What’s Your Favorite Thing about the Ironborn?

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Are the Ironborn badasses? Brave? Boring? What do you love about them? Yara’s bravery?

You can select more than one answer in the poll.

(No doubt I’ve missed stuff so feel free to add what you think is cool about the Ironborn — or what you hate about them — in the comments below.)

What are the most interesting things about the Ironborn?

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Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

10 Comments

  • Reply June 3, 2016

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    To be honest the Iron Islands – or at least the later part when they started bringing in all the “nuncles” didn’t appeal to me that much. I liked the nod to Grace O’Malley in Asha (Yara) but I’ve never understood why Euron was considered so “awesome”. He just seemed an evil thug to me, even if he was a thug with some brain, and was introduced somewhat late into the game. The eyepatch was a little too reminiscent of Long John Silver (in R L Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”) for my taste. I was drawn in by Theon’s early trip to the Iron Islands in “Clash of Kings” though of course it didn’t go well and Theon’s dire actions at Winterfell led to him ultimately falling into Ramsay’s hands.

    I suppose

    POSSIBLE BOOK SPOILERS

    that Victarion’s and Euron’s long sea journeys bore some relation to the Viking, Leif Erikson’s voyages as he is believed to have landed on the North American shore long before Cristobal Colombus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leif_Erikson

  • Reply June 3, 2016

    Jun

    After hearing the Aeron chapter at last week’s Balticon (there are several online summaries and transcripts by fans), I am more intrigued by Euron. It was suggested that Euron’s crazy dream of world domination may be fueled by visions induced by drinking the shade of evening. In other words, he had visions in the same way Daenerys did in the House of the Undying. Euron gave Aeron the same drink so that Aeron can share his visions, which suggests an apocalyptic Ragnarok with deaths of many gods. The chapter adds to the depth of Euron’s character, which is even worse than we have learned from AFFC and ADWD. He is likely more dangerous than Ramsay Bolton because he is smarter.

    The Kingsmoot is fascinating to me, in part because of its prophetic power. Here people can choose between a woman who is smart, brave, and sensible, pointing out a way to adapt to a new world to survive and thrive for the tribe and a man who is batsh*t crazy and inflame everyone’s grandiose ego. Of course the people choose the magalomaniac who will lead them all the way to self-destruction. That was written in the early 2000s. Yes, people will willingly choose self-destruction over survival and prosperity, if only to avoid changing their rigid view of the world and themselves.

    Others online have pointed out how the refugee crisis in reality is eerily similar to the wilding refugee crisis at the Wall, which led to the mutiny in the Night’s Watch. I wonder if Martin is as shocked as I am by his prophetic powers. Of course this is not magic. People change very slowly, and history continues to repeat itself. This is why I love how this Web site opened the door to history via ASOIAF. I feel like I am seeing the world through new and clearer lenses.

    I suspect that Martin is generally a pessimist. At Balticon he recited some verses from Yeats’ The Second Coming: Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” He quoted this while discussing the current state of Hugo awards, but I got the feeling that this is how he sees current affairs in general.

    • Reply June 5, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Well, having tried to follow in GRRM’s footsteps (from a historical reading perspective) for the last few years, if he is a pessimist, I can see why. The more I read about the history of warfare and oppression, the more I despair about the state of the world in the past and even today. 🙁 I can never get over how much evil and inhumanity there was and is.

      I’ve been rereading the Ironborn chapters of ASOIAF this weekend and some Viking history, which isn’t ideal because I keep starting articles and jumping on to new topics trying to align publication schedules with the show.

      But, anyway, I just *love* Asha — I really do. I don’t know as she is my favorite character, but she is definitely one of the top 5 I think. The chauvinism of her family does grate — that’s nothing to do with GRRM, he’s just creating (or I’d argue recreating) a world — but Yara/Asha rocks.

    • Reply June 6, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      I’m just rereading your comment. You bring up a good point… the Wildlings are like a refugee crisis. And you’re right, when you think of Syria, it is prophetic.

