FULL Analysis of New Winds of Winter Excerpt: “The Forsaken” (Aeron I)

THIS IS NOT A DRILL, REPEAT, NOT A DRILL.

At Balticon 2016 the other night, GRRM read out a brand-new Aeron Damphair chapter from TWOW. Many many thoughts on the chapter below the cut:

My initial reaction was one of rather petty dismay, that this chapter made Euron Crowseye out to be a much bigger deal than I thought he was, and that I would have to pay out my bet with BryndenBFish (and others? Can’t remember, it’s been a while) about the Euron vs. Redwyne naval showdown. However, on reflection, I’ve come to an intermediate position between “Euron is a sideshow, Redwynes will win because we need to get to the White Walkers” and “oh crap I’m totally wrong, this is going to take forever,” which I will explain below.

To get initial impressions out of the way, let me say that this is an amazing chapter and you all need to read it right away. GRRM was clearly relishing the opportunity to go full-on metal album cover with this one, and the apocalyptic imagery has a shock and impact that cannot be ignored and downplayed. Between the really gruesome violence, the mind-bending psychedelia of the visions, and Euron’s anime villainness turned up to 11, I found myself genuinely rattled – so much so that I think I missed some of the most important stuff in the chapter my first read-through, and only on a second read did I get a handle on what’s going on.  Indeed, I would highly recommend that everyone who read it goes back and reads it a second time in a somewhat calmer environment, so that you can actually pay attention to what’s going on beneath the freaky visuals.

The Political Situation of the Iron Islands

One of the big things we can take away from this chapter is a very definitive answer to what’s going on and what’s likely to go on with the politics of the Iron Islands. While many of us, myself included, thought that Aeron was going to “go to Great Wyk to Harlow to Orkmont to Pyke itself.  In every town and village shall my words be heard. No godless man may sit the seastone chair!” it turns out that Euron’s mutes bushwacked him while he was communing with the sea and he’s been in the hold of the Silence the whole time.

Which means that there’s no religious rebellion on the islands (although Aeron’s men are still there without their leader, so it’s not as if Euron’s sewn up every loose end), and Erik Ironmaker is still in charge. Which in turn raises the question of whether we’re going to get a Torgon Latecomer scenario with Theon and Asha  – although the show seems to be going with Theon and Asha hooking up with Dany, it’s still an option in the books, although it’ll be significantly harder without Euron raising up the common people to pull down Euron’s regime.

At the same time, we learn that Euron doesn’t actually care about holding onto the Iron Islands after all, which renders moot a lot of the explainers people have written about how unstable that conquest was:

“Why should I want to hold them?” His brother’s smiling eye glittered in the lantern light, blue and bold and full of malice. “The Shields have served my purpose. I took them with one hand, and gave them away with the other. A great king is open-­handed, brother. It is up to the new lords to hold them now. The glory of winning those rocks will be mine forever. When they are lost, the defeat will belong to the four fools who so eagerly accepted my gifts.”

In this new context, we see that Euron only really wanted the Shield Islands so that he could give them away – Euron is definitely a monster and definitely crazy, but he absolutely understands that in feudal politics “a great king is open-handed” (and how that can cut both ways) – to Harras Harlaw, Andrik the Unsmiling, Maron Volmark and Nute the Barber, thus eliminating any chance that Victarion could turn his faction against Euron.

In the short-term, it’s a very interesting political move, because the Iron Islands are not exactly rich with manpower, and having already sent away the Iron Fleet, Euron can’t particularly afford to keep sacrificing his own men as pawns. Yes, the Reachermen might get bloodied taking back the Shield Isles, but they have more pawns to trade with. It’s almost like Euron doesn’t care about the larger strategic picture…more of which in a minute.

Aeron and Faith

To me, the most effective thematic through-line of the chapter is its depiction of Aeron Damphair’s “dark night of the soul.” Throughout this chapter, Aeron is experiencing a complete religious crisis, and is constantly trying and failing to extricate himself from it. Which is entirely appropriate, because the last time we saw him, Aeron was having a major crisis of faith as the Kingsmoot he had called placed a godless man on the Seastone chair:

The kingsmoot had chosen Euron Crow’s Eye but the kingsmoot was made of men, and men were weak and foolish things, too easily swayed by gold and lies. I summoned them here, to Nagga’s bones in the Grey King’s Hall. I called them all together to choose a righteous king, but in their drunken folly, they have sinned. It was for him to undo what they had done.

Indeed, throughout this chapter, Aeron’s resentment toward everyone who let him down will find expression as a kind of religious misanthropy, leading him to conclude that “This was a lesson for him. Put not your trust in men.” Instead of men, Aeron redoubles his efforts with the Drowned God in his hopes for quite literal salvation.

The problem for Aeron, as it has been throughout the series, is that his faith is ultimately hollow. As much as he believes with all his might in the Drowned God, the truth that he cannot bring himself to accept is that the Drowned God has never come to him, never rewarded his faith with grace and mystery. And so, like many people of faith who do not feel the presence of the divine, he tricks himself into imagining it:

Mingled with the distant roar of song and celebration coming up from the beach, he’d heard the faint creak of longships settling on the strand. He heard the keening of the wind and now whines. He heard the pounding of the waves, the hammer of his god calling him to battle. And there and then, the Drowned God had come to him once more, his voice welling up from the depths of the sea.

“Aeron, my good and faithful servant, you must tell the Ironborn that the Crow’s Eye is no true king, that the seastone chair by rights belonged to… to… to…”

Not Victarion. Victarion had offered himself to the captains and kings but they had spurned him.

Not Asha. In his heart, Aeron had always loved Asha best of all his brother Balon’s children. The Drowned God had blessed her with a warrior’s spirit and the wisdom of a king—but he had cursed her with a woman’s body, too. No woman had ever ruled the Iron Islands. She should never have made a claim. She should have spoken for Victarion, added her own strength to his.

It was not too late, Aeron had decided as he shivered in the sea. If Victarion took Asha for his wife, they could yet rule together, king and queen. In ancient days, each isle had its Salt King and its Rock King. Let the Old Way return.

Aeron Damphair had struggled back to shore, full of fierce resolve. He would bring down Euron, not with sword or axe but with the power of his faith. Padding lightly across the stones, his hair plastered black and dank across his brow and cheeks, he stopped for a moment to push it back out of his eyes.

As we see in this passage, Aeron’s dialogue with the Drowned God is actually a monologue in two parts where he’s speaking both roles. The Drowned God doesn’t really exist for him outside of being a ratifier of his own desires and beliefs – hence it addresses him with the warmth and respect he desires, councils him to pursue the course of action he already has set upon, and most tellingly of all, the Drowned God hesitates at the exact point where Aeron himself is most conflicted.

In this, Aeron reminds me most of Deacon Vorbis from Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods, another fanatic who used religion to justify torture, war, and murder on a grand scale, who when he was forced to look inward could find no faith in anything except himself, and who ultimately confused the echo of his own thoughts bouncing off the insides of his skull with the voice of Om:

His confusion about what to do next breaks him out of character enough that we see Aeron’s own voice returning, assessing his options and indulging in a bit of recrimination and second-guessing. This isn’t a prophet receiving a message from Outside, this is an ordinary man doing a bit of political calculation and trying to come up with a new formula – in this case, the rather outre and unlikely to succeed coalition-by-way-of-nuncle-marriage ticket of Asha and Victarion as dual monarchs. To me, that’s the biggest tell – at a subconscious level, Aeron doesn’t really believe in the Old Way as a monolithic, consistent, and inerrant guide, but rather as a set of contradictory political symbols that he can manipulate to get the outcome he wants and then retroactively bless it as orthodoxy.

But at a conscious level, he still believes and throughout the chapter is trying to interpret what’s happened to him through that lens. Thus, when he’s feeling powerless and frightened and in pain, Aeron reverts to Job’s logic of “where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?”:

A weaker man might have wept, but Aeron Damphair prayed, waking, sleeping, even in his fever-dreams he prayed. My god is testing me. I must be strong, I must be true…

Aeron Damphair hardly heard her. Victarion is gone, half a world away or dead. Surely the Drowned God was testing him…Only my faith can save me now.

And when the other priests are brought in, leading Aeron to fear torture and mutilation, he changes the script again to give himself a little bit of confidence:

The Drowned God protects me, the priest told himself. He is stronger than the false gods these other worship, stronger than their black sorceries. The Drowned God will set me free.

