Recently at a book festival appearance, GRRM confirmed that while Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers married his half-brother and great friend Daemon Blackfyre’s daughter Calla, they never had children.
Some people have been posting on /r/asoiaf about how this means “GRRM is denying the fAegon Blackfyre theory” as if fAegon Blackfyre requires the kid to be descended from Bittersteel and Blackfyre. It never did.
But this did get me to thinking… where is the supposed female line of House Blackfyre?
House Blackfyre: origins + First Rebellion
Let’s clear up one major misconception right away: Blackfyre is NOT the bastard name for Targaryen bastards.
House Blackfyre is a specific house founded by a specific Targaryen bastard: Daemon Waters, the son of Daena the Defiant and Aegon the Unworthy. He was given the ancient Targaryen sword Blackfyre by his father, and after his father’s death, his half-brother and king Daeron the Good (Daeron II Targaryen) granted Daemon lands and permission to establish his own house in the Crownlands. House Blackfyre was born as Daemon took the name of his sword and inverted the Targaryen sigil: a black three-headed dragon, rather than a red one, on a red background rather than a black one.
Targaryen bastards, like every other noble bastard, otherwise bear the names of the regions where they were raised. The Great Bastards of Aegon IV were only the children that he had with noble women:
- Daemon Waters, later Daemon I Blackfyre
- Aegor Rivers, aka Bittersteel
- Brynden Rivers, aka Bloodraven
- Bloodraven’s sisters, Mya and Gwenys Rivers
- Shiera Seastar
All the other bastards of Aegon IV, and lord knows there were a lot of them, also took the bastard names of their region – don’t think he had any Snows or Sands or Pykes, but there were a lot of Waters, Rivers, Flowers and Hills IIRC – plus all the children born to mistresses of Aegon but claimed as legitimate offspring of their husbands (e.g. Viserys Plumm, Jeyne Lothston.)
Only Daemon was a Blackfyre, and while Bittersteel convinced Daemon to rebel against Daeron the Good (and Bloodraven, his key adviser,) Bittersteel himself was never a Blackfyre – he was always Aegor Rivers.
Despite the tension between supporters of Daemon and supporters of Daeron, Daemon did not rebel immediately after his father’s death. It took a combination of many factors, but primarily the whispers of a vengeful and angry Bittersteel in his ear, before Daemon decided to challenge Daeron for the Iron Throne. The reasons various lords chose their preferred son of Aegon IV are laid out in The Sworn Sword and the World book, but it really came down to ideals of the right person to be king, infused with toxic masculinity. Daeron was the legitimate son of Aegon IV and Naerys Targaryen, but he was not a great warrior. Daemon was the illegitimate son of Aegon IV and Daena Targaryen, but was an excellent warrior. Aegon, because he was a colossal dickhead, fuelled rumours that Daeron was actually the product of Naerys having an affair with their brother Aemon the Dragonknight – quite ridiculous given the piety of both Naerys and Aemon.
The key factors that led Daemon to rebel:
- Bittersteel’s influence, himself hell bent on claiming legitimate power over his half-brothers Daeron and Bloodraven – jealous that Bloodraven succeeded in gaining power in the king’s Small Council and the love of Shiera where Bittersteel did not;
- Aegon IV’s foolish promise to Daemon that he could take a second wife if he wanted, and marry Daenerys, Daeron’s sister as well as his wife Rohanne of Tyrosh – Daeron married his sister to Maron Martell to finally seal the Dornish peace accord achieved by his predecessors Daeron the Younger and Baelor the Blessed. It’s unclear how Daenerys herself felt about this – perhaps she fancied Daemon, but she went to Dorne as ordered.
- The issue of warrior skills and toxic masculinity – and the damn sword.
Daemon found himself convinced he should be King, not Daeron, despite being a bastard, and thus commenced the Blackfyre Rebellions.
House Blackfyre: who’s who in the zoo
Let’s ignore Bittersteel and the Golden Company for now, or the lords who backed the Blackfyre cause.
Let’s just look at the family tree. Which is fun and games, like all Targaryen family trees. I’ve given up trying to use free family tree websites – with all the incestuous marriages, it gets massively complex and unworkable very quickly! So I just draw it out myself.
