After years of “We Do Not Show,” the Greyjoys are returning, harder and stronger than ever. This week has been an explosive one for Game of Thrones news as Season Six filming began in earnest and paparazzi reports flooded the Web, but at the height of the media buzz an unlikely storyline rose to the center of attention. According to multiple eye-witness accounts, several major scenes were being filmed for Season Six involving the Ironborn, the fearless inhabitants of the Iron Islands. As the story developed over the week, it became apparent that the Greyjoy plot might be one of the most exciting ones that we know of in Season Six so far as new, dynamic characters clash with familiar faces to create an epic drama.
It’s been a rough couple of years for fans of the Greyjoys. While we were introduced to several of the major members of the ruling house in Season Two, such as the bitter Balon Greyjoy and his axe-wielding daughter,Yara, we left them behind quickly as we followed Theon, Balons youngest and last-living son, on his ill-fated journey into the North. Except for one brief scene, we haven’t been back to Pyke since Season Two. Yara, we’ve only met again once more, in a clash with the Boltons that left much to be desired. The few Ironborn we encountered at Moat Cailin were a surly lot, but they didn’t have much time to win over fans,anyway,before Ramsay Bolton made short work of them. Our main reminder that the Greyjoys even exist has been Theon Greyjoy, whose botched betrayal of Robb Stark and increasingly poor decision making in Season Two sparked the ire of most show-watchers. As the seasons have come and gone, we’ve watched Theon grow increasingly unhinged under the aggressively sadistic attentions of the psychopathic Ramsay Bolton. Season Five’s finale left Theon’s fate up in the air, after he and Sansa Stark jumped off the walls of Winterfell in a desperate attempt to escape the clutches of the Boltons. Overall, despite Theon’s trials and tribulations, few have feelings of sympathy for him, and most consider the Greyjoys incompetent, ill-tempered, and imbecilic. However, from the looks of Season Six, many may change their opinions of this unpopular house by the next Game of Thrones finale.
News of the Ironborn storyline began this week with the information that HBO was filming in Ballintoy, Northern Ireland. Actors dressed as Ironborn were spotted filming in multiple places in the scenic area. While it was exciting to learn that we would be re-visiting the Iron Islands in Season Six, these reports were only the beginning. The presses were still hot after reporting cameras were rolling in Ballintoy, when HBO announced it had officially cast Euron Greyjoy. This was major news that readers of George R.R. Martin’s series,A Song of Ice and Fire, have been waiting for for years.
Euron Greyjoy is the brother of Balon Greyjoy and a fearlessly savage pirate with more than a touch of madness. With one eye, blue lips from drinking shade of the evening, and a propensity for unpredictable brutality, Euron has a a reputation that precedes him. Exiled by Balon after an unspeakable crime, Euron returns to the Iron Islands with a lust for power that extends far past assuming rule of the Ironborn. Cast for this challenging role, which will require more than a touch of charisma, is the actor Pilou Asbæk. Asbæk is best known for his role in the Danish series Borgen, as well as for portraying Pontius Pilate in the upcoming re-make of Ben Hur.Euron (and his brother Victarion who has reportedly been cut from the show) is at the center of a fascinating storyline in the books in which, in the wake of Balon Greyjoy’s death, the Ironborn vie for the role of the new Lord Reaper of the Iron Islands at a ritualistic ceremony known as a Kingsmoot. If portrayed like his book alter-ego, Euron Greyjoy is guaranteed to be a fan favorite in the upcoming season. Ironically, just as fans flocked to Ramsay Bolton’s “dark charisma,” so many will be compelled by Euron’s similar, if somewhat more mature allure.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Kingsmoot is an ancient Ironborn tradition which expertly balances the barbaric sensibilities of the ruthless raiders, with the diplomatic needs of an functioning society. In past times, when the ruling monarch of the Iron Islands dies, the Ironborn have gathered to elect a new leader in a surprising display of democracy that is rarely seen in Westeros. The Ironborn come together on the island of Old Wyk, upon which the scattered bones of a dead sea-dragon create a dramatic setting for the Kingsmoot, where anyone can vie for the honor of the driftwood crown. While the Kingsmoot was a compelling tradition, it’s practice has lapsed in the Iron Islands, along with “paying the iron price,” and other Ironborn customs crushed by Baratheon rule. However, in A Feast For Crows, the tradition is renewed in the aftermath of Balon Greyjoy’s death.
While each season of Game of Thrones has brought us the demise of one or more hopeful king, many have noted the lack of Balon Greyjoy from the show’s growing list of dead characters. In the books, Balon died a long time ago from a fall from one of Pyke’s infamously high bridges– a death which many suspect involved foul play on the part of Euron Greyjoy who is believed to have hired a Faceless Man to push his brother to his death. While many who knew of the character’s demise debated whether Balon’s dying was simply deemed not important enough to take up screen-time, given the unpopularity of the Greyjoys, or whether the monarch still remained alive in the show, the fact is that Balon’s death has never been confirmed. Many readers of the Martin’s series, were extremely interested to see that one of the locations that HBO is currently filming at is the Carrick-a-Rede bridge— a notably large rope bridge which closely resembles the one from which Balon is described falling (or being pushed) from. The fact that HBO is filming there certainly suggests that we might finally see Balon’s downfall at last.
