The Extended Life and Stormy Death of Balon Greyjoy

Posted: September 27, 2016 in Game of Thrones, TV
Tags: , , ,

The only good Balon Greyjoy is a dead Balon Greyjoy.

Okay, this post will be talking about Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Specifically, I’ll be talking about Balon Greyjoy, the former King of the Iron Islands. I’m kind of glad he’s dead.

balon-house-greyjoy-34367792-500-283

Bah!

Whoa! Usually I don’t drop spoilers about characters on Game of Thrones at the very top of the post. Yeah, yeah, I know. But there are some things that are hard to keep quiet about  – and I’ve had to keep quiet about Balon’s demise for a very long time. Hopefully you’ll understand as I explain.

Balon Greyjoy Finally Meets Up with the Drowned God. FINALLY!

I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot. It’s not that I harbored any particular ill-will towards Balon Greyjoy. It’s just that he lived so very, very, very long – on the show.

In the books, Robb Stark outlived Balon in the War of the Five Kings. Stannis outlived Balon. Those three leeches in season three, one for Robb, Joffrey, and Balon? As far as we know, that magical voodoo might have worked, and Stannis lived to see all of his enemies die.

On the show, Balon outlived Robb Stark and even outlived Stannis! It was so strange that Balon kept going and going, even His Grace King Joffrey got confused.

In some ways this change was a big deal: the show’s delay of Balon’s death had ripples that altered storylines. In book canon, Robb Stark got word that Balon Greyjoy was dead while the Stark/Tully host was en route to the Twins for Edmure Tully’s wedding. This was exciting news to the Young Wolf since he was currently locked out of the North by invading Ironmen.

Robb shrewdly predicted that the Iron Islanders would have to have a Kingsmoot, and that the commanders of the Ironborn would be heading home for the political conventioneering, leaving the dregs of their crew to defend the captured northern holdings. The moment was at hand for the Stark forces to re-establish control in the North. You know, right after the wedding.

Sadly for Robb, Roose Bolton had different ideas for securing the North. With the blessings of Tywin Lannister.

Since the show did not opt to kill off Balon in a timely manner, Robb’s grand plan for the post-wedding was instead to capture Casterly Rock. That’s it. Just, you know… capture Casterly Rock.

Catelyn-and-Robb

Robb: I have a brilliant plan! I’ll capture Casterly Rock!
Cat: Casterly Rock? Just like that?
Robb: Of course! How hard could it be?
Cat: It’s Casterly ROCK, not Casterly Lawn or Casterly Picnic Green.
Robb: By the Old Gods! Talisa would love a picnic!

So in a way, Roose Bolton heroically prevented all of the northern forces (and Freys, if they’d joined up as Robb hoped) from dying in some pointless siege that couldn’t possibly have succeeded.

I don’t have a large heartburn over this, but the revisions to the story do make Robb seem a bit less on top of things, strategically.

Balon’s extra-life doesn’t just affect our viewpoint of Robb as a commander, it also affects another king’s reputation negatively. Balon himself.

BalonGreyjoy

Wait. Is he suggesting that my reputation would have been improved had I died earlier? I honestly can’t win here. I shouldn’t have even gotten out of my hard, uncompromising driftwood bed.

Yeah, I know. Usually living longer equates with success, but Balon’s longer life on the show really tarnished his rep. Allow me to explain. (Or bloviate. I’ve been accused of being long-winded on these posts. I apologize.)

Live Fast, Die Young. Or At Least Earlier.

In the books, (during a dark and stormy night) Balon was reportedly knocked off of one the swaying crazy bridges between the towers on his Pyke stronghold. Book readers have long assumed that he was assassinated. The show supported that theory.

Balon-Euron-Game-of-Thrones-Home-Small

Balon: Hey bro.
Euron: Bro.
Balon: What’s up?
Euron: Not you, for long.