So: the children of Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen, who survived the Dance of the Dragons
Aegon IV, not the only one to enjoy sex – Daena disappears from the World book after birthing Daemon Blackfyre, but Elaena Targaryen has a colourful and entertaining history of seven children to three husbands (and at least 2 known lovers – Alyn Velaryon and Aegon, of course…)
Now let’s look at House Blackfyre, specifically:
House Blackfyre’s existence was short and pointed.
- Daemon I dies with his twin sons Aegon and Aemon in the First Blackfyre Rebellion
- Daemon II dies in prison following the Second Blackfyre Rebellion (the one outlined in The Mystery Knight)
- Haegon dies in the Third Blackfyre Rebellion, dishonourably executed, probably by Aerion Targaryen (aka Brightflame) for reasons as yet not clear – probably a future Dunk and Egg book
- Daemon III dies in the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion, felled in combat by Ser Duncan the Tall.
- Aenys, the last named surviving son of Daemon I, turned up to the Great Council of 233 AC to put his hat in the ring to be Maekar’s successor, but was beheaded by Bloodraven despite attending under a peace banner, with promises of safe passage.
- Daemon (IV?) dies at the hands of Maelys, who ripped his cousin’s head off to ensure that he would be the next Blackfyre claimant. Yikes.
- Maelys the Monstrous dies in the Fifth Blackfyre Rebellion, also known as the War of the Ninepenny Kings, felled by Ser Barristan the Bold.
- Calla Blackfyre, the only named daughter of Daemon I, married her uncle (?) Aegor Rivers, but as confirmed by GRRM last weekend, they had no children. (Who, in any event, would have been Rivers, not Blackfyres.)
And that was it. That was the entirety of the Blackfyre line.
UNLESS…. the unnamed children – GRRM confirms in the World book that the original Daemon had two more unnamed sons, but gives no details on whether they lived to adulthood or married. He also indicated that Calla had one or more sisters, also unnamed. Haegon had one more son, possibly more.
The possibility of the female line Blackfyres comes from these potential sons who might have had daughters, and daughters who married out of the Blackfyre line.
Honestly, probably not that many?
But the reason so many fans of ASOIAF are intrigued by the idea of the female line of House Blackfyre the Aegon plot introduced in A Dance With Dragons.
The official line, as given by Varys to a dying Kevan Lannister, is that Aegon VI Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, did not actually die in the Sack of King’s Landing but was miraculously saved by a baby swap arranged by Varys himself, who replaced the prince with a similar looking baby, and made arrangements for the child to be raised in exile, taught to be the perfect prince – puissant, educated, merciful, raised amongst the smallfolk, the boy who lived to be the perfect king to save Westeros from the evils of the Lannister regime.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
It also just sounds like bullshit.
Aegon, the real Aegon, was born either at the very end of 281 or very start of 282 AC. Which means that by the time of the Sack of King’s Landing in 283, he was approximately 18 months old. Have you actually seen an 18 month old toddler? They are not indistinguishable babies! They have distinguishable features, personalities, and in the paranoid court of Aerys II, it would have been difficult to find a “pisswater prince” identical toddler – even if Flea Bottom is supposedly littered with “dragonseeds” from many generations now and past of Targaryen princes and their Velaryon cousins fucking their way through the brothels of Silk Street.
The baby swap idea rests on two options that are, in my opinion, equally improbable:
- Elia Martell had no idea Varys had swapped her baby for another, which is why she died defending Aegon when Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch attacked the Red Keep.
Really? A mother so intent on protecting her child that she held him to protect him from vicious killers, just didn’t notice that her toddler was a little different? NONSENSE.
- Elia was in on the baby swap.
Again: why die defending the pisswater babe when her true daughter Rhaenys was there? If Elia was in on the baby swap, why do none of our Dornish characters now seem to know about this?
And the bigger issue: Aerys II was completely paranoid, and was holding Elia and her children in the Red Keep as hostages. He would have had ALL the spies and informants in Elia’s retinue. There is no way that a different baby could have been passed off as Aegon without word getting back to Aerys. This is a very dangerous plan for Elia and Varys to enter into – and, given that it’s unclear if Aerys disinherited Rhaegar’s son to anoint Viserys as his heir or not, potentially a completely pointless one.
