to be his own character. Him turning away from Dany to go west is actually seen as a fatal mistake by the fandom. Even his training is meant to mirror hers (he learns the same languages she does). We don’t get to know Aegon’s thoughts about his mother and sister, his most important scene is once again about Daenerys. I swear this infuriates me to no end. Why is Aegon a ‘subversion of the hidden prince trope’, when poc already don’t get to be heroes in fantasy books? (part 2)
Wouldn’t it be more satisfying if Aegon got justice for his family and lived on to carry their legacy? Wouldn’t it be better than the same tired cynical story of another person seeking justice and getting punished for it ? (Sorry for the rant!!) (Part 3)
You get me.
Baelor dying is so impossibly frustrating, and I wish I had the words to properly express my mixed feelings about the issue. I love me a good heroic sacrifice and someone dying to defend the principles they believe in. And in order to get that same emotional impact, yeah, Baelor probably had to die. But why couldn’t we have gotten that after getting to see more of him and why he was as beloved as he was? A common theme in the story is that good intentions don’t always pan out into good results. People that start off promising can be corrupted by power. But by the time of Baelor’s death, he was still a good guy. His last action was to fight his own family to defend an innocent hedge knight. He’d been an extremely competent Hand of the King, presiding over a period of peace. He was a skilled warrior, administrator, and diplomat, with a firm sense of right and wrong - as Duncan put it, “[h]e saved me once with his sword, and once with a word, even though he was a dead man as he stood there”. He was the hope of Westeros. But we didn’t get to see him interacting with his parents or his wife or his sons. We get a small glimpse of the kind of man he was, and it’s great, but why couldn’t we have gotten more? Why couldn’t we have gotten to see, I don’t know, the conversation between him and Egg where he told him to go apologize? Or something between him and Daeron - “his royal father’s wishes prevailed” when it came to the funeral arrangements, and “Daeron II had a peaceable nature”. I would have loved so much to see their interactions as king and Hand, or the contrast between Baelor and Bloodraven as the angel and devil on Daeron’s shoulders.
The Dunk and Egg novellas after the first are set during a very troubled time in Westerosi history, and it begins with Baelor’s death in the first - this death marks a loss of innocence. Baelor was a young, genuinely good man and a great leader, cut down before he could become the greatest king in the history of Westeros. He was one of the few men that lived up to the idealized, heroic image. He fought to make institutions better. After his death, a cloud falls over Westeros. We see the darkness in the later novellas - the aftermath of the Spring Sickness, Bloodraven’s police state. The world post-Baelor is not at all the same as what we see in The Hedge Knight. Maekar notes that every time a crop fails, people will say that Baelor would not have let it happen. And the thing is, saying that would absolutely be an oversimplification. Some of what went wrong, Baelor would not have been able to stop. But through competent management, some of it he would have been able to improve - it’s hard to imagine him letting Bloodraven create a surveillance state or completely neglecting his domestic duties in favour of obsessing over Bittersteel in Essos! Bloodraven probably wouldn’t have even been his Hand, given what we know about them advising Daeron to do entirely different things. Because we don’t see that preceding golden age, Baelor feels closer to a plot device than a character, and the impact and feeling of loss after him isn’t as strong as it could be. Like, take A Game of Thrones, right - Ned Stark gets a large chunk of the book about his successes and failures and interiority. We see him decide that, yeah, he will confess to anything to protect his kids. And then we get to see the impact of his death on both the short and long term, with different outcomes specifically linked. With Baelor, we see a good, likable guy, and the tragedy of him being cut down in his prime, but so little about anything about him that doesn’t directly pertain to Dunk and his trial. Part of the point is that a good king is not enough - inherited power cannot lead to long term success. One good king does not guarantee his successor will also be good. So in order to emphasize that, shouldn’t we have gotten more of Baelor instead of killing him in his first appearance?
