Now that the dust has settled on Game of Thrones season 4 and the long wait for the next book/season begins, I wanted to take a minute to provide newer fans with a little conjecture and a little back story on their favorite medieval fantasy. If you’re a fan of the show and sometimes wonder what the heck everyone is talking about when it comes to the Mad King? Or who this Aegon Targaryen guy is and why his statues are everywhere? Have you ever wondered what the big deal is with Jon Snow’s bastard status? And what was Prince Oberyn yelling about during his fateful battle with Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane? Then this post is for you…
I know fans of the books have rehashed this material over and over, but I thought I’d shine a light on the history behind HBO’s breakaway hit for those that haven’t had a chance to dive into the novels or the thousands of forum posts devoted to the subject. While this skirts the line of spoiler, anything that would be is theory at this point so no one really knows until the next book comes out.
No major spoilers for anyone caught up with the current season of Game of Thrones, but might be a bunch of names and places to anyone not.
George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a cultural phenomenon. From HBO’s series Game of Thrones to video games, books, spin-offs, graphic novels, and more, the series’ popularity has never been higher. You can always tell the popularity of a show by the number of knock-offs there are on other stations, and right now Game of Thrones has inspired everything from Vikings to Black Sails, from Camelot to Reign, White Queen to Once Upon a Time.
You know you’ve made it when South Park makes fun of you, and Game of Thrones got a trilogy…
The thing that sets Martin’s books aside from others in the genre, is the sheer scale of it all. The creative minds behind the television adaptation have done a painstaking job of bringing the books to life on the screen. Naturally, some things are going to be lost in translation, especially with a story that spans three continents, thousands of named characters, and dozens of locales. One of them is the history of the realm. Even hardcore fans of the show may miss a lot of the subtext when so many names and faces are flashed in front of them, barely to return… And it makes retelling the history of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros through memory and flashback a hard thing to do… So the showrunners have decided to leave most of it out. With its focus on the major families of his kingdoms of Westeros, the Starks, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, Boltons, and the southern Martells, A Song of Ice and Fire is a series that stretches across thousands of miles, as well as years.
Martin traces the history of Westeros back dozens of millennia to the original, more magical inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms, and ties the events that happened then with the drama and action that plays out across the pages. While the kings and queens play their games of thrones, readers are treated to flashbacks, memories, and the oral tradition of storytelling. Remember when Bran told the story of the cook that killed his guest in the wake of the Red Wedding? The books are littered with stories like these, and none of them are more compelling than the rich history of House Targaryen, the dynasty that ruled the Seven kingdoms for three hundred years before Brandon Stark was ever born… And the Mother of Dragons, Queen Danerys Targaryen, is the last of their line…
Or is she?
They were silver-haired, fair-skinned people from Valyria, across the Narrow Sea. The Targaryen family conquered the known world from the backs of their great, fire-breathing dragons. They themselves were refugees from a homeland that was destroyed in a cataclysmic volcanic event called the Doom of Valaria, that echoes the fable of Atlantis. House Targaryen brought order to the continent in a wave of bloody conquest and all of the great lords of Westeros, from the Starks in the north to the Lannisters in the west, bent their knee to King Aegon I, the first of his name.
As with most great things, time took its toll on the dragonriders. After hundreds of years of in-breeding and arranged marriages, the “blood of the dragon” began to weaken, as did their mighty fire-breathing beasts. The last dragon born in the world was a small, feeble thing… As was the mad King Aerys II. He was the last Targaryen to rule as king, and his reign ended twenty years before the events of Game of Thrones. After his imprisonment during a rebel uprising by a rival lord, Aerys II grew increasingly paranoid and delusional. The Mad King began ordering his Pyromancers to produce large amounts of a deadly flammable liquid known as wildfire. He believed that because he could not command the might of a dragon, he would ensure he at least had the power of a dragon’s breath to threaten his enemies. However crazy the Mad King was, he was still loved by his people… And in the books, many common folk declare their fealty to House Targaryen still. Thus the origin of King Robert’s nickname, The Usurper.
