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Aerys II Targaryen

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The traitors want my city ... but I’ll give them naught but ashes. Let him be king over charred bones and cooked meat. Let him be the king of ashes.
~ Aerys II to the pyromancer Lord Rossart
Burn them all.
~ Aerys' most famous quote; also his last words.

Aerys II Targaryen, also called Aerys the Mad, the Mad King and King Scab, is a character from A Song Of Ice And Fire/Game of Thrones. He was the seventeenth and final member of the Targaryen dynasty to sit on the Iron Throne, ruling from 262 AC to 283 AC.

He was the son of King Jaehaerys II Targaryen and Queen Shaera Targaryen. He was married to his sister, Queen Rhaella Targaryen, and had 8 children with her: Prince Rhaegar, Princess Shaena, Prince Daeron, an unknown stillborn child, Prince Aegon, Prince Jaehaerys, Prince Viserys, and Princess Daenerys. Only Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys lived long enough.

Aerys showed great promise at the start of his reign, bringing peace and prosperity to the Seven Kingdoms, but later descended into insanity following the brief uprising known as the Defiance of Duskendale, in which he was held prisoner for several months by a rebellious lord. After that, his paranoia and cruelty grew out of control.

Aerys is effectively the catalyst for most of the events that take place after his death, since his clash with Robert Baratheon effectively provoked the Sack of King's Landing, the death of Ned Stark's brother, the ousting of the Targaryen children (which provoked Daenerys Targaryen's experiences throughout the series) and many other incidents. He was betrayed and killed by Ser Jaime Lannister, who was thereafter known as the Kingslayer, a nickname first given by King Robert.

Early life

Prince Aerys was born to Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen, the second son of King Aegon V Targaryen. As a young boy, he befriended Tywin Lannister, who served as a page in the court of his grandfather, as well as his cousin Steffon Baratheon. The three would become inseparable friends, later fighting together in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, where Aerys served as a squire and earned his knighthood. In his youth, Aerys was forced to marry his sister Rhaella Targaryen at the behest of his father, who was motivated by a prophecy that foretold that the "Prince That Was Promised" would be born from Aerys and Rhaella's line. There was no fondness between the siblings, and the two were already enamored with others when they were forced to marry. The couple had the first son; Prince Rhaegar Targaryen on the day of the Tragedy at Summerhall, which resulted in the deaths of King Aegon, his heir Prince Duncan the Small, and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Ser Duncan the Tall. Aerys' father Jaehaerys ascended to the throne, but ruled for only three years before his death, which passed the crown to Aerys.

Aerys' reign began strongly. Under the rule of his father and grandfather, the court had become conservative and stuffy, filled with old men. Aerys brought sweeping changes, and replaced many of the elderly statesmen with new, younger faces. He named Tywin Lannister, the young Lord of Casterly Rock as his Hand of the King after being impressed by Tywin's ruthless handling of a rebellion against the Lannisters by the Houses Reyne and Tarbeck.

After Rhaegar, King Aerys had other 4 children: Shaena was stillborn, while Aerys and half of the court were in the westerlands; the secondborn son Daeron lived only half a year; another unknown stillborn; Aegon was born two months premature and lived only half a year, and Aerys decided that Queen Rhaella had been unfaithful, and that none of Rhaella's stillbirths, miscarriages or dead princes had been his, so the gods killed them all.

When Prince Jaehaerys was born, Aerys was full of joy until the child died later in the same year of his birth, causing Aerys to despair. In a black rage, Aerys decided that Jaehaerys's death was the fault of his wet nurse. The woman was beheaded, but it did not take long for King Aerys to decide that Jaehaerys had been poisoned, and that the poisoner had been Aerys's mistress, the daughter of a household knight. The girl and her family were tortured to death. The entire family admitted to the murder, though their confessions differed greatly. This act lead to Aerys fasting for a fortnight, making a walk of repentance, and praying with the High Septon, before announcing that he would foreswear all his mistresses.

