Aerys II Targaryen

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House Targaryen.svg King
Aerys II Targaryen
the Mad King
House Targaryen.svg
Aerys II by Amok ©
Reign 262283 AC[1]
Full name Aerys Targaryen the Second of His Name
Predecessor Jaehaerys II Targaryen
Successor Robert I Baratheon
Personal Information
Born 244 AC[9]
Red Keep, King's Landing[3]
Died 283 AC[3]
Great Hall, King's Landing
Dynasty House Targaryen
Queen Rhaella Targaryen
Issue Rhaegar Targaryen
Shaena Targaryen
Daeron Targaryen
Stillborn child
Aegon Targaryen
Jaehaerys Targaryen
Viserys Targaryen
Daenerys Targaryen[10]
Father Jaehaerys II Targaryen
Mother Shaera Targaryen
Played by David Rintoul
TV series Game of Thrones: Season 6

Aerys II Targaryen, also called the Mad King and King Scab, was the seventeenth and last member of the Targaryen dynasty to sit the Iron Throne, ruling from 262 AC to 283 AC.[11] His children who lived to adulthood, by his sister-wife, Rhaella, were Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys Targaryen.

Aerys showed great promise at the start of his reign, bringing peace and prosperity to the Seven Kingdoms. His later descent into insanity, however, was caused by, amongst other factors, multiple miscarriages and stillbirths, the deaths of three sons, and a brief uprising known as the Defiance of Duskendale, in which he was held prisoner for half a year by a rebellious lord. The king's paranoia and cruelty grew out of control, and Aerys was eventually killed by a member of his own Kingsguard, Ser Jaime Lannister, in the Sack of King's Landing during Robert's Rebellion.[3]

In the television adaptation Game of Thrones, Aerys is portrayed by David Rintoul in a flashback scene.

Appearance and Character

Aerys was a handsome young man,[3] with purple eyes[12] and gold-silver hair.[13] Later in his life, as his insanity grew, his appearance deteriorated, most notably after his captivity during the Defiance of Duskendale. He afterwards refused to wash, and would not allow anyone to cut his hair, trim his beard, or cut his fingernails due to his fear of being touched. As a result, his hair grew past his shoulders to his waist[13] and became matted, his beard tangled, and his fingernails grew to be yellow talons of almost a foot long.[3][14] As he was afraid of being poisoned, Aerys became very thin and gaunt, and he looked much older than he actually was.[3][15] Towards the end of his reign, Aerys would often cut himself on the blades of the Iron Throne. His arms and legs were always covered with scabs and half-healed cuts from the Iron Throne, and he became known as King Scab.[13][3]

Aerys wore the crown previously worn by Kings Aegon IV[15] and Daeron II Targaryen,[16] a large and heavy crown of red gold, each of its points a dragon's head with gemstone eyes.[15]

In his youth, Aerys had an undeniable charm. He was generous, resolute, and ambitious, and during the early part of his reign was an active and lively king. Aerys liked music, dancing, masked balls, and young women. However, at the same time, Aerys was not the most intelligent or the most diligent person, and was somewhat quick to anger. He was vain, proud, and changeable, which made him an easy target for lickspittles and flatterers.[3]

As his reign continued, Aerys's mood swings became more frequent and his behavior increasingly erratic. He became more and more jealous, suspicious, and violent as the years went on, prone to furious outbursts. Aerys loved fair maidens and took multiple mistresses. Although most historians doubt the accuracy of it, some believe Aerys had as many mistresses as Aegon the Unworthy. Regardless, he would often quickly lose interest in these women. A notable change in his infidelity occurred in 274 AC, when Aerys renounced all women but his wife following the death of his newborn son. While a healthy son was born the following year, this only increased Aerys's obsessive behavior and fear for his child's life.[3]

After the Defiance of Duskendale, these characteristics became more pronounced. Aerys began to see every unexplained event or act of minor defiance as evidence of fearful conspiracies against him, and devised sadistic punishments for those he imagined to be his enemies. He developed a fascination with fire, which eventually grew so consuming that he could only become sexually aroused by watching someone burn to death. His marriage to his sister-wife Rhaella was never a happy one, and Aerys became sexually abusive late in his reign.[3] According to Maester Yandel, Aerys would go "from mirth to melancholy in the blink of an eye" by 281 AC, including spells of hysterical laughter, long silences, bouts of weeping, and sudden rages.[14]

Also following Duskendale, the king became more and more obsessed with dragonfire, and like his ancestors from House Targaryen, Aerys too began to attempt to hatch dragon eggs. When these attempts proved futile, he became obsessed with wildfire, and he liked the Alchemists Guild to store the substance in jars shaped like fruits.[17] By 280 AC, Aerys took great pleasure in executing criminals by burning them alive.[3]

Many consider Aerys to have been mad and cruel,[12][18] especially by those who fought against him in Robert's Rebellion.[19][20] Daenerys Targaryen, who was raised by her brother Viserys, has an idealized understanding of the father she never knew,[21][22] and smallfolk are also more likely to have a positive memory of the late king.[23] House Darry stood high in Aerys's favor.[24]


