Aemon was the maester at Castle Black and one of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont’s closest advisors in the Night’s Watch.
He was born Aemon Targaryen and was the last known Targaryen in Westeros. He was the great-uncle of Daenerys Targaryen, and unbeknownst to him, the great-great uncle of Jon Snow. Aemon’s origins have long been forgotten by most, as he remained dedicated to his vows as a Maester and a brother of the Night’s Watch for many decades.
Aemon was born into House Targaryen. He was the second son of King Maekar Iand Queen Dyanna. Originally known as Prince Aemon Targaryen, he was not his father’s eldest son, so he eventually joined the order of Maesters. Aemon gave up all rights to inheritance when he took his vows, which also included relinquishing his surname “Targaryen”.
Aemon’s older brother, Aerion, later died, however, and despite being a sworn maester there were those who felt that the crown should pass to him. Aemon refused the throne, however, and it passed to his younger brother, who became King Aegon V. Aegon later became known as “Aegon the Unlikely” due to the unlikely chain of events causing a third born prince to become king. Aemon then joined the Night’s Watch to further remove himself from the political intrigues of the royal court and from those who wished to set him up as a rival against his brother.
Many years later, Aegon V died in the Tragedy at Summer hall and the crown passed to his son, Aemon’s nephew Aerys II, who later became known as “The Mad King”. Aerys’s growing insanity ultimately led to the outbreak of Robert’s Rebellion, which saw House Targaryen deposed and practically exterminated. Upon hearing about the brutal deaths of his family in King’s Landing during the rebellion, Aemon bore great sadness which never left him.
Around one hundred years old, Aemon is thought to be one of the oldest living men in Westeros, though he has retained all of his wits and his mind is still very sharp. He has served as the maester at Castle Black for many decades.
Aemon has long since gone blind due to old age. It is not clear when he went blind (he was not born blind), though he has stated that he was already old and blind during Robert’s Rebellion. As a man of learning, he laments not being able to read anymore, even though Castle Black ironically has an ancient and well-stocked library consisting of thousands of books. Because one of a maester’s basic duties is to handle messages sent to and from a castle by messenger-ravens, Aemon has to rely on the assistance of others to physically read the letters for him.
After Tyrion Lannister has arrived at Castle Black, Maester Aemon asks him to urge his sister, Queen Cersei Lannister, to send more men to the Night’s Watch: there is a severe lack of men to defend the Wall. They discuss the coming winter, and Aemon assures Tyrion that the next winter will be long and terrible. Lord Commander Mormont is worried about rumours of White Walkers abroad north of the Wall. He sends Benjen Stark ranging beyond the Wall to investigate.
When Jon Snow and the other new recruits are done with their first training, Maester Aemon gives the new stewards their assignments. Jon is to become Jeor Mormont’s steward, which is a great disappointment to Jon: he had hoped to become a ranger. Samwell Tarly is assigned as Aemon’s steward, to help physically read letters delivered by messenger-ravens to the blind old man. Aemon chides Jon that he swore a vow to serve the Watch in any capacity, then departs. The bodies of two of the rangers who accompanied Benjen are found near the Gods wood. Jeor plans to have Aemon examine them, but they return as wights and have to be burned before he does so.
When Jon hears about his “father” Eddard Stark’s imprisonment, he is torn between his loyalty to the Night’s Watch and his love for his family. Maester Aemon intercepts Jon as he is preparing to desert the Watch. Aemon says he is aware of Jon’s struggle and reveals his Targaryen heritage to him, recounting the deaths of his nephew Aerys II, Aerys’s son Rhaegar, and Rhaegar’s two young children; neither Aemon nor Jon are aware that Rhaegar and his children were Jon’s true father and half-siblings. He sat and waited on the Wall in utter rage while he heard about his family being butchered during Robert’s Rebellion and the two survivors fleeing into exile, and did nothing because having joined the Watch, his duty was with his brothers there and no longer with his House. Aemon explains that this was a difficult decision, yet he had to make it and that one must live with the consequences of one’s choices for the rest of one’s life. Maester Aemon remains at Castle Black during the Lord Commander’s great ranging.