Finally, in the depths of his dark night of the soul, Aeron turns to a more profound form of prayer, one directed upwards and not inwards, spiritually pointing a finger at the Drowned God and reminding him (again, like Job) that “you owe me”:

That night, when the tide came rushing back into the prison cell, he prayed that it might rise all  night, enough to end his torment. I have been your true and leal servant, he prayed, twisting in his chains. Now snatch me from my brother’s hand, and take me down beneath the waves, to be seated at your side!

But no deliverance came. Only the mutes, to undo his chains and drag him roughly up a long stone stair to where the Silence floated on a cold black sea.

But just like before, the Drowned God does not answer (not even to explain condescendingly that it’s not your place to ask questions). No miracles showing the hand of a living god at work in the world, and in a world where the Old Gods can send their will through time and space and turn the earth and the sea into weapons, where dead men are brought back to life through the fiery communion of R’hllor, that speaks volumes.

But to give Aeron Greyjoy credit, this doesn’t break him. Despite everything, he finds enough iron in his soul to conduct himself admirably in the real theological dialogue in this chapter, namely the one between himself and Euron Crowseye:

“Still praying, priest? Your god has forsaken you.”

“You’re wrong.”

“It was me who taught you how to pray, little brother. Have you forgotten? I would visit your bedchamber at night when I had too much to drink. You shared a room with Urrigon high up in the seatower. I could hear you praying from outside the door. I always wondered: Were you praying that I would choose you or that I would pass you by?” Euron pressed the knife to Aeron’s throat.

“…That which is dead cannot die,” said Aeron fiercely. “For he who has tasted death once need never fear again. He was drowned, but he came forth stronger than before, with steel and fire.”

“Will you do the same, brother?” Euron asked. “I think not. I think if I drowned you, you’ll stay drowned. All gods are lies, but yours is laughable. A pale white thing in the likeness of a man, his limbs broken and swollen and his hair flipping in the water while fish nibble at his face. What fool would worship that?”

“He’s your god as well,” insisted the Damphair. “And when you die, he will judge you harshly, Crow’s Eye. You will spend eternity as a sea slug, crawling on your belly eating shit. If you do not fear to kill your own blood, slit my throat and be done with me. I’m weary of your mad boastings.”

Leaving aside Euron’s particular brand of atheism (which I’ll discuss more in a minute) Euron represents an existential threat to Aeron’s faith, not merely because he’s a madman bent on setting off the apocalypse (more on which in a moment), but more importantly because of their dark intimacy. When Euron says “it was me who taught you to pray,” he speaks with an abuser’s certainty at the damage he inflicted on his victim’s psyche. But his argument is even crueler than that: he’s essentially saying that Aeron only believes because Euron’s abuse drove him to religion, and (buried underneath a barbed jab that makes use of Euron’s double-edged use of sexuality far better than the show did) suggests either that Aeron was so weak that he was praying that Euron would abuse Urrigon instead of him, or that Aeron or praying to be abused.

Speaking of existential victories, Aeron wins a small one in this chapter simply by not giving in in the face of this onslaught. He sticks to his guns, insisting that the Drowned God will uphold the moral economy of the universe against Euron’s nihilism, and spits defiance back in his brother’s face. And Aeron’s defiance is important here, because what Euron wants from him (in a Drama 101 scene-building sense) is the same thing that all abusers want from their victims: complicity through retroactive consent. And this too, has its religious connotations:

“Pray to me. Beg me to end your torment, and I will.”

“I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to be my priest.”

In this particular case, what Euron wants isn’t just proof that “it was love, not abuse,” but religious validation. He wants Damphair to recognize him as a god, not so much for public, political reasons (as we see later, Euron has surrounded himself with true believers who don’t give a damn for Damphair) but for personal reasons. If Euron can get the true believer to ratify his divinity, to get Euron to deny the faith that sustained him during his abuse and gave him a new purpose in life, he wins a complete and total victory. Aeron will love Big Brother.

Despite everything, Aeron refuses. He keeps to his faith, and from his defiance he draws a last gasp of hope and pride before everything goes to hell:

The sea. I can smell the sea. The Drowned God has not abandoned me. The sea will make me whole again! That which is dead can never die, but rises again harder and stronger…

“Take me to the water,” he commanded, as if he were still back on the Iron Islands surrounded by his drowned men, but the mutes were his brother’s creatures and they paid him no heed.

As full of despair as “The Forsaken” can be, these are the exact kind of moments that makes GRRM’s writing Romantic rather than nihilistic, that separates ASOIAF from so much “deconstructive” fantasy novels. Here, even when things are at their darkest, there are some moments of hope that break the darkness. Because even as Aeron Damphair is lashed to the prow of Euron’s ship, a completely helpless figurehead to what is going to happen now, he is moved to do something he’s never done before:

 

…“Falia Flowers,” he called. “Have courage, girl! All this will be over soon, and we will feast together in the Drowned God’s watery halls.”

 

After so many years of treating his faith as something to justify his own desires, as something that condemned and decreed but never comforted or forgave, finally Aeron uses his faith to help others, ministering to a soul in need, and putting their needs above his own. Whether it will do any good, we will have to wait and see…

The Two Visions

In addition to Aeron’s religious ordeal, he also undergoes two forced prophetic experiences at the hands of his brother and his penchant for the wine of the warlocks, sweeter than your seawater, with more  truth in it than all the gods of earth.” And this is where the metal-album imagery and psychedelia really begins to kick in, because Aeron has one hell of a bad trip. It starts, as all the best nightmares do, with a vision of ghost of the past:

“Urri!” he cried. There is no hinge here, no door, no Urri. His brother Urrigon was long dead, yet there he stood. One arm was black and swollen, stinking with maggots, but he was still Urri, still a boy, no older than the day he died.

“You know what waits below the sea, brother?”

“The Drowned God,” Aeron said, “the watery halls.”

Urri shook his head. “Worms… worms await you, Aeron.”

When he laughed his face sloughed off and the priest saw that it was not Urri but Euron, the smiling eye hidden.

In some ways, this is the most expected thing to appear in these visions – Urrigon was Aeron’s closest brother, the brother he shared a room with that was the place of his abuse, and the brother whose accidental death due to Aeron’s drunken axe-throwing he clearly still blames himself for, and the source of the quasi-suicidal recklessness that brought him to his near-death experience and religious awakening. For Urri to appear to Aeron bearing the wound he gave him, and tell him that he’s going to be denied entrance to heaven is essentially Aeron’s mind accusing himself of not having done penance for his actions – or suggesting that his self-hatred is ultimately just an internalization of Euron’s abuse. (Which is why I don’t really think that this is a literal prediction…)

Speaking of which, Euron is very much the main event of this, the first set of visions from the shade of the evening we’ve had since Dany IV of ACOK.  And the Euron we meet in this vision is eschatologically terrifying:

He showed the world his blood eye now, dark and terrible. Clad head to heel in scale as dark as onyx, he sat upon a mound of blackened skulls as dwarfs capered round his feet and a forest burned behind him…

Then Euron lifted a great horn to his lips and blew, and dragons and krakens and sphinxes came at his command and bowed before him. “Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded…

“Never. No godless man may sit the Seastone Chair!”

“Why would I want that hard black rock? Brother, look again and see where I am seated.”

Aeron Damphair looked. The mound of skulls was gone. Now it was metal underneath the Crow’s Eye: a great, tall, twisted seat of razor sharp iron, barbs and blades and broken swords, all dripping blood.

Impaled upon the longer spikes were the bodies of the gods. The Maiden was there and the Father and the Mother, the Warrior and Crone and Smith…even the Stranger. They hung side by side with all manner of queer foreign gods: the Great Shepherd and the Black Goat, three-headed Trios and the Pale Child Bakkalon, the Lord of Light and the butterfly god of Naath.

And there, swollen and green, half­-devoured by crabs, the Drowned God festered with the rest, seawater still dripping from his hair.

Then Euron Crow’s Eye laughed again, and the priest woke screaming in the bowels of Silence,  as piss ran down his leg. It was only a dream, a vision born of foul black wine.

This particular image speaks both to the conflict between the two brothers (providing the context for one of the two moments this chapter where Euron demands worship) and to Euron’s larger purpose. Despite the imagery of deadly thrones, indeed of the Iron Throne itself, I remain unconvinced that Euron will sit the Iron Throne (or indeed, that he even desires to…more of which in a bit).

Because here, Euron’s desire for rulership seems entirely secondary to his desire to bring about the apocalypse – the Iron Throne itself is presented here less as an object of desire but more of a means to Euron’s end, the death of of all gods: the Seven, the Gods of Essos (although not all of them), and the Drowned God. Likewise, we never see Euron receiving the homage or worship of human beings, only “dragons and krakens and sphinxes,” mystical beasts associated both with destruction and prophecies of the end of the world.

