Tower of the Hand

Fire And Bloodlines

Tags: Essay
9/6/2010 11:36:00 PM ET

A question that has come up a lot with fans recently finally gets a fair and analytical treatment. Is Daenerys the last Targaryen? Yes, we're going there...but not in the way you think.


With "R+L=J" still standing tall as the reigning champion of ASOIAF theories, many fans are understandably weary of endless back-and-forth debates regarding bloodlines, timelines, and the true parents of high-born bastards. The secret of Jon Snow's parentage has been on the table since the very beginning, and when you think about it, there was never any way to avoid it. It's one of the first real mysteries presented in A Game Of Thrones; "Who killed Jon Arryn" may have been the question that set the events of that first book into motion, but "Who is Jon Snow's mother" is asked directly thereafter, so close on the murder mystery's heels, in fact, that it is brought up in the same chapter. While it by no means had as direct an effect on the plotline, at least not at first glance, it was always there, a burning question waiting to be answered. The fact that so many of us think we know the answer is testament to the relevance we place on it; we believe that the clues that lead us to our conclusions are there for a reason. And while some fans have gone so far as to say they hope the question is never resolved, for the sake of a more "realistic" narrative, I would go so far as to say that, should Jon Snow's parentage not be eventually revealed, the author will have committed an act of treason against his readers. Subjective ideas of realism in fantasy are irrelevant and absurd; I fully expect this epic tale to finish what it started, as all good stories do.

Now, that having been said, I have no interest in rehashing the mystery of that particular bloodline. I would, however, like to draw some attention to another theory, one that also involves the possible bastard offspring of Targaryen royalty. Like the theory of the Sailor's Wife, it is one that I, personally, have a hard time believing. There is evidence for it, but it is evidence that depends wholly on particular inferences that might or might not be credible, depending on your viewpoint. On this site, as well as on several others, I have found people who think that it cannot possibly be true; I have also found people who think that it is written in stone. Some claim that they will not be happy unless it pans out; others, that they will be extremely disappointed if it is, in fact, the case. For my part, I can do nothing but continue to trust in the author. Should the theory prove unfounded, I will not lose interest or feel any sense of betrayal; unlike the question of Jon Snow, this item of speculation was not presented as a vital plot point from the very beginning of the series, nor even directly presented in any way. Should it come to pass, of course, that it is true, I will expect it to be masterfully handled. Still, it is nothing if not fascinating, and it is a major point of contention with many fans; with that in mind, I present here the arguments for and against: that one, two, or even all three children of Joanna Lannister were, in fact, fathered by King Aerys II Targaryen.

Given the nature of the Lannister children, there are three central possibilities that this theory revolves around.

  1. King Aerys was Tyrion's father. This seems to be the most popular.
  2. King Aerys was Cersei and Jaime's father. This has less support, but there is some interesting evidence from the books that might serve to help prop it up.
  3. King Aerys was the father of all three Lannisters. Very few people subscribe to this one, but since the first two are under consideration, this must be, as well.

Let's look at Tyrion first. This theory, which has a great deal of support behind it from the fan base, is predicated on Tyrion's status as a sort of "fan favorite" character. Speaking for myself as one of the dwarf's biggest fans, I can certainly understand its origins. As readers, our hatred for House Lannister has known no bounds, apart from the continual leeway we are ever willing to give to it's smallest member. Aside from Tyrion (and now at long last, perhaps Jaime), we feel little to no sympathy for any member of that family who suffers grief or misfortune. How sweet would it be if arguably the most popular character in the books was not a Lannister at all, but the bastard son of a deposed king? How shocked, and perhaps even relieved, would the collective readership be to learn that Tyrion was not a kinslayer at all, but the product of Aerys Targaryen's sickest and most convoluted joke on Tywin, which culminated in his death at the hands of said progeny? Most of all, how perfectly would it fit if Tyrion, who is on his way to Daenerys even though she has every reason to despise him, won himself to her side through the revelation, perhaps by Barristan Selmy, that he is her half-brother?