      Also, thanks for this — it’s so kind, and comments like this make my day.
      “This is why I love how this Web site opened the door to history via ASOIAF. I feel like I am seeing the world through new and clearer lenses.”

      To be honest, this website is like “GRRM guided history.” I would argue that this website presents a very specific interpretation of history. It is (in general) anti-war, anti-nobility/elite, anti-slavery and oppression, pro-peasant and commoner, pro-minority, and anti-white washing (in every sense of that phrase).

      Although I would certainly characterize myself as liberal in many ways, I am afterall Canadian, I would not necessarily have characterized my views on history using the phrases I used in the last paragraph. My views on history were no more sophisticated, examined, or enlightened, than what I had been taught in university.

      The phrases I used in the third paragraph are the phrases I would use to describe
      GRRM’s views. However, in order to uncover his perspective, which is often very different than the received perspective, I had to read many different sources and mentally challenge what I read.

      For example, few professional historians explicitly condemn the behaviour of medieval knights. I think this is because social history, heraldric history, military history, and political history are often so sioloed it feels like they are separate disciplines. There is also this pernicious, and I would argue harmful, myth of the need for moral relativism. This stems from anthroplogy,but frankly it is too indescriminately applied. Because the sources don’t criticize medieval knights, we shouldn’t either. But this just perpetuates the voices of the oppresors of the past. The views of people they victimized aren’t captured in the historical record because they were illiterate. But I digress.

      Trying to look at these fromthe perspective of somebody whom I perceive to be a conscientious/objector pacifist – and find historical connections looking at history through that lense — compelled me to challenge my own beliefs.

      To be honest, working on this blog has changed my life — or at a minimum, how I see the world.

      GRRM joked once that when it came to grounding ASOIAF in real history and doing research, that he favors the “total immersion method”. I’ve always assumed that this refers to the staggering amount of historical research he did. I.e., buy another house and build a book tower to house all of the books he used to research ASOIAF! (Okay, maybe it isn’t the whole house but it is his entire second floor. 🙂 )

      I think one reason GRRM spent decades of his life and went to so much work to create ASOIAF — with all its layers of symbolism, theme, allusions, characters, maps, and historical symbolism — is because he is trying obliquely to say some very important things, which I suspect he must be passionate about.

      If I ever manage to get them out, and this season is not going well! 🙂 , some of my next articles will clarify what I mean. They are more political.

      Ultimately, while GRRM has profoundly influenced my view of history and the world, this website will never accurately depict his views because it is my interpretation of his views. That is, I see GRRM’s work through my own lens, and I may see what I want to see. Jamie Adair’s GRRM might be a little harsher towards knights and softer on pacificism than the real GRRM is. But now I’m blathering on. Bottom line I agree with you about how GRRM’s view of history is revolutionary in some ways.

      • Reply June 6, 2016

        Jun

        Well, I suppose it’s not possible to have a thorough discussion about this subject in the comments section. We may need to have a heated discussion, preferably with GRRM himself in the room, for 3 days and 3 nights. 🙂

        I am not entirely sure that GRRM’s own view of history is entirely anti-establishment, anti-aristocracy, and anti-war. True, we can tell that he is a humanist, but he has also made some rather counter-intuitive suggestions about ruling and managing people. For example, is a kindly and compassionate person a good fit for a king? See Tywin, who is one of your favorites. While I cannot stand him, GRRM seems to say that he is good for the kingdom, even if bad for his children. In the prequels (Dunk and Egg series), we met this wonderful, kind, generous, warm, and very sweet person who became Aegon the Unlikely, who behaved like the best king that we all want and who could be our best friend. Guess what? His reign was a disaster because he was the opposite of ruthless. This is some of my frustration about increasingly common claims that Daenerys is a villain or at least mad, only because she kills her enemies or burn them.

        The ASOIAF series, I think, at least try to be more objective (for lack of a better term) in presenting an indifferent universe (which is our universe) than perhaps GRRM’s own feelings. The Dunk and Egg series, on the other hand, are probably closer to GRRM’s heart. We get the unabashed tenderness and overflowing melancholy and all of what you wrote laid bare (very, very pro-small folk).

