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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Is Yara Greyjoy More Than a MacGuffin for Theon? (And, Um, Alive?)

The fate of the would-be Queen of the Iron Islands remains unknown. Will her broken brother rescue her? And if so, will she sail into the battle in time to impact the Great War?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 34 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.

The Loose End

While Theon was stuck in Winterfell as Ned Stark’s ward, his older sister Yara remained on Pyke. As such, she’s an experienced captain, and was all set to be the Queen of the Iron Islands until Euron, her uncle, won the Kingsmoot in Season 6. After that, the battle lines for the future of the Iron Islands were drawn: Yara and Theon vs. Euron.

Euron captured Yara in the second episode of Season 7. Surely you remember when Theon briefly reverted back to Reek and bailed on his sister:

In Theon’s defense, there wasn’t much he could have done against Euron and his men, who were already at work pillaging the ships and slaying as many foes as they could reach. Theon saved himself, and in the next episode, we learned that Yara was still alive, too. But she was also in chains, with Euron parading her through the streets of King’s Landing. At the parley in the Season 7 finale, Euron tells Theon that he has Yara and that “if you don’t submit to me here, now, I’ll kill her.”

Theon doesn’t submit in that moment, of course, and at the end of the season he convinces some fellow Ironborn to help him mount a rescue attempt to free Yara, similar to how Yara tried to rescue Theon from Ramsay’s clutches in Season 4. Right now, Yara represents Theon’s chance at redemption: If this mission succeeds, he could both save his sister and prove to himself that he has something good to offer the world.

But could Yara still be more than a MacGuffin in her brother’s character arc? What role might she play in the endgame?

Why This Loose End Matters

Yara is the only Greyjoy who both wants the Salt Throne and isn’t evil, making her a key cog in the future of the Iron Islands, and—barring a surprise Salladhor Saan comeback—she’s basically the only person on Dany’s side with experience commanding a fleet of ships. Yara may be in chains right now, but if she regains her freedom, her role in the final six episodes could quickly grow.

Yara is also an interesting, if underserved, character. Her screen time has been so sporadic over the years that it can be easy to forget that she was first introduced early in Season 2, making her one of the longer-running characters still alive. When we first meet her, she’s pretending to be some anonymous Ironborn girl when she greets Theon, who doesn’t recognize her. Theon aggressively flirts with her (and that’s putting it mildly) and makes a fool of himself. In her ensuing scenes, she regularly dunks all over him, making up for years of missed chances to haze her younger brother.

After Theon takes Winterfell in Season 2, he sends for Yara, asking her to help him hold the castle. Yara shows up, but only to mock him (“Which one gave you the tougher fight, the cripple or the 6-year-old?”) before informing him she has no intention of lending him any men.

But she also offers him good advice and reveals sincere affection for him, asking him to not commit to the hopeless endeavor of holding Winterfell. “Don’t die so far from the sea,” she says. Like all Ironborn, Yara can be ruthless, but she loves her baby brother.

When Ramsay ships Theon’s “favorite toy” to Balon and Yara in Season 3, Theon’s father is instantly ready to abandon his son. “Theon disobeyed my orders,” he tells Yara. “The boy’s a fool. He cannot further the Greyjoy line.”

But every Ironborn is a king (or queen) when they step on the deck of their own ship, and Yara boldly subverts her father, the King of the Iron Islands, by bringing 50 Ironborn with her aboard the Greyjoys’ fastest ship to attempt to rescue Theon from the Dreadfort. This is a massive undertaking—to get to the Dreadfort, Yara had to sail all the way around Westeros and up the Narrow Sea. Of course, when she gets to the Dreadfort, she finds that Theon is a husk of himself, now identifying only as Reek, and she can’t rescue him before Ramsay and his hounds find them.

Yara embodies some of the traits the Ironborn hold dear: She’s resolute, fierce, and strong. Yet unlike so many of her countrymen, she isn’t callous. At their worst, the Ironborn are rapists and reavers who are caught in a toxic fetishization of what they call “the Old Way.” The Greyjoy words are “we do not sow,” and the Ironborn celebrate those who plunder and destroy, while calling those who build or grow weak.

When Theon is pressured into proving himself as a true Greyjoy, he ends up murdering two innocent boys, among many others. Balon was a cruel and immovable lord. Euron is a sadistic brute. Yara, at least, has some empathy, which makes her by far the most promising person who could rule over the Iron Islands. At the very least, she deserves a better ending than one that makes her little more than part of Theon’s potential redemption.

How Season 8 Could Address It

Yara has been absent from all of Thrones’ Season 8 promotional material, even as Euron and Theon have gotten plenty of shine. She wasn’t in any of the brief teasers, wasn’t in the first batch of images, wasn’t shown sitting on the Iron Throne, wasn’t in Entertainment Weekly’s recent preview, and didn’t show up in the trailer. Poor Yara didn’t even get an emoji. Beric Dondarrion and Tormund didn’t show up in any promotional material before they were confirmed to be alive in the trailer, so Yara’s absence is worrisome: Could Euron have already killed her?

Given that Theon is on a mission to rescue Yara, it would be inexplicable for her to not appear at all in the final season. Yet some Ironborn think she’s already dead. When Theon tries to convince them to help him save Yara, one of them snaps back at him: “Your sister’s dead.”

“She’s not dead,” Theon responds.

“She’s dead,” the unnamed Ironborn says. “Even if Euron hasn’t cut her throat yet, she’s dead.”

While it’s unlikely that Yara is dead just yet (and actress Gemma Whelan has hinted at her return), that Ironborn soldier may have a point. It’s not clear where exactly Euron is holding Yara (though I’d wager he keeps her on his ship with him), but wherever she is, Euron won’t be treating her kindly. Theon and Yara’s uncle is a sadistic psychopath. His ship is called Silence because he cuts out the tongues of everyone who crews the boat. When he attacks Yara’s fleet in Season 7, the camera shows some of Euron’s men cutting tongues and ears off of their victims; seeing that triggers Theon’s Reek episode. Later, we see the two Sand Snakes Euron killed—Obara and Nymeria—on the front of his ship, with one of them hanging from the bow while the other is impaled on it.

Euron also harbors particular disdain for his niece and nephew—his first act after being crowned King of the Iron Islands is to declare his intention to murder Theon and Yara. Euron may already be torturing his niece, and if Theon is able to reach her, he may find her much different than when he left her. It could mirror Yara’s attempted rescue of Theon, with the roles now reversed. For Yara’s sake, let’s hope she’s able to accept Theon’s help, if he makes it to her. The last thing Thrones needs is to turn Yara into Reek 2.0.

Yara’s rescue wouldn’t wrap up her character arc, though. Once free, Yara would have so much potential: She could finally rule the Iron Islands as a just queen. She could help support Jon and Dany in the war against the dead: The White Walkers haven’t been shown swimming, and wights appear to be totally helpless against unfrozen bodies of water, but plenty of troops will need to be ferried from place to place in the Great War. And she could be a key player in whatever post-war government Westeros adopts—Yara and Theon asked for independence for the Iron Islands when they met with Dany, and they could inspire other regions to do the same.

Mostly though, in the fight between the living and the dead, the heroes need every competent warrior and leader they can find. Yara has proven to be one of the better ones.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.