Game of Thrones has always had great villains. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish’s clever manipulation and subterfuge was slowly revealed to have a hand in almost every major moment of the early seasons. Cersei Lannister seized onto power at every chance she could get no matter the cost. The Night King slaughtered with an air of mystery until his final moments.
In the books, Euron Greyjoy is right up there — terrifying, fascinating, and power hungry. But the show version of Euron never quite compared to the other villains, and in this pivotal moment for the character in Game of Thrones penultimate episode, we know he won’t amount to what George R.R. Martin put on the page.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5 – “The Bells”]
Even at his most meaningful moments on Game of Thrones, Euron Greyjoy was effectively just a living plot device. He appeared out of nowhere to shoot a dragon or destroy a fleet or get tricked by Cersei then disappeared until the next time the story demanded him. Most consequentially, he is the great army equalizer. Does Daenerys have too many men? does Cersei’s battle seem hopeless? No problem! Euron levels the playing field.
But now that Euron is finally dead, killed at the hand of an enraged Jaime Lannister, it’s worth looking at what his character could have been in Game of Thrones if the show had used a version of the character that was a little closer to the books.
In the A Song of Ice and Fire books, Euron is a more complicated and more foreboding character. One of the most famous pirates in Westeros or Essos, Euron is known all over the world for his rash and unpredictable behavior, extreme violence, clever psychological manipulation, and unbridled ambition.
Despite his reputation as a cunning and calculated reaver, Euron is also completely deranged. While book Euron does share some of show Euron’s lust for power, it isn’t just a throne that he’s after, but supernatural power as well. He doesn’t just want to rule, he wants to become a god by unlocking the world’s supernatural secrets.
At the heart of Euron’s pirate fleet is his own ship, “Silence,” which he captains with a fiercely loyal crew of mutes whose tongues he has had ripped out. Also among Silence’s crew are a few priests and wizards from different religions of the world. Most prominent is Moqorro, a red priest similar to Melisandre, who accompanies Euron’s brother Victarion as an envoy to Daenerys and is an incredibly gifted seer, often predicting events almost exactly as they will happen days in advance.
To keep favor with each of these priests and their gods Euron makes blood sacrifices to all of them. And in turn Euron often wins his battles by margins that seem almost unexplainable. While currying favor with as many gods as possible is frequently on Euron’s mind, he also has an obsession with the idea world’s magical creatures.
Euron boasts a horn that is most often referred to as Dragonbinder. Found among the ruins of Valyria — where many of the world’s greatest explorers have been lost forever — Dragonbinder is a massive and heavy horn, carved with ancient Valyrian runes. As its name implies, it allows its master to control dragons, though the actual person who blows the horn dies, with its power melting them from the inside out. Instead of being content with slaying a dragon, book Euron wanted to wield a dragon as a weapon, stealing it out from under Dany and turning it on everyone in his path to whatever his goal might be.
The book’s version of Euron is unpredictable and driven only by his fierce dream to control the supernatural. If adapted more literally, he could have joined the ranks of the show’s other iconic villains, perhaps matching Dany’s dragons with magic of his own. Instead, he the unhinged pirate uncle of Theon and Yara who really wants to marry Cersei. Twisted.
Euron appeared in the show fully formed, with no real backstory, as its greatest military tactician — no one won more battles with worse odds in the show’s history — and is one of the few people in Westerosi history to kill a dragon and live to tell the tale. All that makes sense for book Euron. But in the show, without the knowledge of his supernatural obsession or years of sailing the world, he was just a convenient plot device. He was someone Cersei could talk to and someone to help her level the playing field when the plot demanded it. But he could have been so much more.