What is your take on Euron Greyjoy's character? Was he born like this or do you think circumstances changed him?
First I’d like to thank you sm for this ask because Euron is one of my favorite characters and I think he’s really interesting to talk about <3
Warning: there is very long Euron meta under the cut, and it has mentions of sexual abuse/assault.
So, Euron is sort of difficult to unravel due to the fact that we don’t ever see inside his head, and the POV’s we get who interact with him aren’t incredibly close to him. Aeron thinks he’s a monster and always has,
“Better to be scorned by Balon the Brave than beloved of Euron Crow's Eye.”- AFFC, The Prophet
Really, given this bit I have no idea why it was so heavily contested by fans that Aeron was abused by Euron as a kid. Aeron and Euron aren’t that far apart in age, (the wiki has their birthdates listed as 269AC-273AC for Aeron, and 256AC-268AC for Euron. This means that theoretically, Euron and Aeron could be as little as a year apart, although I highly doubt they’re that close- Victarion makes note of how young Euron looks for his age, and I don’t feel like he would think something like that about a man who was only in his early 30′s. I think Euron is 40-42 in AFFC, which puts him roughly a decade older than Aeron.) so assuming most of this sexual abuse happened while Aeron was still relatively small, Euron was probably still a teenager when it started, meaning that nothing about how sadistic and abusive he is came from his voyage to Valyria, as some people like to claim, or anything else that happened to him during exile. He has been like this for a very long time, at least since he was a young teenager.
“No mortal man could frighten him, no more than the darkness could . . . nor memories, the bones of the soul. The sound of a door opening, the scream of a rusted iron hinge. Euron has come again. It did not matter. He was the Damphair priest, beloved of the god.”- AFFC, The Prophet
Again, Euron abused Aeron so badly that it caused Aeron to turn extremely devout as a way to cope with everything that happened to him. He says in this quote that it doesn’t matter, but then we see him recount the memory of that rusted hinge several times throughout his chapters, so it’s clearly affected him on such a deep emotional level that he’s barely able to comprehend it anymore.
Victarion has a similar hatred for Euron, but it doesn’t come from being abused by him as children. It seems highly likely that Victarion and Balon were too close in age with Euron for him to try anything on them like he did with Urrigon and Aeron- they weren’t ‘easy’ victims (that, and Vic has probably been a giant his entire life. Euron definitely wasn’t winning that fistfight.) Rather, Victarion hates Euron because of that business with his third wife, and the point of that story is less of ‘Victarion is a brute who beats women’ and more of ‘Euron is a manipulative mastermind who knows how to turn the worst traits of the people around him against them’.
We’ll never know what Balon thought of Euron, although the fact that he sent him into exile over Victarion’s third salt wife speaks for itself- he knew Euron was entirely uncapable of repenting for that action and would only serve to antagonize Victarion even more. But we do know how Balon’s kids feel about Euron. Theon seems the most neutral towards Euron out of his entire family, but even so-
“His father was old now, and so too his uncle Victarion, who commanded the Iron Fleet. His uncle Euron was a different song, to be sure, but the Silence did not seem to be in port. It's all for the good, Theon told himself. This way, I shall be able to strike all the more quickly.”- ACOK, Theon I
It’s interesting that Theon notes that both his father and Victarion are on Pyke, but it’s the absence of Euron that leads Theon to believe he has better chances of success. He clearly understands that Euron is a threat and shouldn’t be trifled with by his relief that Euron does not appear to be on Pyke. So despite only living with his Ironborn family for 9 years, Theon was clearly subject to enough Euron exposure to know (generally) what sort of person he is, although a lot of this seems to come from gossip and rumors more than Theon’s actual experience with Euron,
"Euron Croweye has no lack of cunning, though. I've heard men say terrible things of that one."-ACOK, Theon II
Asha still doesn’t seem to regard him in as negative of a perspective as his brothers, but still deeply resents him due to the Kingsmoot outcome, and the fact that he married her off to Erik Ironmaker who’s like fifty or sixty years her senior. All of this is totally valid, and gives us the impression that Euron has been awful to everyone around him for his entire life, however Asha is significantly less aware of this fact than everyone else, just judging by the fact that Rodrik Harlaw had to warn her several times not to go to Old Wyk, and not to underestimate him,
