Ask the Maester: Aemon’s Life, Tommen’s Power, and Littlefinger’s GiftHBO
John asks: “Generally the Night’s Watch men are serving at the Wall due to some form of punishment or having volunteered, correct? Why was Maester Aemon there?”
At 102, Maester Aemon Targaryen was the oldest man in Westeros and a maester of the Citadel. He had the blood of the dragon running strong through his veins. His grandfather was King Daeron II Targaryen (“Daeron the Good”), his uncle was King Aerys I, his father was King Maekar I, and his younger brother was King Aegon V Targaryen. Many characters in Game of Thrones talk a good deal about doing what’s best for the realm. Very few of those characters, if any, would be willing to put their gold dragons and silver stags where their mouths are the way Aemon Targaryen has throughout his incredible life.
The Westeros of Maester Aemon’s childhood was entering its third century of Targaryen rule. Despite this, Targaryen hegemony was on surprisingly precarious footing. Aemon’s grandfather, Daeron II, the 12th Targaryen king, ascended to the Iron Throne in 184 AC1 and quickly busied himself with the Herculean task of binding up the numerous wounds inflicted on the realm by his father, Aegon IV Targaryen. Also known as “The Unworthy,” Aegon IV was something like a cross between Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, only with the sex drive of John F. Kennedy on crystal meth. He liked to eat, he liked to drink, and he really liked to fuck — and did so with great aplomb. He claimed to have slept with some 900 women — highborn, lowborn, whatever-born — over the course of his life. During his reign, he turned the King’s Landing City Watch into a personal female-acquisition service, having the Gold Cloaks snatch women off the streets for his pleasure. Among the myriad fuckups unleashed on Westeros by Aegon the Unworthy, the most momentous would be his deathbed legitimization of his numerous bastard-born children. Of these, the ones born from noble mothers were known as Great Bastards, which, real talk, is a pretty cool name. Some of these Great Bastards were quite influential, with supporters and sycophants of their own; bringing them into the official power structure — alongside the numerous trueborn Targaryen heirs — was dangerously destabilizing. King Daeron the Good understood this; immediately upon rising to the throne, he sought to secure the realm with a soft-power “keep your potential enemies close” approach. He honored his father’s intensely stupid legitimization decree, allowing the bastards to keep the monies and lands Aegon the Unworthy had bestowed upon them. Daeron paid the dowry for his Great Bastard half-brother Daemon Blackfyre’s marriage to Rohanne, the daughter of the Archon of Tyrosh, and gifted Daemon a parcel of land in the area around Blackwater Bay, complete with castle-building rights.
Completing the vision of Aegon the Conqueror, King Daeron II brought Dorne fully into the realm when Prince Maron of House Martell married Daeron’s sister Daenerys (confusing, I know) in 187 AC. After holding off the dragons for nearly 200 years, Dorne was able to join the realm essentially on its own terms. The deal it struck, two decades in the making, afforded it significant cultural and economic autonomy. Dorne’s relative freedoms — and the seemingly overnight rise of its influence with the crown — was something of a sore spot for other noble houses, not to mention the Great Bastards. It’s somewhat similar to the situation that Jon Snow faces in trying to bridge years of animosity to make peace with the wildlings. Many noble families had fought and bled in the wars against the Dornish, some since before the Targaryens had even arrived on the continent, and suddenly here these lascivious weirdos are at court, japing with the king in their strange accents, enjoying lower taxes, and, for some reason no one can explain, carrying the title of “Prince.”
This was the state of Westeros in the years right before Aemon Targaryen was born: a powder keg called “peace.” Then, in 196 AC, the simmering resentments lurking just underneath the surface exploded when King Daeron discovered that Daemon Blackfyre — with the support of fellow great-bastard Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers (the son of Aegon the Unworthy and Barba of House Bracken) and numerous disaffected noble houses — planned to declare himself king. King Daeron attempted to have Daemon arrested, but the Great Bastard slipped away. And so began the First Blackfyre Rebellion in 196 AC. Tens of thousands died in the ensuing war, including many notable lords; the King’s Hand; and Daemon Blackfyre and his two eldest sons, slain at the battle of the Redgrass Field under a hail of weirwood arrows.
