“Aerys was mad, the whole realm knew it.” – Catelyn
“Aerys was mad and cruel, no one has ever denied that.” – Brienne
“A crowned beast.” – Jaime
This is Aerys Targaryen
Aerys’ life was complex and the threads of his influence are woven throughout the whole series, sometimes with small implications and sometimes with very very large implications. It’s easy to dismiss him as The Mad King and move on, but as always it’s just not that simple.
Aerys was normal in his youth. Not too bright, not too dull, just… average. He wasn’t torturing cats or lighting snails on fire, he was a fairly normal kid. He was inseparable from his childhood friends Tywin and Steffon. For simplicity let’s skip to his-
Marriage and Succession
Aerys married his sister, Rhaella, as is Targ tradition. The two had no love for each other though and the marriage was strictly political. Rhaella gave Aerys his first son, Rhaegar, who was born during a mysterious tragedy that took the lives of many men including Ser Duncan the Tall and the King.
Aerys’ father became King, and it was said that Aerys took a maiden’s virginity at the coronation. A woman by the name of Joanna. If such rumors are true or not we may never know. Aerys’ father only ruled for three short years before dying due to illness. And, suddenly, Aerys was King.
Aerys the Wise
Aerys wanted to be the best King there ever was. He cleared out court and replaced the old men with those of his generation. And, undoubtedly, the wisest thing Aerys ever did as King was make Tywin his Hand.
Aerys was ambitious to a certain extent, although his plans never came to fruition. Aerys had a short attention span to say the least. He was a guy who would flock to one idea until a shinier one caught his eye, the same went for the beautiful woman he populated his court with. Aerys didn’t do much at all in fact, and Tywin ruled the realm realistically while Aerys played with his grandiose, but unreasonable, ideas.
Aerys and Tywin’s relationship had always been complicated. Aerys had had a crush on Joanna and possibly even taken her virginity, but Tywin had married her. Aerys was there on their wedding night and he made certain comments and took certain liberties during the bedding ceremony that upset Tywin. More than that though, Aerys watched while Tywin and Joanna were happy together while he suffered with his own unhappy marriage.
For years it went like this. Tywin ruled and Aerys became increasingly erratic with his ideas and actions. Joanna was abruptly dismissed from court by Rhaella. The subtext needn’t be spelled out. Aerys and Rhaella were expected to have many children beyond Rhaegar, but their lives became filled with miscarriages and stillbirths. Over the years, they lost seven children.
Aerys went from comforting his wife to suspecting her. His head became filled with doubts and suspicions and he became convinced that Rhaella was being unfaithful to him. And that all the dead children had been bastards killed by the Gods because they wouldn’t want a bastard to sit the throne. He took measures to make sure she wouldn’t be able to be unfaithful any longer.
Tywin and Aerys continued to drift farther apart as well. Aerys stopped heeding Tywin’s council and started making bad decisions, probably because he heard the rumors circulating through Westeros that Aerys may wear a crown, but Tywin is the one who rules. Aerys even had Ilyn Payne’s tongue torn out with hot pincers when he was overheard repeating this rumor. Aerys’ rule had been one of the most successful, peaceful, and plentiful rules ever so far, but not because of Aerys. This angered him greatly and he spread lies and falsehoods about Tywin which earned the Hand scorn. People of the court quickly learned that the easiest way to make Aerys happy was to mock and talk badly about Tywin.
Tywin hosted a ten year anniversary of Aerys’ rule at King’s Landing. Joanna came with young Jaime and Cersei. Aerys made comments about Joanna’s breasts during the feast, and the next morning Tywin tried to resign his position, but Aerys refused. This ten year anniversary was in 272 AC. Tyrion Lannister would be born to Joanna in 273 AC. When she died Aerys was heard to say-
“Joanna has died, and Tywin has begotten his dwarf son from the gods, to teach him some humility at last”
When Tywin heard this their relationship was over. Any friendship that had been shared between the King and his Hand was gone. Tywin still continued to serve though despite Aerys’ complete lack of respect and a relentless onslaught of slights and scorn.
