It’s true! Against all expectations – including ours – and a last-minute flurry of internet rumours claiming we’d see an appearance by Patrick Malahide, or Gemma Whelan, or both, in the Game of Thrones finale for season 5 – which made us think Balon might finally be taking that long walk on one of Pyke’s bridges – Balon Greyjoy is actually the last of the original Five Kings left not only standing, but (apparently) still alive and breathing! (Note: These things are not always mutually exclusive on Game of Thrones.) So naturally, Admin and I had to break out our ukeleles to celebrate. 😉
Admin: Those rumors about Patrick Malahide appearing in the season 5 finale were so confusing. I honestly didn’t know if I wanted Balon to appear or not. It was the weirdest season yet and easily the most conflicting for me in terms of how I felt about it.
RF: Yeah, I found it to be one of the bleaker seasons, with a lot of time spent on certain storylines and characters to the detriment of others. I’m rather glad Mr. Malahide didn’t appear; I figured that if Balon did show up, it would be only to show him dying, and there were already more than enough crammed-in cliffhangers and character deaths to go around. It wouldn’t have done him justice.
RF: But now, what can we expect since Balon’s won the War of the Five Kings (albeit by default – but don’t tell him that, because he’ll just get cranky), and is, in fact, the very last of the original Westeros kings left alive? Admittedly, we’re not expecting very much because showrunners Benioff and Weiss seem only too happy to leave the Greyjoy storyline languishing on the back burner, along with many others. Still, we have a few thoughts on the matter. Please note: spoilers ahead for the series up to and including season 5, and the books up to A Dance with Dragons.
What About Stannis and Melisandre’s Leech Magic?
RF: A big dud, apparently, just like Stannis. Oops, did I type that out loud? 😉 I am, of course, referring to Stannis Baratheon’s attempt to vanquish three of his chosen enemies – Joffrey Baratheon (his own nephew, sort of), Robb Stark, and Balon – through magic worked by R’hllor priestess Melisandre, using leeches engorged with blood involuntarily provided by Gendry, bastard son of King Robert Baratheon, whose death touched off this entire mess. For some inexplicable reason, rather than using his third leech to kill off a much more immediate and formidable enemy like Daenerys Targeryen (who even has dragons!), Stannis decided to blow it wishing death on Balon. Must’ve been a bad leech, because while Joffrey and Robb were killed in various suitably gruesome ways, Balon completely escaped and is even now sulking away happily on Pyke. Maybe it was an ironic wishing leech, like the Monkey’s Paw, so it was bound to backfire. But even if the leech eventually works, Stannis won’t be around to enjoy it because [SPOILER!] he seemingly met his own death in the season finale. Doesn’t seem to be much point now, does there?
Admin: Well, there is still some speculation about whether or not Stannis is dead, but I absolutely believe he is dead. And I’m glad because he totally deserves it. Anyone who thought Balon was Game of Thrones‘ worst father got one heck of a wake-up call. Now I’m extra glad that last leech was a dud. And since Balon has won the War of the Five Kings by default, I’d love to see a scene where he learns of Stannis’ death and gets to revel in it all. The Wolf Pup, the Deviant Little Lion, and the Stupid Stag are all dead! Long live the Cranky Kraken!
RF: I do think leaving Stannis’ death as ambiguous as they did, when they’ve gone to some lengths to show other characters’ deaths in all their grisly detail (Oberyn Martell, anyone?) is kind of a cheat. But you’re right that Balon likely won’t shed too many tears if/when he finds out about it.
What About Euron?
RF: The Watchers on the Wall site has uncovered a casting call for a character described as:
Pirate, man in his 40’s to late 50’s. He’s “an infamous pirate who has terrorized seas all around the world. Cunning, ruthless, with a touch of madness.”
He’s a dangerous-looking man. A very good part this season.
…which sounds an awful lot like Euron Greyjoy, Balon’s bad boy younger brother, to us. That’s “bad boy” by Ironborn standards, which means he’s very, very, very bad, indeed. He’s so bad Balon banished him from the Iron Islands for the duration of his lifetime, which leaves a rather careless loophole. It’s widely suspected that Euron is behind Balon’s (upcoming) assassination – so his appearance in season 6 means Balon’s time might be very limited. He’s certainly first in line at the Kingsmoot to take the Seastone Chair (not to be confused with Balon’s Sulking Chair).
Admin: When Balon thinks you’re bad, you’re bad! Now in order for all this Kingsmoot and Seastone Chair stuff to have maximum impact (assuming they want it to have any impact at all), the series does need to properly establish Balon’s role as King of the Iron Islands. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that Ramsay made fun of them with his “those shit-stained rocks you call home” note. It would be nice to see if they are actually more than that and to understand why anyone would want to rule them bad enough to partake in a Kingsmoot and face off with the likes of Euron. So, before Balon goes across any rickety bridges, I really want to see some aspects of his ruling and power.
RF: That’s right, aside from some initial raid-planning with Theon and Yara, we haven’t really seen very much of Balon as a king. Since the Seastone Chair is seized and held by popular appeal as well as proving individual might, you’d think he has to know what he’s doing. Even so, he surprised Theon by not wanting to go after the Lannisters (good decision, as it turned out), so it would be interesting to know just how he does plan on seizing more power. The Ironborn have been distinctly underwhelming in every battle we’ve seen them in so far, so perhaps they’d do better with their Lord Reaper leading them.
Admin: His strategy of picking off loads of smaller places while the others fight amongst themselves is a pretty good one in theory. It would be great to see that he and his people have benefited from that method.
What about Theon?