Early life

Aerys and Rhaella's unhappy wedding, from Game of Thrones Blu-ray

Aerys was born to Prince Jaehaerys, the second son of King Aegon V, and his sister-wife, Princess Shaera. While still a teenager, Aerys was married to his sister Rhaella, in accordance with the family tradition of dynastic incest. While Aerys's grandfather, King Aegon V Targaryen was against this incestuous marriage (as he had been against incestuous marriages for his own children), Jaehaerys was allowed to arrange it. Jaehaerys's motivation for the marriage was a prophecy made by a woods witch, which had been interpreted to mean that the prince that was promised would be born of the line of Aerys and Rhaella.[25] According to Ser Barristan Selmy, who was present at the wedding, there was no fondness between the two siblings.[26]

During his youth, Aerys befriended the young heir to Casterly Rock, Tywin Lannister, who served as a page at the royal court. Aerys also befriended the heir to Storm's End, his cousin Steffon Baratheon. The three became inseparable.[3]

In 259 AC, Rhaella gave birth to their firstborn son and heir, Prince Rhaegar, during the tragedy of Summerhall,[3] which killed King Aegon V, his eldest son Prince Duncan, and many others.[27] Aerys's father, Jaehaerys, ascended the Iron Throne after this tragedy. It would later be rumored that, on the night of Jaehaerys's coronation, Aerys took the maidenhead of Lady Joanna Lannister, who had come to court for the celebrations.[3]

Aerys was a squire during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. He fought on the Stepstones, and received his knighthood there at the age of sixteen. Aerys chose to be dubbed a knight by his friend, Tywin. When King Jaehaerys II passed away from illness in 262 AC, Aerys was crowned as King Aerys II Targaryen.[3]

Early reign

Prince Rhaegar, Queen Rhaella, and King Aerys, by Jota Saraiva ©

Aerys's reign began in 262 AC with great promise. The new king removed many of the prominent officials at court, most of them old men brought in during the reign of his father and grandfather. Aerys replaced many of them with younger men, including his friend Ser Tywin Lannister, impressed by the ruthlessness the man had shown in dealing with the Reyne-Tarbeck revolt against House Lannister. Aerys named Tywin his Hand of the King.[3]

Aerys declared upon his coronation that it was his wish to be the greatest king in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. Some of his friends encouraged this by suggesting that one day he would be known as Aerys the Wise or Aerys the Great. During the early years of his reign, Aerys took an active part in his rule. He was ambitious during this time, and boasted about many grand plans, although he lost interest in them quickly as well. His plans, none of which would ever be carried out, included invading the Stepstones and adding them to his kingdom, building a new Wall hundred of miles north of the current one to extend his kingdom to the north after a visit from Lord Rickard Stark in 264 AC, building a city of white marble on the south bank of the Blackwater Rush after complaining of the smell of King's Landing in 265 AC, building a war fleet to "bring the Titan to its knees" after a dispute with the Iron Bank of Braavos in 267 AC, and building an underwater canal from the rainwood to make the deserts of Dorne bloom after visiting the southern region in 270 AC.[3]

Regardless, the Seven Kingdoms prospered during these years, thanks to Aerys's Hand, Tywin Lannister. Shrewd enough not to make an enemy of the Iron Bank, Tywin settled the dispute with Braavos by paying back the loans owed to them by the Iron Throne with the gold of Casterly Rock. He appeased the high lords by repealing all the laws, rights and protections that were granted to the smallfolk by King Aegon V Targaryen. He also won the support of the wealthy merchants by reducing tariffs on shipping to Oldtown, Lannisport, and King's Landing, which in turn increased trade. He sternly punished criminals, improved the infrastructure, and organized tourneys. Although Tywin remained little loved, he proved to be a brilliant administrator, and as Hand his reputation for brutal effectiveness became so well-known and so widely respected that popular rumor held it was Tywin, not Aerys, who truly ruled the realm, eventually causing Aerys to regret his choice of Hand.[28][3]

Joanna Lannister and Aerys, by wolverrain ©

The relationship between Aerys and Tywin was further complicated due to Tywin's wife, Lady Joanna Lannister. It was rumored that she briefly "reigned as his paramour" when Aerys first came to the throne. Whether or not this was true, the following year she married Tywin, with Aerys being present at the wedding. At the feast, a drunken Aerys joked that it was a great pity that the lord's right to the first night had been abolished and took certain liberties during the bedding ceremony. It is said that Tywin did not forget Aerys's behavior during this night.[29][3]

Aerys's marriage to his younger sister, Rhaella, was less happy than Tywin's. Aerys was known to keep many mistresses, and whilst Rhaella turned a blind eye to her husband's infidelities, she objected heavily against "turning my ladies into whores". In 263 AC, Joanna Lannister was dismissed by Rhaella, shortly after having married Tywin. Whilst no official reason was given for Joanna's abrupt dismissal, she was not the first of Rhaella's ladies to be dismissed in this fashion, nor was she the last.[3] Aerys's many relationships were not the only strain on his marriage. Rhaella's difficulties with childbirth played their part as well. In 263 AC and 264 AC, Rhaella had miscarriages. In 267 AC, whilst Aerys was away in the westerlands, Rhaella gave birth to the stillborn Princess Shaena. Prince Daeron, born in 279 AC, survived for only half a year. After Daeron, a second stillbirth followed in 270 AC, and a miscarriage in 271 AC. In 272 AC, Prince Aegon was born two months premature. He died the following year.[3] While Aerys was compassionate at first, comforting Rhaella in her grief, he turned suspicious in time. By 270 AC, he had decided that Rhaella had been unfaithful to him, and that none of the stillbirths, miscarriages and dead princes had been his, as the gods would not want a bastard to sit the Iron Throne. He soon confined Rhaella to Maegor's Holdfast, and ordered that two septas would sleep in her bed from that moment forth, to ensure she would remain faithful.[3]

