How I Went from Hating Theon to Wanting to Be One of His Loyal Warriors
When getting hold of any kind of literature, I love me some complex character and a good redemption story. If these are drinks, they would be my go-to cocktail. Don’t get me wrong, I’m most probably like that typical reader/viewer who will always side with the good men. After all, as Rule 6 of Popularity Explained asserts, it is not popularity, influence, or power (and definitely not meanness) that will make people like you. It is ultimately the good things that you do. However, it is just fascinating how these non-main characters with a terrific storyline present multiple dimensions of human relationships and a more realistic, albeit at times exaggerated, representation of people’s personalities. And the process of them finding their way to eventually doing the right thing is 99% of the time edge-of-your-seat riveting. I find it entertaining as well as a kind of education from a viewer’s perspective.
And the most recent subject of my penchant for flawed but reformed souls? Iron Island’s Prince and House Stark’s hostage Theon Greyjoy.
I remember in Season 1 seeing Theon as a cocky, obnoxious ward of Ned Stark. With this observation I had a feeling that he was going to do something bad later on, but I didn’t really think much of him beyond that. True enough by season 2, people started hating him when he betrayed the Starks. But come season 3 until the end and he has virtually become, well, my favorite cocktail – an intricate character with a tragic, yet impeccable redemption story. Let’s break down his awesomeness, shall we?
First of all, Theon proves to be a colorful persona. Who I initially thought to be an arrogant but pretty much trivial character turns out to be so much more. I underestimated him, loathed him, and all of a sudden my heart broke for him. And I’m sure that I was not alone.
Who hated Theon? The Starks, the Ironborns, and the viewers.
Within House Stark, there has been a less than lukewarm reception for Theon. Ned raised him decently but wasn’t necessarily kindly with him as much as he was to his children, with the possibility of having to kill him if Balon Greyjoy does something bad again one day probably at the back of his mind. Jon didn’t grow as close to him as compared to Robb even though they were both essentially outsiders. You would think they would somehow be friends but Theon’s arrogance and constant taunting prevented a closer connection. Theon was popular in Winterfell but just because of the fact that he was a captive, and to cover up a disgraced reputation he acted obnoxious (or he was probably just like that) so he was not exactly liked. With the exception of Robb, people treated him like an outsider and in turn, Theon never fully felt that he belonged there even though he has learned to internally cling on to Ned as a father figure.
Theon’s own father Balon Greyjoy was hesitant to accept him after considering that he basically grew up a Stark.
Lastly, well the viewers just hated Theon’s bravado right from the start. Either they hated him or did not care about him.
Who liked Theon? Surprise! The Starks, the Ironborns, and the viewers.
Things went for a 360 turn by Season 3. His father may have somehow turned a little less hypocritical of him after he decides to deceive his best friend Robb and seize a vulnerable Winterfell in the name of the Ironborns. The Starks who earlier have somehow accepted him grew to hate him for killing Ser Rodrik, two innocent boys, and eventually taking over their land. This was the height of Theon’s atrocity and needless to say, the audience abhorred him.
But the tables keep turning and after that brutal torture under Ramsay Bolton, which was as retaliation to Theon overtaking the Starks’ home, Theon suddenly gained an outpour of sympathy from viewers including me. Likewise, as it became more pronounced as to how he was actually just conflicted with which house to serve and call his family, and pretty much left with no option to prove himself a good man because he will always appear as an enemy to either house no matter what he does, I personally became his apologist. When he felt sincere guilt with his betrayal to the Starks, it got me thinking if he was probably bad at all, or he was just trying to prove to be a good man to either House Stark or the Greyjoys that he did what he thinks would please them respectively. At one point he defended the Starks, at another point he defended the Greyjoys. At one point he betrayed the Starks, at another he betrayed the Greyjoys. Like what he told Jon, being a good man always seemed like an impossible choice because no matter what he chooses, either the Starks or the Greyjoys will consider him an enemy.
Towards the end, Theon most probably earned the respect of both houses by ultimately choosing to do what is good in the eyes of each of these peoples. He saved his sister Yara, a Greyjoy, and sacrificed himself for Bran, a Stark. After everything, all the torture, the abandonment, the internal conflict, he died a good man. The audience loved him, I loved him. All is well!
Which brings me to the most important reason why I am currently pledging allegiance to Theon (lol). The outstanding creation that is Theon Greyjoy’s character can effortlessly illustrate how different our relationship with others could go depending on whether we choose to be good or bad. Theon reminds me of a few real-life redemption arcs that I’ve come across and resonated with me: He was that former bully who we avoided but eventually became part of our social group in class. He was that misfit everyone was scared of but ultimately matured, and was even elected class leader. He was a friend’s sister who gave her mom major stress by growing up a rebel, but would later on be the family’s source of pride by becoming the most successful child.
Theon’s definitive battle, although we might blame external factors for his fate, is to prove that he can be a good man just as he always wanted. Theon just wanted to be accepted, respected, and loved like most of us would probably want for ourselves. He knows that he can achieve these by repenting from his wrongdoings and doing better things and so he redeemed himself by saving his sister Yara and sacrificing his life for Bran. As Bran said right before Theon perishes, “You’re a good man, Theon”. If that is not ultimately cathartic then I don’t know what it is.
While writing this I have quite arrived to a realization that almost every character in Game of Thrones has illustrated the concept of duality in people. Sometimes we’re bad, other times we’re nice. In fact, the only inherently good character in the show that I can think of was Hodor which is probably why he was well-loved right from the get-go. But if anything, characters like Theon and their back stories make us take a step back from our everyday autopilot lives when we don’t seem to care if we casually hurt or offend someone, and help us come up with better decisions towards being liked and accepted. It might be hard to act nice at times, but you wouldn’t want to wait for a Ramsay Bolton to torment you out of spite, would ya? Yikes! When that day comes that you are tempted to act mean to that clueless friend or naïve officemate, remember Rule 6! Just be good and win people’s hearts!
What We Do
With clear language and simple logic, this site answers how popularity works and why it emerges so predictably by breaking it down into 8 simple rules using advice from the internet and published scientific literature.
Join the Conversation!
Interested in writing? Get in touch! Popularity Explained is currently accepting solicitations for interesting blog article ideas.