Heirs in the Shadows: The Plowman at the Gates


Traditional Andal-First Men thinking stresses prejudice against bastards, especially those born of nobles. Pragmatically, the practice ensures that inheritance is based solely on “pure” blood descent. A bastard presents a dangerous alternative line for the succession to a seat and undermines the dowries and alliances that play strong roles in the formation of marriage pacts.  Accordingly, bastards as a class are assigned evil traits:  bastards are “born of lust and weakness”, “thieves or worse”, and “treacherous by nature”, with treason coming as easily to bastards as loyalty does to trueborn men.

Nevertheless, Westerosi history has seen several instances where bastard lines have risen to lordly and even royal status. Benedict Rivers was born the bastard son of a Bracken and a Blackwood, but through his martial prowess rose to become the first of the Justman river kings. Alyn Velaryon, born the bastard son of (legally) Laenor Velaryon, was adopted by Lord Corlys and legitimized during the Dance of the Dragons; the great admiral became the ancestor of the modern House Velaryon. 

With this competing historical precedent – bastards as a reviled class in Andal-First Men tradition, yet able to take when close heirs are lacking – one Westerosi seat may see a bastard-line claimant take it in The Winds of Winter.  It is currently held by Lannister-Baratheon loyalists, yet the current holders might find that the pretender to that seat, a champion of a rival king, has a firm interest in taking back what “by rights” might belong to him. Alternately, it may be that the Lannister queen herself finds a bastard guardian of her city has turned cloak, relying on old family loyalties to support an invading conqueror.

Welcome to the next installment of Heirs in the Shadows. In this series, BryndenBFish and I will examine a number of individuals who may press blood claims to different Westerosi seats, and the arguments and tactics various plotters will use to install their chosen pawns in these places. Part 1 of this series looked at the Young Lion, Tyrek Lannister, as a probable puppet Lord of Casterly Rock under Aegon VI. Part 2 focused on the Stark loyalist Olyvar Frey as a potential Lord or regent of Rosby. Part 3 will examine an ancient Westerosi seat, and candidates for the bastard claimant who might make it his own.

House Darry of Darry

A riverlord House, dating to at least the invasion of the Andals, House Darry has commanded a respectable position in the Riverlands for several millennia (though never as a royal line, unlike some of its riverlord neighbors).  Its lands once stretched as far as the inn of the crossroads from Castle Darry’s position near the ruby ford (though – for reasons discussed below – the Darrys no longer command so great holdings).

House Darry had never been shy about its loyalty to the Targaryen cause. During the Dance, two Lords of Darry had been slain by commanders of the “green” faction for supporting the claim of Princess Rhaenyra, and during the Blackfyre Rebellion, the Darrys fought on the side of Daeron II. Most notably, under Aerys II, the Darrys rose to some prominence: Ser Jonothor Darry was a member of the Kingsguard, and his brother Willem Darry master-at-arms in the Red Keep. When Robert’s Rebellion broke out, therefore, the Darrys supported the Targaryens over their rebellious Tully lieges.

That support cost House Darry dearly: Ser Jonothor was slain in the war, Willem Darry fled abroad with the boy-king Viserys and his infant sister, and the new Baratheon regime took away half the Darry lands and most of their wealth. Still, if King Robert thought the Darrys would forget their long loyalty to the red dragons, he was gravely mistaken. The “good and true” Ser Willem served as the would-be Viserys III’s de facto regent until his death in 289 AC, and Ser Raymun was even careful to preserve a dangerous sign of the Darry’s pro-Targaryen attitude during Robert’s reign:

Piety and devotion. It was all he could do not to laugh. The walls had been bare on his first visit too. Tyrion had pointed out the squares of darker stone where tapestries had once hung. Ser Raymun could remove the hangings, but not the marks they’d left. Later, the Imp had slipped a handful of stags to one of Darry’s serving men for the key to the cellar where the missing tapestries were hidden. He showed them to Jaime by the light of a candle, grinning; woven portraits of all the Targaryen kings, from the first Aegon to the second Aenys. “If I tell Robert, mayhaps he’ll make me Lord of Darry,” the dwarf said, chortling. (“Jaime IV”, A Feast for Crows)

