GRRM speaks often about how Tolkien’s world lacks religion, despite Tolkien’s own devout Christianity. In A Song of Ice and Fire, we see GRRM’s response to this absence with a richness of religions, many of which are informed by his Catholic upbringing.
Aeron “the Damphair” Greyjoy is a character who cannot be separated from his religion or understood as a character without understanding his faith. His introduction in A Feast for Crows makes this clear by naming his chapter as “The Prophet,” immediately contextualizing him as someone who is supposed to speak on behalf of his god. Even Aeron’s name seems reminiscent of Aaron from the Bible, a prophet and brother of Moses.
But GRRM draws on more than just names to inspire the feeling of his characters’ fervor in his readers. He uses the lessons, stories and structures from his Catholic childhood to create this aura of the divine—or at the very least, the faithful—in his writing.
Same as Aeron’s first AFFC chapter, this tone begins with the chapter’s title: “The Forsaken.” The initial question would be, “Who has forsaken Aeron?”
Knowing the outcome of the kingsmoot, there are several candidates for who could have forsaken Aeron. Seeing how desperately Aeron clings to his mantra that “no godless man may sit the Seastone Chair,” and that he was the one who organized the kingsmoot, Aeron may feel that his countrymen, the other Ironborn, have forsaken him in choosing Euron. With Asha fleeing her marriage to Erik Ironmaker and Victarion going into Euron’s employ, we may also guess that Aeron feels abandoned by his family.
As we follow Aeron’s religious journey and questioning throughout his storyline, we see a clearer picture of why Aeron has been forsaken, hearkening back to David’s Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus on the cross: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”
In this Psalm, we see this back-and-forth as David laments his hardships from his enemies and questions his God’s inaction at the beginning, while praising Him and asking for His aid. In his recent analysis, Attewell breaks down Aeron’s similar internal struggle with his religion through the story of Job.
But the other moment of this line, Jesus’s crucifixion, which bears much reference to this psalm, also provides significance and a frame that creates the feeling of devoutness. Throughout Aeron’s chapter, the text parallels the moments of Christ’s life not when he was victorious but tested.
The Deceiver in the Desert
Witnessing the interaction between Euron and Aeron paints a fearful picture of Euron as he reveals the lengths he’s gone to while torturing his brother.
The brothers’ exchange, though, is also reminiscent of an iconic moment from the life of Christ.
Led by his faith and the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes into the desert, where he fasts for forty days and forty nights. While weak from hunger, the devil comes to tempt him three times. The first time he tempts Jesus to sate his hunger and turn the stones to bread. The second time Satan tempts Jesus to make a show of power by jumping off the top of a temple then calling his angels to catch him. The third time, Satan attempts to make an appeal for power, taking Jesus to a high mountain and promising him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will but kneel down to him once. Each of these times, Jesus refuses the devil with the word of God.
In Aeron’s chapter, we see Euron visit his brother three times. Each time, Euron commands his brother to throw in with him, support his kingship, his “godliness.” Each time, Aeron refuses.
The first time, Euron commands his brother to share a drink with him.
“Release me. The god commands it.”
“Drink with me. Your king commands it.” (TWOW, Aeron I)
After being forced to drink Shade of the Evening, Aeron curses his brother. As a result of the drink, Aeron experiences visions reminiscent of the apocalyptic visions in the Book of Revelations. But the way that Euron appears in the dream is particularly interesting.
While still atop a throne of skulls, Euron tells Aeron:
“Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded. “I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to bemy priest.”
When Euron and Aeron next meet in person, Euron repeats his appeal:
Euron pressed the knife to Aeron’s throat. “Pray to me. Beg me to end your torment, and I will.”
The language Euron uses is similar to the deal Satan gives Jesus:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8–9)
Like Satan, Euron promises to give this holy man what he think he wants—if only Aeron will praise his power.
All throughout the chapter, Aeron dwells on Euron and how Euron deceives people.
The kingsmoot had chosen Euron Crow’s Eye but the kingsmoot was made of men, and men were weak and foolish things, too easily swayed by gold and lies.
The next example in the chapter comes through Falia Flowers, convinced that Euron is in love with her because he showers her with gifts and promises to make her his Salt Queen with many sons. She ignores Aeron’s warnings, buying into his false promises while Aeron knows in his heart that she will be harmed by Euron.
By establishing Euron as made of lies, the text characterizes him as a deceiver, drawing more comparisons between him and the devil. In Christianity, Satan is often referred to as the “deceiver,” who loves to lie and creates false signs of power to lead people astray.