        • Reply June 6, 2016

          Jamie Adair

          Ha. I’d love to have a heated discussion with you and GRRM for three days.

          Watcher, I just thought of you. I clicked Enter and the site just blew up a long comment I’d drafted. Aaargh!! Sadly I don’t know how to prevent this from happening. (I use WordPress and a commercial web hosting company. I suspect it is a software or hosting glitch.)

          re: Your comment Jun
          re: Tywin
          Yes, I love Tywin and all many of those other villainous characters. I also think that Tywin was not necessarily as bad as everyone thinks. I still maintain the Red Wedding saved lives by eliminating one theater of the war. I think Tywin really exemplified the values of his day and tried to do right by his family by ensuring they had a legacy to protect.

          I don’t think GRRM’s implied thoughts about what makes a good ruler are counterintuitive — well perhaps they are. They just aren’t what fairy tales have led us to believe. (I guess that is what counterintuitive means.) Does it really matter whether Tywin is crappy to his kids, Tyrion sleeps with whores, or Bill Clinton has affairs, if they are good rulers? Do we get distracted when we try to evaluate the moral goodness of our politicians rather than evaluate their general competence? Does a leader need to be the kind of guy we want to go for a beer with? I’d like to think that Tywin was the kind of guy who would have checked a potential invading army before it massacred the citizens he was charged with protecting rather than standing on his moral principles?

          As ornery as the little bear was, Lyanna Mormont was right to challenge the Stark/Snows and not immediately acquiesce to their request. Regardless of her duty as a vassal, I would say her duty to protect her people should come first. She was right to think of that.

          Most of my free time goes towards reading medieval history. If GRRM is very very pro-small folk in Dunk and Egg, I may just have to read it!

  • Reply June 6, 2016

    Starrigger2

    I can hardly stand to watch the show, it’s so ugly and violent, but I’d bet plenty of people in the world have such experiences. If only they’d also show some of the generosity and good side, too.
    And I agree–Asha/Yara rocks!

    • Reply June 6, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      The violence in the show doesn’t bother me that much because I think it is “responsible violence.” I think it is better to flinch when you see a violent scene in a TV show or movie rather than feel nothing. E.g., Reservoir Dogs’ ear scene vs. The Matrix’s shoot out. But, the violence on the show still makes me squirm. I did *not* enjoy watching the Theon castration scene the 8+ times it took to write that article on castration. 🙁 🙁

  • Reply June 7, 2016

    Starrigger2

    Yes, I hadn’t thought of that–flinching is good.
    But how long until you flinch less? Other shows will go this route because it’s doing so well for GOT. And not as responsibly. Bleak thought.
    I still wish the show were more balanced–showing the astonishing good that people do. And sometimes they even survive and thrive that way! But of course, not in times when people are fighting, literally, for power and the law of the land is mostly gangs with a few candles of civilization beckoning here and there.

  • Reply June 8, 2016

    Apocalyptic Queen

    Agree with everything that has been said. I used to find Yara (and indeed the rest of the Greyjoys) quite boring, but with her now venturing to treat with Daenerys, we are seeing more of her personality and she will be part of an exciting storyline going forward.

    Needless to say, I really like her. She envokes a Boudica-type character.

    I feel there is some TV foreshadowing suggesting that Daenerys will work with her. They have a lot in common: both female rulers have had to prove themselves militarily and strategically, they have both been usurped by those with less legitimacy to their titles, and they have both lost their fathers to “Kingslayers”.

    I feel Dany (perhaps, more of a Cleopatra than a Boudica) will see much of herself in Yara, and there is also the big speech Dany made to the Dothraki hordes. Elements of this was echoed in Yara’s conversation with Theon when she asked him, “are you with me”.

    I doubt Dany will pass Yara over for Euron. He is after all, a Kingslayer for killing Balon (and we know how Dany feels about Kingslayers), plus, she may have access to other potential allies that Daenerys could enlist – the Starks, the Tullys and the Arryns.

    All the same, wonder if there are any historical parallels to draw from?

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