand why it happened.
What do you think of Theon? Is he more sympathetic than we might have thought? Or are his actions a creaky wooden bridge too far? Tell us what you think in the comments before.