Editor’s Note: I want to thank everyone for reading this series and for being loyal readers to this blog for so many years. For over 3 years now, I’ve dedicated most of my creative energy and thought to GRRM’s world, and I thank him for creating a world that I’ve gotten to play in. However, it’s time for me to refocus my energy on my own works of fiction that I’ve put on hold. As a result, this will be the last A Song of Ice and Fire essay that I’ll write before George RR Martin announces the completion of The Winds of Winter. Once again, thank you so much for reading my essays, and please stick around the blog as our other writers: SomethingLikeaLawyer, Militant_Penguin, MattEiffel and MasterRooseman have lots of great stuff coming your way in the coming months! All the best – Jeff (BryndenBFish)
Spoiler Warning: This essay contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Aerys Targaryen must have thought that his gods had answered his prayers when Lord Tywin Lannister appeared before the gates of King’s Landing with an army twelve thousand strong, professing loyalty. So the mad king had ordered his last mad act. He had opened his city to the lions at the gate. (AGOT, Eddard II)
At long last, Aegon’s Crusade for the Iron Throne would come to King’s Landing at the close of The Winds of Winter. With victories at Storm’s End and against the Tyrells at Westerosi Agincourt and new friends in Dorne, the Reach and the High Sparrow, Aegon would turn towards the great city. The city, though, won’t be easy to take. Even if Aegon showed up to the city with the full strength of the Golden Company, Dorne and the Golden Company’s friends in the Reach, King’s Landing would be nigh impregnable. Behind the strong walls of King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister and her loyalists could withstand a conventional siege or storming of the walls. And though taking King’s Landing was of tantamount importance to the young dragon, his parallel goal was to continue his campaign for legitimacy by enshrining himself in good optics.
In a certain light, Aegon’s coming struggle to take King’s Landing and the Iron Throne finds a strange parallel to that of the victorious rebels of the rebellion which brought down the young dragon’s alleged father and grandfather. Robert’s Rebellion saw many battles fought across Westeros, but to achieve ultimate success, Robert had take King’s Landing and then unite a fractured realm. The former was achieved when Tywin Lannister treacherously sacked the city. The latter was accomplished by Robert’s personality and his marriage to the beautiful Cersei Lannister.
If Aegon’s invasion of Westeros is a pale imitation of Robert’s Rebellion, we’re likely to see something of a mirroring effect of victory after victory in the field for the Young Dragon in The Winds of Winter. But like Robert Baratheon, Aegon would need more than victory on the field to secure his throne. And if Aegon were to take the Iron Throne, he would need to then quickly pacify the realm with good governance and a marriage.
So, towards the end of The Winds of Winter, I expect the young dragon will turn at last to the great city, and it’s here that we’ll see the conflagration of several major point of view characters from A Song of Ice and Fire and the culmination of Aegon’s crusade for the Iron Throne.
Timing Is Everything
Graph by Ser Mountain Goat
The Halfmaester glanced at another parchment. “We could scarcely have timed our landing better. We have potential friends and allies at every hand.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Before we talk about some of the ways that the Aegon and King’s Landing plotlines might conclude in The Winds of Winter, I’d like to pause to talk about the outrageously fortunate timing of the entire endeavor. Aegon’s landing in Westeros occurred at just the precise moment that it could achieve success. If Aegon and the Golden Company landed just a few months before they did, they would have met a politically-united front under the steady hand of Tywin Lannister with tens of thousands of Tyrell and Lannister troops within a few weeks march of Griffin’s Roost. If Aegon landed mere weeks before he did, he and the Golden Company would have encountered tens of thousands of Tyrell troops besieging Storm’s End, an un-militant Faith of the Seven and a Doran Martell who still had hope that Quentyn’s Targaryen Restoration mission to Meereen would be successful. Their ships might not have even reached the shores of Westeros given the hundreds of Redwyne ships that were patrolling the Narrow Sea by the end of A Storm of Swords.
Instead, events had unfolded in most fortuitous ways for Aegon and his band before they ever set foot in Westeros. Tywin Lannister had been murdered by his dwarf son, and as a result, the Tyrell-Lannister alliance was crumbling under the misrule of Queen Regent Cersei Lannister. Meanwhile, the united Lannister and Tyrell armies which were once within a few days march of Griffin’s Roost had been dispatched to various missions across Westeros. On the Narrow Sea, the Redwyne Fleet which arrived outside of King’s Landing at the end of A Storm of Swords was last reported to be rounding the Arm of Dorne enroute back to the Reach. In Dorne, Prince Doran Martell had grown sorrowfully skeptical that his son would return home alive. Finally, Cersei had undone Maegor’s Laws and allowed the Faith of the Seven to rearm. All of these major political and military shifts had occurred a few months or weeks before Aegon’s landing, and all of them had been carefully plotted out by GRRM.
From a meta perspective, one starts to understand the timeline issues that GRRM struggled with in writing A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Understandably, Aegon’s successes in carving out a foothold in the Stormlands might have seemed implausible if GRRM didn’t plot the parallel plotlines of the Ironborn invasion, Cersei’s fall from grace, the departure of the Redwynes, Aurane Waters’ theft of the royal fleet from the Narrow Sea and Jaime Lannister’s Riverlands campaign precisely. But the major restructures that GRRM integrated into the Feastdance narrative gave Aegon’s early successes at the end of A Dance with Dragons and the beginning of The Winds of Winter a certain plausibility. Moreover, it helps account for Aegon’s potential success in The Winds of Winter and how the King’s Landing endgame might play out towards the end of the book.
The King’s Landing Conflagration
In 2010, while George RR Martin was feverishly working on A Dance with Dragons, he said:
Believe me, the number of times I have wanted to introduce a magical portal, and/or have my characters click their heels together and say, “There’s no place like King’s Landing,” is beyond count. So far I have manfully resisted these temptations. – GRRM, notablog comment, 2/28/2010
In Aegon’s siege of King’s Landing, GRRM might get just that chance to click his heels. Aegon and his loyalists are on a collision course with Tommen/Cersei and their loyalists. Similar to how GRRM provided multiple POV characters to capture multiple vantage points of major events in A Song of Ice and Fire, he has several major POV characters that will anchor his King’s Landing endgame in The Winds of Winter:
- Jon Connington would give a perspective on Aegon’s military situation and some of the political maneuverings to bring more lords and factions to his side — provided that he’s still alive.
- Arianne Martell had declared her intent to sail to Storm’s End to meet Aegon, the Princess of Dorne would provide a close-perspective on Aegon’s thoughts and actions.
- Cersei Lannister would give us the internal dynamics of the chaotic fallout of Kevan’s death, her trial by battle, the stand-off between herself, the Tyrells and the sparrows and finally the city under siege again.
The convergence point for these multiple POV characters will almost certainly be King’s Landing, but the march up and the actions taken in and around King’s Landing will likely be as interesting as the conflagration itself.
The March Up to King’s Landing
Artwork by Urruki Saki
The kingsroad ran from Storm’s End straight to King’s Landing, a much shorter route than by sea, and his host was largely mounted; near twenty thousand knights, light horse, and freeriders, Renly’s unwilling legacy to his brother. They would have made good time, but armored destriers and twelve-foot lances would avail them little against the deep waters of the Blackwater Rush and the high stone walls of the city. (ACOK, Davos III)
Aegon’s early successes in the Stormlands needed to see their culmination in the capital city itself. From the Stormlands, the most direct route to King’s Landing was north up the kingsroad, but that would only bring Aegon and his party to the Blackwater. From there, the army would need to figure out a way to cross the Blackwater to lay siege to the city from the west and north. But to truly besiege King’s Landing, the city had to be blockaded from sea. In this, Aegon would be wise to take a page from Stannis Baratheon’s plan to take King’s Landing. Stannis had very nearly been successful in assaulting King’s Landing in large part because his battle plan utilized both ground and naval forces. If Aegon were to lay siege to King’s Landing, he would need both ground and naval forces.
