Sersi is being treated badly by Joffery, but from what I can tell she lives in luxury with servants and as much food as she wants. And the queen has some genuine sympathy for her. Her conditions and Theons aren't that different.
Somehow I don't see the Starks as being capable of dishing out regular beatings to their hostages. Certainly Theon was never stripped naked and whipped for the court's amusement. And Ned never commanded Ser Roderik to slap Theon around in the Great Hall.
How is what Theon did any different from what Robb Stark did? Both had their family members die, both raised an army and both are killing and fighting their way to revenge.
This talk of this person being good or that person being evil I think dismisses the work done by Marin to make each character so human and complicated. Jamie tried to kill a child, but he's not typically in the evil camp because he's charming as hell, and he was doing it for love. The entire book is filled with examples of characters doing wrong things for the right reasons. The only true villains are the panto villains (Joffery and Ser Gregor).
Robb's father was falsely accused of treason. Robb called the banners. Ned was executed. The northmen decided to secede from the Seven Kingdoms, which after all, had only been united because the Targaryens had dragons, three centuries ago. All hell breaks loose.
Theon Greyjoy was reunited with his family as part of a plan hatched by himself and Robb. When faced with the choice between backing his foster family, who have bad blood with his own; or his own father, he chooses his father. Up to this point, his choice is understandable, even if to our modern perceptions he's being a backstabbing coward. He makes his father's grudge his own. Fair enough. However, instead of sticking to themission he's given, he decides to make the betrayal of his former brother complete by taking his home, and (seemingly) slaughtering what remains of his family.
Again, I'm probably too far in Starkland, but while both men fuel war, with all its attendant consequences, only one of the two is doing "what needs to be done" when faced with a cataclismic threat to his family's lives. The other is exercising power for its own sake, at the expense of the only people who ever treated him as one of their own.
I really don't think anyone's dismissing Theon as wholly evil. But it is possible for an otherwise ordinary man to make enough bad choices to end up becoming a monster. A three-dimensional, complex, human monster, but a monster nonetheless. Even the cruelest dictators in our world love their own families, and may show kindness to individuals. But they're still capable of ordering the murder of millions if they deem it "necessary".
I enjoy the intellectual exercises that the series enables, but I think on this one you may be simplifying the issues to the point where you reach the conclusion that warlike feudal societies are bad, and therefore all participants are equal in all respects, an argument which runs counter to the same complexity you're using as the cornerstone of your argument here.
PS-- However charming, Jaime is a villain. Multifaceted villain, to be sure, but still a villain. He will still have to face the music at some point.
Edited by Ricardo_C, 16 May 2012 - 02:55 PM.