Course Hero. "A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 July 2017. Web. 17 Jan. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-Series/>.
Course Hero. (2017, July 13). A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-Series/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) Study Guide." July 13, 2017. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-Series/.
Course Hero, "A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) Study Guide," July 13, 2017, accessed January 17, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Song-of-Ice-and-Fire-Series/.
The title of Book 5 in the series A Song of Ice and Fire is an allusion to the Dance of the Dragons, a war of succession between Aegon Targaryen II and his half-sister, Rhaenyra. This battle takes on new meaning in A Dance with Dragons as the last of the Targaryen Dragonlords, Daenerys, becomes the ultimate contender for the quest for the Iron Throne, along with her three increasingly powerful and deadly dragons. Supporters, suitors, and enemies are dancing around the young queen, waiting for an opportunity to support her cause or take control.
Not far from the Wall, Bran Stark continues his journey through the haunted forest with Coldhands, Hodor, and Jojen and Meera Reed. He enters his direwolf Summer's mind more and more often and in that guise has become the leader of a savage pack of wolves. He finds he can also inhabit Hodor's body, although the huge stableboy resists.
Eventually, Coldhands brings them to a hill, where they are greeted by a child of the forest, a member of a mysterious nonhuman race that first inhabited Westeros. They travel beneath trees and across a floor of bones to where they discover a skeletal body sitting on a throne of roots. This is the three-eyed crow, whom Coldhands describes as "a friend. Dreamer, wizard, call him what you will. The last greenseer." This is the being to whom Bran has been drawn and who will now teach him to control his powers and use his visions of the past and future to help shape the destinies of those around him.
At Castle Black, Jon Snow is facing what seems to be almost insurmountable challenges in his role as Lord Commander. His officers question his every order, forcing Jon to execute one of them, Janos Slynt, for insubordination. In addition, the traditional neutrality of the Night's Watch is being jeopardized by Stannis Baratheon's presence. Stannis is also asking that lands and castles belonging to the Watch be turned over to him. Jon has to balance his responsibilities as Lord Commander with his need for Stannis's support to ensure the survival of the increasingly weak Night's Watch.
Jon must also address the problem of the thousands of wildlings who were scattered by Stannis's army and who are now at the mercy of the Others. Jon hopes to rally the wildlings to his side, realizing that dead wildlings can be reanimated as wights, thus increasing the Others' army of the undead. He sends the wildling Val, sister-in-law of Mance Rayder, to meet with Tormund Giantsbane of one of the wildling clans and discuss a truce. A fragile truce is established, but Jon's dealings with the wildlings, along with the execution of Janos Slynt and his uneasy relationship with Stannis, earn him the additional mistrust and enmity of many of the brothers of the Night's Watch. Worse yet, Jon is able to muster only limited allegiance from the wildlings themselves.
The one thing that earns Jon respect from his men is what he does after the capture of Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. He assents to Stannis's and Melisandre's decision to burn the man as a traitor and watches as Mance Rayder is suspended in a cage and consumed by flames. But unknown to all except Jon and the red priestess herself, the man in the cage was not Mance Rayder. The victim was a different wildling, a treacherous man named Rattleshirt who was disguised as Mance Rayder through Melisandre's sorcery.
Jon also protects Mance Rayder's baby, whom Jon fears will be used by Stannis in a blood sacrifice to R'hllor. Because Mance was a type of king, Stannis has wondered if the child has the royal blood needed for the most powerful sort of sacrifice. Jon switches the infant with Gilly's baby before ordering her and Samwell to leave Castle Black to take Maester Aemon back to the Citadel. The real Mance Rayder, in return, heads to Winterfell in the guise of Abel the Bard to rescue Arya Stark, whom Jon has heard is being married to the depraved Ramsay Bolton.
