WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES FINALE EPISODE OF GAME OF THRONES, “THE IRON THRONE,” FOLLOW.
The series finale of Game of Thrones was extremely divisive, as many felt the rushed paced at which everyone reached their respective conclusion left something to be desired. The fall of Queen Daenerys Targaryen and the choosing of a new monarch by the Lords of the Seven (now Six) Kingdoms could have taken an entire season or more.
Fleshing out the intricacies of human nature might have given more emotional weight to the narrative pay-offs and one plot point in particular never seemed to mesh: the love affair between Daenerys and Jon Snow. Perhaps it was because the actors simply didn’t have the proper chemistry or because David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to create the relationship out of whole cloth, but whatever the reason, the would-be torrid attraction never gelled.
There could be another explanation of why the lynchpin relationship of the series fell flat. Perhaps Daenerys Targaryen was never meant to fall in love with Jon Snow. It could be that Game of Thrones once again merged two storylines into one for the sake of expediency. Over the years, HBO had to trim some of George R.R. Martin’s more unruly character arcs to maintain a 10-episode format. Beric Dondarrion took over the role of Lady Stoneheart. Ser Jorah Mormont was merged with Lord Jon Connington, inheriting both greyscale and the journey through Essos with Tyrion.
Perhaps the most notable change Game of Thrones made, however, was with Sansa Stark. By combining Sansa’s story with that of her best friend Jeyne Poole, and marrying Sansa — not Jeyne, like in the books — to Ramsay Snow, the show courted controversy since Ramsay’s despicable treatment of Sansa completely changed the arc of her character. So it is entirely possible that Jon Snow absorbed another character in order to keep the narrative gears moving: Young Griff, aka Prince Aegon Targaryen.
HOW MANY PRINCE AEGON’S ARE THERE?
Let’s back up a minute. Just who is Young Griff? A character introduced in A Dance with Dragons, the true identity of the teenager is allegedly Prince Aegon Targaryen, true born son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Princess Elia Martell of Dorne. With the help of Lord Varys, who saw the writing on the wall as Robert’s Rebellion progressed, the Master of Whisperers hatched a back-up plan. Since King Aerys II refused to allow Princess Elia and her children to leave King’s Landing (the Mad King was holding them hostage to ensure the loyalty of Dorne), Varys feared they would be killed if Robert’s forces took the city. To that end, Varys found a tanner in Flea Bottom whose wife had recently died in childbed. A trade was made: a jug of the finest vintage of Arbor Gold wine in exchange for the baby. Varys then swapped the smallfolk child with Prince Aegon, secreting the child to Illyario Mopatis in Pentos. Whether Ser Gregor bashed the changeling infant’s head in out of sheer cruelty or to disguise that the babe was not indeed Prince Aegon is left up to the reader to decide.
If the name Illyario Mopatis seems familiar, it is also the man whom Varys entrusted with the care of a young Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys after their original foster homes became untenable. Lord Varys was a very busy man, protecting the last few scions of House Targaryen.
WHAT IS YOUNG GRIFF’S STORY?
When George R.R. Martin’s story first joins Young Griff, he is no longer in the care of Illyario but that of his foster father, Lord Jon Connington. The former Hand of King Aerys II and best friend of Prince Rhaegar (perhaps even Rhaegar’s casual lover), Jon Connington was exiled from the Seven Kingdoms after a resounding defeat by Robert’s Rebellion on the battlefield. Lord Varys reached out to Lord Connington once he joined the Golden Company. They put it out that Connington had drunk himself to death in shame, freeing Lord Jon to take the only known surviving child of his best friend under his wing. As a former Hand of the King, Connington was uniquely suited to raise Prince Aegon to one day return to Westeros and take the Iron Throne. Which is exactly what they did.
In A Dance with Dragons, Lord Jon Connington reveals to The Golden Company that the rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated while also unveiling Young Griff’s true identity. The Golden Company agrees to take up Prince Aegon’s banners and they all set sail for Westeros, landing in the Stormlands at Lord Connington’s old house seat, Griffin’s Roost. With the Stormlands unguarded since Stannis Baratheon has gone to war, the Golden Company quickly overruns the land, taking the castle of Storm’s End as their base of operation. In a sample chapter released from The Winds of Winter, Princess Arianne Martell (who was also cut from the show) is on her way to meet her alleged cousin. Should Young Griff convince her that he is the son of Elia Martell, Dorne will throw their full weight behind his claim. Meanwhile, Jon Connington refuses to marry off Prince Aegon, convinced that Daenerys will wish to make a husband of him so their joint forces can sweep the Seven Kingdoms clean of usurpers and traitors.
Taking a 10,000-foot view of the moving pieces Martin has in his story reveals where Game of Thrones stitched some pieces of Young Griff’s story into other places. Instead of Young Griff bringing The Golden Company to Westeros’ shore, it became Cersei’s doing. Other parts, such as the fate of Storm’s End, were swept aside with a single line about giving the land to Gendry Baratheon. In fact, so much of Young Griff’s story was excised from the HBO show that fans had wondered if Prince Aegon was merely a red herring and not at all important to the end game. Instead, I think as Game of Thrones went into its later seasons, Young Griff was neatly blended into Jon Snow.
COUSINS, IDENTICAL COUSINS
The most obvious hint that Jon Snow and Young Griff were combined is the reveal of Jon’s true name on the TV show: Prince Aegon Targaryen. For years, the identity of Jon Snow was the topic of much debate amongst fans of the books but a prevailing theory believed his birth name was Jaehaerys. King Jaehaerys had been Prince Rhaegar’s grandfather and a well-loved ruler. And after all, Ned Stark was a simple man. Shortening Jaehaerys to Jon would be easy enough. But Jaeherys was excised from the show’s history which, combined with the removal of Young Griff, made it easy to give the name Aegon to Jon.
In addition, within the books, Jon Snow is still dead after several of his Night’s Watch brothers turned on him, and still many moons (and a resurrection) away from learning the truth about the circumstances of his birth, while Daenerys is nearly up to the point where the show has her abandoning Meereen and finally setting sail to claim the Iron Throne. On Game of Thrones, Dorne throws in their lot with Daenerys out of spite for Cersei killing Ellaria Sand and her daughters, the Sand Snakes. All those women are alive and well in the books. So what reasoning would Dorne have to back Dany? None whatsoever, unless the Dragon Queen joins forces with Young Griff, the nephew of the Prince of Dorne. On the show, Lady Olenna Tyrell aligns herself with Queen Daenerys in vengeance for the deaths of her family, all of whom are alive and well in the books. So how does Dany gain the support of The Reach? As the Tyrells were always Targaryen loyalists, Dany combining her strength with her nephew, Young Griff, would probably be enough for The Reach to call its banners.
All this adds up to one highly probable conclusion: on Game of Thrones, Jon Snow — in the later seasons at least — is an amalgamation of two characters. Two nephews merged into one for the sake of simplicity. Perhaps this means Daenerys will have more chemistry with Young Griff in the pages of the books than she ever did on screen with Jon Snow.