Euron Greyjoy - useless character

Bad screenwriting analysis #3: useless character – Euron Greyjoy – Game of Thrones


Writers struggle to merge character and plot, when they don’t succeed the result is that the story has a useless character.

Game of Thrones season 8 is full of surprises. I started out with the idea of writing one post per week praising an aspect of each episode. Now the series is almost done, and instead of praising the writers, I’m choosing which aspect of the writing is terrible enough for a 1000+ word post.

The problem of episode 5 was Euron Greyjoy. He came, he saw, he killed a dragon and he died.

That’s it, this is literally everything he has done this season. Well, he also slept with Cersei but I wouldn’t blame anyone for forgetting that.

What is a useless character?

A character can be called useless if he happens to be one of  those cases:

  1. His actions are inconsequential and don’t impact the narrative at all
  2. He doesn’t take actions of any kind and is simply there to deliver exposition
  3. He can easily be replaced by another, already existing, character and nothing would change

Season 8 Euron easily fits into the 1st case. Let’s think about what his character has done during the last season of Game of Thrones:

  • brought the Golden Company to King’s Landing
  • had sex with Cersei
  • killed Rhaegal (the dragon)
  • fought and wounded Jaime

Out of all those things, the only action that had a lasting effect of the plot was killing Rhaegal. This means that most of Euron’s actions were inconsequential.

Basically, if the creators had decided to cut every single scene in which this character appears (except the death of the dragon), nothing in the story would have changed.

How to make a useless character useful

Normally, a useless character isn’t a rare phenomenon. Most characters that can be classified as “comic relief” actually fit this description.

They are usually the adorable and hilarious sidekicks that crack jokes and follows the protagonist everywhere.

An example of this is Sokka from the series Avatar The last Airbender. In a world where humans are capable of manipulating the 4 elements as they please, Sokka is a non-bender, meaning that he doesn’t have that power.

Does this mean that characters like Sokka are terrible? Not really.

Most useless characters that provide comic relief actually reveal themselves to be not so useless after all.

There are, in fact, two “easy fixes” a writer can use to make sure that a character has a lasting effect on the story:

1- Unexpected skill

The good-for-nothing surprises everyone with an unexpected but useful skill.

In TV series there can be an entire episode written around them. This is the case for Sokka, who in season 3 gets to be trained by one of the best sword fighters in the world and uses what he has learned to help his group in the final fight.

2- Self-sacrifice

The character decides to heroically lay down his life in order to save the protagonist or someone else.

GOT actually used this trope with Lord Beric Dondarrion in season 8 episode 3, when he sacrifices himself by holding back a horde of white walkers allowing Arya and The Hound to escape.

And the same thing happened with Hodor in season 6, when he died saving Bran.

Going Back to Euron Greyjoy…

Euron is a special kind of useless character, though. As I mentioned before, only one of his actions is not inconsequential, but even that action didn’t really need “him”.

Shooting a giant spear to kill a dragon is not a skill that only Euron Greyjoy possesses. The Lannister soldiers, the Golden Company sellswords, and the men of the Iron Fleet were all seen using the same kind of weapon to attack Daenerys during the battle of King’s landing.

So even the one thing that Euron Greyjoy did which ended up having an effect on the story, could have been done by someone else.

In a different post, I’ve talked about Theon Greyjoy and how the last words he hears before dying bring an emotional and satisfying conclusion to his character arc.

I wanted to write a post entirely about Euron because his last words seem to have the exact opposite effect: not a satisfying and emotional ending, but an ironic statement that highlights the mistakes of the writers.

“I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister”

– Euron Greyjoy, Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 5

No, he’s not. Jaime Lannister is badly wounded but still alive and walking after his last fight.

Euron’s last words sum up his role in the last season: he believes that he has accomplished something when in reality nothing he has done had consequences.

In the end, the lesson to be learned is that each character in a story must have a role. If a character has a name, a backstory, and a specific goal, he must do something that will affect the narrative or the other characters.

Anyway, the book version of Euron Greyjoy is actually quite interesting and mysterious, unlike the useless character version that the TV show gave us.

So the only thing left to do is to wait for the last two books and see if his character will have a significant role to play in that version of the story.