Euron Greyjoy's stealth attack on the Iron Fleet presented a golden opportunity for his nephew, Theon, to achieve redemption. Before him stood his sister Yara, who'd gone out of her way to save his life not long before. Restrained menacingly by Euron, axe pressed closely to her throat, Yara was in a precarious position. Theon now had a chance to repay her, to save her life. Instead, he dove overboard, plunging into the water below, saving himself, resigning himself to the title of "coward."
Theon lost the respect of just about everyone who knew him — including the audience — when he betrayed House Stark and seized Winterfell under the banner of his family name, House Greyjoy. He then lost his dignity after Ramsay Bolton's merciless and sadistic torture, before losing his entire identity when Ramsay forced him to abandon his name, spitefully relabelling him "Reek." The name, coined by Ramsay, stuck. So did the lasting damage. By failing to save Yara, it appeared that Theon would forever be Reek, a victim of fear, unable to ever execute his own redemption, forever his alter ego.
However, the finale of Game of Thrones seventh season contained a subtle reference to one of cinema's most iconic stories of transformation, Fight Club (1999), which proves Reek has left and Theon is back. The scene occurred during Theon's attempt to earn the respect of his fellow ironborn by fighting Harrag, the Alpha Male of the group. The brutal fight scene was reminiscent of two key scenes in David Fincher's film, and while a visual reference could be purely coincidental, the thematic significance is spine-chillingly apt to Theon's character arc.
His Name Is Theon Greyjoy
A quick recap of #FightClub is required before we continue. Oh and, if somehow you haven't seen it, spoiler alert. The film's 18 years old, watch it.
Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, the nihilistic commentary on modern society is far from a narrative purely based on bare-knuckle street fighting. Its appeal arises from its heavy thematic commentary on capitalism, consumerism, the ego and sense of identity. Nothing illustrates this more than Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the seemingly perfect, ultra-masculine, ultra-confident, ultra-chiselled alter ego of the Narrator (Edward Norton).
Of course, the film lives up to its name, depicting visceral violence and lots of it. Two of the most unforgettable fights are referenced during Theon's fight. The first occurs when Lou — owner of the bar where fight club is hosted — confronts the group, telling them they need to leave. Flanked by a brute with a gun, Lou proceeds to beat Tyler, punching him relentlessly. But Tyler takes the beating. He actively encourages it, laughing manically as Lou lands hit after hit.
Then the unexpected happens; Tyler jumps on top of Lou, grabs him by the scruff of the neck and coughs blood all over his face. His psychotic behavior intimidates Lou, who agrees to allow the club to continue hosting in the basement. Visually, the same routine takes place during Theon's fight. He takes the beating, refusing to back down. When he's kneed in the groin, it catches Harrag off guard, given Theon time to hit back, striking him to the floor before spraying blood over his face in much the same way.
Theon then proceeds to rain down punches on Harrag, mirroring another Fight Club scene, this time depicting violence at the hands of the Narrator. Again, it's an unforgettable and disturbing scene. The fight club has rules to stop when an opponent has fallen, but in a quest to "destroy something beautiful," the Narrator doesn't hold back, savagely punching the flesh and bone of his opponent's face, intent on causing serious disfigurement.
The First Rule Of Theon...
At this point, you may be thinking, "yes, all well and good, but this could be a coincidence." I thought that on first viewing, too. But when we explore the ideology behind Tyler Durden — an alter ego created by the Narrator in an idealistic view — it makes even more sense. Fincher highlights how Tyler is framed around Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch (translated from German roughly as "Overman" or "Superman"). A rudimentary definition is essentially a superior version of man, the next step in evolution that transcends religion and creates its own moral standpoint.
On another level, the concept of Nietzsche's Übermensch can be taken as trying to become the best you can be; for the Narrator, Tyler is a manifestation of everything he is not. Let's, then, see #GameofThrones as performing a reverse Fight Club moment. Theon in his original form was his own personal but underdeveloped "best" (casting aside his mistakes), while Reek, his alter ego, was born out of torture. Consequently, Reek is a "coward" paralyzed by a fear that stops him from saving his sister.
Going deeper still, "master-slave morality" is a central theme to Nietzsche's work. Master morality is formed by the "strong-willed" and powerful who define morals based on their values, with emphasis on bettering society at any cost — including killing and suffering. These are the rulers of society. Conversely, slave morality is a response to master morality, by those who vilify the "moral makers" and seek the best for everyone, regardless of ability or power. Nietzsche's definition of the types of people linked to slave morality is intriguing:
"... the abused, the oppressed, the suffering, the unemancipated, the weary, and those uncertain of themselves."
All Singing, All Fighting
The Narrator eventually triumphs over his own alter ego, shooting himself in the head and, presumably, returning with some of Tyler's better qualities in tact. The same can be said for Theon. This fight was significant because it showed him overcome fear and leave Reek behind for good. He's endured so much physical pain he has become desensitized, and it's his ability to tolerate the beating that eventually leads to victory. His biggest humiliation — his castration — becomes his trump card. Targeted by Harrag as a weak spot, it's anything but.
Significantly, after defeating Harrag, Theon walks to the sea, falls on his knees and washes the blood in the ocean. As we witnessed with Euron in the sixth season of Game of Thrones, the ironborn crown their new King of the Iron Islands by nearly drowning them in water, a form of baptism. It's fitting to end this article with the prayer recited to the Drowned God during Euron's initiation, in itself summarizing Theon's journey:
"Let your servant be born again from the sea as you were. Bless you with salt, bless you with storm, bless you with steel. What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger."
The first rule of this article is, you don't talk about this article. Wait, no, talk about it. Tell me below. What do you think?