In the wake of the Blackfyre Rebellion, King Daeron, understanding the dangers of having too many heirs to the throne sitting around with too much time on their hands, decided he would not repeat the mistakes of Aegon the Unworthy. Daeron had four sons, and three of those had sons of their own. So, thinking always of the stability of the realm, King Daeron ordered that his grandson Aemon, aged 9 or 10, be sent to the Citadel to train as a maester. This left Aemon’s father, Prince Maekar, with three sons as potential heirs. One was a drunk, another was insane — he died from drinking wildfire because he thought he was an actual dragon in human form — and the youngest was a squire in the service of the lowly hedge knight Ser Duncan the Tall. His name was Aegon and he went by the nickname “Egg.” This is who Maester Aemon was calling out to in his pre-death delirium. Now, with all the various sons and sons-of-sons sitting around, no one was all that concerned with King Daeron’s fourth son, Maekar, and his brood of sons. Fate is fickle, though. In the spring of 209, a plague swept the realm, and among its many notable victims was the High Septon (whatever) and King Daeron himself (oh shit). The Iron Throne should have passed to the chivalric, martial, and beloved Prince Baelor Breakspear, Daeron’s oldest son and the Hand of the King. But — and this is a very long story for another day — a series of events at a tournament held at Ashford in the southern Reach earlier in 209 led Maekar’s son Prince Aerion (a.k.a. the crazy one who thought he was a dragon) to call for a trial-by-combat against Ser Duncan the Tall for the crime of laying hands on his royal person. The format used was the rarely invoked (like, maybe twice ever in history, including this time) trial of seven, in which the aggrieved, the accused, and six champions each fight it out to decide the question of guilt or innocence. It’s basically the Westeros version of the Royal Rumble. Prince Maekar stood as one of his son Aerion’s champions. Incredibly — and this is a credit to the justness of his cause and the low esteem in which Aerion “the Monstrous” was held — Maekar’s older brother, Crown Prince Baelor Breakspear, stood as one of Ser Duncan’s champions. The good news: Ser Duncan’s side prevailed. The bad news: Prince Maekar semi-accidentally (it’s a trial by combat, after all) turned his brother Baelor’s head into soup, which spilled out onto the floor when his royal helmet was removed. Later that year, the aforementioned plague would take Baelor Breakspear’s sons. The result of all of this was that Maekar was suddenly bumped up in the line of succession, eventually becoming king in 221 AC upon the death of his brother King Aerys I, who died of natural causes. Lucky dude.
When King Maekar died in 233 AC while putting down a small rebellion in Dorne, the question of his heirs was brought once again to center stage. His eldest sons were dead: Daeron the Drunken of an STD and Aerion the Monstrous (a.k.a. Brightflame), as previously mentioned, from drinking wildfire like an idiot. This left our Aemon, now a Maester at the Citadel, and Egg (Maekar’s two surviving sons) along with Daeron the Drunken’s dimwitted daughter Vaella and Aerion’s infant son Maegor as the four claimants to the Iron Throne. A great council made up of hundreds of Westerosi lords convened to decide who the next ruler would be. Vaella was crossed out immediately. No one had the appetite for an infant king and all the potential machinations that could ensue from a lengthy regency, so Maegor was out. Releasing Aemon from his vows, while possible, would probably require some paperwork and arm-twisting. That left Aegon “Egg” Targaryen. But because he had spent so much time in the service of Ser Duncan — a common hedge knight (as knights with no lands are called) roaming the countryside as a peasant, basically — the nobility looked upon Egg with significant class-based distrust. Westeros’s 1 percent did not particularly aspire to be ruled by a trust fund kid who had just spent the last several years on tour with Phish, picking berries and polishing another dude’s only set of armor. So it was made known to Aemon that if he would renounce his vows, he could be the next king of Westeros. Aemon, ever humble, refused. Egg was crowned Aegon V Targaryen in 233 AC, and became known as Aegon the Unlikely. Unwilling to be used as the focal point for plots against his beloved brother, Aemon retired to the Wall to become Castle Black’s maester.
And now his watch has ended.
Andrew asks: “I have to ask, what exactly happened to Maester Aemon? His death seemed to come out of nowhere.”
Yes, he died unexpectedly at 102 years old.
Jack asks: “Is Littlefinger referring to Lancel’s confession as his gift to Olenna? And if so, is he really behind it or just trying to make Olenna think he is?”
He is referring to Lancel himself as the gift. Littlefinger knows things, you see (that’s how HIS CHARACTER WORKS), and he had somehow gotten wind of Lancel’s relationship with Cersei a few seasons back. Cersei is in quite a bind depending on what Lancel’s testimony is, and we should assume it’s everything he knows. For starters, he can tell the High Sparrow that Cersei cheated on King Robert, a crime for which Robert could’ve had Cersei executed. To make matters worse, she cheated on the king with her cousin, and we know how the Faith Militant views incest — you know, just like everyone else views it, but with less humor and considerably more forehead-carving. Then, to top it all off, she screwed over her uncle Kevan Lannister; by banging Lancel and causing him to join the Faith Militant out of guilt for his sin, she’s deprived Kevan of his heir, throwing the future of Casterly Rock into some question. That’s a fuckup grand slam. Tywin would be proud.
Barzin asks: “With Ser Loras, Margaery Tyrell, and now the Queen Mother herself Cersei Lannister prisoners of the High Sparrow for committing or lying about lewd sexual acts, the new High Septon has made it clear he has no bias when it comes to bringing to trial those who defy the gods. But why doesn’t the same standard apply for the Sparrow formerly known as Lancel Lannister? Or for Ser Loras’s former lover? Why aren’t they standing trial for committing the same acts for which they are testifying against the Lords and Queens of Westeros? Is the High Sparrow really all-righteous, or does he simply have a bone to pick against the Westerosi elite?”
