It’s only natural that Game of Thrones needed to simplify its story given how ambitious its source material was, but along the way, that left certain aspects of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire neglected in the context of the show. With several different kingdoms and regions decorating the expansive world, the HBO adaptation only had so much time to focus on places like the Iron Islands.
And the result is that the Iron Islands were simplified and underplayed in the adaptation, which left one of the series’ coolest characters on the cutting room floor. Victarion Greyjoy brought a brute appeal to the cast of Iron Islanders that his brother Euron and his nephew Theon lacked. And in leaving him out, the show was missing out on some massively awesome moments.
In the books, as in the show, the Iron Islands are a compilation of islands on the western coast of Westeros where the soil and people are equally unforgiving. Unable to farm and grow their own resources, the Iron Islanders built up a culture over the centuries of taking what they need in battle through sheer strength and brutality, commanding one of the most powerful naval forces in the world and wielding it with eager violence. In the wake of Balon Greyjoy’s ɗᥱαꚍɧ, his relatives to seek to inherit the Seastone Chair each have a cleverness in their own way that makes them fit for politics, but in the books, there is one competitor for the throne who embodies the Iron Islands’ core ethics without any need for cleverness: Victarion Greyjoy.
As Balon’s younger brother, Victarion considers himself a contender for leadership. Indeed, as the Lord Captain of the Iron Fleet who led his ships into many successful battles in the past, he certainly has the resume to support his bid. However, the character is brutish and straightforward in his approach to most problems, allowing the cleverer brother Euron to outmaneuver him in the political theater that decides Balon’s successor. Euron then sends Victarion to Essos on a mission to seek Daenerys Targaryen’s hand in marriage, removing him from many of the goings-on in Westeros thereafter as the Iron Fleet makes the remarkable journey. For that reason, it is understandable why he was removed enough from the main plot for the HBO adaptation to cut him out and make more room for their already swelling cast of characters. Unfortunately, that meant losing one of the book’s coolest characters.
Victarion is described as a massive berserker in battle, so unafraid of drowning that he wears plate mail into battle aboard his ships. He wears an elaborate Kraken-adorned helm and a nine-layered gold cloak with his family’s sigil integrated into it, bringing a war ax and a shield into battle where he participates more eagerly than any of his men. Few of the leaders in Game of Thrones participate firsthand in the battles they command unless absolutely necessary, but Victarion would have been a refreshing change of pace as a leader who was not content to sit out any fight.
His latest storyline in the novels even leans into the magical elements the show too often downplayed and are likely to have a massive influence on the outcome of the story. Sent by Euron to Essos, Victarion plots to steal Daenerys for himself rather than make the proposal on Euron’s behalf that Euron intends. His seascape journey proves transformative, however, as Victarion loses a third of his fleet in the arduous storms and becomes embroiled in the magic of the red priests of R’hollor. In using magic to treat his hand, it appears cursed by the red priest’s magic, and the consequences of that bargain have yet to fully fruit.
Rather than going that route, the show opted for simplifying much of the politics of the Iron Islands. Euron Greyjoy’s character, in particular, served as a common focal point of criticism in the wake of the series’ finale, where his schemes lost any of their subtlety crafted in the novels and the politics of the Iron Islands as a whole handwaved into an afterthought following his ɗᥱαꚍɧ. Victarion’s niece Asha is similarly simplified into the new character of Yara, and even then the lion’s share of narrative focus for the Iron Islands went to Theon’s path to redemption.
By cutting out Victarion’s story for the sake of complexity, the show paradoxically missed out on one of its simplest pleasures. Just seeing a Lord Captain aboard his ship madly swinging his battle-ax at his foes, decked out in elaborate armor, could easily be a top contender for one of the show’s coolest moments. In adapting the events of Robert’s Rebellion, HBO would do well to include Victarion in the prequel series, as the savage pirate warrior is simply too awesome to incredible out.