Theon watches the castle of Pyke get closer on board the Myraham. There is no safe anchorage there, so the ship sails around the island of Pyke to Lordsport. Theon sees a large number of longships there bearing sigils of important houses such as the blood moon of House Wynch, the black warhorn of House Goodbrother, and the silver scythe of House Harlaw, and realizes that his father has called the banners. He is puzzled at first, but decides it must be a defensive move as his father and his uncle Victarion, commander of the Iron Fleet, are both old men and have no doubt grown cautious. He also spies Lord Balon’s personal longship, Great Kraken, but notes that his uncle Euron’s ship, Silence, is not in port. He has been sleeping with the captain’s daughter during the trip, and she begs him to take her as his salt wife, but he refuses. Theon wonders who will meet him at the pier, thinking it might be Lord Sawane Botley, the steward Sylas Sourmouth, or Dagmer Cleftjaw. Robb sent ahead ravens announcing his coming, and when he and Lord Jason reached Seagard and found no longship waiting, Jason sent his own birds as well. At first he thinks no one is there, but then a priest of the Drowned God speaks up. Theon does not recognize him at first, but then vaguely remembers that Balon said in one of his letters that his younger brother Aeron had gone down in a storm and then turned to religion when he washed up on shore. Theon expresses surprise that Dagmer was not sent with an honor guard, and Aeron replies that he has gone to Old Wyk to bring the longships of Stonehouse and Drumm because they have been called to war. After blessing Theon in the name of the Drowned God, Aeron leads him on the road to Pyke.
On the way to Pyke, Theon tries to engage his uncle in conversation, but the man is grim and terse, quite different from when Theon left ten years ago when his uncle was fond of songs, ale, and women. He asks if his sister and mother are at Pyke, and Aeron informs him that Asha has taken her longship, Black Wind, to Great Wyk and his mother is troubled by illness and has gone to Harlaw to be with her sister. Theon also tries to learn what his father’s plans are, but Aeron will not say. Theon is furious and says that he is Balon’s heir and should be told, but Aeron indicates that his sister may succeed Lord Balon instead of him, as he is now seen as an outsider and a Stark. Theon laments that the old lords continue to fight the old battles and that Lord Jason had been the same way on the road to Seagard, showing disapproval that Patrek was taking a liking to Theon because House Mallister had suffered numerous raids from the ironborn. Patrek pointed out that only one raid had been launched against Seagard in three hundred years, when Theon’s brother Rodrik attacked during Greyjoy’s rebellion and was killed by Lord Jason. Theon tells Aeron that with Robb Lord of Winterfell a new day of glory for their people is at hand and points to the comet as a messenger of victory. Aeron agrees the comet is a sign, but states it is a flaming brand heralding a return to the old ways and greatness.
Aeron brings Theon to Pyke and then departs. Theon is greeted by Helya. He asks where Sylas is and Helya states that he died five years ago. He then asks after Maester Qalen and learns that he too is dead and Maester Wendamyr now looks after the ravens. She leads him to his quarters in the Bloody Keep. Theon is disquieted because his chambers are those that gave the Bloody Keep its name, where one thousand years ago the sons of the River King were hacked to pieces. The room has not been opened in years and is damp and musty. He sends Helya away for hot water and new rushes. After washing and changing, he goes to see his father. His father is disgusted with Theon’s silks and velvets and his golden chain which was bought with gold and not iron and is also disdainful that Theon comes as a meek messenger. Theon counters that the plan was his idea and Robb has come to look on him as a brother, prompting an angry response from Balon to remember his real brothers, Rodrik slain at Seagard and Maron killed in the final assault on Pyke. Theon produces Robb’s message, which states that if Balon will attack the Lannisters, Robb will make him King of the Iron Islands. Theon is proud of the plan, which he helped draft. It calls for Robb to march on the Golden Tooth and draw out Ser Stafford Lannister, after which the ironmen will attack from the sea and take Casterly Rock, which Theon would then want as his seat. Balon thinks Casterly Rock too strong and does not want to be given a crown. He has called his banners to take a crown, and he will not do so by marching on the Lannisters. He will move on the north.
This was another ridiculously long chapter and I have a feeling that they don’t get any shorter from here on out. Luckily, there isn’t a great deal to comment on here since most of the plot details have played themselves out by ADwD. So, this chapter is Theon’s first and it serves as his welcome home party except no one is celebrating, much to Theon umbrage. The chapter is rife with references and foreshadowing to just how poorly Theon fits in with the Ironborn and how ill-fated his time with them is going to prove. By the chapter’s end, it is clear that Theon is no more Ironborn than he of the North and yet he will soon have to choose between the two.
The banner streamed from an iron mast, shivering and twisting as the wind gusted, like a bird struggling to take flight.
