Aerys II Targaryen
King Aerys II Targaryen, commonly called “the Mad King”, was the sixteenth member of House Targaryen to rule from the Iron Throne. He was formally styled as Aerys of the House Targaryen, the Second of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm. Although his rule began benevolently, he succumbed to the madness caused by his incestuous lineage, and was eventually deposed by Lord Robert Baratheon in a civil war. Aerys was infamously murdered by a member of his own Kings guard, Ser Jaime Lannister, during Lord Tywin Lannister’s Sack of King’s Landing. This act earned Ser Jaime the nickname “King slayer” for slaying the king that he was sworn to protect as a member of the Kings guard.
Aerys’s two surviving children, Viserys and Daenerys, were smuggled across the Narrow Sea to the Free Cities of Essos, while his last living grandson, Aegon, was raised as his maternal uncle Eddard Stark’s bastard son, Jon Snow, to protect him from Robert’s wrath. Viserys and Daenerys were intent on one day returning to Westeros to reclaim what they regard as their birthright. This was realised by Daenerys after the Battle of King’s Landing where she reclaimed the realm from Cersei Lannister, though she was assassinated in its aftermath.
Aerys fought for his father, Aegon V Targaryen, in the War of the Nine penny Kings. He took on the tradition of Targaryen inbreeding in order to keep bloodlines pure by marrying his sister Rhaella Targaryen. After his father and brother died at the Tragedy of Summer hall, he became Aerys Targaryen, the Second of His Name. While Aerys initially appeared to be generous and wise, he later became spiteful of the power of others, especially that of his Hand, Tywin Lannister, who had once been one of his closest friends. He eventually grew paranoid of his own family members and his small council. Commonly remembered as “the Mad King”, his reign became increasingly erratic and murderous.
Despite the fact that nobody expected Aerys to turn up, he suddenly arrived at the Great Tourney at Harrenhal. During this tourney, Aerys knighted Jaime Lannister and admitted him to the Kings guard, but not for his valor and honour. Instead, he wanted to spite his Hand, Tywin Lannister. His eldest son, Rhaegar Targaryen, competed in the tourney, and after winning, he shunned his own wife, Elia Martell, and laid his winning roses in the lap of Lyanna Stark of Winterfell.
A final round of bloodletting began when Rhaegar allegedly kidnapped Lyanna, prompting many houses in the realm to rebel. Brandon Stark rode to King’s Landing, protesting the abduction of his sister and demanding justice. Aerys had him arrested for treason and then offered to ransom him to his father. However, when Rickard Stark rode to King’s Landing as he was bid to ransom Brandon, Aerys had him arrested too, and then brutally executed both father and son.
Afterwards, Aerys demanded Jon Arryn to turn over Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon (who were still in the Eyrie) to await the king’s justice. Instead, Jon called his banners and rebelled, with the noble houses of Stark, Tully, and Baratheon following suit. The rebellion destroyed the royalist armies in several major engagements, culminating in the Battle of the Trident where Prince Rhaegar died at the hands of Lyanna’s betrothed Robert Baratheon, the leader of the rebels.
King Aerys was betrayed by his former friend and Hand, Lord Tywin Lannister, who led an army under the false pretence of defending the capital at King’s Landing. When Aerys opened the gates under Grand Maester Pycelle’s counsel, Tywin proceeded to brutally sack the city. Aerys ordered Jaime to bring him Tywin’s head, before ordering his pyromancer, Rossart, to initiate the wildfire plan. In response, Jaime killed Rossart, before stabbing Aerys in the back and then cutting his throat, ending his reign and thwarting his insane plot.
Aerys’s death is not avenged, as Robert Baratheon pardoned Jaime at the end of the war. It also brought an end to the Targaryen dynasty, which had ruled the Seven Kingdoms for three centuries. He was replaced on the Iron Throne by Robert. However, the Targaryen bloodline survived through his grandson, Jon Snow (the product of Rhaegar’s secret marriage to Lyanna, the two eloping in mutual love rather than the latter being kidnapped), who was passed off as a bastard of Winterfell by his maternal uncle Eddard Stark, and his two youngest children, Viserys and Daenerys, who were spirited away to the Free Cities.
As they travel to King’s Landing, King Robert talks about having Aerys’s daughter Daenerys assassinated after hearing of her marriage to Khal Drogo. When Eddard protests, Robert reminds him of what Aerys did to his family. Later at the Crossroads Inn, Sandor Clegane tells Sansa Stark about how Ser Ilyn Payne hasn’t had much to say since Aerys had Ser Ilyn’s tongue torn out.
When Eddard arrives in the Great Hall of the Red Keep, he is confronted by Ser Jaime Lannister, who expresses his bitterness at Eddard for judging him over his killing of Aerys, especially after he killed Eddard’s father and brother. Eddard counters that Jaime wasn’t motivated by justice when he killed Aerys, and that he had served him loyally when serving was safe.
Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kings guard recounts to King Robert I Baratheon how Aerys ordered him to destroy the Kingswood Brotherhood. Selmy himself killed their leader, Simon Toyne. Bored and attempting to mock Ser Jaime, King Robert realises that he never asked Jaime what King Aerys Targaryen’s last words were, then taunts Jaime for killing a defenceless old man he had sworn to protect. Jaime tersely responds that the last thing the Mad King said was the same thing he’d been raving for hours, since the sack of the capital by the rebels began: “Burn them all!” This silences Robert’s levity.
Aemon, the maester sworn to Castle Black, the main fortress of the Night’s Watch, reveals to Jon Snow that he is the uncle of King Aerys and, because of his oath to the Night’s Watch, he could not interfere during the rebellion. Aemon warns Jon that he must live with whatever decision he makes for the rest of his life, and urges him to not abandon the Night’s Watch after hearing of Eddard Stark’s unjust imprisonment.
Grand Maester Pycelle recalls that King Aerys was initially a good man. He then laments that he saw Aerys melt away before his eyes, as madness increasingly gripped his mind over the years and a once charming man was consumed by dreams of fire and blood.
When Tyrion Lannister publicly reprimands his nephew King Joffrey for his treatment of Sansa Stark, Joffrey retorts that he is king and he can do as he likes. Tyrion replies that Aerys did as he liked and his actions ultimately led to his downfall, mentioning his death at the hands of Joffrey’s uncle Jaime. When Catelyn Stark confronts Jaime Lannister about his various crimes, including his regicide of Aerys, he sarcastically replies, “And what a king he was.” Wisdom Hallyne of the Alchemists’ Guild mentions Aerys as a fervent supporter of the guild. Aerys became obsessed with wildfire in his later years. He reminds Bronn that he would not have dared to insult the guild while Aerys was alive.
When held by Roose Bolton at Harrenhal, Jaime Lannister reveals the true story of the Mad King’s death to Brienne of Tarth:
As the Targaryens were losing the war, Aerys had his pyromancer place caches of wildfire all over King’s Landing: under the Great Sept of Baelor, under the slums of Flea Bottom, under houses, stables, taverns, and even under the Red Keep itself. After Robert’s victory at the Trident he marched on the capital city, but Jaime’s father Tywin arrived there first, leading the entire Lannister army, and promising to defend the city. Jaime warned Aerys that his father was never a man to choose the losing side, that this must be a trick and he should surrender the city while he still could, but the Mad King refused to listen. Nor did Aerys listen to Varys when he gave the same warning that Tywin couldn’t be trusted – but he did listen to Grand Maester Pycelle, who convinced Aerys the Lannisters were there to help.
Aerys opened the city gates, and the Lannisters proceeded to sack the city. Jaime again begged Aerys to surrender, but the Mad King ordered Jaime to bring him Tywin’s head, and his pyromancer (Wisdom Rossart) to set the city ablaze with the hidden wildfire, burning its five hundred thousand inhabitants to death, rather than lose the city to the rebels. “Burn them all,” Aerys said, “Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds.” Jaime makes it plain to Brienne that was his breaking point and asks her what she would do if her precious Renly commanded her to kill her own father and then stand by and do nothing as he murdered thousands of innocent people; she can only sit in shocked silence. Jaime goes on to say that he killed the pyromancer first, then drove his sword into Aerys’s back as the Mad King tried to run for his life. Even as he was dying, the Mad King kept raving, “Burn them all…Burn them all…” Shaken at the memory, Jaime speculates that King Aerys didn’t believe he would die in the blaze, and that in his lunacy, the Mad King believed he would be reborn as a dragon in the fire, granting him the power to burn his enemies to ashes. Jaime then finished Aerys off by slitting his throat in order to make sure he died, concluding that Eddard Stark found him at that point.
In Meereen, Ser Barristan Selmy grows increasingly concerned about the actions taken by Aerys’s daughter Daenerys, who had earlier brutally executed 163 slavers after conquering Meereen. He discusses his experience while serving as a Kings guard to her father. Despite Barristan’s deep loyalty to the Targaryen dynasty, he reveals to Daenerys that her enemies did not lie when they called her father the “Mad King”. Barristan recalls how Aerys set towns and castles aflame, murdered sons in front of their fathers, and burned men alive with wildfire, laughing all the while. These brutal actions lead to a revolt that toppled the Targaryen dynasty. Daenerys insists she is not like her father, which Barristan agreed. Still, he states that like Daenerys, her father had ordered these brutalities because he too felt he was dispensing “justice” and it made him feel powerful and right, until the very end.
