The struggle of power in the Iron Islands on Game of Thrones may appear to be an unimportant one, almost unnecessary at a passing glance. But, like Arya lurking in the shadows, playing her mind games, loyally for House Stark, the conflict between Ironborn has been a boiling kettle. The kettle is singular for the purpose that most of the development of the Iron Islands has come from one pair of eyes: Theon Greyjoy. A rather unimportant character-that most fans hate because of his cowardly decisions-at first glance, almost like the conflict between the warring factions of the Greyjoy family. Importance, though, is a relatively subjective construct. On the other hand, cowardice is a personality trait that has the ability to adapt depending on the situation. Some are cowards at heart, but some are affected by external factors that trigger this behavior.
As fans have to come to despise the actions taken by Cersei Lannister to secure her family’s house above others, they have also come to hate Theon for his cowardly nature. Viewers first witnessed Theon’s questionable behavior when he betrayed the Stark’s-the family he grew up with after the events of Robert’s Rebellion forced Balon Greyjoy to surrender him to his enemies-after being sent to the Iron Islands by Robb Stark to deliver a message meant to bring an alliance between the two great houses. Balon reacted differently than Robb had desired; burning the letter and declaring the Greyjoy’s loyalty to the Lannister army. To join the Starks… Well, that would be blasphemy.
Imagine being given away to another family, only to have the opportunity to unexpectedly return to your true family. How would you feel? How would you react? The answers to these questions lay within experience: you wouldn’t know unless you’ve been in a similar situation. For Theon, his reaction may not have been one everyone agreed with, but it was one that made sense. He spent the majority of life in the presence of his enemies, dreaming to one day return home to show his family the man he had become. When the opportunity finally came to prove he was a Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, he seized it-regardless of the consequences the decision would have on his relationship with the Starks.
Fast forward to the seventh season of Game of Thrones. Theon has suffered at the hands of the Bolton’s (creating a new personality that he refers to as Reek), has redeemed himself by assisting Sansa Stark with her escape, and has then regressed back to his Reek-like state at the sight of his sister, Yara (Asha in the books) being held at knife point by their uncle, Euron Greyjoy.
Theon’s decision to abandon his sister in the second episode of Game of Thrones Season 7, “Stormborn”, was unfortunate in regards to Theon’s character development. He progressed a lot when he made the tough choice to betray his new master, Ramsey, and help escape Winterfell with Sansa Stark. But, as any person knows who has suffered or is suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or any other related disorder that affects one’s abilities to function properly after a traumatic experience, the memories of the painful past can surface with a simple reminder. When Theon saw the death, blood, and guts that Euron brought to Yara’s and Ellaria Sand’s fleets, Reek returned; forcing the cowardly nature associated with Reek out of him.
To put in layman’s terms, Theon regressed. Alfie Allen does such a great job in portraying both Theon and Reek, especially when a viewer needs to distinguish which of the personalities are surfacing. So in the sea battle with Euron, where fans witnessed this regression, there were clear signs that it was happening. It wasn’t as if Theon suddenly was like “Okay, nah, I’m out” for no reason; he was clearly distraught at the situation and did what he had to do to escape the torture that most likely lay in his future if he stayed and fought. Does this make him a coward? It could, depending on how you look at it. But, let me try to explain how it is much more than that.
Theon’s actions in Game of Thrones are all justified; from him wanting to live up to his family name, to him abandoning his sister with their uncle. They are decisions that fans don’t like because they go against everything a “hero” should stand for. After all, there’s no honor in betraying those who raised you or leaving your family behind to be slaughtered (ironic how he betrays both of his families; he redeemed himself as a Stark, now he must redeem himself as a Greyjoy). From a closed minded perspective (sorry those who hate Theon), Theon can be perceived as a coward. From a more open minded perspective, his character is as complex as a 5,000 piece puzzle and deserves to be examined further as to discover what made him do what he did. There’s a lot going on inside that head of his, and the latest episode of Game of Thrones, “The Dragon and the Wolf”, proved that.
In the season seven finale of Game of Thrones, fans got a lot to think about coming into season eight. From an ice dragon destroying the Wall to Daenerys’ and Jon Snow’s relationship evolving into something sexual. But, what stood out to me narratively was the transformation of Theon. After abandoning Yara with Euron, I honestly thought that his story may have been at an end. It would have made sense, after all; Theon attempting to redeem himself for his past sins, only to have his sins catch up to him once again. In the end, Reek would prevail. But he’s a character full of surprises, and that’s why I love to watch his development unfold on-screen.