With such stress placed on the Darrys’ long history as strong Targaryen loyalists, it seems probable that the coming of a new Targaryen (or “Targaryen”) pretender – the would-be Aegon VI – would cause concern over the fate of Darry. House Darry is extinct in the trueborn male line: the last Lord of Darry, young Lyman, was killed by Gregor Clegane when his castle was sacked during the War of the Five Kings.  After the Battle of the Blackwater, King Joffrey made the castle a victory prize:

A more significant lordship by far was granted to Ser Lancel Lannister. Joffrey awarded him the lands, castle, and rights of House Darry, whose last child lord had perished during the fighting in the riverlands, “leaving no trueborn heirs of lawful Darry blood, but only a bastard cousin.” (“Sansa VIII”, A Clash of Kings)

Lancel Lanniser was made a lord, but the note on the bastard cousin is intriguing. Though the gender is unspecified in the official proclamation, the fact that the proclamation makes specific note of his or her existence may indicate that person’s future importance. Two characters in the story possibly fit the bill: Tristan Rivers and Humfrey Waters.  Is it possible that either of these men will seek the seat of Darry? Both merit examination.

Washed Up the River

The first of the potential bastard heirs to Darry may be found not on the continent of Westeros but across the Narrow Sea. Of Tristan Rivers, very little is known.  His last name indicates a bastard (though nobly blooded) birth in the Riverlands. Though Jon Connington indicates a man may take whatever name he likes in the free companies, one might presume Tristan would have assumed a more exalted House identity rather than a bastard surname; that he kept the name “Rivers” suggests that Tristan was truly a noble’s bastard from the Riverlands. For an unspecified amount of time, Tristan Rivers has served in the Golden Company, a sellsword company largely comprised of (and, indeed, founded by) exiled Westerosi; his arm is covered in golden bands, each of which represents a year of service under the flag of gilded skulls.

If we suppose that Tristan was a bastard son of a Darry lord or cousin, then it might be seen how this fate befell him. Recall that the Darrys had fought until the very end of the war against their Tully overlords; indeed, Ser Raymun had only come into the lordship of Darry after three of his elder brothers fell at the Battle of the Trident. As a bastard relation to the main Darry line, without lands or title of his own, Ser Tristan might have taken up service with his trueborn cousins, hoping to distinguish himself in battle; the position of career knight is an established one for nobly born bastards, seen in Walder Frey’s bastard son and grandson, Walder and Aemon Rivers. With the defeat of the Darrys, however, and the strict punishment imposed on the plowmen for their support of the dragons, Tristan Rivers would have had no opportunity to develop his “career” further under the Baratheons.

Essos and its free companies have a long history of welcoming expatriate Westerosi after ill turns of fate. After the death of Daemon Blackfyre on the Redgrass Field, his sons – along with various Westerosi supporters and the redoubtable Aegor Rivers – had fled to Tyrosh, home of Daemon’s widow; Ser Aegor had formed the Golden Company specifically to keep together the Westerosi exiled for their Blackfyre support. Though pro-Blackfyre in its founding, the Golden Company had accepted those loyal to the red dragon as well: Jon Connington, briefly Lord of Griffin’s Roost and even more briefly Hand of the King, joined the Golden Company upon being exiled by Aerys II for failing to capture Robert Baratheon. Thus, a potential bastard of a Riverlands House who was a fierce backer of the Targaryens might be welcomed into the ranks of the Golden Company’s sellswords.

For a Westerosi bastard of an ancient but disfavored noble house, sellsword service in Essos might have seemed the most attractive option.  Of the companies available, the Golden Company might have then been the best fit for a man in such a position: commanded by Westerosi (its current captain, Harry Strickland, boasts of being “gold for four generations”), staffed by Westerosi exiles, the Golden Company may be one of the only institutions in Essos where the Common Tongue and knighthood are ordinarily found and prized. Coming out of Westeros and immediately allying himself with the Golden Company, Ser Tristan might have accumulated around 16 golden arm rings by the time of A Dance with Dragons – enough, presumably, to cover his arm at least partially.

