For the first several seasons of Game of Thrones, the Greyjoy family was approximately no one’s favorite House in Westeros. They weren’t particularly interesting and, with the possible exception of Yara, not that much fun to spend time around or to watch. Much like the Ironborn themselves, the Greyjoy and Pike plotlines felt too isolated from the rest of the game to feel in anyway urgent.
But all that changed when Uncle Euron emerged, killed the insufferable King Balon, and snatched up the Salt Throne for himself. In the process he sent his niece and nephew, Yara and Theon, running to Daenerys in Meereen (with the fleet’s two best ships, naturally). It’s always good fun when two plotlines collide and characters meet for the first time, and hopefully this hints at a profitable alliance for Season 7. Now that it’s finally become important to care about them, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About House Greyjoy.
15. Their Motto Is Not “What Is Dead May Never Die.” It is actually “We Do Not Sow”
The Greyjoys repeat the phrase “What is dead may never die” so often that one would be forgiven for believing that this phrase constitutes the family’s “words.” However, this phrase has more to do with the family’s faith in the old Drowned God who, having already drowned, cannot be killed again. The family’s actual motto is “We Do Not Sow.” Other families sow crops; Greyjoys pillage. In this way, they share a lot with the Lannisters. While the Lannisters are constantly repeating “a Lannister always pays his debts,” it is not their actual motto, which is “Hear me roar!” The phrase “we do not sow” reinforces the Ironborn pride in “paying the iron price.” Because they do not sow, they only reap, in the form of raiding and reaving. This is yet another way in which the Greyjoys and the Ironborn distance themselves from the rest of mainland Westeros. It also puts them into conflict with the other Houses, more often than not.
14. They Claim to Be Descended From the Grey King from the Age of Heroes
Like many of the Great Houses in Westeros, the Greyjoys claim to be descended from a quasi-mythical figure from The Age of Heroes, The Grey King. The Grey King reportedly ruled not only the Western Isles, but the sea itself, and he took a mermaid for a bride. Like most family legends, this genetic lineage may or may not be based in any fact at all. The Grey King may not have existed at all, and most Westerosi would agree at the very least that mermaids are fictional creatures. Then again, everything commonly believed to be fiction North of the Wall has turned out to be true, and the ancient figure Bran the Builder, who built the magic-infused wall, almost certainly existed. In that case, it is certainly possible that the Grey King really did once marry a mermaid and rule the sea. Even if he was true, it is far from certain that the Greyjoys are actually his descendants. Historically, lords are fond of claiming lineage from some ancient hero, as it tends to bolster their power and prestige. In any case, the Grey King is an important figure in Greyjoy heritage.
13. They’re a Democracy (Basically)
As is consistent with the Medieval society upon which Westeros is based, the leadership of most Great Houses in the country is handed down dynastically, from father to (legitimate) first-born son. Rather uniquely, the Ironborn and the Greyjoys elect their king via “Kingsmoot.” Anyone who wishes may attend the Kingsmoot, and potential kings, or queens in the case of Yara, make their case before the people for why they should rule. Though the power tends to stay within the family anyway, nothing is legal without the Kingsmoot. House Greyjoy has been the dominant house in the land for a while, but they haven’t been the only family to rule the Iron Islands. For example House Hoare was once the ruling House, and Lord Harren Hoare built Harrenhal during his reign. Therefore though Yara may feel she is the rightful Queen of the Ironborn, Euron was chosen fair and square by the Kingsmoot, and she is not legally entitled to the Salt Throne.
12. They Have a Habit of Openly Defying the Iron Throne
To say that the Greyjoys and the rest of the Ironborn are rather insular would be an understatement. They don’t care terribly about the rest of Westeros, and even less about who is trying to sit on the Iron Throne. Perhaps the reason they care so little is that they don’t appear to have much respect for the Iron Throne at all. For example, Lord Dalton Greyjoy was offered the job of Master of Ships to King Aegon II Targaryen. Instead, Dalton raided the coasts in open rebellion before he was murdered two years later. King Balon also rebelled against the Iron Throne, and attempted to bring back the “old way” of life, by reaving and pillaging the coastal towns in Westeros. He was eventually defeated and driven back, but this didn’t stop him from assuming the title King of the Iron Islands as well as Lord Reaper of Pyke.