The problem was ships. Though Aegon had the necessary ground forces for his assault, he did not have the naval force to blockade King’s Landing. The Golden Company came across the Narrow Sea by Volantene ships, but these ships were long gone. Though Aegon’s band had likely captured a few ships in and around the Stormlands, these wouldn’t be enough to transport tens of thousands of soldiers across the Blackwater or cut the city off from resupply from the Narrow Sea.
To solve this problem, I think GRRM will reintroduce two men presently in the Stepstones.
Solving the Naval Puzzle: The Stepstone Rogues
Artwork by by Juan Carlos Barquet
“Since the Redwyne fleet passed through the Stepstones, those waters are crawling with strange sails, all the way north to the Straits of Tarth and Shipbreaker’s Bay. Myrmen, Volantenes, Lyseni, even reavers from the Iron Islands.” (TWOW, Arianne I)
Resolving Aegon’s naval deficiency required another set of fortuitous circumstances. Fortunately for Aegon, GRRM has laid some narrative seeds that could potentially bear fruit in The Winds of Winter. One of those seeds is Aurane Waters. A Velaryon Bastard from the island of Driftmark, Aurane Waters was raised in a seafaring culture. Though once sworn to Stannis’ service, Aurane had been captured during the Battle of the Blackwater and had subsequently bent the knee to Joffrey. Cersei Lannister had raised Aurane to her Grand Admiral of the royal fleet in A Feast for Crows and had ten massive warships raised under Aurane’s auspices. However, when Aurane ostensibly took the fleet out to sea to prevent any damage done to them in the chaotic wake of Margaery’s arrest, he instead went rogue on Cersei and stole the royal fleet.
By the start of The Winds of Winter, Aurane Waters had reportedly set himself up as the Pirate King of the Stepstones. Thus, Aurane had agency to do whatever he wanted. He could remain in the Stepstones preying on merchant ships that passed through the islands or look for greener pastures that provided greater rewards. One of those greener pastures might be Aegon. If it appears that Aegon’s star was waxing while the Lannisters’ was waning it’s possible that Aurane will set sail back to King’s Landing to offer his services and fleet to Aegon in hopes of gaining reward from the would-be king. Though gold and silver might await Aurane if he joins with Aegon, Aurane’s greatest hope might be the land and titles that Aegon would offer to would-be lords who joined his cause. Aurane in particular might hope that the young dragon offers to legitimize Aurane as a Velaryon and then grant him the castles, lands and titles of Driftmark in exchange for his service and ships.
Another naval wildcard in the mix is Salladhor Saan. Once employed by Stannis Baratheon, Saan was a pirate and sellsail who grew disenchanted with Stannis’ non-payment of what was owed to him — so disappointed, in fact, that he abandoned Stannis and raised sail south for the Stepstones:
“Where are the pirates?” When Davos did not answer, he rapped his spoon against the table. “The Lyseni. Torrent spied their sails from Littlesister, and before him the Flints from Widow’s Watch. Orange sails, and green, and pink. Salladhor Saan. Where is he?”
“At sea.” Salla would be sailing around the Fingers and down the narrow sea. He was returning to the Stepstones with what few ships remained him. (ADWD, Davos I)
Salladhor Saan hasn’t been heard from since Davos’ first chapter in A Dance with Dragons, but the small mention of “Lyseni” in the Stepstones in Arianne’s first Winds of Winter chapter might indicate that Saan has arrived in the Stepstones. More importantly, in one of his cryptic comments about The Winds of Winter, GRRM indicated that Saan has a role to play in the future of the story:
“Let me hasten to add, this does not mean I am promising to make Salladhor Saan a POV character… but it does mean I am not done with him.” – GRRM, notablog comment, 7/6/2013
Similar to Aurane Waters, Salladhor Saan could also hear about Aegon at some point, and perhaps still hoping to recoup some of his losses in Stannis’ services, set sell his sail for Aegon and King’s Landing.
Still, though the dynamics are there for GRRM to give us a recreation of the Battle of the Blackwater, I’m not entirely sure that he’ll do just that. Though Aegon’s army and navy will likely lay siege to King’s Landing in The Winds of Winter, I think it’s possible that GRRM has other ideas in mind than another titanic clash between armies and navies in and around the city. For that piece of it, we’ll need to first turn to the internal dynamics in King’s Landing.
The Situation Inside King’s Landing Ahead of Aegon’s Army
“Westeros is torn and bleeding, and I do not doubt that even now my sweet sister is binding up the wounds … with salt. Cersei is as gentle as King Maegor, as selfless as Aegon the Unworthy, as wise as Mad Aerys. She never forgets a slight, real or imagined. She takes caution for cowardice and dissent for defiance. And she is greedy. Greedy for power, for honor, for love. Tommen’s rule is bolstered by all of the alliances that my lord father built so carefully, but soon enough she will destroy them, every one. Land and raise your banners, and men will flock to your cause. Lords great and small, and smallfolk too. But do not wait too long, my prince. The moment will not last. The tide that lifts you now will soon recede. Be certain you reach Westeros before my sister falls and someone more competent takes her place.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
Inside King’s Landing, the atmosphere in The Winds of Winter will almost certainly be tense if not overtly violent. As we talked about in An Alliance With God, King’s Landing looks to have three major factions in the city itself: Lannisters, Tyrells and Sparrows. That dangerous mixture of factions with conflicting interests and values looks to wreck volatility in the city. With Kevan Lannister now dead, no one remains to unite the disputing factions against Aegon and the Golden Company. One player in particular looks to to resume some of her earlier powers at some point in The Winds of Winter and resume her unwitting role in unraveling the city’s political dynamic that had vaulted her and her family into supreme power.
Cersei Lannister had weakened the Lannister-Tyrell alliance, allowed the Faith to rearm and been arrested for some of her worst crimes. In response, Kevan Lannister and the High Sparrow had attempted to defang Cersei Lannister to keep her from ever resuming power again:
Cersei was soiled goods now, her power at an end. Every baker’s boy and beggar in the city had seen her in her shame and every tart and tanner from Flea Bottom to Pisswater Bend had gazed upon her nakedness, their eager eyes crawling over her breasts and belly and woman’s parts. No queen could expect to rule again after that. In gold and silk and emeralds Cersei had been a queen, the next thing to a goddess; naked, she was only human, an aging woman with stretch marks on her belly and teats that had begun to sag … as the shrews in the crowds had been glad to point out to their husbands and lovers. Better to live shamed than die proud, Ser Kevan told himself. (ADWD, Epilogue)
The problem was that Kevan Lannister seemed the only character within the Red Keep who had the power to keep the queen regent out of power. Kevan’s untimely murder at the end of A Dance with Dragons removed the one character who could hold Cersei in check. Moreover, if Cersei Lannister wins her trial by battle (which she probably already has given clues in the “Mercy” sample chapter from The Winds of Winter), no one will have any legal right to restrain Cersei from resuming some of her former powers.
