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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Is Illyrio Still Part of a Plot for the Iron Throne?

The secretive magister brokered Daenerys’s marriage to Khal Drogo and gave the young Targaryen the eggs that would make her the Mother of Dragons—but then he vanished. What happened to him, and will he play a role in the final six episodes?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 16 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

Perhaps you’ve forgotten about Illyrio Mopatis. That would be a shame. While Illyrio’s time with us was brief, his influence on the events of the story is beyond measure. The bearded Pentoshi magister brokered the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo and, at the festivities, presented Dany with the greatest wedding present in history—three dragon eggs. Those two things reshaped the known world, setting Dany on a path that would make her a Khaleesi, a queen, and a conqueror.

But what motivated Illyrio?

In Season 1’s “The Wolf and the Lion,” Arya overhears Illyrio and Lord Varys in the tunnels under the Red Keep, plotting.

Varys: He’s found one bastard already. He has the book. The rest will come.

Illyrio: And when he knows the truth, what will he do?

Varys: The gods alone know. The fools tried to kill his son. What’s worse, they botched it. The wolf and the lion will be at each other’s throats. We will be at war soon, my friend.

Illyrio: What good is war now? We’re not ready. If one hand can die, why not a second?

Varys: This hand is not the other.

Illyrio: We need time. Khal Drogo will not make his move until his son is born. You know how these savages are.

Varys: “Delay,” you say. “Move fast,” I reply. This is no longer a game for two players.

Illyrio: It never was.

The implication is clear: Illyrio and Varys are working together to bring about a Targaryen revanche. Should Ned Stark, the hand of the king at that time, get too close to upsetting the status quo before Drogo is ready to hand his army of horsemen over to Viserys, the Lord of Winterfell will need to be dealt with.

In Season 5’s “The Wars to Come,” Varys, after springing Tyrion from his cross–Narrow Sea shipping container, confirms that he and Illyrio were indeed working on just such a scheme. Fate, of course, intervened. Viserys turned out to be unstable, impatient, prone to violent outbursts, and also pathologically annoying. Drogo finally tired of his act and poured a kettle of molten gold over his face. But before Drogo could cross the poison water and take Westeros, he died, leaving Dany vulnerable and without an army.

In the end, though, the Illyrio-Varys conspiracy bore fruit. Daenerys took a circuitous route, but she’s in Westeros, with a massive army made up of Unsullied and Dothraki at her back and dragons at her beck and call. Illyrio, wherever the Seven Hells he is, should be proud.

Why This Loose End Matters

What’s Illyrio’s angle? And, other than Lord Varys, is anyone else working with him?

In A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Illyrio tells Tyrion that he was working to put Viserys on the throne in part because Viserys had promised to make him master of coin and give him his choice of castles. “Even Casterly Rock, if I desired,” he adds. Yet when Tyrion asks him whether he thinks Daenerys will honor her late brother’s words, Illyrio contradicts himself. “She will, or she will not. I told you, my little friend, not all that a man does is done for gain. Believe as you wish, but even fat old fools like me have friends, and debts of affection to repay.”

Tyrion thinks that Illyrio is lying, and his IMPstincts are good more often than not. That said, gifting Daenerys three dragon eggs—which, even unhatched, were so rare that, as Viserys notes, they could have purchased a ship and a large army—was almost recklessly generous. Illyrio’s reasons for helping House Targaryen are, simply put, enigmatic. Might he show up on Westerosi shores asking for repayment for his wedding gift?

The small matter of the Night King and his army aside, the Illyrio-Varys conspiracy to return House Targaryen to the throne stands on the brink of ultimate success. Yet we haven’t seen Illyrio since Season 1. What’s he been up to? And, other than Illyrio and Varys, who else was involved in the plot? And what might they want?

How Season 8 Could Address It

With Daenerys, her top lieutenants, and her army in Westeros, and the Night King marching down from the ruins of the Wall, the Seven Kingdoms are at the center of the action. Still, Essos has a part to play.

Melisandre returned there, to Volantis, at the end of Season 7. Before leaving Dragonstone, she told Varys that she had to return to Westeros because it is her destiny to die there. Might she return with Illyrio, or some other person or object capable of turning the tide of the war?

Illyrio and Varys were scheming to bring the Targaryens back to Westeros. What if they, or their potential partners, had a backup plan? In Dance With Dragons, a teenage boy named Griff invades Westeros claiming to be Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar and Elia Martell. That character has been excised from the show. But could the arrival of the Golden Company spur a similar sort of twist?

We know that the Golden Company, Essos’s premiere sellsword company, is en route to Westeros to fulfill their contract with Cersei Lannister. In the books, the outfit was founded by Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers, one of the famed Great Bastards, born to King Aegon IV and his many noble mistresses. King Aegon IV’s bastards were the cause of the Blackfyre Rebellion, a civil war between the forces of King Daeron II Targaryen and Daemon Blackfyre. The Targaryen loyalists prevailed at the decisive Battle of the Redgrass Field, and many Blackfyre supporters, including Aegor, fled to Essos. Bittersteel took the Valyrian sword Blackfyre—the sword of Aegon the Conqueror, which Daemon Blackfyre was wielding when he died—with him.

In Season 8 of the show, the Golden Company will be led by Harry Strickland, whose forebearer was one of the many exiled Blackfyre supporters. Could he be carrying Blackfyre? And, if the show pulled a retcon, might he actually be a Blackfyre?

Failing to place an actual Targaryen—either Viserys or Daenerys—on the throne, and unaware that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen, perhaps Illyrio and Varys will consider the bastard offspring of a Targaryen the next best thing.

HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.