However, I think it’s the second vision that might be the more significant and explanatory:

The dreams were even worse the second time. He saw the longships of the Ironborn adrift and burning on a boiling blood­-red sea. He saw his brother on the Iron Throne again, but Euron was no longer human. He seemed more squid than man, a monster fathered by a kraken of the deep, his face a mass of writhing tentacles. Beside him stood a shadow in woman’s form, long and tall and terrible, her hands alive with pale white fire. Dwarves capered for their amusement, male and female, naked and misshapen, locked in carnal embrace, biting and tearing at each other as Euron and his mate laughed and laughed and laughed…

As I’ll explain more in a bit, I think the line about the “longships of the Ironborn adrift and burning on a boiling blood­-red sea” make a lot of the speculations about how Euron is going to use magic to win a naval battle against the Redwyne Fleet entirely moot. If my interpretation of this line is correct, Euron does not care about winning any such battle, or in conquering the Reach, or any human concerns.

Likewise, while Euron is sitting on the Iron Throne again, his motives are not the normal secular and political concerns of princes – here he appears as the horrific truth beneath the humanized mask of the Drowned God, and rather than ruling or actively doing anything, he seems content to kick back and enjoy the end of the world. Euron doesn’t care about becoming king; he has his eyes set somewhat higher than that.

Now as to the identity of this woman, I’m not entirely sure. A lot of people have argued that it’s Melisandre; she is associated with shadows and fire, and she is described as being both “tall” and “terrible.” I’m less inclined in that direction – for one thing, given Melisandre’s proximity to the Wall, Jon Snow, and the Heart of Winter, I think her future course leads her to Winterfell not to the Reach. And while Melisandre has talked about “white fire” before, more pertinently that phrase last came up in regards to Euron’s horn, when it was sounded at the Kingsmoot and “the glyphs were burning brightly, every line and letter shimmering with white fire.” And given that Euron sent the Dusky Woman with the dragonbinder horn, I’m leaning to the Dusky Woman as the simplest explanation.

Euron the Monster

In case anyone was confused, this chapter provides even more proof that Euron is a monster. But unlike say, Ramsay in HBO’s Game of Thrones, there is a larger purpose in Euron’s monstrosity. Take for example, the revelation that Euron is three times a kinslayer:

“Well, if you count half­ brothers. Do you remember little Robin? Wretched creature. Do you remember that big head of his, how soft it was? All he could do was mewl and shit. He was my second. Harlon was my first. All I had to do was pinch his nose shut. The greyscale had turned his mouth to stone so he could not cry out. But his eyes grew frantic as he died. They begged me. When the life went out of them, I went out and pissed into the sea, waiting for the god to strike me down. None did. Oh, and Balon was the third, but you knew that. I could not do the deed myself, but it was my hand that pushed him off the bridge.” The Crow’s Eye pressed the dagger in a little deeper, and Aeron felt blood trickling down his neck. “If your Drowned God did not smite me for killing three brothers, why should he bestir himself for the fourth?” 

Given how young Euron had to be if he killed Harlon, Quellon’s firstborn son, when Harlon was a child,  this paints the picture of a psychopath from very early childhood. It also suggests that Euron made it something of a project to kill off anyone standing between him and his father’s inheritance: all of Quellon’s sons with the lady of House Stonetree (Harlon, Quenton, and Donel) died in early childhood, as did Robin his son with the lady of House Piper.

But rather than horror for horror’s sake, we see that Euron drew a connection between his actions, the lack of consequences from them, and his…unique ideas about religion. While Aeron was so desperate for some word from the Divine that he invented them when there were none, Euron took from the silence of the Drowned God that “all gods are lies,” that there are no consequences for our actions beyond what mortal men can impose from them. And this revelation has been the ticket to Euron’s success throughout his life – at each step, he succeeds by going beyond the boundaries set out by taboo and custom, whether it’s kinslaying its way to the throne or sailing into the Doom itself to bring back treasures:

Valyrian steel, the Damphair knew. His armor is Valyrian steel. In all the Seven Kingdoms, no man owned a suit of Valyrian steel. Such things had been known 400 years ago, in the days before the Doom, but even then, they would’ve cost a kingdom.

Euron did not lie. He has been to Valyria. No wonder he was mad.

Finding out that Euron actually sailed to Valyria is part of what changed my opinion about the man – certainly it explains how he got his hands on a dragonbinder horn, the dragon egg he used to pay for Balon’s assassination, and this nifty suit of Valyrian steel. On the other hand, I’m still of the opinion that the Doom is quite real – so Damphair might be more right than he knows when he says that Euron is mad, and it’s possible that Euron has simply decided to lean into the Doom by bringing everyone down with him.

Speaking of which, gah, Falia Flowers. This is the kind of thing that makes me so thoroughly ambivalent about Euron, because on the one hand, he’s even more clearly bound up in all of this mystic shenanigans, but the horror that he inflicts on Falia – turning her into his puppet with his “rags and rocks,” promising that he will make her his salt wife on a level with Daenerys Targaryen, and then cutting out her tongue and strapping her to the prow of his ship as a human figurehead – is so petty and human that it makes me think twice.

Just can’t wrap my head around this guy.

His Plans

So at the end of the day, what is it that Euron Crowseye is up to? Initially, Euron tells his brother that he is sailing “South—for conquest, plunder, dragons.” But the rest of the chapter makes me think that’s mostly a lie, because over and over again, we see that Euron doesn’t care about worldly things, be it the treasure he scattered at the feet of the captains or entire fiefdoms:

The Crow’s Eye puts no value in such things. That was one of the things that drew men to his service. Most captains kept the lion’s share of their plunder but Euron took almost nothing for himself.

“…Why should I want to hold them?” His brother’s smiling eye glittered in the lantern light, blue and bold and full of malice. “The Shields have served my purpose. I took them with one hand,and gave them away with the other. A great king is open-­handed, brother.”

 

This attitude towards secular matters – along with the two visions – is what initially got me thinking that Euron wasn’t actually intending to win the battle. But what got me especially thinking this is the case is what we learn about Euron’s plans with regards to Damphair and the other priests:

“No, I’ll not kill you tonight. A holy man with holy blood. I may have need of that that blood…later. For now, you are condemned to live.”

It was in the second dungeon that the other holy men began to appear to share his torments. Three wore the robes of septons of the green lands, and one the red raiment of a priest of R’hllor. The last was hardly recognizable as a man. Both his hands had been burned down to the bone, and his face was a charred and blackened horror where two blind eyes moved sightlessly above the cracked cheeks dripping pus…

In his saner moments, Aeron questioned why the Crow’s Eye was collecting priests, but he did not think that he would like the answer…

Let’s tease this out: Euron is collecting priests, because he wants their holy blood for a blood magic ritual. This is rather puzzling; in the canons of blood magic, we have only ever heard that king’s blood has any kind of power, so this is entirely new to us. (Although maybe Mirri Maz Duur being burned in the pyre?) Being ecumenical about it seems to be part of the purpose – hence the Seven, R’hllor, and the Drowned God all being represented – as if Euron was trying to hedge his bets by linking up with every faith out there. And we can see with the priest of R’hllor, contrapuntal torment is part of the ritual – the Red Priests get burned, Aeron is hung in the air above the waves, and what’s going to happen to the septons I have no idea.

But as we learn later, the priests are only one part of the ritual. Quality and quantity are both important:

“The Crow’s Eye has fed your Drowned God well, and he has grown fat with sacrifice. Words are wind, but blood is power. We have given thousands to the sea, and he has given us victories!”

“…Your Grace,” said Torwold Browntooth. “I have the priests. What do you want done with them?”

“Bind them to the prows,” Euron commanded. “My brother on the Silence. Take one for yourself. Let them dice for the others, one to a ship. Let them feel the spray, the kiss of the Drowned God, wet and salty.”

The priests being bound to the prows of a few chosen ships suggests they’re being used as some sort of focusing or signalling talisman, some way of concentrating the vast supernatural energies being channeled to a point. At the same time, the deliberate sacrifice of thousands (note how Euron’s minions are already throwing aside or perverting their religious traditions, how quickly it becomes “your Drowned God“) suggests that you need a massive amount of energy, not just the deaths of a half-dozen or so priests, to complete this ritual.

