Theon Greyjoy is a good example of the tragic hero. Like Oedipus,
he is taken away from his father, even though Balon Greyjoy is still alive and
Eddard Stark is there to fill in the role of the father, Theon does not really benefit
from the potential of having two, and without a specific role model tries to find
his place in the world.
And like every tragic hero he has to contend with his plans being constantly
thwarted. While classical tragedies either refer to the impersonal power of Fate
or the more personal curses cast on the royal houses to which the heroes belong,
the instability of Westeros within the fictional world of Game of Thrones might
be to blame for all of Theon’s good intentions going awry.
At the same time, from a psychological point of view, just because Theon rejects
Eddard Stark as a father figure out of fear, he still needs a role model and finds it
in Robb Stark. Naturally, trying to follow him and implement the strategies that
have been working for Robb leads to a disaster for Theon as the behavioral
strategy of Robb contains a tragic flaw of its own, if of a different kind.
Oedipus has to prove himself and his worth, solving the riddle of the Sphinx.
Theon Greyjoy attempts to prove his worth as well, but instead of doing it like
Oedipus, on his own merit, he actually draws on his family connections and so
fails one step quicker than Oedipus.
A good psychological explanation to his failure might be found through the
words offered by the Spy Master Varys to Tyrion Lannister, showing who holds
true power at court.
In Theon’s case, his perception of power may have been shaped by looking at
two poor examples. Eddard Stark himself was never born to full leadership and
had to learn the art through experience, not necessary acquiring much practical
wisdom as a Lord of Winterfell.
In turn, his son Robb Stark was born to leadership but was trained under the
possibly inappropriate guidance of his father. Their failed strategies
of coping were the only ones Theon could observe and apply. No wonder then
that all of Theon’s machinations failed.
They were based on illusory and idealized concepts, like a father’s interest,
that may have been true in the Stark case Theon would have used for reference,
but fell apart when encountering the darker aspirations of his biological father
In a most fascinating way, Theon got his first lesson in practical wisdom when he
encountered his father and was disabused of his preconceived illusions that were
only useful for his residence at the Stark household where he learned them.
Unlike Oedipus, Theon Greyjoy did not get to kill his father or marry his mother,
but he was shown the danger in his illusions and forced to deeply reconsider
what constitutes real power.
Naturally, Theon’s behavior does not need to be condoned for him to be
considered a tragic hero. The motives of Oedipus were different from those of
Achilles as well as those of Antigone. Some of such motives may have
originated with good reasons, while others were not. In either case, a tragic hero
does not need to be moral and Theon certainly was not. His actions had to have
negative consequences because he was forced into them through his tragic flaw
and the events stemming from them, not by conscious choice.
The only question remains if Theon Greyjoy ends up recovering from his
difficulty as a mythological hero of the Heracles kind, or go down in ashes, as
a true tragic hero of the Oedipus kind. Only the well crafted plot of Game of
Thrones would tell.
Although this article stands on its own, if you are a hardcore Game of Thrones fan, you might also enjoy looking through a few related videos, dedicated to GoT jewelry and clothing: