Dancing With Dragons: Born To Be Mad
Throughout the fantasy genre, madness is as common as it is throughout history, looking at the kings and queens of old.
Madness in monarchical history is just so frequent and begs the question, what truly is madness? Is it a repercussion of interbreeding? Or is it power-hungry lords making accusations so they can sit the throne? And even in great American novels like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, madness is shown to be relative, as characters were admitted to the mental asylum for reasons that went against society’s “values” driven by fear.
Most of the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are thought to be mentally ill, but the novel implies that there’s a fine line between sanity and insanity / normal and abnormal. What defines normality and who gives those people the right to define it in the way they do? And the common denominator is fear. Harding is there because of his repressed homosexuality. Billy Bibbit is there because he has a stutter and doesn’t have the guts to deal with the outside world, so he’s reduced to this institution and labelled “crazy.”
Madness in The Hobbit by J. R. R Tolkien (and the films) is shown through imagined peoples and creatures. Durin’s Folk are referenced for being susceptible to madness. More specifically, the father and grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield — Thráin and Thrór. Originally, Durin’s Folk lived in Moria, in the Misty Mountains, led by Durin I (The Deathless) and was succeeded by six more Durins, ending with Durin VII (The Last). But the most famous of that line has to be Thorin, leading a company of dwarves to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, the worst calamity of their age.
At Battle of Azanulbizar, Thrór was killed by the pale orc, Azog The Defiler and it was here that Thorin proved his quality, removing Azog’s arm.
Following the battle, Thráin became more and more obsessed with the riches that lie with Smaug in Erebor. The next forty years sent his mind into an abyss. And as king, Thorin’s grandfather, Thrór contracted dragonsickness, becoming so obsessed with gold and power that he couldn’t see past his own desire. And when the Arkenstone was found, he cared for nothing else.
“Yes! Yes, I’m afraid! I fear for YOU, Thorin. A sickness lies on that treasure, a sickness that drove your grandfather mad” — Balin
In A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R Martin and the TV show Game of Thrones, loosely adapted from those novels, House Targaryen is dedicated to madness. Much alike how many royal families in our world have danced with madness, House Targaryen was plagued with it. Many believe the Targaryens carry it in their bloodline. Many called it “the taint” and we see this in the story of Daenerys, as she unravels throughout the show, ending season eight by burning King’s Landing to the ground, so she can be Queen of The Ashes.
Some aren’t born mad but they can develop into it. This can be when they are subjected to things like trauma. Aerys II Targaryen AKA The Mad King, at the Defiance of Duskensale, is one such example. Madness does not always have to be foolish acts of behaviour or mental derangement. It can be having extreme reactions to things. When Aerys was taken hostage by Lord Denys Darklyn, his response was to execute Darklyn and the immediate Darklyn line, including his distant relatives living in Duskendale.
Viserys (son of Aerys) is said to be very much like his father, even showing “the taint.” Simply how he treats his sister and lashing out with violence when he doesn’t get what he wants, even trying to claim Daenerys’ virginity.
While Viserys had eyes for Dany, even if it was out of resentment of having to give her to Drogo, Aerys had eyes for Joanna Lannister, the wife of his Hand, Tywin Lannister. Moreover, Viserys’ reactions to Dany being anything more than oppressed is always violent. For her to be the best version of herself, whilst he’s sidelined — he did not like that. Both had been passed around, and for him (the male heir) to be told no, in favour of her, it unlocked “the taint.”
In comparison, when the Arkenstone was found, something unlocked inside Thrór, and not for the better. All the great families of Middle Earth were in awe of what he possessed. The power corrupted him. And the same nearly happened to Thorin when they reclaimed Erebor. Before that, he was bitter but still humble. He wanted to do right by his people. And the gold nearly sent him mad. He nearly lost his mind, as his father and grandfather did.
What of your conscience? Does it not tell you our cause is just? My people offered you help and in return you only brought upon them ruin and death. — Bard
When Laketown was assaulted by Smaug, Bard demands Thorin pay for the damage. Thorin turns him away, thinking he is above that, drunk on power. As guests of the men and women of Laketown, Thorin gave them his word — that he’d share the wealth of the mountain if their mission was successful.
Ser Barristan Selmy served many monarchs in his time, pledging himself to Dany as well. He spies on her to see if she shows any evidence of showing “the taint,” as his alter ego Arstan Whitebeard. Until now, she believed that people were spreading lies about her father. She had no clue about the extent of her father’s insanity and the trait that has come to define her bloodline.
“Your father was not the first. King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”
Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, has his reservations about marrying her too. He, like everyone else in Westeros knows the stories about House Targaryen. Aerys had exiled two Hands and burned another. He was nervous about Dany’s character and what could possibly happen to her in the future.