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelations 12:9)
and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelations 20:10)
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (Thessalonians 2:9–10)
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them.’ (Deuteronomy 13:1–2)
The last quote is particularly apt, seeing how Euron professes to have dreams and causes Aeron to have them, too, as a way of convincing his brother to acknowledge that Euron is a god and abandon the Drowned God.
By drawing comparisons between Euron and Satan, the text shows the true, vast villainy of Euron and how he embodies divine evil. We see a character whose only motivation is to conquer and to defy and stand opposed to goodness and life.
Setting up Euron’s villainy through the devil is not the only way shades of Christianity seeps into the chapter. Aeron’s own experiences reflect the lead-up to the crucifixion.
After the kingsmoot, Aeron wades into the ocean to pray, waving off his drowned men so that he could pray alone. As he stands and prays alone, Aeron fervently searches for answers from his Drowned God. When he emerges, Euron’s mutes, who have been waiting at the shore, close around Aeron and arrest him.
This scene feels reflective of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane, leaving his disciples behind to stand watch so that he could speak to God alone. When Jesus finally truly emerges from the garden, Judas comes with officers to arrest Jesus.
Beyond his capture, though, the Damphair’s seemingly final moments continue to parallel Jesus’s own.
When Christ is on his way to his crucifixion, the soldiers gather round him and mock him, similar to Aeron as he is shuffled from his dungeon to the longships.
“Your curses have no power here, priest,” said Left-Hand Lucas Codd. “The Crow’s Eye has fed your Drowned God well, and he has grown fat with sacrifice. Words are wind, but blood is power. We have given thousands to the sea, and he has given us victories!”
“You know what it’s like to be caught in the rear, don’t you?” said the Red Oarsman, laughing.
On the deck of the Silence, Euron sentences Aeron to be lashed to the prow of a ship.
“Bind them to the prows,” Euron commanded. “My brother on the Silence. Take one for yourself. Let them dice for the others, one to a ship. Let them feel the spray, the kiss of the Drowned God, wet and salty.”
By inviting the other captains and soldiers to gamble for the other priests, Euron creates another connection between Aeron and Jesus.
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did. (John 19: 23–24)
Though the Euron’s men aren’t casting lots for a cloth, there are similarities in that they are gambling during this scene at all, and for their own share of holiness.
Finally, the chapter ends with a picture resembling the scene of the crucifixion, as Aeron is also hoisted to hang from a piece of wood next to two other figures: the mouthless figurehead of the Silence and the tongueless Falia Flowers—as Jesus was crucified next to two rebels.
Aeron’s last act is meant to be one of comfort to Falia, as he reassures her of their fate:
“Falia Flowers,” he called. “Have courage, girl! All this will be over soon, and we will feast together in the Drowned God’s watery halls.”
Among Christ’s last words to one of the rebels next to him:
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42–43)
Like Christ, the Damphair’s words are still one of faith, and the promise of an afterlife with his god even as they die wrongfully.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Because the events of “The Forsaken” are structured in such a way that resembles moments from the life of Christ, we intrinsically feel a sense of religiousness from it, apart from just outright saying that Aeron is praying. The text shows it to us. By channeling the language and structure of these Biblical moments, Western and Christian readers are able to feel that atmosphere created implicitly, because they already have that framework to reference, consciously or not.
And this allows us to understand what sort of context we should see Euron in while understanding the faith and innocence of Aeron in all of this.
All of this is not to say, though, that Aeron’s storyline will follow Christ’s entirely. It’s not to say that Aeron in three days time will be resurrected to slay his brother or fight evil.
But it does it help us to understand better the themes that are at play here.
Euron’s portrayal as the devil shows the immensity of role as villain, beyond just the acts that he has done. It sets him up as this larger-than-life force and asks the question that, if this be Satan, the deceiver, then who would be powerful enough to stand up against him?
Then there is Aeron, forsaken by friends, family, countrymen—but most of all by his Drowned God, stretching vast ahead of him on all sides of the sea. Among Jesus’s last words, before he “gave up his spirit,” he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46).
Knowing what happens afterwards with the resurrection, Christ’s words raise questions of how we should interpret Aeron’s last scene. In a world where despite resisting the cup Euron gives him Aeron is still forced to drink, in a world where the devil has power over this holy man, where prophecy foretells his victory—a world where Aeron is just a man and not God made flesh, is this a scene where evil defeats good?
Or is it a call to hold hope, that even when it seems light and the one person who knows Euron’s true nature is dead, that people unswayed by lies may still triumph over what Euron portends?
Or—not to say that Aeron that will be resurrected—is it somewhere in the middle, with a world where resurrection isn’t a guaranteed sign of godliness and goodness, that hope and ultimately faith is something that humans must cling onto even in hard times?
And that maybe… just maybe it will be rewarded but at a cost?