UPDATE: See my newest post on Game of Thrones here.
We have had a surge of traffic since I wrote about who was torturing Theon and why. So I thought I would offer a bit of elaboration to the answer. It’s simple really; Theon is the most hated person in the Realm north of the neck. He is a traitor to the cause he fought for, a despised son of his own people, and as far as anyone in the Realm knows he is the evil bastard that murdered the Stark boys in cold blood. Theon has had a sad and unfortunate life that he has only made worse by a bunch of bold decisions that blew up in his face.
I have always pitied Theon as a character. Yes he absolutely deserves everything that happens to him but he had reasons for everything he did. Theon was sent to the Starks as a hostage at a very young age. As he grew up in the North he was raised differently than he would have been on the Iron Islands. He is treated well but is always an outsider with no real place in the household he lived in. He may have referred to Lord Eddard as his real father on the show but this is never the case in the book. Eddard was always well aware of the fact he might have to threaten to kill Theon in order to keep his father in line and was generally cold to the boy. Robb was the only one who showed any interest in him and the two became very close friends. When Robb sent Theon as an envoy to his father he made a grave mistake. Theon was loyal to Robb, but at the same time had a sense of longing for acceptance from his father. His father wasn’t accepting of him though. When he arrived his father simply saw a soft and foolish boy who had different values and customs from his own. When acceptance was so clearly unavailable to him he became desperate to achieve it and did things in order to gain his father’s respect. He thought he would be a hero to his people by capturing Winterfell but they had not told him to do so and left him on his own when he got there. He deliberately disobeyed his father with his actions and that was frowned upon, all he did was create more trouble for them. When he captured Winterfell the people who had known him his whole life turned on him. He was the enemy as soon as he climbed over the walls and when he took the castle he was suddenly surrounded by hostiles with limited men to keep them in order. Bad things happened; women were raped, sacrifices were made to the Drowned God, and men were killed in the taking of the castle. The people of Winterfell became increasingly hostile and Theon felt the heat and pressure of the decision he had made. When he faked the death of Bran and Rickon he put a target on his back for every person in the castle and the entire North for that matter.
What isn’t part of the show at all is the fact that the Bastard of Bolton was his prisoner at the time in the guise of Reek. He had been captured by Sir Rodrik and was in the dungeons awaiting Robb’s justice. Theon freed him and allowed him to enter his service because he was already short of men. Reek/Ramsey Snow was the one who put the idea of killing the miller boys in Theon’s head and he knows the Stark children are still alive but he is the only one that does. When Theon’s sister leaves him hanging, “Reek” offers to gather up some men for him if he is released. Theon lets him go without knowing who he really is and the Bastard of Bolton comes back with his father’s full garrison. He destroys the unsuspecting northern army outside of Winterfell who think they are coming to aid the siege. When the battle is done Theon again makes a bad decision and lets them into the castle where they promptly sack Winterfell and burn it to the ground. Theon is taken prisoner and we don’t hear about him again till book five and by then things have gone very badly for him. What Theon didn’t know was that the Boltons had already changed sides and all he did was give them an opportunity to destroy the strong hold of their new enemies.
The Bolton’s are the evil men of the North. Their sigil is a flayed man and their ancestors were known to skin their enemies and wear their skins as cloaks. These are practices that have been outlawed but are still rumored to go on. Roose Bolton is a very evil man but he is much more deceptive and cunning than his bastard son. Ramsey has a brutality and immaturity to match the evilness that runs through his veins. He likes to capture women and hunt them for sport. He just enjoys the sport of torture and mind games. After he captures Theon he subjects him to the worst he is capable of. He lets him escape a few times just to give him hope and then punishes him severely every time he catches him. He knocks out or breaks all of his teeth, he flays then cuts off several fingers and toes, and he cuts off “that other thing” which Theon can’t bring himself to mention directly but it is implied that his manhood was removed. When the Bastard flays Theon’s fingers the pain is so bad that Theon will beg him to remove the digit. A couple of times he takes it upon himself to simply bite the digit off but he is punished severely for doing so.
Theon is presumed dead by his own people but even if they knew he was alive they wouldn’t lift a finger to help him. There is a power struggle coming to the Iron Islands and Theon would only complicate matters by being alive. Nobody wants him there and he is the rightful heir. If he had managed to escape Winterfell and return to his home he probably would have been killed by one of his uncles seeking to supplant his place as heir. Asha (Yara) might help him but she doesn’t have the means to do so and might not even if she did. She sees Theon as a foolish boy who spent too much time in the greenlands and doesn’t have what it takes to lead the Iron Born.
In the North Theon is now Theon Turncloak, he is literally the most hated man of the region and every single citizen wants his head on a spike. The Bastard knows this and knows that literally no one will care what happens to him. He is also free to do whatever he wants because the King is unable to get back to the North and there is no authority there after the fall of Winterfell. Theon will not get away from the Bastard of Bolton and after a while he doesn’t even want to. He becomes so tormented and manipulated that he develops a case of Stockholm syndrome and wants nothing more than to simply not be hurt anymore than necessary. He becomes the Bastard’s dog and is even allowed to sleep with his dogs if he is very good.
I don’t know what the show will continue to do with Theon but we are probably in for more torture scenes as they drag this storyline out. There really isn’t anywhere for the story line to go unless they change everything dramatically and it seems too late for that. There is much to happen before Theon is ever allowed out of the dungeons and I’m interested to see how they keep things up until then.
This is a rushed post and admittedly not my best but I hope this answers some of the questions so many are asking right now. If I have missed anything feel free to leave a comment and ask questions.