Robert’s Rebellion was ultimately started because Aerys murdered Rickard Stark and his son Brandon, not because Rhaegar had run away with Lyanna. Whilst Rhaegar had runaway with her, the murder of the Starks was not something that could easily have been forgiven. The Rhaegar-Lyanna debacle could have been settled had the king not killed Brandon and his father. The King could have locked them in a cell. This is what the rational mind would do. He was anything but rational. He was a time bomb ticking away, burning anyone that disagreed with him.
When Dany lets allows Khal Drogo kill Viserys, this was the first domino. From then on, she killed with ease. Almost always the guilty. From the Astapori slave masters to the Dothraki lords that raped women because they could. People claim her as a pillar of morality but she’s as murderous as everyone else in Westeros. She’s just as culpable in that culture, the only difference being the other houses don’t burn whole cities.
Arianne Martell: She is the Mad King’s daughter…How do we do know —
Ser Daemon Sand: We cannot know, we can only hope (that Daenerys doesn’t have the taint)
Arianne, The Winds Of Winter
Her ancestor Maegor ‘The Cruel’ Targaryen was awful, truly. He was a menace to society and a sociopath through and through. Joffrey, Craster, Ramsay, Euron — they don’t have anything on this guy. Words has it, that Visenya conceived him through magic and dark arts (like Melisandre’s demon baby).
In A World of Ice and Fire, she called in Maegi when Maegor was on his deathbed. In the next moment, he’s healthy as can be. After this point, he was a tyrant. Before reanimation, he was manageable. His former-self was killed and another was born. He was always a loose cannon but it’s the revival that tipped him over the edge. Not too dissimilar to what Cersei had Qyburn do to Ser Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) in creating Ser Robert Strong. And to think Joffrey idolised the man, that’s when you know something’s truly up!
“Now people name Maegor, “the Cruel”, but I doubt any dared in his day. His strength was all too rare in the degenerate Targaryen blood.”
Donned, “Baelor The Befuddled” by Tyrion, they say Baelor ‘The Blessed’ Targaryen lost his mind after the Second Dornish War. He’s most famous for the Sept in King’s Landing, the one that Cersei razed with wildfire. He suffered from snakebites and hallucinations. Many thought that was cause for madness. And as his reign continued, he became more erratic, even walking to Dorne to free his kinsmen, Prince Aemon Targaryen of the Kingsguard.
Aerion “Brightflame” Targaryen AKA Aerion The Monstrous was the second son of Maekar Targaryen. Aerion was cruel, arrogant and was hated by his brother Aegon, as he had flung his brother’s pet cat down a well (sounds like Joffrey!) Once, he visited Aegon’s bedroom at night, placing a blade to his brother’s regional parts and joked about castrating him, so he would become a sister he could marry. Aerion plays a false self in front of his father, and his true self to everyone else. Aerion met his end when he tried to turn himself into a dragon by drinking wildfire, taking his house words to heart.
In the wake of the last three seasons, we now know that Jon Snow was the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. We know that his real name is Aegon Targaryen. We also know that he was revived after that cliffhanger ending at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Was he reborn amidst salt and smoke? In my opinion, yes — in the aftermath of tears and the burning of the dead so they don’t become reanimated wights, as part of the Others’ army.
As far as the books are concerned, who is to say that Jon couldn’t have the taint? He was revived by dark magic and he’s a Targaryen, at least in-part. Though, Rhaegar didn’t either, did he? He was loved by everyone. However, Jon is every bit a Stark. He certainly is Ned Stark’s son, in practice. Is he the Prince that was Promised? Is he Azor Ahai? Is he the song of ice and fire?
Even Stannis has shown what they call “the taint.” However, that label seems very bias against members of House Targaryen, doesn’t it? And House Baratheon was founded by Orys, the bastard brother of Aegon the Conqueror.
In the show, Stannis burnt his own daughter and many lords to death in the knowledge that it would put him on the Iron Throne. But really he did it because Melisandre told him to. The things people do in this series in the name of religion is in direct parallel to history. Similar to the Ironborn and the Drowned God — Thoros and R’hllor and High Sparrow with the Faith Militant. Religion is not a guide to ethics. He was my king but his journey was one of method into madness.
I don’t believe the Targaryens were really mad. The only truly mad one was Aerys — the paranoia, the burning of his friends and the nonsensical thinking.
The ones I have mentioned weren’t crazy. They were just bloodthirsty and had no ethical limits. They knew exactly what they were doing. They conducted acts of horror but it was more often acts of arrogance or tragedy. There is magic in Valyrian blood. Due to that, it could be argued that there’s a hostility in House Targaryen. Or could this be due to the dragons disappearing?