“Burn them all!”
Aerys II Targaryen was one of the worst kings in the history of Westeros, and his insanity led half of the continent to rebel against him. He was famously killed, not in battle against Robert Baratheon, but murdered in the Red Keep by Jaime Lannister, a member of his own Kingsguard. Nearly three centuries of Targaryen rule and power ended because this one king’s madness was too intolerable. But how did Aerys go from the start of his reign to the bloody end of it? What made the Mad King go mad? Find out more about him below.
1. Only Two Grandparents? Ew…
Aerys II was the seventeenth king of the Iron Throne. He was the son of Jaehaerys and Shaera Targaryen. His two grandparents were Aegon V Targaryen and Betha Blackwood, and his parents were brother and sister.
2. It’s a Date
Aerys was born in 244 AC (“After the Conquest”), in the reign of his grandparents. His sister, and eventual wife, Rhaella, was born two years later.
3. Friendships for a Lifetime
When he was a boy, Aerys befriended two other boys who were serving as pages at the royal court. Both were heirs to the positions of Lord Paramount in their respective regions. One was Steffon Baratheon, and the other was Tywin Lannister.
4. Returning to Tradition
Despite the years and years of incestuous marriages within House Targaryen, Aerys’s parents, Jaehaerys and Shaera, had to elope in order to be together. This was because Aerys’s grandfather, King Aegon V, was disgusted by the practice of incest and had engaged all his children to members of other Great Houses in an effort to secure his authority without the power of dragons. However, Jaehaerys and Shaera desired each other so much that they defied their father’s will, getting married in secret. Aegon was forced to accept his children’s decision and had to make amends to House Tully and House Tyrell for the broken engagements (thankfully, no Red Weddings happened as a result).
5. What a Promising Young Man!
In his youth, Aerys was actually considered to be an extremely charming young man. While he wasn’t particularly intellectual or very attentive to his duties, people couldn’t deny that he had real charisma. Oh, how times changed.
6. Starting Young
Aerys became king at the young age of 18 when his father died of an illness. Jaehaerys II had only ruled for three years before his untimely death.
7. No Need for Love in a Marriage
Unlike their incestuous parents, the teenaged Aerys and Rhaella were completely uninterested in each other, but their father forced them to marry anyway. This was because Jaehaerys heard a prophecy that the line of Aerys and Rhaella would produce “the prince that was promised.” Aegon V was opposed to the idea of his grandchildren getting into a loveless marriage, but he made no effort to prevent his son’s decision. We have yet to see if that was a good or bad decision.
8. Generals Gathered in Their Masses…
In 258 AC, word reached King Aegon V that a group of mercenaries and pirates formed the Band of Nine. One of these was Maelys Blackfyre, the last of the Blackfyre Pretenders. By the time of Aerys’ father, King Jaehaerys II, the Band of Nine were poised to bring war to the Seven Kingdoms. Aerys was among the forces of Westeros who were sent to fight in what became known as the War of the Ninepenny Kings (as the Band of Nine were mockingly called).
9. I Dub Thee Ser Aerys
Aerys was only a squire when he fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, but he carried himself with such distinction that by the end of the war, he was given his knighthood at just sixteen years of age. Aerys requested that he be knighted by his friend, Tywin Lannister.
10. Welcome, Eunuch
Most people are familiar with Varys, the cunning eunuch who seems to know everything going on in Westeros and Essos. What you might not know was that it was specifically King Aerys who invited the Spider to come to King’s Landing and serve on the Small Council as Master of Whisperers. Varys would go on to serve him until Aerys’ death during Robert’s Rebellion.
11. That’s a Good Idea!
Aerys famously appointed Jaime Lannister to become a member of the Kingsguard, with many saying this was done to snub Tywin by robbing him of his talented son. However, it was actually a plot by Cersei to prevent Jaime being married off to Lysa Tully! Cersei had gone to Aerys in secret, feeding the idea of appointing Jaime to the Kingsguard so that they could both be in King’s Landing without arousing suspicion. The plan backfired, however, when Tywin was so infuriated by Jaime’s appointment that he resigned his position as Hand of the King and returned to Casterly Rock, taking Cersei with him.