“Don't be a fool. Euron shows the world his smiling eye tonight, but come the morrow … Asha, you are Balon's daughter, and your claim is stronger than his own. So long as you draw breath you remain a danger to him. If you stay, you will be killed or wed to the Red Oarsman. I don't know which would be worse. Go. You will not have another chance."- ADWD, The Wayward Bride
So, the way his family thinks about him clearly speaks volumes about how long he’s been this way, and that nothing overtly sympathetic happened to Euron to cause him to become this way (nothing that’s public knowledge, anyways). I generally think that blaming someone’s sadistic tendencies and abuse on external factors and nothing else is a really cheap way to explain why they are the way they are, so the bit I’m gonna talk about next is not me saying that Euron has reasons to be the way he is or that I think they’re valid. I think certain circumstances and events opened up pathways for Euron to become a monster in a man’s skin, but I think also that he is a grown man with autonomy and could choose to not be like that whenever he wanted. He actively chooses to be awful and nobody is forcing him to do that. Now that that’s out of the way-
I think it’s highly possible that a big reason Euron is so fucked up is due to the theorized relationship he had with the Three Eyed Raven as a child, which is mostly speculated on due to this quote,
"When I was a boy, I dreamt that I could fly," he announced. "When I woke, I couldn't . . . or so the maester said. But what if he lied?" (...) Euron turned to face him, his bruised blue lips curled in a half smile. "Perhaps we can fly. All of us. How will we ever know unless we leap from some tall tower?"-AFFC, The Reaver
It isn’t much to go on, but the Bran parallels in this quote are really prominent. Bran learns to fly after his incident with falling from “some tall tower”, and combined with Euron’s sigil, his nickname being “Croweye”, and his general obsession with the crow imagery, I’d have a hard time believing that Bloodraven wasn’t involved somehow. While I don’t buy into the theory that BR and Euron are still working together/have communication, I do believe that when Euron was a child, he had Three Eyed Raven dreams just like Bran. We see Bran get so close to flying multiple times before he understands he’s a warg/skinchanger,
“Fly, a voice whispered in the darkness, but Bran did not know how to fly, so all he could do was fall.”- AGOT, Bran III
"It was just a lie," he said bitterly, remembering the crow from his dream. "I can't fly. I can't even run."- AGOT, Bran IV
"Will I truly be able to ride?" Bran asked. He wanted to believe them, but he was afraid. Perhaps it was just another lie. The crow had promised him that he could fly.”-AGOT, Bran IV
Bran, as any child would, seems to really latch onto this idea that the crow is lying to him by insisting he can fly. I can see any child, even Euron, having the same bitter reaction to being told time and time again he can fly, but still not being able to do it. So, due to these parallels, it’s doesn’t feel like a far stretch to say that Euron was also a BR student for a time, but never progressed far enough to actually fly, which lines up with his whole “perhaps we can fly” quote. I don’t think he’s being elusive or dodgy in this scene purposefully, I think that this is one of the most earnest moments we see Euron have- partially because he knows Victarion is too thick-headed to gain any real understanding from it.
In terms of how this relates to Euron being an awful person, think of how Bran might have reacted had he never gotten to fly. To give a child such hope and then snatch it away and make them believe you were only lying to them, it would make anyone resentful. So, there isn’t any concrete evidence in the text for this theory, but assuming Euron was ‘dropped’ by BR for whatever reason (I’ll touch on this later), we can assume that it made him really bitter, resentful, and angry, but also gave him an intense curiosity about magic and the things people can do with it. However, magic in this universe is highly unpredictable and unstable, and can get downright dangerous without a proper guide. Even Varamyr, who purposefully invaded a living person’s mind to steal their body, was instructed on the “rules” of skinchanging, so we can imagine what having that power would be like in the event that your magical guide drops you out of nowhere and never contacts you again.