Meanwhile, Aerys's relationship with his Hand was breaking down as well, the pair's friendship fraying. Where previously Aerys had heeded Tywin's counsel, he now often disagreed with his Hand and did the opposite of what Tywin suggested. When Myr and Tyrosh became involved in a trade war against Volantis, Lord Tywin suggested that Westeros remained neutral. King Aerys, in response, provided gold and arms to the Volantenes. When House Bracken and House Blackwood had a border dispute, Lord Tywin wanted to act in the favor of House Blackwood, leading to Aerys siding with House Bracken. Over Tywin's objections, Aerys doubled the port fees for Oldtown and King's Landing and tripled them at Lannisport and other ports in Westeros. Trade suffered and a delegation of merchants arrived before the Iron Throne to protest. Aerys lied to them and blamed the matter on his Hand of the King.[3] He restored the port fees to the previous levels, which won him much popularity and acclaim for himself, whilst the king's lies and actions left Tywin with nothing but scorn. Aerys objected to many of Tywin's appointments and filled the offices with men of his own choosing. When Tywin suggested his own brother, Ser Tygett Lannister, as master-at-arms for the Red Keep, Aerys appointed Ser Willem Darry instead.[3]

By now, Aerys had become aware of the tales being told in his kingdoms; that it was Lord Tywin who truly ruled the Seven Kingdoms and that Aerys was but a hollow figurehead. These statements greatly angered the king. When Lord Tywin's captain of the guard, Ser Ilyn Payne, had been overheard to repeat this statement, Aerys had the man's tongue torn out with hot pincers.[12][30] The angered king became determined to disprove the tales, and to humble Tywin, his "overmighty servant", putting him back into his place.[3]

Aerys deals with disturbing rumors by taking Ser Ilyn Payne's tongue with hot pincers, from Game of Thrones Blu-ray

In 272 AC, to celebrate Aerys's tenth year on the Iron Throne, Tywin hosted the Anniversary Tourney in the capital. Lady Joanna Lannister returned to the court for this event, bringing with her six-year-old twins, Cersei and Jaime. Drunkenly, Aerys asked Joanna if nursing her children had ruined her breasts. Whilst the question was a great amusement for Lord Tywin's rivals, it humiliated Joanna. Lord Tywin attempted to resign the next morning, but Aerys refused to accept. And thus, Tywin Lannister remained Hand of the King.[3]

Courtiers at the court who wished to win the king's favor and gain advancement soon learned the best way to gain the king's eye was to mock and make japes about Lord Tywin. King Aerys continued to undermine and slight his Hand, which amused many lords who were rivals of Lord Tywin or who simply disliked the humorless man. Tywin Lannister suffered all these slights in silence, never showing any public display of weakness. When Joanna Lannister died in childbirth in 273 AC, the king had been heard to remark that Joanna had died, and Tywin had begotten his dwarf son instead from the gods, "to teach him some humility at last". These reports would reach Casterly Rock, where Lord Tywin was in mourning. From that moment on, all the old affection between the old childhood friends was gone. Yet still, Lord Tywin continued to serve the realm as Hand of the King, whilst King Aerys grew increasingly violent, suspicious and erratic.[3]

The king's madness abated slightly with the birth of another son, whom he named Jaehaerys, in 274 AC. Jaehaerys's birth almost restored the king to his old self, but this changed when Jaehaerys died later that same year. In a black rage, Aerys had the boy's wet nurse beheaded, convinced it had been her fault. He soon had a change of heart, and declared that his mistress was to blame, having poisoned the young babe. Aerys had her and her entire family tortured and eventually executed. Under torture, all confessed to murdering Prince Jaehaerys, though their accounts on Jaehaerys's death greatly differed from one another.[3]

After this deed, however, Aerys changed his mind yet again. He fasted for a fortnight, and made a walk of repentance across the city, to the Great Sept of Baelor. There, he prayed with the High Septon. When he returned, he announced that he would remain true to his wife and marital vows from that moment forth. From that day on in 275 AC, King Aerys II Targaryen lost interest in all other women.[3]

In 276 AC, Rhaella gave birth to a son named Viserys. While the child was healthy enough, Aerys was paranoid about the boy's safety. Kingsguard knights were ordered to stand over the babe, day and night. No one, not even Queen Rhaella, was allowed to be alone with Viserys. Gifts that came from all over the realm for the new prince were piled up in the yard and burned on Aerys's orders, as the king feared they might be cursed or ensorcelled. When Rhaella's milk dried up, Aerys made his own food taster suckle on the nipples of the wet nurse, to ensure there was no poison on them.[3]

Later that year, Lord Tywin Lannister staged a tournament in honor of Viserys's birth at Lannisport. It has been suggested by history that this tourney was arranged as a gesture for reconciliation.[3] At this tourney, Lord Tywin proposed a marriage between his daughter Cersei and Prince Rhaegar to King Aerys. However, Aerys's fear of Tywin's power and ambition led him to reject the offer rudely, saying that Tywin was a mere servant of the crown, and no servant's daughter was fit to marry a prince of royal blood. The tourney ended without a final feast and Aerys departed in a chilly atmosphere. Tywin would not forget the insult.[31]

The Defiance of Duskendale

Aerys after the Defiance of Duskendale, as depicted by Marc Simonetti in The World of Ice & Fire