We have now had POV chapters from all three of the Lannister children. Jaime began the series as an uncontested villain in the minds of the readers. In A Game Of Thrones, he slept with his sister, crippled Bran Stark, killed Jory Cassel, and broke Eddard's leg, in many ways preventing him from escaping his ultimate fate by leaving King's Landing. He spent the entirety of A Clash Of Kings languishing in Hoster Tully's dungeon after his capture by Robb's army, dropping out of sight completely until the very end of that book, where somehow, his midnight confrontation with Catelyn was able to portray him as despicable, sympathetic and utterly mad, all at the same time. Then, in A Storm Of Swords, Jaime got his own POV chapters. The story of his escape from Riverrun, his capture by the Brave Companions and the loss of his hand, his bittersweet relationship with Brienne, his return to King's Landing to take up the mantle of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and his rescue of Tyrion from the black cells, all told from his perspective, made him far more of a protagonist than he had ever been. The continuation of this turn in A Feast For Crows made him even more of one, so that now readers tend to root for him rather than pray for his demise. His twin sister, Cersei, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction, resolutely becoming more and more villainous as time has gone on, an exacerbation of her character that climaxed in A Feast For Crows, when her POV chapters revealed the depth of her selfishness, ineptitude and paranoia.

Tyrion, on the other hand, has had POV chapters since book one, and our support from the start. While his actions might not always have been honorable, he never stopped being a sympathetic protagonist. In AGOT we watched him use his considerable wits to extricate himself from severely trying situations; in ACOK, he brought those wits to bear as the first person of power who, in the eyes of the readership, was admirable both in his intentions and his ability to carry them out. Finally, in ASOS, his story arc led him to completely abandon his association with the Lannister clan, as he severed that relationship in the most direct manner conceivable: the murder of his own father. What's more, he got away with it, and while he was completely absent from AFFC, his was one of the three officially revealed spoiler chapters from A Dance With Dragons, in which we learned that Varys had arranged for him to cross the narrow sea and begin an association with Magister Illyrio, and by proxy, with Daenerys.

Like a number of other POV characters, Tyrion's first major arc was concluded at the end of ASOS. He began powerless, rose high in the court of King Joffrey, was brought low once more, and ended his participation in the intrigues of King's Landing by narrowly escaping a death sentence for regicide. He went from hatred and fear of his father to killing him, committing a vile murder while escaping from the one he had not committed. He relived the cycle of wives and whores, replacing Tysha with Shae and ultimately repaying her betrayal with death. He went from being a morally sound character linked by blood to his ruthless family, to breaking those ties forever and casting a profound moral ambiguity upon himself in the process. He has truly come full circle. With that in mind, we are left wondering what is now in store for everyone's favorite Imp, and the sparse morsels that Mr. Martin has given us in that regard have led us to believe that he is on his way to join Dany's rebellion. It is this suspicion that has, inevitably, given rise to associations between Tyrion and the Targaryens.

The theory that King Aerys was Tyrion's real father goes something like this. Once upon a time, either through coercion, seduction or flat-out rape, Aerys and Joanna Lannister knew one another in the carnal fashion. For this union to result in Tyrion, it would have had to happen during Tywin's stint as Aerys' Hand, and thus become a major factor in the deepening bad blood between the two. After his wife became pregnant with the king's bastard, Tywin, fearing that the child would reveal his being cuckolded by physically taking after the real father, attempted to abort the pregnancy using moon tea, tansy, what have you; some type of contraceptive. This attempt failed to stop the child's birth, but resulted in his deformity and the death of Joanna. These circumstances were also a major factor in the king choosing Jaime for the kingsguard, Tywin helping to dethrone him, and Tywin's refusal to name Tyrion heir to Casterly Rock.

Now, there are holes in this story big enough for Mag the Mighty to ride his mammoth through, but let's begin with the evidence for Tyrion = Targaryen. The first thing most people point to is his appearance, which can be considered consistent with the Lannister bloodline, but also different enough from his siblings to suggest a possible Targaryen heritage.

From AGOT, Jon I:

One green eye and one black one peered out from under a lank fall of hair so blond it seemed white.

This is only one part of a description that focuses primarily on Tyrion's dwarfish characteristics, but it is the part that most T = T supporters place importance on. Tyrion's hair color does seem to bear a stronger resemblance to the silver-blonde hair of the Targaryens than the golden hair of the Lannisters, and while one of his eyes is green like those of his siblings, the other is black, which some have taken to denote a symbolically divided parentage, particularly since black is one of the colors of House Targaryen. Later, we are presented with another piece of evidence that Tyrion could have some dragon blood; namely, his obsession with the beasts themselves.