And for the record, I do think Euron is a skinchanger, just a really unstable one with absolutely no idea how to use his power safely, or what the do’s and don’ts of it are. Do I think he’s invading people’s bodies out of pure ignorance? No. But do I also think that a lifetime of having no teacher or any other skinchanger around for miles to tell him not to do that impacted the way he feels about doing it? Yes. I know it’s debated whether or not Euron can skinchange, but for me these quotes from Victarion chapters solidified the idea in my mind,
“As a reward for his leal service, the new-crowned king had given Victarion the dusky woman, taken off some slaver bound for Lys. "I want none of your leavings," he had told his brother scornfully, but when the Crow's Eye said that the woman would be killed unless he took her, he had weakened. Her tongue had been torn out,”-AFFC, The Reaver
“As he opened the door to the captain's cabin, the dusky woman turned toward him, silent and smiling … but when she saw the red priest at his side her lips drew back from her teeth, and she hisssssed in sudden fury, like a snake.”-ADWD, The Iron Suitor
So, why would Euron threaten to kill the dusky woman if Victarion didn’t take her? Sure, it could be to torment Victarion by forcing him to take this woman aboard, knowing that Vic would sleep with her and knowing that he would also assume Euron had done so first, agonizing him even further, but that seems like a really convoluted and extreme measure to take just to make Vic suffer a little bit more. It’s a pretty popular theory that Euron is a skinchanger and is controlling the dusky woman as a way to spy on Victarion, but I’ve seen a lot of people also argue against Euron being a skinchanger, so I feel like it had to be mentioned. Also, that part about her hissing at Moqorro is just straight up weird. I’m sure that she could have other reasons to strongly dislike red priests, but enough to hiss at him? I don’t know if it makes more sense than Euron controlling her and being upset that Victarion now has someone on board who can disrupt his plans, especially given that Moqorro does this,
"Your brother did not sound the horn himself. Nor must you." Moqorro pointed to the band of steel. "Here. 'Blood for fire, fire for blood.' Who blows the hellhorn matters not. The dragons will come to the horn's master. You must claim the horn. With blood."- ADWD, Victarion I
So taking all this into account, assuming Euron is a skinchanger, and was a candidate for a BR pupil, why did BR stop training him? If it’s because of the greensight, there’s a possibility that BR saw what Euron would become, and knew it was too dangerous to continue training him, but that begs the question- why let him go unchecked for so long? BR obviously has limited access to Euron, but with the amount he’s theorized to have orchestrated in recent ASOIAF history, I have a hard time believing that BR would drop Euron with little to no contingency plan for what happened if Euron became a powerful skinchanger by himself. But maybe he did- and maybe being rejected by the first person who introduced him to magic and his own magical ability was what drove Euron to want to actively work against BR’s plans, with the whole sailing to Oldtown for the horn of winter thing.
There’s also the possibility that BR is trying to body-snatch Bran, and tried to do the same thing with Euron, but Euron got spooked and opted out before BR could move in on him any further. I think this theory is a lot weaker than the one mentioned above, mostly because it requires Euron to have a strong enough mental ability to ‘ward off’ the BR dreams, and requires him to be perceptive enough to clue in to what BR was trying to do, as a child who was undereducated in skinchanging and magic. I think you can make some decent arguments for it, and for that being the reason that Euron wants to take down the wall, but personally I like the theory better that BR dropped Euron all on his own because he decided he wasn’t a suitable enough candidate. Perhaps because he wasn’t physically disabled the way Bran is, and therefore wouldn’t be nearly as reliant, hopeful, and naïve enough to be the savoir that BR seems to be so desperately crafting with Bran. Euron isn’t selfless enough to risk it all to travel North beyond the wall and spend his days in a damp musty cave letting his body become part of a tree.
I also think that BR learned a few valuable lessons from Euron, and that there’s a good chance BR is the reason Euron knows about the Others and the horn of winter. There’s no way BR has kept the same indoctrination routine for every pupil he’s tried out, and he probably played it so safe with Bran because he gave Euron too much, too fast, and it didn’t work out well for him. BR lured Bran North without telling him the full truth of the matter, most likely to avoid scaring him off. I doubt he did the same thing with Euron. He probably found ways to show Euron of the eminent threat, hoping that Euron would have the heroic instinct to want to help save the world. When he didn’t, BR probably decided it was for the best that he not use that method twice. I mean, for someone who, as an adult, aspires to be a god-emperor of an army of ice zombies, it makes much more sense that when Euron heard of the others, he decided that it would suit him better to become their god, rather than risk his life trying to stop them. If BR caught wind of that even a little bit, there’s no way he would continue to train Euron.