I don’t usually go into full literature analysis mode but I like this phrase and what it says about the Ironborn. Also, since this is our first foray into an Ironborn chapter as well as our first look at Pyke, I think this is as good a time as any to discuss the Ironborn as a people. Frankly, I don’t particularly care for them. I mean, it’s a culture based almost entirely on piracy and violence but beyond that it feel like the culture hasn’t matured at all in the last few hundred years. No matter how many times they are disciplined and thrown back into the sea, they continue to hold on to this ideal of plundering and stealing and reaving. You would have thought by now that someone along the way would have realized that their culture emphasizes attributes that are very likely to get the whole lot of killed or enslaved. Beyond that though, the idea of a ‘bird struggling to take flight’ really captures the impression I had in my mind of the Ironborn. Where people from the other regions successfully built a culture and a way of life and defended it, the Ironborn have never actually gotten an empire or proper kingdom going – like the bird, they falter and fall soon after they begin.
This is also the first time we actually see Pyke and its towers. I’m almost entirely convinced that there is no way that a castle like that could have existed in the real world given the kind of engineering they had at the time but then again, mankind has pulled some crazy shit before, so maybe it’s possible but either way, I like the mental image I have of Pyke – while it does seem gloomy as all hell (like a sea themed version of Dragonstone really) I have to admit that it also might be pretty badass. There’s also a point to be made here about how the well the various cultures that inhabit each of the Seven Kingdoms have adapted to their geographies. The North and the Ironborn are obvious in this but even the Southern kingdoms like the Riverlands and the Stormlands feel very authentic in the way the culture in those places has evolved. I might be overthinking it, though.
The Drowned God had made them to reave and rape, to carve out kingdoms and write their names in fire and blood and song.
You see, it’s stuff like this that I just don’t understand. When has this strategy ever worked out for them? Sure, they’ve had periods where they might have a good thing going for a decade or so, but they’ve never really had a lasting realm and dynasty as far as I can remember and it makes their adherence to this dogma really stupid.
I must remember this, Theon vowed to himself. I must never go far from the sea again.
Yes, you most certainly should not go to Winterfell when you were told to raid the coastline. I’m glad you know what’s good for you and don’t make stupid decisions based on insecurity and idiocy.
It’s not every man who has the honor of raising a king’s bastard.
Oh god, I had forgotten just how much of douchebag Theon is in this book. I wish I could have continued not remembering though I have to say that Theon’s storyline is one of my favourites overall but it has an unbearably smug and annoying beginning. Also, knowing what he goes through makes reading this part a lot easier in some ways.
It was not as though they had no word of his arrival.
There are a ton of these clues throughout the chapter about how the Ironborn know exactly who and what Theon is and are therefore not particularly thrilled to have him back. The way he lords over the peasantry is very typical of mainland Westerosi but feels too formal for the Ironborn (or at least, so I think based on the little that I remember of the Ironborn) and more than that he has this focus on power and material wealth that is somehow both similar yet totally different from the Ironborn’s philosophy. It feels like the Ironborn respect wealth and power that one earns but Theon, and by extension most of the mainland, respect bloodlines and things of that nature. It’s really amazing how unlikable the Ironborn are despite being more progressive (in that particular aspect, they’re ridiculously backwards in every other way).
“Stark is grey and Greyjoy’s black,” he murmured, smiling, “but it seems we’re both windy.”
I haven’t talked much about Aeron and I’m actually wondering if I can just spam ‘No Godless Man May Sit The Seastone Chair’ for all of his chapter re-read discussions but more relevantly, you can imagine what must be going through his mind seeing Theon after so long. Compared to Asha, Theon is literally the softest kid on the Iron Islands and his constant whining and entitlement and poorly disguised sympathies for the Starks all must probably make him seem like an enormous tool – which to be fair, he most certainly is.
As a boy, he had lived in fear of Stark’s stern face and great dark sword.
I mention this because it’s one of several alternative interpretations we get of Ned’s character. As far as I know, Ned’s chapters don’t really mention Theon too much – I don’t think Ned went particularly out of his way to care for the kid but I don’t think he mistreated him either. Still, Theon’s impression of Ned as frightening and threatening is understandable considering that should Balon misbehave, Ned would be the one personally taking Theon’s head, thanks to his ‘he who passes the sentence should swing the sword’ philosophy. Despite that, I don’t think Theon tried to fit in too hard either but I’m actually going to give Theon the benefit of the doubt here because being taken hostage at the age of ten has got to be traumatic, regardless of whether or not your captors are reasonably nice to you.
“It is my plan, not Robb’s,” Theon said proudly.
I find this line funny because Theon says it ostensibly to show Balon that he is not Robb’s pet and to imply that he has Robb wrapped around his finger but on the other hand, what does it say about how close their relationship is if Robb is willing to give the hostage the chance to formulate battle plans? Beyond all of that, we should also remember that this is coming in from a first person perspective – I suspect that Balon knows Theon’s feelings towards the Starks better than Theon himself does at this point and that Theon’s feelings are showing a bit more clearly to the other characters that the text would suggest. I don’t really have solid evidence to base this off of, but it feels right to me.
“I am the Greyjoy, Lord Reaper of Pyke, King of Salt and Rock, Son of the Sea Wind, and no man gives me a crown.”
Say what you will about the Ironborn, they do get some good lines every now and then. As far as declarations of intent go, that was fairly badass though it is soured a little by the fact he ended plagiarizing the Targaryen words at the end of it, though I guess he is a pirate after all. I especially liked how he declares himself the Greyjoy instead of a Greyjoy. It’s a shame that for all this talk, he can barely walk and will be a non-factor in the events to come.