So, George R R Martin has updated the "sample chapter" page of his website, offering us the first taste of The Winds of Winter. It's a short one, and unsurprisingly one which will appear early in the book (indeed, chronologically speaking, it takes place before the final events of A Dance With Dragons). Nevertheless, it does offer some tantalising scraps of additional data to those formulating theories as to one of the questions the latest book left us with: how much of that letter was actually true?
Because such attempts to piece together theories always interest me, even when the events in question are entirely fictional, and because I've been discussing this over at the SFX Forum in any case, here are my thoughts on what this fascinating new evidence suggests. Obviously, spoilers follow.
The letter I'm referring to, of course, was the one that arrived for Jon Snow at the wall, which claims that Stannis' army has been slaughtered in the field, but that Ramsay Bolton is still looking for "Reek" and "Arya". At the time, this seemingly confirmed that they had indeed escaped (I don't see how lying about that would profit Ramsey in any way), but beyond that, we had no idea as to their fate.
We now know though that "Arya", at least, is liable to be elsewhere when Stannis' forces clash with the Bolton host. That's one point in favour in believing the letter. On the other hand, Theon is still with Stannis, and if he remains chained, it's pretty hard to see how the letter could possibly be true - how could the Bolton's smash the King's army and not find Theon?
Similarly, if Stannis does execute Theon, it's hard to believe that word of that wouldn't reach Ramsey following the battle (whatever the outcome). At first glance, then, this chapter seems to make Ramsay's claims harder to credit.
Except, and here's where it gets interesting, what if Theon manages to escape again? Stannis would keep that quiet if at all possible ("I've lost that kid who massacred the heir to Winterfell and his toddler brother. How's about you Northerners finish eating your horses and throw your lives down for me, hmm?"), and if the Bolton forces did crush the Lord of Dragonstone, they'd be none the wiser as to where Ramsay's favourite pet had got to.
In sum, then, the letter seems less plausible if Theon remains a captive/becomes a corpse, and more plausible if he escapes (obviously, neither of these possibilities proves anything either way). The question you have to ask yourself, then is this: how likely is Theon to escape?
From an island?
Specifically suggested by his sister?
Who until recently commanded a host of men in longships that can be carried across the ground when necessary, some of whom remain with her?
And who specialise in assaults upon coastlines?
Answers on a postcard, addressed to the ruins of Winterfell.