Worse-still, it seems obvious that Cersei’s newfound piety seen on display in the ADWD Epilogue is a ruse:
“Ser Robert,” Cersei whispered, as they entered the gates. “If it please Your Grace, Ser Robert has taken a holy vow of silence,” Qyburn said. “He has sworn that he will not speak until all of His Grace’s enemies are dead and evil has been driven from the realm.”
Yes, thought Cersei Lannister. Oh, yes. (ADWD, Cersei II)
Once the queen regent wins her trial and resumes her powers, it’s almost certain that she’ll work to continue her work of fraying the Lannister-Tyrell alliance as well as inciting the Faith Militant against Tommen. In fact, this was Varys’ intent when he assassinated Kevan:
“This pains me, my lord. You do not deserve to die alone on such a cold dark night. There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes … but you were threatening to undo all the queen’s good work, to reconcile Highgarden and Casterly Rock, bind the Faith to your little king, unite the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen’s rule.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
The exact shape of Cersei’s continued “good work” in The Winds of Winter has yet to be seen, but extrapolating out from Cersei’s actions from A Feast for Crows, it can only be more destructive given the humiliation of her arrest and walk of shame. Cersei will likely seek vengeance against those who wronged her, and in this, she’ll alienate more and more of the city. Augmenting her humiliation will be her paranoia. Paranoid before she ever fell from power, the death of Kevan Lannister will only fuel it further.
One man in particular will look to ensure that Cersei remains paranoid and vengeance-oriented ahead of Aegon’s siege.
The Spider’s Web: Varys’ Potential Role in The Winds of Winter
Artwork by Marc Simonetti
Varys was lord of nothing but the spiderweb, the master of none but his whisperers. (AGOT, Catelyn IV
Varys the Spider has mostly been absent from the books since A Storm of Swords, but when the eunuch spymaster made his dramatic return at the end of A Dance with Dragons, it signaled the beginning of Varys’ active work to put Aegon onto the Iron Throne. Where once the eunuch had relied on the powers of suggestion and subtle manipulations to achieve his ends, he now had to work frantically to give his “perfect prince” the chance he would need to take King’s Landing and the Iron Throne. The question would be what exactly would Varys be doing to actively aid Aegon in the city. For that, we can see hints at Varys’ coming role in the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue.
When Varys shot Kevan Lannister with a crossbow, he framed his action as a way to jumpstart political chaos ahead of Aegon’s march on King’s Landing:
“I thought the crossbow fitting. You shared so much with Lord Tywin, why not that? Your niece will think the Tyrells had you murdered, mayhaps with the connivance of the Imp. The Tyrells will suspect her. Someone somewhere will find a way to blame the Dornishmen. Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Assassinating Kevan Lannister removed a piece from the game that could very well have served the Tywin-role in uniting Aegon’s enemies. Storm’s End and Westerosi Agincourt would prove the strength of Aegon’s cause and give the lords of Westeros the opportunity to give the young dragon a second look. Meanwhile back in King’s Landing, Varys will work to disrupt the Lannisters and those Reachmen who remain loyal to Mace Tyrell and Tommen Baratheon.
As a player whose true potential will likely be unleashed in The Winds of Winter, GRRM likely has many surprises for readers up his sleeves for Varys. Chiefly, I imagine that Varys’ intelligence collection in the capital will continue. In Feast, GRRM heavily implied that Varys’ little birds were still within the walls of the Red Keep:
At night Cersei sometimes heard soft sounds, even in her own apartments. Mice in the walls, she would tell herself, no more than that. (AFFC, Cersei VII)
Through his little birds, Varys would be able to monitor many of the Lannister and Tyrell strategic and tactical moves and relay any noteworthy data back to Aegon as he approached the capital. That information would then provide Aegon with a clear intelligence picture of the city ahead of his march.
Meanwhile, another intriguing possibility is that Varys’ training as a mummer might come into greater focus in The Winds of Winter. Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister had discovered that one of the ways that Varys was able to move undetected through the city was due to a repertoire of disguises that the spymaster kept. More than simple garb though, Varys could change his voice, alter his smell and even give his walk a unique gait depending on the disguise. So far, readers have been treated to a few of Varys’ disguises: Rugen the gaoler, a stout brown-cloaked man, a soft, plump matronly woman and one disguise that might have the greatest utility in a city in the midst of a religious revival.
One of the areas that I neglected in my previous essays on the Faith Militant was the role that Varys might play in manipulating the sparrows towards backing Aegon over Tommen. How might he do that? Why, through one of his best disguises. All the way back in A Clash of Kings, Tyrion encountered Varys in King’s Landing in some interesting garb:
A whiff of something rank made him turn his head. Shae stood in the door behind him, dressed in the silvery robe he’d given her. I loved a maid as white as winter, with moonglow in her hair. Behind her stood one of the begging brothers, a portly man in filthy patched robes, his bare feet crusty with dirt, a bowl hung about his neck on a leather thong where a septon would have worn a crystal. The smell of him would have gagged a rat.
“Lord Varys has come to see you,” Shae announced. (ACOK, Tyrion X)
The High Sparrow was gathering as many sparrows to his side at Baelor’s Sept. It’s possible that Varys himself might make the journey up Visenya’s Hill in his old begging brother costume. Perhaps he’ll even be warmly welcomed into the High Sparrow’s inner circle as a begging brother — that is a clergyman uncorrupted by the luxuries of King’s Landing. Perhaps Varys will cunningly tell the High Sparrow of the stories he’s heard “along the road” of a pious prince who has studied the mysteries of the Faith and can recite passages from The Seven Pointed Star by heart to manipulate the High Sparrow towards backing Aegon’s cause over Tommen’s. At the very least, this would fit Varys’ MO of using the power of suggestion and manipulation that we’ve seen throughout A Song of Ice and Fire.
Alternatively, the rest of Varys’ disguises could come into play in gathering intelligence on the mood of the smallfolk in the city, agitating the smallfolk against Cersei Lannister’s immoralities and crimes or fomenting propaganda on behalf of Aegon and against Cersei and Tommen. Regardless of what Varys actually does in The Winds of Winter, the master of whispers will play the mummer’s role of a lifetime. And he would need to. Aegon was coming.
The Emerging Power Players of King’s Landing
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
“Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
With Aegon marching, Cersei binding the wounds of Westeros together with salt and Varys doing Varys things in King’s Landing, we at last turn to the King’s Landing endgame in The Winds of Winter. I thought it might be fun to talk about three final figures/factions that look to be critical for the endgame. George RR Martin has cooked up an impressive stew of popular and political unrest in the city by placing key characters and figures in the city. The insertion of these characters into the city provides a key for how GRRM might end up writing The Winds of Winter at both macro and micro levels. For the macro-level, many of the characters in the city might provide GRRM the means of addressing how Aegon will take the city by means other than force of arms. On the micro-level, some of these characters will have individual impacts on many of the characters inside the city. For this section, I’ll try to focus on the more macro-level, but I’ll get to the micro later.
For the siege itself, I see three “new” players/factions who look likely to play a major role in the King’s Landing endgame. They are:
- Nymeria Sand
- The Faith Militant
- Randyll Tarly
Notice anything about these characters/factions? All of them are ostensibly aligned with Tommen, but all of them have reasons to abandon the Lannisters. Let’s start with Nymeria Sand.
