Aerys II Targaryen
Aerys II by Amoka©
|Reign||262 AC - 283 AC|
|Full Name||Aerys Targaryen Second of His Name|
The Mad King|
|Titles||King of the Seven Kingdoms|
|Born in||243 AC|
|Died in||283 AC The Red Keep in King's Landing|
|Royal House||House Targaryen|
|Issue||Rhaegar, Viserys, Daenerys.|
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.
Character and appearance
In his youth, Aerys II was charming, generous, handsome and resolute, although somewhat quick to anger. As he grew older, he became increasingly jealous, suspicious and cruel, prone to furious outbursts. After the Defiance of Duskendale, these characteristics became more pronounced. He 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, while never happy, became sexually abusive late in his reign.
By the end of his life, Aerys' madness had taken a serious toll on his appearance, so that although only forty years old at the time of his death, he looked much older. He ate little and became gaunt as a result of his fear of poison. After repeatedly cutting himself on the Iron Throne he developed a phobia about blades, and forbade any sharp implements in his presence other than the swords of his Kingsguard, refusing even to trim his nails or hair. His fingernails grew to nearly a foot long, and his hair and beard hung far past his shoulders in wild tangles. See also this collection of images. He wore the elaborate dragon-emblazoned crown of Aegon IV. 
Aerys was born to Prince Jaehaerys, the second son of King Aegon V. While still a teenager, Aerys was married to his sister Rhaella in accordance with the family tradition of dynastic incest. The marriage was arranged by their grandfather the king, who was motivated by a prophecy that he interpreted to mean the Prince that was Promised would be born of their line. According to Ser Barristan Selmy, who was present at the wedding, there was no fondness between the two siblings.
In 259 AC, Rhaella gave birth to their firstborn son and heir, Rhaegar. He was "born in blood and grief" during the disaster known as the Tragedy of Summerhall, which killed King Aegon V, his heir Prince Duncan, and many others. Aerys' father Jaehaerys ruled for only three years before passing away, and Aerys became King Aerys II. He and Rhaella would later have a second son, Viserys, and eventually a daughter, Daenerys, although the latter would not be born until after her father's death.
Aerys' reign began in 262 AC with great promise. Over the peaceful first dozen years, the realm recovered from the tragic events at Summerhall, growing strong and prosperous. However, problems would arise that eventually transformed the character of Aerys' reign into something very different.
Under his father and grandfather, the royal court at King's Landing had grown stuffy and conservative, filled with hidebound old men. Aerys brought sweeping changes, replacing many prominent officials with younger faces. Impressed by the ruthlessness of the young Lord Tywin Lannister in dealing with rebellion against Casterly Rock, he named Tywin as the King's Hand.
However, Aerys came to regret this choice - not because of any lack of competence on Tywin's part, but rather the opposite. 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. (Lord Tywin's captain of the guard, Ser Ilyn Payne, would eventually lose his tongue at Aerys' command for repeating this boast.) Jealous of the respect and fear accorded to Tywin, Aerys resolved to rely less on his Hand.
In 276 AC, Lord Tywin staged a tourney in the king's honor. There he proposed a marriage between his daughter Cersei and Prince Rhaegar. However, Aerys' 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. Tywin would not forget the insult.
The Defiance of Duskendale
In late 276 AC, Lord Denys Darklyn of Duskendale, possibly influenced by his Myrish wife, withheld port taxes from the crown. Eager to demonstrate his ability to handle the situation without the help of his Hand, Aerys decided to settle the issue personally, a decision that would backfire horribly. Taking a small force that included only one Kingsguard knight, Aerys personally marched to Duskendale to arrest and execute Lord Denys. Denys panicked and took the king prisoner. Lord Tywin was left to resolve the crisis himself, amassing an army and laying siege to the town in what became known as the Defiance of Duskendale. The situation remained in a stalemate for six months, with Denys threatening to execute the king at the first sign that Tywin intended to storm the town. Finally, Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard staged a daring infiltration and managed to rescue the king.
Lord Denys immediately surrendered and begged for mercy, but in his fury Aerys had him immediately beheaded. His rage still not sated, the king ordered House Darklyn utterly destroyed, along with House Hollard, which had sided with them. Every last member of both families was tortured at excruciating length before being burned alive, with the sole exception of the child Dontos Hollard, who was spared only at Ser Barristan's pleading.
These events marked the beginning of Aerys' descent into madness. Deeply shaken by his imprisonment, he refused to leave the Red Keep for many years afterward. His jealous and suspicious nature deepened into paranoia and eventually outright delusions, seeing evidence of treachery everywhere. The king no longer trusted his wife or his heir, and especially not his Hand, all of whom he perceived as having gladly abandoned him to rot away in Duskendale. Hearing word of Varys' talents as an information broker from across the Narrow Sea, he appointed the eunuch his Master of Whispers, believing that only a foreigner with no competing loyalties in Westeros could be trusted to alert him of potential threats. Aerys grew brutal, capricious and increasingly fascinated with fire, especially the highly flammable substance known as wildfire.
