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How Euron Greyjoy Embodies the Late-Season Plot Failures of ‘Game of Thrones’

The deus ex pirate’s seemingly easy slaying of a dragon highlights a glaring endgame problem: He doesn’t add complexity, he removes it.

HBO/Ringer illustration

In Sunday’s “The Last of the Starks,” Euron Greyjoy became the first dragonslayer (non–Night King division) in nearly two centuries. “That must have been glorious,” Cersei remarks upon hearing the news of Rhaegal’s death. Glorious is an understatement. Euron’s success in killing one of Daenerys’s dragons should make him an instant legend in Westeros, one of only a tiny handful of people in history who have killed a dragon without one of their own.

How did Euron accomplish such an incredible feat? It wound up being stunningly simple: First, he snuck up on Daenerys’s fleet undetected. Then, he sent out three scorpion shots in rapid succession with pinpoint accuracy despite firing from a moving ship. And finally, his scorpion bolts proved incredibly effective, cutting through Rhaegal like dragonflame cut through the Wall. And of course, Thrones’ evil Jack Sparrow had a big smirk on his face the entire time:

HBO

That face says “this is too easy,” and killing Rhaegal was. Established canon was thrown out the window to allow Thrones’ deus ex pirate to put his thumb on the scales and even out the power imbalance between Daenerys and Cersei. He’s a cartoon villain who is somehow always in the right place at the right time to do exactly as the plot demands. No character is a better embodiment of Thrones’ late-season pacing and plot failings than Euron.

This shouldn’t be surprising, but Euron, Qyburn, and Cersei are not the first people in Westeros to think that the best way to kill a dragon is to shoot things at it. In fact, long before the events of the show, a dragon was felled by a scorpion bolt—the same weapon Euron used. But other than the weapon, the circumstances of that kill do not resemble Rhaegal’s slaughter.

A few years after he’d brought the rest of the continent to heel, Aegon the Conqueror shifted his focus toward Dorne, but was never able to bring the southern kingdom into his domain. That is partly because of geography (Dorne is surrounded by red mountains and deserts that are difficult to pass), partly because of determination (the Dornish saw their castles burned but refused to bend the knee), and partly because the Dornish did something that no one else in Westeros could: They killed a dragon.

As the First Dornish War unfolded, Aegon’s forces—led by the Tyrells and Baratheons—found little success invading Dorne. So he unleashed his dragons, setting Dornish cities and castles ablaze with Balerion (ridden by Aegon), Vhagar (ridden by his sister-wife Queen Visenya), and Meraxes (ridden by his sister-wife Queen Rhaenys). In 10 A.C., during a battle over the gloomy castle of Hellholt, a Dornishman atop the castle’s towers unleashed a scorpion bolt that caught Meraxes directly in the eye. The dragon fell to earth, crashed into the castle, and died. Queen Rhaenys’s body was never recovered, and whether she died in the fall or was captured by the Dornish is disputed.

Following that success, the Dornish outfitted their entire fleet with scorpions. (Sound familiar?) The Dornish believed the scorpions would allow them to kill the dragons if they ever got near again. But—as detailed in George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood—they found that the scorpions were no match for the winged beasts:

As Morion’s fleet beat its way across the Sea of Dorne, the dragons Vermithor, Caraxes, and Vhagar fell on them from out of the clouds. Shouts rang out, and the Dornish filled the air with scorpion bolts, but firing at a dragon is one thing, and killing it quite another. A few bolts glanced off the scales of the dragons, and one punched through Vhagar’s wing, but none of them found any vulnerable spots as the dragons swooped and banked and loosed great blasts of fire. One by one the ships went up in gouts of flame.

The shot that killed Meraxes was a miracle fluke, hitting the dragon in one of the creature’s very few weak spots, and the Dornish were never so lucky again, even with scores of scorpions in their armada.

Meraxes wasn’t the only dragon killed by a projectile. Vermax died in the Battle of the Gullet during the Dance of Dragons more than a century later. It’s not clear what happened to Vermax, who was young at the time of his death, but some say he suffered a crossbow bolt to the eye (like Meraxes did) while others contend that a grappling hook brought him crashing down to the sea. At any rate, the lore is clear on this point: Fully grown, mature dragons have scales that are “harder than steel” and the Targaryens were accustomed to flying through “storms of spears and arrows” without suffering harm. They’re extremely difficult to kill. If they weren’t, Aegon the Conqueror’s invasion would have been instantly snuffed out by the same tactics that Euron used to end Rhaegal’s life.