Aerys' reign would bring peace and prosperity the likes of which the realm had not witnessed in years, but even early on, there were problems. Despite their friendship and partnership, there existed a tension between Aerys and Tywin. Aerys had been enamored with Tywin's wife; Joanna Lannister, before being forced to marry his sister, and during her wedding to Tywin, Aerys had gotten drunk and made lewd jokes lamenting the abolition of the lord's right to first night, and took "liberties" during the bedding ceremony, which Tywin did not forget. Tywin was so capable a Hand that it became rumored that it was he that truly ruled the realm, not Aerys. When he overheard the head of Tywin's household guard; Ser Ilyn Payne, make such a remark, Aerys had his tongue pulled out.

Tywin held a tourney at Lannisport in honor of Prince Viserys's birth, where he proposed a marriage between his daughter Cersei and Aerys' heir Rhaegar. Aerys refused the offer, saying that Tywin was a capable servant, but a servant nonetheless, and no servant's daughter was fit to marry a prince of the royal blood. Aerys left the tourney in a chilly atmosphere, and Tywin would not forget this insult. Aerys would search for a worthy match for Rhaegar, even sending his cousin; Lord Steffon Baratheon and his wife Cassana on a quest to Essos to find Rhaegar a worthy match in the Free Cities, a quest that was not only fruitless but resulted in Steffon and Cassana's death in a shipwreck at the bay of Storm's End.

The Defiance of Duskendale and Aerys' Descent Into Madness

When Lord Denys Darklyn of Duskendale decided to withhold port taxes from the crown in an act of defiance, Aerys took it upon himself to solve the matter personally, to prove his competence and independence from his Hand. Aerys brought only a small force and one Kinsguard however, which proved a fatal mistake, since upon being sentenced to death by the king, Lord Darklyn panicked and took him hostage. Lord Tywin assembled an army to lay siege to Duskendale, and Lord Darklyn kept him at bay by threatening to kill the king if he advanced. This created a stalemate that lasted for six months as Aerys sat in the dungeons of Duskendale. Eventually, Ser Barristan the Bold of the Kingsguard volunteered to stage a daring rescue, and successfully infiltrated Duskendale and rescued the king. Lord Darklyn surrendered immediately and begged for his life, but Aerys, mad with rage, ordered not only him killed, but every single member of House Darklyn and House Hollard, who had sided with the Darklyns. Every member of those houses were gruesomely tortured until they were burned alive, with only the child Dontos Hollard escaping the king's wrath at the personal request of Barristan.

His time in the dungeons had irreparably shattered Aerys' sanity, and began a descent into madness. He refused to leave the Red Keep for years afterwards, and saw treachery everywhere. He grew to mistrust his wife, heir and especially his Hand, whom he believed had left him to rot in the dungeons. Hearing of the skills of a eunuch by the name of Varys, an information broker in Essos, Aerys appointed him his Master of Whispers, believing that only a foreigner with no previous loyalties or entanglements in Westeros could be trusted.

Aerys grew increasingly brutal and capricious, and developed a fascination with fire, especially wildfire, a highly flammable substance created by pyromancers and said to resemble dragonflame. Aerys began using wildfire to execute traitors by burning them alive. These executions aroused him, and led to him claiming his marriage rights from his wife every time he witnessed one, despite the fact that the two had slept in separate chambers and avoided each other for years.

Aerys' already strained relationship with Tywin also deteriorated rapidly. Despite Aerys' glib refusal at Lannisport, Tywin had continued to hold out hope for a match between Cersei and Rhaegar. Aerys dashed those hopes when he wed Rhaegar to Princess Elia Martell of Dorne, a descendant of Aegon IV Targaryen. The final straw came when Aerys appointed Tywin's son and heir Ser Jaime Lannister to the Kingsguard at Jaime's request. In one move, Aerys had robbed Tywin of his heir and taken a hostage to ensure Tywin's good behavior. Tywin furiously found a thin pretext to resign his position and returned to Casterly Rock. He would be succeeded by a long line of Hands, the first of whom was Owen Merryweather, whose only discernible talent as Hand was his ability to flatter the king and throw feasts in his honor.