Lord Denys Darklyn of Duskendale desired to win a charter for Duskendale, which would give him more autonomy from the crown, and so he made his proposal to the crown in 277 AC. Lord Tywin Lannister refused the proposal, but Denys would not give up so easily. Having noticed the deteriorated relationship between Aerys and Tywin, Denys decided to withhold his payments to the crown, and instead invited the king to Duskendale to hear his petition for a new charter. While Aerys had intended to decline the invitation, the king changed his mind when Tywin advised him to refuse in the strongest possible terms. Eager to demonstrate his ability to handle the situation without the help of his Hand, Aerys decided to settle the issue personally and bring the defiant Lord Darklyn to heel.[3]

Informing Grand Maester Pycelle and the small council of his decision, Aerys traveled to Duskendale, against Lord Tywin's advice, taking a small force led by Ser Gwayne Gaunt of the Kingsguard. The invitation proved to be a trap, however, and Aerys walked right into it. Some of his escort (most notably Gwayne) were killed trying to defend their king, and Aerys was taken prisoner.[3]

Outrage was the response to this news from Duskendale. As Hand of the King, it fell to Tywin to resolve the crisis. He massed an army and laid siege to the town in what became known as the Defiance of Duskendale. The situation remained in a stalemate for six months, with Lord Denys threatening to execute the king at the first sign that Tywin intended to storm the town. In the end, it was Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard who staged a daring infiltration and managed to rescue the king.[32]

Lord Denys surrendered and begged for mercy, but the king next ordered House Darklyn utterly destroyed, with each Darklyn beheaded and Denys's wife Serala burned alive after being mutilated. Aerys also ordered the deaths of the Darklyns' allies, House Hollard, with the sole exception of the child Dontos Hollard, who was spared only at Barristan's pleading.[32][3]

Following the Defiance

The Defiance of Duskendale plunged Aerys deeper into his descent into madness. Deeply shaken by his imprisonment, he refused to leave the Red Keep for the next four years. His jealous and suspicious nature deepened into paranoia and eventually outright delusions, seeing evidence of treachery everywhere.[3]

Aerys's relations with Lord Tywin deteriorated even more rapidly. The king felt his Hand had wanted him to perish in the dungeons of Duskendale. Aerys also no longer trusted his wife or his heir. In his paranoia, Aerys believed that Tywin and Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone, had conspired to have him killed by storming Duskendale, so the prince would ascend the Iron Throne and marry Tywin's daughter.

To prevent such conspiracies between Rhaegar and Tywin, Aerys summoned his old childhood friend, Lord Steffon Baratheon, to court, making him a member of the small council. Aerys publicly announced Steffon would go to Volantis, to find a bride for Rhaegar of "proud Valyrian blood". The fact that Aerys entrusted this task to Steffon instead of Tywin or Rhaegar caused many to mutter that Aerys intended to make Steffon his new Hand of the King, upon the successful completion of this mission, and that Aerys planned to have Lord Tywin arrested and executed for high treason. Many lords took delight in the prospect.[3]

King Aerys, the Second of His Name, by Jennifer Drummond in The World of Ice & Fire

Fate had other plans. Lord Steffon's mission turned out to be a failure and on the return voyage his ship was caught in a storm and sank, just off the coast of Storm's End, in sight of his two eldest children, Robert and Stannis. Aerys got the notion in his head that Tywin had somehow assassinated Lord Baratheon. He even stated to Pycelle that he could not dismiss Tywin as Hand, as Tywin would have him killed then as well. In the final years of his reign where Tywin was still Hand, Aerys never met with Lord Tywin unless all seven of the Kingsguard knights were present.[3][33]

His paranoia and hysterical madness ever deepening, Aerys heard word of the talents of a certain eunuch named Varys. The eunuch was brought to court, and appointed as Aerys's master of whisperers on the small council. The king reasoned that only a foreigner with no competing loyalties in Westeros could be trusted to alert him of potential threats. The Spider, as Varys became known to the smallfolk, used the crowns gold to form a vast web of informers. Varys was always seen crouching at the king's side whispering in his ear.[3]

Aerys also resolved the matter of Rhaegar's marriage. In early 279 AC, Prince Rhaegar was betrothed to Princess Elia Martell. In early 280 AC, the two were wed in a lavish ceremony at the Great Sept of Baelor. Fearing to be assassinated, Aerys refused to attend. Neither did he allow Prince Viserys to attend. Rhaegar and his new bride decided to take up residence on Dragonstone, instead of remaining in King's Landing, which led some to mutter that Rhaegar planned on deposing his father and seizing the throne. Others claimed that Aerys II meant to disinherit Rhaegar and name his younger son, Prince Viserys, the new heir. The birth of Princess Rhaenys, Aerys first grandchild, did not unite the estranged father and son. When Rhaegar presented the girl at court, Queen Rhaella embraced her grandchild warmly, but Aerys refused to touch her, stating that "she smelled Dornish".[3]

Aerys grew brutal, capricious and increasingly fascinated with fire, especially the highly flammable substance known as wildfire which was said to be a cousin to dragonflame. By 280 AC, Aerys had taken to using wildfire for executing alleged traitors, rather than hangings and beheadings. The pyromancers became a fixture at the king's court and Wisdom Rossart, who carried out the executions, was eventually named to the small council. All the executions by fire aroused the king and, while he and his wife had slept in separate chambers for some years and avoided each other by day as well, Aerys would always claim his marriage rights after such an execution by fire, brutally abusing his wife in bed.[13]

