The Lessons of History: George R. R. Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen” and “A Song of Ice and Fire”

Much after the fact, Archmaester Gyldayn writes a history of “The Dance of the Dragons” – the Targaryen civil war that virtually extinguished their dragons and consumed almost an entire generation of the family while inflicting lots of collateral damage on the “small folk” of Westeros. After reading this “history”, one is somewhat numb from the utter pointlessness of it all. Even Rhaenyra, who begins the story as the sympathetic victim of sexism and a Hightower coup d’état, becomes entirely unsympathetic as she becomes a murderous tyrant. It is understandable given the loss of almost all of her children and inexplicable betrayals, but it is still a purely tragic story that even the stunning combat sequences between dragon riders cannot overcome. War is hell indeed. One may understandably ask, what is the point of it all? Is it just another anti-Vietnam entry in the Martin pantheon? Should his mantra be “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”?


In addition to the typical Martin goriness, betrayal, and unfairness of feudalism and the patriarchy, there is a great deal of important information in the tale. Martin was quite correct to state that it needed telling before the sixth and seventh books come out. (Talk about a dream of spring!) Unfortunately, like most things concerning “A Song of Ice and Fire”, there is a lot of chaff out there. We need to sort through it to find the kernels of truth.


1) There is a maester/septon/Hightower conspiracy against the Targaryens and their dragons.


See the Preston Jacobs You Tube videos for this one, but I will summarize for the present purposes. At the time of the conquest, the three major institutions of Westeros – the Faith of the Seven, the Citadel with its maesters, and the Hightowers – were all headquartered in Oldtown. Due to a prophecy and common sense, all three groups decided not to oppose the Targaryens directly. Instead they worked to combat the Targaryens indirectly. After Maegor the Cruel used Balerion to destroy the Faith Militant (mostly), the Faith had to operate more subtly. All three groups worked together extremely well to bring about the Dance of the Dragons.


Using their control over communications, medicine, and advice to lords like the Baratheons, the maesters sowed discord, conducted espionage, and solicited betrayal as they occasionally poisoned and otherwise interfered with Targaryen family affairs. The Hightowers under Otto Hightower, Hand of the King, created a succession crisis and set up the rivalry between Aegon, son of Viserys and his second wife, Alicent Hightower also daughter of Otto, and Princess Rhaenyra. The septons stirred up the population of Westeros, most notably in King’s Landing where they slaughtered the dragons in the Dragon Pit; coopted various Targaryens into the faith like Baelor and turned female Targaryens into septas; and advised on marriages to manipulate succession and genetic forces. (Only double dragon-X Targaryens, women, can hatch dragon eggs. See Preston Jacobs videos on genetics of dragon-hatching.)


2) We learn a tremendous amount about dragons and dragon-riding.


A dragon can only accept one rider at a time. There is a bond between dragon and rider. Dragon combat usually goes to the larger, older, more experienced dragon. Those with Targaryen ancestry, dragonseeds, have a better chance at becoming dragon-riders, but cultivation of a dragon with sheep like Nettles did to gain Sheepstealer is possible. Dragons can be killed, but it takes the proper weapons and coordination. Eye shots are the best.


3) Wars are always the worst option. Peace is always better than justice.


These stories are nothing if not morality tales. It does not matter that Aemond One Eye was a war criminal or that Rhaenyra had the best claim to the throne. It is irrelevant that one side succeeded with treachery and the other, the Blacks, played according to the rules with one exception – the murder of Aemon’s child. It would have been far better for everyone to have just let the matter go.


4) The official histories cannot be trusted.


Martin is an expert at point of view story-telling with its accompanying obfuscation. He trained as a journalist at Northwestern. He believes in the bias or perspective of all sources. Finally, he does not trust historians to write objectively. This is even more so with his condemnation of feudalism. The maesters are definitely not to be trusted. Gyldayn is not a liar, but he omits, mischaracterizes, and dismisses with an agenda. History is written by the winners is a common enough saying. Although Homer Simpson calls them losers, historians were widely criticized by the New Left and the baby boomers for writing for the establishment. Martin is very much in sympathy with that critique.


When you take all of these conclusions derived from “The Princess and the Queen” and avoid moral judgments and preconceptions, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, particularly as related in another maester-written form, The World of Ice and Fire, becomes much more intelligible as a story. We should not trust the official histories, but instead analyze for ourselves. We can understand how Daenerys’ other dragons and Drogon, once Daenerys is dead, will gain riders. We can better appreciate the goals and motivations of the Faith of the Seven adherents, the maesters, and the Hightowers. Most important of all, we can begin to understand the anti-war ethic behind our central narrative. This is not a traditional fantasy tale heading towards an apocalypse. It is about deception, point of view, moral quandaries, and who makes the best leader or leaders.



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