As for the non-BR reasons Euron could be like this? The list is short. I think Quellon Greyjoy was a massively neglectful parent despite how ‘good’ he may seem by having turned his back on the Old Way, and I think that it’s highly possible he put all his energy into Balon and none into his other children. This might have caused Euron- who definitely has second son syndrome- to become desperate for anything to make him important, to make him stand out (hence the whole god-emperor thing). He doesn’t seem like the type who has ever been content to sit around and let his older brother call the shots his entire life. It also doesn’t help matters that Euron has been drinking shade of the evening for god knows how long, and it’s definitely contributed to his madness, but keep in mind that his ship has been the Silence for a long time, and was named that for the mute crew he keeps on board. He’s been slicing out the tongues of the men who serve him for years, and it’s probably not shade-induced. I think the shade of the evening is definitely contributing to his visions of grandeur, and he might be a bit more mild without it, but it’s not the sole determining factor for his madness and sadism in present day.
With all that in mind, I do think that the BR shenanigans that happened with Euron as a young child definitely shaped and changed him in some major ways, it, if nothing else, explains his obsession with magic, and his tendency to use it in all the wrong ways. The magical component of Euron is terrifying, and it makes him the larger-than-life-but-still-human antagonist that GRRM needed to introduce to the story, but it’s not the only reason that Euron is such an evil person- not even close. The way he uses magic to perversely invade people is horrific and disturbing, but it’s the way he does those things without magic that makes him truly terrifying.
His sexual abuse of Aeron (and probably Urrigon, too) is the real horror-story aspect of Euron, in my opinion. It’s the way that he traumatized Aeron so deeply that makes me uncomfortable like nothing else in this story does, and we have seen multiple characters have to live with the after affects of sexual abuse/assault, but frankly, not many of them have come close to the level of trauma that Aeron exhibits in his chapters. The turn to faith, being devout to the point of insanity- in a way, Aeron is a better way to learn about Euron than Euron himself is. Whatever Euron did to Aeron as children, it changed him for life and gave him trauma he will never recover from fully, and that doesn’t even touch on the TWOW Aeron sample chapters. The things Euron does to him in those chapters- the things he does to Falia Flowers- they all point to someone being deranged and sadistic on their own terms, entirely independent of anything that happened to them as a child. Does the explanation that Euron was sexually abused as a child and therefore continued the cycle of abuse make sense? Maybe a little bit, but it in no way justifies or explains the things Euron does as an adult that are outside that category of that specific type of abuse. Forcing Aeron to drink shade of the evening, tying him to the prow of his ship for days (weeks?) on end, and then doing the same to Falia Flowers after cutting out her tongue? That isn’t the mark of someone continuing the cycle of abuse, that’s the mark of someone who is so utterly removed from his own humanity that he is capable of committing atrocities like this.
In conclusion to this overly long meta to answer your simple question, I think that Euron’s brief brush with magic tortured him for his entire life, led him to delve into the mysteries of magic without a safe guide which caused him to develop very bad magical habits, and turned him into the eldritch-level antagonist we currently have. I don’t think 20-year old Euron set out with the intention of taking down the wall or conquering the world, but I think his specific journey with magic eventually led him there, especially because he had nobody to teach him how to do things differently. In terms of the non-magical suffering he causes, I don’t believe it has anything to do with him being abused as a child, and that it has more to do with Quellon Greyjoy being a neglectful parent, and Euron turning the powerlessness he felt by being dropped by BR against the people smaller and weaker than him. I think there is a distinct possibility that he was just born twisted and angry, and that also he chose to further those malicious parts of himself by feeding them so intently from such a young age. He is a second son, probably lived in the shadow of Balon his entire life, and let that turn him angry and sour. The moment he believed he was special or different (when BR first gave him flying dreams, for instance,) he probably caught a glimmer of what it would be like to be important and significant, and when that was quickly snatched away from him, he turned savage and violent by his own choice. He may have been young, but he let that twist him into a monster, and he let it continue to steer him towards evil his entire life. Everything that has happened to Euron to cause him to be this way, we have seen other characters overcome worse and still not turn into anything similar to what Euron is. It doesn’t matter what circumstances steered him towards that path- it’s all a choice. He wakes up every day and choses violence and suffering when he absolutely doesn’t have to.