Game of Thrones theory-crafting: Is Varys a Targaryen?


In the early seasons of Game of Thrones, Varys is one of the more mysterious characters due to his seemingly bottomless pool of knowledge collected from every corner of the world. As the show goes on, his character flattens out a bit and he becomes less interesting.

However, Varys’ journey in George R.R. Martin’s books looks like it will be very different from the one he has on the show. One theory, known as the “Blackfyre theory,” even suggests that Varys could be a secret Targaryen.


In the last book published by George R.R. Martin, 2011’s A Dance with Dragons, we are introduced to a character named Young Griff. Varys claims that Young Griff is secretly Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell who supposedly died with Tywin Lannister took King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion. Varys and his co-conspirator Illyrio Mopatis claim to have switched Aegon out for a different baby and smuggled him out of King’s Landing to raise him in secret to be the “perfect king.”

At the end of Dance, Aegon invades Westeros with the Golden Company and captures several castles in the Stormlands. At the same time, Varys destabilizes things in King’s Landing when he murders Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister, the acting Hand of the King. He does this so Lannister rule will be in chaos, making it easier for Aegon to take over.

The main question with all of this is why do Varys and Illyrio, neither of whom are even from Westeros, support Aegon so vehemently. The goal of their political project is to be get Aegon on the throne, but if it’s a Targaryen they want to rule over the Seven Kingdoms, why support him and not Daenerys, who is doing her own thing on Essos at the time?

Well, originally, Varys and Illyrio intended to support them both; they wanted Aegon and Daenerys marry and have the combined might of their followers march under the same Targaryen banner. However, Tyrion Lannister sabotages the plan and convinces the young and naïve Aegon to invade Westeros without Daenerys.

The Theory

The theory is that Aegon is not a Targaryen, but a Blackfyre. The Blackfyres were a splinter line of Targaryens that began when King Aegon IV Targaryen legitimized his bastard children on his deathbed. Some of those children, including Daemon I Blackfyre, rebelled against the throne, as did some of their descendants.

We are told the last Blackfyre through the male line was killed by a young Barristan Selmy during the fifth Blackfyre rebellion. But it’s possible the female line could have lived on, and some think that Aegon is a surviving descendant through that female line.

The Evidence

Much of the evidence for this theory is tangential at best, but there are some intriguing details in Dance that could help clarify things. For one, Aegon dyes his hair to hide the silvery blonde hair color a Targaryen (or Blackfyre) would have. Aegon being a Blackfyre would also explain why the Golden Company supports him, as they were founded by and fought to get a Blackfyre on the Iron Throne several times in the past. In fact, they still carry around the gold-plated skull of Bittersteel, the founder of the company who orchestrated several of the Blackfyre rebellions. It would be highly unusual for the Golden Company to support a Targaryen when their entire existence is based around removing them from power.

Beyond the Evidence

The next layer to this onion is that Aegon could be Illyrio’s son, meaning that Illyrio was married to the descendant of the female Blackfyre line. Illyro’s wife is dead by the time of the story, but he tells Tyrion that her name was Serra, and she was “a woman with big blue eyes and pale golden hair streaked by silver.” The Targaryens famously have silvery blonde hair, as do the Blackfyres.

Illyrio also says that he has “debts of affection to pay,” possibly alluding to the fact that Serra’s dying wish was for Aegon to be king of Westeros. This would fulfill the goals of the Blackfyre family and explain why Illyrio is involved with this at all. Incidentally, Illyrio has a chest of children’s clothes in his house that Tyrion wears while he stays there. He also gives Tyrion a gift to give to Aegon, expressing sadness that he won’t get to see him until they get to Westeros. These could be clues that Aegon at the very least spent a lot of time in Illyrio’s palace when he was younger.

That leads us to another supposition: that Serra was Varys’ sister, bringing his actions full circle. Since Varys shaves his head, it is possible that he has the silvery blonde hair that Serra and the Targaryens have. This would also mean Varys has king’s blood, possibly explaining why he was castrated by the sorcerer. We know that blood magic is more successful with king’s blood sacrifices, which is why Melisandre burns Shireen and leeches Gendry in the show.

Way Beyond the Evidence

Over the years, this theory has gone through many rounds of speculations, tweaks and debunking. Some believe that Baristan Selmy is the father of Aegon, or that he is actually the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar and that Jon Snow is the son of Ned Stark and Ashara Dayne. The parentage of Jon Snow has not been revealed in the books yet, so he sometimes plays a role in baby swapping tin foil theories involving Aegon.

What we know for sure is that more will be revealed about Varys and Aegon in the upcoming sixth book, The Winds of Winter. Having already taken a good chunk of the Stormlands and drawn the attention of the Martels in Dorne, Aegon is set up to be a major player. With Varys killing off two prominent characters in the final chapter of Dance, his role will likely be big as well. Hopefully we will get to learn exactly why Varys has been spending decades on this convoluted scheme.

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