Tyrion Targaryen has all of the makings of an R + L = J level theory – that which is accepted as canon with all of those who disagree dismissed as tinfoil. It provides a third dragon rider, is a hidden twist that Martin loves to put into his work, prompts questions about identity that are common in “A Song of Ice and Fire”, and engenders a poignancy to Tyrion’s relationship with his parents. However, it has not even come close to that level. Contrariwise, although there are no extant surveys, Tyrion Targaryen is rejected by almost all of the notable theorists. Why?
Unlike R + L = J, the evidence for Tyrion Targaryen occurs over several books including The World of Ice and Fire. R + L = J was neat and tidily presented in just one book and it was the first, A Game of Thrones. Tyrion Targaryen crept on us slowly, quietly, with not a little speculation.
Until The World Book, the evidence for Tyrion Targaryen was also scant. He had the mismatched hair and eyes that indicated an issue with his parents being two blondes with green eyes. He had dragon dreams and a fascination with fire. We learned that Aerys the Mad King lusted after Joanna Lannister, but, other than some “improprieties” at her bedding and some envy of her twin children, there was no basis for an Aerys/Joanna relationship that would be anything other than a rape, and a rape was ludicrous even for Aerys. And how was the contact to have happened with Lady Joanna Lannister in Casterly Rock and Aerys in King’s Landing?
But, The World Book changed all of that. It removed the geography issue by placing Lady Lannister in King’s Landing for the 10 year anniversary tournament at a time when it was possible for her to conceive Tyrion with Aerys. More tellingly, it noted that Aerys and Joanna were in a sexual relationship prior to her marriage to Tywin though when Aerys was already in a loveless, arranged marriage to Rhaella. The missing pieces of motive and opportunity came into place in one fell swoop. Now, a liaison between the former lovers was possible as Lady Joanna would have had no reason at all to tell Tywin or not to conceal it.
There was still the supposed strength of the Tywin/Joanna relationship and The World Book’s conveyance of an insulting remark about Joanna’s appearance before the entire court (wondering if breast-feeding had “ruined her breasts which were so high and proud” TWOIAF, 116). However, on closer examination neither of these two lines of argument stand up to scrutiny. The affection between Joanna and Tywin is actually entirely one sided. Tywin smiled for her, doted on her, but there is nothing about her regard for him.
Similarly, The World Book is ostensibly written by a maester, Yandel, seeking to curry favor with a Tywin Lannister-dominated court. As a result, Yandel very much takes that position on everything he sculpts about Aerys II and his former friend and hand who ultimately ruthlessly betrays him. At times, Yandel’s text bends over backwards to paint Aerys in a bad light and Tywin as completely and wholly good despite massive evidence to the contrary. For example, it states that Aerys raised the port fees against Tywin’s advice, then lowered them and blamed it on his hand. This is unlikely given how Tywin is portrayed as being completely in charge and a check on Aerys. If anything, it was more likely the reverse. Also notable, Tywin behaves despicably during the Defiance of Duskendale even remarking publicly how it would be fine for his king and childhood friend to be killed and replaced with Rhaegar. Yet, Yandel persists in portraying the resentment as entirely on Aerys’ side and unjustified. Even the sack of King’s Landing by Tywin’s troops and his ordered killings of Elia and her children are glossed over completely. With an account this biased, can we rely on the accuracy of that supposed remark that “humiliated” Lady Joanna? The more probable remark, given their history, is a compliment on her beauty in spite of or maybe because of her motherhood. While Tywin would have resented it, Lady Joanna Lannister would have blushed, fondly remembering her former lover.
Then, there was the introduction of chimerism to the theory. The World Book reinforced the tendency of the inbred Targaryens to have strange birth defects in their children. Once that was combined with the increased likelihood of a woman to have twins after having had twins, a commenter on a Preston Jacobs’ video on the genetics of dragon hatching noted than Tyrion’s physical appearance matched the chimera condition where two blastocysts or zygotes merge together into one creating an individual who has some traits from one, other traits from the other. Tyrion’s mismatched hair and eyes now showed that both Tywin and Aerys were donors to his genetic make-up. Finally, the dark hair and eyes that Targaryen descendants of Betha Blackwood and of Aegon “Egg” V occasionally exhibited according to The World Book were the Aerys II contribution to Tyrion, rather than the light blond hair that Tyrion shared with Tommen. This eliminated another counter to an element of the Tyrion Targaryen theory that had relied on the blond hair being the wrong shade of blond.