This is what makes me think that Euron doesn’t care about winning the naval battle, because it’s not a naval battle at all, but a blood magic ritual. Remember the vision, where Aeron “saw the longships of the Ironborn adrift and burning on a boiling blood­-red sea”? That doesn’t look like an unlikely, come-from-behind victory to me; that looks like the Doom of Valyria come again. That looks like a new Thin Place being created just outside of Oldtown, and Thin Places require deaths on a mass scale.

And it’s going to be built with almost the entire Ironborn navy at ground zero…because Euron’s going to sacrifice both sides of the coming naval battle. Which perfectly fits with everything that’s come before – just as Euron gives away treasure because he doesn’t care about worthless things, just as he gives away the Shield Isles because he doesn’t need them after they’ve served his purpose, so too are the Ironborn who shouted his name in the Kingsmoot going to die like the patsies they always have been.

So what is the purpose of this giant blood magical ritual? What prize would be worth the deliberate sacrifice of entire kingdom’s navies? The same thing Euron’s been talking about all chapter long:

“The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.”

Euron’s going to try to make himself into a god in fact as well as in his own mind. I don’t know whether it’s going to work – after all, everyone else who knows about the prophecy of the “bleeding star” speaks of Azor Ahai or the Prince Who Was Promised, not the creation of any new god.

In the end, I’m still leaning towards him failing, if for no other reason than it doesn’t make much sense for GRRM to over-shadow the White Walkers’ big moment. And because I don’t want to lose $20.

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151 thoughts on “FULL Analysis of New Winds of Winter Excerpt: “The Forsaken” (Aeron I)

  1. Sean C. says:

    For Urri to appear to Aeron bearing the wound he gave him, and tell him that he’s going to be denied entrance to heaven is essentially Aeron’s mind accusing himself of not having done penance for his actions – or suggesting that his self-hatred is ultimately just an internalization of Euron’s abuse. (Which is why I don’t really think that this is a literal prediction…)

    It’s been suggested elsewhere that these dreams are actually being sent by Euron himself, and that he has the powers of a greenseer, on the basis of some of his comments (e.g., dreaming of flying).

    • Beowulf says:

      since he told him to look again, and notice he was on another throne, from the skulls to the iron throne that would make a lot of sense, unless that is vision-Euron, or drinking it lets him ride along with Aerons vision quest, him being the source of the visions from his greendreaming powers would be the shit.
      ive always subscribed to the idea Euron is a failed protege of Bloodraven from the flying comment, the crows and red eye, hes hero worshipping him and knows all the gods are false and the old gods are real only because its a gestalt hivemind of previous skinchangers/dreamers

    • If Euron could do that, why does he need the shade of the evening?

  2. kaelandm says:

    So you think GRRM is setting up Euron with these crazy visions (not only Aeron’s but Dany’s) and knowledge of the arcane beyond anyone in Westeros just to have him fail at his blood magic ritual and die? I feel like that would be a lot of setup for nothing. I also don’t see him failing the ritual and living–that would kill all the buildup for the character, and it would be far too early to have him brought low when our opinion of him is already sort of sketchy (given his rather odd military strategies, and the way that his plans for the Ironborn feel untenable).

    I agree with poorquentyn–I think he’s going to bring down the wall and welcome the Others in.

    • Brett says:

      I don’t think he’s going to deliberately bring down the Wall, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his failed sacrifice somehow contributed to it.

      • Brett says:

        Actually, I take it back. I don’t think it’s going to “bring down the Wall” or anything like that. I think Euron’s just going to cause a disaster on a massive scale, knocking out a major chunk of the Reach from action while also giving us a reminder of how the same awakening of magic that might make it possible to fix the seasons also gives crazy sorcerers the power to cause massive devastation.

        Basically, he’s going to give Oldtown and the surrounding lands the Hardhome treatment. Hell, that’s probably why Martin brought up Hardhome in A Dance with Dragons.

        • Jim B says:

          That makes sense to me.

          If the conventional wisdom is correct that GRRM is leading up to a climactic battle against the Others at Winterfell, then what seems to be missing is the south’s involvement. If the Wall falls, would the South even notice in time to mobilize for a battle at Winterfell?

          But if some calamity befalls the South, then you can have the entire continent really facing an apocalypse. Maybe there’s actually two separate ultimate battles — one at Winterfell against the forces of Ice, and one in the South (the Isle of Faces?) against the forces of Fire?

        • Rufus Leek says:

          I could see something like that: not what Euron wants, but a big effect with big consequences nonetheless.

    • Yes, the theory that he’s going to be the new Night’s King is getting really popular. And that the woman in the vision may be his Other bride – though I can’t imagine who that would be.

    • I think there’s more outcomes than just a binary fail/succeed.

      Generally, in genre fiction, trying to become a god goes very very poorly.

      So I think Euron’s ritual will go off, but the consequences will be more than Euron anticipated.

  3. stephendanay says:

    Excellent work as always, Steven. Especially the bit about Aeron’s faith being hollow and just existing as a mask for his own insecurities and fears. That went a long way toward making Aeron interesting to me. He’d previously been in my bottom 3 POVs. His storyline taking this unexpected turn was actually a relief. I was not excited for a bunch of chapters where he was raising a rebellion on the Iron Islands.

    Your idea regarding Euron’s plan to sacrifice both the Iron Fleet and the Reach fleet to create a new hinge is fairly convincing, although I’m kind of torn on the implications. On the one hand, it’s fun to see Martin finally throw restraint to the wind and crank Euron up to 11 as befits a character that’s basically a comic book villain (this chapter actually makes him seem quite a bit like the God Butcher from Jason Aaron’s run on Thor). On the other hand, I’m skeptical of the idea that Euron will become some major new antagonist/magical power for the series at large. I think that might distract from the whole Fire/Ice dichotomy that’s clearly at the core of the series. It also does nothing but further solidify my certainty that Martin won’t finish the series in 7 books.

    Kind of a trifle compared to the broader implications of this chapter, but I just had a question about Valyrian steel armor. I’d seen the idea of it come up in forums before and I always considered it wildly impractical. Ignoring the ruinous cost (you’d need what, at least a dozen swords worth of steel to make a suit of armor?), VS armor would still require unpadded joints in order to allow the wearer to move, given them the same basic weakness as knights in regular armor, right? I mean, I guess the old Valyrian nobles could afford it, but other than looking cool (which it totally does), would it really give you a significant advantage in combat?

    • beto2702 says:

      Looking cool does help in battle. See Loras as Renly’s ghost in the Blackwater.

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      The main function would seem to be advertising your wealth, but metal is effectively indestructible and extremely light, and seema to have some magical applications as well. (And of course, it would be helpful to give Sam a dozen pounds of Dragon Steel before the final battles.)

    • Brett says:

      It’s certainly possible that Euron just screws up and accidentally gives Oldtown the Hardhome treatment, with the implications being that Sam flees back to the Wall early and a key part of the Reach is in serious trouble and unable to contribute to the battle against the Others. Hell, that might be why Martin introduced the story of Hardhome so late in the series.

      • Brett says:

        Come to think of it, maybe that’s why there’s a Faceless Man there. If he screws up Euron’s spell by killing him at the right moment . . .

    • Keith B says:

      If Valyrian steel is lighter and thinner for the same strength, wearing it may help you move better and tire less quickly than conventional armor.

    • Thanks very much!

      Valyrian steel armor would be much much lighter than normal steel, and pretty close to indestructible. In terms of joints, go back to the text – it’s not plate, but scale armor.

  4. beto2702 says:

    So we have 3, can we say human?, villains for the whole series and an overall super powered threat who people seem to ignore for most of it. This sounds a lot like the Star Wars prequels.

  5. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    Brrr – that chapter, man. Great work (of course).

    It’s always striking to me when someone quotes GRRM about not writing “evil” characters. Sure, Victareon and Ramsay have motivations, but they’re close enough to evil for my purposes, and Euron manages to be worse!

    Even more than not killing Aeron, it’s striking that Euron leaves Aeron his tongue. (And apparently Piat Pree, or whoever that warlock is). I wonder why them – is it just that they haven’t surrendered yet, or does Euron have something else in mind?

    • stephendanay says:

      People tend to read GRRM’s statements of “I like to write grey characters” as “I only write grey characters.” It’s very silly. Particularly the idea that you need to be a motiveless agent of chaos to be truly evil. I’d actually argue that Aeron is evil as well, given that he’s devoted his life to a religion that deems the rape and murder of innocent people to be the greatest use of one’s life.

      Still felt bad for him after this chapter though. Those younger Greyjoy brothers have a tough lot in life.