Before Robert’s Rebellion shook the political landscape of Westeros forever, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was set to take the throne as the Mad King’s first-born son. He was the most popular prince to ever live in King’s Landing, and all of the girls dreamt of being his queen. He was a tall and elegant young man with flowing silver hair. He often lost himself in the libraries of the older castles, pouring over histories of the Seven Kingdoms and seducing women with his talent for song.
Until one day he read something in the old scrolls that changed him forever.
He marched up to the courtyard the next morning and began training with a sword, eventually wielding deadly skill with a blade. Prince Rhaegar was a beloved hero across the realm who garnered more applause at tournaments than the lords who hosted them. When it came time for Rhaegar to marry, he was one of the first Targaryens to marry outside of the family bloodline. He was wed to Elia Martell, sister of the Red Viper Prince Oberyn, of House Martell, the most powerful family in the South. The royal couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but Elia became bed-ridden after nearly dying in childbirth.
What did Prince Rhaegar read that fateful day that made him put down his harp and pick up a sword? What could he have read in scrolls that had been collecting dust for thousands of years? We dont’ really know at this point, but it has to do with a prophecy from millennia before, and the Prince That Was Promised.
In Clash of Kings (season 2), Danerys Targaryen, who is Rhaegar’s youngest sister, enters the House of the Undying. There she has many visions, including that of Prince Rhaegar, who died years before. She opens a door and sees Rhaegar and Elia in a flashback, naming their son Aegon, and declaring the boy is the Prince That Was Promised… The prophecized hero that would lead mankind out of darkness (a prophecy that has absolutely everything to do with Game of Thrones). However, in her vision, Danerys also hears Prince Rhaegar say, “the dragon has three heads, there must be one more” without any further explanation… But it is implied in the books that Rhaegar sought a third child after his wife became ill giving birth to their second. All because of something he read.
Indeed everything changed one fateful day when Jamie Lannister (not yet the Kingslayer) was just a boy of 15… And Prince Rhaegar Targaryen changed the fate of his family, and the entire world, with a crown of blue roses.
When the great Tourney at Harrenhal took place at the sprawling castle, Prince Rhaegar emerged as the champion, defeating even Ser Arthur Dayne, who was the greatest swordsman in the land. However, when Rhaegar went to name the next Queen of Love and Beauty (as was tradition at such an event), he placed the crown on the lap of a beautiful young woman named Lyanna Stark… Striking a spark that would ignite the country in flame.
Ned Stark later remembers it as the day “when all the smiles died.”
A year later, for reasons unknown, Prince Rhaegar “kidnapped” Lyanna Stark, who was betrothed to Ned’s good friend, Robert Baratheon. When Ned’s brother Brandon rode to Kings Landing against his father’s wishes to demand his sister’s release, he also challenged Prince Rhaegar to come out and die. In return, the Mad King arrested Brandon and his friends for conspiring to kill the prince, and demanded their fathers come to the capital to answer for their crimes. When Ned’s father and his companions arrived, Aerys murdered them all then and there. Lord Stark demanded his right to trial by combat, and was roasted alive in his armor while his son Brandon watched, himself strangling to death in a horrible device that tightened as he tried to escape.
War swept across the countryside. Robert’s Rebellion hastened the end of the Mad King’s rule, and of House Targaryen.
Jamie Lannister, sworn to protect Aerys, learned of the king’s plans to ignite the vast quantities of Wildfire under the castle keep in Kings Landing. When the Mad King ordered him to ride out and kill his father, Jamie saved the city and his father’s life by opening the King’s throat on the steps of the Iron Throne… But because no one knew about the King’s plan to ignite the wildfire, he was scorned as the Kingslayer from that day on.
