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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Could Young Griff’s Book Plot Forecast the Show’s Endgame?

The battle with the Night King looms, but the humans have to figure out their drama too. Might a key book character who never made it to the show lend his plot to another Targaryen?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 33 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.

The Loose End

Early in the fifth A Song of Ice and Fire book, some 3,000 pages into his long and complicated series, George R.R. Martin presented readers with a wrinkle. A new challenger for the throne and the legendary title of Azor Ahai emerged: a young man claiming to be Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, long presumed dead after the Lannisters’ sack of King’s Landing at the end of Robert’s Rebellion.

Show-only Thrones fans might not know this Aegon because he’s never appeared on screen. Remember what Oberyn shouted at the Mountain as they fought in Tyrion’s trial by combat? “You raped my sister,” the Red Viper yelled. “You murdered her. You killed her children.” Aegon is one of those children, whom the Mountain purportedly smashed into pulp to prevent future contest over the crown. Yet during Tyrion’s travels to Meereen in A Dance With Dragons, he meets a young man claiming to be Aegon, secretly spirited away from King’s Landing by Varys to save the Targaryen line.

For years, fans have wondered whether Aegon—or, as he’s known to conceal his “true” identity, Young Griff—is the actual son of Rhaegar and Elia, or a mere imposter sent to falsely take the throne, like a Westerosi version of Anastasia. (Adherents to the latter theory coined the term “fAegon,” a portmanteau of “fake Aegon.”) They’ve further wondered how his sudden appearance would affect Dany’s quest for the crown. The question is—will he even make it onto the show? And if not, what will that absence mean for the plots involving his character?

Why This Loose End Matters

Unfortunately for book readers, we’re almost certainly not going to see Young Griff on the show. It’s too late in the game to introduce a character with such a complicated backstory. Plus, we already have a show character with his name: As the Season 7 finale confirmed, Jon Snow is Rhaegar’s third child, and his birth name as presented on the show is Aegon. Benioff and Weiss likely wouldn’t want to confuse matters even further by adding another Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar, to the mix. Previously, they’ve fiddled with character names to prevent crossover: Theon’s sister is named Asha in the books, not Yara, but that sounded too much like Osha and thus necessitated a change, and the young lord of the Vale is named Robert Arryn, not Robin, but that was confusing alongside King Robert.

Furthermore, a key part of Young Griff’s plot is that his chief adviser and protector, a former Targaryen ally named Jon Connington, travels to Westeros while infected by greyscale. Given that this detail already transferred to a different character in the show, Jorah Mormont, it’s even more clear that this specific arc with these specific characters won’t reach the screen.

That realization in and of itself could affect how readers view Aegon’s claims. The show has excised plenty of characters and arcs in the course of its adaptation, but none as important as a potential claimant to the Iron Throne. Even if they’ve veered along the way, the showrunners know the rough contours of Martin’s planned ending, so Aegon’s absence perhaps signals that he is indeed not a true Targaryen and not central enough to the endgame to warrant inclusion. The fAegon theory might be right.

Even if Young Griff never appears, the plot and thematic developments his character inspires in the book could. Originally, he plans to hire the Golden Company, the best collection of sellswords in the world, and travel to Meereen to meet Dany and woo her there, in the hope that the two Targaryens would then venture to Westeros as a united front, like Aegon the Conqueror with his sister-wives 300 years earlier.

But Tyrion convinces the rash young man to skip Meereen and strike first, and by the end of the fifth book, Young Griff and his hired fighting force have begun their conquest of Westeros while Dany is still trying to escape the Meereenese knot. He has a head start, in other words, on returning the Iron Throne to Targaryen rule—and early chapter excerpts from the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, suggest that he’s making tremendous progress and will soon confront the might of the crown’s army in battle.

How will Dany react to learning about another Targaryen, one with perhaps a superior claim to the throne? Probably not well! And that’s a relevant question on the show regardless of whether Young Griff appears—the same situation is about to arise with Jon; as Jorah’s greyscale suggests, some parts of the Young Griff book plot might transfer to the screen via different characters. In the books, at least, fans generally believe that Dany and Young Griff will engage in a new Dance of the Dragons as they each chase the crown.

The Dance was the Targaryen war of succession that ripped through Westeros about 170 years before the events of the show. On one side were supporters of Rhaenyra Targaryen, the oldest living child and named heir of dead King Viserys I; on the other were supporters of Aegon II Targaryen, Rhaenyra’s younger half-brother from Viserys’s second marriage. The Targaryens, like most families in Westeros, operated with patrilineal rules of succession, meaning that whenever possible, a male heir was favored over a female descendant, but Rhaenyra pressed her claim. Aegon II—and his mother Alicent, Viserys’s second wife—pressed his in turn, and war engulfed the capital.

The resulting years of fighting tore the kingdom with the violence of a dragon’s claws. Both Rhaenyra and Aegon II died before the war ended. Chaos ruled King’s Landing. As budding scholar Shireen says in her final episode of the show as she reads about the Dance: “Their fight divided the kingdom in two. Brothers fought brothers. Dragons fought dragons. By the time it was over, thousands were dead. And it was a disaster for the Targaryens as well. They never truly recovered.”

The situation between Dany and Aegon closely parallels the situation that led to the first Dance: Dany is the last Targaryen king’s daughter and oldest living child, while Young Griff is a man with a more distant connection to the throne but a better claim by both precedent and the rules of the land. In 2003, Martin responded to a question about the Dance by noting, “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.” That second Dance, one assumes, will soon occur in Westeros, whether between these two characters or perhaps between Dany and Jon.

How Season 8 Could Address It

The former option seems more likely, but the latter still exists as a possibility, especially on the show. So Dany could still fight with an Aegon in Season 8—just not the same Aegon as in the books. Jon possesses all of Aegon’s qualifications and claims to the throne, he’s already been part of an effort to woo Dany, and he happens to already have the support of a large swath of the continent. What if Benioff and Weiss stay true to the spirit of Aegon’s character by writing a battle between Dany and Jon?

Such a development would represent a massive step backward in their relationship after the Jon bent the knee (and shared Dany’s bed) at the end of Season 7. But how Jon and the wider realm will react upon learning his true name and Targaryen heritage is one of Season 8’s biggest questions. Perhaps the patrilineal tradition will inspire a “draft Jon” movement; despite his constant reluctance to assume power, he’s still accepted the posts of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and King in the North after his fellows pushed him.

It’s still unlikely he would act on such a push—at the moment, the two overarching catalysts behind Jon’s actions are love for Daenerys and obsession with the Night King, and a fight with his dragon queen doesn’t fit with either goal. So maybe nothing will come of Aegon’s arc at all. But Martin has explained he plans for a “bittersweet” end to the series, and the show could match that tone by pitting its two long-presumed heroes against one another, after some sort of unexpected inciting incident.

Just imagine: The Night King, long the existential threat hanging over Westeros, is finally defeated, and winter recedes as the sun shines upon the continent once again. Cersei, too, is finally defeated and removed from power. The victors set out to determine who will rule as civilization recovers. One group raises Dany, who’s long felt the throne to be her birthright. Another group raises Jon. Maybe he even has a dragon by this point, having bonded with Rhaegal—the dragon named after his father—and ridden the beast during the battle. The two relatives, lovers, and allies turn on each other, and the realm devolves into the chaos of war once more. It doesn’t seem likely, but it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if it weren’t a possibility.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.