It is in the Golden Company, certainly, that we meet Ser Tristan Rivers. His fellow sellsword Franklyn Flowers verifies that Tristan is an officer, of unspecified rank, in the Golden Company: both are present for the meeting where the company agrees to depart for Westeros with Young Aegon, and without Daenerys and her dragons.  This group had also been notified prior to Jon Connington’s announcement that Young Griff was actually the would-be Aegon VI, though Ser Tristan was not initially in favor of departing only with the young prince:

“Dragons, aye,” the captain-general said, “but young ones, hardly more than hatchlings.” Strickland eased his sock over his blisters and up his ankle. “How much will they avail her when all these armies close about her city like a fist?”

Tristan Rivers drummed his fingers on his knee. “All the more reason that we must reach her quickly, I say. If Daenerys will not come to us, we must go to Daenerys.” (“The Lost Lord”, A Dance with Dragons)

Young Aegon himself offered his alternative to the older plan, but when Harry Strickland voiced concerns about upholding Illyrio’s earlier agreement, Tristan Rivers delivered a stinging attack against Illyrio’s scheming, and a stirring defense of the would-be king’s plan:

“Which plan?” said Tristan Rivers. “The fat man’s plan? The one that changes every time the moon turns? First Viserys Targaryen was to join us with fifty thousand Dothraki screamers at his back. Then the Beggar King was dead, and it was to be the sister, a pliable young child queen who was on her way to Pentos with three new-hatched dragons. Instead the girl turns up on Slaver’s Bay and leaves a string of burning cities in her wake, and the fat man decides we should meet her by Volantis. Now that plan is in ruins as well.

“I have had enough of Illyrio’s plans. Robert Baratheon won the Iron Throne without the benefit of dragons. We can do the same. And if I am wrong and the realm does not rise for us, we can always retreat back across the narrow sea, as Bittersteel once did, and others after him.” (“The Lost Lord”, A Dance with Dragons)

(There is a potentially amusing note in what Tristan said regarding those who fled across the Narrow Sea. If Rivers is truly the Darry bastard, then he could well be characterized as one of those “others”, fleeing to Essos after the realm failed to rise for another Targaryen king.)

Tristan Rivers’ declaration of support for the immediate invasion of Westeros struck a chord with his fellow officers: against Homeless Harry’s fears of taking action, the assembled men of the Golden Company agreed to conquer Westeros for Aegon alone. Indeed, Tristan Rivers became an unofficial spokesperson for the company officers, gaining the prince’s final consent to the company’s commitment to his cause:

“Prince Aegon,” said Tristan Rivers, “we are your men. Is this your wish, that we sail west instead of east?”

“It is,” Aegon replied eagerly. “If my aunt wants Meereen, she’s welcome to it. I will claim the Iron Throne by myself, with your swords and your allegiance. Move fast and strike hard, and we can win some easy victories before the Lannisters even know that we have landed. That will bring others to our cause.”

It is probably too great a leap to suggest that Tristan Rivers’ eagerness for conquest in Westeros makes him the Darry bastard cousin; the Golden Company had been strung along by Illyrio’s half-truths for years, and having recently turned down attractive contracts, the officer corps was restless and hungry for battle (indeed, only the promise of the Targaryen pretender Aegon arriving to treat with them had allowed Strickland to keep them in line). Still, Rivers would not have been alone in being personally motivated to return to Westeros, out of more than simply general sellsword restlessness.  His fellow bastard Franklyn Flowers expressed eagerness to kill Fossoways, in vengeance for a Fossoway raping his mother. Jon Connington, so briefly a lord, has a strong desire to see his birthplace of Griffin’s Roost once more, to die in the lordship to which he was born. If Rivers had any Darry blood, he would know that Young Aegon’s conquest of the Riverlands might result in a choice holding for himself, and been motivated to seize his own ancestral home.