Artwork by Aurelien Hubert
The Lady Nym. But no lady, if even half of what Qyburn reports is true. A bastard daughter of the Red Viper, near as notorious as her father and intent on claiming the council seat that Prince Oberyn himself had occupied so briefly. (ADWD, Epilogue)
The Sand Snakes were introduced as venomous agents of vengeance in A Feast for Crows’ third chapter. Craving a violent answer from Dorne over the death of Oberyn Martell, the Sand Snakes implored Prince Doran Martell towards acts of violence against the guilty and innocent alike. Nymeria, herself, advocated that Doran Martell authorize an assassination mission against Tywin, Jaime, Cersei and Tommen for the death of Oberyn Martell. In response, Doran Martell imprisoned Nymeria and her half-sisters to prevent them from interfering with his own plan of vengeance.
At some point after Arianne’s failed queenmaker plot, Doran released the Sand Snakes from their captivity with specific missions in mind for each of Oberyn’s bastards. We’ve talked about Tyene and Obara Sand’s roles, but Nymeria Sand’s role was perhaps the most critical of the three Sand Snakes. Tasked with returning Myrcella Baratheon to King’s Landing, Doran Martell had a more important mission in mind for Nym: taking the Dornish small council seat:
“The time is not yet come for Dorne to openly defy the Iron Throne, so we must needs return Myrcella to her mother, but I will not be accompanying her. That task will be yours, Nymeria. The Lannisters will not like it, no more than they liked it when I sent them Oberyn, but they dare not refuse. We need a voice in council, an ear at court. Be careful, though. King’s Landing is a pit of snakes.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
During the timeline of A Dance with Dragons, Doran Martell’s intent in sending Nymeria to the small council was to infiltrate one of the agents into the inner corridors of the power, but he didn’t specify why he was sending them, only saying:
“If … if certain things should come to pass, I will send word to each of you. Things can change quickly in the game of thrones.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
The “certain things” that Doran alluded to were Quentyn and Daenerys’ potential arrival in Westeros, but he opted not to inform them of this in likely hope that his Targaryen Restoration Plot would remain a secret to all but a few.
Doran Martell did inform the Sand Snakes of Cersei Lannister’s alleged conspiracy to assassinate Trystane Martell though. Prince Doran’s purpose in telling Nymeria of this plot but not the true purpose of her taking the Dornish seat on the small council was to protect Nym from the hazards of the road so that she’d arrive safely in King’s Landing if those “certain things” came to pass. To counter Cersei’s potential ambush, Nymeria had been dispatched with a strong retinue of spears:
Nyrn and Tyene may have reached King’s Landing by now, she mused, as she settled down crosslegged by the mouth of the cave to watch the falling rain. If not they ought to be there soon. Three hundred seasoned spears had gone with them, over the Boneway, past the ruins of Summerhall, and up the kingsroad. (TWOW, Arianne II)
It’s unclear whether Cersei’s conspiracy to attack the Dornish on their way up the kingsroad was still in motion, but the three hundred Dornish spears were accompanying Nym to King’s Landing all the same.
As of the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue, Nymeria hadn’t quite made it to King’s Landing, but she was on her way. Though Doran Martell suspected that the ruling elite of King’s Landing wouldn’t exactly welcome Nym to King’s Landing, he knew that the Lannisters would tolerate Nymeria’s presence on the small council to secure Dornish support for Tommen. Kevan Lannister, though, sensed trouble in Nymeria’s coming:
The seventh voice would be the Dornishwoman now escorting Myrcella home. The Lady Nym. But no lady, if even half of what Qyburn reports is true. A bastard daughter of the Red Viper, near as notorious as her father and intent on claiming the council seat that Prince Oberyn himself had occupied so briefly. Ser Kevan had not yet seen fit to inform Mace Tyrell of her coming. The Hand, he knew, would not be pleased. (ADWD, Epilogue)
When Nymeria finally appears in King’s Landing, her presence will likely be colorful. Whether or not Cersei’s attack occurs, the Lady Nym, already consumed with gaining vengeance for her father’s death, will arrive in King’s Landing believing that Cersei Lannister wants her dead. If Doran Martell sends word to Nym of his decision to back Aegon, this will likely set into motion a series of violent events inside King’s Landing. Though Nym might only have three hundred spears in her immediate service, her charisma and ability to stir them into action will likely play a major role in the city. Back in A Feast for Crows, her and her sisters had been able to stir an entire city into a frenzy over the death of Oberyn Martell:
Prince Doran had closed the draperies of his litter as soon as the Spear Tower came in sight, yet still the smallfolk shouted out to him as the litter passed. The Sand Snakes have stirred them to a boil, the captain thought uneasily. (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Imagine what Nymeria can do with three hundred spears. Perhaps she’ll play on their anger by recounting Oberyn’s grisly death at the hands of Gregor Clegane or recall the murder of Elia Martell at the hands of Lannister henchmen. Most importantly, with the Tyrells and Lannisters in disarray and the Faith Militant as everyone’s nemesis, Nym and her three hundred spears might escape scrutiny. While the high lords, queens and sparrows play their game of thrones, Nymeria and her ‘viper squad’ might fly under the radar only to re-appear at pivotal moments.
The Faith Militant
Artwork by Andrew Bosley
Similar to Nymeria Sand, the Faith Militant was also unaligned to the Lannisters and Tyrells and was pursuing its own independent principles and goals. The problem for Cersei Lannister was that these principles and goals were popular. What the High Sparrow lacked in access to the inner corridors of power at the Red Keep, he made up with in broad, popular appeal. The smallfolk had become enamored with the religious revival movement that the sparrows had brought to Westeros, and the High Sparrow had used this popularity to vault himself and his movement into political prominence and power.
We’ve covered the Faith of the Seven’s rise in previous sections, but here, let’s focus on how the high lords reacted to the now-empowered Faith Militant. Though initially allowed to re-arm by Cersei to serve as Tommen’s army and rid her of the Tyrells, the Faith Militant instead began enforcing its own moral code in King’s Landing. Unsure of how to react to this new political dynamic, the ruling elite of King’s Landing had adopted caution in the Faith Militant’s wake. In the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue, Kevan Lannister cautioned his fellow counselors not to stir up enmity with the High Sparrow:
“Defy the High Septon, and we will have blood running in the gutters of King’s Landing as well. If we are seen to be going against the gods, it will only drive the pious into the arms of one or the other of these would-be usurpers.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Kevan Lannister had good reason not to want to see Baelor’s Sept and the Red Keep at odds. Though the Lannisters and Tyrells had more soldiers in and around King’s Landing by the end of A Dance with Dragons, their numbers were flagging. Large contingents of reachmen and westermen had been deployed from King’s Landing in AFFC/ADWD, and by the start of The Winds of Winter, many of the remaining reachmen were marching for the Stormlands. The greater issue, though, was that if Lannister and Tyrell soldiers fought the sparrows in the streets of King’s Landing, it would drive the smallfolk to the High Sparrow and the High Sparrow to Aegon.
Meanwhile, while the Lannisters and Tyrells were bleeding troops from in and around King’s Landing and tip-toeing around the High Sparrow, the Faith Militant was gaining significant numbers of soldiers to its cause. Our last reliable count of the numbers of sparrows who have taken arms under the Warrior’s Sons comes several weeks before the close of A Dance with Dragons:
Close to a hundred knights had already come forth to pledge their lives and swords to the Warrior’s Sons, Qyburn claimed, and more turned up every day. Drunk on the gods, the lot of them. Who would have thought the realm contained so many of them? (AFFC, Cersei VIII)
Wih one hundred knights and unknown numbers of smallfolk enrolled in the Poor Fellows (likely a larger number than the Warrior’s Sons given that the Poor Fellows had no knightly or gender requirement), the Faith Militant will likely continue to see a rapid increase of smallfolk rallying to their banners — especially if Cersei resumes some of her powers ahead of Aegon’s siege.
