The Ironborn, the Greyjoy, Game of Thrones’ resident pirates, have always been one of the Houses that things happen to. Perennial outliers in the seven kingdoms, not least because the Iron Islands are stuck out on the west coast of the continent, they’re brilliant at sea… but the big battles have always been on land. They’re proud, they bow to no-one… but it was overweening pride that led Theon (Alfie Allen) to betray the Starks in season 2, which in turn stuffed up the Ironborn’s war plans and, ultimately, led to Theon losing his identity (and, ahem, his junk) at the hands of Ramsay Snow.
None of which appears to have stopped the new Iron King, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), from harboring an insatiable power lust. Having killed his own brother to seize power last season, and then tried to kill his own niece and nephew, Yara and Theon, as they hotfooted it away from an obvious madman, this year will find Euron chasing both his relatives and absolute power itself.
“This year we’re going to see Euron coming to Westeros,” says Asbaek. “He knows his nephew and niece are on their way to meet the dragon mother. The viewers know that they’ve already teamed up and that the Ironborn ships are now part of Daenerys’ invasion party. But Euron’s only gone and built the biggest fleet in the world — so now he needs a power base to use it. Just like his niece and nephew has, he needs to form some kind of alliance.”
From what we’ve seen of Euron to date, you wouldn’t have said diplomacy was his strongest suit. Euron once went mad at sea, was tied to a mast by his crew to stop him jumping overboard — and he rewarded them for saving him by cutting out all of their tongues. “He’s a fearless psycho pirate for sure, but in the writing he’s not just evil — he’s evil with a little smile,” says Asbaek, giving what can best be described as an evil little smile. “There are scenes this year when he’s fighting at sea and I’m covered in blood and I’m stabbing and screaming and yelling and that’s the destructive side of Euron — a fierce warrior who doesn’t give a shit because he’s untouchable.”
But with a much-enlarged role this year, as well as a narrative requirement that Euron press some flesh, Asbaek says we’ll see another side. “It’s my job in those scenes to make him charming and seductive and interested and a little bit more nuanced. He can even be pretty funny when he wants to be.”
The Greyjoys, or course, are a house divided. With Theon now having pledged his support to his sister — admitting he is unfit to rule — Yara (Gemma Whelan) believes she is the rightful Queen of the Iron Islands. Her play with Daenerys was that she would supply 100 Ironborn ships to sail under the Targaryen flag — on the condition that after the war, the Iron Islands would be granted independence. And in the course of those negotiations, Yara too proved to be something of a charmer.
“She and Daenerys were definitely flirting,” says Whelan. “It wasn’t in the script. I guess that Emilia [Clarke] and I must have just found some chemistry. But then the episode before we’d seen Yara with a prostitute — so we know that she’s up for anything. Not a lesbian, as I often have to point out. She’s up for anything, she doesn’t discriminate — which I think is fantastic: she’s a very modern character in that sense. I’m really proud to represent her and I know from the Comic Cons I’ve done that she’s hugely loved as a strong, forward thinking, independent woman.”
The upshot is that this season Yara, with Theon in tow, is at Daenerys’ side as they sail across the Narrow Sea towards Westeros. “There’s not a lot I can say, but I can say that if it starts out with everything looking tickety-boo for Yara, very quickly the wheels come off. She soon finds herself in a diabolical situation.”
The trailers suggest a sea battle of some sort is in the offing, and Whelan does say that she’s been involved in combat. She even has the scars to prove it. “We all got these black-red burns on us from this embers gun they used. I didn’t know it was coming — they throw water at you, you’ve got all these stunt men around you, the camera rolls and suddenly there’s fire flying in to the scene. It’s quite hard to look all serious when your hair is burning.”
On the plus side, she was too wet to be immolated, and more to the point, the end result is, she says, “flippin’ awesome — regardless of a few burning ember pockmarks. What’s brilliant about Game of Thrones is because there’s such a huge budget, if the script says there are meant to be burning arrows or whatever flying through the air, there will be. You don’t have to imagine it as an actor: They will set up a pyrotechnic, make it as close to real as it possibly can be.”
As for the Greyjoys as a family, Whelan says that blood will prove to be thicker than water. “Yara’s got a huge faith in family at the heart of it. Greyjoys have always had to stick together. Remember how hurt she was when she went to rescue Theon and he wasn’t the brother she loved anymore? Well this year he’s coming back, and there’s a beautiful circularity to what happens.”
Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres Sunday, July 16, at 9 p.m. on HBO.
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