From AGOT, Tyrion II:

Tyrion had a morbid fascination with dragons. When he had first come to King's Landing for his sister's wedding to Robert Baratheon, he had made it a point to seek out the dragon skulls that had hung on the walls of Targaryen's throne room. King Robert had replaced them with banners and tapestries, but Tyrion had persisted until he found the skulls in the dank cellar where they had been stored.

He had expected to find them impressive, perhaps even frightening. He had not thought to find them beautiful. Yet they were. As black as onyx, polished smooth, so the bone seemed to shimmer in the light of his torch. They liked the fire, he sensed. He'd thrust the torch into the mouth of one of the larger skulls and made the shadows leap and dance on the wall behind him. The teeth were long, curving knives of black diamond. The flame of the torch was nothing to them; they had bathed in the heat of far greater fires. When he had moved away, Tyrion could have sworn that the beast's empty eye sockets had watched him go.

"What are you reading about?" he asked.

"Dragons," Tyrion told him.

"What good is that? There are no more dragons," the boy said with the easy certainty of youth.

"So they say," Tyrion replied. "Sad, isn't it? When I was your age, used to dream of having a dragon of my own."

"You did?" the boy said suspiciously. Perhaps he thought Tyrion was making fun of him.

"Oh, yes. Even a stunted, twisted, ugly little boy can look down over the world when he's seated on a dragon's back." Tyrion pushed the bearskin aside and climbed to his feet. "I used to start fires in the bowels of Casterly Rock and stare at the flames for hours, pretending they were dragonfire. Sometimes I'd imagine my father burning. At other times, my sister."

These two passages are the strongest pieces of evidence for Tyrion's Targaryen heritage. His "morbid fascination with dragons," the fact that he used to dream of them (as many Targaryens have done in the past; recall Egg's older brother, Daeron, from The Hedge Knight), the beauty he glimpsed in their bones and the predilection toward starting fires are all quite suggestive of the former ruling dynasty. The brilliant part is, if this theory does prove true, then it was indeed handled quite admirably. The above passages occur in the fourteenth chapter (including the prologue) of a book that contains a total of seventy-three. The best evidence for Tyrion being a Targaryen are given to us at the very beginning of a story that starts with House Targaryen having already been all but exterminated. At that point, we know almost nothing about that family, certainly not enough to suggest any of Tyrion's eccentricities as familial traits. In fact, the author uses said traits as a lead-in to provide exposition about House Targaryen through Tyrion's knowledge and memories; the association that springs to mind has nothing to do with plot or character background, but rather, a realization of storytelling technique. I don't know about anyone else, but when I first read the chapter in question, I may have considered the manner in which Mr. Martin was seamlessly providing information on his world and its history, without interrupting the flow of the story. I certainly wasn't making a connection between Tyrion's love of dragons and the same fondness in the Targaryen family.

Finally, to round out the evidence for this theory, we have the last words of Lord Tywin Lannister, uttered in what initially seems to be pure vindictive spite at his son:

From ASOS, Tyrion XI:

"You shot me," he said incredulously, his eyes glassy with shock.

"You always were quick to grasp a situation, my lord," Tyrion said. "That must be why you're the Hand of the King."

" are son of mine."

"Now that's where you're wrong, Father. Why, I believe I'm you writ small. Do me a kindness now, and die quickly. I have a ship to catch."

Lord Tywin's last words: spite? A dying disownment of his son, who has just shot him with a crossbow? Or the truth, the kind of truth that a man like Tywin Lannister could only ever utter as he was about to die? Tyrion certainly seems to believe it is the former, but he could very well be wrong. Either interpretation makes sense. It might seem like a stretch to say that this passage could be evidence, depending on the circumstances; indeed, it is a stretch. However, that hardly means it isn't the case.

