Spoiler warning: Contains details from episodes 1-3 of Season 7 of Game Of Thrones.
Can Euron Greyjoy — played by the divine Pilou Asbæk — really have only been in five episodes so far? It’s probably too early to call it, but it already feels like Greyjoy is the villain Game Of Thrones has been waiting for. This is the sort of sweeping statement that gets readers spitting blood in the comments. After all, we’ve already had Joffrey Baratheon, Ramsay Bolton, the Night King, Tywin Lannister, Walder Frey, the Waif, Roose Bolton, the High Sparrow, even, arguably Cersei post her Sept-explosion — a smorgasbord of incredible antagonists catering to every sort of taste, with many of the above armed with power far exceeding that possessed by Yara’s uncle in the show — though it feels worth stressing that from what we know so far from George R.R.Martin’s forthcoming sixth novel The Winds of Winter, the literary version of the character will be far more sinister, abusive and powerful. All the same, it feels increasingly likely that TV Euron will become a series-defining villain.
For one thing, he’s already getting all the best lines. Joffrey often tried to be entertaining and do that Buffy Summers thing of coupling acts of violence with quippy one-liners (on ordering a knight to beat Sansa: “Leave her face — I like her pretty”), but he mostly came off as sad and creepy. Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay was inspired by Heath Ledger’s The Joker and gave off a similar manic energy. Like Batman’s archenemy, he wasn’t devoid of a certain psychopathic charisma, but unlike Ledger in his iconic role, was too frosty to really charm. And let’s not even get started with what could be termed the far-right villains — aristocratic leaders totally divorced from the reality of those they ruled over, making ruthless decisions to further their own riches and power rather than out of innate sadism (so: Tywin Lannister, Roose Bolton, or a less powerful version of the pair, Randyll Tarly). Sure, these antagonists are probably closest to the historical reality of aristocrats operating during Medieval wartime, if that’s something you’re looking for from a fantasy show replete with dragons and Wights. But they’re also incredibly dull to watch.
No, normally Thrones reserves its wittiest lines for those skewing to the more compassionate end of the spectrum: Tyrion Lannister, queen of shade Olenna Tyrell, Jaime Lannister, Bronn, Sansa Stark, The Hound. And this is the only aspect of the show’s passion for villainy that falls a little flat: there’s a reason that Satan has all the best lines in Paradise Lost or Mephistopheles those eminently quotable moments in Doctor Faustus. If those repping evil don’t dazzle, how do villains recruit followers? With fear, obviously. But from an audience’s perspective, it’s far more fun when the feckless are tempted into their demise rather than forced.
Which brings us to Euron. Given that this season is just seven episodes long and then Season 8 is even shorter, clocking in at just six episodes, it was a ballsy move to make a character who cropped up in Season 6 a major new villain. Nobody could blame viewers if they were fresh out of fucks to give about a fresh baddie this late in the game (and one, who you could argue has only been introduced to prop up Cersei, who is almost completely out of allies, for a little bit longer). Which might explain why the writers and producers have seemed to conspire to make every Euron scene luminous.
Co-showrunner Dan Weiss told Entertainment Weekly about casting Asbæk:
We knew we had somebody with a special star quality and we haven’t had somebody with a rock star swagger who doesn’t give a sh– before. Everybody in this world cares very deeply — whether they’re awful, wonderful or, most of them, somewhere in between — they all care deeply about the politicking and give a lot of thought to everything they do. To have somebody traipse onto the stage with a swagger and the attitude that Euron has, it’s a lot of fun and lets a lot of air into the room.
