George R.R. Martin, continuing his campaign to torture us with good things that are still far off, has a selection from The Winds of Winter online. There’s nothing exceptionally surprising about the information that’s revealed in it, but I appreciate the fact that we’re still going to be spending time in Theon’s point of view, however painful it is to be there:
My sister, Theon thought, my sweet sister. Though he had lost all feeling in his arms, he felt the twisting in his gut, the same as when that bloodless Braavosi banker presented him to Asha as a ‘gift.’ The memory still rankled. The burly, balding knight who’d been with her had wasted no time shouting for help, so they’d had no more than a few moments before Theon was dragged away to face the king. That was long enough. He had hated the look on Asha’s face when she realized who he was; the shock in her eyes, the pity in her voice, the way her mouth twisted in disgust. Instead of rushing forward to embrace him, she had taken half a step backwards. “Did the Bastard do this to you?” she had asked.
“Don’t you call him that.” Then the words came spilling out of Theon in a rush. He tried to tell her all of it, about Reek and the Dreadfort and Kyra and the keys, how Lord Ramsay never took anything but skin unless you begged for it. He told her how he’d saved the girl, leaping from the castle wall into the snow. “We flew. Let Abel make a song of that, we flew.” Then he had to say who Abel was, and talk about the washerwomen who weren’t truly washerwomen. By then Theon knew how strange and incoherent all this sounded, yet somehow the words would not stop. He was cold and sick and tired… and weak, so weak, so very weak.
She has to understand. She is my sister. He never wanted to do any harm to Bran or Rickon. Reek made him kill those boys, not him Reek but the other one. “I am no kinslayer,” he insisted. He told her how he bedded down with Ramsay’s bitches, warned her that Winterfell was full of ghosts. “The swords were gone. Four, I think, or five. I don’t recall. The stone kings are angry.” He was shaking by then, trembling like an autumn leaf. “The heart tree knew my name. The old gods. Theon, I heard them whisper. There was no wind but the leaves were moving. Theon, they said. My name is Theon.” It was good to say the name. The more he said it, the less like he was to forget. “You have to know your name,” he’d told his sister. “You… you told me you were Esgred, but that was a lie. Your name is Asha.”
I initially hated Theon—and it was hard not to. He was the character who was perhaps most invested in both the lies of the path and in the idea that the path to glory lies through conquest. But he’s become a moving testament to the lasting impact of brutality. And in this passage, he’s an illustration of how history gets mangled. It’s hard for people to believe the things that Theon is telling them about Ramsay Bolton because they’re too terrible, they’re the kinds of events and behavior that we all want to believe can’t be true. And living through the worst events of history can turn our most direct eyewitnesses into wrecks other people consider unreliable narrators.