Also: how did Varys know ahead of time that the swapped baby would be killed in such a way as to render him unrecognisable, thus covering up the swap? That’s a big gamble. Gregar Clegane was known to be violent and unpredictable, a loyal dog to the ruthless Tywin Lannister, but could Varys or anyone really have predicted that the death of Aegon (or “Aegon”) would occur in that particularly violent manner?
What is a more probable outcome?
That when Varys saw the shattered remains of the real Aegon, presented so dishonourably by Tywin Lannister as a “token of fealty” to Robert Baratheon, he realised the opportunity available to him. Aegon was smashed beyond recognition. Rhaenys had been stabbed repeatedly, but the Mountain smashed the crying toddler into a brick wall over and over again. There was no face left, nothing by a smashed in skull, lots of blood and brains, and a few tufts of blonde hair. It was a barbaric murder, but carried out in such a way that it gave Varys the opportunity to find a Valyrian looking child ASAP and have the child raised to believe he was really Rhaegar’s son.
And I think that’s what happened.
So why does fAegon (fake Aegon) need to have a Blackfyre connection? He doesn’t – to be brutally honest.
Prophecies, hints and whatnot that suggest that Aegon is both fake and a Blackfyre (or supported by Blackfyres)
In the House of the Undying, Daenerys receives visions of three lies that she is to slay: a blue eyed man who casts no shadow and has a flaming sword (i.e. Stannis Baratheon, who is not Azor Ahai Reborn, despite what Melisandre has convinced him,) a mummer’s dragon amidst a cheering crowd (i.e. Aegon, supported by Varys, being hailed by King’s Landing,) and a great stone beast taking flight from a huge dark tower (dunno. Probably something to do with Euron’s assault on Oldtown???)
So, as early as A Clash of Kings, there’s hints that Dany might not be the first Targaryen claimant to arrive in King’s Landing, and that she might have to compete for the favour of Westeros with a pretender. Around this time, GRRM was also coy as to whether Rhaegar’s children were definitely dead – Rhaenys was definitely dead. Aegon? Hmm…
When A Dance With Dragons was being written, GRRM read a chapter featuring Tyrion and Illyrio to a book signing, and it was different to the version that ultimately ended up being published. This was the chapter where Illyrio and Tyrion talk about Griff and Company, and included the same hints as the published version (which I’ll detail below) but also had a scene which was cut, where Tyrion notes with curiosity that Illyrio is giving instructions about a particular box to one of the servants in High Valyrian, and Tyrion hears the word “sword” – the implication being that Illyrio has the sword Blackfyre, which was last seen in the possession of House Blackfyre. It was used by all the Blackfyre pretenders, and always taken back to Essos by their supporters in the Golden Company.
That scene also has these hints:
- First, Illyrio tells Tyrion that “some contracts are writ in in, some in blood” (emphasis added) to explain why the Golden Company, famous for never breaking a sellsword contract, have broken a contract now to gather at Volantis and await Griff & Co and Dany. The reason this is so interesting is that the Golden Company was founded by Bittersteel to provide the Blackfyre pretenders with a standing army – they became sellswords in between the Blackfyre Rebellions, to gather riches and more soldiers for the next rebellion, but their primary objective was always to put a Blackfyre pretender on the Iron Throne. The Company is made up of many Westerosi exiles, sons of nobles who were exiled by Daeron II and sons, grandsons and so on for supporting the Blackfyres. This is important because of the next thing Illyrio tells Tyrion…
- “Black or red, a dragon is still a dragon.” So, now Illyrio switches tactics. Tyrion has already noted the flaw in the contracts writ in blood argument – namely that the Golden Company would not break a contract to support a Targaryen claimant in Daenerys (confirmed by Dany’s flashbacks when she remembers how Viserys tried to wine and dine the Golden Company, but they laughed at him and refused to back his claim for the Iron Throne.) Oh but these exiles, they just want to go home, and Bittersteel is long dead – they don’t care about the Blackfyre cause anymore, says Illyrio. Which is interesting because Illyrio is also very keen to note that…
- “House Blackfyre is extinct in the male line” – Illyrio (and GRRM) are very specific about this. The Blackfyres no longer exist, as a house with a male heir that takes that name. But Daemon Blackfyre had daughters, and as outlined above, his unnamed sons and grandsons might have also had daughters. The implication is that there are still scions of House Blackfyre running around Essos – just descended through the FEMALE line, the women of House Blackfyre.