Amen to that. After shoving his brother off a bridge and then openly confessing to it, in a baller move that had the majority of the Ironborn rooting for him, Euron attempted to woo Cersei with the Jaime-baiting chat up line “…here I am, with a thousand ships and two good hands.” This was shortly followed by his response to being accused of murdering his brother (“You should try it, feels wonderful”). For the first time, we have a villain who can convincingly joke around. And you can’t fault the man for his range, dropping poetic lines like “I am the storm, brother. The first storm and the last. And you’re in my way” while balancing on a rope bridge, poised to commit murder in torrential rain. It gets even better when in the ultimate dick move, he storms Yara’s boat just as she’s about to get hot and heavy with Ellaria Sand (though let’s be real, if we’d been treated to two different consensual sex scenes in one episode, Thrones presumably would have spontaneously combusted), entering on a giant wooden drawbridge/claw, and hacking through a few people with an axe, with shades of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. There’s that same sense that he’s the personification of the Id — something implied, too, when he tells Jaime that he enjoyed watching him cut down the Ironborn, telling him “[It was] like a dance.”
While there’s every chance that like any other character on the show, Uncle Greyjoy could meet some abrupt and bloody end in the very next episode, there’s hints that he’s going to be around for a while. There’s the fact that he promised to bring Cersei a “priceless gift” to prove his allegiance to her, which should keep him safe at least until when he delivers the aforementioned present. There’s also Asbæk’s interview with Empire in which he stated that “After this season, Ramsay’s gonna look like a little kid,” which presumably means we’re going to see a long played out narrative arc. And while the Danish actor described his character as a “hooligan” in his Empire interview and as “a f—ing idiot douchebag, an impolite selfish child” in the same Entertainment Weekly interview which cites Weiss, some insight from costume designer Michele Clapton about the character’s post-makeover jacket in her interview to Fast Company implied that he might be more methodical than what we’ve seen so far: “I loved the slashed star shapes that we made. It’s supposed to represent the type of guy that obviously has issues. The slashes, although seemingly mindless, are repetitive and exacting.”
Repetitive and exacting sounds distinctly different from the character we’ve seen so far. But just because we haven’t witnessed this from him, doesn’t mean that this side can be ruled out. Asbæk has commented on how adaptable Euron is and told Entertainment Weekly: “Every scene he’s a new guy. The guy you met on the bridge is not the guy at the Kingsmoot, and is not the guy you see with Cersei and is not the guy you see on the ship. He’s different with different people.” His adaptability sounds like precisely the sort of quality that makes someone a skilled diplomat in George R.R. Martin’s universe.
There’s also the tongue thing. Did you get the context? When attacking Yara’s ship, one of Euron’s men cut outs an opponent’s tongues. This isn’t presumably (just?) to trigger Theon’s PTSD. As we know from the fratricide scene on the bridge, after a psychotic episode during a storm, Euron cut out the tongues of everyone on his ship because he “needed silence.” Presumably he likes a quiet workplace. With this in mind, it implies the tongue-severing wasn’t as brutal and chaotic as it seemed — the warrior wasn’t maiming at random, so much as prepping Euron’s new workforce. When you consider all of the above, it seems like Euron is an electric combination of Littlefinger-level diplomacy and strategy with Ramsay-level violence. He can play the long game, bend the knee to a queen and take her insults with equanimity with just as much talent as he can wield an axe and shove a next-of-kin off a bridge.
Which means, hopefully, that he’ll be around for a while. This season has felt weightier than its predecessors — we’ve had long shots of hallways and montages of shit and slop, and slow camera pans across floor maps in order to hammer the point home that the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been. Euron has an interesting effect on time in the show. While it seems to crawl for the other storylines, it zips along nicely whenever he’s on screen. Mashable has already published a great, blistering piece about the impossibility of him having had the time, resources or manpower to build 1,000 ships and Twitter has wrung its hands over how exactly he managed to find Yara’s ship so promptly (is there a mole in Dany’s camp?).
Perhaps none of this really matters. Euron marks the perfect intersection between evil and fun. In a season which raises questions of how the human race will survive and which asks how a just ruler should govern, he’s a welcome relief, all fireworks and fizz. Long live Euron. I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next.
In case you missed it, read our answers to the most Googled Game of Thrones questions.
- Lead image: HBO