Theon in ADWD Re-Read - “Reek” II
(you can find the others here)
Some pages of Tyrion drowning and Bran flying and Davos treating with Merfolk, and here we are. Theon has to play the prince. Theon has to play Theon. He has to play him and never dare think of himself as the Prince of Winterfell again. That demands, actually, an insane clarity of mind to be able to play along the lines.
This chapter is one of my favourites in ASOIAF, because I find it so subtle and heart-wrenching. But, just like Theon, you have to walk carefully along the lines.
Here is the most powerful lines from this chapter, and for good reason. They do define the thread we follow.
We are Ironborn, [Theon] thought, with a sudden flash of pride, and for half a heartbeat he was a prince again, Lord Balon’s son, the blood of Pyke. Even thinking was dangerous, thought. He had to remember his name. Reek, my name is Reek, it rhymes with weak.
It consists essentially of Theon winning (?) back the Moat for the Boltons - and to live, to live again. Although we get it quickly enough: it is not death he fears, but a fate worse than death. He who lived for glory and love doesn’t fear humiliation or hatred anymore. The Boltons will do that to a man, well. That is their expertise, isn’t it?
Our second Reek chapter has a melancholy to it that I hope I will be able to show. It also serves to introduce Theon’s personal arc properly - not (yet) redemption, not as much as finding himself. He won’t ever atone for any crime if he doesn’t fully know who speaks inside of him. The Prince of Winterfell? The Kraken’s son? The lost prince of the Islands? The Ward of Stark? A bit of them all, surely. But first, to act like Theon.
“Reek” was shaking when they helped him on the saddle to win the Moat. He resembled Theon, but he couldn’t act as him. Not with Ramsay nearby.
Reek did not dare look back, for fear that Damon and Yellow Dick and Grunt and the rest were coming after him, that all of this was just another of Lord Ramsay’s japes, some cruel test to see what he would do if they gave him a horse and set him free. Do they think that I will run? (…)
One point I will always insist on is how feeble Ramsay is as a character in the narrative. At least, in Dance. He is powerful and dangerous, yes. But he only exists through Theon’s eyes. He is the monster in Theon’s distorted fairytale; the symbol of his hellfire. Naturally, Theon’s torture and suffering isn’t justice - but he might have thought so, in his guilt. And I believe, in a way, Theon yielded because of that. He is proud and he is hopeful - he could have resisted the Reek persona, had his hope not been poisoned with guilt. “Do they think that I will run?” He can’t run: this is a practical impossibility as much as a psychological one.
Ramsay is a bastard who becomes the Lord of Winterfell, and - as it has been often mentioned here and here - even shares his initials with Robb Stark. If you look at these facts from the perspective of an insider, it is almost easy to paint Ramsay as a monster-like figure Theon invented, borrowing traits from Robb and Jon and mixing them to form his own personal nightmare.
But the nightmare is here, really here, day and night. The pain is real, the danger is real, and Theon has to do his duty. (“I will deliver him the castle. I will. I must”).
I have come this way before. It was a dangerous thought, and he regretted it at once. “No,” he said, “no, that was some other man, that was before you knew your name.”
He has to voice this. He has to differentiate his self from Theon, the “other man” in his internal monologue. This is actually a demonstration of Theon’s freedom of mind. Theon is still there, he is not solely a distant memory. It’s Reek, the part he has to play, who is “not even a man”. Theon knows this, from the first Reek chapter on: “(…) he cannot take your wits unless you let him”. And Theon never lost them, not truly. He spent weeks in the dark, in pain, all alone. He could have gone mad, he should have gone mad. What else is left for him? Surely, it would have been easier.