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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Is Tyrion a Targaryen?

The dwarf of Casterly Rock has always been the child most like Tywin … but what if he isn’t a Lannister at all? It’s a bit tinfoil-y, but there are clues that point toward another one of our main characters having the blood of the dragon.

HBO/Ringer illustration

In nine 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

Is Tyrion Lannister a Targaryen? This is less a loose end than a straight-up theory, and a seemingly tinfoil one at that. While in the show the case for Tyrion being a secret Targ is scant (the evidence basically amounts to Viserion and Rhaegal not killing Tyrion when, in Season 6, he went into the dungeon under the Great Pyramid in Meereen and unchained them), there’s significant circumstantial evidence in the books to support the idea. And whatever the case, it’s clear author George R.R. Martin would at least like to muddy the waters on the question of who fathered Tyrion: Tywin Lannister or the Mad King.

Let’s break down the evidence from the books.

As a boy, Tywin was sent by his father, Tytos, to King’s Landing during the reign of King Aegon V “The Unlikely,” younger brother of Maester Aemon. Tywin acted as a cupbearer in the royal court, and he became fast friends with Crown Prince Aerys Targaryen, the future Mad King. During the War of the Ninepenny Kings, also known as the Fifth Blackfyre Rebellion, Tywin, already a knight, and Aerys, a squire, served in the army. At the close of the conflict, Tywin was given the great honor of knighting his best friend Aerys. And when Aerys ascended to the throne, he named Tywin his hand.

Tywin, a born strategist and political savant, thrived as an administrator. The scuttlebutt around the realm was that it was the lord of Casterly Rock, not the increasingly eccentric king, who really ran the kingdom. These rumors reached the king, and as his madness grew, in his mind they curdled into poison.

Meanwhile, Tywin’s future wife (and, we should note, cousin), Joanna Lannister, was already known to King Aerys. Joanna first came to the capital for the coronation of Aerys’s father, the sickly King Jaehaerys II, whose reign lasted a mere three years. After his death, Queen Rhaella, Aerys’s wife, took Joanna into her service. Court gossip had it that Aerys—who, like many a Targaryen, liked to partake of affairs with any woman who happened to be around—took Joanna’s maidenhead.

That Tywin then wedded Joanna suggests that these rumors were nothing more than that. But this kind of ugly scuttlebutt, by its very existence, suggests that Aerys had taken a prurient interest in Joanna.

In A Dance With Dragons, Ser Barristan Selmy, in a conversation with Daenerys, confirms this. “Prince Aerys … as a youth, he was taken with a certain lady of Casterly Rock, a cousin of Tywin Lannister,” he tells her, abashed. “When she and Tywin wed, your father drank too much wine at the wedding feast and was heard to say that it was a great pity that the lord’s right to the first night had been abolished.” The “first night” was the vile practice that gave a lord the right to bed the brides of his subjects on the night of their nuptials. Selmy continues, recounting the story that during the bedding portion of the wedding—a raucous part of the Westerosi wedding tradition during which the guests strip the new couple and carry them bodily to the bedroom—the King took “liberties” with Joanna.

As I wrote on The Ringer back in 2016:

If you get called out for being too handsy during a bedding ceremony—and check out Edmure and Roslin’s from the Red Wedding to get a sense of how bawdy they are—you really must have crossed a line.

Soon after this, Queen Rhaella dismissed Joanna from her service.

The king and queen had a rocky relationship. After the queen gave birth to the crown prince Rhaegar, her subsequent pregnancies were beset by troubles: miscarriages, stillbirths, and early deaths—a Targaryen trademark.

Tywin and Joanna’s first-born children—the twins Jaime and Cersei—were delivered as healthy as you like. Upon hearing the news, the Mad King was said to have remarked, “I appear to have married the wrong woman.” Several years later, however, and less than a year after Aerys and Joanna were both at the celebrations for the 10th year of the king’s reign, Joanna died giving birth to Tyrion. That certainly seems more like a Targaryen pregnancy than what Joanna experienced with Jaime and Cersei.

Why This Loose End Matters

The dragon, as A Song of Ice and Fire lore states, has three heads. Should Tyrion prove to be a Targaryen, that would mean that most of our major characters are Targs.

In book lore, Targaryen lineage isn’t necessary to ride a dragon. After all, the Targaryens were just one of many noble houses of Valyria, all of which had dragons of their own. And during the Dance of the Dragons civil war, over 150 years before the events of the show, there were several examples of commoners, without Targaryen/Valyrian lineage, riding dragons.

The show, however, has significantly retconned the importance of Targaryen heritage. Daenerys, for example, is invulnerable to fire. And, in Season 7, when Jon approached Drogon, the beast seemed to recognize him by scent.

It Tyrion had Targaryen lineage, it could also complicate the line of succession. The picture is already complex, and Jon’s lineage as the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen has yet to become public knowledge. Add in Westeros’s deeply entrenched cultural tradition of the rights of male heirs, even bastards, above those of female heirs, and you can see how a potential Tyrion reveal could be a problem. Would Tyrion, as the son of an actual king, come ahead of Jon in the pecking order? Or would Jon, as a trueborn son—even of a man who was only ever crown prince, not king—be first in line? It gets messy.

How Season 8 Could Address It

Let’s be real! It seems like they can’t! There are only six episodes left. And while the track for such a reveal has been laid in the books, there’s been essentially no setup in the show for Tyrion being a Targaryen. Still, Viserion and Rhaegal did seem to like the Imp …

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.