July 10, 2011

Reek II

Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy in HBO's Game of Thrones
Reek is sat upon an old, scrawny horse, terrified not to fall down or to fail in another way. He tries to remind himself who he is, what he is, that he is Reek, and no one else, and worthless. Being sent on his way, he tries to concentrate on the task before him: to deliver a castle to Roose Bolton. As he rides down the causeway, it quickly becomes clear that it is Moat Cailin that needs delivery. Reek remembers that he has ridden down that way before, in the host of Robb Stark, instantly reminding himself that it wasn’t him but another man with which he is not identical. He was born in the dungeons of the Dreadfort, he reminds himself. 

Riding into the broken towers of Moat Cailin, Reek observes how strong defendable the fortress still is, with good line-of-sight on the other towers to fire arrows. He has a peace banner with him, clutching it with his maimed hands, half hoping to be shot and to have his sorrows ended then and there. He calls for admission to talk and is let into the biggest tower, ushered in as someone from another tower shoots at him, obviously against the intentions of the others. In the room he stands it he faces a degenerated Ironman and a corpse. The Ironman tells him that he “bog devils” are attacking them constantly, gnawing at their strength, and seems not quite to understand what Reek wants or who he claims to be – the son of Lord Balon and heir to the Iron Islands. Reek reminds himself again that that’s a lie and that he’s Reek, but the Ironman allows him to see the commander of the tower, finally.
The commander lies on his sickbed, with swollen limbs and head, poisoned and rotting, but not yet dead. Even Reek is aghast. Since the leader, Ralf Kenning, is in no condition to give orders or to recuperate anytime soon, Reek takes his sword and kills him, demanding to be admitted to the second-in-command. The Ironman leads him into a big room, where once Robb had conferred with his lords, and where now about two dozen Ironmen are feasting. Most of them are Codds, by the look of their arms, a minor house of the Iron Islands not well liked by the others. 

Reek tells them that they are enclosed by Ramsay’s host to the north and Roose’s to the south, and that Ramsay has generously promised them a pardon should they give up until sunset. He even wrote that into a letter, sealed and waxed, that Theon has with him. The Ironmen look at the sealed letter, apparently not being able to read, and then start a discussion. One fervent warrior, Dagon Codd, points out that they were left with orders from Victarion to hold out until he returns with the Driftwood Crown on his head, and that he has not yet returned. Reek holds against it that Euron is king and has sailed away, and that Victarion holds the Codds in contempt and doesn’t plan to return. This strucks home, and many Ironmen are ready to give up, but Dagon Codd draws his sword and threatens to kill Reek when an one-armed Ironman throws an axe in his skull and gives up on behalf of all of them. 

Reek leads them out, where they are greeted by Ramsay, who welcomes them warmly and promises them food, shelter and free passage to the Stony Shore. He thanks Reek and asks him what he wants as a reward. Reek is terrified, sensing a trap, and answers that remaining Ramsay’s servant and perhaps getting some wine is all he wants. Ramsay tells him that he won’t return to the dungeons, but will be allowed to be a dog and to get meat, and Reek gets a blanket, his stinking cloths back and half a chicken as well as some wine and sleeps with the dogs. 

At the next morning, Roose Bolton crosses through Moat Cailin, besides the bodies of the surrendered Ironmen who were flayed and tied to piles and unites with Ramsay. In full armor, he leads the treck over, only to be revealed as a dummy: the real Roose is in one of the wagons. He greets his son and presents him his future bride, Arya Stark. Reek doesn’t know the girl, has a closer look and recognizes her as Jeyne Poole, being terrified all over again and trying to hide his revelation. 

This chapter confirms one of the most accepted theories: that the false Arya Stark that Jaime Lannister already encountered in King’s Landing is in fact Jeyne Poole, the steward’s daughter, who was trained for the job by Littlefinger. That she is here now suggests that we are rather advanced in comparison to the timeline of “A Feast for Crows”, since the voyage certainly has taken some time. Reek II should be located at about halfway through “A Feast for Crows”. 

The whole chapter has the concept of madness as a recurring theme. Again, we see how deeply the brainwashing of Theon went, how destroyed his character is. He is totally terrified of Ramsay, trying to foresee his wishes and submit to everything he does and wants to the fullest. However, sometimes glimpses of the old Theon come through, for example when he remembers being in Moat Cailin before or when he gets a sudden flush of pride out of the information that the Ironmen in Moat Cailin have repelled three attacks already. When he recognizes Jeyne Poole, he gets another piece of himself back. He is yet terrified of his true identity, trying to suppress it, but soon he will go over to merely hide it, a big step forward on becoming a character again and not just Ramsay’s animal. 