Lord Tywin brought his army to the capital under a flag of truce, and instead, turned loose in the Red Keep and slaughtered the last of the Targaryen bloodline. Aerys’ throat was opened by the sword sworn to protect him, while Prince Rhaegar’s wife and two children were murdered by the Mountain. Prince Rheagar met Robert Baratheon on the field of battle, and in an epic fight that saw both men gravely wounded, Rhaegar met his death after a blow from Robert’s mighty warhammer. Meanwhile his mother, younger brother, and unborn sister were smuggled out of Westeros before Lannister swords found them.
Days before, Ned Stark took six of his best men and rode after his sister Lyanna… Who was “held captive” in the Tower of Joy, near the Red Mountains of Dorne. When he arrived, he found three knights that eluded the rebels the entire war guarding the tower. They were the King’s most trusted and skilled warriors, including Ser Arthur Dayne, the greatest swordsman to ever live.
In Game of Thrones, when Ned breaks his leg and is sick with fever, he recalls the day he saw his sister die in a “bed of blood.” As he and his men approach the tower, Ned calls out to the men of the Kings Guard, telling of the end of the war.
“I came down to Storm’s End to lift the siege.” Ned shouts, “The Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge us fealty… I was certain you would be among them.”
“Our knees do not bend so easily,” said Ser Arthur Dayne
Ned’s wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”
It is this memory of Neds that stitches so many of the series’ elements together, long after his death in the first book. Because after the battle, only two men survived, Ned Stark and Howlan Reed (father of Jojen and Meera, Bran’s fur-clad companions in the North). However it is what Ned found in the Tower of Joy that drives one of the series’ most guarded secrets. According to the Targaryen side of the story, Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna. Instead, they say the two were in love, and he helped her escape her arranged marriage willingly. With the knowledge that Rhaegar wanted a third child to fulfill some long-lost prophecy he read as a child, we can only assume a few things from here.
In his dream, Ned recalls his sister’s cries for him as he ascends the tower, smelling roses and blood, and he wakes remembering a promise he made, so many years before. Ned Stark makes a secret promise to his dying sister, who has been shacked up with Prince Rhaegar, and who lays in a bed of blood. There’s also the matter of the three Kings Guard outside, three of the most accomplished swords in the realm, and they’re guarding a woman alone in the mountains? This all right before Ned makes the long trip back to Winterfell… With Jon Snow, his supposed bastard, in hand…
Ned never speaks of Jon’s true mother, not even to his wife. Could the promise he made to his dying sister be for him to keep the secret of her son’s father? Is Ned so melancholy and tight-lipped about Jon Snow’s mother because he knows that the boy is truly his nephew, and heir to House Targaryen? If so, it would make perfect sense with the clues scattered throughout the entire series. From Darnerys’ vision to the Red Woman seeing a blue flower in a wall of ice during her own prayer (remember, blue flowers). From Ned’s dream, to Danerys’ vision of Rhaegar declaring “there must be one more” dragon, there is enough evidence to make a good argument that Jon Snow is really the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
If so, if Jon is really Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son, and the only living male heir to the Targaryen throne…Then is he the “Prince That Was Promised?”
Legend tells that when the Others (White Walkers) came during the Long Night and defeated the world of men the first time thousands of years before, that the Prince That Was Promised arose. The legend of Azor Ahai tells that the hero of man created his flaming sword Lightbringer, after two unsuccessful tries. The third and final sword he made he hammered for 100 days and nights before cooling the blade by piercing his beloved wife’s heart, thus sealing in her soul and the power of Lightbringer.
If you read between the lines, you can see how Rhaegar had three children, and the final killed his love, Lyanna… Three children, three swords, the last ending in death.
Is Jon Snow the reincarnation of the Prince That Was Promised? Is he Lightbringer himself? Am I completely wrong, and full of shit?
What can I say? Brilliant writing! And it answers a lot of questions… I should read the books, don’t know how I missed them. I first read George RR back when he was doing short stories & novellas – Sandkings!
Remember the old movie Nightflyers about the haunted spaceship? That was Martin too, recently read the novella. 🙂