In the palace at King's Landing, Kevan Lannister has been made regent to King Tommen and is attempting to sort out the mess created by Cersei Lannister. He makes Mace Tyrell Hand of the King and appoints two other Tyrells to the small council in an attempt to rebuild relationships. Whatever happens to Cersei as the result of her trial, he has no intention of letting her return to a position of power.
Cersei and Margaery Tyrell, meanwhile, are still prisoners of the Faith, locked in their dungeon cells and tormented hourly to force them to admit their sins. Exhausted and broken, Cersei finally admits to fornication and incest with Lancel Lannister, her uncle Kevan's son, who had helped her arrange Robert Baratheon's death. She does not, however, admit to the murder itself, the death of the former High Septon, or her adultery during her marriage to Robert (including incest with her brother). She attributes most of the accusations to Stannis, which the High Sparrow is willing to believe given Stannis's belief in R'hllor and his desecration of the temples and statues of the Faith of the Seven.
It is decreed that Cersei will have a trial by combat and that her champion will be a knight known as Ser Robert Strong—a huge man who neither eats nor sleeps and who is rumored to be the reanimated corpse of Gregor Clegane. But before the trial takes place, the High Sparrow orders Cersei to take the "walk of atonement." She is paraded naked through the streets of King's Landing, the jeers and abuse nearly breaking her.
Later, a subdued Cersei has dinner with her uncle Kevan, who is still trying to repair the damage Cersei has done to the kingdom. He also brings her news of the attack on Myrcella Lannister in Dorne and of Jaime's disappearance with a woman in the riverlands, likely Brienne of Tarth. Immediately after the meal, Kevan is summoned to meet with Grand Maester Pycelle, the king's adviser, but when he arrives in the room, he finds Pycelle dead. Varys is waiting for him and shoots him with a crossbow.
As Kevan lies wounded, Varys says he hopes Kevan can forgive him, saying, "This was not done from malice. It was for the realm. For the children." He goes on to explain that Kevan's thoughtful leadership threatened to undo Cersei's follies and years of Varys's careful planning to undermine both the Baratheons and the Lannisters. His purpose in all this is to put young Aegon Targaryen (son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell), the true heir whom Varys reveals still to be alive, back on the throne.
In a dungeon at Dreadfort, a physically and emotionally ravaged creature named Reek waits for the next atrocity. He has been flayed—the skin stripped from his body—and has lost his fingers, his toes, and his genitals. Reek is actually Theon Greyjoy, used by Ramsay Bolton as a human plaything for his sick amusement. Theon has heard other examples of Ramsay's other hobbies, as well—hunting young girls in the woods, for example, and then flaying them and feeding them to his dogs if they are caught.
Theon is taken from the dungeon and told he is to accompany Ramsay to Moat Cailin, still being held by the starving soldiers left there by Victarion Greyjoy when he went to the Kingsmoot. Theon is told to take on his old identity of Theon Greyjoy—son of the former lord of the castle—and order a surrender and promise the men food and peace. Theon pulls together the shreds of his lost identity in order to obey Ramsay and then watches helplessly as the men are slaughtered and their bodies displayed on stakes.
Roose Bolton then arrives with "Arya," the bride Tywin Lannister had promised to Ramsay but whom Theon Greyjoy immediately recognizes as Jeyne Poole, a friend of Sansa Stark's. He says nothing. Roose chastises his son, saying his barbaric amusements are calling negative attention to the family and their actions and that their support is already lean.
Roose decides to move the wedding of Ramsay and "Arya" to Winterfell. The ceremony takes place, with entertainment being provided by Abel the Bard, recently arrived at Winterfell. That night, in front of Theon, Ramsay immediately begins to abuse his new wife and threatens to cut off her feet if she tries to run. Theon himself considers trying to escape but then feels he is "a ruined man" and that this is where he belongs.