12. I’ll Show You Who’s King!
Some of you might remember Ilyn Payne, the silent executioner who cut off Ned Stark’s head in the first season of Game of Thrones. It turns out that he’s silent because Aerys ordered the man’s tongue to be ripped out with hot pincers! He’d heard Ilyn Payne was making jokes about his lord, Tywin Lannister, being the true ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.
13. What’s the Most You Ever Lost in a Coin Toss?
The Mad King was said to have been inflicted by the Targaryen Madness, which regularly appeared in certain members of the Royal House. According to tradition, madness and greatness were considered to be two sides of the same coin. Therefore, whenever a Targaryen baby is born, the gods flip the coin to see whether they will be great or mad. It’s a romantic idea, but the madness was just as often blamed on the Targaryen practice of incest.
14. Hey Buddy! Come Serve Me!
When Aerys first became king, he removed many of the old men who made up his father’s court and replaced them with younger faces like himself. One of these men was Tywin Lannister. Aerys saw how effectively Tywin had defeated the rebellious Reynes and Tarbecks in the Westerlands and decided that he was the man to be his Hand of the King. It was ultimately the best decision Aerys ever made in his life—but he soon regretted it bitterly.
15. Same Crown, Same Kind of King
In a rather interesting in-joke, Aerys II wore the same crown as his ancestor, Aegon IV Targaryen. Due to his cruelty, utter selfishness, and gluttonous appetite for food, wine, and women, he was called Aegon the Unworthy. How fitting that another unworthy king should wear his elaborate and heavily bejeweled crown!
16. He Gets Around
Speaking of Aegon the Unworthy, Aerys II shared his ancestor’s appetite for beautiful women, especially since he was in an unhappy marriage to his own sister! In the early years of his reign, Aerys was very active in running a court filled with the most attractive women in Westeros. It was even rumored that he had as many mistresses as Aegon the Unworthy (over 900, so the story goes).
17. Now if Only He Could Stop Sitting on a Throne of Swords!
Over time, Aerys developed a phobia for sharp objects (maybe something to do with those scabs?). This also fed into his paranoia that he was surrounded by enemies. As a result, he refused to shave or even cut his fingernails, giving him an appearance which at least let people know what kind of a man they were dealing with. He even forbade any blades in his presence unless they were the swords of the Kingsguard. Rather ironic how that turned out…
18. Tragic Losses
Although Rhaegar Targaryen was a healthy child, Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen were less successful after that. Between 263 and 274 AC, the couple suffered three miscarriages, two stillbirths, and three children who died within a year of their birth.
19. It’s You! It’s Her! No, it’s Me!
Aerys eventually gave up his womanizing ways completely in 275 AC after he’d run the gamut of sympathizing with his wife over their lost children, to suspecting her of infidelity, to accusing his mistresses of conspiring to kill his legitimate children, to believing that his own infidelity was being punished by the gods. He forsook all women apart from his wife from that day forward. Nice that he remained faithful, even if the reasoning was a bit off.
20. Attention Deficit?
Aerys had initially come to the throne with great ambitions. One of them was to build a second Wall further north of the first and claim all the lands in between. Another was to build an underwater canal beneath the deserts of Dorne to fertilize the sand. He also spoke of conquering the Stepstones or invading Braavos with a vast fleet of ships. However, Aerys always lost interest in his grand schemes before he could even begin to make them work out.
21. How Dare He Do a Good Job!
While Aerys floundered and flitted around, Tywin served competently as Hand of the King, to the point where men said it was Tywin who really ruled the Seven Kingdoms. Aerys heard these stories and quips, and he quickly grew jealous of Tywin. Aerys would even work to undermine Tywin’s efforts to try and make himself look good and would reward men who could crack a good joke at Tywin’s expense in court.