Year of the False Spring

Aerys and his Hand of the King, Tywin Lannister, from Game of Thrones Blu-ray

Ser Arthur Dayne of the Kingsguard defeated the Kingswood Brotherhood and brought the concerns of smallfolk in the kingswood to Aerys.[34] Arthur knighted Jaime Lannister, the eldest (and only able-bodied) son of Lord Tywin Lannister, for his valor during the campaign.[12]

When a place in the Kingsguard became available, after Ser Harlan Grandison died in his sleep, Aerys decided to appoint Ser Jaime as the youngest knight ever to join the order. Tywin, and later on Jaime, came to believe that Aerys had intended this not as an honor but a slight to House Lannister, meant to deprive Tywin of his heir and allow Aerys to hold Jaime hostage for his father's loyalty. Unbeknownst to Tywin, this scheme had originally been hatched by Tywin's own daughter, Cersei, who had proposed the idea to King Aerys as she wished for her twin Jaime to join the order as to prevent Tywin from betrothing him to Lysa Tully, as Tywin and Lord Hoster Tully had been discussing.[12]

Aerys had made his announcement during court, and Tywin had thanked him openly for the honor the king bestowed upon his House. In reality, he had been furious, and pleading illness, Tywin resign his position as Hand and returned to Casterly Rock, with his daughter. Aerys accepted Tywin's resignation and appointed Lord Owen Merryweather as his replacement, an amiable but not especially competent old man whose main qualifications as Hand were his willingness to throw lavish feasts and offer the king constant flattery. The young knight Jaime would officially join the Kingsguard in a ceremony at a later date.[3]

With Lord Tywin now gone from court, the new focus of Aerys's mistrust was his own son and heir, Prince Rhaegar, who had become wary of his father's behavior.[35] At court, there was growing tension between the factions loyal to the king and those loyal to the Prince of Dragonstone. Aerys may have been mad and cruel to those he deemed his enemies, but he was lavish with wealth and titles to those who enjoyed his trust.[3] Those loyal to the king were Lord Qarlton Chelsted, the master of coin; Lord Lucerys Velaryon; the master of ships, Lord Symond Staunton, the master of laws; Varys, the master of whisperers; and Wisdom Rossart. All enjoyed the king's trust and at court held great power. Having learned how to twist the king's madness to their own benefit, they had good reason to oppose Aerys's removal from the Iron Throne.[3]

Rhaegar's supporters were young Lord Jon Connington, Ser Myles Mooton, Ser Richard Lonmouth, and the Dornishmen who accompanied him at court, including Princess Elia's uncle, Prince Lewyn Martell of the Kingsguard and Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning also of the Kingsguard and who was Rhaegar's dearest friend.[14]

It fell to Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Merryweather the unenviable task of trying to keep the peace between the factions, Pycelle even dispatched a letter to the Citadel writing that tensions and division at court strongly resembled those before the Dance of the Dragons, Pycelle was fearful of a civil war between those loyal to the king and those who supported the prince would break out unless some accord could be reached that would satisfy both factions.[14]

Lord Walter Whent announced a tourney would be held at Harrenhal in 280 AC[N 1] to rival any previous tournament. The tourney was to be held in 281 AC. It is believed by some that the tournament was secretly arranged and financed by Prince Rhaegar, as a pretext, so Rhaegar could meet up with the great lords of the realm to discuss arranging a Great Council and the removal of his father. The tournament was announced by Lord Whent shortly after a visit by his younger brother, Ser Oswell of the Kingsguard.[36][14]

King Aerys at first was counseled by Lord Chelsted to forbid the tourney at Harrenhal, while Lord Staunton went as far to suggest the king should outlaw all tournaments. Lord Merryweather intervened by pointing out such events were extremely popular with the highborn and lowborn and that attempting to ban or outlaw tourneys would make Aerys unpopular and strengthen Rhaegar. The king decided to attend the tournament, the first time he left the Red Keep since the Defiance of Duskendale.[14]

Aerys the Mad King, as depicted by Arthur Bozonnet in The World of Ice & Fire

Aerys also hoped his presence at the tourney would win back the love of his people. If that was his intention, however, it backfired horrifically. Since the Defiance of Duskendale, the king had not taken care of his appearance. His fear of blades meant he would not permit his hair to be cut, or his nails to be groomed. His hair and beard were unwashed, matted and tangled, and his nails were yellow and had grown nine inches in length. His fear and paranoia of poison had made him thin and gaunt. The lords and knights at the tourney were appalled at what their monarch had become. Nor was Aerys's behavior that of a sane man, going from mirth to melancholy at a snap of the fingers. His bouts of hysterical laughter, long silences, sudden rages and constant weeping made all present weary.[14] In contrast, Prince Rhaegar looked every inch a leader and warrior. Tall, clean, handsome, well groomed, the Prince of Dragonstone was unstoppable in the lists, winning bout after bout.