Already standing opposite Cersei well before the close of A Dance with Dragons, the relationship between Faith Militant and Cersei will likely turn violent if Cersei embarks on an Aerys-like reign of paranoid terror. In that scenario, Kevan Lannister’s fear of the gutters of King’s Landing running with blood would likely be realized. As sparrow martyrs pile up in the streets of King’s Landing, it’s likely that droves of smallfolk will abandon Tommen/Cersei for the High Sparrow. Moreover, if and when violence erupts in the streets of King’s Landing against his flock, the High Sparrow will likely look to Aegon for redress against Cersei’s war against him.
If and when the High Sparrow turns, he’ll have a strong contingent of knights and sparrows within King’s Landing itself. And Aegon would have his very own fifth column within the city.
Randyll The Vandal
Artwork by Antonio Maínez
The final decisive actor in King’s Landing is our old friend, Randyll Tarly. When we last touched on the Lord of Horn Hill, we surmised that Randyll was one of Aegon’s potential “friends in the Reach” and that he acted suspiciously in the final small council session. If Randyll does indeed turn (or has already turned) to Aegon, his impact could be the most dire to the city and its population. While Nymeria had a few hundred spears and the High Sparrow thousands of mostly-untrained sparrows, Randyll Tarly had a battle-tested army under his command, and this army was uniquely suited and motivated to turn on Tommen and Cersei.
In A Feast for Crows, Brienne observed that Randyll’s army stationed at Maidenpool was of mixed composition:
Lord Randyll Tarly had commanded Joffrey’s army, made up of westermen and stormlanders and knights from the Reach. (AFFC, Brienne II)
With westermen and stormlands augmenting his force of reach knights, Randyll Tarly’s army, then, was a pan-Westerosi force. Westermen in Randyll’s army made sense given Mace Tyrell’s alliance with the Lannister in A Clash of Kings, but the stormlanders were a more interesting matter. These men had likely marched under Renly and then Stannis Baratheon’s banners during the timetable of A Clash of Kings. But when the battle of King’s Landing turned south for Stannis, they turned cloak on him:
“The Lannisters had taken [Stannis] from the flank, and his fickle bannermen had abandoned him by the hundreds in the hour of his greatest need.” (ASOS, Davos II)
The stormlanders who abandoned Stannis and then bent the knee to Joffrey had been the very ones reconstituted into Randyll’s army. This was significant, because they were the same men who had turned cloak, not once, not twice but three times before Aegon ever set foot in Westeros. Each time they had turned, they did so for the “currently-winning” side. Aegon’s rapid successes on the battlefield might seem an opportunity for yet another round of turncloaking. Fortunately for them, they had fallen under the command of a someone who himself had a history of turning his own cloak to the winning side.
Randyll Tarly was “the finest soldier in the realm” and “an iron-willed man”, but he was also not a stranger to defecting to the political strong-horse. He had bent the knee to Robert Baratheon at the end of Robert’s Rebellion and marched under Tywin Lannister’s banner after Renly’s death. Each time Lord Tarly had turned though, he had followed the lead of his liege lord. This time, Randyll’s liege lord couldn’t turn his cloak for the winning side. Mace Tyrell had married his daughter to Joffrey and Tommen Baratheon and irrevocably tied his house’s fortunes to a royal horse. As Olenna Tyrell put it:
“My son ought to take the puff fish for his sigil, if truth be told. He could put a crown on it, the way the Baratheons do their stag, mayhaps that would make him happy. We should have stayed well out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder. After Lord Puff Fish put that crown on Renly’s head, we were into the pudding up to our knees, so here we are to see things through.” (ASOS, Sansa I)
Mace Tyrell, then, would have to see his folly through to the end, but Randyll Tarly and other reachlords did not have the same ties to the current regime. Moreover, Randyll Tarly’s potential grievances against his liege lord – the awarding of Brightwater Keep to Garlan Tyrell instead of him and Mace Tyrell’s constant theft of Randyll’s own glory from war – could help provide justification for him to turn-cloak.
If and when he does turn against Tommen, Randyll could provide thousands of veteran troops to Aegon’s cause — and all of these troops were in and around King’s Landing:
Randyll Tarly and Mace Tyrell had both brought armies to King’s Landing, whilst the best part of the strength of House Lannister remained in the riverlands, fast melting away. (ADWD. Epilogue)
However, Randyll’s army still had westermen in it. It’s unlikely that these westermen would support Randyll’s turn against the Lannisters. What might become of them if Randyll Tarly turns? For that, we can turn to Lord Tarly’s treatment of Florent bannermen in A Clash of Kings after the Florents swore to Stannis:
“Lord Tarly has seized Renly’s stores and put a great many to the sword; Florents, chiefly.” (ACOK, Tyrion X)
After Randyll dispatches the westermen in his army, the question will be Randyll’s Tarly’s location as Aegon advances on the city. It seems as though the two Reach armies were outside of King’s Landing by the end of A Dance with Dragons. If Mace’s army is utterly routed by the Golden Company in the Stormlands, it’s possible that Cersei orders Randyll’s army inside of the city to man the walls. Or it could be that she bars them from entering the city to interfere with her plots against the Tyrells and High Sparrow.
Whatever the case, Randyll Tarly and his army could prove crucial to the fall of King’s Landing and its aftermath.
Taking King’s Landing By Guile or Treachery
Artwork by SephyStabby
Whatever plans or factions GRRM will use in the lead-up to the final confrontation in King’s Landing, the city will fall to Aegon — though I suspect not in a conventional battle. Here, I’ll sketch out a scenario on the fall of the city King’s Landing focusing on the city’s defenses and the three factions above as a potential means that GRRM has the city fall to Aegon.
King’s Landing is circled by high stone walls and seven gates. The primary force manning the walls was one of uneven effectiveness. The City Watch or “gold cloaks” had been the city’s police force, but increasingly, they had been used as a military force. Numbering some 4400-6000 by the end of A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion estimated that only a quarter of the gold cloaks were reliable before the Battle of the Blackwater:
The gold cloaks were almost as uncertain a weapon. Six thousand men in the City Watch, thanks to Cersei, but only a quarter of them could be relied upon. (ACOK, Tyrion XI)
Though Mace Tyrell added one hundred additional Reachmen into the gold cloaks by the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue, the strength and combat effectiveness of the gold cloaks who would man the walls and gates against Aegon’s siege was uncertain at best.