22. Died Young
Believe it or not, Aerys was only forty years old when he was killed. However, his appearance was so ghastly and unkempt that he seemed much older than that.
23. My New Best Friend!
In 278 AC, growing increasingly distant from Tywin, even insulting him on a near daily basis, Aerys sent his old friend Steffon on a mission to find his son, Rhaegar, a bride of Valyrian blood from Essos. Steffon took his wife with him, leaving his three sons behind at Storm’s End. The rumor was that Aerys planned to appoint Steffon his new Hand of the King if he proved successful and have Tywin arrested and executed.
24. Where’s My Tin-Foil Hat?!
Whether Aerys would really have had Tywin replaced with Steffon Baratheon is mere speculation. Steffon failed to find anyone suitable for Rhaegar Targaryen, and when he and his wife sailed home, they were caught in a storm just off of Storm’s End. Before the eyes of their eldest sons, Robert and Stannis Baratheon, Steffon and his wife Cassana drowned. In his surprise and paranoia, Aerys began to suspect Tywin of having arranged for the ship to sink.
25. Family Feud
As for Rhaegar, Aerys ended up betrothing him to Princess Elia Martell of Dorne. However, relations between father and son were so strained by that point that Rhaegar preferred to live with his wife on Dragonstone instead of King’s Landing. Aerys did nothing to help matters; when his first grandchild was born, he famously didn’t even hold her, claiming that she “smelled Dornish.” Yeah, we’d keep our distance from that kind of father too.
26. Forget About Gramps
Aerys’ grandfather, King Aegon V, had made many enemies amongst the nobles of Westeros for pushing through several laws which protected the rights of peasants and “smallfolk” in an effort to improve their lot in life. Aerys’ Hand of the King, Tywin, removed those laws to reconcile the lords of Westeros to the Iron Throne. If Aerys had any objection to the gutting of his grandfather’s legacy, he certainly didn’t bring it up!
27. Is That You?
In the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Bran has a series of flashbacks, wherein Aerys the Mad King makes a cameo. He’s played by actor David Rintoul in the flashback. In a departure from the books, Aerys is depicted as being clean-shaven, as opposed to the long filthy beard that the Mad King grew throughout his life.
28. Helicopter Parent
Interestingly, Aerys’ renewed faithfulness to his wife was rewarded with a successful birth in 276 AC. Viserys was a healthy child, but Aerys was so paranoid for his son’s safety that he had members of his Kingsguard stand over Viserys’ cradle night and day. Not even Viserys’ own mother was allowed to be alone with him!
29. A Defiant Lord
In 277 AC, a crisis emerged when Lord Denys Darklyn of Duskendale wanted a charter for his town to become more independent from the Iron Throne’s rule. Tywin opposed the charter, but by that point, his relationship with Aerys was so famously bad that Lord Darklyn simply got the king involved, inviting him to Duskendale so they could settle this properly. Tywin advised Aerys not to go, which sealed the deal for Aerys.
30. It’s a Trap!
As you can imagine, Aerys riding to Duskendale to personally settle the issue of taxes and the charter did not lead to a good resolution. The Darklyns captured Aerys and imprisoned him, using him as a hostage. A standoff took place for six months until Ser Barristan Selmy (the knight who’d killed Maelys Blackfyre) went on a successful covert mission to free Aerys from his dungeon and sneak him out of Duskendale.
31. No Hard Feelings Right?
With Aerys liberated, the Darklyns quickly surrendered and begged for mercy. By that point, Aerys’s imprisonment had placed him firmly on the path to madness, and mercy was a foreign word. The entire Darklyn family was wiped out, as were the Hollard family. Only one Hollard family member, Dontos, was spared, because Ser Barristan Selmy pled for the boy’s life. Dontos later—somewhat ironically—became involved in the plot to kill Joffrey Baratheon, the (supposed) son of the very man who overthrew Aerys.