While still looking into the past and fleeing from the White Walkers, Bran Stark sees the Mad King’s final hours as king in the waning days of Robert’s Rebellion. This vision reveals wildfire being placed around King’s Landing, and Ser Jaime Lannister killing Aerys as he continuously screams, “Burn them all!” The wildfire caches placed beneath the Great Sept of Baelor on Aerys’s orders are later used by Cersei Lannister to destroy the Great Sept, killing many of her enemies in King’s Landing as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people with one swift stroke.
Varys notes to Daenerys that her father was cruel and mad, and that Robert Baratheon was a vast improvement. Later, Olenna Tyrell explains how her father wasn’t peaceful in the least, but Daenerys should be still be ruthless if she is to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.
After receiving a letter from Daenerys, Jon debates whether to meet her at Dragon stone, but Sansa reminds him of her father’s role in the death of their grandfather.
Cersei then hosts the lords of the Reach at court, giving various hints that Daenerys will bring on the same tyranny as her father, as well as having a touch of the Targaryen madness.
Jon Snow brings up the fact that he shouldn’t claim fealty to Daenerys, based on what her father did to his uncle and grandfather. Daenerys, though, makes a point to apologise on behalf of her house for the crimes of her father.
After the execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly following the battle of the Gold road, Varys compares Daenerys to Aerys, as he did the same with Rickard and Brandon Stark. Varys then implores Tyrion to make her listen, fearing that this will make her be viewed in a similar fashion to her father.
When Jaime tries to leave Cersei and ride north to fight the army of the dead, after its existence has been proven true by Jon Snow, she prevents him from leaving by threatening to kill him as a traitor. In this moment Jaime can see Cersei as the power-mad tyrant she really is. It’s possible that Jaime can see a great resemblance to the Mad King in her, as she’s willing to let the whole realm perish if that means she can keep her crown.
When Jaime arrives at Winterfell shortly before the Battle of Winterfell, Daenerys remembers the stories that her brother Viserys would tell her about “the man who killed their father” and what they would do to him once they conquered the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys does not trust Jaime, but Sansa Stark allows him to stay in Winterfell.
The caches of wildfire, placed beneath King’s Landing on Aerys’s orders years ago, detonate during the Battle of King’s Landing by dragon fire, unleashed by Drogon at Daenerys’s command. During the battle, Aerys Targaryen’s killer Jaime Lannister is killed along side his sister Cersei, crushed by debris under the Red Keep. In a way, Daenerys avenged her father’s death.
Ironically, Aerys’s daughter suffers the same fate he did by being stabbed to death at the feet of the Iron Throne, and by his grandson no less. As Aerys’s last child died, Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen is the last known living member of House Targaryen.
- “As the saying goes, “every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin”. They must have dropped the one for King Aerys. For at first, he seemed to have dodged the family madness. But as he grew older, he began to see conspirators everywhere and where there were none, he worked to create them.”
- ―Jaime Lannister about Aerys Targaryen descending into madness
Out of all the kings to sit on the Iron Throne, none induced a level of tyranny, madness, and especially cruelty as Aerys Targaryen did during his rule. Dubbed the Mad King, Aerys seemingly began as a benevolent ruler until he was overwhelmed by the so-called “Targaryen madness” brought on by an incestuous bloodline. As a result, he began displaying traits of intense psychopathy, insanity, and sadistic intentions, exacerbated by hallucinations, schizophrenia, and paranoia regarding his own claim to the Throne, to the point where he burnt anyone he believed was against him, until half of the people whom he ruled were already against him.
Like many Targaryens, such as his son Viserys, Aerys was obsessed with the self-conception that he was a dragon in human skin. In regards to this, he killed his victims in a similar manner to that which a dragon would; burning them alive. Jaime Lannister once observed that he loved watching them char until their skin blackened, indicating he may have suffered from pyromania, and this, combined with sadism and hopeless delusions, spurred his already oppressive reign into complete tyranny. In a final bid where it appeared Robert Baratheon would take King’s Landing, Aerys planted wildfire throughout the city, even the Red Keep where Aerys himself was staying. Not for one second, however, did he believe that it would result in his death, like his uncle Prince Aerion Targaryen, who killed himself by drinking wildfire. Instead, he thought he would be reborn as a dragon through a baptism by fire and burn his enemies in retribution.
Aerys’s perceived lack of sanity and rational thinking seemingly caused his own death. Instead of listening to Varys or Jaime who warned him that Tywin Lannister possessed an ulterior motive when promising to defend his city for him, he only listened to the extremely sycophantic Grand Maester Pycelle who told him only what he wanted to hear. When he saw that Tywin tricked him, he foolishly ordered Jaime to execute his own father, confident that he would do so as no Kings guard had ever disobeyed him before. Just before his death, however, Aerys showed shock and fear for the first time under his rule as Jaime approached him after killing his pyromancer. He even attempted to flee, proving that even he feared what all other tyrants cannot control nor escape; death.