Certainly, the holders of Darry under the current regime had particular reason to fear the coming of pro-Targaryen invaders. In order to cement the Lannister holding of Darry, Lancel was wed to Amerei Frey, eldest daughter of Merrett Frey and Mariya Darry. The new Lord Lancel however, had by the end of A Feast for Crows resolved to renounce his lordship to join the Warrior’s Sons, leaving his unconsummated marriage and half-Darry bride behind in the Riverlands. Only Amerei and her mother remain in Castle Darry: though Lancel has abandoned his seat, Amerei is still nominally Lady of Darry, in a better position than she might otherwise have (especially since she had initially been wed and widowed by a mere hedge knight). That position only lasts, however, as long as the Lannisters do – unless Amerei and Mariya decide to throw their lot with another.

Amerei has never resisted the charms of men: her early sexual experimentation had spurred her first marriage, and the bridegroom’s cousin certainly noted her reputation to the nominal Lord of Darry:

Jaime had to laugh. “Better me than Blessed Baelor. Darry needs a lion, coz. So does your little Frey. She gets moist between the legs every time someone mentions Hardstone. If she hasn’t bedded him yet, she will soon.” (“Jaime IV”, A Feast for Crows)

More troublingly for Jaime, and the Lannister interests in keeping the seat of Darry loyal to the crown, were the reactions of the Freys, aside from Amerei, to the news that Lancel was ending his marriage to join the Warrior’s Sons:

When Jaime had taken his leave of Lady Amerei, she had been weeping softly at the dissolution of her marriage whilst letting Lyle Crakehall console her. Her tears had not troubled him half so much as the hard looks on the faces of her kin as they stood about the yard. (“Jaime V”, A Feast for Crows)

It was a point of jest for Jaime, with his cousin Daven, about how badly Freys take broken marriage arrangements, but the reality of the situation was far more concerning. Would the Freys truly remain loyal to the family which had insulted them by allowing Lancel to join the knights of the Faith – especially in light of the terrible vengeance so recently wrought against the Starks? The Freys had sullied their reputation in Westeros, perhaps permanently, by breaking the ancient tradition of guest right, relying on the Lannister regime controlling the Iron Throne to protect them from retribution. Yet with the Lannisters, in the person of Lancel (and Lancel’s father Kevan, off to handle the crisis of rule in King’s Landing), abandoning the Darry Freys to their fate, the bargain of the Red Wedding now hardly seemed worthwhile, at least to those left in the Plowman’s Keep.

Nor had the Freys historically remained loyal to their nominal overlords when better opportunities presented themselves. Almost a century prior, the Freys had abandoned the would-be Daemon II Blackfyre almost immediately when news spread that Brynden Rivers was coming to suppress the nascent Second Blackfyre Rebellion. More recently, Lord Walder had earned the epithet “the late Lord Frey” for failing to support his liege Hoster Tully in Robert’s Rebellion until after the Battle of the Trident had been fought and the rebels been put permanently on the road to victory.  If now a strong force headed by Rivers and other members of the Golden Company arrived at Darry’s gates, it might not be out of the realm of possibility for the legally widowed, eager Amerei to lift the portcullis and make Rivers in fact what by birth he was not (but which Aegon would potentially name him): the rightful Lord of Darry.

Indeed, there would be a nice symbolism to Rivers’ returning as Aegon’s Lord of Darry:

“When the smith’s son was an old man, a bastard son of the fourth Aegon rose up in rebellion against his trueborn brother and took for his sigil a black dragon. These lands belonged to Lord Darry then, and his lordship was fiercely loyal to the king. The sight of the black iron dragon made him wroth, so he cut down the post, hacked the sign into pieces, and cast them into the river. One of the dragon’s heads washed up on the Quiet Isle many years later, though by that time it was red with rust. (“Brienne VII”, A Feast for Crows)

Rivers has already demonstrated an outspoken, fierce loyalty to the Targaryen pretender prince, declaring his support for the boy’s bold strike on Westeros without his aunt. If Aegon is truly a Blackfyre descendant, then the amusing historical irony is plain: one Lord of Darry cast the black dragon into the river, and another Lord of Darry returned with the black dragon, its “red rust” the guise of true Targaryen blood which Aegon has unconsciously adopted.