And again, it’s frustrating that the character whose death symbolizes the loss of innocence is the visibly brown one. Why couldn’t the necessary loss of innocence we see in the Dunk and Egg era been the result of, say, Baelor accidentally killing Maekar and becoming a more hardened, cynical man as a result? The throne could have still ultimately passed to Aegon V through essentially the same way it did in canon - Baelor’s children predeceasing him, the throne passing to Aerys, a succession crisis from which Egg emerges victorious. Or Baelor could have died, leading to the childless Valarr becoming a harsh, stern king for a time before the throne eventually passed to Aegon. We’d still have the tragedy of losing a good man in both these circumstances, all that changes is how - it doesn’t have to be death. But the brother that explicitly resembled his Dornish mother had to die to pave the way for his white passing brother/white passing nephew to become king.
Then there’s the Dark Sister issue. As I’ve mentioned before, characters of colour are so frequently excluded from the magical side of the story, even in things as tangentially related as Valyrian steel swords. The Martells don’t seem to have an ancestral weapon, let alone any connection to the water magic of their ancestors. And we have zero indication that Baelor - the half Martell heir apparent to the Iron Throne, a known warrior - ever got to wield one of his familly’s ancestral swords. His uncle Bloodraven (notably younger than him) got Dark Sister. The most likely explanation as to how is that Daeron gave it to him. But when was this, and why? Was Baelor passed over for the sword? Did he wield it before his death? Given how he was noted to have his sword sheathed by his side before he went into the flames, that one seems unlikely. Meaning he never had the sword, and Daeron passed over his non-white heir to give the ancestral sword to his white half brother. Teenage Jon Snow is gifted House Mormont’s ancestral Valyrian steel sword, with the pommel even changed to indicate that it’s his sword, now. Grown man Baelor that had proved himself time and time again did not receive his family’s sword. This is the intersection of two problems - characters of colour being excluded from the magical side of the story, and Targaryens of colour being cast aside as unimportant. Baelor and his children all die. Rhaenys is brutally murdered. Aegon is surrounded by “he’s a fake!” theories and is doomed no matter what. But Daenerys gets to be central to the story. Aegon V, who is treated as white even though he’s biracial, gets to be central to the story. There’s no reason it had to be Egg rather than Matarys; there’s no reason it had to be Daenerys and not Rhaenys. Baelor gets a lot more agency than most other characters of colour. It’s not that he doesn’t have a personality. It’s not that I don’t love him and appreciate the choices he made. But since we don’t get to see more of him, his primary purpose is to drive the plot - all his decisions are to advance the character arcs of other people.
Also, I have issues with the origin of the Water Gardens story. It was Daenerys that had to tell her son to keep his people in mind with every decision? Seriously? Maron isn’t even named in that story. He’s referred to as “one of [Doran’s] ancestors”. He was the Prince of Dorne, and his heir is only referred to as Daenerys’s, as if it were she that were the real ruler. Maron Martell is one of the poster boys for keeping his people in mind - he joined the Seven Kingdoms! That would not have been a popular decision! But he did it anyway because it was what he needed to do. Women are constantly neglected in this story, so while I’m often very happy about the female ancestors we do get information on, I find it frustrating that in this case, it’s information on a white woman that comes at the expense of a brown man.
It gets even more uncomfortable when we think about the parallels between the Water Gardens and Summerhall. Summerhall is the Targaryen equivalent of Water Gardens. Both are pleasure palaces. Doran stays at the Water Gardens, rather than Sunspear. Daeron the Drunken stayed at Summerhall, rather than Dragonstone. Where it gets uncomfortable is when we start talking about why these castles were built. Maron built the Water Gardens explicitly for Daenerys. Daeron built Summerhall to commemorate the peace he’d made. While it would be logical to infer that part of the reason for the construction of Summerhall was Daeron wanting to do something for Queen Myriah, it’s not in the text. Daeron and Myriah’s marriage is inextricably linked to Maron and Daenerys’s. Daeron and Myriah’s marriage ended the war. Daeron’s younger sister marrying Myriah’s younger brother brought Dorne into the realm. Both marriages were happy. Both marriages involved a woman leaving her home to go somewhere extremely different. But where white Daenerys gets a speech that makes it explicit that the palace her husband built was for her, the reader can only realize that something similar was true about brown Myriah through inference. Maron treated Daenerys spectacularly well. We have no way of knowing how Daeron treated Myriah. Myriah’s name isn’t even spelled consistently.