Robert's Rebellion

Aerys would leave the Red Keep for the first time in years to attend the Tourney at Harrenhal. He did so at the urging of his Master of Whispers; Varys, who warned Aerys that his son Rhaegar might use the tourney as an opportunity to recruit lords with the intent of taking the Iron Throne for himself. Rhaegar won the tourney, and shocked the realm when he named Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty in place of his own wife; Ellia Martell.

Shortly after the tourney, Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna. Her brother; Brandon Stark, the heir to Winterfell, rode to the Red Keep with Ethan Glover, Kyle Royce, Elbert Arryn, and Jeffory Mallister, and shouted for the prince to "come out and die." Lord Hoster Tully called it a rash action, and in fact Rhaegar was not at the Red Keep, and to the group's misfortune, Aerys was and had them all arrested for conspiring to kill the crown prince, and demanded that their fathers attend the court to answer for their crimes. When they did, Aerys executed all of them and their sons, with the exception of Ethan Glover, Brandon's squire.

As was his right, Lord Rickard demanded a trial by combat, expecting to fight a Kingsguard. Aerys granted Rickard's request but to the Mad King, House Targaryen's champion was fire. Protected by Ser Gerold Hightower and Ser Jaime Lannister of the Kingsguard, Aerys had Rickard suspended in the throne room of the Red Keep. Wisdom Rossart and another pyromancer lit a fire beneath Rickard while he was dressed in his steel armor. Brandon, with a Tyroshi noose around his neck and a sword just out of his reach, was made to watch his father roast. Trying to reach the sword to save his dying father, Brandon strangled himself. Aerys' paranoia was not yet sated however, and he demanded the heads of Eddard Stark, now Lord of Winterfell, and Robert Baratheon, the Lord of Storm's End and Lyanna's betrothed. The two were being fostered by Lord Jon Arryn of the Vale, uncle to the late Elbert Arryn. Jon refused the king's request. Instead, he called his banners, as did Eddard, Robert and Hoster Tully of the Riverlands (whose 12 years old daughter Catelyn had been betrothed to Brandon but now married Eddard), all of whom rallied behind Robert's claim to the Iron Throne, based on the royal blood of his grandmother; Rhaelle Targaryen, Aerys' own aunt.

After Owen Merryweather failed to quell the unrest he was replaced by Lord Jon Connington, Rhaegar's close friend, who vowed to bring the king the usurper's head. Robert defeated Connington however, and Aerys exiled him for his failure, and appointed Lord Qarlton Chelsted in his place. Aerys repeatedly requested that Tywin Lannister rally the Westerlands and come to his aid, but Tywin met both the requests of the king and the rebels with silence. Fearful that the rebels might win, Aerys commissioned a great reserve of wildfire which he placed in caches and secretly spread out in key locations in the city. If the rebels were poised to take the city, he would detonate the caches, destroying the city and killing every single person in it. Lord Chelsted learned of the plot and confronted Aerys. When the king could not be dissuaded, Chelsted resigned and threw his chain of office at the king's feet in disgust. For his insolence, Aerys had him burned alive, and appointed the head of the Pyromancer's Guild; Rossart, as his final Hand.

The Crown Prince Rhaegar had sat out most of the war in the Tower of Joy, his refuge in Dorne, but finally bestirred himself and assembled a host to end the rebellion. He fought Robert at the Battle of the Trident and lost, his chest caved in by Robert's war-hammer. The army of the Reach was not able to join Rhaegar's army, as Stannis Baratheon refused to yield Storm's End to the Iron Throne forces and give himself and Renly Baratheon as captives. After Rhaegar's death, Aerys sent away his second son Prince Viserys and his newly pregnant wife to safety to Dragonstone, but kept Rhaegar's wife and children; Princess Ellia Martell, Princess Rhaenys and the new Crown Prince Aegon at the Red Keep to ensure the loyalty of House Martell and Dorne.

