Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from A Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to email@example.com, leave a comment in the post, ask in the APOIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
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And now, up to ruling 110! Our guest judge this week is Romain Thirion, who hails from France. He is 30 years old and a journalist, currently working for a magazine called Après-Vente Automobile and its website, www.apres-vente-auto.com. It's a professional review about automobile aftermarket, economic analysis of the business of spare parts and repair. Years ago, he wrote music reviews for a Metal website called Nightfall In Metal Earth. He's a big fan of George RR Martin's writing, loves it beyond ASOIAF and his first take on GRRM's work was Fever Dream. Then, he started reading ASOIAF in French, before definitely switching to English because the French translation is so pompous that it makes it, from AGOT to AFFC, a nightmare to read. "It's an assassination of Martin's clear and natural style, which is entirely focused on storytelling, not on petty using of a sophisticated lexicon.
How would you rate the political acumen of Jaime Lannister post Feast-Dance?
Main Opinion: Amin
Jaime has certainly progressed a huge amount since his pre-ASOS days. He appears to be learning to negotiate by necessity and is getting better at reading people's motives and intentions. He still benefits hugely from his Lannister name, so he is able to be blunt and forward and act in a way that the moste skilled political movers have to avoid. But he's certainly rising up in quality, to the point that being Lord Commander of the Kingsguard or some other position of power is something feasible rather than the joke it was before. He rates as a B- grade, with room for improvement.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Stefan
He’s becoming what’s essentially adding up to being a good right-hand-man. You know, the guy who you send in when you need someone to pound his fist on the table. I wouldn’t send Jaime to delicate negotiations, like, let’s say to the Iron Bank or for peace talks, but dealing with upstart allies like the Freys and Brackens or cowing Edmure into submission? He can do that.
Concurring opinion: Romain Thirion
I think Jaime's captivity in Riverrun's cells all along ACOK and, furthermore, his trip back to King's Landing under Brienne's (and Cleos Frey, btw) custody during ASOS, made him understand some basic principles of politics and diplomacy that he heavily lacked before his loss in the Whispering Wood. But his case wasn't a desperate one. I think he always had, in his father Tywin, a great (but despicable) exemple of what politics are about and can (not should, there are many other ways than Tywin's) achieve. He just needed to lose some things, notably his hand to Zollo on Vargo Hoat's order, to realize that he couldn't capitalize on his swordman's skills and on being Lord Tywin's son to get out of trouble. His time in prison, brooding on his failure as a commander and his ardent desire to get back to Cersei, made him aware that manipulating peoples's acts and ambitions can get you things that sheer force and warrior skills cannot. The dinner he shares with Roose Bolton is, I think, the turning point for him. He doesn't need to be plainly told about Roose and Tywin's agreement to understand it and its consequences. He acknowledges the fact that negotiation (even on treasonos terms, for instance) is much more efficient than prowess in battle. Judge Amin rightly said that being born a Lannister benefits him pretty much in order to get things done, with the bluntness that his last name allows him. He makes very good use of it during Riverrun's siege. But Jaime, with two hands or only one, has always been about himself first, even if his relation to Tyrion and Brienne undermine this feeling a bit. He never really cares about the realm, about peace, nor even about his Lannister legacy. That's why he will never be a prime player of politics and get stuck between C+ and B- level.
Final Verdict: C+ seems to cut it.
Could Varys be a long-lost descendant of Saera Targaryen? She was the youngest child of the old king that fled to Lys then opened a pleasure house in Old Volantis. Yes, Varys was born a slave, so the descendants could have fallen on hard times in the 150+ years between the two, but Varys could have discovered his roots in all his secret-thieving. It would still leave his motivation a bit of a mystery - did he help bring down the Targaryens under Aerys II? Did he realize his mistake and work to bring down Robert and restore the Targaryens? Did he believe the old Targaryens of KL were too entitled? He may have seen how Aegon V lived a humble youth, and modeled that for Aegon VI. It may expain his need to shave his head bald (to prevent the tell-tale silver-gold hair from showing).
Main Opinion: Amin
I think it is certainly possible that Varys has some Targaryen blood. The main theory is that it may be Blackfyre blood, but he could be "dragon seed" from another origin. So, technically he could be descenced from Saera, but if that is the case, I don't think he would have actually discovered that she is his ancestor. He just would have figured out he has Targ blood and some Targ features, and shaves his head for that purpose. So whether or not it was Saera does not have much impact on Varys or his motives. He doesn't even need any Targ blood, whether Blackfyre or not, to explain his motives for working with Illyrio. Note that shaving the head can be useful for other purposes as well, such as having a neutral basis for wearing various disguises, or Varys simply enjoys having a shaved head.