Now that I’ve gone on my pre-series characters rant, Aegon! I’ve said many times that it’s gross for him to just be a plot device. It’s unfair. He’s got death written all over him, and I hate it. You’re so right - what even is the point of having him be anyone other than Aegon? No matter what, he’s still dead, so why go off on this weird, needlessly complicated thing? It’s a logical flow that I dpn’t even understand. Why should he be fake? To prove what Varys says about power residing where the people believe it to reside. Then why is he doomed? Because he’s not really a Targaryen. Then how does that prove that power resides where the people believe it to reside? There are “too many secret princes”, but there’s nothing wrong with the ridiculous concept that Aegon being is Illyrio’s son by a wife that was a female line Blackfyre descendant and Illyrio is for some reason all in favour of sending him to be raised by someone else for the sake of conquering a land ravaged by war when he could instead gain more power and influence in Essos? How? It’s hard to see what the point of it is - if Aegon were to live and be king at the end of the series, I can maybe buy it. But we all know he won’t. The only argument is “foreshadowing” - which, you can’t really say whether something is foreshadowing or not until you know what the payoff is. Right now, there’s just as much setup for him to be who he says he is. And while there are so many cool ways his story could be taken…he is, indeed, just used as a plot device.
As the son of a Dornishwoman, Aegon is a descendant of Rhoynish refugees. He has a greater connection to the Rhoyne than most of his Dornish contemporaries! We meet him travelling along it! It would be perfectly reasonable - and very cool - to see him using rediscovering water magic, to contrast Dany hatching the first dragon eggs in a century. He could carry on his family’s legacy. It could be made extremely clear that yeah, Dany needs him and it is not true that Dany doesn’t need anything but her army and dragons to conquer Westeros. We could get emphasis on how Daenerys has nothing waiting for her in Westeros and could have done literally anything, but is too busy being fixated on the idea of “returning” to claim the throne, while Aegon very much does have ties to Westeros through his living maternal family and the need to avenge his murdered mother and sister. But nah, can’t have that.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said I wish Rhaenys had lived, and how I think the Young Griff story could have been more powerful with her. But it honestly doesn’t matter, because neither of them are allowed to matter. I talk a lot about how characters of colour are not associated with the magical side of the story, and we see even more of that by thinking about prophecy. We get all this talk about the prince that was promised, with people trying to interpret what it means and who it is. Aegon is portrayed as a false lead, with it really being Daenerys, with no one in the present actually believing he has a part to play in this magical story. But the Martell sigil is literally a sun with a spear through it - a “bleeding star”, so to speak. As Elia’s children, Rhaenys and Aegon were both born “beneath a bleeding star”. It should come up, but it doesn’t. Quentyn must die because he’s not special enough to tame a dragon. Oberyn has to die to subvert expectations. Baelor has to die to save Dunk’s life and clear a path for Egg to take the throne. And Rhaenys and Aegon cannot have any connection to magic because that would make the white characters less special. The only reason Aegon (real or not, it doesn’t matter) gets to be in the story at all is that he looks white. Aegon looks like Dany, so he can be painted as an obstacle for her to fight. It can become a pseudofeminist story about a woman challenging an entitled man who thinks he ought to rule because he’s male. If Rhaenys - a visibly brown woman - were in the story, it would quickly become apparent that that’s not what the conflict is at all. So she can’t be, just as Aegon can’t matter in and of himself.
There’s this novel. It’s called Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s a cross between low fantasy and regency romance, with two leads of colour. In it, there’s a scene where the female lead hatches three familiars’ eggs. A familiar - ha! - scene, to one in ASOIAF. But it’s striking to compare how in Sorcerer to the Crown, it’s a nineteen year old brown woman that gets this powerful scene. She gets to go from a position of weakness and being used by people around her to a position of strength. The novel doesn’t just involve people of colour, it centres them. Prunella and Zacharias are the story. They are the heroes. They don’t have to justify their existence and power to any of the other characters demanding they apologize for taking up space. It’s hard not to think of that whenever I think about how every character of colour in ASOIAF is used to prove how special the white characters are.