It also doesn't mean that it is. As previously stated, the story we're required to believe in order to accept Tyrion as a Targaryen bastard is full of holes. To begin with, most readers find it extremely hard to believe that the Lord of Casterly Rock would have such a restrained reaction to King Aerys seducing or raping his beloved Joanna. When Jaime was named to the Kingsguard, Tywin resigned the Handship and returned to the West to brood. Are we to believe he would do less after discovering that Aerys had slept with his wife? Personally, I would think that more would be in order. And are we then to believe that, following this event, Tywin would continue with his plans to wed Cersei to Prince Rhaegar? That he would hold a tourney at Lannisport welcoming King Aerys to the West, during which he would propose a betrothal? All the stories of Lord Tywin suggest that the trouble between he and Aerys started when the king refused the offer of Cersei; it seems counterintuitive to believe that they began earlier. Okay, Tywin was so proud that he refused to even acknowledge that anything had happened, lest his shame be revealed; that still seems something of a thin pretext, particularly for a man of Lord Tywin's nature.

Moreover, the idea of a contraceptive being the cause of Joanna's death and Tyrion's dwarfism is even harder to swallow. Certainly we have seen and heard of such things being used frequently throughout the series; if there was a chance that they could not only fail (the fact that contraceptives can fail is not in dispute) but cause deformity in children while simultaneously killing the mother, wouldn't we have heard of at least one other case of this? From Catelyn Stark, perhaps, who seems so wise in the ways of such womanly concerns, and whose sister had numerous problems with conception and abortion? Or from Grand Maester Pycelle, a man of great learning, who we now know has been providing Margaery Tyrell with moon tea? I suppose it might have been a one-of-a-kind case, or simply not talked of for one reason or another, but that kind of speculation lends no credence whatsoever to this argument.

One slight alteration that could be made to the story might solve all of these problems, and that is the idea that Tywin simply didn't know about Aerys and Joanna. There would be no mutual resentment until the Lannisport tourney, as previously suspected, and no abortion attempt. Tyrion was born a dwarf, and the complications involved in his birth killed his mother. We've accepted those two facts for four books already, after all. Could Tywin have been deceived? It's certainly possible. We know almost nothing about Joanna; if it was rape, she may have been ashamed to tell her husband, and if not, she may have been afraid to. Either way, it was a king she was dealing with; she might have feared that Tywin would do something stupid that would jeopardize their House, or she might simply have accepted Aerys' advances rather than go up against the royal family, who considered themselves so far above the laws of men. This idea plays a little bit of havoc with the evidence of Tywin's last words, but perhaps he discovered the truth later, or perhaps the real irony of that statement was that Tywin meant it as spiteful disownment, when in fact it was the truth.

Even given all of that, however, it seems unlikely that Aerys and Joanna could conceal what went on between them from a shrewd and cunning man like Tywin Lannister. Then again, Jaime and Cersei, his own children, were able to conceal their tryst from him until the day he died. The other question is, when would Aerys and Joanna have been together? Was she with Tywin at King's Landing while he served there as Hand? General opinion has it that she was not; however, the fact of the matter is that we don't know. One thing we can infer is that, since the Lannisport tourney, which occurred after Tyrion's birth, was held to "welcome King Aerys to the West," the two could not have copulated during a visit by Aerys to Casterly Rock. Joanna would either have had to be in King's Landing with her husband, or else the two met up elsewhere on a different occasion, which strikes me as improbable.

Now, what about Cersei and Jaime? What evidence could we possibly have that Lord Tywin's golden twins were, in fact, fathered by King Aerys? Aside from the fact that we have seen both of them flirt dangerously close to madness, there is very little evidence from the books to support the two as Targaryen bastards. However, each of the twins has something that, with a little creative inference, could conceivably contain the seeds of their dragon heritage. Both are from A Feast for Crows. The first is part of a conversation between Jaime and his aunt Genna, Lord Tywin's sister; the second, part of the passage that depicts Cersei's burning of the Tower of the Hand.

From AFFC, Jaime V:

Jaime kissed her cheek. "He left a son."

"Aye, he did. That is what I fear the most, in truth."

That was a queer remark. "Why should you fear?"

"Jaime," she said, tugging on his ear, "sweetling, I have known you since you were a babe at Joanna's breast. You smile like Gerion and fight like Tyg, and there's some of Kevan in you, else you would not wear that cloak . . . but Tyrion is Tywin's son, not you. I said so once to your father's face, and he would not speak to me for half a year. Men are such thundering great fools. Even the sort who come along once in a thousand years."