As the snows continue to fall, tensions build within Winterfell between the Boltons and the Freys. A series of murders takes place, and paranoia grows. A group of washerwomen approach Theon, insisting he accompany them to meet Abel the Bard. Abel is, of course, Mance Rayder, and the washerwomen are his spearwives. The group rescues Jeyne/Arya, but the half-mad girl's screams give them away. Theon and Jeyne escape by jumping from Winterfell's battlements to the snow below.
After leaving Castle Black, Stannis heads to Deepwood Motte to build an army from the mountain clans and fight the Ironborn. Otherwise, Stannis has been refused help by almost everyone and has sent Ser Davos Seaworth to negotiate with Lord Wyman Manderly on his behalf. When Davos arrives, Manderly arrests him and fakes his execution in order to stay in the good graces of the Freys, who are holding his son hostage. However, he secretly promises loyalty to Stannis in exchange for certain services.
The assault on Deepwood Motte is successful, and Stannis captures Asha Greyjoy during the battle. He decides the time is right to march on Winterfell, knowing it is now in the hands of Roose and Ramsay Bolton and hoping to rescue "Arya" as a way to thank Jon Snow for his support. Stannis's forces leave Deepwood Motte with Asha accompanying them, but heavy snows slow his army, and the planned 15-day march becomes an endless struggle. The army becomes stranded for 19 days due to blizzards. Resources dwindle, and the army begins to starve. Some of the followers of R'hllor ask to sacrifice four men to their god R'hllor to save them, and Stannis reluctantly agrees. Soon afterward, riders show up with Theon Greyjoy and the false Arya, Jeyne Poole. Asha is horrified when she sees all that remains of her brother is a skeletal figure.
Stannis has been gone for weeks, and Jon is still juggling the factions at the Wall, which now include Queen Selyse, Stannis's wife, and her court.
Jon receives a hideous letter, purportedly from Ramsay Bolton, claiming that Stannis has been defeated and Mance Rayder captured. It describes atrocities such as heads mounted on the walls of Winterfell and Mance Rayder trapped in a cage, wrapped in the skins of the women who came with him. The letter continues with the following demands: "I want my bride back ... Keep [her] ... and I will cut out your bastard's heart."
Reacting to the horror of the situation and the implication that Arya has escaped, Jon decides to ride south to Winterfell. He does not order the Night's Watch to help him but does ask for the support of the wildlings and any brothers in black who choose to accompany them. His decision, however, is in violation of the oaths of the Night's Watch to remain neutral. Suddenly, he hears screams from outside. As he hurries to investigate, he is attacked by men of the Night's Watch who stab him repeatedly while chanting, "For the Watch." Jon loses consciousness, and his ultimate fate is unknown.
Fleeing to Essos after murdering his father, Tyrion Lannister is ravaged by guilt. He begins drinking heavily and considers taking his own life. Finally, he reaches Pentos and goes to the house of Illyrio Mopatis, Varys's old partner and the onetime guardian of Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen. There, he learns more about Daenerys Targaryen and "a dragon with three heads." Suddenly, Tyrion feels driven to find and serve the young queen.
Illyrio sends Tyrion to Volantis on a ship with some of his retainers, with the goal of meeting Daenerys and offering to help support her cause. Among the retainers is a man called Griff and his son. Tyrion, traveling under the name Hugor of the Hill and playing the fool, quickly realizes that Griff is not what he appears to be, either—he is too intelligent and well-read to be a servant.
After earning the trust of the younger boy, Tyrion learns that the older man is Lord Jon Connington, once Hand of the King to King Aerys II and a great friend to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Connington's "son" is actually Aegon Targaryen, Prince Rhaegar's son, thought to have been murdered by Gregor Clegane during the sack of King's Landing. The boy has actually been in hiding all these years—much as Daenerys and Viserys had been—and is being taken to Daenerys with the hope that she will accept him as her consort.
Tyrion reveals who he is and begins to counsel the young prince. He suggests that instead of going to Daenerys as a beggar and hoping to be accepted by her, he first assemble his own host and conquer Westeros, which is in disarray and exceptionally vulnerable. Then he can approach Daenerys as an equal. He also warns Aegon Targaryen to be cautious and to trust no one. Aegon responds positively to Tyrion's counsel and promises to talk to Connington.