      • Keith B says:

        Euron seems to be as much a motiveless agent of chaos as you’re likely to find. He’s not seeking wealth, or knowledge for its own sake, or comfort, or offspring (he has no feelings for the ones he has), or even power in any normal sense of the word. Maybe fame. But his true motive is simply to cause as much suffering and destruction as he possibly can. And it’s not as if he even has the excuse of someone like Gregor Clegane, who suffered from constant terrible headaches that may have helped make him so violent. Euron was just born that way, a pure spirit of cruelty and malice from the beginning.

        • His true motive seems to be to make himself god. He doesn’t cause suffering and destruction for its own sake, but because it proves, in his mind, that he can break all taboos and not be smitten down/punished by gods, which means that there are no gods, or they are too weak to stop him, and he can be as powerful as they are. He wants to destroy the old world and build a new one with himself as the only god.

          • Keith B says:

            I don’t know what “make himself god” really means. If it means the power to do anything he wants without consequences, then the next question is what does he want to do. Apparently, it’s to make people suffer, either physically or through sick mind games. Even in childhood, when he couldn’t have had such grandiose ideas, he murdered and raped his own brothers just for fun, and doubtless hurt a lot of other people as well.

    • tjtjjtjt says:

      I was wondering this too. Euron isn’t a petty sadist. His blasphemy and revisiting of the family horrors with Aeron serves a purpose. Whatever ritual he’s apparently about to do may benefit from a true believer or two, perhaps. Especially of that believer has king’s blood.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, GRRM definitely writes evil characters, but the important thing is variation. All of one is boring.

  6. Iñigo says:

    In the last paragraph before “the two visions” you wrote euron instead of Aeron.

    I really love small gods. But I think that the high sparrow is more similar to Vorbis than Aeron is. He always has loyal armed men around him, while Aeron prefers to be alone.

    • Will fix.

      I don’t see the High Sparrow as Vorbis, he seems too genuine in his faith.

      • Iñigo says:

        The thing is that Vorbis is mostly about torture in the name of religion, and the high sparrow has tortured a lot, which I can’t say with Aeron.

        • Aeron is a professional water-boarder.

          • Iñigo says:

            The scene that reminds me of Vorbis is the one in which the high sparrow shows the tortured Kettleblack to Cersei. He talks like this torture is perfectly normal, like words spoken after torture are perfectly acceptable proof, and shows everything to Cersei right before arresting her. There’s a lot of Vorbis there.

            Drowning a candidate to priest is fucked up, but Aeron never lost any of these.(I also was under the impression that these were volunteers, but I’m not sure)

  7. Punning Pundit says:

    “Oh, and Balon was the third, but you knew that. I could not do the deed myself, but it was my hand that pushed him off the bridge.”

    I wonder if this means that he called the storm directly, instead of hiring a Faceless Man as I had generally assumed? If he _didn’t_ hire a Faceless Man, then they probably _don’t_ have a dragon egg.

    And then:
    “Euron did not lie. He has been to Valyria. No wonder he was mad.”

    I wonder why he let Rodrik the Reader call him out about not having gone if he actually had? And if he maybe didn’t go to Valyria, where did the suit come from?

    • Andrew says:

      I think it is a Faceless Man given the Ghost of High Heart’s vision:”I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging from his wings.” The man without a face is a definitely a FM.

      I thought the same thing regarding his trip to Valyria. His response to the Reader’s “Have you?” was basically a thinly-veiled threat. That seems to suggest to me he is full of shit regarding going to Valyria. He could have likely gotten the horn from the warlocks who intended to use it on Dany’s dragons. As for the suit of armor, well he is a pirate. He has robbed numerous ships that allowed him to gather the treasure he used to buy allies on the Iron Isles. He could have simply stolen the suit of armor off a ship.

  8. Brett says:

    I think it’s more likely that he Hardhome’s Oldtown in the process, failing to become a god.

    • Brett says:

      In fact, come to think of it, that might be why we got the story about Hardhome’s horrific destruction when we did.

      • Punning Pundit says:

        I am going to accept this as canon until contradicted.

        • Brett says:

          It could be a very potent reminder of the dangerous nature of magic: it might allow for the Others to be stopped and the seasons to be put right, but it also lets monstrous sorcerers do horrific acts of destruction (even if only by accident).

    • Maybe, but that be a bit disappointing.

      • Brett says:

        Didn’t you think there was less to Euron than meets the eye? I can’t think of anything that would drive that home while still making his presence in the story meaningful than if he caused a major calamity – while still being secondary to the premier calamity of the Others. It would send Sam fleeing northward again, while knocking out the Hightower’s uncommitted military strength and much of the Ironborn military power at the same time. And it would be deeply ironic, with the Maesters being laid low by magic that they think is dead and gone.

  9. I think that woman could be the same Other witch who seduced the Night’s King.

    • David Hunt says:

      Given that she has white fire in her hands, I don’t think she’s one of the Others. If there’s any real prophetic power in these visions at all, I’d go with either Dany or the Dusky Woman.

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      I think the woman in Aeron’s dreams is just a personification of the supernatural, and of basic human concerns like death, sexuality and ambition.
      Same goes for the Night’s King tale. I think the real Night’s King was just a normal human who wanted power and being able to do magic, so he decided to help the Others, and convinced the Night’s Watch brothers to elect him as Lord Commander the same way Euron did with the Ironborn. Centuries later, the bards changed the tale so that the seduction of power was an actual erotic seduction, like the Greeks did in their myths.

      • Completely agree with your first point that the woman is a personification. There’s no character that resembles that woman closely enough and it’s too late in the game to introduce someone new in a position of power

    • Maybe, but I don’t see it myself.

  10. Andrew says:

    Great write up, Steven.

    1. Aeron telling Falia to run and trying to comfort is actually the only moment in this series where I find him even remotely likable.

    2. So now we obviously know what happened to Pyat Pree’s party.

    3. Basically, Euron wins whether he holds the Shields or not. If he holds he gets the praise and respect for taking them. He loses them, then he still gets the praise and respect, and he also gets the benefit of getting his rivals and supporters of rivals killed off.

    4. “Pigs,” said another vile creature, the one they called the Red Oarsman. “This was their isle. A rock, just off the Arbor. They dared oink threats at us. Redwyne, oink. Hightower, oink. Tyrell, oink, oink, oink! So we sent them squealing down to hell.”

    Going by that, Euron and Aeron are definitely on the Isle of Pigs, which was mentioned as one of the places taken by the Ironborn at the Arbor in AFfC.

    5. Give in the HotU, dwarves were used to represent kings. I think the dwarves in Aeron’s vision represent monarchs fighting and the coupling representing alliances being made, as likely will be the case with Aegon and Arianne (sealed through marriage/coupling).

    6. I don’t think Euron will succeed in his plan either.

    • David Hunt says:

      6. Well, he definitely won’t fully succeed if he’s trying to become a god fueled by the Others’ zombie apocalypse. That’s getting stopped. I’m confident that he is going to be utterly destroyed before the end of the series. The real question is how close he gets to his goals (whatever they are) and how long he stays on top until everything comes crashing down on him.

      I have the same prediction for Littlefinger. He seems to be getting everything that he wants and everything is going his way, but the story’s not over yet. Sansa will bring him down. I was tempted to say that LF’s comeuppance would be immensely satisfying, but then I remembered what happened to Theon where we will encouraged to cheer the news we get through ASOS of his torture and then see the reality in ADWD and realize NO ONE deserves that. Not even Ramsay.

    • 1. Agreed.

      2. Yeah, altho we kind of already knew.

      3. Pretty much.

      4. Ah, I forgot there was an Isle of PIgs.

      5. Interesting pick!

      6. Fingers crossed; I need those Tubmans!

  11. beto2702 says:

    So based on the Pyat Pree group and Euron’s knowledge of Dany… can we assume that Euron was in Qarth roughly at the same time as Dany? Is it possible that he was one of the many merchants and visitors who went to witness the living dragons?

    • Andrew says:

      I think he said he got the tale of her dragons from the warlocks.

    • David Hunt says:

      No, I think we would have heard through Jorah or Dany if there was a Westerosi ship in Qarth. Dany sent Jorah looking for ships that would take them to Westeros and I think we’d have heard Jorah or Dany had met Euron as Jorah would have told her about finding Silence and Euron is absolutely incapable of not chewing up the scenery. I’m thinking he captured his warlocks after Dany destroyed the Undying and that they may be a major source of information on her for him.

      • We know he did. In ADWD XXD tells Dany a ship of warlocks from Qarth (including Pyat Pree) set out to get her in Pentos (not realizing she’d stopped in Slaver’s Bay). In AFFC Euron says he captured a ship of warlocks from Qarth (and fed one to the rest to get them to cooperate). He captured them somewhere between Qarth and Pentos.