Do note, however, that, in direct contrast with R + L = J, the reader has to work harder, longer, and more skeptically to reach the conclusion. Second-guessing the author of The World Book does not come naturally to people. Wondering about first person narratives is hard enough, but official histories are supposed to be reliable. One also has to read between the lines to discover the omissions unlike Ned’s point of view chapters in which he is constantly dropping hints about Jon’s true parentage. Most notably he omits Jon when he lists his children, the recurring “Promise me Ned” when he thinks about Targaryens like Daenerys (With all due respect to Preston Jacobs, Ned is not thinking about a promise he made regarding Daenerys, but about killing Targaryens, which then links up to his promise to Lyanna about Jon.), Lyanna’s bed of blood, and fourteen years of lies when Jon is fourteen years old. Tyrion Targaryen has no living witnesses who could relate the information in a point of view. The reader has to piece it together from fragments. Last, but not least, chimerism is not a well-known condition and the reliance on the wrong hair color from Aerys added unnecessary doubt to the theory’s credibility.
In the time it took to get all of the information needed to prove more conclusively Tyrion Targaryen, readers had already formed set impressions of the relationships involved. Not at the level of an idee fixe, but similarly lodged, these impressions are hard to dislodge. Tywin and Joanna were a couple. Theirs was a love affair. Aerys II was a mad tyrant who cheated on his wife. After Duskendale, he abuses her sado-masochistically. There was no way that there could be a voluntary liaison between Aerys and Joanna. As any Google image search will reveal, literally, the portraits of Joanna and Aerys are invariably of Aerys creeping on a Joanna, who is being assaulted by his unwanted attentions.
Similarly, the Tyrion/Tywin relationship had gained the level of a legendary tragedy. Tywin’s hatred of his son made Tyrion’s desperate need to prove himself a Lannister all the more poignant. Lady Gemma Lannister’s remark to Jaime that Tyrion was a true son of Tywin more than Jaime was became a sacrosanct observation rather than a commentary on fathers and sons. Tyrion’s dwarfism engendered sympathy from many, outright empathy from all those who saw themselves in Tyrion’s plight. Tyrion’s wit, his intelligence, and his heroic qualities shown even brighter in contrast to his father’s outright disdain. When Tyrion requests Casterly Rock as a fief, Tywin’s statement “because I cannot prove you are not mine” is cutting if patently absurd. (Tyrion does not have to have Tywin’s consent to inherit Casterly Rock. It is his by birthright. All Tyrion has to do is wait for Tywin’s enemies to kill him or for a rock to fall on him. Living in a carved out mountain is a terrible idea.) For the denialists, Aerys as Tyrion’s father would undermine the nature of the Tywin/Tyrion dynamic with one blogger opining that it would somehow lend credence to Tywin’s behavior. For example, the Alt Shift X video on the theory gives all the evidence supporting it, but then rejects it because it would undermine the Tyrion-Tywin dynamic.
People have a tendency to view selectively evidence that supports their own view while dismissing evidence that does not. This is especially true when we read, interpret, and analyze text. We see it from our perspective, which includes socio-economic background, ethnicity, religion, nationality, age, and time period. The Tyrion Targaryen denialists frequently express their love of Tyrion, the Lannisters, and distaste for anything that detracts from those positions. On several occasions they will also baldly state that readers have to use their present day sense of morality to interpret the text.
As a result, the World Book’s new information only served to reinforce these first impressions. Aerys was a resentful, scheming, profligate. His relationship with Joanna merely another fling. Tywin looked even better than he had in the books. The ruthless tyrant of “The Rains of Castamere” and the architect of the Red Wedding was a good family man. Besides, there was already a way for Tyrion to become a dragon rider and join the holy trinity of Jon and Daenerys without being a Targaryen. He could “Nettles” a dragon the way Nettles had in the Dance of the Dragons with the dragon, Sheepstealer, as told in the short story, “The Princess and the Queen”. Simply ply a dragon with whatever meat it likes and you can get it to accept you.