It’s easy to forget that Illyrio is actually a fat blonde man, not a fat dark haired man as he was cast on the show. The book description is very specific: Illyrio might not look like the image we have of a Valyrian man, but he is blonde. So was his second wife, the Lyseni sex worker Serra, who is described as having “big blue eyes, and pale golden hair streaked with silver.”
Silver blonde, hey? Big blue eyes. Who else has big blue eyes and silver blonde hair? Young Griff, once he washes the blue dye out of it. The blue dye makes his eyes more blue than violet. Now: the problem we must acknowledge, if we go down the path of “fAegon is really Illyrio and Serra’s son” – neither Serra nor Illyrio have purple eyes. But that doesn’t mean that purple eyes aren’t a recessive trait and that both of them had that gene – although ASOIAF genetics is rarely that detailed or specific…
But this does mean that it’s possible that fAegon isn’t Illyrio or anyone known’s son, but just a conveniently Valyrian child, taken from Lys or another Free City where Valyrian looks are still reasonably common (see: Serra, and the many Lyseni and Tyroshi Valyrian wives of Targaryens over the years, and that it was the place that Steffon and Cassandra Baratheon searched for a bride for Rhaegar.) Quite possible. It’s also possible that Aerion “Brightflame” Targaryen left some bastards in Lys when he was exiled for some years following his behaviour at the Ashford Tourney (The Hedge Knight.)
Why are we so sure the Blackfyres and the Brightflames are going to make an appearance?
Moqorro, the Volantean Red Priest that Tyrion and then later Victarion Greyjoy meet, has an intriguing prophecy for Tyrion:
“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.”
Three couplets: old and young, true and false, bright and dark. These could be Moqorro seeing the Targaryens in the series:
- old and young – the Known Targaryens – Maester Aemon at the Wall and Daenaerys in Essos
- true and false – another clue that “Aegon” isn’t really Aegon. The Hidden sons of Rhaegar: the true son, Jon Snow, and the false son, Young Griff/”Aegon VI”
- bright and dark – the bastard lines? Bright and dark is a very, very specific phrase to use, and cannot be a coincidence that while GRRM was drafting and editing ADWD, he published the Dunk and Egg stories that elaborated on the Blackfyre line, and the temperament of Aerion “Brightflame” Targaryen, and his long exile in Lys… as well as drafting the Blackfyre portions of the World book, published after ADWD. So the idea of bastard pretenders was very, very much on GRRM’s mind when writing ADWD and I don’t think it’s insignificant that as ASOIAF progresses, we get more detail from various characters about these historical details. The Blackfyres aren’t dead – and they possibly have allies from Brightflame’s line (whether trueborn, the missing Maegor who isn’t mentioned after the Great Council pass over him for Aegon the Unlikely, or bastard born.)
There are other bits and pieces throughout the whole series that support the idea of a Blackfyre pretender (such as the sign of the Inn of the Crossroads washing up, the black dragon stained red by rusty nails, indicating a Blackfyre might appear claiming to be a Targaryen,) but these are the biggest hints that GRRM has unfinished business with the female line of the Blackfyres, and the boy who should be dead.
- Aegon is probably fake
- He could be a female-line Blackfyre claimant, or Illyrio or Varys could be
- Bittersteel not having kids doesn’t mean Aegon/his backers can’t be Blackfyres
- There’s some curious gaps in the Blackfyre family tree
- Aerion Targaryen shouldn’t be forgotten either
- Varys’ pisswater prince story is bullshit
- Whatever happened to Maegor Targaryen, Aerion’s son?
- There’s a hell of a lot of Blackfyre hints for there to be no pay off on that thread in Winds or beyond….