Aerys had decided that the tournament would be the perfect place to initiate Ser Jaime Lannister into the Kingsguard, and the young knight said his vows before the king with the realm looking on. When a cheer went up as the young handsome knight joined the Kingsguard, Aerys believed that the cheers believed to be for him.[14]

A mystery knight, the Knight of the Laughing Tree, competed in the tournament. Certain the knight had concealed his identity because he was an enemy of the crown, Aerys ordered Rhaegar to discover his identity, but the mystery knight could not be found. Prince Rhaegar went on to win the tournament, and shocked all those present by crowning Lyanna Stark, rather than his wife, Princess Elia Martell, his queen of love and beauty.[14]

The next year, in 282 AC, sometime after the birth of Rhaegar's heir, Prince Aegon, Prince Rhaegar disappeared with Lyanna, apparently having kidnapped her.[14] Her eldest brother, Brandon, rode to King's Landing with several friends when word of his sister's disappearance reached him. Upon arriving at the Red Keep, Brandon roared for Rhaegar to "come out and die", but the prince was not present. The king had Brandon and his companions—Jeffory Mallister, Kyle Royce, Elbert Arryn, and Ethan Glover—arrested on charges of conspiring against the life of the crown prince, demanding that their fathers present themselves at court to answer for their sons' crimes. When they did so, Aerys had them all executed without a fair trial, aside from Ethan. When Lord Rickard Stark demanded a trial by combat, King Aerys chose fire as his champion. Rickard was burned alive in the throne room by wildfire as Brandon was forced to watch, strapped into a torture device that caused him to strangle himself in his attempts to save his father.[20]

His paranoia still unsatisfied, Aerys ordered Lord Jon Arryn to send him the heads of Lyanna's next brother, Eddard Stark, now the Lord of Winterfell, and Lyanna's fiancé, Lord Robert Baratheon of Storm's End, who were present with Jon at the Eyrie. Lord Arryn refused to kill his former wards, however, and raised his banners in revolt.[4]

Robert's Rebellion

Mad King Aerys, by Jake Murray © Fantasy Flight Games

Aerys's acts triggered a chain of events that would become known as the War of the Usurper to Targaryen loyalists and Robert's Rebellion to those who fought on the rebel side. Houses Arryn,[37] Stark,[19] and Baratheon,[19] and later on in the war also Houses Tully[38] and Greyjoy,[39] united in rebellion against the Iron Throne.[14] Houses Tyrell[40] and Martell remained loyal to Aerys,[41] however, and House Lannister stayed neutral for most of the conflict.[19]

Aerys's Hand at the start of the rebellion was still Lord Owen Merryweather, but he was quickly replaced for his failure to act to contain the unrest in its early stages. Aerys next turned to Lord Jon Connington of Griffin's Roost, a close friend of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Jon promised to deliver Robert's head, but he was exiled by Aerys after losing to rebel forces at Stoney Sept in the Battle of the Bells.[30]

As his next Hand, Aerys chose Lord Qarlton Chelsted.[42] By this point, the king was becoming fearful of a rebel victory, and he hatched the wildfire plot, a plan to gain a final revenge against his enemies in the event that they took the capital. He ordered pyromancers to create a massive reserve of wildfire and secret it around King's Landing, plotting to burn down the entire city and kill all its inhabitants rather than allow Robert to have it intact. Upon discovering the plot, Lord Chelsted confronted Aerys and, when he realized the king could not be dissuaded, resigned his position in disgust, flinging his chain of office at the king's feet. Aerys had him burned alive. The Alchemists' Guild had enjoyed royal favor ever since the Defiance of Duskendale owing to the king's obsession with wildfire, and Aerys appointed the head of the guild, Rossart, his final Hand.[41]

After the Battle of the Trident, in which Prince Rhaegar was slain by Robert and the royal army defeated, a rebel victory was all but certain.[43] Aerys sent Queen Rhaella Targaryen (then newly pregnant with Princess Daenerys) and Prince Viserys to Dragonstone for their own safety. However, he kept Rhaegar's widow, Princess Elia Martell, and her young children, Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon, with him at the Red Keep, believing they were necessary as hostages to ensure the loyalty of House Martell and Dorne.[44]

Sack of King's Landing

Jaime Lannister kills Aerys during the Sack of King's Landing, by Michael Komarck © Green Ronin

Hours before the vanguard of Lord Eddard Stark's rebel host would arrive, twelve thousand westermen under Lord Tywin Lannister reached King's Landing and pledged their loyalty to King Aerys.[19] Lord Varys advised the king not to admit them to the city, but Grand Maester Pycelle argued that the Warden of the West had come to help Aerys. The king made the fateful choice to listen to Pycelle, and opened the city gates.[41] The Lannister forces then began the Sack of King's Landing, however.

Realizing this was the end, Aerys summoned Lord Rossart and Ser Jaime Lannister, the last remaining Kingsguard knight in the city. Aerys had retained Jaime throughout the war to ensure Tywin's loyalty, though up until that point House Lannister had been neutral in the rebellion. Jaime would later remark upon the irony of the Mad King's belief that he could not be harmed if he kept Jaime close. Aerys commanded Jaime to kill his father, then gave Lord Rossart the long-awaited order to ignite the wildfire caches and burn the city to the ground.[41] Jaime later suggested that much like his mad great-uncle Aerion the Monstrous before him, Aerys held the delusional belief that he would not die in the inferno, but rather would be transformed by the flames into a dragon, giving him the power to crush his enemies.[41]

To prevent the wildfire plot from being carried out, Jaime slew Rossart near a postern gate, and he returned to the throne room to find Aerys pacing by himself. The king released his bowels and fled for the Iron Throne when he realized that Jaime had killed Rossart, but the Kingsguard pulled him off the steps and cut his throat.[20][12][41] Meanwhile, Princess Elia of Dorne and Aerys's grandchildren, Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon Targaryen, were killed by Ser Amory Lorch and Ser Ser Gregor Clegane in Maegor's Holdfast.[45] Jaime later hunted down the pyromancers Belis and Garigus, but he never publicly revealed the wildfire plot[41] and his killing of Aerys earned him the epithet "Kingslayer".[46]

