Much like what I’ve been doing with the episodes of the Game of Thrones TV series, instead of a conventional review to this book, I’m going to talk about a few things/characters that especially piqued my interest. If you are looking for a general review, you’ll have to look somewhere else. A Clash of Kings, to me, is just as stunningly amazing as the previous book in its series. Thus it would be impossible for me to do a spoiler-free general review without it being one long sequence of endless gushing. On that note, do not read this if you have not yet read the book!
The Wavering of Theon Greyjoy
Theon Greyjoy is one of those characters who you just love to hate. Before rereading the books this time around, I remembered him as being one of the most frustrating characters to read about because I could recall always wishing I could punch him in the face. In the first book, we learn that he has lived with the Starks for most of his life, though he spent a part of his youth with his family, the Greyjoys, on the tough and merciless island keep of Pyke. In essence, he is the Starks’ political prisoner, punishment for the Greyjoys’ rebellion in the time before the events of the series. As a consequence, he never feels fully attached to the Starks, even though he is treated with the utmost courtesy and raised by Ned Stark as if he were one of his own children.
In A Clash of Kings, he is sent back to his windswept Viking-like archipelago of a home in order to try and call his original family to arms to support the Starks in the upcoming war. Instead, he finds that the Greyjoys wish instead to rebel once again and to raid and destroy the holdings of the Starks. Being the duplicitous little ass that he is, Theon seizes the moment to try and garner glory for himself, traitorously leading his own stealthy operation to seize Winterfell itself, capital city of the Starks. In the process, he shows the cruel rapaciousness the Greyjoys are known for, raping and butchering as many people as need be to hold the peace.
This background story that I just recounted shows how easy it is to loathe this character. I may as well add that Theon’s ego is off the charts, that his self-worth is so gargantuan that it leads him to make absurdly retarded blunders, and that his sexist nature is grating to the extreme. However, despite all of this negativity, I found myself very interested by a facet of his character that I had not noticed before: his conflicted loyalties.
Perhaps “loyalties” isn’t the correct word, as he clearly aligns himself with the Greyjoys. But it is definitely clear that Theon Greyjoy is in constant inner conflict. For here is a man who has no true home and no true people to call his own. Theon spends much of his time in the novel seeking that acceptance and approval. His is a neverending battle; he has to repeatedly question whether he is to act like the Greyjoys or the Starks; his choice is between the way of the Ironborn: rape, raids, and strength through fear, or the way of the Northmen: to be resolute, stern, and yet maintaining a quiet honor.
Thus does Theon become a tragic and thus sympathetic character in my eyes. Nowhere is this more clear than in how he treats his hostages at Winterfell. Theon rages about how they don’t understand that he has treated them as best as he can; he notes that any killings that have happened have been the bare minimum necessary to placate his men. However, this effort is doomed to failure. His captives view him with the loathing reserved for a traitor while his own men view him as a softie brought up in a weak foreign land. Theon seeks to satisfy his bloodthirsty family through bold acts of butchery while simultaneously attempting to treat his former people well.
Consequently, I found myself saddened when Theon’s plans fell apart and he lost more and more control, over the situation and of himself. While his maelstrom of insecurities aren’t a huge part of the series and have little relevance in the long run, I found him to be a well written character with more depth than his surface level savagery would suggest. I, for one, can only imagine how awful it would feel to feel loathed, homeless, and unable to completely align myself with one family or another. Theon Greyjoy demonstrates the nadir of what makes us human; through him we see what it is to be presented with a situation so conflicting that it brings one to confused despair. And I thought I’d make note of that here in an effort to defend the character and to point out that there is greater complexity to him than one might think.