The Sack of King's Landing and Aerys' Death

As Robert's hosts bared down on him and all appeared lost, a force of 12,000 Westerlands troops led by Tywin Lannister arrived at the city gates and requested that the king allow them to enter. Varys warned the king not to open the gates, but Grand Maester Pycelle counseled that the Lannisters could be trusted. Aerys chose to listen to Pycelle, believing that his old friend had come to his aid at last. What ensued was a bloody sack of the city. Realizing that the end was come, Aerys summoned Rossart and the last remaining Kingsguard knight in the Red Keep; Jaime Lannister. He told Rossart to detonate the wildfire caches, and ordered Jaime to kill his father and bring Aerys his head. Jaime would later suggest that Aerys, in his madness, believed that the wildfire inferno would transform him into a dragon to crush his enemies. Faced with an impossible dilemma of loyalties, Jaime killed Rossart to stop him from carrying out the king's command, and then ran Aerys through with his sword, ending the line of Targaryen kings that had ruled for 300 years, and saving King's Landing. Shortly after, Jaime hunted down and killed the other Pyromancers who had taken part in the plot.

After Aerys' death, Eddard Stark lifted the siege of Storm's End by the army and fleet of the Reach and rode to the Red Mountains of Dorne to find his sister Lyanna, who died in the Tower of Joy. Shoryl after that, Stannis, the new Lord of Storm's End, built a new royal fleet for King Robert I and subdued the island of Dragonstone from the Targaryens. However the Aerys' children were smuggled to the Free Cities by Ser Willem Darry. Viserys and Daenerys believe the stories of their father's madness were spread by Robert to justify his claim, partially due to their mother lying to Viserys.

Character and Appearance

Before his decent into insanity, in his youth, Aerys was charming, handsome, generous and resolute, albeit somewhat quick to anger. He was also rather vain, making him vulnerable to flattery. Despite being greatly ambitious, he also had a rather short attention span, conceiving of many potentially great works during his reign, but failing to see any of them through to the end. As he grew older, he became increasingly jealous, paranoid, cruel and prone to furious outbursts, all of which were greatly exacerbated by his decent into madness after the Defiance of Duskendale. He had the silver-gold hair and deep purple eyes common among the Targaryens.

After his decent into insanity, he forbade the presence of any sharp objects in his presence other than the swords of his Kingsguard, even refusing to cut his hair and fingernails. By the end of his life, his hair had grown to his waist and his beard was long, tangled and unwashed. His fingernails grew to nine inches long talons, cracked and yellow. He ate very little for fear of being poisoned, making him gaunt and malnourished. His arms and legs were constantly covered by cuts from the Iron Throne various stages of freshness. Despite being only 39 at the time of his death, he looked much older.

Aerys was widely famous for his intense obsession and effectively love for fire - especially wildfire. Jaime Lannister remarks that he adored watching people burn and scream, and had people who threatened or so much as unnerved him burned alive right in front of him for entertainment. Wildfire was his signature weapon, as he had his pyromancer place caches of wildfire in highly populated places in King's Landing during his final stand. Aerys was ruthless in this, not caring whether the wildfire explosions killed his subjects or his enemies or even his allies. Aerys was completely insane when it came to fire, shown by megalomaniacal belief that, after he intentionally perished in the impeding destruction of King's Landing, he would be resurrected as a mighty and powerful dragon to incinerate his enemies and rise anew. He was so unstable that, even after being fatally stabbed in the back, he continuously screamed "Burn them all!", which Jaime remarks he had been saying for hours.


  • It is confirmed that Aerys II is based on King Henry VI of England, who became an insane ruler and was overthrown by King Edward IV, the counterpart of Robert Baratheon., though Henry was not tyrannical, he was notoriously weak and too mild to control the nobility. Aerys II may also be inspired by Henry VI's maternal grandfather, Charles VI "the Mad" of France, who had insane habits and was once almost killed in a fire that killed several men.
  • In the 2012 Game of Thrones video game it is revealed Aerys II has a bastard, Jeyne Greystone, having raped her mother, a maid.

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