    • Beowulf says:

      Xaro, when telling Dany about magic returning to the world after her dragons were born, about the warlocks etc
      he says the glass candles are burning in the house of Urrathon Night Walker. This would be around the perfect time for Euron to be there, before he went to sack Tall Trees town and get the dusky woman, and his possible time as the Corsair king.
      Urrathon is an ironborn name, specifically the one who won the kingsmoot while the heir was gone. So i definitely think he either saw dany or snagged the Warlocks right after that

    • No, I think he was in the waters west of Qarth and caught them heading after Dany. So it’s possible his and Dany’s ships passed in the night?

  12. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Well said. I believe Aeron fears the horrors Euron can bring, I believe Euron wants to bring about the horrors Aeron envisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe that will happen.

  13. artihcus022 says:

    You know Euron burning the priests of multiple religions is not far from Victarion Greyjoy burning and drowning victims to both Rhillor and the Drowned God at the same time. Since Aeron was originally going to be in ADWD, I think that was a parallel that got lost in the shuffle.

    I think Euron is there in the narrative for one reason. As they say in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 someone has to trigger the vault. Well someone has to bring down the Wall, and I think the idea that a human being did it, and a particular kind of human being did it, fits with the whole theme of it.

    That said I don’t think Euron went to Valyria to get that suit of armour. He got it from someplace and somehow but not in the Doom.

    • David Hunt says:

      If he didn’t actually go to Valyria, I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure. His ship is crewed by mutes and I doubt he’d ever admit that he didn’t go as that lessens his mystique. Given that he’s got the Horn and the Valyrian Steel armor, I’m going with conclusion that he actually went there until I see something that contradicts it.

      Heh. I’d giggling my head off if we saw Euron going into battle wielding Brightroar.

      • Andrew says:

        I think he got the horn from warlocks who were intending to use it themselves when they got to Pentos. As for the Valyrian armor, Euron is a pirate and he could have taken it from a ship he boarded.

    • Good point with the lost parallel.

  14. thatrabidpotato says:

    Wow, this is really soon after the Arianne one. Impressive. But I’d much rather he just PUBLISHED THE DAMN BOOK.

    • stephendanay says:

      I know right? At this point he’s read/released 11 chapters, which is roughly 14% of the book by chapter count (I split the difference between Storms 82 chapters and Dance’s 73 given that Martin said he expects Winds to be roughly as long as those books).

      That being said, he doesn’t sound like he’s particularly close to finishing. On September 22, Winds will have officially taken longer than Feast. On April 7, it’ll be the longest wait in the series. At this point, I feel like he’s going to break his own record.

  15. beto2702 says:

    There is currently a “Three villains, Three acts, and three heads of the dragon” post on reddit that is a very good read. It not only sets the villains but how one can appear in the fallout of the one before him. If we can tie that post to a more active role form the White Walkers and Bran as well to Brett’s comments on Hardoming Oldtown…. we might be into something great.

    • Yeah, I was not convinced by that. For one thing, GRRM knows that it’s a five-act structure not a three-act structure.

      • beto2702 says:

        Do you have an outline for those five acts? Or how do you know there are five acts?

        • Borrowing from FilmCritHulk there – as he points out, plays weren’t written in three acts, but rather in 5-6.

          • beto2702 says:

            Well it is possible but if we analyze what we have, there are two maybe three turning points in the timeline (battle ice & fire, redwedding/tyrion trial/tywin death and maybe Ned’s death). So we have 2 or at the most 3 acts almost finished. (I have my doubts about Ned’s death, there is intrigue and plot advancing but no clear villain in an active role before his death, Bobby B’s death seems just as important at this point)

            So, are you suggesting we are still going to see one or two acts after euron is out of the picture? There are only 2 books left.

  16. beto2702 says:

    I think Steve’s predictions for AWOW and ADOS need more Euron now.

  17. Will Rogers says:

    I’m envisioning Euron bringing down the Wall with the horn, and having a grand old time gloating like the Final Fantasy villain he is.

    Then a White Walker stabs him in the gut. His final words are “Oh.”

  18. Rob Storm says:

    Loved the write up, I had a few observations I wondered about:

    1) His white woman in the second vision gave me a Cersei vibe. Perhaps after losing Tommen and Myrcella her insanity aligns her with Euron? We know Cersei loves fire now. Or maybe it was just because of the iron throne.

    2) The “charred man with blind moving eyes, alive for 3 days” was so reminiscent of Quentyn it was hard for me to get over or understand how they could relate…another dragon fire victim?

    3) Regarding dwarves involved – one vision has dwarves and a burning forest. Could this perhaps be The Children of the Forest and their forest burning? To somebody who hasn’t seen them before they may appear like dwarves?

    4) The god creation was not my initial thought but maybe i missed that line. I immediately thought that the people on front of ships, blood in the seas, ect was a way to call Krakens. Also because we heard about Krakens off the coast of Dorne in the Arianne chapter.

    Thanks

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      4. “And krakens off the Broken Arm, pulling under crippled galleys,” said Valena. “The blood draws them to the surface, our maester claims. There are bodies in the water. A few have washed up on our shores.”
      Yup, definitely foreshadowing

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      Wow – like the kraken summoning idea. It provides a reason to put Falia and Aeron on the same boat – they can sacrifice Falia and leave Aeron to torment later. (Or maybe every ship with a priest also has a different sacrifice, and Euron is experimenting to see if the gods will protect any of the ships.)

    • Tom Barleycorn says:

      I also thought Cersi initially. But now I am also wondering if maybe Lady Dtoneheart might not become his queen.

    • Thanks, glad you liked it!

      1. Cersei, I’m not seeing at all.

      2. I don’t think dragon fire at all. Just // with lingering burns.

      3. No, I don’t think that’s it.

      4. Krakens might fit, but boiling seas suggests something more Valyrian.

  19. beto2702 says:

    Euron vs Dothraki seems almost like a poetic confrontation now, like a pre-show to the Ice vs Fire.

    I mean… Dothraki hate and fear Maegi and sailing. Bond to human pleasures and experiences. They also have a pretty close relationship to their god and others (stealing god statues to take to Vaes Dothrak).

    Euron is a m*ther*@!# crazy, magic-enthusiast, ship-commander, psycho. Foreign to human desires. Wants all gods destroyed since he wants to be one.

  20. thatrabidpotato says:

    After reading the whole chapter, as well as the analysis:

    – I still don’t think he’s been to Valyria. He might have skirted the edges around Mantarys, but I doubt he’s been to Valyria or its sister cities themselves.

    – Poor Falia Flowers. Just like Theon- a jerk that you want to see get comeuppance, until GRRM absolutely drops the hammer. In the early stages of pregnancy, tongue cut out, stripped naked, and lashed to the prow of a ship. Yeesh. Just awful. IMO that’s one of the worse fates in the whole series, approaching Reek territory (though not quite there of course).

    – I really like the “Obliteration of Oldtown” idea. It fits with his delusions, and it fits with the physical impossibility of the Ironborn in their rowboats beating the Redwynes conventionally.

    -Speaking of Euron’s delusions, is anyone in here a Star Wars fan? Because Euron is beginning to remind me of the Sith Emperor from the Old Republic era. Wants to physically make himself a god at the cost of everything else on the face of the planet/galaxy…

    • David Hunt says:

      Falia Flowers got a horrid fate, to be sure. However, I can’t see my way clear to even put her in the same class as Theon for the simply reason that it’s likely to be over within a day. Theon’s torture under Ramsay went on for months and he will suffer severe physical aftereffects for the rest of his life even if he achieves a full psychological recovery (which he won’t).

    • Sean C. says:

      Falia’s characterization was interesting, compared with her introduction. Her delight in seeing her legitimate kin humiliated contrasts with her lovey-dovey naivete here, including being very nice to Aeron, when it should be fairly obvious that Euron doesn’t like him. Her family must really have treated her like crap (which doesn’t justify anything, of course).

      • Lann says:

        Cinderella deconstruction?

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          I see Falia as in line with Theon, Ramsay, Chett, Lemand, King Cleos, and probably a few other rebellions by the oppressed. GRRM likes a healthy dose of realism and subversion, and while he’s glad to show that the established order sucks, revolutionaries tend to be strongly self interested, and typically get caught up in the chaos they’ve invited.

          It’s striking that B&W seem to be portraying Dany as a fairly sympathetic revolutionary – I can’t see “breaking the wheel” going well under GRRM, but the jury is still out on show Dany.