Unfortunately, Tyrion does not benefit from his own advice to trust no one. While searching for information in the town of Selhorys—and visiting brothels, still hoping to find his first wife—he is captured by a Westerosi man and told he is to be delivered to the queen. Tyrion assumes the queen is Cersei and that he is in the hands of a bounty hunter. But his captor turns out to be Jorah Mormont, who wants to bring Tyrion to Daenerys to regain her favor and who now sees his purpose in life as "to serve her. Defend her. Die for her, if need be." Tyrion tells Jorah they are both working with Varys and should be allies, but Jorah remains unmoved. Tyrion also learns that Aegon has taken his advice and is heading west, so he knows there is no chance of rescue.
As he and Jorah travel by ship to Meereen, Tyrion is reunited with Penny, one of the performing dwarves who had jousted at Joffrey's wedding. The two become friends. Tyrion also meets a man named Moqorro, a red priest of R'hllor, who tells Tyrion he has seen a vision in the flames: "Dragons ... And ... [a] small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of it."
Without warning, a storm arises, and there is a shipwreck. Jorah, Penny, and Tyrion are rescued, but unfortunately, their rescuers are slavers and the survivors are put up for auction. Eventually, they are sold to a genial slavemaster named Yezzan zo Qaggaz, who collects "treasures"—human oddities. He is delighted by Penny and Tyrion's jousting performance (which Penny has taught to Tyrion) and tells them they will perform at the Great Pit of Daznak, one of the pits in Meereen, where Daenerys is queen.
Although she had chosen to remain in Meereen to learn to be a queen, Daenerys is struggling. Her decision to abolish slavery has earned her the resentment of not only the Meereenese, but also other cities for whom the slave trade was a critical part of their economy. The cities of Astapor and Yunkai, where she had triumphed as the "breaker of chains," are no longer symbols of her power. Astapor had been taken over by a former butcher, Cleon, who slaughtered the council Daenerys left in place and made himself king. King Cleon, in turn, has been murdered by an army from Yunkai, where slavery has been reinstated. The Yunkai'i are now attacking Astapor, whose citizens now are starving and battling a horrible plague called the "bloody flux."
Daenerys is also facing a war from within. A rebel group called the Sons of the Harpy is murdering freed men, the Unsullied, and anyone else loyal to Daenerys. It is rumored that the group is made up of Meereenese nobles. Even Daenerys's dragons, once the symbol of her strength, have grown to a terrifying size and are beyond her control, picking off livestock and (at least once) a child. Horrified, Daenerys is forced to capture and restrain the beasts in a pit below the Great Pyramid where she lives, although Drogon escapes.
Daenerys does not know whom she can turn to, especially after the prophetess Quaithe of the Shadow appears in a vision, warns her of people who are seeking her, and cautions her to trust no one. Daenerys is first visited by Xaro Xhoan Daxos of Qarth, where she visited the House of the Undying. He offers her 13 ships if she will return to Westeros immediately. She refuses, unwilling to leave her people behind to suffer the fate of Astapor, and he departs, promising war. The Wise Masters of Yunkai are also on their way to unseat Daenerys. Adding to the problems, a mass of refugees from Astapor have descended on the city, all infected with the bloody flux. To protect her own citizens, Daenerys keeps them outside the walls of the city but tries to send them aid.
One possible solution to Daenerys's problems arrives in the form of Quentyn Martell of Dorne. He shares with her the secret marriage pact once made by Prince Doran, promising the hand of Arianne Martell to Viserys, Daenerys's brother, and including a vow to help him regain the Iron Throne. With Viserys dead, Quentyn offers himself to Dany. She refuses him, though, because she believes he is one of the people Quaithe told her not to trust. She advises him to return to Dorne for his own safety.