Robert I Baratheon claimed the Iron Throne, and the reign of the Targaryen dynasty was ended.[47] In return for their fealty, those pardoned by King Robert included Jaime,[6] Pycelle,[48] Varys,[48] and Ser Barristan Selmy.[48] Aerys's wife, Queen Rhaella Targaryen, died in childbirth at Dragonstone, but Ser Willem Darry fled with Prince Viserys Targaryen and the infant Daenerys Targaryen for the Braavosian Coastland before the assault on Dragonstone by Robert's brother, Lord Stannis Baratheon.[47]

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

Aerys's daughter Daenerys holding a dragon egg, by Gabrielle Portal © Fantasy Flight Games

Viserys Targaryen, the Beggar King, has raised his younger sister, Daenerys, in exile in the Free Cities, and he desires to avenge their father by one day killing Ser Jaime Lannister.[47] Daenerys weds Khal Drogo outside Pentos.[49]

Lord Eddard Stark, the new Hand of the King for his friend Robert I Baratheon, mentions Aerys's crimes when objecting to Robert's plan to assassinate Daenerys, who is now pregnant in Essos.[50]

Viserys is killed by Drogo at Vaes Dothrak.[51] After Drogo and their child die on the Dothraki sea, Daenerys, now the last of House Targaryen,[52] emerges from Drogo's funeral pyre with three living dragons.[52]

A Clash of Kings

The War of the Five Kings breaks out in Westeros after Robert's death. An older peasant taken captive by the Mountain's men curses the warring Tullys, Lannisters, and Starks, and he indicates that King Aerys would not have allowed such mistreatment of smallfolk.[23]

In Qarth, Daenerys calls herself Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.[53]

A Storm of Swords

Disguised as "Arstan Whitebeard", Ser Barristan Selmy enters Daenerys's service; Arstan is delicate when speaking with the queen about her controversial father,[54] telling her he gave the Seven Kingdom years of peace.[55] After his identity is revealed in Meereen, Barristan admits to Daenerys that Aerys was mad, like some other Targaryens.[22]

Jaime defends his slaying of the Mad King to Brienne of Tarth.[12]

King Stannis Baratheon tells Ser Davos Seaworth that according to Barristan, the rot in Aerys's reign began with Varys.[6]

Tyrion Lannister warns his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, that the vengeful King Joffrey I Baratheon will become Aerys the Third.[45] After Joffrey's death, a bitter Tyrion tells Jaime, the boy king's biological father, that Joffrey would have been worse than Aerys.[56]

A Feast for Crows

The maester at the Dun Fort tells Brienne about the Defiance of Duskendale, and Brienne recalls that Aerys had been driven by mad by the event, according to the tales of her own maester at Evenfall Hall.[32]

A Dance with Dragons

Young Griff, claimed to be Aerys's grandson Aegon, by Paolo Puggioni © Fantasy Flight Games

Magister Illyrio Mopatis of Pentos, the exiled Lord Jon Connington, and the Golden Company plot to have "Young Griff", whom they claim is Aerys's grandson Aegon Targaryen, marry Daenerys and claim the Iron Throne.[35]

Lord Godric Borrell reveals to Davos that his lordly father could have betrayed Eddard Stark to Aerys for a rich reward at the start of Robert's Rebellion, but he chose not to after learning of Robert's taking of Gulltown.[37]

Barristan tries to explain the actions of Lord Stark to Daenerys, Queen of Meereen, but she is still hostile toward his memory.[57] Barristan later begins to tell his queen about Aerys and his desires for Joanna Lannister, but they are interrupted.[29] Barristan privately doubts his actions at Duskendale, wondering whether Aerys's death in Lord Denys Darklyn's dungeon and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen's ascent to the Iron Throne would not have spared the Seven Kingdoms much grief.[58][36]

Small Council under Aerys II

During the reign of King Aerys, his small council had the following known members:

Office Duration Name
Hand of the King 262 AC - 281 AC Ser/Lord Tywin Lannister
281 AC - 282 AC Lord Owen Merryweather
282 AC - 283 AC Lord Jon Connington
283 AC - 283 AC Lord Qarlton Chelsted
283 AC - 283 AC Wisdom Rossart
Grand Maester 262 AC - 283 AC Pycelle
Master of coin Unknown Lord Qarlton Chelsted
Master of laws Unknown Symond Staunton
Master of ships Unknown - Unknown Lucerys Velaryon
Master of whisperers ±278 AC - 283 AC Varys
Lord Commander of the Kingsguard 262 AC - 283 AC Ser Gerold Hightower

Quotes by Aerys

Let him be king over charred bones and cooked meat. Let him be the king of ashes.[53]

—Aerys to Rossart

I want him dead, the traitor. I want his head, you'll bring me his head, or you'll burn with all the rest. All the traitors.[12]

—Aerys to Jaime Lannister

He'll win no glory here. He's mine now, not Tywin's. He'll serve as I see fit. I am the king. I rule, and he'll obey.[59]

—Aerys regarding Jaime Lannister at the tourney of Harrenhal

You are my most able servant, Tywin, but a man does not marry his heir to his servant's daughter.[31]

—Aerys to Tywin Lannister

Quotes about Aerys

Robert: Seven hells, someone had to kill Aerys! If Jaime hadn't done it, it would have been left for you or me.
Eddard: We were not Sworn Brothers of the Kingsguard.[19]

