Massive trigger warnings for rape, abuse, and mutilation up ahead.
With the possible exception of Cersei’s penance walk, the Jeyne-Theon-Ramsay storyline in A Dance with Dragons was both one of the best and also one of the worst reading experiences I’ve suffered my way through. The whole thing is incredibly uncomfortable. I can think of very few villains worse than Ramsay, and his treatment of both Jeyne and Theon is so appalling that it’s difficult to imagine anyone so evil.
Game of Thrones’s fifth season attempted to tackle this subplot. Unsurprisingly, it failed. The show was also incredibly offensive in the process. At face value, this seems like an odd thing to say. What happens in the show is nowhere near as bad as what happens in the books. In Game of Thrones, Sansa replaces Jeyne, Ramsay rapes her, and the whole thing is rather senseless. In the books, Ramsay does a lot more than rape Jeyne. He threatens to mutilate her—her body is covered in his bites marks—and he forces her into acts of bestiality. On top of all that, he rapes Theon by proxy, since he also forces him to help in Jeyne’s torment as well. It’s worse than I just made it sound. Significantly.
Yet A Song of Ice and Fire does not treat this subject matter the same way Game of Thrones does. What happens in the books is awful, but it’s not just for shock value. The storyline tells us a lot about a person’s identity and autonomy, about rape culture, and about the monsters who hurt us. There’s a lot to unpack here, so for this post, I’m going to get into Theon’s issues with identity and then talk about Jeyne and rape culture in a second post.