Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
Reunions have been a major feature of the final season of Game of Thrones, as the main characters gather for an epic battle against the undead. But one reunion in the episode “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is exceptionally emotional: the one between Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy. “I want to fight for Winterfell, Lady Sansa. If you’ll have me,” Theon says. Sansa visibly tears up as she rushes to hug Theon. Over the past two seasons, we’ve watched Sansa reunite with her lost siblings Arya, Jon, and Bran, but she didn’t weep over any of them. Her reunion with Theon has more dramatic impact because of their shared past.
To understand Sansa’s feelings, it’s necessary to remember that her relationship with Theon was fairly awful in the past. Theon first betrayed Sansa’s brother Robb in season 2, seizing Winterfell under his father’s influence. He then spent parts of season 4, 5, and 6 under the name “Reek,” being tortured and brutalized by Ramsay Bolton. As Reek, he was a broken man, meek and passive, unwilling or unable to do anything when Ramsay raped Sansa right in front of him. Sansa worked to remind him of his original identity as Theon Greyjoy, and recruited him to help her escape the Boltons for good.
During these dark times, Sansa was resourceful and resilient, not giving up in a seemingly hopeless situation. She forgave Theon for pretending to kill her two younger brothers in the past, and for reporting her plans to Ramsay and not rescuing her as events unfolded. Her willingness to forgive him might have come from a place of desperation, as he was the closest thing to a familiar ally when she was married to Ramsay. But Theon rewarded her kindness by finding his courage at the end of season 5, shoving a would-be attacker to her death, and fleeing with Sansa.
The last time they saw each other before their fateful season 8 reunion was during season 6, when Sansa attempted to convince Theon to head to Castle Black with her, to find Jon Snow and protection from Ramsay. It was clear at this point in their conversation that Sansa fully forgave Theon for his past crimes, and was grateful for the way he’d saved her from Ramsay. Theon has made horrible mistakes, including killing two farm boys and burning their corpses to convince people that Sansa’s brothers Rickon and Bran Stark were dead. But Sansa was willing to look past that. Theon’s abject remorse may have helped: he told Sansa in season 6, “I can never make amends to your family for the things I’ve done.”
Theon’s return to Winterfell in season 8 is the latest step in finding the courage of his convictions after Ramsay’s tortures broke him. Reuniting with Sansa demonstrates his renewed loyalty to the Starks, but it also shows him trying to value himself as a person, which Sansa has to find touching after seeing him so broken — and after making the same emotional journey back from abuse herself. He could have easily stayed with his sister Yara as they sailed to reclaim the Iron Islands, but he chooses to find Sansa and fight, and her emotional response, which cracks her frequently stoic resolve, is a recognition of what they’ve been through together.
Theon’s return to Winterfell, where he spent his childhood as a hostage, suggests he views House Stark’s keep as his true home, not the Iron Islands, where his family hails from. Sansa likely also feared for his life, and suspected he might be captured by Ramsay again, or killed by his own people. Their reunion was so powerful because of her relief at seeing that like her, he’s still surviving and finding his way back out of their shared trauma. Given the war against the undead that they face, his courage and dedication to Sansa can’t be taken lightly.