To be fair, Thrones had been setting up Rhaegal’s death. Viserion died thanks to the Night King’s javelin toss, and even Bronn showed that, on the show, a scorpion bolt could pierce a dragon’s scales when he hit Drogon during the Loot Train Attack. But this was the most egregious violation of the canon: Euron’s aim can’t be explained away by magic like the Night King’s can, and Bronn missed a shot from a stationary platform in addition to the one, nonlethal bolt that found its target.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss cooked up a plot for this season that demanded Cersei become an equal (at least) opponent to Daenerys in order for her to fulfill the role of Thrones’ true big bad. To make that happen, Benioff and Weiss deployed their horny steampunk pirate, and Rhaegal paid the price. It’s not the first time the showrunners used Euron in this fashion: In Season 7, he somehow sneaked up on Yara’s fleet, removing Dany’s Dornish allies and the bulk of her Ironborn allies from the chessboard in one quick stroke. In the next episode, he fast-traveled to Casterly Rock and destroyed the ships that delivered the Unsullied there, stranding them on the other side of the continent. These two developments at least had some in-universe explanation: Euron is a talented and experienced naval commander, and maybe Daenerys just had the worst navy in existence. (Seriously: Why haven’t they learned that they need to send scouts ahead of their fleet at this point?!)

But this latest action of Euron the Plot Device Pirate is particularly tough to swallow. Euron’s sudden skill as a master marksman have no explanation, and his ability to consistently ambush Daenerys—this time while she had dragons soaring high in the air and was headed toward an area where she knew the enemy fleet would be nearby—is approaching parody. Here is Benioff and Weiss’s reasoning for how Euron was able to get the drop on Dany and Co. for the third consecutive time:

HBO

RIP, Rhaegal—you deserved better.

This clunky plot development would be understandable (well, somewhat) if Euron had any role beyond being Cersei’s muscle man. But his character has been stripped down to the studs. Since Season 7, the show has essentially copy-and-pasted Salladhor Saan’s motivations onto Euron, exchanging one pirate’s character traits for another. Saan always talked about how he wanted to “fuck the queen,” and that has become Euron’s sole motivation since he arrived in King’s Landing.

His seemingly unwavering loyalty to Cersei is also odd for a character who should be much less reliable: The Ironborn usually pay the Iron Price for what they want—they take things, they don’t bargain for them. Yet Euron seems happy to play the political game with the same lords of Westeros whom the Ironborn are supposed to despise so much.

In the latest episode, Cersei tells Euron that she is pregnant with his child, even though the father is actually Jaime. Yet when Tyrion talks about the child with Cersei, Euron fails to connect the dots: How would Tyrion know Cersei is pregnant unless the pregnancy happened before he slept with her? There’s still time for that development, but during the scene itself there was no indication that Euron thought anything was amiss. This is a byproduct of Euron’s place in the plot: He doesn’t add complexity, he removes it.

In the books, Euron is an intimidating and violent force. He’s arguably even more sadistic than Ramsay. He wears an eye patch to cover a black eye (“shining with malice,” according to Theon in a released Winds of Winter chapter) and has blue lips from drinking Shade of the Evening. He claims he once threw a dragon egg into the ocean because he was in a bad mood and owns a set of Valyrian steel armor. And, crucially, he has big plans for himself: Euron wants to align himself with Daenerys (similar to the plan he had in Season 6), but also is angling to betray her, sending his brother Victarion with a magical horn called Dragonbinder that Euron says will bend one of Dany’s dragons to his will. That makes him a likely candidate to kill (or use!) a dragon in the books—it just probably won’t be by three inexplicable scorpion bolts.

Rhaegal’s death seemed symbolic of this season as a whole. In the service of speeding along the plot, the show has disregarded the magic and fantasy elements of the story. The Night King was killed in an evening, Bran has been sidelined, Jon abandoned Ghost, and Rhaegal fell from the sky. Euron could have been a worthy Thrones villain, but the show turned him into little more than a plot device, there to take the script from Point A to Point B as quickly as his fleet teleports across Westeros.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.