‘Aegon’/Young Griff and Jon Connington/Griff by Steamey on Deviant Art
If ASOIAF is an epic, then AGOT-ASOS was Act 1.
AFFC/ADWD brought on a new set of themes and characters, as we stopped the unrelenting pace that characterised the first three books, and paused for a breather before the War for Dawn (that 95% of characters have no clue is coming….)
I know AFFC has its critics, but I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked the chance to see what happens to the people of a land after a devastating civil war. I mean, I wanted to point Brienne in the direction of the Vale after the umpteenth time she asked if anyone had seen a maid of ten and three, red of hair and blue of eyes…
But ADWD brought in a new player for the game of thrones, Young Griff, the alias being used to hide a boy who is purported to be Aegon VI Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and Elia, heir to the Iron Throne.
Who is he? But more importantly, why are two men from Essos so invested in getting him on the Iron Throne?
TLDR: it doesn’t matter if “Aegon” himself is a Blackfyre/Brightflame or not, but if Varys and/or Illyrio have some kind of familial connection to the ousted lines of the Targaryens, that makes their motivation to put a puppet dragon on the Iron Throne make far more sense.
The “Pisswater Prince” Baby Swap is rubbish
There’s lots of theorising about whether Aegon is really Aegon, and I don’t propose to go over that ground here. Simply put: I don’t buy that “Aegon” is actually Aegon. The “pisswater prince” swap story that Varys tells Kevan Lannister in the epilogue of ADWD sounds like bullshit to me.
But I know people are going to go “but, it’s easy to swap babies! They all look the same!” so I will address that part.
Aegon at the time of the Sack of King’s Landing is not a baby. He’s at least 18 months – 2 years old. To convincingly swap a toddler with distinguishable features, Varys would have had to pull out the doppelganger to end all doppelgangers. Remember, Elia’s and her children were held hostage in King’s Landing to ensure Dorne would support the royal forces in the Rebellion. Held hostage by an incredibly paranoid Mad King.
I don’t believe that it’s tinfoil to suggest or presume that Aerys had informers in Elia’s staff to ensure that she wasn’t conspiring against him in any way. Changing the toddler would have been instantly noticed. When you think about the “pisswater prince” toddler swap story in that light, it suddenly has more holes than Swiss cheese!
But why am I so certain Aegon was a toddler when he was killed, and not a baby? Because of basic maths. So many people who take Varys’ baby swap story at face value assuming that “all babies look the same” and “are really easy to swap” – what? Have you never been around babies or toddlers?? Dude. Newborns all look more or less the same. But once the bub is over 6 months, they have their own features. I’m not talking about hair per se, but facial features, build, mannerisms – kids are distinct.
EDIT: OK, so I just realised I stuffed up, and Aegon was actually born after the Harrenhal Tourney, not before it. So I need to adjust my maths. I still think that it would have been difficult to find a sufficiently alike looking infant to fool the staff of a paranoid king though!
My maths, admittedly based on a lot of guesswork:
at the time of the Tourney of Harrenhal, Elia has been sick from Aegon’s birth but is well enough to travel. I would say her recovery would take 3-6 months taking into account medieval level healthcare and what we are told about Elia’s fragile state generally, and what we can infer about her ability to travel in horse drawn coach.
OK so that bit is actually not right. Aegon was born at the start of 282 AC, and the Tourney was in 281 AC. I’ve adjusted all my other maths accordingly.
- from the Tourney of Harrenhal to Rhaegar and Lyanna running off (in whatever circumstances!) is about 6 months again. So baby Aegon is currently 3-6 months old when his father decides he needs a northern bride.
- Rhaegar and Lyanna are then MIA for a considerable amount of time before Rhaegar comes back to King’s Landing and takes up leadership of the royal forces and heads off to the Trident to meet his doom. Allow a further 3-6 months? Aegon is then 6-9 or 9-18 months old by the time daddy dies from Robert’s hammer.
- Ned finds Lyanna at the TOJ about 3-6 months after the battle of the Trident from what we know about the Robert’s Rebellion timeline.
- thus the Sack of King’s Landing is 2-4 months (??) before Lyanna’s death – Ned is present at the Sack, and its aftermath, then goes off to relieves Stannis from Lord Tyrell’s ineffective siege of Storm’s End and then at some undefined stage later is informed about the Tower of Joy and goes to get Lyanna.