Finally, to save herself and her city, Daenerys agrees to marry a Meereenese noble named Hizdahr zo Loraq, on the condition that he can fulfill a promise to end the murders of the Sons of the Harpy. In return, she must agree that the Yunkai'i can resume slaving and that the fighting pits be reopened. The murders cease almost immediately, which makes Daenerys and her advisers, including Barristan Selmy, wonder if Hizdahr might actually be the one behind the Sons of the Harpy. But the enemy has blocked her harbor, and she does not have the means to oppose them or the resources to wait out a siege. She makes good on her promise to marry Hizdahr.
To celebrate both the wedding and the new peace, Hizdahr reopens the fighting pits. As the ceremonies begin, he urges Daenerys to try some fried locusts, which she refuses—a fortunate decision, because they are later revealed to have been poisoned. Daenerys watches the entertainment, which include two dwarves jousting on pigs. One of the riders is Tyrion, who is tempted to reveal himself to the queen but fears she will see him only as a Lannister, her enemy. Later, he escapes with Jorah and joins a sellsword company called the Second Sons, waiting for an opportunity to return with them to support Daenerys.
As the entertainment in the pits grows more violent, Daenerys begins to leave in disgust. Suddenly, a huge shadow darkens the arena—it is Drogon, drawn by the smell of blood. Drogon descends into the pit, the crowd panics, and he lets loose his flames, killing hundreds. Daenerys races to the dragon's side, mounts him, and rides him out of the arena and away from Meereen. She does not return, and many presume she is dead. She is still alive, however, far away in the Dothraki desert with Drogon, where 50 Dothraki eventually discover her.
Back in Meereen, Barristan Selmy plots with another Meereenese noble to overthrow Hizdahr and the city and have it ruled by a small council until Daenerys's return. Hizdahr is captured, and Selmy orders him taken to a cell. But as the orders are being carried out, word comes of a terrifying development: the dragons have been set loose on the city.
Across the sea in Essos, Arya Stark now wanders through the streets of Braavos as a beggar, calling herself Blind Beth. She has been told by the Kindly Man that the purpose of her blindness is to teach her to use her other senses just as effectively. She is still able to see through the eyes of her direwolf, Nymeria, and also finds she can see through the eyes of a cat that roams the rafters in the House of Black and White. She keeps these gifts of sight a secret from everyone and fools the Kindly Man when, through the eyes of the cat, she appears to sense his movements in the dark. Her sight is restored.
Arya is deemed ready for her first assignment, the assassination of an old man who runs scams at the docks. To keep her identity secret, she dons the face of an abused girl who had come to the House of Black and White seeking the gift of death. She observes the merchant's movements and notices he always tests the coins he is given by biting them. Arya kills him by adding a poisoned coin to his purse. The Kindly Man is pleased and makes Arya an acolyte.
In one of his interviews for A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin states he is fascinated by questions surrounding identity: "What is it that makes us who we are? ... our birth ... [o]r our values, our memories."
In the series as a whole, readers are presented with a variety of answers to these questions and different definitions of identity. At the most basic level, identity is simply a combination of an individual's name, ancestry, and rank in society. This determines one's importance in the world and, to some extent, one's path in life. The Starks of Winterfell or the Lannisters of Casterly Rock are born into positions of power and prestige, and their destinies appear to be somewhat set. However, Martin seems to imply that even those destinies are far from certain and that identity can be a fluid and ever-changing thing.
Sometimes the change in identity is temporary and practical—an alias taken as to ensure protection. Sansa Stark of Winterfell becomes Alayne Stone of the Vale to keep her whereabouts secret. Tyrion Lannister masquerades as the dwarf Hugor of the Hill to avoid the bounty hunters seeking his head. Jon Connington, friend of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, becomes Griff, and Rhaegar's son Aegon Targaryen becomes Young Griff, both guises assumed to protect the identity of the person who may be the true heir to the Iron Throne.
