Who is Euron Greyjoy and what does he want? This is actually a difficult question as the character, despite his larger than life persona, is both secretive and seldom seen. This in-character and authorial secrecy have combined to keep Euron on the margins of the story even as his actions have an ever increasing importance in it. The result is that the only crystal clear thing about him is his glaringly evident sociopathy and lust for dragons. Yet there is more to this villainous character than that. Here and there in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons there are scattered discreet little glimpses of magical foreshadowing. These glimpses, which indicate the use of blood magic, warlock arts, and greenseer abilities, can be added up and compared to other parts of the story to create a pretty coherent picture of Euron’s identity and goals.
I. The Magician
One of the usual ways overt magic has entered the story of Ice and Fire is through the private service and agendas of magicians who attach themselves to powerful figures. King Stannis and Jon Snow have the red priestess/shadowbinder Melisandre. Victarion has the red priest/sorcerer Moqorro. The Brotherhood Without Banners has the red priest/necromancer Thoros of Myr. King Ryder had a number of skinchangers in his host, among them Orell, Varamyr and Borroq. King Aerys II and Tyrion Lannister employ various King’s Landing pyromancers to highly destructive ends. Queen Cersei had a very traumatic encounter with a maegi called Maggy, currently employs Qyburn the necromancer, and has also made use of the King’s Landing pyromancer’s guild. Dany of course has had an equally traumatic encounter with a maegi named Mirri Maz Duur, cryptic meetings with the shadowbinder Quaithe, and survived an attempted murder-by-prophecy machinated by the warlock Pyat Pree. As of the end of A Feast for Crows, she is also being sought by Marwyn the Mage.
Fitting neatly into this overall pattern in A Feast for Crows, Euron reveals that he has ruthlessly enslaved three warlocks. These warlocks are obviously providing Euron with magic and are more than likely instructing him in its workings as well. This magic is definitely elemental and perhaps divinatory.
Euron’s power to influence the weather is just short of explicit. Balon is assassinated by a Faceless Man during a storm while Euron’s Silence was a day away. The storm is a necessary component of the assassination as it allows Balon’s tumble to be safely labeled a vindictive act of the Storm God. This storm seems very well timed, to say the least; as well timed as Euron’s arrival. When Asha all but accuses Euron of killing her father he deflects her barbs in a very interesting way:
When he was gone, the Crow’s Eye turned his smiling eye upon Victarion. “Lord Captain, have you no greeting for a brother long away? Nor you, Asha? How fares your lady mother?”
“Poorly,” Asha said. “Some man made her a widow.”
Euron shrugged. “I had heard the Storm God swept Balon to his death. Who is this man who slew him? Tell me his name, niece, so I might revenge myself on him.”
Asha got to her feet. “You know his name as well as I. Three years you were gone from us, and yet Silence returns within a day of my lord father’s death.”
“Do you accuse me?” Euron asked mildly.
“Should I?” The sharpness in Asha’s voice made Victarion frown. It was dangerous to speak so to the Crow’s Eye, even when his smiling eye was shining with amusement.
“Do I command the winds?” the Crow’s Eye asked his pets.
“No, Your Grace,” said Orkwood of Orkmont.
“No man commands the winds,” said Germund Botley.
“Would that you did,” the Red Oarsman said. “You would sail wherever you liked and never be becalmed.”
“There you have it, from the mouths of three brave men,” Euron said. “The Silence was at sea when Balon died. If you doubt an uncle’s word, I give you leave to ask my crew.”
“A crew of mutes? Aye, that would serve me well.” (FfC Victarion I)
Euron very notably does not outright deny Asha’s accusation of murder. Nor does he deny that he can command the winds, leaving this to his lickspittle followers and mute crew. After the Kingsmoot we see Euron sailing wherever he will without being becalmed:
‘The wind was at their backs, as it had been all the way down from Old Wyk. It was whispered about the fleet that Euron’s wizards had much and more to do with that, that the Crow’s Eye appeased the Storm God with blood sacrifice. How else would he have dared sail so far to the west, instead of following the shoreline as was the custom?’ (FfC Victarion II)
The Ironborn are very experienced Sunset sailors and they believe that what Euron is doing is rather unusual. The whispers are certainly more than whispers, as the red priests have demonstrated the ability to influence the weather by means of blood sacrifice on three separate occasions:
‘Melisandre had given Alester Florent to her god on Dragonstone, to conjure up the wind that bore them north. Lord Florent had been strong and silent as the queen’s men bound him to the post, as dignified as any half-naked man could hope to be, but as the flames licked up his legs he had begun to scream, and his screams had blown them all the way to East-Watch-by-the-Sea, if the red woman could be believed. Davos had misliked that wind. It had seemed to him to smell of burning flesh, and the sound of it was anguished as it played amongst the lines.’ (DoD Davos I)
‘Wisps of dark smoke rose from his fingers as [Victarion] pointed at the maester. “That one. Cut his throat and throw him in the sea, and the winds will favor us all the way to Meereen.” Moqorro had seen that in his fires.’ (DwD Victarion I)
‘Near the end, before the smoking ketch was swallowed by the sea, the cries of the seven sweetlings changed to joyous song, it seemed to Victarion Greyjoy. A great wind came up then, a wind that filled their sails and swept them north and east and north again, toward Meereen and its pyramids of many-colored bricks. ‘On winds of song I fly to you, Daenerys,’ the iron captain thought.’ (DwD Victarion II)
It is obvious that Euron’s captive warlocks can command the winds by means of blood sacrifice and sorcery, the same as Melisandre and Moqorro. The only alternative is that the Ironborn sailors have spontaneously invented a false rumor about blood sacrifice which happens to correspond to an actual, working ritual (very unlikely). If he can command the winds then the storm that heralded his return to Pyke and covered up Balon’s assassination was likely as much a product of magic as the favorable winds that blow his fleet to the Shield Islands. This portends a great deal for the coming battle between the Ironborn armada and Redwyne fleet, as Euron has the ability to move his fleet at will while injuring his opponents with bad winds and storms. His conquests of the Shield Islands and raids up the Mander and along the coasts have also furnished Euron with ample victims for sacrifices on a scale far larger than those performed by the red priests.
