It's clear from the preview for next week's episode of Game of Thrones that the Iron Islands are gearing up for a Kingsmoot, and it's left a lot of people asking: What the hell is a Kingsmoot? So I thought it might be a good time to look a little deeper into the ancient practice, other ironborn customs and just what all of this means for the seat of House Greyjoy. Here's everything you need to know.
What actually is a Kingsmoot?
The Kingsmoot is an ironborn custom and part of the traditions known as the Old Way (see below). Unlike the other six kingdoms, the monarchy of the Iron Islands, in past centuries, was not hereditary but elective. Rather than concerning themselves with who was born first or who their father was, the leaders of all the Ironborn Houses and the Great Captains of ships gathered together to formally elect their next leader from among their own numbers — the closest thing to democracy in either Essos or Westeros. However, there hasn't been a formal Kingsmoot in thousands of years.
The Kingsmoot is traditionally held at Nagga's hill on the island of Old Wyk, the holiest of the great islands. Before the Andal invasion, the kings that were elected would create a crown out of driftwood, which when they died would be destroyed and returned to the sea. The next king would make himself a new one, in order to establish that he was not a follower, but his own man.
How does it work?
Any ironborn may nominate himself. Women are not officially forbidden from participating, but no woman has ever been elected. The nominee must explain why they are the best choice, boast about previous accomplishments and abilities, describe their future plans and offer gifts to the crowd — the richer the better. This is an expected part of the Kingsmoot, as logically, the person who has accumulated the most must be the most skilled at acquiring it, and raiding is a skill highly valued among the ironborn.
The vote is performed by shouting the names of the candidates: Whoever has more supporters is declared the winner by the officiating Drowned Men priests. Once a candidate puts himself forward, he is bound to the Kingsmoot decision.
What's the Old Way?
The Old Way refers to the ironborns' traditional lifestyle of thieving and raiding. It puts a high value on raising Kings from within their own numbers, and is held in high religious regard, centering around the concept of "paying the iron price", which basically means to seize wealth or possessions by force. To pay the "gold price" — buying or trading for items — is seen as shameful for any ironborn.
Another aspect of the Old Way is that ironborn are not expected to farm or work on the land, rather these tasks are given to the men and women captured in raids and enslaved. If a woman is considered attractive, she's made into a salt wife, which is effectively a mistress. Unlike the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Islands are aggressively independent. They don't follow the Old Gods, or the Faith of the Seven, but instead put their faith in The Drowned God, also referred to as He Who Dwells Beneath the Waves.
The ironborn believe that “what is dead may never die,” which is the reason that the bodies of those who die are put out to sea — so that they can feast forever in the Drowned God's watery halls, attended to by mermaid servants. In a ritual similar to Christian full-body baptisms, ironborn children are “drowned” at birth. The priests of the religion, Drowned Men, are drowned a second time as adults until they suffocate, before being revived with a primitive form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Who's running in the Kingsmoot this time around?
The Kingsmoot we're currently gearing up for — the first in thousands of years — was called by the late Balon Greyjoy’s Drowned Man brother Aeron, a religious fanatic who insists that the Old Way is the only thing that will keep the Ironborn safe. According to what we know so far, there are two main players: Balon's daughter, Yara, and his younger brother, Euron.
When you consider the fact that he's been away from the Iron Islands for many years, it could be argued that Euron is a little far removed from current events but, sibling murder aside, he actually shapes up to be a pretty good candidate. At the outset of the Greyjoy Rebellion, he managed to orchestrate a pretty risky raid on Lannisport, which burned Tywin Lannister's entire fleet and gave the ironborn command of the western seas and coasts of Westeros.
Having spent the last few years as a pirate, sailing from Oldtown to Qarth and beyond, it would seem that Euron certainly has the worldly experience required to make a good ruler. During a storm while sailing on the Jade Sea, Euron lost his senses and his crew was forced to tie him to the mast to prevent him from jumping overboard. When he was released after the storm had passed, he made sure all of their tongues were ripped out, reasoning, "I needed silence." Sounds like he's got the severity needed too.
Yara, on the other hand, born and raised in Pyke, has been around to witness all of the events of recent years. As Balon's only remaining child in the Iron Islands, he raised her almost as a son and encouraged her to become a reaver in her own right, highly unusual for Ironborn women. A fierce warrior and commander of her own longship, there's no denying she would make an excellent queen, but in an incredibly sexist and primitive culture, even with Theon by her side, her gender will almost certainly work against her.
How does it play out in the books?
It's clear in A Dance With Dragons that Aeron Greyjoy has other motives. Highly suspicious of Euron and his role in Balon’s death, Aeron wants to prevent his rise to power in any way he can. Unfortunately, his plans fail, and Euron wins the Kingsmoot anyway, convincing the crowd that he is worthy by pulling out a Valyrian steel horn, known as Dragonbinder, which has the ability to control dragons.
Euron suggests he send his somewhat boring brother, Victarion, to Meereen to propose to Daenerys on his behalf, with the ultimate goal of gaining control of her dragons. The Ironborn love this idea and consequently elect him as king. However, it doesn't seem like Victarion actually exists on the show and it's highly unlikely the storyline will be cut considering the extraordinary importance of the Dragonbinder, so the real question is: Who will Euron send instead? Theon seems like a pretty probable candidate to me.
Of course, there's no guarantee that the show will follow in the book's footsteps, so at this point, it's anyone's game. Who's to say Theon won't swoop in and take the crown for his own? It won't be long until we find out for sure. Watch the preview for next week's episode, "The Door", below.