Conclusion: Aegon is somewhere between 8 and 20 months old at the time of the Sack of King’s Landing. He’s not an indistinguishable mush of baby anymore – he has enough characteristics in face, hair, build etc to be difficult to swap with an identical infant.
In the court of a paranoid king, holding those particular children hostage, I just don’t buy that Varys could pull off a toddler swap, with or without the consent and participation of Elia (another argument that is often brought up – “oh but Elia would have helped Varys”, this doesn’t help explain how no one noticed.)
I find it very improbable that the boy who has been told he is Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar, is actually that boy. Aegon died during the Sack of King’s Landing, as we have been told.
I find it much more probable that Varys took advantage of the condition that the Mountain’s attack left Aegon’s body in: head smashed in beyond recognition. Perfect opportunity for someone to bring along a suitably aged and Valyrian-looking kid in due course to claim the Throne…. after the Baratheon legacy has been totally destabilised.
Does it matter if Aegon is fake?
After mulling over it for the better part of a year, I’ve got to the point where I’ve decided it doesn’t matter at all whether Aegon himself is a fake.
The kid could be a Blackfyre. He could be Illyrio’s son, with or without Illyrio’s beloved Serra providing the Blackfyre lineage. He could be descended from Aerion “Brightflame” Targaryen.
History lesson: go back a few generations, to the Dunk & Egg stories. Aegon V is known as the Unlikely because he was crowned following a Great Council, after the succession got confusing following the death of his father, Maekar I. Maeker himself was the fourth son, not expected to end up on the Throne. A series of shock deaths, and he was. His sons then had a similar run of luck: the eldest, Aerion Brightflame, killed himself by drinking wildfire, convinced it would unleash his inner dragon. Daeron drank himself to death. Aemon had been sent off to the Citadel to take his maester’s chain by his grandfather, King Daeron II, back when the Targaryens had a surplus of potential heirs and it was thought prudent to try and thin out the herd a bit. That left… Egg. Proper name Aegon, Egg spent his boyhood wandering Westeros with hedge knight Ser Duncan the Tall. The nobles were worried about smallfolk-sympathising Egg taking the Throne, but the only other viable option was the infant Maegor, son of Aerion – remember, the guy who drank wildfire? Yeah. Nuts. The Council decided it wasn’t worth the risk of a long regency over an infant, given the Targaryen propensity for madness to continue from father to son.
Those of us who think something fishy is going on with Varys/Illyrio’s plan to put “Aegon” on the Throne suspect that one or more of this trio are related to the exiled Targaryen dynasties: the Blackfyres, who Illyrio specifically says are extinct in the male line, or the Brightflames (bastard or legit.)
It could be “Aegon”, or he could just be a kid that looks Valyrian enough to be passed off as Rhaegar Targaryen’s son.
Varys: the key to the puzzle
As the Blackfish notes,
At a surface level, Varys and Illyrio are in “for the realm.” They want peace for Westeros. But that surface answer that Varys gives Eddard in A Game of Thrones deliberately obfuscates their true motives. They aren’t in it for peace in and of itself. They want peace, but they want peace through their preferred candidate. In short, they’re not so interested in peace, they’re interested in power through a proxy; peace is the windfall.
Whoever the kid is, “Aegon” is a puppet for them. A well educated puppet, but a puppet nonetheless.
Why do Varys and Illyrio want a puppet? Well, that’s a pretty straightforward thing: you have a puppet absolute monarch, you control the kingdom. Very Hobbesian. Very straightforward. That’s not the complicated part.
The complicated part: Varys and Illyrio are from Essos. Lys and Braavos, respectively, who met in Pentos and established a Fagon-esque* routine where Varys recruited young boys and girls to be pickpockets and spies, and he and Illyrio profited.
*Fagon as in from Oliver Twist, rather than fAegon as in fake Aegon
Why are they interested in Westeros? There’s plenty of coin and chances for power in Essos. Illyrio himself went from being a braavosi for hire to a powerful Mayor. Why do they need to get involved in Westeros? They don’t.