          • Gonzalo says:

            None of those characters you’ve mentioned are revolutionaries. None of them aim to overthrow the system, they just lash out at it. Rebels maybe, revolutionaries, none of them.

      • Andrew says:

        Lann, that’s what I thought too. Beautiful young girl forced into servitude by her father’s wife and her daughters who later catches the attention of royalty; it’s definitely a Cinderella deconstruction. We have seen how highborn bastards in their father’s castles are generally treated in Westeros, and none were made servants. I would call Falia’s case unusual in that regard.

        • It’s also been pointed out that Mercy is a subversion of Little Red Riding Hood, where Raff expects to be the Big Bad Wolf raping a pre-teen forced into prostitution, while Arya the apparent Little Red Riding Hood is really the Wolf, luring him to kill him.

          I wonder if we’ll see other decostructed fairy tales in TWOW? Maybe to-be-resurrected Jon will be the Sleeping Beauty? 😉

          • Andrew says:

            1. The sleeping prince awakened by a kiss from a princess? The princess was referred to as “Briar Rose” whereas Jon was represented as a blue rose in one of Dayn’s visions. Also, Val has been called “the wildling princess,” despite Jon’s insistence that she isn’t actually a princess. Her name could also be a play on “Valkyries,” blonde women who kissed dying warriors as a way of choosing who went to Valhalla to train with Odin to fight the invasion of frost giants during Ragnarok. They also chose who lived and who died.

            2. Arianne’s story (“The Princess in the Tower”) was a deconstruction of the tale of the princess locked in a tower by her father to be kept away from suitors with Doran having put her there for treason and he kept her away from viable suitors because she had secretly been promised to Viserys as his queen.

            3. It can also be argued that Simon Toyne and the Kingswood Brotherhood is a deconstruction of Robin Hood and his Merry Men in Sherwood Forest. Toyne is a dispossessed nobleman whose band included skilled archers like Fletcher Dick. However, the band included people like the Smiling Knight who was a cruel madman, and their foes tasked with capturing them are the honorable and noble Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Barristan in place of the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham.

            4. Sansa’s story is a deconstruction of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” “Sansa” means apple, which plays a famous role in Show White’s story. Snow White is awakened by a kiss while Sansa imagines one from Sandor. A young princess (her brother was King in the North) is wanted by an evil queen who served as a mother figure, and is aided by a dwarf at some point. However, when a small man, Littlefinger, offers Sansa shelter from the queen, she still isn’t safe given he is a different kind of danger.

          • Lann says:

            Horror version of Sleeping Beauty already happened offscreen: Beric Dondarion kissing Cat and bringing her back to life.

    • Steven Xue says:

      Yep I see a lot of Sith Emperor Vitiate in Euron. But I think a closer comparison would be Azariah Kyras from Dawn of War II. Don’t know if anybody is Warhammer 40k fan or played through the campaign of Dawn of War II Retribution cause Euron and Kyras are like kindred spirits. Both schemed towards sacrificing their own minions and the lives of many innocent parties to ascend to godhood. What’s more Kyras’s nihilistic speech is on par with Euron’s own twisted worldview.

      Still one of the best in-game speeches I’ve ever heard.

  21. Beto says:

    Dragons, krakens and Sphinx’s.

    Dany, Iron born and… the riddle not the riddler?

  22. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Awesome analysis, Steve.
    1. So it seems like Tris Botley was right. Who would have thought?
    2. It’s amazing how Martin has you root for a religious, misanthropic fanatic against a nonreligious, different-kind-of-misanthropic fanatic. I actually cheered when he said “The Drowned God has not abandoned me. The sea will make me whole again”.
    It’s like watching an Islamic terrorist being tortured in Abu Ghraib.
    3. “the Great Shepherd and the Black Goat, three-headed Trios and the Pale Child Bakkalon, the Lord of Light and the butterfly god of Naath.” It’s curious that Aeron, a priest and a radical who’s never been shown to abandon the Iron Islands for long periods of time, recognises so many foreign and little-known gods. Did Quellon make his sons learn about the Free Cities?

    • Thanks!

      1. Hehe.

      2. I was likewise surprised. Never been a huge Aeron person and this chapter really made me feel for him.

      3. Well, it’s also possible that as an Ironborn, you spent time reaving in the east and become familiar with its cultures..

  23. Divided Heart says:

    It seems that Euron is the penultimate villain of the series. The last lieutenant villain before the final villain.

    Or as many have said in ASOIAF, what is Autumn, the season before winter, famous for? Stormy seas.

    So first we have to deal with the Autumn stormy seas = Euron’s Eldrich Apocalypse. Then Autumn leads to Winter = the invasion of the Others.

    • beto2702 says:

      That would mean the Boltons are Summer

    • Andrew says:

      He isn’t the penultimate villain, the Others are. He only seems to be affecting three story lines, all Ironborn. The only other I see him affecting is Sams’.

      • Andrew says:

        Sorry, should have read more thoroughly, I still stand by Euron not being the penultimate villain. There is still Aegon’s side who is going to be Dany’s biggest threat. There is also Cersei and Varys.

  24. draft0 says:

    Great analysis!

  25. winnief says:

    I have to say Steve, I share your initial disappointment that so much time will be spent on Euron instead of getting to the White Walkers already. Like D&D I am ready to start closing all the other storylines and so we can focus on the Nights King.

    • Great write up. A few things I wanted to add are that a) it seems as if Euron doesn’t necessarily want to be treated like a god, he just wants to taunt those who believe in gods while being incredibly arrogant and b) I believe the shaded woman is just an image meant to resemble dark magic. I’m also a believer in the theory that Euron has at least met Bloodraven and took the dragons egg from him, and that he shouldn’t be underestimated as just a lunatic with a god’s hubris.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I’m not. I feel and have always felt that the Others merely distract from what is best in the story, namely the politics and conflict between fellow human beings.

      • Keith B says:

        I also find the political and military part of the story more interesting than the supernatural elements. Then again, Euron seems clearly on the supernatural side. I’d rather have more Littlefinger, a villain I can actually appreciate.

      • tjtjjtjt says:

        Totally agree. This has been a series about human conflict with a supernatural fringe. Putting a supernatural for as the centerpiece of the finale feels kind of wrong to me, but we’ll see. I’m cheering for a relatively quick resolution for the others and more focus on the people.

    • How are D&D “closing in all other storylines”?! Quite the opposite, after spending an entire season on pointless crap (things like their version of Dorne and Jamie having his random filler bad B-movie action adventure, or Sansa her random filler 1970s exploitation rape story), they are now going back and retreading the Feast/Dance storylines, only in many cases with their preferred protagonists.

      So, Tyrion gets Dany’s Meereen storyline from Dance; Balon dies 3 seasons too late and they only do Kingsmoot now and introduce Euron Lite, with Theon shoved into the story to overshadow his sister and Yara made a combination of Asha and Victarion; the battle for Winterfell is going to be redone, only this time with Jon instead of Stannis and Ramsay instead of Roose, but it has to happen only in episode 9, so they’re spinning their wheels until then and filling time with more Ramsay torture and murder; the King’s Landing is the slowest story that exists, where nothing at all has happened after 6 episodes, except that Jaime has been finally sent to the Riverlands, so he and Brienne are both only now going to the Riverlands to find their storyline, only without any character/thematic significance (and they are now mentioning the Brotherhood again, surprise, surprise…); Sam still hasn’t gotten to Oldtown; Arya has done a version of the Mercy chapter for the third time in 3 seasons; and Bran is now used as a vehicle for D&D to finally introduce all those Robert’s Rebellion flashbacks from book 1.

  26. Divided Heart says:

    Another thing I realized. This whole chapter also gives even more evidence that Euron was a disciple of Bloodraven. His desire to become a god is a parody of the Three-eyed raven’s merging with the weirwood.net and functionally becoming one of the old gods.

    So Euron is like the inverse of Bran. Somewhat like how fAegon is the inverse of Jon Snow.

    • He’s something, but I wasn’t seeing much Bloodraven evidence here. No imagery of ravens or crows or weirwood trees, Old Gods absent, etc.

      • Divided Heart says:

        Euron is like a cancerous mutation of Bloodraven. Similar enough that we can see that Bloodraven is the source and the template that Euron is using, but Euron is twisting and changing it.

        I agree that the weirwood trees and old gods are absent. (Though the old gods have no priests to sacrifice, as far as we know.)