Maester Aemon is still at Castle Black when Samwell Tarly returns with Gilly after escaping from Craster’s Keep. Aemon at first advises Sam that he swore an oath when joining the Night’s Watch, believing that Sam fathered Gilly’s son. Samwell corrects him that he is not the father, but that the girl is one of Craster’s daughter-wives, which engenders sympathy in Aemon.
Because it is too dangerous beyond the Wall, Aemon relents and offers shelter to Gilly in Castle Black for the time being. Gilly thanks him and calls him “my lord”, but Aemon insists that he gave up being a lord many years ago (when he joined the Order of Maesters and left House Targaryen). With the matter settled, Aemon commands Samwell to make sure all of the messenger-ravens are well-fed, and tells him to take a quill and parchment: he dictates to Samwell a request for help which will be sent to all the major lords throughout the Seven Kingdoms, imploring them for aid against the threat of the White Walkers.
Maester Aemon is one of the five black brothers to “judge” Jon Snow for his actions during his time with the wildling’s. Jon hides nothing of his actions, neither his murder of Qhorin or his affair with Ygritte. Ser Alliser Thorne, the acting Commander of the Night’s Watch, and the recently arrived Janos Slynt believe that Jon should be executed for his actions and for the breaking of his vows, but Aemon defends him, saying that Jon was merely following Qhorin’s orders and that he isn’t the first to have broken his vow of chastity. Ser Alliser points out that Jon has quite literally slept with the enemy.
Jon counters with all the information that he had learned while among the wildling’s, such as Mance Rayder’s strategy of attacking the Wall from the North and the South, and demands that they either kill him or let him go. Aemon tells him that they have no intention of executing him and Jon leaves. Alliser reprimands Aemon for having overruled him but the maester answers that he knows when a man is lying and when he is telling the truth. When asked how he acquired such insight, Aemon wryly replies that he grew up in King’s Landing.
Maester Aemon is present when Olly brings news of the massacre that occurred in his village. Many black brothers present want to retaliate, but Aemon reminds everyone that there are just over 100 men at Castle Black (including himself). He insists that defending Castle Black is the priority and they cannot afford to lose a single man. Jon Snow reluctantly agrees, reminding everyone that he knows from his time infiltrating the wildling’s that they are trying to lure as many men out of Castle Black as possible, to weaken it for the main assault from the north.
On the eve of Mance Rayder’s assault on Castle Black, Maester Aemon confronts Sam in Castle Black’s library. Aemon remarks on the ironies of old age: the library is well-stocked with thousands of books, but his blind eyes can no longer read them. They discuss some of the propaganda surrounding wildling’s before discussing Sam’s feelings for Gilly. Aemon shares with Sam the same warning he gave to Jon, that love is the death of duty.
Aemon implies that he would have become King of the Andals and the First Men if he’d been willing to break his vows. He also mentions that as a royal prince, he was sought after by a great many women in his youth – but there was only one whose advances he accepted. Aemon reprimands Sam for not realising his elders were young once too. Although Aemon says that his memories of that woman are in some ways more real to him than Sam is (given that he’ll never really know what Sam looks like), he lets the subject drop and says that he and Sam should both focus on their duties.
Following the arrival of Stannis Baratheon, Maester Aemon leads the eulogy for the black brothers that gave their lives defending Castle Black. When Jon Snow speaks to Tormund, the captive wildling curiously asks why he was given medical treatment. Jon tells Tormund that it is Aemon’s duty as a maester to treat anyone who is wounded, friend or foe.