If the Warlocks have given Euron wind magic then might they have also given him some manner of foreknowledge? The House of the Undying was overflowing with prophecy, and divination is one of the most common forms of magic in A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet, unlike with the wind magic, this is far from clear as the two incidents where Euron displays possible foreknowledge could have more mundane explanations. Euron shows up the day after a Faceless Man sends Balon tumbling to his death during a suspiciously timed storm, but it’s possible this was arranged ahead of time with the Faceless Men. In another incident, Euron knew exactly how the attack on the Shield Islands would play out, and Victarion attributes this to magical foreknowledge:
“All fell out as Euron said it would,” Victarion told the dusky woman as she bound up his hand with linen. “His wizards must have seen it.” He had three aboard the Silence, Quellon Humble had confided in a whisper. Queer men and terrible, they were, but the Crow’s Eye had made them slaves. “He still needs me to fight his battles, though,” Victarion insisted. “Wizards may be well and good, but blood and steal win wars.” (FfC Victarion II)
Of course Victarion is a rather dull person whose main talent is attacking what’s right in front of him, so a good head for strategy and the ability to anticipate the reaction of one’s enemies might seem outright magical to him. The Iron Captain might also be minimizing his own strategic deficiencies by explaining away Euron’s natural talents as magic. Still, Victarion does take his explanation seriously as he readily embraces Moqorro’s flame divinations to even the odds. So, while there is no clear evidence of Euron possessing foreknowledge, neither can the possibility be dismissed. He has on two occasion’s demonstrated extremely careful precision in a world where actionable divination is possible, and he has potential diviners in his service.
II. The Warlock-Greenseer
There are significant clues scattered here and there which suggest that Euron is hiding far more about himself than a little black magic wrung from captive wizards on pain of death, torture and forced cannibalism. The most explicit of these hints is provided courtesy of one of Moqorro’s fire visions:
“Our captain would prefer to be fifty leagues farther out to sea, well away from that accursed shore, but I have commanded him to steer the shortest course. Others seek Daenerys too.”
“Have you seen these others in your fires?” [Tyrion] asked, warily.
“Only their shadows,” Moqorro said. “One most of all. A tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood.” (DwD Tyrion VIII)
This twisted shadow kraken is certainly Euron, but not only because it has one eye. The eye Euron typically shows the world is his blue, mirthful “smiling eye,” but that’s not what’s being displayed now. Rather, the twisted shadow kraken’s single black eye matches the description of Euron’s mysterious and menacing “crow’s eye”:
Under it [Crowsfood Umber] wore a stained white leather eye patch that reminded Theon of his uncle Euron. He’d wanted to rip it off Umber’s face, to make certain that underneath was only an empty socket, not a black eye shining with malice. (WoW Theon I)
Euron’s twisted kraken is also the most prominent and ominous of the shadows pursuing Dany. If Euron has no magical power, only political power, then how is he the greatest of these shadows and why does he use his crow’s eye in place of his smiling eye? In Slaver’s Bay Euron is a political nonentity, the Iron Fleet is serving Lord Captain Victarion’s agenda. The logical conclusion is that here we see Euron for the Janus that he is, one eye for the political world and another, far more terrible eye for the magical world, and he is pursuing Dany magically.
The details of Euron’s childhood are consistent with a visit from Bloodraven’s three-eyed crow. When he was young, perhaps around Brandon Stark’s age, Euron had a very memorable experience:
“When I was a boy, I dreamt that I could fly,” [Euron] announced. “When I woke, I couldn’t . . . or so the maester said. But what if he lied?” (FfC Victarion II)
Euron’s choice of words makes it sound that these dreams were reoccurring (there is no word limiting these dreams to a singular occurrence – ‘When I was a boy’ instead of ‘once when I was a boy’). As in Bran’s case the family maester became involved and counseled that the dreams were only dreams, with no bearing on the real world. Bran meets the three-eyed crow after he suffers a near fatal fall. Euron might have met the three-eyed crow after a near fatal childhood illness. The damp Iron Islands has a high infant mortality rate; of the stolid Quellon Greyjoy’s nine sons only four lived to adulthood. So young Euron could have easily come down with a bad chill or a fever, met the three-eyed crow in his fever dreams, and come to and asked the maester tending to him about its meaning.
