6. The Tragedy at Summerhall

game of thrones
via Marc Simonetti
 

Of all the mysteries in Westeros, the Tragedy at Summerhall is the one that remains the most tantalizing. We know that there was a ceremony at a great castle to herald the birth of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, and we know that the celebration ended in horror with many dead -- but we don't have a lot of the details of the how and why. It's like we have the whole picture but it's juuust enough out of focus that we can't see the finer details, like a Magic Eye painting that's supposedly hiding a dinosaur.

As for the facts we do have: Summerhall was a fantastic castle built by the Targeryens, a little over a century before Daenerys' dragons hatched. Constructed during peacetime, Summerhall didn't have much in the way of defensive capabilities, nor did it have any strategic value of note. It was just an awesome castle that the royal family liked to hang out in sometimes; the high fantasy equivalent of having a log cabin in Vermont. 

The castle was a favorite in particular of King Aegon V, a young version of which stars in George R.R. Martin's Dunk and Egg novellas (which you should totally read, by the way). Aegon was a pretty nice dude all told, kind and intelligent as opposed to the "savage and bloodthirsty" type that seem to make up half of the Targeryen lineage. Here's the King with his family:

game of thrones
via Karla Ortiz
 

That's Aegon in the back left, with his sons Duncan, Jaehaerys and Daeron filling out the squad. Daeron over on the right may be of particular importance; we'll get back to him and his sweet ponytail a bit later. 

It's important to note that Aegon was called "Aegon the Unlikely" for a reason. He was the fourth son of a fourth son -- following the rule of royal inheritance, Aegon should have never been crowned. A whole lot of terrible things had to happen and a whole lot of people had to die for The Unlikely to ascend to the throne, but that's what happened. Aegon was determined to step up to the task, however, and it turned out that his dedication to the prosperity of the people would be his own undoing. 

See, Aegon wasn't like the kings of the past. He grew up around "smallfolk" (i.e. people who always seem to have dirt on their face), going on adventures with Sir Duncan the Tall. So when he arrived at the throne, Aegon wanted to make life better for everyone, peasants included. Thing was, the other lords weren't super into the idea, seeing as "minimum wage" has no meaning in Westeros. So Aegon figured the best way to assert his power and get what he wanted would be to get what no Targeryen had in a century: Dragons. 

On that night at Summerhall, Aegon was using a combination of sorcery and worship in an effort to hatch dragon eggs. Instead, the entire castle ignited, and Aegon perished in the flames along with his son Duncan.

summerhall

In more than one way, this can be seen as another Doom of Valyria on a smaller scale. We can sort of guess at what happened -- a fragmented record that barely survives mentions wildfire -- but once more, we don't know exactly why or how it happened. 

You could go the easy way out and say that Aegon's obsession with hatching the dragons backfired and the dark rites he attempted to use ended up consuming him and his loved ones. But that's ignoring a lot of the things going on around the sidelines, things that mirror events chronicled in the books and show.  

Around the time of Summerhall, the Targeryens didn't have a ton of friends, and there's a good reason why. Barristan Selmy recounts as much in A Dance With Dragons:

All three of the sons of the fifth Aegon had wed for love, in defiance of their father's wishes. And because that unlikely monarch had himself followed his heart when he chose his queeen, he allowed his sons to have their way, making bitter enemies where he might have had fast friends. Treason and turmoil followed, as night follows day, ending at Summerhall in sorcery, fire and grief.

Basically Selmy is implying that Aegon pissed everyone off by letting his sons marry for love instead of using those valuable betrothals to forge strong alliances. He's probably right, too. One of the pissed-off in this scenario: Olenna Redwyne. You might know her as the Queen of Thorns. 

olenna

Olenna was engaged to Aegon's son Daeron for quite a while. But once he came of age, Daeron decided to call the marriage off because he was in love with another man. The same thing happened with Duncan, who was matched with a Baratheon before he ditched the arrangement for someone he truly desired. And again with Jaehaerys, who turned down a Tully because he preferred the company of his own sister. 

History repeats itself. Margery wasn't the first Tyrell to get engaged to a gay man. Robb wasn't the first one to marry for love instead of honoring a pre-arranged agreement -- a mistake that has been shown time and time again to end in tragedy. 

Could Olenna have had something to do with the deaths at Summerhall? Maybe. Joffrey rubbed her family the wrong way, and he ended up with those weird eyeball stones on his face. It could be considered incidental, but it's also important to remember who else was around at the time. 

pycelle

Ah, Maester Pycelle. Though he appears a dull geezer, it's important to remember to ignore the doddering facade. Pycelle has survived for 40 years for a reason: He keeps a low profile so he can manipulate events without alerting anyone. So we should probably be more than a little suspicious that Pycelle was brought on as Aegon's Grand Maester just months before Summerhall burned to the ground.

Not only that, but Aegon had a string of bad luck with Maesters leading up to that point. Before Pycelle came on board, two Maesters had died, each after less than a year of service. A third Maester succumbed to "a chill" on the trip to King's landing, and then Pycelle was called for the job. Sure, it could have just so happened this was the natural sequence of events, but we should know better than to assume everything is a coincidence in Westeros. 

So why undermine the crown? Well, Maesters in general have shown to be intent on keeping dragons dead and gone. Maester Marywn admitted as much to Sam in A Feast for Crows. 

"Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?"

There are a multitude of other factions that could have had a hand in Summerhall. The Faceless Men presumably still have a grudge against Valyrians and they wouldn't want the dragons to come back either, so they have all the reason in the world to sabotage the hatching ritual. Hell, Tywin Lannister was an asshole teenager at the time, and we all know he was capable of some pretty horrific things even at that age -- why not throw him into the mix?

Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. But with so many outside forces at play, it's hard to believe that Summerhall was the result of a simple accident. That, and this is George R.R. Fucking Martin we're talking about.



Tristan Cooper can be found trying to think of a funny tagline on Twitter.