The Old Way is a term used by the ironborn when discussing their ancient tradition of reaving and plunder.
In the Old Way, only women were allowed to buy ornaments (e.g., jewelry), whereas warriors were only allowed to wear the jewelry if they had paid the iron price for it, i.e. if they had acquired it from the corpses of enemies they had slain himself.
Under the Old Way, farming and mining are derided as unsuitable for free men, but fishing is respected.
Under the Old Way, the ironborn lived by the axe and the sword. Under the Old Way, the usage of catapults and siege engines, with the goal of starving a castle out, was considered to be without glory.
The Old Way allowed the ironborn to capture men and women on their raids, bringing them back to the Iron Islands. These captive thralls were put to work on the isles. When a warrior wished it so, he could take one of his female thralls to wife in a ceremony preformed by a priest of the Drowned God. A man can join himself to multiple salt wives, the number of which speaks to his power, wealth, and virility. The children born from such a marriage are not considered to be bastards, but can inherit should their father have no surviving sons by his true, freeborn rock wife from the Iron Islands.
While thralls are made to perform labor on the Iron Islands for those by whom they have been captured, they are not considered to be slaves. Taking slaves is not considered to be the Old Way.
Healing a person's wounds the Old Way meant healing the wound with fire and seawater.
During his Conquest, Aegon the Conqueror pacified the ironborn and outlawed the custom, at least within Westeros, as the ironmen were allowed to prey on the shipping and settlements of the Free Cities and far away places. Those that continue to act in such a manner are said to be keeping to the Old Way.
Stealing women was made a crime throughout the Seven Kingdoms by Aegon, and reavers were forbidden to pray upon the king's domains, although these prohibitions have only been sporadically enforced by Aegon's successors. Thralls are still present on the Iron Irlands today. Regardless, following the acquisition of primacy on the Iron Islands, the lords of House Greyjoy would not allow reaving close to home.
Although sporadic attempts have been made by the ironborn to restore the Old Way to the islands (e.g., by Dagon Greyjoy and Balon Greyjoy), all have failed. According to Asha Greyjoy, the Old Way served the Iron Islands well back when they were only one small kingdom amongst many, but Aegon's Conquest, in which the many small kingdoms were united into one large kingdom, put an end to that advantage.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 11, Theon I.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Iron Islands.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 37, Theon III.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 29, The Reaver.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 1, The Prophet.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 24, Theon II.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Iron Islands: The Greyjoys of Pyke.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 63, Victarion I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 11, The Kraken's Daughter.