Additionally, two major gates to King’s Landing had been badly damaged during Stannis’ siege:
The entire fish market is gone, and both the River Gate and the King’s Gate are splintered from the battering Stannis gave them and should be replaced. (ASOS, Tyrion IV)
Even by A Feast for Crows, these two gates had not been repaired:
“Your bloody walls are fine. I’ve crawled over every inch of them and had a look at all seven of the gates. The hinges on the Iron Gate are rusted, and the King’s Gate and Mud Gate need to be replaced after the pounding Stannis gave them with his rams.” (AFFC, Cersei V)
So, with damaged gates, a poor fighting force likely defending them and most urgently, the defenders likely looking outward, Nym and her vipers, the Warrior’s Sons/Poor Fellows, Randyll Tarly’s army of traitorous reachmen and vengeful stormlanders or a combination of some of these factions would have the opportunity to strike a gate from the inside, take out the defenders in a swift attack and then open or tear down one of the damaged gates to allow Aegon and his army to advance through. If I were to guess which gate this would occur at, I’d wager that the King’s Gate would make the most sense if Aegon’s army is surrounding the city from the north or west. Besides, Aegon charging through the King’s Gate would make for a thematically-poignant scene. Perhaps Aegon’s taking of King’s Landing would resemble Rhaenyra Targaryen’s so many years before:
For all the vaunted strength of its walls, King’s Landing fell in less than a day. A short, bloody fight was waged at the River Gate, where thirteen Hightower knights and a hundred men-at-arms drove off the gold cloaks and held out for nigh on eight hours against attacks from both within and without the city, but their heroics were in vain, for Rhaenyra’s soldiers poured in through the other six gates unmolested. (TP&TQ)
That would only take Aegon and his army as far as into the city itself. To truly win, Aegon and his party would next need to take the Red Keep.
Chaos in the Red Keep
Artwork by Lord-Corr
[Cersei] was drinking heavily, but the wine only seemed to make her more beautiful; her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes had a bright, feverish heat to them as she looked down over the hall. Eyes of wildfire, Sansa thought. (ACOK, Sansa VI)
Inside the Red Keep, chaos will be the rule. When Cersei hears word of Aegon’s entry into the city, the queen regent will likely order the last of her loyalists to bar the gates of the Red Keep from any entry from the outside. This would slow Aegon’s march to the throne room, but it wouldn’t stop it. Slowing Aegon down though would buy Cersei and those in the Red Keep time to conduct their last mad acts ahead of the young dragon’s triumph. For her part, Cersei Lannister, already not in the best of mental health, will be devastated by the fall of King’s Landing to Aegon. In this, Cersei’s actions at the end of The Winds of Winter will likely parallel those of the last Targaryen King the last time King’s Landing fell.
Following Robert’s victory at the Trident, Aerys II Targaryen’s madness grew. Near the final hour, Tywin Lannister and his army of westermen showed up to the gates of King’s Landing. Believing them to be on his side, Aerys Targaryen opened the gates to Tywin who then proceeded to sack the city. With all hope now gone, Aerys II Targaryen ordered his pyromancers to ignite caches of wildfire hidden under King’s Landing:
“The traitors want my city, I heard [Aerys] tell Rossart, but I’ll give them naught but ashes. Let Robert be king over charred bones and cooked meat.” (ASOS, Jaime V)
Before Rossart could carry out the order, though, Ser Jaime Lannister killed Rossart and then turned his sword on Aerys himself. Now dead, Aerys’ plot to incinerate King’s Landing and its people had come to naught. However, the instruments of Aerys’ plot remained.
Prior to Stannis’ Siege of King’s Landing, wildfire re-emerged as a key plot-point. Cersei and then Tyrion approached the new pyromancer (Hallyne) about developing mass quantities of wildfire ahead of Stannis’ attack. Hallyne and Tyrion then packed ships full of wildfire and had set them afire on Blackwater Bay to destroy Stannis’ fleet on their approach to King’s Landing.
Though large quantities of wildfire had been used during the battle, some still existed in the city. After Tywin Lannister was found dead in the Tower of the Hand, Cersei Lannister ordered the structure to be wildfired. Her reaction to watching the wildfire burn through the tower was… troubling:
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.” (AFFC, Cersei III)
The Aerys-Cersei-wildfire parallel is explicitly tied together by Jaime a few chapters later:
The green light of the wildfire had bathed the face of the watchers, so they looked like nothing so much as rotting corpses, a pack of gleeful ghouls, but some of the corpses were prettier than others. Even in the baleful glow, Cersei had been beautiful to look upon. She’d stood with one hand on her breast, her lips parted, her green eyes shining. She is crying, Jaime had realized, but whether it was from grief or ecstasy he could not have said.
The sight had filled him with disquiet, reminding him of Aerys Targaryen and the way a burning would arouse him. (AFFC, Jaime II)
Cersei’s fascination and sexual arousal due to the wildfire was likely inserted into A Feast for Crows to lay the groundwork for what Cersei will do in The Winds of Winter. Before Aegon lays siege to King’s Landing, it’s likely that Cersei will likely order the pyromancers to start production and stockpiling the substance. Back in ACOK, Cersei had ordered the alchemist guild to make wildfire to use on the walls of King’s Landing against Stannis’ army. Tyrion had wisely pulled the wildfire from the walls and redirected it for the naval action. With Tyrion long-gone Cersei would have little disincentive to direct the alchemists to her own purposes.
Moreover, it may be that Cersei Lannister will not order all of the wildfire up onto the walls of King’s Landing. Aerys II Targaryen had planted caches of wildfire underneath various sections of King’s Landing in the event that the war was completely lost. While some of the batches of wildfire had been recovered during the current narrative, much of it was still present underneath King’s Landing:
“He saw traitors everywhere, and Varys was always there to point out any he might have missed. So His Grace commanded his alchemists to place caches of wildfire all over King’s Landing. Beneath Baelor’s Sept and the hovels of Flea Bottom, under stables and storehouses, at all seven gates, even in the cellars of the Red Keep itself.” (ASOS, Jaime V)
Though some of the wildfire was removed from under Baelor’s Sept, the batches underneath Flea Bottom, the gates and the cellars of the Red Keep had not been recovered. It seems quite possible that Cersei will learn of these caches in The Winds of Winter either by discovering them or being informed by Hallyne and the other alchemists. In this scenario, Cersei could retrieve all of the wildfire under the city to use in the city’s defense or … leave the wildfire in place as a nuclear option if the city falls to Aegon.
Before wildfire comes into play though, I expect two final acts to occur: Tommen and Myrcella will die. Long before Aegon was even born, Cersei Lannister had been given a prophecy which foretold of her children’s doom:
“Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds.” (AFFC, Cersei VIII)
In the likely event that this prophecy will come true, the question will be the means that Tommen and Myrcella meet their end. For the Myrcella piece, we know that she’s traveling north with Lady Nym to King’s Landing. Though there exists the possibility that Myrcella will die during Cersei’s potential ambush – perhaps even being murdered by Nymeria during the ambush – I believe her fate might rest in the hands of Jon Connington.
Admittedly, I am unsure of the exact logistics that GRRM will use to bring about Myrcella’s death, but Jon Connington’s thoughts to himself from ADWD provides the necessary plot-foundation for Connington to take the name of butcher and end the life of Myrcella:
Death, he knew, but slow. I still have time. A year. Two years. Five. Some stone men live for ten. Time enough to cross the sea, to see Griffin’s Roost again. To end the Usurper’s line for good and all, and put Rhaegar’s son upon the Iron Throne. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)
I wanted the glory of slaying Robert in single combat, and I did not want the name of butcher. So Robert escaped me and cut down Rhaegar on the Trident. “I failed the father,” he said, “but I will not fail the son.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
As for Tommen, the boy king will likely be “safe” behind the walls of the Red Keep and thus initially protected from Connington. However, not everyone behind the walls of the Red Keep will have Tommen’s best interests in mind. One character in particularly had openly spoken of killing the boy king as vengeance for her father. A bit more concrete than Jon Connington’s role in Myrcella’s death, I think the evidence that Nymeria Sand will be the one to murder Tommen is strong. As she told Doran Martell all the way back in A Feast for Crows:
“Four lives will suffice for me. Lord Tywin’s golden twins, as payment for Elia’s children. The old lion, for Elia herself. And last of all the little king, for my father.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Within the Red Keep, Nym could pose as a Tommen loyalists all the while plotting to murder the boy king. In writing Lady Nymeria, GRRM provided a potential avenue for how Nym would get close to Tommen and murder him:
Lady Nym was no less deadly, though she kept her knives well hidden. “Only royal blood can wash out my father’s murder.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
In The Winds of Winter, I very much expect that we’ll see Nymeria Sand murder Tommen Baratheon in Cersei Lannister’s POV. This event will be a shocking near-climax that will send the queen regent spiraling into a black despair. Tommen and Myrcella Baratheon’s atrocious murders towards the end of The Winds of Winter will likely strike a tone of dual pathos and horror. With their deaths, Cersei’s line will come to close. All that will be left will be a broken queen regent and thousands of pots of wildfire hidden under the city.