There is no getting around the fact that crows and eyes are very important to Euron as personal symbols. The three-eyed crow gives its pupils a magical third eye and Euron has named his mysterious and menacing black eye the “crow’s eye,” is called “Crow’s Eye,” publically likens himself with crows in his Kingsmoot speech, likes dressing in crow black, drinks magic hallucinogens that “open the eyes,” and uses a personal banner featuring “a red eye with a black pupil, beneath a black iron crown supported by two crows” (FfC Victarion I & II, FfC Samwell V). This is simply too much to be coincidental, unlike say the crow imagery applied to the Nightswatch or used by the Stonecrow Mountain Clans and Stormcrow sellswords. It is notable that the crows on Euron’s banner are crowning the red-black eye and are therefore portrayed as dispensers of authority. One could interpret the banner’s iconography as declaring that the crows have chosen this eye to be the greatest. In a sense this is what the three-eyed crow does when he tries to recruit potential greenseers.
Lastly, on one occasion Euron appears to actually demonstrate one of the powers of a greenseer. Those with a third eye are able project themselves into the dreams of other people who are physically far away. Bloodraven invades Bran and then Jojen’s dreams in the form of a three-eyed crow:
“I dreamed about the crow again last night. The one with three eyes. He flew into my bedchamber and told me to come with him, so I did. We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we talked. He was sad.”
“And why was that?” Luwin peered through his tube.
“It was something to do about Jon, I think.” The dream had been deeply disturbing, more so than any of the other crow dreams. (GoT Bran VII)
“You are the winged wolf, Bran,” said Jojen. “I wasn’t sure when we first came, but now I am. The crow sent us here to break your chains.”
“Is the crow at Greywater?”
“No. The crow is in the north.” (CoK Bran IV)
Later, Bran enters one of Jon’s wolf dreams in the form of a three-eyed weirwood face:
The tree was slender compared to other weirwoods he had seen, no more than a sapling, yet it was growing as he watched, its limbs thickening as they reached for the sky. Wary, he circled the smooth white trunk until he came to the face. Red eyes looked at him. Fierce eyes they were, yet glad to see him. The weirwood had his brother’s face. Had his brother always had three eyes?
Not always, came the silent shout. Not before the crow. (CoK Jon VIII)
While searching her flames Melisandre spies Bloodraven in the form of a weirwood face surrounded by eyes and Bran in the form of a werewolf:
A face took shape within the hearth. Stannis? she thought, for just a moment … but no, these were not his features. A wooden face, corpse white. Was this the enemy? A thousand red eyes floated in the rising flames. He sees me. Beside him, a boy with a wolf’s face threw back his head and howled. (DwD Mel)
These examples indicate that the greenseers can take various forms in their magical projections. Now, in a troubled dream brought on by the apprehension of her upcoming marriage to Hizdahr zo Loraq, Dany is molested by a doppelganger Hizdahr who has Euron’s distinctive blue lips:
“King Crow’s Eye, brother.” Euron smiled. His lips looked very dark in the lamplight, bruised and blue. (FfC Victarion I)
Euron turned to face him, his bruised blue lips curled in a half smile. (FfC Victarion II)
‘Beneath her coverlets [Dany] tossed and turned, dreaming that Hizdahr was kissing her … but his lips were blue and bruised, and when he thrust himself inside her, his manhood was cold as ice.’ (DwD VII)
The only characters whose lips match Euron’s are the warlocks he has enslaved. The warlocks however are almost completely regulated to the background of A Feast for Crows, seen from the distance or gossiped about; Euron’s lips on the other hand are mentioned by Victarion on the two occasions he comes face to face with him. Furthermore, the warlocks have yet to demonstrate the power to haunt people’s dreams, and it seems safe to conclude they do not possess such power as otherwise they would have used it against Dany much earlier. This imagery is also consistent with Euron the sexual predator and his stated intent of “marrying” Dany.
At some point one might object by asking why Bloodraven, a Blackwood believer in Old Gods would try to recruit an Iron Island dwelling follower of the Drowned God. The simple explanation is that Bloodraven has very little to work with:
“Only one man in a thousand is born a skinchanger,” Lord Brynden said one day, after Bran had learned to fly, “and only one skinchanger in a thousand can be a greenseer.” (DwD Bran III)
Westeros has been estimated to have around forty million people. If this is so then that means there are about four thousand potential skinchangers born per generation and out of those there are only four who have the potential to be greenseers. And that’s before factoring in premature deaths, abortions, refusal to believe, not being up to it, neighbors getting scared and killing little wargs, and what sounds like a very high (and lethal) failure rate:
Bran looked at the crow on his shoulder, and the crow looked back. It had three eyes, and the third eye was full of a terrible knowledge. Bran looked down. There was nothing below him now but snow and cold and death, a frozen wasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points. He was desperately afraid.