In George R.R. Martin’s fourth book, A Feast for Crows, Balon’s religious brother, Aeron, renews the tradition of the Kingsmoot to determine who should be the new ruler of the Ironborn after his brother’s death. Incidentally, the Game of Thrones news site, Watchers on the Wall reports that its sources have said that the character Aeron was cast earlier this week and that his undisclosed actor has been filming with the rest of the Ironborn. As the Kingsmoot reaches an end, rising to the top of the contenders are Balon’s daughter, Asha (Yara in the show), and his two brothers, Euron and Victarion. After an intense round of exhibitions of strength, riches, and a display of vastly differing visions for the future of the Iron Islands, Euron Greyjoy emerges as the winner of the Kingsmoot, thanks to his ambitious plan to marry Daenerys Targaryen and use a magical horn to tame her dragons.
While the Kingsmoot appears to almost certainly be a major storyline in Season Six, the plot could go in a very different direction than the books. This is not the first time the HBO show has diverged from George R.R. Martin’s original vision in major ways, and this looks to be one of those times. Although, in the books, the Kingsmoot takes place while Theon Greyjoy is far away in the North and assumed dead, the actor, Alfie Allen, who expertly plays Theon in the show, was spotted in Ballintoy with the rest of Ironborn group this week. The actor wasn’t particularly concerned with letting the public know about his whereabouts–he posted snapshots of the view from his hotel window on his personal Instagram account and even took pictures with fans alongside actress Gemma Whelan who plays his fictional sister,Yara.
While A Song of Ice and Fire’s Theon is still in the rapidly freezing North, a captive of Stannis Baratheon, who remains very much alive, everything seems to be pointing to HBO’s Theon returning home to Pyke in Season Six. The presence of Balon Greyjoy’s direct heir at the Kingsmoot could change things dramatically. For example, if Theon were to officially step down and back his sister as the next in line, Yara would have a much stronger claim as the next leader of the Ironborn. Similarly, if Theon were to die at the hands of Euron Greyjoy upon his return to the Iron Islands, his death could introduce the savage character of Euron as well as the need for the Kingsmoot, now that Balon’s Greyjoy’s most obvious heir is dead. While it is difficult to predict what will happen to Theon in the upcoming season, his presence will definitely play an important role in determining who wins the Kingsmoot.
No matter what happens to Theon, his return home holds many questions. How does Theon get from Winterfell to the Iron Islands? We know that the show has compressed Westeros’ massive geography, but still, it’s no short hike from Winterfell to Pyke. More importantly, one can not help but wonder how Theon’s complex character will develop next as he addresses his new-found freedom and the long-lasting effects of his experiences at the hands of the Boltons. Finally, one can only wonder what Theon and Yara’s relationship will be like after their short-lived reunion in Season Four. After all, Yara abandoned her mentally unstable, physically debilitated little brother to rot in a dog cage after she felt overly threatened by a shirtless bastard with a dirty mouth and a caged, barking cur. The last time we saw her, she declared Theon dead, despite the fact that he was very much alive if not slightly out of his mind. With the promise of a less fleeting brother-sister-reunion in Season Six, it is difficult to predict how the siblings will reconcile.
After years of being swept to the side, it is exciting to see the prospect of a major storyline revolving around the Iron Islands coming up. While many book-readers appreciate the Greyjoys and their Ironborn counterparts for their complex characters and exciting exploits, show-watchers have had few chances to gain a good understanding of what makes them appealing. Season Six looks as if it will offer a new perspective on the Ironborn–one that may change the general public’s opinion that the only thing Greyjoys are good at is failing epically at everything they try. The Kingsmoot is the perfect setting to bring out the best in new characters and old ones alike– all of them multi-faceted and compelling. However, this is assuming that the show does not completely botch their attempt at story-telling, something many are beginning to worry about after the much-criticized Dornish sub-plot last season.
Last year, as the show-writers took Game of Thrones in new directions that have not been explored in A Song of Ice and Fire, the plot suffered. Many criticized the way the show simplified complex characters and almost seemed to make a joke of the fascinating location and culture that is Dorne. With corny fight scenes, and terribly written lines, fans found it was difficult to take anything that happened in the new location seriously. When the sub-plot came to a finish, it’s end was lacklustre if you’re being charitable and bordering on the absurd if you’re being harsh. Either way, it’s a discouraging thought that the most memorable scene from the entire Dornish plot was a Sandsnake muttering,”You want a good girl, but you need the bad pussy,” before chomping down on Bronn’s ear. At the moment, it’s difficult to place too much trust in the show’s handling of another sub-plot, especially when it seems they will be diverging from the books again. Many fans of A Song of Ice and Fire shrink from seeing their favorite characters reduced to maudlin stereotypes dressed in cheap outfits reciting uninspired lines that leave fans wondering if they are watching an award winning TV show or bad pornography. Let’s hope that the writers have learned from their mistakes in Season Five and will do a better job on the Iron Islands sub-plot than they did with Dorne.
As the weeks continue to pass, and the filming continues for Game of Thrones, there is no doubt that more details about the Iron Islands sub-plot will be released or leaked. As we try to put the pieces together and determine how the show will translate the written word to the screen, we should remain cautiously optimistic. Game of Thrones has a lot to prove as it enters it’s sixth season, and hopefully the writers will embrace the Kingsmoot as a time to get back in the good graces of fans and critics alike. The upcoming season holds the potential for great success or enormous failure. If done properly, the Ironborn could steal the show next year, but if the subplot is as flamboyantly campy as Dorne was last season, the Greyjoy’s reputation might only suffer more than it already has. All we can do is hope for the best.
So! Are you excited for the Kingsmoot? Game of Thrones Season 6 premieres Spring 2016. What do you think of Theon returning to the Iron Islands? Comment below!