But… if one or both of them has a family connection to Westeros, suddenly this involvement makes more sense.
Illyrio could have another motivation: maybe he wants to set up a rival to the Iron Bank of Braavos, using his aptitude for business learned in the cheese trade to set up a Westeros or Pentos based merchant banking institution.
Or, his beloved Serra could be a Blackfyre or Brightflame. I find the tinfoil that “Aegon” is actually Illyrio and Serra’s son quite attractive. It helps explain his attachment to the boy. But I’m aware it doesn’t necessarily have the textual evidence to say it’s a slam dunk.
Out of the two, it’s Varys who I think needs the family connection to Blackfyre/Brightflame. Illyrio’s actions can be explained by being enticed into this arrangement by his friend Varys, or his wife Serra.
But Varys has no ostensible connection to Westeros. All we really know about him is that he’s a really good master spy who coordinates a network of mute children (his “little birds”) to be apprised of EVERYTHING that happens, that he’s a eunuch and he hates magic (which caused him to be a eunuch.) None of that explains why he’s so invested in the Iron Throne’s occupancy as to explain:
- his involvement with Illyrio shown in AGOT to support Viserys, and then Daenerys when they come to Westeros; or
- his backing of “Aegon” and all the murders and manipulation he carries out to ensure that Westeros remains chaotic, so that “Aegon” can sweep in as a remedial hero to the realm destroyed by the Lannisters. (Sorry, “Baratheons”)
Above I mentioned the curious disappearance of Aerion Brightflame’s infant son from the annals of Westerosi history. Maegor Brightflame gets one line in TWOIAF, and we have no idea what happened after he was passed over by the Great Council. Aerion was also banished to Lys for some years following his behaviour at the Tourney of Ashford (read the first D&E, The Hedge Knight) and apparently sowed his wild oats, leaving a slew of bastards across Lys.
Did he also find his future wife there? We don’t know. Edit: yes we do, she was a Targaryen. My mistake!
I recently did some maths, and think about this:
- Maegor Brightflame is an infant at the time of the Great Council 233 AC
- So when Egg dies at Summerhall, Maegor (assuming he still lived) would have been 26
- He would have been 45 by the time Aerys II sent Steffon Baratheon to the Free Cities to find a Valyrian bride for Rhaegar
We know that Aerion was banished to Lys, where he sowed his wild oats and left some bastards.
We have no information about his wife that produced the legitimate heir Maegor, but perhaps she was also from Lys. EDIT: Thanks for the correction in the comments – we actually do know who Aerion Targaryen married, a Targaryen cousin called Daenaera. But he still left bastards in Lys, and we don’t know anything about Maegor or his mother after Aerion’s death. It’s still possible that they went to Lys for… reasons.
It would explain why Maegor disappears from Westerosi history, if his mother took him to Lys after he was passed over by the Great Council for Egg. Remember: some obvious things are missing from TWOIAF because GRRM wanted to avoid future spoilers for ASOIAF or D&E. I think the mysterious fate of Maegor Brightflame is one of those spoilers, because we’re going to meet his son (?) in ASOIAF.
Just dropping this beat: Varys was born in Lys. Varys is about 30s-40s as at AGOT. He worked for the Iron Throne through Robert’s 16 year reign, plus an unspecified period of years for Aerys II. We know from TWOIAF that Varys was hired by Aerys II after Steffon Baratheon’s death and well before the Tourney of Harrenhal. When he was in his 20s… I’m just saying, the maths add up for Varys to be Maegor Brightflame’s son, or another one of Aerion’s bastards’ descendents.
Trying to unravel Varys’ motivations to move from Essos to Westeros to work as a spymaster, first for the Mad King, and then for the Baratheons, is difficult unless we give him a personal motivation.
Wanting to revenge your family’s lost opportunity to take the Iron Throne on the Targaryens who denied your forefathers… that’s a pretty damn good personal motivation.
Prophecies and the Mummer’s Dragon
The common opposition to the Blackfyre/Brightflame theory is that “but the average reader doesn’t know who the Blackfyres are. They’re barely mentioned in ASOIAF. To know who they are, you need to go to TWOIAF and D&E.”
