Balon Greyjoy: Not With the Drowned God Yet
We were so delighted and surprised to see Balon Greyjoy appear in the season finale of Game of Thrones. It is a short scene, granted, but it is also an insanely powerful one that appears to be setting up a strong storyline for Balon’s daughter Yara.
RF: Yes, especially surprising as we were sure he’d be dead by this episode! We were expecting he’d have an offscreen death mentioned as an aside by Yara, which would’ve been truly disappointing. However, it was wonderful to find that his reappearance had been kept under wraps and he wasn’t dead yet! It was great to see Balon again, alive and well (albeit temporarily – it’s a George R.R. Martin story, after all).
Admin: As is usually the case, Mr. Malahide completely owns his role and gives a performance that goes well beyond the dialogue. His vocal tones, facial expressions, and general mannerisms work in tandem with the lines to make for a memorable performance.
So, without further ado, here is An Analysis of a Scene.
Balon Gets a Letter and Mystery Box
It opens with Balon opening a letter, bearing the Flayed Man seal of House Bolton.
Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands and Invader of the North.
Admin: Notice right here how Balon gives a slight smile and nod at the Invader of the North line? Maybe not even a smile, more of a pleased, smug look. At any rate, he likes to be reminded of his reaving prowess!
Also, it should be pointed that Balon’s fingernails are dirty. I’m sure that is for the sake of verisimilitude and that Mr. Malahide usually has nice, clean nails 🙂 Meanwhile, Yara is removing a rough spun fabric wrapping from what appears to be a box.
RF: It’s been so long since anyone sent him a letter! 😀 Yeah, he’s curious and yet a bit gratified…? maybe “proud” is better… to still be identified as “Invader of the North”. I also noticed his fingernails, which I thought was a really nice touch. No way would Balon have clean hands! Certainly not the Ironborn way.
I give you until the full moon to order all Ironborn scum out of the north and back to those shit-stained rocks you call home. On the first night of the full moon, I will hunt down every islander still in our lands and flay them living, the way I flayed the twenty Ironborn scum I found at Winterfell.
Admin: And this is where it starts to go all wrong. I particularly like the slight emphasis he puts on the word “flay”. He ends that bit of dialogue with a rather frustrated mashing of his lips.
RF: Also, at this point Balon has to be thinking, “Winterfell… what in the hells were Ironborn doing at Winterfell??” Clearly something has gone very, very wrong, and also very clearly, Theon has decided to improvise with Father Dearest’s orders. Theon improvising is definitely not a Good Thing.
In the box, you will find a special gift: Theon’s favorite toy. He cried when I took it away from him.
Admin: And now it gets really bad. His facial expression shows absolute concern; he knows whatever is in the box, is bad.
So, Yara opens the box and Balon takes a peek in. His little sway is so effective. Adding to the poignance of it all is Gemma’s utterly deadpan expression. She seems a whole lot more stoic about the whole thing than Balon does.
RF: Exactly. I love the ways his glance flicks up and his expression says, “Uh oh…” It’s now even more clear that Theon has gone off and done something and gotten captured in the process. Balon doesn’t know exactly what has happened yet, but he knows that whatever it is, it isn’t something he can get Theon out of easily. I was a bit surprised by Yara’s lack of emotion until I considered that Ironborn women probably don’t show their emotions very much, and the daughter of their king least of all.
RF: But the really masterful part here is Balon’s reaction. He’s visibly shocked (even leaning on something for support), then anguished, then very angry, gritting his teeth at the sight of the box’s contents and what it all means. But notice that he turns away so Yara doesn’t see any of it – not sure if that’s for her benefit or his. Is he angry at Theon for being captured, Ramsay for capturing and torturing his son, or himself for sending Theon off when he probably suspected Theon wasn’t equipped to handle a job on his own? Or some combination of all three? I think his initial reaction is especially important when you contrast it with his seeming coldness and callousness just a few moments later, when he essentially writes Theon off (or throws him under the
bus ship, if you prefer).
Admin: He does. It’s as though he is really trying to keep everything in check, which makes Yara’s stoicism that much more impressive. His anger must be a combination of all three, but he certainly appears to decide that blaming Theon is the obvious route.
Leave the North now or more boxes will follow….with more Theon.
Ramsay Snow, Natural Born Son of Roose Bolton, Lord of the Dreadfort and Warden of the North.
Admin: He reads the “with more Theon” bit as though he’s reading a bad pun that has just really annoyed him 🙂 I think this could be the moment where he resolves to take a hard line and not bother with helping Theon. Then he rushes through the sign off, possibly just refraining himself from adding “yadda-yadda-yadda”. Yeah, he definitely is getting resolved.
RF: It’s a safe bet that Balon is not appreciative of Ramsay Snow’s sense of humour. Yeah, I’d agree that it’s at this point he’s pretty much decided Theon is a write-off, as it were. His mouth compresses into a line that conveys a sort of finality. Theon’s no longer a Stark hostage for Balon’s good behaviour, but apparently the cost-benefit of going up against the Boltons doesn’t make it worthwhile for Balon to fetch his only living son back and get some revenge. A bit surprising for a pirate famed… infamous, even… for his aggression to suddenly be so reluctant. However, some viewers have mentioned the possibility that Balon might consider the letter a feint to draw him out and make him do something rash where he’ll be vulnerable, like… mount a rescue for Theon.
Has Balon Gone Squeamish?
Get that out of my sight. (Yara gives a look)
Theon disobeyed my orders. (more Yara looks)
The boy’s a fool. He cannot further the Greyjoy line. I will not give up the lands I have seized, the strongholds I have taken. Get this away from me!