11. Euron Greyjoy Was Exiled By Balon For Raping Their Brother’s Wife
Euron Greyjoy, a psychopath even by Ironborn standards, never got along very well with his brothers. This was perhaps most obvious when he was exiled by his brother King Balon for raping or seducing (depending on who you ask) their brother Victarion’s salt wife. In the aftermath, when the woman became pregnant, Victarion felt compelled to beat his wife to death in order to retain his honor (a brutal way of thinking if I ever heard one) and it was only the taboo against kinslaying that kept Victarion from killing his brother as well. Instead, Euron was exiled to live a life of piracy away from Pyke. While almost all of the Greyjoys are somewhat despicable – Victarion himself has been described as a dull brute – Euron is perhaps the most despicable. This we saw in the show when he cavalierly shoved his brother to his death off of the bridge and then bragged about it at the Kingsmoot. Victarion’s wife was not the first woman he impregnated. Like many a Westerosi, Euron reportedly has several illegitimate offspring running around, none of whom he cares for.
10. Theon Was Sent To Be A Ward of Winterfell to Keep His Father Balon In Check
Balon Greyjoy’s father, Quellon Greyjoy, once attempted to integrate the Ironborn with the mainland. On the advice of his sons, he joined Robert’s Rebellion, and was then killed in battle. After his death, Balon took up the thrown, and threw out his father’s attempts at peace. Instead, he returned the Ironborn to the old ways of indiscriminately raiding and pillaging the coast. He created the Iron Fleet and staged his own rebellion, naming himself King of the Iron Islands. Though he saw some success at first, his campaign was eventually defeated. Afterwards, his son Theon was taken as a hostage and Balon was forced to bend the knee. Theon was sent to Winterfell to live with the Starks almost as a form of insurance. This way, Balon could always be kept somewhat under control. This was both smart, and a little short-sighted. Theon, after all, was eager to live up to his family’s reputation and his subsequent actions lost Winterfell for the Starks and made himself the torture-toy of Ramsay Bolton.
9. Raiding and Pillaging are Ancient Customs of the Ironborn
In the way other cultures might weave baskets or some other creative endeavor, the Ironborn raid, pillage, and plunder the coastlines. They claim piracy as a way of life, and it is integral to their culture, as Yara said to Daenerys when the two struck their deal. This custom can be seen everywhere with the Greyjoys and the Ironborn. They are obsessed with “paying the Iron price,” the “iron” referring to violence. This, they believe, is the only way to get what you want. The ruler of the Iron Islands is referred to as “Lord Reaper of Pyke” referring back to the Greyjoy motto “we do not sow.” While common thinking has it that one “reaps what one sows,” the Greyjoys do not sow, only reap. Meaning that they do nothing but take, and they pay for whatever that is with violence. It is not the most nuanced way of thinking in the Game of Thrones universe, but at the very least it is direct and honest, unlike, for example, the Lannisters, who constantly carry a shield of honor to hide their cunning, sneaky dealings.
8. The Ironborn May Have Literal Brain Damage
One theory floating around on the internet is that the Ironborn have literal brain damage after their drowning baptisms. This particularly grim bit of dogma has the followers of the Drowned God literally drowned, and then “reborn” via CPR. Actual scientific studies have shown that this can cause significant brain damage in people, which would perhaps explain the Greyjoys’ somewhat demented behavior. This theory actually makes a lot of sense, assuming that the person being baptized literally drowns every time. According to medical research, just three minutes of lost oxygen to the brain can cause irreversible brain damage, including memory loss, change in personality, incontinence, disorientation, and difficulty walking or speaking. The only symptom the Greyjoys seem to have would be the personality issues, and that is just as easily explained by bad genes and poor upbringing. Though this theory is brilliant in its own way, it is probably not the case, unless Yara and Theon have weird speech impediments we don’t know about.
7. Euron Greyjoy’s Ship Is Called Silence Because He Rips Out the Tongues of His Crew
The most vile of the impressively vile Greyjoys is probably Euron Greyjoy, who captains the ship called Silence. The ship got this sinister name because Euron ripped the tongues out of all of his crew. The reason? He “needed silence.” Though obviously evil, a crew of mutes on a pirate ship is probably a pretty shrewd move. This way, the crew can always be trusted not to share any secrets with one’s enemies. It also aptly describes Euron’s basic personality. He is both clever and ruthless, not exactly given to moral qualms. The show attempted to illustrate this with Euron’s efficient murder of his brother Balon, which was executed with minimal information dumping and set up. However the mutilated crew portrays this aspect even better. While murdering the king could be ascribed simply to a hunger for power, the ripping out the tongues of his crew was a purely practical measure, for all its brutality.