At other times, a character's identity changes as the result of circumstance, whether that circumstance is crafted or occurs by chance. Cersei Lannister temporarily becomes Queen Regent because she orchestrates the death of her husband, Robert Baratheon. Petyr Baelish rises in title and prestige because he manipulates events to make it happen. Jon Snow transforms from bastard son of Ned Stark to Lord Commander of the Night's Watch due to developments at the Wall and beyond. And Daenerys Targaryen, once a pawn in her brother's quest for the throne, takes on an almost mythic identity after she is "sold" to Khal Drogo and discovers the dragon within her.
The most fascinating shifts in identity, however, occur as a result of intense experiences or circumstances that strip away who the person believes himself or herself to be and replaces it with something else entirely. As Martin said in the same interview, "With Arya ... or ... Theon ... the original identity is ... threatened or ... in danger of being lost."
Arya Stark provides one of the series' most interesting explorations of identity. Almost from birth, she negates the idea that identity is simply a matter of family name and position. Although born into a noble house and trained in "womanly pursuits," Arya has always been a tomboy. Even her mother thought of her as "half a boy and half a wolf pup." Then, from the moment Arya's father is killed and she goes into exile, little remains of the girl she was. Arya's identity becomes an increasingly malleable thing, shaped by events she witnesses and the people she meets.
Some of the shifts are superficial. To remain unnoticed in Yoren's band of recruits, Arya is told to become the boy Arry. When she is cupbearer for Roose Bolton, who would know Arya Stark, she takes on the name of Nan. (The name has meaning to Arya, though, because it is short for Nymeria—Arya's wolf and a warrior princess.) But internally, Arya is changing, too. After she encounters pure evil and what seems to be the utter injustice of the world, she becomes stronger, harder, and angrier, filled with hate and bent on revenge. She is someone capable of creating a death list, able to kill and not feel a moment of remorse. When she has her chance for revenge against the Tickler, a man whom she saw torture and kill innocent townspeople while questioning them for information, her actions are quick, brutal, and without compunction.
It is in the House of Black and White that Arya faces the biggest challenge to her identity. She is told by the Kindly Man she has to literally become "no one" and be able to switch her face and identity at will, as others might change their clothing. As she trains under him, Arya becomes Cat of the Canals and Blind Beth, learning to blend in wherever she is. But her sword, Needle, is still hidden under a stone outside the House of Black and White, and she seems to be training herself for her own purposes—to become an expert angel of death who can avenge the injustices done to those she loved.
It is also possible that, no matter what her original place in the world was or which name she chooses to use or what she tells the Kindly Man, Arya has never really lost or changed her true identity. Rather, she is confirming it. She is Arya Stark, daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark of Winterfell, but she is also a warrior princess with the blood of a wolf, bent on revenge.
In A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen experiences an unexpected crisis of identity. Up to this point—at least since her marriage to Khal Drogo—she has had a firm sense of who she is: a Targaryen, a dragonrider, a queen destined for the Iron Throne. She has continued to build this identity layer by layer, internalizing all that she experiences and discovering facets of herself she didn't even know existed. By the end of A Feast for Crows, she is Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles, and Mother of Dragons. She is fiercely independent and confident that she will eventually rule Westeros.
Daenerys's growth has come quickly, however, and the young queen begins to lose control. Her struggles are reflected by what is happening to her dragons. Since they were hatched in Drogo's funeral pyre, the dragons have been growing in power, much like Daenerys. But their power, like hers, has become more unfocused and destructive. They destroy villages, just as Daenerys's decisions have inadvertently brought chaos to Astapor and Qarth. And they have even become deadly, as Daenerys discovers when a farmer lays the charred bones of his daughter in front of her. At that moment, Daenerys realizes she may no longer be the woman she thought she was and that her "power" may have been an illusion. "A queen I am," she thinks, but the throne is "made of burned bones and rests on quicksand."