Very simply because Lancel and Olyvar have admitted their sins and repented while Loras, Margaery, and Cersei have not.
David asks, “If Cersei deputized the religious fanatics, ostensibly on Tommen’s orders, why is the king powerless to stop them? Can’t the king unauthorize Jonathan Pryce, and free the queen?”
Sure he could. Let’s pretend for a moment that Tommen is a strong, able king, and not the kitten-loving mama’s-boy punk that he actually is. Simply declaring the Faith Militant disbanded is pretty simple. Getting them to actually put down their weapons is much less so. As I wrote after Episode 4, it took three Targaryen kings, backed by the might of full-grown dragons, nearly 50 years to subdue the Faith back in the first century AC. Remember the trial of seven from Maester Aemon’s section above? The only other time that we know such a trial was invoked was when King Maegor the Cruel and six champions fought off Ser Damon the Devout of the Faith Militant and six of their champions for control of King’s Landing and, indeed, the entire realm. That trial ended with 13 dead bodies and the winner, Maegor the Cruel, in a coma for 29 days. It would take roughly another decade of off-and-on war before the Faith agreed to disband during the reign of Maegor’s successor, King Jaehaerys the Conciliator.
You could argue that since the Faith have only recently been rearmed, a sharp engagement involving the Lannister army and the City Watch could clear out the Faith Militant — at least in King’s Landing — with only a few thousand deaths. Like, a low-four-digits body count. Even if Tommen had the stomach for going down in history as Tommen the Butcher or whatever, Cersei has stacked things in such a way as to make that difficult. Tommen could send a raven to Casterly Rock, asking his uncle Kevan, who is ostensibly the realm’s Master of War, to send troops. That would require going through Pycelle — who would probably send the raven — or Qyburn, who probably wouldn’t, at least not without Cersei’s OK. Asking the Tyrells for help would make sense, but doing so would weaken his mother’s Lannister family connections and give the Tyrells a tighter grip on power. The real answer: Royal power exists in great part in the minds of those who are subject to it. It’s Cersei who has wielded that power and therefore it behooves everyone — like, on pain of death — to assume that the buck ultimately stops with her. At least for now.
Jack asks: “Is it possible that Bran was controlling the direwolf? If Bran has worked on his craft is it possible that he could control a direwolf from afar?”
Possible but unlikely. More possible is that Bran was watching Sansa’s wedding to Ramsay either through the eyes of crows or the eyes of a weirwood tree, though we have no evidence to believe that he was.
Sascha asks: “Greetings from Germany and a sorry in advance for my bad English. While real world aristocrats are just people who called dibs on their position a couple of 100 years ago, the Westeros high born are not just normal people in disguise, some of them (or all) have certain trades/superpowers. There is power in the blood of kings, and if for example Littlefinger manages to climb the throne, he would be king. But would his blood or that of his children be also some kind of magic blood? Daenerys cant be harmed by fire, some Starks can warg and even Martell bastards can hypnotize men with their boobies. Is there really a special trade for high born, is there a natural order to things in Westeros? Or could everything that we saw in that regard be talked down to misconception?”
Some of it is misconception. Can Daenerys really not be harmed by fire, like, at all? Or is she just less vulnerable than the normal person? We really only saw her survive a full-on inferno that one time at the end of Season 1, so we don’t know if that was a special circumstance or something we can assume will continue.
As for king’s blood, there’s no sure answer to this, but I would assume that, yes, Littlefinger’s blood would become magically empowered, based on what we’ve seen Melisandre do with Gendry’s and Stannis’s bodily fluids. How far down the generations can you go, though? Everyone Melisandre has used — or, in Shireen’s case, wants to use — is either a king or the direct second-generation descendant of a king. The Boltons were kings once, back in the day, as were many notable houses of Westeros, but it’s unclear if blood several generations removed from royalty can be used for Melisandre’s magical rites.
Julie asks: “Watching last night’s episode I couldn’t help but wonder why [Gilly’s] child is still an infant. Shouldn’t it be a toddler by now?”
It’s been only about three years in Westeros time since the show started. Like, coming up on three years. So it’s possible that it’s been anywhere from a few months to perhaps a year since Craster’s Keep in show time. This is probably a fair point.
Scene of the Week: A Night’s Watch Deflowering
(Lyrics by Teddy Pendergrass)
Turn off the lights, light a candle / Tonight I’m in a romantic mood, yeah
Let’s take a shower, shower together / I’ll wash your body and you’ll wash mine, yeah
Rub me down in some hot oils, baby, yeah / And I’ll do the same thing to you
Just turn off the lights, come to me / Girl, I wanna give you a special treat, you’re so sweet
Turn off the lights and let’s get cozy / See, you’re the only one in the world that I need
I wanna love you, love you all over, yeah / Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again
Whisper sweet words of love in your ear / Show you how much I missed you, missed you, my dear
Turn ’em off!