Yet there is another candidate besides Tristan Rivers who might also be the bastard Darry cousin – one who may serve Aegon in taking the capital founded by ancestor and namesake over three centuries ago: Ser Humfrey Waters.

The Keeper of the Gate

Extremely little is known of Ser Humfrey; indeed, he is mentioned just once in all five novels:

“Osfryd Kettleblack no longer commands the City Watch. The king has removed him from office and raised the captain of the Dragon Gate in his place, a certain Humfrey Waters.”

Cersei was so tired, none of this made any sense. “Why would Tommen do that?”

“The boy is not to blame. When his council puts a decree in front of him, he signs his name and stamps it with his seal.” (“Cersei X”, A Feast for Crows)

His surname, Waters, designates his homeplace as the Crownlands, his status as a noble’s bastard. That surname should not, however, indicate that Ser Humfrey’s father could not be a scion of the Riverlands House Darry. Two sons of the House were, for over a decade (and possibly more), stationed in King’s Landing: Ser Jonothor Darry was a member of Aerys II’s Kingsguard, while his brother Ser Willem Darry was appointed the master-at-arms of the Red Keep, and later fled with Aerys’ two surviving children to Braavos after the Rebellion. If one of these men had fathered a bastard during his service in the capital, the child would bear the name “Waters” for calling King’s Landing home (in the same way Obara Sand, though born in Oldtown, considers Dorne her domicile and is styled as such).

Certainly, the timeline – rough as it is – seems to suggest Humfrey’s having a Darry father is not impossible. Ser Willem was made master-at-arms of the royal castle in 270 AC, after Tywin attempted to have his brother Tygett awarded the position; paranoid Aerys likely named Willem because of his brother Jonothor’s place in the Kingsguard, attempting to station another highly loyal Darry to protect himself against what he perceived was the nefarious ambition of his Hand. A child fathered by Willem at this time would be roughly 30 by the end of A Dance with Dragons, not too young to be made captain of the gold cloaks; another captain, Addam Marbrand, was a childhood companion of 34-year-old Jaime Lannister, while Prince Daemon Targaryen was 23 when he was made captain by his brother Viserys I.

Ser Humfrey would possibly be even older if his father was Jonothor Darry. A Kingsguard likely since 270 AC, Jonothor may have spent more time in the capital even before he gained his white cloak; with the crown unable to know every knight eligible for the Kingsguard, and little for an extraneous member of House Darry to do at the modest family seat, Ser Jonothor may have spent his time in the capital, trying to be noticed in order to have his name readily available when a new position in the Kingsguard appeared. Kingsguard are, naturally, sworn to celibacy, but these vows can be easy to speak and hard to keep: Prince Lewyn Martell’s paramour was kept so secret by his sworn brothers that the revelation was a shock to Ser Arys Oakheart (himself the sometime lover of Arianne Martell), Ser Boros Blount was a frequenter of brothels, and Ser Preston Greenfield kept a mistress in the capital. It may be that Jonothor as well, upstanding and earnest as the young Jaime Lannister remembered him, was as fallible as his brothers in this regard, yet not so dishonorable as not to provide for a bastard son. Certainly, a bastard raised in the capital would be perhaps more notable by the crown, and thus more likely to be listed in an official proclamation regarding the Darry inheritance.

That Kevan Lannister treats the appointment of Humfrey Waters as a fait accompli – taking no credit for the decision and not defending the choice to Cersei – suggests that Waters is not a mere Lannister puppet, or indeed anyone who could help the crumbling Lannister cause. When Ser Kevan announced the change in leadership, none of the future reacher appointments had yet taken office; only Grand Maester Pycelle and Harys Swyft – both notable Lannister loyalists – remained to run the government. Without knowing anything about Waters, it is impossible to say whether his appointment was based on political connections or was instead a genuine advancement of a meritorious candidate; perhaps, without a Lannister to direct their actions, Swyft and Pycelle – neither, especially the former, ever noted as worthy statesmen – picked Waters without regard for his political connections. If so, their choice may be to the Lannisters’ ultimate cost.