Balon dies earlier, but he dies more or less at the top of his game. His Ironborn controlled the western coastline of the North, and the biggest naval threat in the region, the Lannisters, were unwilling to challenge him in Ironman’s Bay (to be honest, Tywin was content to leave Balon alone and let the Greyjoys continue to undermine Robb Stark’s legitimacy) so Balon’s gamble of attacking the North instead of accepting Robb Stark’s offer of an alliance seemed to be a rational move.

In contrast, Balon Greyjoy on the show lived long enough to see the Boltons repel all of his forces. The Ironborn just seemed ridiculously unable to handle ground-based operations. Despite one of the largest fortresses in Westeros, Harrenhal, originally being the seat of an amazingly successful invading-and-staying Ironborn king. (Until dragons. Dragons are pretty awesome, yo.)

Balon was rather stubbornly dense about this reversal of fortune.

Yara: We totally got our asses kicked.
Balon: Well get your ass back in there and kick back.
Yara: But we suck! It’s embarrassing and inexplicable!
Balon: You suck! Suck less! As your king, I order you to be less sucky!

Balon’s invasion and subsequent losses were so poorly regarded by the Ironborn, that when Balon’s brother Euron presented himself at the Kingsmoot and confessed to killing his royal brother, the Ironborn basically ignored the fact that Euron was an accursed kinslayer and embraced him as the new wearer of the driftwood crown.

EuronCrown

Pretty snazzy corona there, Euron.

(As a book reader, that was a bit hard for me to swallow. Kinslaying is not a light matter among the followers of the Drowned God.)

RIP Balon

So, why am I glad that Balon’s dead? It’s really just a relief to be able to talk about it.

Balon-Greyjoy-funeral-Game-of-Thrones-Home

I was expecting Balon to fall off (or be pushed off) that bridge three seasons ago. It’s hard to keep a secret like that for so long. Balon was just one of those rare cases of a show character who outlived his book analog, when usually the reverse has been happening.

I was starting to get worried that Balon would outlive everybody. After all, he was the last of the original five kings to die. And he survived just by chilling out and letting everyone else kill each other off. Stannis should have used that tactic.

What is Dead May Never Die…

On the other hand, I really can’t complain much about how the show adapted Balon’s story. The relative generalship of Balon (and by extension, Robb) really isn’t that much of a big deal in the larger scheme of things. And if the showrunners felt that Euron’s public acknowledgement of killing his brother was the lever to get him elected, it’s better that Balon had been a crappy commander who’d lost the support of his warlike people, instead of the fiercest Greyjoy since Dagon Greyjoy from one hundred years before.

And the show at least didn’t take away one of Balon’s more important and positive aspects. My boy Balon had some progressive ideas.

Balon-Asha

For one of the staunch and inflexible Ironborn, Balon was practical enough to recognize that his daughter Yara would be a fine heir for his legacy. This was kind of an unusual situation for Westeros, and especially on the Iron Islands. I don’t think Balon gets much credit, and probably rightfully so, but Balon wasn’t one of the typical patriarchs who regarded daughters as children best married off for political advantage.

Should Yara Greyjoy eventually become Queen of the Iron Islands, it will no doubt be largely from her own merits, from her willingness to support the agreeable-in-overturning-the-power-structure Daenerys Targaryen, but also from the early patronage of her father, who could have raised up obstacles in her path like a brutal storm, rather than a favorable wind or a sheltered harbor. (Check me out, being all nautical! My own dad would be so proud!)

Okay, I come here not to praise nor condemn Balon Greyjoy, but to send him on his way to the halls of the Drowned God. But don’t let that stop anyone from wanting to talk about Balon. Now that he’s dead, I’m happy to talk about him, at length.


(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) 

 

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. KG says:

    A GoT post!!! It’s been a while for me 👍 😀 Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. joanna says:

    Hey Patrick! I see you’re on a “we hate that person” roll 🙂

    Balon was the nastiest, crabbiest, grubbiest Greyjoy so I’m glad he’s dead too. Brilliant performance by Patrick Malahide by the way. The Ironborn on the show is a rag tag motley crew. Only Yara seems worthy, but Theon is definitely working his way back. Although he would have different values growing up with Starks. Which is a good thing. Let’s call him GreyStark.