Now, Bran, the crow urged. Choose. Fly or die. (GoT Bran III)
The 100,000 or so Free Folk have not produced a greenseer for a very long time (hence why Bloodraven, an ex-crow, is the only one still going). Recruiting a greenseer from south of the Wall meanwhile would be an extremely difficult undertaking. Just consider the series of unfortunate events which had to happen precisely as they did for Bloodraven to become last living greenseer and then for him to get Bran and company to head north. Given Bloodraven had so little human material to work with it makes sense for him to look as far afield as possible and try to make use of whoever he can. The Iron Islands, despite the primordial overthrow of the weirwood Ygg and the ways of the First Men, have their share of skinchangers:
Aeron knew some Farwynds, a queer folk who held lands on the westernmost shores of Great Wyk and the scattered isles beyond, rocks so small that most could support but a single household. Of those, the Lonely Light was the most distant, eight days’ sail to the northwest amongst rookeries of seals and sea lions and the boundless grey oceans. The Farwynds there were even queerer than the rest. Some said they were skinchangers, unholy creatures who could take on the forms of sea lions, walruses, even spotted whales, the wolves of the wild sea. (FfC Aeron II)
So the Iron Islands would have their share of potential greenseers too and Bloodraven would try and make use of them wherever he could.
There might be a certain degree of ruthless magical realpolitik in inspiring Euron. The atrocities he inflicts might be outweighed by his inadvertently helping the fight against the Others. However, it is equally likely that Bloodraven just didn’t know what he was dealing with (Euron being only a child at the time and there being no weirwoods on the Iron Islands to peer into the future with). Dalla and Val are fond of saying that magic is a sword without a hilt, something unsafe to grasp, a sentiment Melisandre agrees with even if she adds wielding a hiltless sword is better than wielding none (SoS Jon X, DwD Jon VIII, Mel). At the end of the day Bloodraven is still fundamentally a human intelligence wielding magic and hence far from omnipotent. Euron might be one of his uncorrected mistakes.
A second objection one might make is that Euron does not fit the classic image of a greenseer and shows no signs of wanting to follow Bloodraven. He demonstrates absolutely no interest in weirwoods, the lands beyond the Wall, or the Old Gods, unlike Brandon Rivers and Brandon Stark. Euron, rather, is interested in the people, knowledge, and ways of Near, Middle and Far East. This does not disprove greenseering potential however. After Bran’s initial encounter with the three-eyed crow, Bran stubbornly resists instruction and the three-eyed crow has to summon the Reeds in order to further his education. So, even when Bloodraven is successful in getting someone to open their third eye this does not mean they will actually use it. Therefore it stands to reason that potential candidates might use their new eye in way that Bloodraven and the Weirwood spirits did not intend. Alternatively, Bloodraven might encourage someone to use their third eye for something other than greenseeing for his own long term purposes and hence inspire them in a different manner then he inspires Bran. The third eye could represent a more general potential which could be honed for other purposes than that of the greenseer.
So, are there any hints in Bran’s own awakening as to what could have differently inspired Euron? As a matter of fact, there are. As Bran falls the three-eyed crow shows him the entire world in a mix of present and future visions, and this sight is not limited to Westeros:
He lifted his eyes and saw clear across the narrow sea, to the Free Cities and the green Dothraki sea and beyond, to Vaes Dothrak under its mountain, to the fabled lands of the Jade Sea, to Asshai by the Shadow, where dragons stirred beneath the sunrise. (GoT Bran III)
Not much detail is given about these far sights as Bran is principally interested in his family and the three-eyed crow wants him to look north to the Land of Always Winter. But what if he was more interested in the East or Bloodraven wanted him to look there? What might have caught his eye? The dragons first of all, stirring beneath the far horizon. This premonition is strangely general, there is no sign of Dany or her eggs and the dragons are identified with the Far East in general, with the Jade Sea and Asshai as much as the Dothraki Sea. What is promised is that dragons will come from Essos, not Westeros. Dragons of course are also strongly linked with magic, which is still very strong in Asshai. As it happens Euron claims to have visited Asshai during his Eastern exile and is very interested in hatching dragons:
Euron seated himself and gave his cloak a twitch, so it covered his private parts. “I had forgotten what a small and noisy folk they are, my ironborn. I would bring them dragons, and they shout out for grapes.”
“Grapes are real. A man can gorge himself on grapes. Their juice is sweet, and they make wine. What do dragons make?”
“Woe.” The Crow’s Eye sipped from his silver cup. “I once held a dragon’s egg in this hand, brother. This Myrish wizard swore he could hatch it if I gave him a year and all the gold that he required. When I grew bored with his excuses, I slew him. As he watched his entrails sliding through his fingers he said, ‘But it has not been a year.’” He laughed. (FfC Victarion II)
From the tone of his recollection the very experience of holding this egg left a deep impression on him. However, his inability to actually hatch it seems to have been the source of immense frustration, with the result that he not only killed the fire mage but also tossed the useless egg into the ocean during one of his “dark moods” (assuming he is telling the truth here and he didn’t use it for something else, which would be equally in-character — at the very least, he completely gave up on hatching it). The wizard’s premature execution and Euron’s laughter at his last words is somewhat curious. Did Euron just gradually become bored or suspicious of him, or was there some catalyst which made the whole endeavor suddenly pointless? There’s a good chance Euron might have killed the mage shortly after learning of Dany’s dragons. If this happened, say, half way or two thirds of the way through the sorcerer’s year-long ritual, it would have been exposed as a sham. He’d told Euron he needed a year, but some young girl on the Dothraki Sea had accomplished the feat sooner. The mage was obviously a liar, so Euron cut open his belly, one of the first cases of woe Dany’s dragons have caused (or rather, the first case of woe Euron has caused because of them). Looking back, Euron naturally finds this story hilarious.