From AFFC, Cersei III:

"Lord Commander, escort His Grace and his little queen to their pillows, if you would."

"As you command. And you as well?"

"No need." Cersei felt too alive for sleep. The wildfire was cleansing her, burning away all her rage and fear, filling her with resolve. "The flames are so pretty. I want to watch them for a while."

Little enough to go on, I'll grant you. Genna's comment is similar in nature to Lord Tywin's last words. It could be a clue by the author as to Jaime's true parentage, or it could just be an observation from a strong-willed, intuitive woman regarding the nature of her brother's children. Likewise, the fact that Tywin refused to speak to her for half a year could mean that she had reminded him of the shame of his cuckoldry, or it could just mean that she had compared him to the son he despised, as opposed to the son he was proud of. Her inclusion of her other brothers in her assessment of Jaime indicates that she meant the comment only as an observation of his nature, and in any case it's extremely unlikely that, had Aerys actually fathered Jaime, Genna would know about it; that doesn't mean it wasn't a hint dropped by the tricksy Mr. Martin.

Cersei's character and personality have been associated with wildfire for some time, primarily through Tyrion's observations of her. The above quotation is only part of a passage in which it seems clear that Cersei is entranced by the fire, obsessed with it, infatuated with it. Not only is this suggestive of House Targaryen, but thanks to Jaime's POV, we know that King Aerys was similarly infatuated with wildfire, to the point where he used the substance as his champion in trail by combat, named a pyromancer his Hand, and plotted to set the whole of King's Landing ablaze and, in the process, turn himself into a dragon. Such a crazed obsession with wildfire is certainly shared by Cersei, and it might not be so much of a stretch to imagine that she inherited it from her true father. I would say that such a connection is just as indicative of Targaryen bastardy as Tyrion's dreams of dragons.

The same arguments outlined above about Lord Tywin, and the circumstances and story behind a possible sexual encounter between Aerys and Joanna, apply just as equally to Jaime and Cersei as they do to Tyrion. Indeed, while some have speculated the poetic justice of Tywin's only true child being the monster he despised so well, others have suggested that, in fact, all of Tywin's children are Targaryen bastards born of the Mad King. Again, the same arguments apply, though this third case is tantamount to suggesting that Tywin was impotent, sterile or otherwise unable to have children. That in itself presents a whole new field of complications, but rather than consider all of them, consider the following, instead...

Lord Tywin spent his life railing against whores and their kind. Cersei admits at one point that her father's hatred of prostitutes and concubines was born when his own father's mistress started bedecking herself in his mother's jewels. Tyrion's fondness for whores is one of the major sources of tension between father and son, as evidenced by the very words that got Lord Tywin killed. And yet, in that same scene, Tyrion prefaces his murder of his father by first murdering Shae, the whore he finds naked in Lord Tywin's bed, with the chain of golden hands around her throat. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from this, the same conclusion drawn by Cersei when she orders the discovery covered up, never to be spoken of again. It appears that Tywin Lannister was not nearly as unappreciative of prostitutes as he claimed to be. This major character trait, that we knew about with iron certainty and had evidence to support it with, turned out to be a lie. What else about Lord Tywin's personality might have more behind it than what we thought was the truth? Who was this man, who managed to conceal a large part of his true nature from the people who thought they knew him best? Who was Tywin Lannister, really?

We can't know; at least, not yet. That seems to be the sum of all arguments regarding this theory. I have no doubt that there was much more to Lord Tywin than meets the eye. I can also think of plenty of scenarios in which his true nature does not result in his wife sharing Aerys Targaryen's bed. Is it possible that Tyrion, or the twins, or all three, are the children of the Mad King? Yes, it's very possible. Is there anywhere near enough evidence to support that being the case? No. This argument is riddled the whole way through with "if" and "maybe" and "perhaps." We have some evidence that could be purely circumstantial, that requires us to write a completely different story in order to make it fit. Occam's Razor doesn't just deny this theory; it shreds it to ribbons and burns the remains. In fiction, of course, and especially fantasy, the simplest solution is not always the best, and it may end up being that one or more of these characters has a dragon for a father. For now, however, there is simply not enough solid support for it to merit further consideration. Until we get more information regarding these events, we must assume that all three of the Lannister children are precisely that.

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