Eddard: Robert, I ask you, what did we rise against Aerys Targaryen for, if not to put an end to the murder of children?
Robert: To put an end to Targaryens![50]

Joffrey: You can't talk to me that way. The king can do as he likes.
Tyrion: Aerys Targaryen did as he liked. Has your mother ever told you what happened to him?[60]

Kingslayer. And such a king he was! To Aerys Targaryen, the Second of His Name, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. And to the sword that opened his throat. A golden sword, don't you know. Until his blood ran red down the blade. Those are the Lannister colors, red and gold."[20]

Aerys was mad, the whole realm knew it.[20]

Mummers and monkeys require applause. So did Aerys, for that matter.[61]

Jaime: You are not old enough to have known Aerys Targaryen ...

Brienne: Aerys was mad and cruel, no one has ever denied that. He was still king, crowned and anointed. And you had sworn to protect him.

Jaime: I know what I swore.[12]

Barristan: Your father always had a little madness in him, I now believe. Yet he was charming and generous as well, so his lapses were forgiven. His reign began with such promise ... but as the years passed, the lapses grew more frequent, until ...

Daenerys: Do I want to hear this now?
Barristan: Perhaps not. Not now.
Daenerys: Not now. One day. One day you must tell me all. The good and the bad. There is some good to be said of my father, surely?

Barristan: There is, Your Grace.[22]

Somehow he had gotten it in his head that Prince Lewyn must have betrayed Rhaegar on the Trident, but he thought he could keep Dorne loyal so long as he kept Elia and Aegon by his side. The traitors want my city, I heard him tell Rossart, but I'll give them naught but ashes. Let Robert be king over charred bones and cooked meat. The Targaryens never bury their dead, they burn them. Aerys meant to have the greatest funeral pyre of them all.[41]

They said the queen looked as if some beast had savaged her, clawing at her thighs and chewing on her breasts. A crowned beast, Jaime knew.[13]

Jaime Lannister's thoughts


Aegon V
of Oldstones
Jaehaerys II
Aerys II
House Baratheon.svg
zo Loraq


  1. The World of Ice & Fire lists 280 AC in "The Targaryen Kings: Aerys II", but 281 AC in "The Fall of the Dragons: The Year of the False Spring". It is confirmed 280 AC is correct in later editions.


  1. Fire & Blood, The Targaryen Succession.
  2. The World of Ice & Fire, The Westerlands: House Lannister Under the Dragons.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 3.34 3.35 3.36 3.37 3.38 3.39 3.40 3.41 3.42 The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Aerys II.
  4. 4.0 4.1 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 2, Catelyn I.
  5. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 36, Davos IV.
  7. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 66, Tyrion IX.
  8. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 22, Tyrion VI.
  9. See the Aerys II Targaryen calculation.
  10. The World of Ice & Fire, Appendix: Targaryen Lineage.
  11. A Game of Thrones, Appendix.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 12.8 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 11, Jaime II.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 16, Jaime II.
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 The World of Ice & Fire, The Fall of the Dragons: The Year of the False Spring.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 So Spake Martin: Targaryen Kings (November 1, 2005)
  16. The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II.
  17. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 20, Tyrion V.
  18. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 25, The Windblown.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 12, Eddard II.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 55, Catelyn VII.
  21. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 27, Daenerys II.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 71, Daenerys VI.
  23. 23.0 23.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 26, Arya VI.
  24. A Storm of Swords, Epilogue.
  25. The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Aegon V.
  26. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 23, Daenerys IV.
  27. George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Rhaegar Targaryen.
  28. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 38, Tyrion V.
  29. 29.0 29.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 43, Daenerys VII.
  30. 30.0 30.1 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 27, Jaime III.
  31. 31.0 31.1 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei V.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 9, Brienne II.
  33. A Clash of Kings, Prologue.
  34. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 30, Jaime IV.
  35. 35.0 35.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 24, The Lost Lord.
  36. 36.0 36.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 67, The Kingbreaker.
  37. 37.0 37.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 9, Davos I.
  38. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 29, Arya V.
  39. The World of Ice & Fire, The Iron Islands: The Old Way and the New.
  40. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 27, Eddard VI.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 41.4 41.5 41.6 41.7 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 37, Jaime V.
  42. A Dance with Dragons, Epilogue.
  43. The World of Ice & Fire, The Fall of the Dragons: Robert's Rebellion.
  44. The World of Ice & Fire, The Fall of the Dragons: The End.
  45. 45.0 45.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 53, Tyrion VI.
  46. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 5, Jon I.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 3, Daenerys I.
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 45, Eddard XII.
  49. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 11, Daenerys II.
  50. 50.0 50.1 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 33, Eddard VIII.
  51. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 46, Daenerys V.
  52. 52.0 52.1 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 72, Daenerys X.
  53. 53.0 53.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 48, Daenerys IV.
  54. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 8, Daenerys I.
  55. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 23, Daenerys II.
  56. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 77, Tyrion XI.
  57. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 11, Daenerys II.
  58. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 55, The Queensguard.
  59. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 44, Jaime VI.
  60. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 32, Sansa III.
  61. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 4, Tyrion I.

External links

Preceded by 22nd Prince of Dragonstone
259262 AC
Succeeded by
Preceded by 17th
King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men
Lord of the Seven Kingdoms
Protector of the Realm

262283 AC
Succeeded by