A second possible inspiration would have been in the exotic peoples and places of the East, the teeming Free Cities, the bloody lands of Slaver’s Bay, the world city that is Qarth, the “fabled lands” of the Jade Sea, and mysterious Asshai — Asshai most of all, the eldritch city where “[w]arlocks, wizards, alchemists, moonsingers, red priests, black alchemists, necromancers, aeromancers, pyromancers, bloodmages, torturers, inquisitors, poisoners, godswives, night-walkers, shapechangers, worshippers of the Black Goat and Pale Child and the Lion of Night, all find welcome” and which Euron has claimed to have plundered (World Book 308). The Summer and Jade Seas are a largely nautical world sustained by a great artery of seaborne commerce, filled with strange sights, strange people, strange gods, strange magic… Like the rest of his family Euron would have had many opportunities to visit the Free Cities while reeving in the Stepstones:
Lord Balon’s eldest brother had never given up the Old Way, even for a day. His Silence, with its black sails and dark red hull, was infamous in every port from Ibben to Asshai, it was said. (CoK Theon II)
R’hllor. A red priest, then. Victarion had seen such men in foreign cities, tending their sacred fires. Those had worn rich red robes of silk and velvet and lambswool. (DwD Victarion I)
A scarf concealed the tall man’s features, but atop his head was perched the queerest hat Asha had seen since the last time she had sailed to Tyrosh, a brimless tower of some soft fabric, like three cylinders stacked one atop the other. (DwD Asha I)
And Euron has always had a very noticeable interest in strange people:
“The Crow’s Eye brought back monsters from the east… aye, and wizards too.”
“Nuncle always had a fondness for freaks and fools,” said Asha. “My father used to light with him about it.” (FfC Asha)
Young Euron’s fondness for freaks (a collector’s interest, to be sure, similar to Yezzan zo Qaggaz’s) testifies to his longtime interest in the exotic, which later flowers in the East with his crew of mute “monsters,” captive warlocks, mutilated sex slaves, and mulatto bastards. What Asha means by “fools” is less clear. From the context of Tris Botley’s remarks it seems the “fools” Asha refers to could have been smalltime magicians, hedge wizards, maegi, and other people with an interest in magic. Wizards would testify to an early interest in the supernatural. However “freaks and fools” could also have been referring to a youthful interest in halfwits like Hodor or Patchface, mocking both her uncle and his pet wizards by suggesting that nothing has changed. The importance of “freaks and fools” as it pertains to halfwits will be considered further down.
A third possible source of inspiration goes unnoticed by Bran and is extraordinary for its absence. Bloodraven shows Bran the Land of Always Winter but neglects its twin… broken and demon haunted volcanoes of Valyria in the Smoking Sea, the land of always fire, birthplace of the dragon and blood magic that fueled the Valyarian empire. Bran and the reader are clearly not meant to glimpse its mysteries yet. Euron claims, rather implausibly, to have visited this death land in the flesh:
“That horn you heard I found amongst the smoking ruins that were Valyria, where no man has dared to walk but me” (FfC Aeron II)
“Have you forgotten? I have sailed the Smoking Sea and seen Valyria.” (FfC Victarion II)
This probably wasn’t a physical visit (although there are “queer rumors” of people living in some of the ruins, see page 27 of the World Book). Perhaps he saw Valyria when he flew or in a drug inspired mystic vision. In a sense he would have sailed, seen, and walked there, and if he told people how he really made his visit no one would believe its significance, putting it down to just a dream, just like the maester did when he was young. So to build his legend he invents physical visits that never happened (anyone who doubts him can always question his crew).
So if Euron’s childhood interactions with the three-eyed crow and incidences of greensight sowed the seeds of his later fascination with Essos, what would come of this? What would it mean for his possible third eye? Is there any alternative path or order in the East whose magic parallels the greenseers of the First Men? There is in fact one: the Warlocks of Qarth.
When Bran is being taken beyond skinchanging into actual greenseering they come and give him a paste of weirwood seeds:
‘Inside was a white paste, thick and heavy, with dark red veins running through it… Something about the look of it made Bran feel ill. The red veins were only weirwood sap, he supposed, but in the torchlight they looked remarkably like blood. He dipped the spoon into the paste, then hesitated.
“Will this make me a greenseer?”
“Your blood makes you a greenseer,” said Lord Brynden. “This will help awaken your gifts and wed you to the trees.”
…It had a bitter taste, though not so bitter as acorn paste. Then first spoonful was the hardest to get down. He almost retched it right back up. The second tasted better. The third was almost sweet. The rest he spooned up eagerly. Why had he thought that it was so bitter? It tasted of honey, of new-fallen snow, of pepper and cinnamon and the last kiss of his mother ever gave him. The empty bowl slipped from his fingers and clattered on the cavern floor. “I don’t feel any different. What happens next?”‘ (DwD Bran III)
Weirwoods are magical white trees with red leaves.