Concurring opinion: Stefan
I think it’s possible that Varys descends from the Blackfyres somehow, but the main link here seems to be Illyrio’s wife. I somehow doubt that Varys is conscious of his descendancy from Saera Seastar - if so, why not claim the crown himself? I mean, that seems like a pretty good bloodline with which to impress the Golden Company. If he has Blackfyre blood, then only thinned and tainted.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Romain Thirion
I don't think Varys is Saera's descendant. What's behind Varys and Illyrio's masterplan is revenge, and no descendant of Saera would have any need for revenge as long as their ancestor Saera got what she wanted : being free from the will of her parents to make her a silent sister or a septa. By fleeing to Volantis, Saera exchanged a life of servitude for a life of pleasure... and money. It's practically safe to say that Saera died happier than she would have lived under the Faith's rule. No, Varys and Illyrio are seeking revenge on the Targaryen dynasty and on everyone who dared ruling the Seven Kingdoms in place of the ones who were legitimate to rule them : Daemon Blackfyre and Aerion "Brightflame". I tend to think (along, partly, with BryndenBFish from Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire) that Varys is a descendant of Aerion Targaryen, who was exiled to Lys after the events of "The Hedge Knight". During his time in Lys, Aerion fathered a child named Maegor, who was passed over in the succession of Aerion's father king Maekar I by Aerion's little brother "Egg" who became King Aegon V after the Great Council of 233 AC. Remember that Varys is sometimes noted to seem sincere about his past and I think that Aerion's lysene descendance fell from grace and was really reduced to enslavement after the decision of the Great Council to pass over Maegor "Brightflame" in the Targaryen line of succession. While I don't think that Varys is also descending from Daemon Blackfyre (like BryndenBFish does) and that Illyrio is indeed Daemon's descendant by the female line, I like the argument from Militant_Penguin that Aerion "Brightflame" somehow mated with the Blackfyres during his days as a sellsword in Essos and shared their cause. "Black or Red, a dragon is still a dragon". So I think Varys really shaves his head to hide his Targaryen features and it fits quite well his mummer's abilities.
Final Verdict: Blackfyre is a strong possibility, Saera is a longshot.
Does Varys know about Jon Snow's parentage? I grant that whether he knows or not it doesn't affect his plans, I'm narrowing the question to does he know.
Main Opinion: Amin
I think that Varys does not know of Jon Snow's parentage. That is a secret that seems to have been kept so effectively that only the people who were there or told directly would know about it. In this way, Ned actually benefitted indirectly from the fact that the rest of his men accompanying him died at the Tower, because the greater the number of people there, the greater the chance it would come out at some point. Whether Varys knew about it would actually affect his plans. If he knows that Ned has willingly kept and raised a Targaryen child, that is information that would be useful in assessing Ned's response to a Targaryen or Blackfyre ruler. It is also a possible level to use against Ned, the fact that he didn't tell Robert about Jon. So the knowledge would certainly have affected Varys' plans and actions toward Ned in some way, without even factoring in the possible claim Jon has to the Throne if that information became widespread. In that sense, it would have actually been better for Varys plans if Jon was born a girl, because she would be a potential match for Aegon that could still gather Northern support, if crowning Aegon is Varys’ ultimate goal.
Concurring Opinion: Stefan
Varys certainly doesn’t know of Jon. He would have used this knowledge against Eddard the instance he came to King’s Landing, maybe even earlier.
Concurring opinion: Romain Thirion
No, Varys doesn't know about Jon Snow's parentage. Rhaegar would never have let him know. Remember that Aerys II paranoia peaked when Varys became his Master of Whisperers and that he was responsible for making the Mad King assisting the Tourney at Harrenhal, en event arguably funded by Rhaegar to gather the most lords possible in order to overtake his father. Don't need to remember you how this plan, along with all the other plans possibily involved with this (in)famous tourney, went awry, thanks to everyone's favorite Spider. Varys was very much hostile to Rhaegar, I think, and made Aerys suspicions about his heir grow everyday. Rhaegar had every reason to mistrust Varys and, as he had very few friends, we must think that Rhaegar's friends were true friends, the kind that would never betray you. During Aerys time, even the Kingsguard was still a noble company with knights true to their words, who owed their loyalty to no one except king's blood. At the time of Jon's birth, Aerys II was already dead, Robert Baratheon was already sitting the Iron Throne, and Lyanna had been brought to the Tower of Joy many months ago. The Kingsguard responded solelely to Rhaegar's orders. This place was Rhaegar's most secret and remote castle, one that no stranger nor potential traitor would be allowed to visit. Rhaegar gave its defense to the three of the greatest knights at that time, Arthur Dayne, Oswell Whent and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Gerold Hightower. None of the people present at the Tower of Joy would have betrayed the secret of Jon's birth and Varys web didn't spread as far south. If Varys ever knew Jon's identity, his plans would have excluded (killed) or, less likely, included him anyway. Of course, that's assuming that R+L=J ;-) We all believe it, now, right?
Final Verdict: Varys doesn't know.