The ‘Game of Thrones’ TV Show Gave Theon a Better Story Arc Than the Books

The ‘Game of Thrones’ TV Show Gave Theon a Better Story Arc Than the Books


The Big Picture

  • Theon’s evolution as a character is more pronounced in the Game of Thrones TV show due to the brutal suffering he endures, making him a selfless hero.
  • Theon’s decision to save Sansa in the show is more impactful than saving Jeyne in the books, as it aligns with his central arc of seeking family approval.
  • Theon’s arrogance and entitlement, influenced by his house words, leads to his downfall, but his redemption comes when he sacrifices himself to save Bran.

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is one of Game of Thrones‘ best adapted characters thanks to the significant changes made from the books. Though the television show and book series portray Theon as a flawed, womanizing, prideful young man who lets his desperation for acceptance drive him to betray his adopted family, the Starks, it’s Theon’s TV counterpart that shows the most evolution. The gut-wrenching suffering he endures throughout the series deeply humbles him, much more than in the books, and turns him into a selfless, honorable hero by the end of the series.

Theon’s show and book arc diverge when he is captured by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). After Theon takes Winterfell to win the approval and respect of his father, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), Theon digs himself into a hole by making a series of unforgivable mistakes, including pretending to murder Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wrightand) and Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson) and declaring himself the Prince of Winterfell. By trying to prove himself as a Greyjoy and live up to his house words, “We Do Not Sow”, Theon becomes the cause of his own destruction.

Game Of Thrones

Nine noble families fight for control over the lands of Westeros, while an ancient enemy returns after being dormant for a millennia.

Release Date
April 17, 2011

David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Main Genre



How Theon Is Different in the Books Compared to the Show?

Theon is brutally tortured by Ramsay in both the books and the TV show, but is more severely (and permanently) injured in the TV show. Show Ramsay strips Theon of his entire personality, renaming him Reek, and castrates him. Ramsay’s entire goal is to humiliate and degrade him and turn Theon into a spineless and obedient dog. At this point, after his torture, Theon in the show can never return to his former self. That man doesn’t exist anymore. This clean slate gives him the opportunity to become someone he’s never been before — someone more honorable, someone heroic.

In the A Song of Ice and Fire books, Ramsay’s torture is never explicitly described. Ramsay removed several of Theon’s fingers, and destroyed his defining feature, his smile, by pulling out most of his teeth. The pivotal difference between book and show Theon here is that book Theon is still inside Reek, fighting. His wits and his spirits aren’t broken. Though this may be an admirable attribute, book Theon is fighting to return to his former self and have his old life back, whereas Theon in the show has to fight to redeem himself. After being humbled by his mistakes and the torture doled out by Ramsay, show Theon is selfless in a way that his book counterpart is not. This is what makes Theon Greyjoy a better character in the TV show than in the books.

In the Books, Theon Saves a Lowborn Girl — Not Sansa Stark

Book Theon does not save Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) from Ramsay Bolton’s abuse, but rather saves a lowborn girl named Jeyne Poole, a childhood friend of Sansa’s, masquerading as Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). But because book Sansa’s storyline in the Eyrie was merged with book Theon’s (with her being forced to marry Ramsay, instead of Jeyne Poole), this gave Theon the opportunity to redeem himself by saving her. Seeing these two formerly weak, traumatized characters working together to escape their abuser is incredibly satisfying, and makes the audience root for Theon for the first time rather than just feel pity for him.

One of the most controversial moments in Game of Thrones history was Sansa’s wedding night. In the books, Ramsay forces Theon to sexually assault Jeyne Poole. In the show, Ramsay forces Theon to watch him sexually assault Sansa, a girl who he grew up with and thought of as a sister. This moment is crucial for both book and show Theon. For book Theon, this spurs his desire to escape Winterfell and take Jeyne Poole with him. For show Theon, this is the moment when his humanity finally begins to return to him. He remembers how much family meant to him. Sansa berates him, forces him to remember who he was and what he did, and how he betrayed their family. And when faced with the possibility of seeing Sansa hurt again when Ramsay’s lover, Myranda (Charlotte Hope) threatens her, Theon snaps into action. He kills Myranda, saves Sansa, and the two of them escape Winterfell. It’s the first heroic and truly selfless thing he’s ever done.

This plot of saving Sansa instead of Jeyne Poole is crucial to understanding why the show adds more depth to the character than the book. Theon’s fundamental arc always revolved around family, specifically with winning their approval and respect. Sansa and Theon were raised together. It didn’t matter that Theon was Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) ward, that he was taken as a hostage as a child after the Greyjoys’ rebellion to ensure they wouldn’t rebel again. Having grown up alongside the Stark children, Sansa was his sister. Though it is admirable and selfless for Theon to save Jeyne Poole, Theon saving a family member instead of a lowborn girl has a larger impact on his story arc. Sansa respects and appreciates Theon after he saves her from Ramsay. This is the first step in Theon’s quest for redemption, to right all his wrongs.


10 Best Character Arcs in ‘Game of Thrones’, According to Reddit

The people of Westeros have been through a lot.

How Theon’s House Words Shaped His Character in the Show

Pilou Asbaek on a ship as Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones
Image via HBO

The Greyjoy house words, “We Do Not Sow” foreshadows Theon’s arc in the show. Interpreted literally, this saying means that the Greyjoys do not plow or farm their own land, rather reap, steal and plunder from other houses. Arrogance, entitlement and violence is embedded in the Ironborn culture. These toxic attributes were directly expressed through Theon’s actions in the show. Theon begins as an arrogant and entitled man in both the show and the books. The superiority is shown in the books by the appalling way he treats lowborns and common folk. This entitlement he feels is expressed in the show by the dismissive and disgusting way he treats women (mainly sex workers), commoners, and even his own sister, Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan).

Theon’s massive ego, along with his desperate need to prove himself to his family, caused him to embrace the Ironborn way, to betray his adopted family and take Winterfell for the Greyjoys. This decision was Theon’s downfall, it ensured his captivity and it was the point of no return. After Theon saves Sansa, redeeming himself, he later goes on to heroically rescue Yara from her uncle Euron’s Greyjoy’s (Pilou Asbæk) imprisonment. Theon defies those house words and is rewarded for it.

The Death of Theon’s Ego Redeemed Him in the Show

“What is dead may never die, but will rise again, stronger and harder” is a saying of the worshipers of the Drowned God who live on the Iron Islands. Once an Ironborn dies, his soul will rest in peace, and one day he will resurrect stronger and harder. In the show, Theon loses everything he holds dear, his family, his lordship, his manhood, and even his personality, but ultimately becomes a hero by selflessly sacrificing himself to save Bran Stark from the Night King. After the death of his ego and abandoning his Reek persona after escaping Winterfell, Theon rises again, harder and stronger, to protect the people he loved most. Theon Greyjoy died and was reborn many times during the course of the show, but ultimately he finds peace and rests, knowing that he was a good man.


Theon Greyjoy proves to be one of the most complicated and interesting characters in both the books and TV show. The show gave Theon one of the most satisfying character arcs in Game of Thrones. Love him or hate him, at the end of the series, the humbled, selfless Theon did everything he could to right his wrongs and fully redeemed himself.

Game of Thrones is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

Watch on Max


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *