A World of Ice and Fire Analysis: Chapter II (The Reign of the Dragons)

Now that we’ve devoured some ancient history, let’s get into the Targaryen rise to power!

Let’s see how much of Hollow Crowns, Part II is still viable, shall we?

  • Aegon the Fortunate – ouch, right in the feels.
  • Yay, Archmaester Gyldayn!
  • It’s good to get an understanding of Targaryen/Dornish relations between the Conquest and Daeron I, as “sporadic attempts to bring the Dornishmen into the realm continued all through King Aegon’s reign and well into the reigns of his sons.” This would also help to explain why the Revolt of the Faithful lasted so long, if the Targaryens were also fighting a war of conquest at the same time.
  • Targaryens practiced slavery – I wonder if Daenerys is ever going to find out! Also, I wonder when they gave it up to avoid hostility from the natives.
  • Good to get confirmation that the Targs weren’t hugely powerful in Valyria (only 5 dragons) and were seen as weird for moving to the edge of the known world, definitely puts the “Gaemon the Glorious” thing in perspective and shows how Targaryen desire for glory had its roots in an inferiority complex.
  • “for the best part of a hundred years after the Doom of Valyria (the rightly named Century of Blood), House Targaryen looked east, not west, and took little interest in the affairs of Westeros.” GAAAH! Tell me more! What was this involvement with Essos? Was Aegons’ attack on Volantis an aberration or part of a pattern?
  • The fact that Aegon loved Rhaenys but not Visenya might explain why Aenys got the crown instead of Maegor.
  • Really fascinated by Aegon’s pre-conquest interaction with the Reach and the Westerlands.
  • Argilac seems like one of those badass generals who got his people into more wars than they could afford.
  • The power relations between the Storm Kings and their rivals make a lot of sense – although you wonder what Argilac got out of his war against Volantis; I like him offering Harrenhal as well as his daughter. Interesting that Aegon got some of Argilac’s bannermen to turn against him, despite pretty openly calling for Argilac to cede half his kingdom. Note that Riverlands’ dependency under the Stormlands or the Iron Islands was a fairly recent phenomenon.  Also note that the Stormlands used to be a lot bigger, Riverlands aside – a big chunk of land, some 45,000 square miles, that are now the eastern Reach were once the Stormlands. Which helps to explain why the Stormlands didn’t get taken by the Reach if they could use the Mander and the Blue Byrne as a defensive barrier in the same way that the Tullys use the Red Fork and the Tumblestone against the Westerlands.
  • Duskendale and Rosby were pretty strong once, even as Ironborn vassals. The Darklyns have no luck.
  • Aegon really liked crowning by acclamation.
  • The First Small Council:
    • Orys Baratheon, Hand of the King (man, I feel for Orys, he gets the most hard work of any of them)
    • Daemon Velaryon, Master of Ships (maybe not the best pick)
    • Triston Massey, Master of Laws (the Masseys did well out of their treachery it appears; still no clear idea on the extent of royal law)
    • Crispian Celtigar, Master of Coins
    • No Kingsguard, no Grandmaester, no Whisperer?
  • Aegon attacks simultaneously in three directions at once; ballsy, but costly, as we see with the Battle of the Wailing Willows, Gulltown (BTW, note the Braavosi assistance there), and Orys’ ambush in the Kingswood. Then again, if you have dragons…
  • Aegon also got lucky – the Dornish and the Storm Kings going to war, the Arryns facing a rebellion, ditto with Harren. On the other hand, given how much time Aegon and Sisters spent touring the Seven Kingdoms, maybe this is a case of the Seven Ps?
  • Harren was a goddamn moron, but at least he tried, but you can’t fight a divebomb.
  • Orys holding the line at the Last Storm. See what I mean about giving him the tough jobs? And I haven’t even gotten to the First Dornish War yet.
  • “In her youth Queen Sharra has been lauded as the Flower of the Mountain, the fairest maid in all the Seven Kingdoms. Perhaps hoping to sway Aegon with her beauty, she sent him a portrait of herself and offered herself to him in marriage…though the portrait did finally reach him, it is not known whether Aegon Targaryen ever replied…Sharra was by then a faded flower, ten years his elder.” Ouch.
  • Wow, King Mern IX really went all in. “Sons, grandsons, brothers, cousins, and other kin” all went up in smoke. Also, no wonder there’s bad blood in the Reach if the Oakhearts fought at the Field of Fire while the Tyrells bent the knee without a fight.
  • Torrhen Stark was a very smart man. Even without the dragons, 35,000 vs. 53,000 is a really bad idea.

Well, that mostly held up. Phew. On to the Targaryen Monarchy!

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28 thoughts on “A World of Ice and Fire Analysis: Chapter II (The Reign of the Dragons)

  1. Abbey Battle says:

    Another fine analysis Maester Steven – I hope that you’re continuing to enjoy this book as the much as the rest of your fellow fanatics!

    A few more thoughts:-

    -I have to say that while some other readers decry the histories of Gyldayn I have never been one of them; I trust that what we’ve read so far will be further improved upon and expanded in FIRE AND BLOOD when it is released but in all honesty I find it this format very readable and thoroughly enjoy the ‘Choose your Own’ portions of the Histories.

    I do rather hope that FIRE AND BLOOD is illustrated more in the style of Medieval illuminations, as a change of pace from the more modern, albeit excellent artwork seen in THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE (although that may just be a matter of personal taste).

    – I wonder if the abandonment of slavery by the Targaryens was an act of general emancipation or if they simply fell out of the habit by virtue of the fact that slaves are likely to have been something of an insupportable luxury on Dragonstone (given that the Westerosi do not practice the custom and communications with the markets of Essos are likely to have been rendered tenuous by The Century of Blood), which to say the least does not strike me as Plantation Country.

    I also wonder if the abandonment of this custom may underly what appears to have been a succession crisis that killed off an entire generation of Targaryen men before the forefather of Aegon the Dragon (in the direct line – a grandfather or great-grandfather, I think) assumed the title of Lord.

    -I’d argue that King Aenys ability to interact with people WITHOUT killing, maiming or mutilating them (not to mention his proven virility and dragon-riding credentials) rather helped his case!

    -To be fair it seems that King Argilac’s belligerency is more often provoked than provocative; from what I can make out it seems that just about every other Kingdom in Westeros was looking to dog-pile the Storm-lands, so the Storm-King would HAVE to be at war more often than not to preserve his inheritance.

    A terrifying reputation as a Lord of War would arguably help STOP wars before they start (or at least ensure that any would-be-conquerors take a good long while to work their courage up to the point of No Return).

    Never-the-less there is something of Richard the Lionheart to King Argilac!

    -I still maintain that Argilac went East for the same reason Aegon the Dragon did; to make friends in Essos – smart money says that most of the troops who sailed with The Conqueror to Kings Landing were sellswords out of Essos, rather than the Narrow Sea.

    I wonder how many of Argilac’s later victories were won with the aid of warriors who needed to get out of Essos and were drawn to the Storm-King by his formidable reputation?

    -If we could win the kind of acclaim awarded to Aegon, I suspect we’d take every possible opportunity to enjoy it too!

    -My guess is that he who rides the Black Dread in battle and otherwise rides at the head of an army feels just a wee bit confident about his chances of surviving an attack on his person; I believe that it was only after the Conquest, when Balerion would have been overkill and his battle-companions would have been on their estates that Aegon would feel the need for a more compact bodyguard.

    I still believe that the Grand Maester is more like Physician-in-Ordinary than Pope (a representative, rather than a figurehead), someone dispatched from the Citadel as a token of their submission to Aegon (who would of course have had his own Maester, possibly several).

    My guess is that one of Aegon’s queens acted as his Mistress of Whispers (my money says Rhaenys – I suspect her minstrels sang as sweetly as The Spider’s little birds and were treated more as welcome guests than as urchins to boot).

    -I suspect that Aegon’s three-pronged attack was grounded in the simple truth that if he focusses too much of his strength in one place he can SMASH one enemy … but would be giving his other enemies more time to prepare their defences, making the Task of Conquest all the more difficult (or worse yet gang up on the Targaryens).

    I suspect he, his sisters and their forces would therefore have been very eager to maintain the Strategic Initiative, allowing them to shape the course of operations more readily.

    -To be fair Harren’s strategy was short-sighted but reasonably sound; he was probably gambling on an extended siege causing cracks in the Targaryen coalition (River-lords don’t LIKE one another, remember?) and possibly even drawing in unexpected allies against the invaders (imagine if the host of the Two Kings had marched to support King Argilac or caught Aegon in a siege line around Harrenhal).

    As a note, Aegon’s night attack atop The Black Dread was a calculated gamble rather than a sure thing; Harrenhal would surely have burned in any case, but an arrow in the right place at the right time would have finished off The Conquest (powerful though his queens were in their own right, I doubt they’d have had more luck than Princess Rhaenyra in trying to bend the Seven Kingdoms to their will without Aegon).

    If ‘The Blacks and the Greens’ have taught us nothing else it’s that even a man on a dragon is far from invulnerable to Bad Luck.

    – Gyldayns little remark becomes even more caustic when one considers that Queen Dowager Sharra can’t have been more than thirty-five or thirty-six (and certainly no more than thirty-seven) at the time he writes of her as a ‘Faded Flower’ with all the sympathy of the professional celibate.

    -I’d argue that not only was Torrhen Stark a wise king, he was also a brave man; having mustered one of the larger Northern forces in the History of the Seven Kingdoms then led them so far into the South (with hotheads calling for blood and battle all the while) it must have seemed easier for him to charge to death and glory than to settle the business at hand peacefully.

    As the Winter Wolves would indicate, disparity of numbers seems to frighten the Northmen less than they SHOULD (when those numbers are armed enemies, at least).

    • Grant says:

      The Starks might have been able to avoid defeat and focus on maneuvering long enough to force the Targaryen force to give up and go back, if not for those dragons. Of course that assumes that the known way of warfare in the North could do that and that Torrhen and his lords were good enough to do it.

      But anyway it’s interesting that when his brother offered to kill the dragons, Torrhen rejected it, but still sent him as an envoy. Did he have enough faith in his brother that he thought it was actually doable? It would be interesting if he deliberately decided not to kill them, instead of thinking that it was a stupid idea that would get them all torched. Alternatively, maybe Torrhen sent him to negotiate because he didn’t have many good alternatives.

      • huggable says:

        I’ve always thought the problem with killing the dragons was it all or nothing. You’d have to kill all 3 at once or else all hell was going to break loose with the remaining one/s. And if that happened his army was going to get torched probably even worse than the Field of Fire had been given what he’d just done. The retribution that might have befallen the north had it gone wrong would have been immense.

        In the end torrhen did well out of it. He went home with his army and sword, al lord were returned to their homes and things carried on as normal in terms of their everyday lives I imagine. Yes they returned home subjugated but they were alive unlike the other formed kings and their vassals the north was also untouched unlike the other places fighting had taken place. In the end I think the North did quite well out of it, having a king who put his peoples lives above his own ambitions proved very good for them.

        I also thin the fact h came late to the party let him see Aegon the man as well, a man who’d kept his promises and pradond those who’d kneeled and such so Torrhen probably knew kneeling wasn’t going to result in him getting laughed at by Aegon and his head being cleaved.

      • Sean C. says:

        There’s no way he just discarded a viable way to kill the dragons. With the dragons dead, Aegon’s army dissolves back into factions, most likely, and the North is home-free.

        • Abbey Battle says:

          A viable way does not necessarily equal an infallible method; even assuming that Brandon Snow could kill a dragon then there’s no guarantee that he can kill all three – even if such a Legendary Feat could be accomplished there remains the risk that Aegon’s Host will dissolve into factions only AFTER removing the very clear and present danger represented by the Northern Host right in front of them.

          Even absent dragons the Southron Host outnumbers The North, by a factor of five-to-three and The Northmen are very clearly the invaders at this point; it should also be noted that the Northmen are a long way from the Neck, so even if they fight and win there’s no guarantee that they won’t be wrecked either in the battle or bled to death on the long way home – and Winter is Coming.

          The King who Knelt was WISE – all he lost was a crown and some pride, but he kept his Kingdom and more to the point he had the guts to admit that Men loyal enough to fight a losing battle against both dragons and overwhelming numbers deserve better than to be asked to do just that.

    • – I am looking forward to Fire and Blood.

      – You’re probably right about Targs and slavery. I think the lack of land on the islands meant you just didn’t need too many.

      – right, but if everyone’s dogpiling on the Stormlands, an adventure in the east seems like the worst idea. Potential for casualties in the fighting plus getting attacked while you’re gone, etc.

      – Rhaenys as Whisperer makes sense.

      – True, but it’s really unlikely that a stray arrow is going to hit a divebomber.

      – Agreed, Torrhen is an impressive figure.

  2. Roger says:

    Sounds like interesting stuff! I can’t wait to get my book!

  3. Sean C. says:

    In some respects I wonder if Aegon erred in not making his capital Oldtown, or, if he really wanted a new city, in not moving the Faith and the Citadel there. By not doing so, he greatly reduced potential influence over two extremely powerful transnational institutions (the only two that existed, in fact; though admittedly, the history of the Citadel is a bit inconsistent, since they were supposedly prominent only in the reign of the Targaryens, but the former Pyromancers Guild is never mentioned much at all), the only two such institutions that existed in Westeros at the time he was trying to build a unified state. The Faith only moved there in the reign of Baelor, but it seems hard to dispute that that move ultimately made the Faith much easier for the Crown to control, not that Baelor likely intended it that way. The Citadel has never moved.

    • David Hunt says:

      In reference to the lack of Pyromancer mentions. Haven’t read the book, but it’s my understanding it’s written as if the authors were maesters. I that context, could it be that the “authors” were deliberately omitting references to the old rivals, tossing any influence they had down the memory hole?

      • Sean C. says:

        It’s not just the maesters’ histories, though, where this ist he case. The whole history of Westeros, as related in ASOIAF by people who aren’t maesters, never really mentions these guys as ever having been a thing.