There are two major problems with these confirmation bias interpretations. First, they ignore the rather amazing bias of Yandel’s work especially concerning Aerys II and Tywin. Second, The World Book clarifies “The Princess and the Queen”’s ambiguity about whether Nettles was dragonseed – a Targaryen bastard. She was. (81) Thus, the only dragon riders we know of have Valyrian blood, the way the magic seems to work in “A Song of Ice and Fire”, through blood. As for Martin’s remark that you did not have to be a Targaryen to ride a dragon, the natural response is of course. There are lots of Valyrians who are not Targaryens who conceivably could ride dragons as well as those who have different last names who have Targaryen blood in them like the Baratheons, Jon Snow, and any offspring who have the last name of their parents despite having genetic material from Aerys II.
The Power of Authority
Although there are many commentators on Reddit, Westeros.org, Tower of the Hand, You Tube, and Tumblr, a few have gained greater prominence than others. The community that reads and writes about “A Song of Ice and Fire” respects their acknowledged expertise in the interpretation of the texts that comprise the writ of the story. Interestingly enough, in a story that is skeptical at best of organized religion, one could view its community on-line as a kind of religious group. There are the holy texts, the commentaries from the prophet (“Thus Spake Martin” is the tongue in cheek label for Westeros.org’s collection of Martin’s interviews and comments.), and a group of priests/rabbis who create the interpretations/Talmud of the texts. Like a religion certain theories, interpretations, and views become “canon” and others are dismissed as tinfoil.
When the elite formed in places like ASOIAF University on Tumblr, they took their membership from avid fans who were also in conformity with the established dogmas of their particular group. Because it skewed millennial and left of center, the consensus that developed had certain rules. For example, one could not speak ill of a respected blogger. One could not view women’s plights in “A Song of Ice and Fire” as anything except something to be condemned and/or Martin’s biases. One had to always lament the lack of People of Color in the story and never seem to defend Martin’s choices. And, one always had to be completely accepting of and always sympathetic to the differently abled. Tyrion Targaryen advocates, by the nature of the theory, would always be in contravention of one or more of these rules. Thus, the theory was not only tinfoil. It was heresy.
Societies form upon a foundation of common understandings. In turn, membership is a test of the individual’s knowledge of and acceptance of those understandings. When a new idea challenges those understandings, there is an existential crisis. Thomas Kuhn termed the understandings within science “paradigms”. If new set of concepts challenged an accepted paradigm, they would be rejected, but, eventually, thanks to the evidence-based approach of science and the scientific method, there would be a “paradigm shift”. The new ideas would become the new paradigm. As with Vice President Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, that presented the global warming theory’s challenge to the petro-economy, Tyrion Targaryen constitutes a fundamental challenge to the Ice and Fire community’s understanding of the story in many important ways. However, there is a way to incorporate Tyrion Targaryen such that it does not fundamentally challenge what many, if not most, readers appreciate about “A Song of Ice and Fire”.
Relationships with one’s parents are one of the central operating dynamics in the story. However, just because one is not biologically descended from a person does not mean that person ceases to be the parent. Parents who adopt children are those children’s parents. Similarly, Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark is in fact Jon’s uncle, but has been the only father Jon has ever known. When Jon looks for a male role model, he first looks to Ned Stark. When Jon executes Janos Slynt, he is following his father’s example. In most important respects, it does not matter that Rhaegar supplied the genetic material. Ned Stark is Jon’s true father. It is the exact same situation between Tyrion and Tywin. It does not matter if all of Tyrion’s male contribution came from Tywin. Tywin was Tyrion’s father to all intents and purposes.
At the same time, one cannot help but wonder about the fundamental debate between nature and nurture that “A Song of Ice and Fire” raises. Are we our genes? How much does biological parentage matter compared to who actually raised us? Three of the USA’s most recent presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – have had contested relationships with their parents with Clinton and Obama both having had substitute parents from their biological ones. There is no doubt that influenced how they became the men they were and the leaders they were. It will be the same with Tyrion regardless of whether Tywin contributed all of the male material to his genetic make-up. In this way, fans of the books can accept Tyrion Targaryen as a theory, but not the name. For Tyrion is and always will be a Lannister and Tywin’s true son.