So the other day, my fellow bloggers and I got into a discussion about Theon from Game of Thrones. And we had a bit of a disagreement about it. Lady Bacula took a much more sympathetic stance regarding him—all, if not most, of his actions can be explained by his want of acceptance and his feelings of inadequacy, which only heighten in the second season, when Theon is given a choice between his actual family and the family who raised him. In this disagreement, I hastened to call Theon a complete douchebag, because let’s face it, he’s an asshole. He treats women like objects, is overly proud, flaunts his lordship as if he’s better than everyone else, betrays the Starks, and has two little boys murdered in the process. All in all, you can see the dilemma we as bloggers have.
However, at the time, I had yet to catch up on finishing reading A Song of Ice and Fire—I’m still not done—and I had only seen the first two seasons. I recently watched season three, and suddenly my distaste for this character evaporated and was replaced almost entirely with sympathy; I now almost completely agree with Lady Bacula. Gratuitous torture is not my thing, nor do I think it’s ever justified, regardless of the circumstances. I might still hold that Theon was a terrible person before the third season, but I think torture probably counts as punishment, well, more than enough.
I’ve been having feels for Theon’s character, so naturally, the first thing I did was find fanfiction that would only increase those feels. Warning: after the jump, there is upsetting content regarding rape and torture.
The summary for Salt Boy by dornfelder reads as such:
Theon’s life hangs in the balance. King Stannis makes him an offer he cannot refuse.
This is not normally the kind of fic that I read too often. To start off, the deal Stannis makes with Theon is rather out of character, and in case you couldn’t guess it, considering that this is fanfiction, it involves sex—or, in this case, rape. Lots and lots of it. Stannis spares Theon’s life if Theon allows Stannis to do whatever he wants with his body. However, the real reason this isn’t my kind of story is because as it continues, it also introduces a relationship between Theon and Jon, and then between Stannis and Jon, until it eventually culminates in a threesome. So, it not only involves coercion, it has statutory as well.
However, what captured me most about this fic is the story. Salt Boy takes place after Stannis has both Theon and Asha captive, and it doesn’t derail from everything else going on in Westeros so the characters can have sexy time with each other. Due to his treatment at the hands of Ramsay, Theon is suffering from a severe case of PTSD, and quite naturally, his relationship with Stannis isn’t very healthy either. The passages involving Theon do a very good job of exploring his reaction to the trauma he has gone through, and though it doesn’t excuse his horrible actions—like murdering two little boys—it does show that there is literally nothing else Theon can do to atone, considering how horribly he’s already been punished and continues to be punished.
That said, I wouldn’t simply want to jump into this story unprepared, and it would be irresponsible of me to recommend it without a further warning. Salt Boy walks a very fine line when it comes to the Stannis/Theon relationship, because it is rape. The author makes a point in the early chapters of having Asha say this when she discovers the deal Stannis makes with her brother. Furthermore, while the story doesn’t go to lengths to glorify Stannis as a good person, it also knows that it cannot begin to try and justify this relationship.
Unfortunately, a reader might become confused about what the message in the story is. This confusion actually comes about from how the author explores Theon’s PTSD, which is all well and good in its own right. Most of the story, almost half, is told from Theon’s POV, and he starts to develop Stockholm syndrome. As such, though as readers we can easily recognize what’s happening, Theon doesn’t, and so his passages don’t condemn Stannis very much as well. Asha is normally the one calling Stannis out for this, but she’s not in the story all that much. The only other character who really brings attention to the issue is Jon, and well… in the story, he just wants to fuck Stannis and ends up in a threesome with him and Theon at the very end.
Considering the kind of world the characters live in, I would actually argue that all the characters respond to this relationship in believable ways, except for the OOC-ness of both Jon and Stannis even engaging in it to begin with. It makes the other characters uncomfortable that Stannis is engaging in a relationship with another man who also happens to be a traitor, but it’s not really a world where men are likely to receive justice for sexual assault. The author here at least understands this, and for fear that her story isn’t clear in its message, the entire last chapter is an author’s note explaining why this cannot be justified.
In chapter XIV, where Stannis openly states that he raped Theon, I originally had included a line where Theon said, “You forced me, that much is true. One might call that rape, or not.”
My beta reader, gods bless him, told me very frankly that this was kind of a no go. Consequently I cut that line. It really should not appear in any fic of mine, ever. But what I originally intended to show at that point was that Theon, despite knowing that Stannis mistreated him, fails to understand that he is in truth still a victim, and that what Stannis did to him was no better than what Ramsay did. Stannis is at least partly aware of that, but Theon is not. For Theon, the difference is huge, simply because what he suffered at Ramsay’s hands went above and beyond imagination and included a dimension of psychological torture that one fails to grasp in its consequence.
But it is not a difference that we, as the audience, can take as an excuse for what Stannis did. Rape is rape. Forced consent is rape.
I would entirely recommend this story, simply because I think it’s so well written and it’s a really good character study. Just be forewarned about everything I just mentioned. You can find it here on AO3.