        But that’s because Euron is the opposite of Bloodraven or Bran. Instead of the white weirwood trees with red leaves, he drinks shade of the evening made from black trees with blue leaves. And many suspect that those black trees are ironwoods, since the description of the barks are similar.

        So Bloodraven sits on a weirwood throne, the roots of which have grown into him and the other greenseers, and they are the old gods. So the old gods are “impaled” on Bloodraven’s weirwood throne.

        This provides the template for Euron’s goal.

        In the vision, Euron sits on the Iron Throne, (even better than a weirwood throne, even better than ironwood throne) with all kinds of gods impaled on the Iron Throne.

        So yes, no weirwoods or old gods, because the Iron Throne replaces the weirwood throne, and Euron himself is becoming a ‘god’ in a similar but different way than Bloodraven.

        But of course, I think there has been enough evidence to link Euron to Bloodraven before this. It seems like you do not.

  27. So did GRRM release this upon the world to commemorate Euron appearing on the show, or as a warning now that Trump has enough delegates for the nomination?

    • Maybe, but remember it was the fans to vote for this one.

      • But the other TWOW option was Mercy (which was, of course, not chosen because everyone has read it).

        GRRM’s published chapters in the last couple of years have been following a pattern:

        2 years ago, just before the season 4 premiere (which some people, GRRM included, had already seen), which included an Arya scene that used some of the dialogue from Mercy – he publishes Mercy on his website

        1 year ago, just before season 5 messed up Sansa’s storyline – he publishes Alayne on his website, and then reads it at a con a week after the episode with her rape

        This year, shortly after season 6 completed the butchery of Dorne by killing off Doran, Trystane and Areo Hotah, GRRM publishes Arianne II on his website

        Shortly after the show did its version of Kingsmoot and its version of Mercy (again!), GRRM offers the audience to read either Aeron’s chapter or Mercy (again).

        It definitely feels like he’s saying “You’ve seen the show, and now for something completely different: let me remind you how the story is completely different in my books.”

    • Didi says:

      I thought it was interesting that our choices were this chapter or rereading the Arya “Mercy” chapter, which I haven’t read, but understand was covered (at least to some extent) in the recent episode.

      The third choice was some fake history that didn’t make it in to the World of Ice and Fire. Now I’m wondering what interesting information it contains?

  28. Thank you for posting the link to text. I’d seen summaries but not the actual text.

    I think I’m of a mind with you. The chapter itself is excellent but I’m not thrilled with the extra digressions that it set’s up.

  29. Lann says:

    Does anyone else see comparisons between this and Aerys II’s ‘Burn them all’ moment? Maybe Euron acquired dragon sickness/madness as well as a dragon horn in Valaria. Lets hope there will be a kingslayer this time as well (Aeron?).

  30. Bail o' Lies says:

    Theon and Asha are most likely not going to “hook up” with Dany in the books. Remember the show killed off Stannis. Yara nor Theon ever became a prisoner of Stannis like Asha and Theon have in the books.

    In the books their current fate depends entirely on Stannis’s success in defeating the Bolton’s forces. Unless they somehow manage to escape, then travel through the snow that was keeping armies pinned down for weeks, suddenly find information about Dany, and then decide they should join forces with her. They are more likely going to find out about the white walkers and then be forced to join up with The North, what left of Stannis’s forces, Riverland back under the control of the Tully, and the Vale by way of Sansa to combat them. Instead of traveling the world to join up with Dany.

    Also the vision Damphair had seemed to imply that Dany and Euron were going to team up. So it likely D&D just took Euron’s storyline and vaguely gave it to Theon.

  31. Bail o' Lies says:

    As for the Latecomer bit. IF the speech from the “Drowned God” was really from THE Drowned God. What the Drowned God Was probably trying to say is that the Seastone Throne was Theon’s. Which Damphair didn’t hear because he was already thinking up the brilliant plan that the throne was suppose to go to both Victarion and Asha. Also another reason he didn’t think it was Theon because he either thinks Theon is dead or hold such contempt for him (for being a greenlander) he would have just never consider Theon worthy of the Seastone chair. So it most likely if that eventually Damphair -if he has more chapters- will realize that Theon was suppose to inherent the Seastone Chair to late to do anything about it.

  32. Andy Ahmed says:

    Great analysis, but I have to reject your one crumb of comfort: “finally Euron uses his faith to help others, ministering to a soul in need, and putting their needs above his own.” Falia is not Iron Born so the Drowned God cannot care about her or vice versa. It was just a desperate attempt to endorse his own faith once more.

    But for me this is a highly significant development in ASOIAF. Until this point, GRRM has always been scrupulously neutral about the actual existence of the deities in his world. This extract strongly implies the non-existence of the DG and thus, I would deduce, R’hllor and all the others. Magic, of course, objectively exists – for now.

    • I don’t think the fact that Falia is not Iron Born matters at all. The impulse of a priest should be to minister to anyone in need.

      Also, I wouldn’t exactly take Euron Crowseye’s word for it on the existence or non-existence of anything.

      • Andy Ahmed says:

        It does matter. In a henotheistic belief-system, the god of your tribe is only responsible for the members of your tribe. Where has there ever been any suggestion in the ASOIAF corpus of the Drowned God having any concern for non-IB?

        Secondly, it’s not about what Euron says, it’s about Aeron talking to himself and not a transcendent other.

        • Right, but membership in the tribe can mean many things – Falia is a salt-wife, is carrying his nephew or niece, etc.

          Sure, Aeron doesn’t commune with the Drowned God. But Patchface surely has.

          • Andy Ahmed says:

            Patchface – he’s an intriguing one! Wish we heard more of him.

          • Punning Pundit says:

            It’s interesting that Stannis is has at least 2 legitimate prophets in his retinue. And that each of them are from a different religion. I’m not sure what it actually means. But it’s interesting…

  33. beto2702 says:

    Here’s a random thought: The Dothraki sea, in GOT it is mentioned by Jorah that when the season changes the grass turns red… making the whole thing look like a sea of blood. Connection to Aeron’s visions of sea of blood and ships? Or too far-fetched?

  34. Satriani says:

    “Then the towers by the sea, crumbling as the dark tide came sweeping over them, rising from the depths. […] If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion. I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. That is where the heaviest blow will fall.”

    Am I the only one hinking about a link?

  35. Jim B says:

    “And we can see with the priest of R’hllor, contrapuntal torment is part of the ritual – the Red Priests get burned, Aeron is hung in the air above the waves, and what’s going to happen to the septons I have no idea.”

    What’s the seven-way equivalent of being drawn and quartered — drawn and septed?

    • Punning Pundit says:

      Whelp. I just spent a few minutes contemplating 7 attachment points for the human body. That’s… unpleasant.

    • Mick says:

      The septs main imagery is the crystal that splits the light into seven colours. To make a contercaricature you would thus need something that blinds a priest. Show him the light, directly into his eyes. Or of course something about the seven aspects, that works as well 🙂

  36. Satriani says:

    “Then the towers by the sea, crumbling as the dark tide came sweeping over them, rising from the depths. […] If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion. I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. That is where the heaviest blow will fall.”

    It seems there is a link, here. Any thought?

  37. olisimpson88 says:

    Great analysis of the chapter, I really look forward to seeing what Euron will do in the coming book.

    He’s has that mystery creepy factor to him that I love to see in villains, not to mention that compared to so many of the ironborn characters (outside of theon) who are dour bore, stupid or just so uninteresting. He is colourful in all the most despicable ways that puts him at there with the other monsters of the series.

    Giving us someone we relish learning more about, along with wetting our desire to see the fucker dead.

  38. John W says:

    So where in the books is it hinted that Euron is or will become the new Night King? Which chapters?

  39. beto2702 says:

    From Moqorro:

    “a tall and twisted thing, with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood”.

    Sea of blood again.

  40. Sandra Cates says:

    When is his new book out?

  41. […] In this Psalm, we see this back-and-forth as David laments his hardships from his enemies and questions his God’s inaction at the beginning, while praising Him and asking for His aid. In his recent analysis, Attewell breaks down Aeron’s similar internal struggle with his religion through the story of Job. […]

  42. yululu says:

    Oh my goodness does this chapter hint at this part of the HOTU prophecy?

    “Her silver was trotting through the grass, to a darkling stream beneath a sea of stars. A corpse stood at the prow of a ship, eyes bright in his dead face, grey lips smiling sadly. A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness. . . . mother of dragons, bride of fire . . .”

  43. David Hamburger says:

    “Aeron will love Big Brother” is probably the finest line you’ve written!

  44. minor typo: “without Euron raising up the common people to pull down Euron’s regime.”

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