6. Euron Can Potentially Control Dragons With His Dragon Horn
At the Kingsmoot, we saw Euron brag that he was going to “seduce” the dragon Queen Danaerys, take control of her dragons, and together they would take the Iron Throne. To even the most casual Game of Thrones fan, if any exist, this plan seems impossibly far-fetched. How, exactly, does Euron plan to control these dragons? He claims to be in possession of a “dragon horn” which will supposedly bind the dragons to his will. He demonstrates the horn at the Kingsmoot, which is what eventually clinches the election for him. But later, the man who blew the dragon horn died, and it was found that his lungs were charred black. It appears that while the horn, called Dragonbinder, may indeed work, it kills whoever blows it. In the books, Euron sent his brother Victarion to win Daenerys and her dragons for their cause, presumably so that Euron will get control of the dragons, and Victarion will be the one to die instead.
5. The Ironborn Are Inspired By Vikings
Many events and characters in the Game of Thrones universe have real life historical inspirations. The seafaring marauders that inspired the Ironborn are the Vikings. The similarities between the two cultures are pretty distinct. Like the Ironborn “thralls,” which are more or less slaves captured during raids, the Vikings also captured thralls, who were definitely slaves, made to do grunt work such as mining. The Vikings also had some female leaders and warriors, known as “shield maidens.” The obvious example is Yara, who captains her own ships and leads men into battles. Also like the Vikings, the Ironborn were a formidable naval power, sailing enormous longships for trade, exploration, and for war. The two cultures are also both infamous raiders. Though the similarities are quite pointed, as some have pointed out, the actual Vikings were not as barbaric and apparently artless as the Ironborn, or as popular history has made them out to be. The Vikings had a beautiful and artistic culture, as opposed to the Ironborn’s bizarre “finger dance.”
4. The Ironborn Built Harrenhal
The Greyjoys were not always confined to their cold and wretched islands. At one point, the Ironborn controlled all the land between the Neck and the Blackwater Rush. The soulless and impenetrable fortress where Arya Stark served as cup-bearer to Tywin Lannister and where Brienne of Tarth was forced to fight a bear was actually built by an Ironborn lord, Lord Harren of House Hoare. Harrenhal was the largest fortress ever built in Westeros, and Lord Harren believed it to be completely impregnable. Unfortunately for him, as soon as it was completed, the War of the Conquest began, and Aegon Targaryen attacked. While the gargantuan castle could certainly withstand any assault by land, it could not withstand dragons. The Targaryens flew above the castle and burned Lord Harren and his sons within it. Since then, no Lord has ever managed to hold the hall for long, and it is said to be cursed.
3. The Ironborn Are the Same Ethnicity as the Rest of Westeros
When the Andals invaded Westeros and the land of the First Men, Andal culture pretty much dominated. The First Men converted to the faith of the seven, and they adopted the Common Tongue, the language of the Andals. But the Andal culture took less hold in the north and particularly the Iron Islands. Unlike the rest of mainland Westeros, the Ironborn like to think of themselves as distinct from the rest of Westeros, and culturally this is quite true. The Ironborn still worship their old god, the Drowned God, and still stick to their ancient customs and practices. When the Andals got to the Iron Islands, the Ironborn did begin speaking the Common Tongue, but it was instead the Andals who adopted the Drowned God religion, and not the other way around. Thus, though the Ironborn still retain the ancient culture of the First Men, they are biologically the same ethnically as the rest of Westeros, part Andal and part First Men.
2. Yara’s Name is Asha in the Books
Far and away the most likeable Greyjoy family member is Yara, the skilled, competent leader and loyal sister. She is probably the most suitable candidate for the Iron Throne in Westeros, and she’s not even in the running. She is just as badass in the books as she is in the series, but in the books she is known as Asha, not Yara. The name change does not reflect a change in the character, however, and it was most likely changed for the show for purely practical reasons. Asha sounds a lot like the name Osha, who is an entirely different character, the wildling captured at Winterfell who becomes a guardian to Bran and Rickon Stark. The two characters are alike in more than this way; they are both strong women defying the patriarchal society around them by taking on traditionally masculine roles. By any name, Yara/Asha is a force to be reckoned with.
1. Their Crest is a Kraken
The Starks have a direwolf, the Targaryans a dragon, and House Greyjoy is represented by another fearsome mythical monster, the Kraken. The Kraken is said to be a dragon of the sea, and resembles a giant squid, with the strength to pull down entire ships. Common understanding is that actual Krakens do not exist outside of fairytales, but as direwolves and dragons turned out to be quite real, it is totally plausible that an actual Kraken could be making an appearance in Westeros. Is it possible that Greyjoys have the same almost supernatural connection to these beasts as the Starks do to their wolves and Daenerys to her dragons? Could the Greyjoys find an ally in these formidable beasts? According to the logic of the Game of Thrones world, it is totally possible. With the exception of a few rumored sightings, there has been no evidence thus far that Krakens actually exist. But should they appear, and should they be somehow mystically connected to the Greyjoys, House Greyjoy just went from minor threat to major player in the Game of Thrones.
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