RF: After far… *FAAAAAAAARRR* too much time spent on Theon/Reek’s horrific torment at the hands of Ramsay Snow (ugh 😛 ), Theon finally escaped Ramsay’s clutches and took Sansa Stark with him in season 5. In the books, he and Jeyne Poole (who was replaced by Sansa in the tv version – long story) are captured and brought to Stannis, who’s also holding Theon’s sister Asha (called Yara in the tv version – long story) prisoner. Well, with Stannis dead, that ain’t gonna happen… so what is?
RF: I think it could be a very interesting alternative, especially in light of the fact that Theon was once held hostage by Sansa’s father Ned Stark for Balon’s good behaviour, if the shoe was on the other foot and Balon now had the opportunity to host Sansa. What would he do with the situation? Would he turn it to his advantage? If so, how? It would also seem a safe bet that Balon’s likely to be somewhat enraged by Theon’s treatment at Ramsay’s hands; Theon is broken, mentally unstable, and barely functioning as Reek, certainly nothing like the son Balon last saw, even if he was a total screw-up then. Wouldn’t it be natural for Balon to seek revenge, even though he wrote Theon off in season 2? And what would he do when Ramsay demands Sansa back?
Admin: That is a storyline I would love. Of course, I doubt very highly it would happen, but it would be awesome. Well, awesome only if he were truly playing host to Sansa and treating her with every respect. (I’m a Sansa fan.) I absolutely agree that the show has spent far, far, far too much time on Ramsay. The Ramsay character is actually ruining the show for me. He is too cruel, waaaaaay too successful, and is less believable a character than that Mother of Dragons lady. Plus, I’d love to see at least one more meeting between Balon and Theon. Game of Thrones isn’t big on sentimental, emotional moments, but I’d like to see one no matter how unlikely it is.
RF: I’d love to see Balon’s face when he realizes he’s in the position of providing sanctuary for one of Ned Stark’s children. 😀 And I’d like to see his reaction to Theon’s return, too. Would he be able to muster up a shred of compassion for the son he wrote off? Also agreed that Ramsay’s victories have been completely unearned so far; they usually take place off-camera and/or we hear about them after the fact, so we’re told he’s a successful tactician (say what??) without ever seeing any proof. It just seems awfully contrived, convenient… and annoying.
What About Yara?
RF: We’ve said it before, but it still seems like a huge wasted opportunity not to capitalize on Balon’s incredible longevity by showing what he and Yara have been getting up to while he’s not dead. Balon sent Yara out on a number of high-powered raids and she hasn’t been captured by Stannis… so what has she been doing? After all, she is her father’s designated heir. Wouldn’t it be a nice father-daughter bonding activity to go out and do some pillaging together? Plus it would get Balon out of Pyke and onto the deck of a ship, which both Admin and I have been longing to see, and show what the Iron Islands will be missing when their king’s no longer there.
RF: I also feel compelled to point out that, in the face of the conduct of some other Westeros fathers with regards to their daughters (*cough*Stannis*cough*), Balon should really be in the running for Westeros Father of the Year. He’s a peach compared to all the others.
Admin: I know 🙂 Get the man on a ship! I have missed seeing Yara. Her botched attempt at saving Theon/Reek from Ramsay was such a disappointment. It was the first in what became a long line of unlikely victories for Ramsay. Why could she not have thrown an axe at his shirtless chest? It weakened her character just to make his unaccountably stronger. I thought we would at least get a scene of her telling Balon that the Theon they knew was “gone,” but we didn’t. I would like to see how she and Balon coped with that, or at least know if she ever told him or not.
RF: True, there’s been a distinct time gap since we last saw Yara. Is she still out there raiding villages or did she go home? But it was a little hard to believe that with fifty (or however many it was) of the very best, handpicked Ironborn warriors making up her attacking force for the Dreadfort raid, that they’d be so easily defeated by shirtless Ramsay, some guards, and a couple of dogs. Presumably they’re only accustomed to knocking over villages without dogs. :-/ The main point of that scene was probably to show Yara discovering how far gone Theon was, but as you say, it had the effect of weakening her character as well as the Ironborn reputation.
Admin: Yeah, I agree the main focus was to display just how damaged Theon/Reek was. I wish they’d just done it without involving Ramsay like that. Of course, I wish they’d stop involving Ramsay full stop.
And… How Is Balon Going to Die?
RF: In the books, Balon meets his end on a rickety bridge during a storm, at the hands of an unknown assassin, possibly one of the Faceless Men in Euron’s employ. There’s been speculation that everyone from Jaqen H’ghar to newly minted junior assassin Arya Stark will carry out the deed. But even the fact of Balon’s death remains uncertain, since the body believed to be his has been rendered unidentifiable by crabs gnawing at its eye sockets (eeeuuwww…). But Benioff and Weiss have already proven that they’re willing to go waaaayyy off book for deaths, including those of major characters such as Stannis, so anything they might do to Balon is up for grabs. He’s already lived much longer than he was supposed to, and it would be nice if his extended life was put to some purpose, rather than just being the result of neglect. There’s a ton of potential to putting more into the Greyjoy storyline; after being so long absent, we hope that Benioff and Weiss capitalize on that potential before sending Balon to his fate.
Admin: I actually hope it isn’t one of the Faceless Men. I like the Arya storyline, but I’d rather they keep a tight focus on her learning the ropes (through trial by fire, those Faceless Men are hardcore) in Meereen rather than have anyone going to Pyke to do in Balon. And you are right about his book death being uncertain. When they said his eyes were eaten by crabs (and you know he’d been in the water for a while), I had to wonder if it was him at all. Not that I’m expecting a big Balon is Alive reveal in the upcoming Winds of Winter, but you never know. 😉 But, no matter how they do it, I hope they wait a while and give us a chance to get to know a lot more about Balon first.