Credit: HBO

He’s back: In Sunday’s Game of Thrones, the hooded figure in the third-season previews was revealed to be exactly the man that many of you suspected: Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), the Stark family ward who last season tried to honor his cold-hearted biological father by betraying the family who raised him. The second season finale saw Theon knocked in the head by one of his own men. Some viewers thought he was dead. Readers of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels knew better, yet still had questions — in the novels, Theon’s story doesn’t continue until Book 5 and the show is basically on Book 3.

Funny enough, for awhile Allen thought he was dead too. Thrones producers gave him a fake season finale script last year where Theon got stabbed through the heart by Bran (!).

“I thought it was cool,” Allen said of the prank while taking a break between scenes on the Thrones set in Belfast last fall. “I went on a holiday and [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] were all thinking I was going to call up going, ‘Hold on a minute whoa-whoa-whoa!’ But I just got on with it. Then they had to make it clear to me later on it was all a joke. I’m just happy to still be involved in it.”

Benioff and Weiss say they wanted to keep Allen in season three due to the strength of his performance. “Once we saw what Alfie was doing with the role we wanted to keep him going,” Benioff said. “His character is very shades-of-gray. He’s fun to write for and he’s fun to watch … Alfie doesn’t look anything like the character in the book but when he auditioned he blew everybody else out of the water.”

“As much as I love watching Jack [Gleeson] bring Joffrey to life, it’s hard to put yourself into Joffrey’s shoes,” Weiss said. “Theon last season did so many horrible things, but it was so much easier to imagine for yourself how he got to that place. He’s a character that’s similar in many ways to the book version, but because of Alfie the character has taken on his own life in the show. Most people can relate, on some level, to not belonging, to not being taken seriously and wanting your parents to appreciate what you’re doing. There’s something very universal about Theon.”

“He was caught in the ultimate no win situation — he was going to betray his best friend or his family,” Benioff added. “People see him as a traitor. But if he had written that letter to Robb [revealing his father’s intentions], his homeland would have thought of him as a traitor … not to excuse him for his wrongdoings.”

Allen has a similarly sympathetic take on Theon, who among other misdeeds killed two innocent children last season. “I think my character is severely misguided,” Allen said. “I don’t think he’s super evil. He’s just a boy, really, trying to prove himself to his father. I think that’s a universal theme. Even if you’re not looking for your parents’ approval, you really kind of are. I think there’s a nice guy down there.”

Nice or not, from the look of things Theon has a rough road ahead. Sunday’s hour showed him locked up in a mysterious dungeon getting brutally tortured. “There’s 15 to 20 percent of Game of Thrones fans who will be feeling sorry for him this season and the rest will just be laughing and enjoying it immensely,” Allen said.