Daenerys chains up two of her dragons and, in a way, imprisons a part of herself. She begins to turn decisions over to others, not trusting herself to make the right choices. She entertains a number of suitors, all of whom promise to share the burden of leadership with her and save the city of Meereen. Eventually, she agrees to a marriage with Hizdahr zo Loraq, even though he represents everything she abhors—including slavery and the fighting pits—and knowing he is likely the one behind the murders in Meereen.
Daenerys is no longer the "blood of the dragon," who conquered three cities and made herself a queen. Instead, she is her husband's consort, sickened as she sits next to him in the reopened fighting pits. But just as she begins to feel she has lost herself entirely, Drogon, the unchained part of herself, returns to Meereen and lets loose his fire. Daenerys runs to him and climbs onto his back. They fly from the pits, and although she is uncertain of where they will go, she is ready to reclaim her identity.
Theon Greyjoy's struggle with identity is perhaps the most extreme and chilling in the series. Never completely confident of his place in his family or in Westeros society, he shifts loyalties and continually compromises his own code of honor in order to achieve the destiny he thinks is his. But circumstances and his own actions sabotage his efforts, and by the end of A Dance with Dragons, Theon literally has lost almost any sense of self.
As the Ironborn son of Balon Greyjoy, Theon should have been his father's heir and eventual Lord of the Iron Islands. But when Balon briefly rebelled against the Iron Throne, Theon was held as a hostage and ward by Eddard Stark, in order to guarantee the peace. In the Stark household, Theon was treated well—almost as a member of the family—and admits later that he always wanted to be a Stark.
However, the treatment Theon receives from the Starks results in the first real challenge to his identity. When he is charged by Robb Stark to return to the Iron Islands to negotiate with his father, Balon dismisses him, offended by his clothes and manner and saying he is no longer a true Ironborn—that he is more Stark than Greyjoy. Theon's sister, Asha Greyjoy, who also has no respect for Theon, becomes their father's preferred heir.
Stung by his family's rejection, jealous of his sister, and determined to regain his father's respect, Theon decides to become all Greyjoy. He turns on the Starks, and in a stunning betrayal, he attacks Winterfell, takes Bran and Rickon Stark hostage, and declares himself prince. In his desperation to hold onto his conquest, he commits a series of horrors, culminating in the faked "murder" of Bran and Rickon. Theon has indeed rid himself of the Stark in him but in the process has turned himself into a traitor, a monster, and—perhaps worst in his desperate mind—an incompetent leader.
Theon's failure comes with a hideous price. Shortly after taking Winterfell, Theon himself is betrayed and captured by the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who has wormed his way into Theon's confidence by pretending to be a servant. Ramsay takes Theon hostage and begins systematically stripping away Theon's identity, both literally and figuratively. Ramsay flays his captive, peeling the skin from Theon's extremities and then cutting off fingers and toes. He breaks several of Theon's teeth, claiming he hates Theon's smile. Theon is left to sleep in his own waste and eats rats who nibble at his torn skin. Ramsay also takes away Theon's name, calling him Reek, after a depraved former servant, now dead.
So complete is the transformation that at one point, when asked to say his name, Theon panics: "My name ... he'd forgotten. If I say it wrong, he'll take another finger, or worse." When reminded that he is now Reek, he says, "I remember. I do ... My name is Reek. It rhymes with leek." He vaguely recalls he had not been born with that name, that "in another life, he had been someone else, but ... now his name was Reek."
The only glimmer of hope for the Theon who once lived with the Starks is that the broken man is horribly aware of his earlier treachery and unforgivable actions. At one point, he tells a visitor who refers to him as Theon, "I'm not him, I'm not the turncloak ... My name is Reek ... It rhymes with freak." Eventually, Theon escapes the hell he is living in and makes his way to Stannis Baratheon's camp outside Winterfell. Whether he will ever recover, or perhaps rebuild himself as a better man, remains unknown.