32. Thanks, Uncle Duncan!
Interestingly, Aerys wasn’t originally meant to be king! His father, Jaehaerys was only the second son of Aegon V. However, Aegon V’s eldest son, Duncan Targaryen, abdicated from his position as heir to the Iron Throne when he defied his father by abandoning his arranged marriage for a common girl named Jenny of Oldstones. A war began with the Stormlands due to this insult, with Aegon V eventually making a second arrangement where his daughter, Rhaelle, married Ormund Baratheon, a union which produced Steffon Baratheon.
33. Second Cousin to be Removed
There is actually a double irony in the fact that Robert’s grandmother was Aerys’ aunt. Not only did Robert rebel against his distant family, but he also used his link to them as a justification for himself to become king after he deposed Aerys (though admittedly, it was Jaime who did the dirty work).
34. Heck No!
Before Aerys had found a bride for Rhaegar, Tywin Lannister had proposed his daughter, Cersei, as a potential wife. Aerys infamously snubbed Tywin, declaring that he wouldn’t wed his son to his servant’s daughter. Safe to say that kind of insult made things worse between them.
35. Secret Scene
According to George R.R. Martin, a flashback scene had been filmed for the first season of Game of Thrones wherein Aerys oversees the brutal executions of Ned Stark’s father and brother. Liam Burke played the Mad King in this scene. However, despite it being used in the trailers for the first season, it was ultimately cut.
36. Ominous Omen
Aerys’ son, Rhaegar, was born on a rather infamous day. Aerys’ grandfather, King Aegon V, assembled friends and family to try and resurrect dragons for the first time since they died out after the Dance of the Dragons. However, the experiment turned disastrous, with many dying in a brutal fire which also destroyed the castle Summerhall, where the ritual took place. Rhaegar wasn’t just born on the same day as the tragedy, he was actually born at Summerhall itself!
37. That’s an Awkward Look
During his lifetime, Aerys became known as the Mad King by many in the realm of Westeros. A lesser-known nickname that he gained was “King Scab” due to the fact that he frequently cut himself on the sharp parts of the Iron Throne, covering his body in seeping wounds.
38. I Am the God of Hellfire!
As Aerys descended further into madness, he began to become obsessed with fire, specifically “wildfire,” a napalm-like substance, for its similarities to dragon flames. Aerys would execute people by burning them alive, to the point where he became sexually aroused by the sight of men burning. If you think we’re joking, Aerys raped his wife, Rhaella (supposedly conceiving Daenerys Targaryen) during Robert’s Rebellion after he’d burned a member of his council alive.
39. Famous Last Words
Speaking of Aerys’ fire obsession, his final words of “Burn them all!” were meant as an order to his advisors to set off barrels of wildfire which he’d ordered placed all around King’s Landing. When the forces of Tywin Lannister took control of King’s Landing and started looting, Aerys prepared to destroy the city and everyone in it in a blaze of fire. Jaime Lannister, who had urged the king to surrender, took matters in his own hands and murdered the pyromancer and Aerys before the orders could be carried out.
Stannis Baratheon was mightily impressed by King Aerys when he first went to court as a child. He saw the king on the Iron Throne and was impressed with how noble he seemed. This image was shattered when Stannis’ father had pointed out that he was looking at Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King. Aerys had cut himself on the Iron Throne again that day, so he took the rest of the day off from ruling.
41. You ARE the Father!
One of the biggest fan theories associated with the A Song of Ice and Fire series is that Aerys had an affair with Tywin’s wife, Joanna Lannister, taking her virginity before she married Tywin. The result of this affair, depending on who you ask, was Tyrion Lannister or the twins Jaime and Cersei. Given the twins’ propensity for incest, Cersei’s hints of madness and egomania, and Jaime being told by his aunt that “Tyrion is Tywin’s son, not you,” most find it fitting if the twins are secret Targaryens. This, of course, means that not only was Aerys killed by his own bodyguard, but his own biological son!
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