Game of Thrones Explained is your guide to the world of the show, whether you are a new viewer or a reader of the books wanting to refresh your memory. These articles describe the cultures, the families, and the setting.
Note: This article contains some spoilers through season 2, episode 2, which aired on April 8th, 2012.
While the other great houses play a game of thrones involving politics and arguments over lineage, House Greyjoy and the people of the Iron Islands have always prized martial strength as the primary means to claim glory and wealth. They feel no loyalty to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, and their grudge against the families of the mainland has festered since their rebellion and defeat nine years ago. Lord Balon sees this time of war as a critical opportunity for his family to restore its pride. His daughter Yara is an accomplished raider, while his son Theon was raised with the Starks and is uncertain of his place in his homeland.
Motto: We Do Not Sow
Sigil: Golden kraken on a black field
The Greyjoys are a family of the ironborn, a people with lineage from both the Andals (the invaders who brough the Faith of the Seven) and the First Men (the culture of the North), though their ways are different from all mainlanders’. They follow the Drowned God, a deity who dwells beneath the sea and gave the ironborn the Old Way, a tradition of raiding, piracy, and conquest. They would capture victims to serve as thralls, doing the menial work, and sometimes as “salt wives” (less important than a man’s true “rock wife” of the islands). Men would not barter for trinkets, but only wear jewelry that they took from their defeated foes, which they called “paying the iron price”.
This conqueror’s spirit was exemplified in House Hoare, who gained hereditary rule over the Iron Islands (kings had once been elected by the ships’ captains), and extended their power across most of the west coast of Westeros for a time. When they took the Riverlands (the home of Catelyn’s House Tully), King Harren the Black ordered the construction of Harrenhal, the largest castle in Westeros. It did not protect him, though, when Aegon Targaryen arrived with his dragons and burned him to death in his tower. The ironborn submitted to the new conqueror, and chose the Greyjoys as their new lords.
Nine years ago, a few years after Robert Baratheon had overthrown the Targaryens, Balon Greyjoy declared his independence and proclaimed himself King of the Iron Islands. He underestimated the strength of the new king and his his allies, however. Stannis Baratheon managed to trap and destroy the Iron Fleet which had been led by Victarion Greyjoy, paving the way for an invasion of the Islands. Robert and Ned Stark led the attack, while Thoros of Myr (a red priest and friend of Robert’s) and Jorah Mormont (now serving Daenerys Targaryen) fought bravely in Robert’s victory. Balon lost two sons in the rebellion, and his brother Aeron nearly drowned and became a fervent follower of the Drowned God. Balon’s last remaining son, Theon, was made the ward of Ned Stark to ensure Greyjoy loyalty going forward. He served with Robb Stark in his war against the Lannisters, and returned to the Iron Islands with an offer of alliance.
The Iron Islands and its Families
The seven Iron Islands are located off the coast of the Riverlands. They are sparsely populated, bleak, and resource-poor. There are few farms and fewer villages, though the craggy terrain makes for defensible locations, such as the castle of Pyke where House Greyjoy makes its home.
Other houses sworn to the Greyjoys include the Harlaws (one of whom is married to Balon), and the Farwynds, who are rumored to have the power of changing their skins for that of animals.
Current and recent Greyjoys
The Lord of the Iron Islands is a true believer in the Old Way and the iron price, a harsh man who has nothing but contempt for the peoples of the rest of Westeros. He bears a particular grudge for those who defeated him in war and slew his sons, such as the Baratheons and Starks. He is suspicious that his remaining son Theon’s time in Winterfell will have softened him, and has turned his attention to Yara, who he sees as more worthy.
The titular heir to the Iron Islands spent more years among the Starks than among his own family, and adapted to their ways. He developed a close friendship with Robb Stark and was treated well by Ned, but his status as a captive always made him somewhat of an outsider. Now he is returning to his home but with only a child’s memories of its ways. He is a skilled archer and a definite womanizer.
Though the ironborn do not grant women equal status as warriors, Balon’s daughter Yara has earned a place among the reavers with her fighting skill and fiery temperament. She commands a ship called Black Wind.
Balon’s brother Euron, known as “Crow’s Eye”, is a cunning and threatening man who has been absent from the Islands, traveling with his ship Silence as far as the eastern continent.
Balon’s brother Victarion is a strong warrior and commands the Iron Fleet from his ship Iron Victory. He is dutiful and traditional.
Balon’s youngest brother Aeron was once a wild and lazy young man, but his near-drowning ignited his faith and infused him with seriousness, and he became a priest of the Drowned God. He lives the life of a holy man apart from his kin, and is admired by the faithful.