Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
In Game of Thrones’ season 8 premiere, Yara Greyjoy tells her brother Theon that she’s planning to sail for the Iron Islands to reclaim their home and to carve out a space where Daenerys Targaryen’s army can go if the stand against the Night King fails. “Daenerys will need somewhere to retreat if they can’t hold the North,” she says, “Somewhere the dead can’t go.”
In the next episode, Theon briefs Daenerys at Winterfell: “She only has a few ships, so she can’t sail them here. She’s sailing them to the Iron Islands to take them back in your name.” For Yara, that means a treacherous trip through constant bad weather, and the odds are stacked against her if her uncle Euron left any of his ships back home to keep guard. But the real question is whether the Iron Islands even have anything that would help Daenerys.
In Game of Thrones’ history and lore, the Iron Islands are home to a plundering class of people called the Ironborn who have to raid other lands for resources to survive. The actual islands — seven major ones and dozens of smaller rocks so insignificant that they are left unnamed — have limited natural resources. In the Game of Thrones sourcebooks, indentured servants mine the islands for iron and sometimes tin and lead. There’s no mention of dragonglass or Valyrian steel hidden in these islands. The Ironborn also rely on fishing and whaling for food.
The main appeal of the Iron Islands, then, is that they’re physically isolated, and as we saw in the season 7 episode “Beyond the Wall,” the dead can’t swim. They don’t necessarily drown, either, but water should stop them — or at least slow them down.
Dragonstone is looking like a better option
If Yara succeeds in her mission (and that’s a big if), and Daenerys decides to retreat to the Iron Islands after the battle of Winterfell to regroup, the islands might offer a decent respite. But Yara’s control is unlikely to hold for long. Way back in Game of Thrones history, in a battle that isn’t seen on the show but is briefly referenced by characters in season 1, the Greyjoys once led a rebellion that failed. In the last battle, they were sieged at Pyke, one of the larger Iron Islands, hiding inside a castle while soldiers encroached upon them.
If the wights lay siege to the Iron Islands, a living army can’t survive there long, given the lack of resources. Sansa foreshadowed the dynamic in the premiere, when she asked, “How are we meant to feed the greatest army the world has ever seen?” She hadn’t accounted for feeding Daenerys’ army as well. It’s obvious that a siege in a barren land would worsen these conditions.
Given the fairly large pitfalls of retreating to the Iron Islands, it’d probably be smarter for Daenerys to retreat to her familial island, Dragonstone. While Dragonstone also doesn’t produce livestock or crops and it relies on fishing, it does have one large advantage over the Iron Islands: any stores of dragonglass that haven’t been mined yet. It’s also surrounded by water, and it has an active volcano that could presumably melt down some wights if the timing’s right. Volcanoes are also a good place for dragons to hang out and shake off the chill of the North. So if Daenerys wants to defend Rhaegal and Drogon from becoming Night King prey, she’ll have a very convenient hiding spot for them. It all comes down to what happens at the Battle of Winterfell this week, and whether retreat is even an option.