Note: June 11 – Update coming soon 🙂 I’m delighted that Balon actually featured in the series 3 finale — but his series 3 scene does rather alter his relationship with Yara!
Lord Balon Greyjoy, self-proclaimed King of the Iron Islands is the head of House Greyjoy. Patrick Malahide played him on the second series of HBO’s Game of Thrones. While Balon did not get much screen time, he was truly captivating and even thought-provoking.
Balon is a hard man. He is ruthless, ambitious, stubborn, and cold . He is Ironborn. If he wants something, he takes it. The Greyjoy motto is “We do not sow” and Balon believes that to his very core. He is also an outdated failure. But, it is that combination which makes him so fascinating.
A Brief History
He declared himself King of the Iron Islands and led a failed uprising against King Robert of the Iron Throne. After he ‘bent the knee’ to King Robert, his only surviving son Theon was taken away from him to be a ward (or, rather, a prisoner) for Eddard Stark. This was done to ensure he would behave himself and not attempt anymore uprisings.
So, for nine years Balon remained isolated on his grim island of Pyke where he seemed to merely survive off of his own seething anger. He grew closer to his daughter Yara (Asha in the novels) and even saw her as his heir. Considering the lowly status of women in Pyke, his attitude is shockingly progressive and does not correspond with his staunch adherence to the ‘old ways’. It is contradictions like that which simply add to the enigma which is Balon.
The Kraken King
The Greyjoy sigil is the Kraken, a squid-like ocean-dwelling monster. Balon himself is sort of squid-like with his wild hair hanging in tendrils about his shoulders. He wears a long stone-grey coat that seems as though it would be hard and crunchy to the touch. His chin is covered with salty looking stubble. He genuinely looks like he belongs on that remote, grey, desolate island.
When Theon returns home to Pyke, Balon gives him the coldest of receptions. He mocks his son’s fine clothing, asking if he paid the ‘iron price’ or the ‘gold’ for the pretty chain securing his cloak. On Pyke, men do not wear ornaments that they paid gold for. However, it would be fine if he wore a piece of jewelry he took from a corpse he made. Theon paid the gold price for his. Displeased, Balon tears it from Theon’s cloak and tosses it the brazier.
But when Yara enters the room, Balon’s face softens and he greets her as ‘my dear’. He loves Yara very much, but he manages to rub that love in Theon’s face proving himself to be both loving and cruel at the exact same time. Even his emotions seem to entangle themselves like a squid’s tentacles.
A Memorable Performance
Malahide had less than ten minutes of screen time to convey this man and I am astounded at how well he did that. Balon in his desolate, cold castle warmed only by a Kraken decorated fireplace strikes me as one of the most compelling characters on Game of Thrones, a program full of compelling characters.
There is one element, however, that bothers me. In episode 8, The Prince of Winterfell, Yara confronts Theon after his sacking of Winterfell. She persuades him to come back home stating: “We both loved our mother. We both endured our father”. I know the intention of the writers was to show her trying to save Theon from his ghastly mistake but I really do not like that line. I think she loves Balon and did not ‘endure’ him. It is probably a minor nitpick but it bothers me.