For the would-be Aegon VI has his eyes on the capital, and after his conquest of Storm’s End will likely march on King’s Landing. The traditional last line of defense for King’s Landing would be its City Watch – a Watch now under the command of a man of unknown loyalties, with potential bastard descent from a family unwaveringly dedicated to the cause Aegon now represents. (Amusingly, Waters had been commander at the Dragon Gate before his rise to general command of the City Watch – an appropriate station for an eventual Targaryen loyalist).  This would not be the first time the City Watch essentially handed the keys to the city to an invader. During the Dance of the Dragons, the Watch’s commander Ser Luthor Largent murdered his first lieutenant – Gwayne Hightower, brother of the Dowager Queen – and ordered the city gates (whose “green” loyalist commanders had likewise been murdered) to be opened to the “black” faction of Rhaenyra (out of loyalty to her consort Daemon, onetime commander of the gold cloaks). Like his historical forbear, Humfrey Waters may order the gates of the capital opened to an invading Targaryen, spurning a dowager queen within the city for a prince without, to whom he owed historical loyalty.


That either Tristan Rivers or Humfrey Waters is the Darry bastard noted in Joffrey’s declaration is, of course, only speculation. Nothing in the text specifically indicates that this bastard is still alive as of A Dance with Dragons, or that he (or she) will return to the story. Nor is it impossible that even if the Bastard of Darry returned, it would not be someone completely unknown.

Nevertheless, the story has taken pains to point out the Darrys’ unwavering – and costly – loyalty to the Targaryen cause. With such a stridently Targaryen-loyal family, and a Targaryen pretender currently invading Westeros, a resurgence of the Darrys under the revived Targaryen dynasty is perhaps a sensible turn for the narrative to take. If the Bastard of Darry is a man already “at play”, so to speak, in the story, either Tristan Waters or Humfrey Waters seems a likely candidate. The would-be Viserys III once named House Darry as a family likely to rally to his cause should he return to his homeland. That prince never made it back to Westerosi shores, but his supposed nephew, more successful than he on that score, may prove the truth of his words.

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Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Meta, ASOIAF Speculation, Heirs in the Shadows

9 responses to “Heirs in the Shadows: The Plowman at the Gates

  1. An interesting theory, which I had not considered. One of these bastards could prove important. Martin does have a whole arsenal of Chekhov’s guns waiting to go off. I’m uncertain how the Freys will fare in the invasion. A large portion of their force is about to be destroyed Oop North, and TBWB is about to kill more. Maybe Lancel’s brother will marry Amerei to pacify the Weasels. We’ll have to wait and see. Another great article and I look forward to your next one.

  2. Excellent work,as always,thank you so much!

  3. Dominique

    Great essay once again

    Would any of you be open to a doing an essay on either
    A)The Tower of Joy or B) Theon/Reeks time in winterfell in Dance? all the plots and counter plots that are involved in these 2 particular locations have got to be juicy material

  4. Faceless Woman

    If indeed the Freys are going to get what’s coming to them, then it would be amazing to hear your thoughts on how and who Aegon/Golden Company or the Stark alliance could use to appoint as the new head of the twins!

  5. Kelly T

    I am living this series of articles though my own thoughts on this is that the Elder Brother is one of the Darry brothers. The Darrys are notably pious as is he. Raymun Darry “lost his his three brothers at the Battle of the Trident”. It does not say they died but then it’s possible he doesn’t know of his elder brother’s (how funny is that!) continued existence. Which is where the Elder Brother was knocked unconscious fighting for the Targaryens. Elder Brother was third son of a family of knight….that leaves room for a fourth….younger brother. Raymun.

  6. Kelly T

    I think this puts the Elder Brother in the position of hating that a Lannister has first taken his family home and then spurned it, seeing the hated Freys take it over AND him being close enough to do something about it. One could say all he needs is a Targaryen claimant.

  7. Pingback: The Ravenry: Week of 2/22/2016 | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  8. Pingback: Heirs in the Shadows: Righteous in Wrath | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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