Admin: Yara can give one heck of a defiant look! I think it must have unsettled him because he initially starts with an almost cajoling tone (trying to convince himself as well as her?) before going back to his usual angry voice. I wonder if her defiant expression reminds Balon of himself.
RF: He does start out almost pleading, then we get his attempt at logic (“He cannot further the Greyjoy line…”) uttered on a rising, interrogative note, as he’s obviously trying to persuade Yara to agree with him. The line itself suggests what Theon’s sole worth to him truly is – because Balon certainly has no respect for Theon’s skills as a mighty warrior, etc. Ironically enough, it was Theon’s trying to prove his mighty warrior-ness that got him into trouble in the first place. I had to wonder if that crossed Balon’s mind when he initially looked so angry; he had to know that part of why Theon disobeyed orders was an attempt to impress Dear Old Dad. I do like how Yara’s having none of it. She knows he’s attempting to equivocate and she’s got a glare equal to Dad’s. 😉 But I wondered if she was considering that Dad might find her equally expendable if she was in a similar position.
RF: I also find his obvious disgust in the “Get that out of my sight” and “Get that thing away from me!” lines to be very interesting. His voice rises on the latter and he sounds allllllmost panicky. Note that he’s demanding Yara do the deed of handling the box. Is he suddenly incredibly squeamish (odd for a pirate lord who demands the Iron Price be paid for everything), or is he just completely unable to handle the physical evidence of yet another failure and/or the horrific torture of a son he couldn’t protect? Also note his body language: he physically retreats as far away from the box (and from Yara, who’s calling him on his abandonment of Theon – again) as he can, to the point where he actually backs himself up next to the fireplace.
Admin: You’re right, Yara could be wondering how secure her future should be if things suddenly went awry for her. But, Balon must also be feeling a groundswell of pain remembering all those years he wasn’t reaving away because he had to behave himself or Ned would execute Theon. Then when his awesome plan is coming together Theon goes ahead and absolutely ruins it! Everything is bubbling to the surface with Balon as he struggles to squash it down.
And you’re also right about him whisking off to the corner and acting a bit panicked. This is a man who has put countless enemies (and victims of his pillaging) to the sword without any hesitation, so he is not naturally squeamish. Now he seems broken down and is doing everything in his power simply to hold the pieces himself together. Of course, he couldn’t just freak out and cry and ask Yara what to do, but I almost wish he had done just that.
Yara: He’s your son.
Balon: Son? He’s not a man anymore.
Yara: He’s your son. He’s my brother. He’s a Greyjoy.
Balon: Watch yourself. I have made my decision.
Admin: He gives a slightly manic look at “not a man, anymore” line. As if that line would impress Yara anyway. At any rate, he’s done arguing and gives a warning growl to Yara. Not that it works.
RF: He again sounds completely disgusted when he says, “He’s not a man anymore” as well as looking… well… somewhat crazed, is the best description I can think of. I like how he also points with horror, as if he’s pointing at a monster. So, Balon’s paternal attachment to Theon apparently ends at his usefulness for being able to continue their line. Yara sounds incredulous at his reaction; no wonder she tries to shame him and I think she succeeds, to a great extent. By this time, Balon’s completely in a defensive position – back against the wall beside the fireplace and gesturing at Yara rather impotently (pun mostly not intended – I’m so sorry, Theon!!) . He does look rather ashamed at her words, even if he’s trying to mask it with anger. I think he knows deep down that she’s right, but for whatever reason, he’s suddenly reluctant to go up against the Boltons to retrieve Theon. When Yara says “He’s a Greyjoy”, Balon looks as if he wants to hide.
RF: I also love his warning growl: “Watch yourself. I’ve made my decision.” It strikes me as his final attempt to assert control over Yara, and of course it bounces off her with no effect whatsoever. She’s seen her father’s feet of clay, as it were, and she’s decided to defy him and take action on her own, even though it’s for a brother she barely knows (and who, let’s face it, made a terrible first impression. And second. And third.). At this point Balon retreats completely, turning his back on Yara and hiding in his Sulking Chair. That’s not going to solve anything, Balon!
Admin: I love that Sulking Chair reference 🙂 He is so good at sitting in that chair and looking broody. He might be a broken, sulking thing, but at least he does it with style!
Grrl Power: Yara Greyjoy to the Rescue
Yara: And I’ve made mine. I’m going to pick the fastet ship in our fleet. I’m going to choose the fifty best killers on the Iron Islands. I’m going to sale up the narrow sea, all the way to the weakened warzone. I’m going to march on the Dreadfort. I’m going to find my little brother and I’m going to bring him home.
Admin: And with that we bid farewell to Balon for another series. I am v. hopeful (and optimistic) that he will appear in series four now 🙂 I am rather curious as to whether he will be angry or impressed over Yara’s defiance.
RF: I’m likewise so glad that it seems we’ll be getting more Balon in season four! This was a very interesting and intense scene for a mere five minutes. I was not expecting Balon to write Theon off so readily, nor was I expecting him to be so reluctant to take revenge for his son against the Boltons. It made me wonder… is Balon turning into a coward after his long period of inactivity? He did keep his word when Theon was being held hostage by the Starks. Now that they’re no longer a threat, what’s holding him back? Besides the fact that Theon’s no longer “useful” as a Greyjoy. And you’re right, it’ll be very interesting to see what he does with Yara’s defiance. You’d think that if he was completely opposed to her actions, he could’ve ordered that she was not to be given a ship and men, but he obviously didn’t do that… so perhaps he’s secretly relieved or even glad that she’s willing to take action where he couldn’t – or wouldn’t.
* Note: The “Masters of Westeros – Castle Greyjoy” toy is actually a t-shirt design available from the Mintees site. Go have a look, because it’s a truly impressive bit of graphic design. 🙂