    Old Harren died yonks ago so I guess the Greyjoy ‘greatness’ died with him? Plus Harren cut down all the Weirwood trees, and sucked the Riverlands and Iron Islands dry to build his dream castle. How many hearths did the Great Hall have? I forget. Delusions of grandeur? Sounds like someone else we know 🙂

    I’m also not fond of the Euron part, role, thing. And I can’t decide if I’m not happy with the actor (although he’s great, seen him in Borgen) or the script is off. I kinda want him bumped off too. He seems to be taking time away from more important stuff. We only have 13 more episodes.

    [Joanna breaks down sobbing]

    That said, he was a necessary trigger: kill Balon, Yara and Theon go to Meereen. Maybe we’ll see his significance in the future. It can’t be the Dragon Horn. In the show, didn’t Sam keep that from way back at the Fist of the First Men?

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Yonks ago” is the best phrase ever.

      Old Black Harren wasn’t a Greyjoy, I should look up what he was, but after he got cooked, one of the Greyjoy ancestors managed to curry favor with Aegon and get the Lordship (maybe the Greyjoys were previously kings, since the legendary forerunner was the Grey King.) But 100 years before, Dagon was causing troubles, but not declared a king… just being an ass while the Hand of the King kept the navy on the east coast because of the Blackfyres.

      I am sorry, I am fansplaining. I’ll stop.

      Ugh, we only have 13 more episodes (unless they beef the schedule up a bit.) Did they find a horn at the Fist of the First Men? I have to look that up, there was other stuff besides dragonglass.

      Euron’s dragon horn was gigantic, and allegedly was recovered from Valyria, but there’s no sign of a horn on the show, so I don’t know what they’re going to do with him.

      Thank you so much for commenting. And for giving me “yonks ago” as a phrase.

      Liked by 1 person

      • joanna says:

        Crap, Harren wasn’t a Greyjoy? Arghh and grrr, my mistake. Why I did I think he was? bliaxxx, I’m stupid.

        A horn was on the show. When they found the dragonglass at the Fist of the First Men. Remember when they lifted the stone plaque, and everything was wrapped in an old night watchman’s [supposedly] cloak? A horn was amongst the findings but it showed just for a couple of seconds. You had to really observe to notice it.

        Yonks ago 🙂 glad you liked it

        Liked by 1 person

  3. erinb9 says:

    I really need to read the books sometime, though it scares me because I hear they’re EVEN NASTIER than the show, which hardly seems possible.

    My theory is the old gray-haired guys in GoT are the most vile characters because it’s such a brutal universe that only the fiercest characters can live that long. I also think the Starks and Lannisters are vaguely British, the free folk are Celts, and the Greyjoys are Vikings.

    But yeah, I was also glad to see Balon go. Though I agree that he at least was at least progressive enough to view his daughter as his capable heir, even over his son.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First off, thank you as always for reading my post, I’m glad that you and your husband got caught up on the show.

      I was overjoyed when I saw your comment about how all the old gray haired guys are so evil and awful – because I am currently writing a blog about Davos (due out in 2 months) where I had off handedly made a similar statement. (Davos is the exception, I hope you agree.)

      Thanks also for your take on how you perceive the various groups on the show in regards to real world analogs. It’s nice to see someone mention the Celts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • erinb9 says:

        Of course! I love talking GoT and you have great ideas about it.

        In my hair color theory GoT post, I’d mentioned gray hair seems connected with evil, but definitely Davos is the exception. He’s one of my favorites and possibly the most ethical character on the show. (Maybe that’s why he’s salt-and-pepper instead of fully gray?)

        I definitely think there’s a Celtic/Free Folk connection. The Free Folk resist the governance of Westerns like Celts resisted the Brits. They have Scottish accents, an abundance of red hair, female warriors, mystical connections to forest giants and magic within the wilderness. They are clannish and use siege weapons against the huge walls of their enemies…

        Liked by 1 person

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