It would only take a short piece of exposition by a character or two at a crucial moment to remind the mythical casual reader of these ousted dragons. I don’t accept that the “lack” of Blackfyres in the main text is sufficient reason to ignore the reasonable circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that someone involved in “Aegon’s” campaign has a familial connection to either the bastard house or Aerion Brightflame.
“Someone told me that the night is dark and full of terrors. What do you see in those flames?”
“Dragons,” Moqorro said in the Common Tongue of Westeros. He spoke it very well, with hardly a trace of accent. No doubt that was one reason the high priest Benerro had chosen him to bring the faith of R’hllor to Daenerys Targaryen. “Dragons old and young, true and false, bright and dark. And you. A small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of all.” (ADWD, Tyrion VIII)
Old and young dragons – Maester Aemon, mentioned above as the older brother of King Aegon the Unlikely, is still kicking at 104 in AFFC, when he sadly passed away en route to Daenerys. Dany herself starts the series at the tender age of 13. By the end of ADWD she’s about 15-16 or so.
True and false – we know of two hidden dragons in the story so far. Jon Snow is the bastard son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark – a hidden “true” dragon who doesn’t know he is descended from Targaryens nor say that he does. Aegon is… not Aegon. He’s the false dragon, who claims to be true, a reversal of Jon.
I think Moqorro’s prophecy is GRRM waving to readers that there are SIX dragons – six people with Targaryen blood that are key to this story. And the couplets link them together, so we have the old and young known dragons in Aemon and Dany, the true and false hidden dragons in Jon and ‘Aegon’, and then the not-quite Targaryen dragons of Bright and Dark – Brightflame and Blackfyre.
But who are these two not-quite Targ dragons?
Bright and dark: Bright dragons, Brightflame – that was Aerion’s personal heraldry. A dark dragon, or a black dragon – that’s the inverted bastard heraldry that reverses the Targaryen colours for House Blackfyre.
This isn’t clutching at straws. This is textual foreshadowing that we have not seen the last of the descendants of the Blackfyres or Brightflames in ASOIAF. That history is relevant.
There’s also a couple of things in Dany’s House of the Undying visions that support the proposition that “Aegon” is a puppet, and his links to Varys.
A glowing red sword in the hand of a blue eyed king that casts no shadow, a cloth dragon swaying on poles amongst a cheering crowd, a stone beast taking wing from a tower as it breathes shadow fire. “Slayer of lies”.
Many fans, myself included, think that this prophecy is meant to indicate that part of GRRM’s grand plan for Dany is that she will “slay the lies” of other claimants to the Iron Throne. Still unclear what the stone beast will be, but Stannis fits the first lie (claimed to be Azor Azai Reborn by Melisandre, and given a glamoured fake Lightbringer) and Aegon fits the second (the puppet dragon.)
Much later, in ADWD, Quaithe (whoever she is) reminds Dany about these prophecies:
“No. Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.”
Varys is known to be a mummer, or actor. He tells Tyrion that he started out as a street kid, got caught up in a mummer’s troupe and then had the whole “root and stem” slicing ritual with the magician who made him a eunuch. He’s backing “Aegon” in the race for the Iron Throne – “Aegon” is the mummer’s dragon. And Quaithe is reminding Dany to be wary of him… just because he’s trying to claim her Throne? Or something else? Because he’s a Blackfyre puppet? [Sidenote: also interesting that Quaithe warns Dany to beware of Quentyn Martell, the sun’s son – why be wary of the Martells? They want her to come back to Westeros, to make the Lannisters answer for their crimes to Elia Martell with fire and blood. But now that Dany is AWOL in the Dothraki sea, and ‘Aegon’ has landed in the Stormlands… which Targaryen will Dorne back – the AWOL Dragon Mother, or the Targaryen who is here with the Golden Company and winning campaigns?!]
I think it’s both possible and probable that Varys is the son or other reasonably near relative of Maegor Brightflame. I think it’s possible, but am less certain of the probability, that Serra Mopatis, Illyrio’s beloved wife, is the Blackfyre connection – and ‘Aegon’ is actually Serra and Illyrio’s son.
Thus, Varys’ motivation for putting a puppet ‘Aegon’ on the Iron Throne is that he wants to see the Blackfyres/Brightflames restored to the Throne that could have been theirs.