Aerys was still slipping, but he returned to almost normal when Rhaella finally gave him another son. After seven losses, finally a babe was born successfully. Aerys’ change back to normalcy was said to be dramatic when he laid eyes on his son, so you can imagine the change again when that son died later that year. Aerys slipped into complete madness. Retribution for his dead son came to those who were innocent of any wrongdoing and ‘justice’ was a fools errand for the natural tragedy.
Viserys was eventually born, but it was too late at that point to save Aerys from his madness.
Because none of us have all day, I’m going to sum up this political scenario concisely. Lord Denys of Dusknedale wanted something. Tywin didn’t give it to him. Denys asked Aerys to come visit and Aerys did because Tywin told him not to, like a little child. It was a trap and Denys captured Aerys and took him as a hostage. Tywin had to deal with it like the grown up and he put Duskendale under siege. Aerys was a prisoner for six months until Barristan Selmy conducted a covert black ops mission and got him out safely, something he later thought might have been a mistake. Perhaps he should have just let Aerys die and Rhaegar could have taken the throne. Aerys destroyed those who had taken him prisoner. Torture, beheadings, and live burnings followed.
After Duskendale, Aerys was completely broken. Any remnant of sanity was gone. He saw conspiracies everywhere, even in his own son. He thought Rhaegar had plotted with Tywin to have him killed in Duskendale because Tywin wanted Cersei to marry Rhaegar. So he sent his childhood friend, Steffon, searching for a bride for Rhaegar. We know how that went.
Aerys brought the Spider to court who filled the realm with a network of spies and informers and also found Rhaegar a wife in Elia Martell of Dorne. Aerys became fascinated with fire, and even more so in wildfire. Aerys truly became The Mad King during this period. Whispers of his doings were far reaching and gruesome acts became familiar to him. He trusted no one, especially Tywin.
AKA: The Year of the False Spring. A year when the end of winter was teased, but warm weather never came for Westeros. A year in which a lot was set off that would impact Westeros all the way up to A Game of Thrones.
There was an opening in the Kingsguard after a member died in his sleep. Tywin was in talks with Hoster Tully, probably about marrying Jaime to Lysa (Catelyn’s sister). Cersei went to Aerys and made the plans with him to appoint Jaime to the Kingsguard because she didn’t want to lose her dearest brother. Tywin became furious and resigned his position as Hand, leaving the realm entirely in the hands of The Mad King.
Certain factions became prominent. Basically we can boil this down to street talk. Aerys and his crew had the run of the place, but Rhaegar and his crew were potential threats. This tension got so bad in court, in fact, that Pycelle feared there would be a civil war similar to the Dance of the Dragons.
The Tourney at Harrenhall was held this year. We all know what went down there, but relating to Aerys, he thought his appearance would strengthen his public perception. He hadn’t left the Red Keep since the events at Duskendale. He was wrong though, no one wants to see their King looking like that (see above). His hair and nails were never cut after Duskendale because he was so afraid of the blades. Rhaegar looked great though, he even won the Tourney. The mystery knight rode in the Tourney as well and Aerys sent Rhaegar to discover her *cough* excuse me… his identity. Rhaegar never found him. The Realm was shocked when Rhaegar crowned Lyanna his Queen of Love and Beauty.
The End of a Dynasty
At this point certain events would set off a Rebellion that would end the three hundred year Targaryen dynasty. A lot happened during the war. Aerys went through Hands like wildfire, eventually coming to a pleasant man named Rossart. The war quickly slipped between Aerys’ fingers. His wife went to Dragonstone with Viserys, pregnant with another babe. Rhaegar fell at the Trident. Tywin rode into King’s Landing as a friend, but no friend he was. And Aerys met his fateful end at the hands of Jaime Lannister.
An insanely quick recap I know, but Robert’s Rebellion is knee deep and a lot happened. Perhaps I’ll make a post about it sometime to go more in depth :). As always, thanks for reading, see you next week!
#1: From a GoT DVD extra
#2: From a GoT DVD extra
#3: Art by Jennifer Drummond
#4: Art by Goran Gligovic
#5: Art by Marc Simonetti
#6: Art by Amok
#7: Art by Jake Murray