Last Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones showed us the terrifying power of its main villain: the enigmatic Night King.
With a single spear, he slew the dragon Viserion and dealt a crippling blow to the heroes. With such incredible strength, an army of undead monsters, and now his very own zombified dragon, this dark lord of the White Walkers seems like he's as bad as he could get.
This is why show-only fans would probably be shocked to learn that in the books he's long-dead, if he ever existed at all.
When the character first appeared in the show, book fans were shocked. The Night King of the novels is an ancient Lord Commander of the Night's Watch who turned traitor to join the White Walkers (or Others as they are more commonly referred to in the books), so George R.R. Martin himself had to step in to clear things up:
As for the Night's King (the form I prefer), in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have.
So, if the Night King doesn't exist in the books, who is the real villain of the story? For a long time, readers of the books suspected that the mysterious "Great Other," the archenemy to Melissandre's Lord of Light, was the ruler of the White Walkers, but once again, Martin seems to have struck that theory down:
I don't think any gods are likely to be showing up in Westeros, any more than they already do. We're not going to have one appearing, deus ex machina, to affect the outcomes of things, no matter how hard anyone prays.
So, the Great Other (like the other gods of Westeros) seems doomed to remain in the background. Who, then, is the real villain of the story?
At this point in time, all signs point to none other than Euron Greyjoy.
To a fan of the show, of course, this sounds utterly ridiculous. Euron is a psychopath, to be sure, but more of a cartoonish brute than a threat to the entire realm. Those who have read the books, however, know better.
Euron Greyjoy is not only the most evil, but also by far the most dangerous human villain in all of Westeros. In the books, Euron doesn't win the Seastone Chair by boasting of his "big cock," but with this:
That is Dragonbinder, a Valyrian artifact that Euron took from the Warlocks of Qarth (remember those guys?), and it is the key to his plans. Crafted with ancient magic, this horn can bind dragons to the will of its master — and Euron plans to use it. Sending his brother Victarion to Mereen at the start of The Winds of Winter, Euron seems ready to bind Daenerys's green dragon Rhaegal to his service, and if he succeeds, then Westeros is very screwed.
Dressed To Kill
Now, the on-screen version of Euron would make a very underwhelming final villain. While Pilou Asbæk has played a decent psychotic raider, he dresses like a rock star and looks rather plain; not exactly the type to conquer kingdoms.
In the books, Euron looks very, very different. For starters, he's got a signature eyepatch concealing his left eye, and the mystery of what is behind that patch is brought up quite a bit. Theon recalls his brother's left eye as being "black and soulless," and Aeron calls it Euron's "bloodeye," as opposed to his blue "smiling eye." His lips are stained blue from the magic wine he took from the Warlocks along with the dragon horn. Furthermore, while he starts out with the same Driftwood Crown as his show counterpart, he later changes to one made of iron, with the points made from shark teeth.
The most intimidating part of Euron's wardrobe is his armor. While Asbæk's character seems content with a kraken-decorated breastplate, Martin's Euron wears a suit of armor made from Valyrian Steel. These suits are so rare and valuable that his brother Aeron believes that a single suit is worth more than all of the gold in the entire world; even during the days of Old Valyria they were worth more than a whole kingdom. Almost as intimidating as the suit itself is how he got it: by sailing into the heart of Old Valyria, a trip no other man has ever made and survived.
What Does He Want?
Euron's plans are shrouded in secrecy, and while he tells his fellow ironborn that he plans to make Daenerys his wife and take the Iron Throne, in private he makes it clear that his ambitions are much greater. Simply put: Euron wants to cause the apocalypse, and to make himself a god in the process. Normally this would make him seem like a lunatic with no chance of success, but Euron seems terrifyingly capable of doing it.
Though his exact methods are unclear, he seems to be planning a mass sacrifice of priests from all different religions (including his brother Aeron), rounding them up and then tying them to the prows of his ships as he sails off to battle. It's not clear what Euron plans to achieve with this, but it's definitely nothing good.
Euron has been heavily hinted to possess knowledge of Blood Magic, and given his desire for godhood, it's very likely that this sacrifice is a piece of his bigger plan. Fans have many theories as to what Euron's endgame is — summoning Cthulhu-esque monsters from the deep, becoming king of the White Walkers, or recreating the doom of Valyria in Westeros — but whatever it is, it's going to be far worse than anything Joffrey or Ramsay did.
Why Not In The Show?
You might be asking: If Euron is such a huge part of the story, why have the producers of #GameOfThrones turned him into such a joke? Though they haven't made any official statements, I have a few ideas as to why they decided to make this change:
It's All About Timing
The sad truth is that Euron was introduced in the sixth out of eight seasons, two entire seasons after the show's main villain, the Night King, was first revealed. With only three seasons to go, there just wasn't much time to fully establish Euron as the threat he is in the books.
Of course, if the showrunners had gone by the book timeline, Euron would have arrived early in Season 4, around the time they introduced the Night King, but sadly the showrunners were too focused on building up Ramsay Bolton as the next big villain, and pretty much forgot about the ironborn.
While Ramsay was a wonderful villain to root against, and Iwan Rheon's performance is a joy to watch, in the end he was little more than a distraction from the main plot, leaving elements like Euron's return and the fight against the White Walkers on the back burner. It's up to you if you think it was worth the time spent on his plot line, but in the end others suffered for it.
Keeping The White Walkers In Focus
It's easy to make the argument that, with a human as the series' Big Bad, the White Walkers' menace and threat would've been undercut. It's possible that the showrunners made the understandable decision to have the Night King be the main villain to keep the focus on the fight to the North, which is what many viewers have been excited for since Season 1. Still, the Night King, who has yet to utter a single word, seems less twisted and intriguing than the series' many depraved human characters, and I am left to wonder if all the hype around him might not lead to such a great payoff.
Could The Show's Euron Be More Than He Seems?
All that said, it's not entirely off the table that Euron might still be more important than we realize. After all, the Archmaesters mentioned a prophecy that the Drowned God would rise up to destroy Aegon Targeryan, and Euron has proclaimed himself the Drowned God. Perhaps he'll turn out to be a real threat to Dany after all. It's not even out of the realm of possibility that Euron is connected to the White Walkers. In the latest episode, Beric Dondarrion says that:
"Death is the enemy. The first enemy, and the last."
Echoing Euron's introduction last season almost perfectly:
"I am the storm, brother. The first storm, and the last."
In addition, Asbæk has said that Euron is worse than Ramsay, and that his goal is "world domination," both of which are true of the book character, but less so of his on-screen counterpart. Only time will tell if Euron is fated to remain a glorified lackey for Cersei, or if he will rise into his own in the coming season finale and beyond.