Aerys' relations with Lord Tywin deteriorated rapidly. According to Ser Barristan Selmy's account decades later, the situation was exacerbated by Aerys' well-known lust for Tywin's wife, Joanna Lannister. Although Tywin had continued to hope for a marriage between Cersei and Prince Rhaegar after Aerys' insult at Lannisport, two years later Aerys chose to tie Dorne more closely to the Iron Throne by marrying Rhaegar to Elia Martell. Later, Aerys appointed Tywin's eldest (and only able-bodied) son Jaime as the youngest knight ever to join the Kingsguard. Both Tywin and 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. Furious, Tywin found a thin pretext to resign his position and returned to Casterly Rock. Aerys appointed as his replacement Lord Owen Merryweather, 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 War of the Usurper
The first time Aerys finally left the Red Keep again would be to attend the Tourney at Harrenhal in 281 AC. He did so only at the urging of Varys, who claimed Prince Rhaegar planned to use the tournament as a pretext to recruit lords with the intent of taking his father's throne. 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 no evidence was found. Rhaegar went on to win the tournament and shocked all present by crowning Lyanna Stark, rather than Princess Elia, his Queen of Love and Beauty.
Some time afterward, Prince Rhaegar disappeared with Lyanna, apparently having kidnapped her. Her eldest brother Brandon rode to King's Landing with several friends. Arriving at the Red Keep, Brandon roared for Rhaegar to "come out and die." As it turned out, Rhaegar was not present -- but Aerys was. The king had Brandon and his companions 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 trial. Lord Rickard Stark was burned alive by wildfire as Brandon watched, strapped into a torture device that caused him to strangle himself in his struggles to save his father. His paranoia still unsatisfied, the king ordered Lord Jon Arryn to send him the heads of his two wards, Eddard Stark and Lyanna's fiance Robert Baratheon, both of whom he believed to be guilty of participating in the "conspiracy" on account of their ties with the Stark family. Arryn refused, and the king's brutal 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 other side. House Arryn, House Stark, House Baratheon and House Tully all rebelled against the Iron Throne, uniting behind the claim of Robert Baratheon, who was descended from royal blood through his grandmother Rhaelle Targaryen, the king's aunt.
Aerys' Hand at the start of the rebellion was still 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, a close friend of Rhaegar's, but he lost to rebel forces at Stoney Sept in the Battle of the Bells and was replaced by Lord Qarlton Chelsted. By this point the king was becoming fearful of a rebel victory, and hatched 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 secrete it around King's Landing, plotting to burn down the entire city and kill all its half a million 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 positon 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.
After the Battle of the Trident, in which Prince Rhaegar was slain and the royal army defeated, a rebel victory was all but certain. Aerys sent Queen Rhaella (then newly pregnant with Princess Daenerys) and Prince Viserys to Dragonstone to escape the coming Sack of King's Landing. However, he kept Princess Elia and her young children Rhaenys and Aegon with him at the Red Keep, believing they were necessary as hostages to ensure the loyalty of House Martell and Dorne. This decision would ultimately lead to their brutal deaths at the hands of Ser Amory Lorch and Ser Gregor Clegane.
Hours before the vanguard of Eddard Stark's rebel host would arrive, twelve thousand Westerland troops under Tywin Lannister reached King's Landing and pledged their loyalty to King Aerys. Varys advised the king not to admit them to the city, but Grand Maester Pycelle argued that the Lannisters should be trusted. Aerys made the fateful choice to listen to Pycelle, and opened the city gates. The Lannister forces promptly began sacking the city in the name of King Robert.
Realizing this was the end, Aerys summoned Lord Rossart and Ser Jaime Lannister, the last remaining Kingsguard knight. He commanded Ser Jaime to kill his father, then gave Rossart the long-awaited order to ignite the wildfire caches and burn the city to the ground, saying, "Let [Robert] be king over charred bones and cooked meat. Let him be king of ashes." 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. However, before the plot could be carried out, Jaime slew Lord Rossart and then King Aerys, preventing the orders from reaching anyone else and thus saving the entire population of King's Landing. Robert Baratheon claimed the Iron Throne, and the reign of the Targaryen dynasty was ended.
Quotes about Aerys
"Aerys was mad, the whole realm knew it"
"Aerys was mad and cruel, no one has ever denied that".
"Those purple eyes grew huge then, and the royal mouth drooped open in shock. He lost control of his bowels, turned and ran for the Iron Throne. Beneath the empty eyes of the skulls, Jaime hauled the last dragonking bodily off the steps, squealing like a pig and smelling like a privy. A single slash across his throat was all it took to end it. So easy, he remembered thinking. A king should die harder than this".
"Aerys would have flinched away in horror, likely cutting himself on the barbs of the Iron Throne, then shrieked at his swordsmen to cut the Yunkishmen to pieces."
The Game of Thrones TV series deviated from the books by removing Aerys's father Jaehaerys II Targaryen and making him son of King Aegon V Targaryen, rather than his grandson. The reason for this appears to be to simplify the relationship between Maester Aemon and the other Targaryens.
Additionally, an actor was cast to play Aerys II in a flashback in Season 1, but the scene was cut for time and pacing.
References and Notes
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 16, Jaime II.
- Targaryen Kings. (November 1, 2005) So Spake Martin
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 67, The Kingbreaker.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 3, Daenerys I.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 55, Catelyn VII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 11, Jaime II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 59, The Discarded Knight.