I think Theon needed the wise words of Jon Snow (aka Aegon Targaryen) to encourage him to move on from the one internal struggle that haunted him his whole life: was he a Greyjoy or was he a Stark? Jon said it plainly: Theon is both a Stark and a Greyjoy. There’s no need to decide between the two. Theon took his advice to heart (clearly from his facial expression) and made the decision to abandon his cowardly persona known as Reek and save his sister.
When confronted by a fellow Iron Islander about his cowardice, Theon fought back. Never has a viewer seen him really stand up for himself on-screen (at least since the 3rd season). He’s done some unforgivable things, but his progress to be a more courageous man is shown clearly as he takes punch after punch in the face (and crotch), to the point where he approaches death. In the end, though, he comes out of the fight victorious. The Ironborn watching the conflict show nothing but respect for a Theon they had never seen before. In that moment, he became the personification of the words of the Drowned God: “What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.”
So how does all of this relate to Euron Greyjoy, the villainous uncle loyal to Cersei? Euron was exposed to the White Walker’s army of the dead in the last episode, along with many other major characters. His reaction, though, was one that stood out to me. Even after seeing the dead, Euron still remains loyal to Cersei’s demands (in this case, he pretends to cower back to the Iron Islands to wait out the war with the dead, when, really, he has plans to hire the Golden Company, a large army of mercenaries, to fight for Cersei). He has no intention of helping fight in the only fight that matters. So, I ask my readers this: who’s the real coward? Theon or Euron?
Theon has made some decisions that appear cowardly on the surface, yet these decisions remain true to how recent events have shaped him. Euron, on the other hand, makes no efforts to change the person he is. He’s a cutthroat that remains loyal to Cersei for one reason: the promise of marriage, which would result in him ruling the Seven Kingdoms alongside the Queen. There’s as much honor in that than any terrible decision Theon has made.
Yet Theon has fought hard to become a better person, one that he can be proud of despite his mistakes. He accepts the truth that the White Walkers and their army march towards Westeros. But, in order to fight them, he needs to first save his sister. Yara was the only one who tried to save him from Ramsey, but he rejected her because of his fear of his master and what he would do to him if he was caught. Now he must return the favor.
It takes courage to admit when you have made a mistake. Theon admits he has royally screwed up almost every time he is on screen, making him more courageous, in my opinion, compared to his uncle. Euron has no shame in his evil actions; it actually appears that he gets pleasure from hurting others. Like Ramsey, when all is said and done, he is a coward unable to come to grips with the reality of the world. Sure, he may not act like one, but deep inside there lurks a man without a conscience, someone who doesn’t have the ability to do good because there is no good left inside of him. Instead, he chases a mad Queen because it is what he desires. There’s no regard for others. That’s not courage; that is the complete opposite.
Euron has it coming, though. Theon is changed and intends to kill his uncle and rescue his sister. This could be a game changer for Daenerys and her quest for the Iron Throne. Without Euron, there will most likely be no Golden Company. Without the Golden Company, Cersei will be the one who is royally screwed. The conflict within the Greyjoy family is feeling a lot more important now. Game of Thrones Season 8 will be a doozy.
Theon’s scars of the past may not have completely healed yet, but I feel like that, at this point in his progression, that it doesn’t matter. He isn’t going to run away from a fight anymore; he’s going to stand up for what he believes in. Theon, who appeared to be a coward on the outside, actually has had the potential for greatness on the inside his whole life. Euron, on the other hand, a man as hardened and cold as ice is the true coward: unable to admit his wrongdoings and do good, unable to adapt when circumstances demand it.
In the words of Theon in the season finale: [To Jon Snow] “I’ve always wanted to do the right thing… Be the right kind of person, but never knew what that meant. It’s always seemed like… like there was an impossible choice I had to make: Stark or Greyjoy.”
What are your thoughts on Theon’s transformation throughout Game of Thrones? Do you think it will be short-lived, and that Reek will take over once again? Or is the real Theon here to stay?
Most of the time he spends writing, reading (anything from comics to classic literature), playing video games, and wondering when the next Elder Scrolls title will be released. Hopefully soon…