But it’s not only Theon who is mad. Everything in Moat Cailin is mad, and one has to think of “Apocalypse Now” when reading the descriptions of the degenerated Ironmen. They don’t bury their dead, even eat them, fight a war they can’t see any sense in and are constantly threatened by invisible enemies that attack out of the swamp with poisoned weapons. They have even turned against each other in their madness. 

It is surely not surprising that the Boltons don’t have any honor in them, but it is astonishing to what degree Ramsay puts casual cruelty to the prisoners. After all, he gave them a sealed letter of free passage, which, after flaying them, he stuffed one of them in the mouth. The mutilated bodies are then paraded as a sign of what happens if one stands up against the Boltons. This will surely bite them in the ass at some time, when no one trusts them and everyone fights to the bitter end since surrendering proves to be a worse fate than dying in battle. 

As a side note, there’s a theory out there that Theon was also gelded, evidenced by his terrified remarks in Reek I that he is “not a man” and his fear of losing his cloths, which conceal the condition. I don’t think this is true. In Reek II, he says that he is “lower than a dog, a worm in human skin”, which argues for the point that he is regarding himself not a man because of the brainwashing. The fear to take off the cloths derives directly from Ramsay, who threatened to do horrible things should he ever attempt to get them off.  


  1. Oh, Stefan, maybe I didn't put it very clearly. I came to the conclusion (well, let's say, suspicion) after reading ALL Theon's chapters, especially The Ghost in Winterfell. This scene particularly struck me:
    Lady Dustin spoke up. "Take off your gloves."
    Theon glanced up sharply. "Please, no. I...I..."
    "Do as she says," Ser Aenys said. "Show us your hands."
    Theon peeled his gloves off and held his hands up for them to see. It is not as if I stand before them naked. It is not so bad as that.

    He is Theon already, he has more or less regained his consciousness, yet he is horrified by the mere thought of being naked. Why? What is he so ashamed of? What does he want to hide?

  2. I still think that he's not gelded. Knowing Ramsay, he would save that punishment for something real ugly.

  3. Also in this chapter, at the top of page 261, Reek thinks, "He has only taken toes and fingers and that other thing, when he might have had my tongue . . ." It seems likely to me that "that other thing" is his penis. Why else would he refer to it like that?

  4. Hm, you are starting to convince me...

  5. Wait wait, I see contradictory evidence. When confronted by a disguised spear wife, he mentions about how he wants to hit her and then he also wants to fuck her. But then he says he dare not do both. Doesn't say he can't just that he dare not. Which is probably why he stumbles when Ramsey asks him to get Jeyne ready, fucking the Lords wife and possibly getting her with child could be just as much a death sentence given how much they need Ramsey to produce a Stark heir. Plus Reek's lost a lot of teeth so far, could be the other thing, who knows. Skin another.

  6. I hope it is not true, for that would be too much for poor Theon.

    And yet Ramsay did something massive and ugly to Kira and Theon after they had tried to escape.

  7. What do you mean when you say "get Jeyne ready"?

  8. He forces Theon to cunnilingus her to make her wet for him.

  9. Yes, he did say he wanted to fuck the disguised spearwife. But he also stammers about not being able to do something with Jeyne when Ramsey orders him to make her ready. So really, he might be gelded, or perhaps he was just temporarily injured and thought he wouldn't recover. Until he did.

    Well, despite that, the Ironmen were in desperate straits, and the fact that I suspected the whole time that Ramsey was going to doublecross them made reading this chapter that much worse. The suffering and the broken pride just underscored everything with a sense of pain and betrayal, and their hope at surrendering was painful to read. Ramsey needs to die in agony! Hopefully by dragonfire!

    Having Jeyne confirmed was a bit anti climactic, but satisfying nonetheless. We were right, and now we have confirmation. Still, you already know this girl has milk in her veins. The question of her being able to survive Ramsey Snow is a rather big one!

  10. One other thing I noted during this chapter was Theon's request for strong wine as a reward. He drinks all of it, retching a couple times and becomes very drunk. I think this implies that he knew Ramsay was going to kill the Ironborn. Reading it that way casts a much darker note on the entire chapter.