Now, when Dany seeks help at the House of the Undying, she sees a grove of black trees with inky blue leaves. Just before she enters she’s given a thick blue drink made from these same leaves called Shade of the Evening which she must consume to proceed:
“Will it turn my lips blue?”
“One flute will serve only to unstop your ears and dissolve the caul from off your eyes, so that you may hear and see the truths that will be laid before you.”
Dany raised the glass to her lips. The first sip tasted like ink and spoiled meat, foul, but when she swallowed it seemed to come to life within her. She could feel tendrils spreading through her chest, like fingers of fire coiling around her heart, and on her tongue was a taste like honey and anise and cream, like mother’s milk and Drogo’s seed, like red meat and hot blood and molten gold. It was all the tastes she had ever known, and none of them…and then the glass was empty.
“Now you may enter,” said the warlock. (CoK Dany IV)
Here we have a direct parallel between the greenseers and the warlocks: ingestion of a strange substance made from a magic tree (seeds in one case, black leaves in another) which starts out bitter and then unleashes a cascade of pleasant flavors and unlocks one’s inner potential for powerful otherworldly experience.
Greenseers eat white and red weirwood paste and eventually become white and red weirwoods. The warlocks, to be warlocks, drink Shade of the Evening till their lips turn blue. The Undying drank so much that every part of them was either an inky blue or an inky blue-black. Greenseers join with weirwood trees in the dark of the earth and eventually end up slowly decaying, still living corpses. The Undying were papery mummies who resided in a dark room communing to the sound of a disembodied, beating blue heart. Greenseers are a sort of conduit between this world and the spirit world of the weirwood trees. The Undying seem to play a similar role, acting as conduits to a strange otherworld which radiates out from the beating blue heart at the center of their palace (it should be noted that Drogon attacks the blue heart before the Undying). Both orders make claims to immortality, the greenseers in their trees and the Undying in their chamber. A final parallel is cannibalism: the ancient First Men sacrificed victims to the spirits in their weirwoods and the Undying consumed people who came to them for magical assistance.
With his blue lips Euron has much of a warlock about him now. His conversation with Victarion even echoes Dany’s interactions with Pyat Pree. Pyat Pree gives Dany the shade of the evening to open her eyes right before sending her to almost certain death at the hands of his masters. When Euron dispatches Victarion on a dangerous mission that will probably (by design) end very badly for him, what does he do?
The Crow’s Eye filled two cups with a strange black wine that flowed as thick as honey. “Drink with me, brother. Have a taste of this.” He offered one of the cups to Victarion.
The captain took the cup Euron had not offered, sniffed at its contents suspiciously. Seen up close, it looked more blue than black. It was thick and oily, with a smell like rotted flesh. He tried a small swallow, and spit it out at once. “Foul stuff. Do you mean to poison me?”
“I mean to open your eyes.” Euron drank deep from his own cup, and smiled. (FfC Victarion II)
The blue lips say Pyat Pree and the dream projections say Bloodraven. Euron seems to be some combination of the two. Warlocks and greenseers have many powers that Euron could potentially have access to in some form. Warlocks can work blood magic and glamours, and the Undying could conjure visions of past, present, and future events. Greenseers also have the ability see into the past and future. Drinking shade of the evening probably gives Euron access to dreams or visions. Greenseers, but not warlocks, have the ability to see into people by invading their dreams and Euron, as mentioned above, is definitely able to do this. Greenseers also have the ability to see across vast distances. This far-sight is linked with weirwoods and the most elect art of skinchanging.
If Bloodraven came to Euron because of his greenseer potential and gave him a third eye then he must be a skinchanger as all greenseers are skinchangers. In light of this it is worth asking what would be the implications of Euron being a secret skinchanger on the level of Brandan Stark or Bloodraven. An exceptionally powerful normal skinchanger like Varamyr Sixskins at the height of his power controlled three wolves, a snow bear, a shadowcat, and an eagle. Greenseer-skinchangers seem more powerful still. While purely human Bloodraven could apparently see through many crows and ravens, hence the saying ‘How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? One thousand and one.’ Bran is ten to eleven years old and once his powers are awakened and honed he is able to control both his dire wolf, his mentally disabled manservant Hodor, and, under Bloodraven’s tutelage, ravens. So like them Euron could spy through ravens and crows and possess animal familiars… or human beings. The later is particularly important to keep in mind as Euron has no animal companions and lives on a ship filled with tongueless slaves over who he exercises total control.
