Famed no-pages-haver George R.R. Martin went to Balticon last weekend, revealed Brienne of Tarth’s secret lineage, and read some pages, which, despite their fresh unveiling, are old. He’s been slowly letting out advance chapters from The Winds Of Winter, the sixth volume in his A Song Of Ice And Fire saga, over the past few years, and at this point, there are about 11 chapters out there. That’s good for about 1/7-th of a book, but keep in mind that most of these were excess POV chapters that his editors cut from his mammoth first draft of A Dance With Dragons.
Some of the new material has been covered by Game Of Thrones, and some never will be, given the diverging plotlines between the show world and the book world. Most of the spicy action has been in the east, and the chapters set in Westeros have been rather placid and unrelated to the main characters (mostly). The latest chapter, though—narrated from the perspective of Aeron the Damphair, the Iron Islands-based priest of the Drowned God and Theon Greyjoy’s uncle—is decidedly more dramatic.
[SPOILERS TO FOLLOW OKAY? OKAY COOL]
GRRM hasn’t released the full chapter on his website, as he has for about half of the previous advance chapters, but enterprising fans have transcribed the whole thing, as it was read in public. Aeron is the narrator, but the thrust of the chapter is that Euron Greyjoy is far more dangerous and powerful than he seemed by the end of ADWD.
As seen in the books, he’s ascended the throne and begun his conquest of the known world, starting down in the Reach. The new chapter shows that he’s not only kicking ass, but channeling some seriously dark magic to do so and he has a Valyrian steel suit of armor. (This probably means that he was telling the truth about exploring the ruins of Valyria, where few have dared to step foot.) Lest we forget, he also has Dragonbinder, an ancient Valyrian horn that can theoretically give him mind-control powers over dragons. A semi-popular theory holds that he is also a greenseer like Bran Stark, perhaps a failed pupil of the Three-Eyed Raven. The dude looks like a legit Big Bad.
Euron is a fascinating leader of the Iron Islands because he has true ambition for its people, while simultaneously lacking any respect for the traditions and gods of the region. His brother Aeron started working to overthrow Euron shortly after he crowned him because of his disdain for island religion. So Euron chained him up in a grimy dungeon and fed him drugs (blue Qartheen wine, a known hallucinogen), and Aeron’s visions seem to point towards Euron being pretty close to all-powerful and maybe even having it in him to literally kill a god.
Aeron Damphair looked. The mound of skulls was gone. Now it was metal underneath the Crow’s Eye. A great, tall seat of razor-sharp iron of barbs and blades and broken swords, all dripping blood. Impaled upon the longer spikes were the bodies of the gods. The Maiden was there, and the Father, and the Mother and the Warrior and Crone and Smith, even the Stranger. They hung side by side with all manner of queer, foreign gods, The Great Shephard and the Black Goat, Three Headed Trios and the Pale Child Bakkalon, the Lord of Light, and the Butterfly God of Naath, and there swollen in green heft devoured by crabs, the Drowned God festered with the Red Sea Horse, still dripping from its hair.
By the middle of the chapter, Aeron is joined by men of various faiths in his torture dungeon. It gets pretty goddamn gross:
It was in the second dungeon that the other holy men began to appear, to share his torment. Three wore the robes of septons of the greenlands, and one, the red garment of a priest of R’Hllor. The last was hardly recognizable as a man. Both his hands had been burned down to the bone and his face was a charred and blackend horror where two blind eyes moved sightlessly above the cracked cheeks, dripping puss. He was dead within hours of being shackeled to the wall, but the mutes left his body there to ripen for three days afterwards. Last, were two warlocks of the East, with flesh as white as mushrooms and lips the purplish-blue of a bad bruise, both so gaunt and starved that only skin and bones remained. One had lost his legs. The mutes had hung him from a rafter.
One umbrella theme of ASOIAF is people trying to change entrenched institutions (cf: Jon and the Night’s Watch, the High Sparrow and the crown, Danerys and slavery). Euron’s windmill to tilt at appears to be religion itself. Interestingly, he cloaks himself in bits and pieces of Drowned God iconography, but repurposes them, almost as if he is taking the place of the god himself:
When Euron came again, his hair was swept straight back from his brow, and his lips were so blue that they were almost black. He had put aside his driftwood crown. In its place he wore an iron crown who’s points were made from the teeth of sharks.
“That which is dead cannot die,” said Aeron fiercely. “For he has tasted death once that he never fear again. He was drowned but he came forth once more with steel and fire.”
Once Euron feeds him Qarth drugs again, Aeron trips hard and has a vision of Euron as a literal kraken:
The dreams were even worse the second time. He saw the longships of the Ironborn adrift and burning on a boiling, bloodred sea. He saw his brother on the Iron Throne again, but Euron was no longer human. He seemed more squid than man, a monster fathered by a kraken of the deep, his face a mass of writhing tentacles. Beside him stood a shadow in woman’s form, long and tall and terrible, her hands alive with pale white fire. Dwarves capered for their amusement, male and female, locked in carnal, biting and tearing at each other as Euron and his mate laughed and laughed and laughed.
Aeron dreamed of drowning, too. What was the bliss that surely followed down in the Drowned God’s watery halls, it was the terror that even the faithful feel as the water fills their mouth and nose and lungs they cannot draw breath.
Not to get too out in the weeds here, but this lends credence to one of my favorite ASOIAF theories, the Eldritch Apocalypse. You can read all about it at master theorist Poor Quentyn’s Tumblr, but it’s a truly wacky prediction based on the presence of a bunch of black rocks in a bunch of different places across the map. Quentyn’s theory goes that Aeron will beg the Drowned God to smite Euron, and, in doing so, will summon a horrifying monster that will eat Oldtown whole:
Aeron Greyjoy is desperate to unseat Euron from the Seastone Chair. But given that it was the Damphair’s own kingsmoot that legitimized Euron’s rule, that (as Victarion points out) Aeron himself placed the driftwood crown on Euron’s head, I don’t think the populist crusade Aeron launched in Feast will succeed. Instead, he will be forced to beg the Drowned God to directly intervene. And the priest’s god will answer his prayers…but said deity will turn out to be a Lovecraftian abomination, promptly unleashing hell on “these holy islands” before turning his baleful gaze on Oldtown.
There’s also a race of monster-human hybrids known as the Deep Ones, but that’s a whole other rabbithole I don’t want to go down right now. Suffice to say, the theory hinges on the Drowned God being a physical entity that can summon monsters at will and will feel the desire to do so because of Euron’s meddling as well as the confluence of magic-adjacent players in Oldtown at the end of ADWD (Sam, probably a Faceless Man, House Hightower, etc.). The new Aeron chapter does a lot to back up Poor Quentyn’s grand unifying theory, which previously seemed semi-plausible but really out there, and if Euron truly is this powerful and ambitious, and the logic of GRRM’s Westeros blurs the line between the mystical and the physical, Euron Greyjoy might very well kill a god by the time this series concludes.