Maester Aemon presides over the choosing of the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. He allows people to speak for their candidates before the voting begins. When Sam asks to speak and is mocked by Janos Slynt, Sam reveals that he had found Janos hiding in a cellar during the Battle of Castle Black. As Sam continues to humiliate Lord Janos to the delight of many black brothers, Maester Aemon smiles at his steward’s boldness. When all of the votes are counted, it is revealed that there is a tie between Jon Snow and Ser Alliser Thorne. Aemon is the last to vote and breaks the tie by voting for Jon.
Jon Snow notices Maester Aemon’s absence when he presides over his first meeting of the Night’s Watch as Lord Commander and questions Sam. According to Sam, Aemon does not feel well and apologises for not being able to attend. Jon tells Sam to take good care of the old maester.
Sam reads him a letter from Slaver’s Bay detailing the recent activities of Daenerys Targaryen, Aemon’s great-niece. In spite of his dedication to his vows, Aemon muses with sadness at the injustice of Daenerys fighting her battles alone, with her last relation “useless and dying” thousands of miles away. Jon Snow then arrives, asking for Aemon’s advice on a plan he’s been devising. Jon asks how he’s feeling, and Aemon sardonically points out he feels like a hundred-year-old man slowly freezing to death at the Wall. Aemon bluntly tells him to “kill the boy, and let the man be born”, that Snow must make the mature decisions that will save lives, rather than the immature decisions that will get people to like him.
Aemon’s old age catches up to him and he takes to bed as he grows weaker, tended by Gilly and Sam. His mind starts to wander, and he imagines conversations with his late brother “Egg” before he passes away. Sam later gives a eulogy as Aemon’s body is cremated on a funeral pyre.
When discussing a plot to assassinate Daenerys for her role in razing King’s Landing with Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow echoes Aemon’s wisdom that “love is the death of duty.”
Aemon Targaryen was an extremely wise old man, and a source of guidance at the Wall for anyone who approached him. Having lived for over a hundred years, Aemon has become aware of the struggles of men of the Night’s Watch, in particular the significance of one’s duty and dedication, primarily because he has faced a major struggle of such kind in his life. As a Targaryen, Aemon’s refusal of the Iron Throne shows that he has no interest in personal power and would rather devote himself to knowledge and the guidance of others. He was aware that the Night’s Watch was not what it used to be, and understood the severe weaknesses and threats that came with this fact. Aemon possessed a very sly nature when it suited him, and could tell quite efficiently if someone was lying – a skill he apparently acquired while growing up in King’s Landing. Aemon possessed a dry wit, remarking that if every ranger who slept with a girl were beheaded, then the Wall would be garrisoned by headless men.
Clearly, Aemon does not suffer from the same Targaryen madness as the likes of Aerys and Viserys Targaryen did, since his mind remained completely and totally sharp and clear throughout his entire life, perhaps a tribute to the fact that he rejected positions of extreme power, whereas the Mad King and Viserys coveted extreme power. However, Aemon clearly had a deep and personal love for his family, and cited that the death of that family was absolutely devastating for him – he was faced with an extraordinary decision when he learned of the defiance and destruction of House Targaryen, between his family loyalty and his oath to the Night’s Watch. He hints that he still deeply regrets his decision, but knows that he could have done very, very little. All the same, Aemon’s love for his family shows with his reference to his father as ‘Maekar, the First of His Name’ in recognition of his ascendance to the Iron Throne, and continuing to refer to his brother Aegon as ‘Egg’. He was particularly appalled by the slaughter of children, discussing with rage the deaths of Rhaegar’s children. When he learned that his great-niece Daenerys was alive in Meereen, he once again showed how much he loved his family as he lamented that Daenerys is alone and he is too old and sickly to help her.
Aemon was an intelligent man who loved reading, and lamented the irony of being blind and surrounded by so many books. He became an extremely close friend of Samwell Tarly, whom he (rather uniquely) didn’t judge based on his cowardice and obesity, and was constantly respectful of him. Their friendship was so powerful that Sam didn’t want Aemon to die, and he gave a heartfelt eulogy upon Aemon’s death.