III. The Twisted Skinchanger
The greatest implication is that Euron practices abomination on his crew and victims. In the teachings of Haggon the Wildling, the abomination of seizing another human being is the greatest possible ethical violation a skinchanger can commit with his art. Story wise there is something of a need for a villainous skinchanger. Except for dying Varamyr Sixskins’ rather pathetic attempt to take over Thistle we have yet to see a consciously villainous invasion of another human mind and the truly malignant uses to which this ability could be put. The villains of A Song of Ice and Fire have predominately been predators or abusers of one sort or another. A person who could invade the minds of defenseless captives would own them completely; they would be the perfect predator, the perfect slaver, for what more could they take from their victims? They could comb their victims’ thoughts and punish any deviation from their control in extremely cruel ways. Imagine if Ramsay Snow knew what was in Theon Greyjoy’s head and could take him over whenever he wanted. The little inner self that Theon managed to cling too and survive with would have been utterly extinguished. He really would have been Reek. The mute Cragorn was so in awe of Euron that he blew the life sucking dragon horn three times and died as his lungs turned to crisp.
When Bran’s arc last left off the budding greenseer-skinchanger was unwittingly progressing down a slippery slope in his repeated, secret trips into Hodor. Hodor’s mental disability and gentle nature naturally leaves him an easy victim. One possible interpretation of a youthful Euron’s fondness for “freaks and fools” is a fondness for halfwits like Hodor – easy victims, mentally and socially, unable to communicate what is happening to them or do anything to fight it.
Euron’s potential for skinchanging also casts a very different light on the episode that got him banished:
“He put a baby in her belly and made me do the killing. I would have killed him too, but Balon would have no kinslaying in his hall. He sent Euron into exile, never to return…”
“… so long as Balon lived?”
Victarion looked at his fists. “She gave me horns. I had no choice.” Had it been known, men would have laughed at me, as the Crow’s Eye laughed when I confronted him. “She came to me wet and willing,” he had boasted. “It seems Victarion is big everywhere but where it matters.” (FfC Victarion I)
We suggest the following possibility. Euron spent some time with Victarion’s wife, got to know her, charmed her, formed the necessary connection, and then when Victarion was away Euron went and laid down somewhere where there was no risk of discovery and sent his spirit out. Then he went into the woman’s mind and made her come to him, wet and, in a very twisted sense, willing, and made her have sex with his prone body. Euron probably did this not just once but many times. After she became pregnant Victarion came home. She then tried to tell Victarion what had happened, only for Victarion to beat her to death to protect his honor and reputation. When Victarion later confronted him, Euron made the above boast. Recall how Osha said the following about stupid Little Walder: “The big one they call little, it comes to me he’s well named…Big outside, little inside…” (CoK Bran II). Then there’s Small Paul of the Nights Watch, the big, strong simpleton. On the surface Euron was boasting that he had seduced Victarion’s salt wife because Victarion had a small cock, but what Euron was really boasting about was mental power and Vicartion’s lack thereof. Balon then pronounced a sentence of banishment and silence and Euron happily went into the East to further develop his talent and search for dragons. He ultimately ended up building a whole new crew around his powers of abomination. His mental and physical violation of this woman would therefore have been preparation for much larger things.
Mature Euron is a predator and a slaver with a ship full of broken, defenseless, mutilated captives who cannot communicate with the outside world. Safe within the secrecy of his ship, Euron could do all sorts of strange things without attracting notice… such as taking very long midday trances. Before embarking on the conquest of the Shield Islands, Euron “rewarded” Victarion for his “loyalty” by giving him one of his captives, the Dusky Woman, to serve as Victarion’s sex slave and maid. This woman was under Euron’s control for months and over the course of her captivity raped, terrorized and mutilated by him. Euron obviously wanted Victarion to take her; when Victarion hesitates Euron tells him her only purpose was to be a gift and if he doesn’t take her she will be killed. Despite Victarion’s initial suspicion, he finds the Dusky Woman’s compliant silence pleasing and quickly takes to confiding his innermost thoughts to her. After his hand is injured she helps tend his wound as well. This wound mysteriously refuses to heal and Victarion comes to suspect poison from either Ser Serry’s blade or the Southron maester, but never from the silent and agreeable Dusky Woman who regularly tends it day after day. When Moqorro is brought to the Iron Victory the Dusky Woman shows emotion for the first time by making a low, menacing growl at the red priest, whose plans are no doubt contrary to Euron’s.
Skinchangers have been shown to be in tune with animals they’ve bound to themselves over vast distances. Ayra in Braavos dreams of Nymeria in the Riverlands. Jon in Castle Black dreams of Ghost and through Ghost Shaggydog on Skagos. Bran and Bloodraven can communicate through ravens in Castle Black and just outside Winterfell. We propose that the Dusky Woman is one of Euron’s special slaves, who he regularly skin changes into and generally keeps mental tabs on. So when Victarion is having his wound tended by the Dusky Woman, when he is confiding in the Dusky Woman, when he is having sex with the Dusky Woman, Victarion is being cared for by, talking to, and having sex with someone who might at any point be hijacked by his brother and whose mind his brother has full access to.
If this is so then what is occurring on the Iron Victory is a shadow war between Moqorro and Euron, who are both manipulating Victarion to get to Dany and her dragons. Victarion is of course completely oblivious to this as he is nothing but a puppet dancing to these unseen strings. Moqorro knows about Euron and has planned to thwart him in the abstract, but doesn’t know Euron is watching him through the Dusky Woman. Euron knows about Moqorro through the Dusky Woman but was not expecting him, a potentially fatal disruption of his original plan. How this possible shadow duel turns out is anyone’s guess, though Victarion and Dany will probably be the worse for it.