Taking the Red Keep
Artwork by SuperOotoro
“One more thing. A trifling matter.” He gave her an apologetic smile and told her of a puppet show that had recently become popular amongst the city’s smallfolk; a puppet show wherein the kingdom of the beasts was ruled by a pride of haughty lions. “The puppet lions grow greedy and arrogant as this treasonous tale proceeds, until they begin to devour their own subjects. When the noble stag makes objection, the lions devour him as well, and roar that it is their right as the mightiest of beasts.”
“And is that the end of it?” Cersei asked, amused. Looked at in the right light, it could be seen as a salutary lesson.
“No, Your Grace. At the end a dragon hatches from an egg and devours all of the lions.” (AFFC, Cersei V)
Encircled with high walls and a moat, the Red Keep was a castle within a fortress city. More important than a defensive structure, the Red Keep served as the fount of political power in all of Westeros. If Aegon were to truly gain victory, he needed to seize the Red Keep and then sit the Iron Throne. Fortunately for Aegon, he likely would not have to besiege the Red Keep for an extended time or assault the castle. Though the fortress was nigh-impregnable, Aegon had a man and his birds on the inside that could guide his troops into the castle and seize it from the inside. Varys the Spider will likely re-emerge from hiding here to guide his dragon and soldiers through the Red Keep. One of the characteristics that GRRM has stressed in writing Varys is how intimately the master of whisperers knew the Red Keep. The eunuch spymaster knew every secret passage, every tunnel running through the dungeons and even the number of ladder rungs to the different rooms in the Red Keep. As he told Ned in A Game of Thrones:
“The Red Keep has ways known only to ghosts and spiders.” (AGOT, Eddard VIII)
We also know from Arya’s journeys in the Red Keep that there were tunnels that led in and out of the Red Keep itself. We also know that Varys had seemingly brought Illyrio into the Red Keep unnoticed. So, Varys’ task will be simple: use his vast stores of Red Keep knowledge to get Aegon and his soldiers into the Red Keep. In this, Varys will almost certainly be successful.
As Aegon’s troops begin swarming through the secret tunnels of the Red Keep and dispatching the last of the Lannister loyalists in the Red Keep, Cersei will likely order her final mad act. Stricken by grief over the loss of the city to Aegon and likely driven mad by the heinous murders of her children, Cersei will order her pyromancers to vaporize King’s Landing with wildfire. Perhaps in giving this order, Cersei will echo her thoughts when she torched the Tower of the Hand:
“Let all of King’s Landing see the flames. It will be a lesson to our enemies.” (AFFC, Cersei III)
As Aegon and his army swarm the Red Keep, I believe that Cersei will instruct Hallyne or Qyburn to light the wildfire underneath King’s Landing in a final, suicidal act to destroy her enemies. However, I don’t believe that Cersei’s last mad act will be successful. Somewhat outside of our scope for this essay series, I believe that Cersei will be violently prevented from nuking King’s Landing by the valonqar: Jaime Lannister.
“And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” (AFFC, Cersei VIII)
In this, Cersei will die as Aegon’s army seizes the Red Keep and will likely joined by Jaime shortly thereafter. As the bodies of the queen regent and lord commander of the Kingsguard lay on the stone floor of the Red Keep, the battle for King’s Landing will end in a triumphant victory for Aegon.
Artwork by Randolfo
“Young Griff, the boy is called. There never was a nobler lad.” (ADWD, Tyrion II)
Whatever the exact circumstances of how Aegon takes King’s Landing, the city will fall to the young dragon, and Aegon’s victory will be greeted ecstatically by the city. Long before Aegon ever showed up in the narrative, GRRM planted a very potent hint that this would happen in one of Daenerys Targaryen’s House of the Undying visions:
A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd. (ACOK, Daenerys IV)
Later, Daenerys clarified what this meant exactly:
“A mummer’s dragon, you said. What is a mummer’s dragon, pray?”
“A cloth dragon on poles,” Dany explained. “Mummers use them in their follies, to give the heroes something to fight.” (ACOK, Daenerys V)
Aegon had been molded from his youth to have the maximum appeal possible to Westeros. From his education by a maester and a septa, his swordsmanship training from a knight and his leadership training from a former hand of the king, Aegon was all that a king should be. Moreover, in taking King’s Landing with the support of the Reach, Dorne, Stormlands and High Sparrow, Aegon would be seen as the winner, and Westeros loves a winner and will not tolerate a loser.
Finally, King’s Landing will be receptive to Aegon as a savior figure come to rid them of the hated Lannisters. As Illyrio Mopatis put it to Tyrion:
“There is no peace in Westeros, no justice, no faith … and soon enough, no food. When men are starving and sick of fear, they look for a savior.”
“They may look, but if all they find is Stannis—”
“Not Stannis. Nor Myrcella.” The yellow smile widened. “Another. Stronger than Tommen, gentler than Stannis, with a better claim than the girl Myrcella. A savior come from across the sea to bind up the wounds of bleeding Westeros.” (ADWD, Tyrion I)
Westeros will greet their savior with cheers and popular acclaim. At the end of The Winds of Winter, I expect that Aegon’s storyline will conclude with two events: his crowning and then his marriage to Arianne Martell. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if both events occur back-to-back with Aegon taking the crown from the High Sparrow and then being married by the High Sparrow.
For her part, Arianne’s status will finally match her ambitions. Though there are likely multiple meanings to Cersei’s prophecy of:
“Queen you shall be . . . until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.” (AFFC, Cersei VIII)
… in the direct circumstance of Cersei’s replacement, Arianne Martell will likely fit the description best. As the younger, more beautiful, Arianne Martell will likely play a mirroring role to her aunt, Elia. Arianne’s marriage to the “son” of Rhaegar Targaryen would be a potent dovetailing of Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia so many years before.
And so in the final King’s Landing chapter set in The Winds of Winter, I believe that Aegon will be crowned Aegon VI Targaryen and marry Arianne to the roars of a cheering crowd. But this will be the highwater mark for Aegon. Daenerys Targaryen is coming, and with her will come a massive army, navy and three dragons intent on ending the short reign of this so-called Aegon VI Targaryen.
Conclusion: What’s the Point of Aegon?
Artwork by Diego Gisbert Llorens
Aegon’s entry into the narrative in A Dance with Dragons has caused considerable consternation for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire. Many wonder what was Martin’s point in introducing such a pivotal character as late as he did. Others believe that Aegon’s story arc in A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter is an example of the narrative bloat that crept into the Martin’s storytelling. While I understand these critiques and believe that individual readers’ enjoyment or non-enjoyment of any given art is entirely subjective, I wanted to conclude Blood of the Conqueror by offering my own defense of Aegon’s inclusion into A Song of Ice and Fire.