        • Abbey Battle says:

          There is actually a mention of the Pyromancers in the history of Aegon IV; I believe that the Guild is also mentioned as prominent during the reign of Aerys II.

          Given the company they keep, it’s not very surprising that they prefer to describe their History in terms of “We were HOT STUFF but then the Maesters showed up to rain on our bonfire … MAESTERS SUCK AND ARE DIRTY, DIRTY SCHEMERS!” or more elegant words to that effect.

          By the way Mr C. I personally tend to believe that the two major reasons Aegon preferred to make his capital in King’s Landing were so that (A) He could keep those unfortunately abominable Valyrian traditions safely out of sight of the High Septon, who would thereby be easier to conciliate or at least prevented from rising in Rebellion – also (B) He would be that much closer to Dragonstone, which seems to have exercise a strong hold over his affections AND would continue to act as the wellspring of Targaryen strength “Dragons grow best on Dragonstone” after all, so setting up a capital on the other side of the Continent makes less sense than keeping a closer watch upon it.

          • Notably, the only time we’ve seen the Guild in operation, they either botch the job and kill everyone, or do it really well and kill everyone.

            I get the sense that the Alchemists were just not very good at safety protocols.

    • Moving them would have been better. Oldtown is pretty far out of the way for ruling the whole continent; King’s Landing has the virtue of being smack-dab in the middle.

      And as we saw with King Aenys, having the Faith present in King’s Landing was potentially quite dangerous.

  4. Jeff says:

    Hey Maester Steven, what exactly is acclamation? I recently watched a thing on the Kings and Queens of England and they didn’t really clarify there either. Apparently Louis was acclaimed so he was actually King during the reign of Henry III or John and Jane Grey was not Acclaimed so she was never Queen. Is it just cheers of the masses or what?

    • Grant says:

      Sort of a public recognition of someone as having the position, usually by the relevant major figures.

    • Acclamation is essentially election via mass voice vote – everyone shouts your name. “X is King, long live the King!”

      And it would be the lords of the realm, rather than the commons. Or in the case of the Pope, the College of Cardinals. And in that case, it’s literally supposed to be the Holy Spirit moving people to speak.

  5. zonaria says:

    One thing that puzzles me about the Conquest – I can understand why the Targaryens did not turn their attention back across the Narrow Sea, post-conquest, as they had plenty to keep them occupied in their new lands – but surely it must have worried a few people in the Free Cities, seeing the last of the Valyrian dragonlords having access to the resources of an entire continent?

    • Sean C. says:

      Well, we know there were a dozen Braavosi warships assisting the Arryn fleet at Gulltown, though it doesn’t say whether they were hired mercenaries or official government support.

    • I’m sure it did. But they’d just been through a grueling war against Volantis, in which he’d helped them, so I think they weren’t ready to do anything about it.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        I actually believe that it was the war-exhaustion of Essos that persuaded Aegon and his Sisters to make their move on Westeros – it must have been one of the few occasions when the Last Dragon-Riders could commit their power to an Invasion of Westeros without serious risk of a stab in the backyard being launched across the Narrow Sea.

        In all honesty I’d suspect that the newly-founded Triarchy of the Three Daughters, the Dothraki and the lingering Damage from a Century of Blood gave the Free Cities more than enough to think about without giving the Conquest the priority it may or may not have deserved on their list of worries.

        At least not before the whole business was Fait Accompli and the Targaryens had both Dragons, as well as the resources of a Continent to back them against any DIRECT efforts to remove them (although one wonders if the Dornish and the Faith Militant in their turn found allies across the Narrow Sea?).

  6. BarbreysDustyDesire says:

    Haven’t read the new tome as yet but very much enjoying your quick analyses’ and everyone’s contributions.

  7. I’m just going to echo everybody and say that Torrhen was a wise man. He valued more his people’s lives over a title and that is something worth respecting.

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I know there’s a stronger reason as to why Aenys got the crown instead of Maegor, but I won’t spoil for those who don’t know yet.

  8. Chris says:

    “Daemon Velaryon, Master of Ships (maybe not the best pick)”

    why not the best pick?

    • Because he loses and dies in his very first sea battle.

      • Chris says:

        Ah yes, that”d do it. 😛 I wonder if Lord Redwyne whom he went hawking with earlier would have joined his council?

        Interesting to see the Bravosi involved in Westerosi battles taking down a Targaryen opponent (though not sure if they were mercenaries or sanctioned by the Sealord.)

  9. jreinatl says:

    “[Dragonstone’s] stranglehold on Blackwater Bay . . . enabled both the Targaryens and their close allies, the Velaryons of Driftmark … to fill their coffers off the passing trade.”

    I love this — the Targaryens started out as House Frey With Dragons.

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