IV. The Prospective Dragon Lord
Returning to the original question, what does Euron want, assuming the Euron we have imagined is correct? The Euron outlined above is a man who actively elevates himself above humanity by imposing suffering on others. There’s more to this then just base enjoyment and ambition, as with the other villains of Ice and Fire. Euron in contrast is a man pursuing a spiritual quest into the utterly inhuman. He is attempting to become part of a supernatural order that literally feeds on people.
There is something or many a thing at work in the world of Ice and Fire that gives rewards for destroying what dearly belongs to another. There is magic in the screams of a burning sacrifice, the drugged pain of a castrated boy, the wasting of a shadowbinder’s lover, and the horrific agony of a vivisected woman. This is otherworldly power that can be gained from inflicting suffering that is above and beyond the power derived from merely material exploitation. It’s only a short leap from figuring this out about the world to deciding that this is all there is to the world; that instead of gods there are just hungry monsters and instead of questions of good and evil there is only the question of feasting with the monsters or being feasted on by them. Long ago the Undying of Qarth made such a leap and so did the Dragon Lords.
Fire and blood were the foundations of Valyria. At its heart the Empire was nothing more than a gigantic carnal house and torture chamber through which millions of slaves passed so that a few thousand warrior-sorcerers could work their will on the world. How did the Valyrians build their wonders: the Dragon Roads, the Long Bridge, the Black Wall, Dragonstone, and the far greater structures consumed in the Doom? How did they forge Valyrian steel or create glass candles? Death and pain were harvested and exchanged for everything the histories say “they made”. Whatever limits there were weren’t human ones. The tattooing of slaves in Volantis, the manufacture of Unsullied in Astapor, the thousands of rapes that occur daily in the pillow houses of Lys, the flesh powered forges in Qohor, the pit fighters training in Meereen, all these are nothing more than quaint remnants created by provincials aping or catering to the tastes of the mighty capital. All the black sorceries practiced in the shadows of Essos are either an inheritance from Valyaria or the legacy of similar societies that were just smaller in scale. If you think Euron is over the top, give him silver-blonde hair and purple eyes and you’ll have a collective portrait of the class that ruled the world for thousands of years. It was a civilization not unlike the Punic civilization imagined in A.K. Chesterton’s apologia The Everlasting Man:
The civilization that centered in Tyre and Sidon was above all things practical. It has left little in the way of art and nothing in the way of poetry. But it prided itself upon being very efficient; and it followed in its philosophy and religion that strange and sometimes secret train of thought which we have already noted in those who look for immediate effects. There is always in such a mentality an idea that there is a short cut to the secret of all success; something that would shock the world by this sort of shameless thoroughness. They believed, in the appropriate modern phrase, in people who delivered the goods. (PART 1 Chapter 6)
There was a tendency in those hungry for practical results, apart from poetical results, to call upon spirits of terror and compulsion; to move Acheron in despair of bending the gods. There is always a sort of dim idea that these darker powers will really do things, with no nonsense about it. In the interior psychology of the Punic peoples this strange sort of pessimistic practicality had grown to great proportions. In the New Town which the Romans called Carthage, as in the parent cities of Phoenicia, the god who got things done bore the name Moloch, who was perhaps identical with the other deity whom we know as Baal, the Lord. The Romans did not at first quite know what to call him or what to make of him; they had to go back to the grossest myth of Greek or Roman Origins and compare him to Saturn devouring his children. But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilization abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilized than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilized people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realize the combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with chimneypot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday at eleven o’clock to see a baby roasted alive. (Part 1 Chapter 7)
The Dragon Lords did the Carthaginians one better by sending the populations of whole countries into the furnace like mines around the fourteen flames. The official mission was to mine for gold, but there’s good reason to suspect this gold was strictly secondary and the real reason was to slowly cook the slaves to death as a colossal and continuous sacrifice. The war between Valyaria and Old Ghis was clearly inspired by war between Rome and Carthage…but who says Rome won? The Masters of Old Ghis used their countless slaves to build brick pyramids, purely material monuments that are in the process of slowly crumbling to dust, while Valyaria’s magic creations are as new and as strong and as sharp as the day they were formed. Travelers can visit the dusty ruins of Ghis and the Isle of Cedars, but no one returns from still burning Valyaria. Old Ghis was a human creation, Valyaria a demonic one.
The Dragon Lords flattered themselves that they had it all figured out before their volcanoes blew them up. Euron thinks they weren’t far wrong and would like to get it all going again, or at the very least a shadow of it, a one man Valyaria; Moqorro saw him sailing on a sea of blood. For that he needs the tools and the raw materials. He has salvaged some of the tools already, but the most important are the three in Meereen. The raw materials will be the people of Westeros.
Before the Valyrians discovered dragons and dark sorcery they were a bunch of shepherds. With dragons and blood magic they went from the lowliest of peoples to the undisputed terror of the world. Their lords lived more like gods then men. The Ironborn are also a lowly people, at least compared to the civilizations of Essos and continental Westeros, but they are already predatory and warlike and proud, good enough to work with. Euron is grabbing at three dragons; he might catch one or even two. If this happens he will get his chance.