From a meta level, Aegon is not a primary character and especially not a primary protagonist of the story. He’s not one of the “big 3” POV Characters (Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister) who will likely be involved in the endgame of A Dream of Spring. Aegon isn’t even a Bran, Sansa or Arya. Aegon is a decidedly secondary character. However, in GRRM’s universe, secondary characters’ lives matter. As ASOIAF blogger PoorQuentyn recently put it in his essay regarding Quentyn Martell:
Every fantasy saga has a Quentyn Martell, usually reduced to a punchline; what GRRM is saying is that redshirts are people too. They have their own dreams and fears and loves, every bit as much as your Jons and Danys and Tyrions. They, too, think of themselves as the heroes of a given fairy tale. And fairy tales have rules: if you’re the prince, and turn into a frog, and you find the beautiful princess, she’s supposed to kiss you and turn you back into yourself and make everything better, including all you’ve lost and done along the way. – PoorQuentyn, Men’s Lives Have Meaning, Part 4: The Prince Who Came Too Late
In a way, I think that Aegon’s importance is similar to that of the Quentyns and Stanniss of A Song of Ice and Fire: doomed characters (see below) that exist with their own dreams, fears and loves. Instead of Aegon existing on the periphery or in caricature, GRRM gives Aegon a significant narrative berth. Aegon’s role in the story then can be regarded as a sort of false-savior archetype: to play the part of the popular hero and protagonist of the story when he truly isn’t. For its part, Westeros will almost certainly believe in the optics of Aegon as a savior figure. Displacing the hated Lannisters, allying with the popular High Sparrow, marrying a beautiful woman and looking all the part of the king, Aegon will gain the acclamation of the masses. However, how much of these advantages has Aegon truly earned?
From our first introduction to Aegon to our last glimpses of him in A Dance with Dragons, Aegon’s persona has been carefully constructed by his handlers in a sterile, safe environment. While Varys crowed about Aegon’s “hardships” and training in the A Dance with Dragons Epilogue, these “hardships” were all structured and supervised without real danger and cost to the boy himself. In contrast, Daenerys and Jon had faced very real struggles with real stakes in learning how to rule wisely and well in Meereen and the Wall.
Meanwhile, Aegon’s successes as seen in A Dance with Dragons and likely to be seen in The Winds of Winter have also been gifted to him. Griffin’s Roost and Storm’s End fell due to Jon Connington’s cunning and military acumen. The rise of the sparrows movement had been created by Cersei Lannister’s foolish policies. The crumbling of the Tyrell-Lannister alliance had been caused by Tyrion Lannister’s murder of his father, Tywin. Doran Martell had lost hope that his son had survived his journey to Meereen. Mace Tyrell’s grasp for royal power had likely alienated his banner lords. Aegon could claim credit for none of these incredibly fortunate circumstances leading to his ascension to the Iron Throne. All the same, he’ll temporarily reap the rewards of those who paved the path for him to the Iron Throne.
In this, Aegon’s primary narrative purpose is much more integral to the story of Daenerys Targaryen. By arriving well-ahead of the dragon queen and enjoying his relatively unearned successes, a secondary character will usurp a primary character’s narrative thunder. For a time, Daenerys will likely continue to be unaware of Aegon and what he’s done, but this will change when Tyrion and Dany finally meet in The Winds of Winter. In a 2014 interview, George RR Martin teased that Tyrion and Daenerys will “intersect” in The Winds of Winter:
I also asked Martin about one extremely eagerly anticipated character pairing: Tyrion and Daenerys. What will their interaction be like?
GRRM: “Well, Tyrion and Dany will intersect, in a way, but for much of the book they’re still apart,” he says. – Entertainment Weekly Interview with GRRM, 6/26/2014
When Dany and Tyrion “intersect” in Winds, I imagine that Dany might not be thrilled at the presence of the son of Tywin Lannister being present in her company. Tyrion, though, has cards to play to win over a skeptical Dany. The biggest of those cards is Aegon. Often lost in discussing Tyrion’s latter A Dance with Dragons and coming Winds of Winter arcs is that Tyrion is the only person in Slaver’s Bay who knows that Aegon, the “son” of Rhaegar Targaryen, is alive and has plunged forward into Westeros ahead of Daenerys. Worse-still for Aegon, Tyrion seems to have doubts on Aegon’s claims to be a Targaryen:
Young Griff jerked to his feet and kicked over the board. Cyvasse pieces flew in all directions, bouncing and rolling across the deck of the Shy Maid. “Pick those up,” the boy commanded.
He may well be a Targaryen after all. (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
How will Tyrion frame Aegon to Daenerys? Will he tell her the whole truth of how he manipulated the boy to invade Westeros without Daenerys? Will Tyrion tell Dany that his advice to Aegon was to carve out a foothold in Westeros to await her? Or will Tyrion present something else to Dany? In my opinion, Tyrion’s nihilistic turn in ADWD will culminate in this pivotal TWOW discussion with Daenerys. Instead of telling her the whole truth, I think that Tyrion will present a case to Daenerys of yet another usurper who has stolen the Iron Throne from her. To augment his argument, I believe that Tyrion will cast doubt on Aegon’s heritage — perhaps accusing Varys and Illyrio of putting one of their own (a Blackfyre or a Brightfyre) onto the Iron Throne.
Given Daenerys’ vehemence against usurpers, it will come as no surprise that Tyrion’s information will likely give Dany a casus belli to go to war with Aegon. In this, Daenerys and Aegon will dance. GRRM himself said back in 2003 that a second dance of the dragons will be the subject of a book:
Hi, short question. Will we find out more about the Dance of the Dragons in future books?
GRRM: The first dance or the second? The second will be the subject of a book. The first will be mentioned from time to time, I’m sure. – So Spake Martin, 11/22/2003
When Daenerys and Aegon dance in A Dream of Spring, it will be a very literal fulfillment of Dany’s interpretation of her House of the Undying vision:
“A mummer’s dragon, you said. What is a mummer’s dragon, pray?”
“A cloth dragon on poles,” Dany explained. “Mummers use them in their follies, to give the heroes something to fight.” (ACOK, Daenerys V)
Daenerys, as the hero, will fight the mummer’s dragon across southern Westeros. In the end, this conflict will almost certainly result in Aegon’s death at the hands of Daenerys. However, this won’t be a triumphant moment in the story. Instead, GRRM will likely interweave significant pathos into their conflict. Primarily, Daenerys Targaryen, though likely fed doubts on Aegon’s heritage by Tyrion, will feel that she killed the last living Targaryen besides her.
Westeros, too, will mourn the young dragon’s death. For all of his false messianism and manufactured persona, Aegon will have done some good in toppling Cersei Lannister from power. Though acts of evil will be committed in his name and much blood will be shed over his claim to the Iron Throne, Aegon isn’t evil. He’s no Joffrey or Ramsay. He’s no Tywin Lannister or Roose Bolton either.
Aegon is just a boy who wants to be the hero of his grand adventure. But as George RR Martin has made it abundantly clear throughout the narrative of A Song of Ice and Fire, men die on grand adventures. And so, Aegon’s grand adventure will culminate not in his ultimate triumph but in sorrowful fire and blood.
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