Game of Thrones has received acclaim for being one of the deepest shows on television, with a kingdom full of minor houses jockeying for power alongside the show’s main protagonists. The books by George R.R. Martin go even further, fleshing out the history of Westeros in extreme detail. Online communities have grown over the years dedicated to piecing together this history in an attempt to better understand what’s coming next in the Song of Ice and Fire.
From these communities come a number of theories which we’ll be examining over the next few weeks. Last time, we looked at the Faceless Men and their motivations. Now we do the same for another organization that may have their own secret agenda… the Maesters of the Citadel.
Who Are The Maesters?
The maesters are an order of scholars, healers, and advisers to the noble class of Westeros. Every major house in the Seven Kingdoms has a maester of its own, trained at the Citadel in Oldtown. For each skill a maester has mastered, they add a metal link to a chain around their neck; black iron for ravenry, copper for history, silver for healing, and so on. These skills are purely educational in function and are not a form of magic. A few rare maesters hold a link of Valyrian steel, which marks them as knowledgeable in sorcery and the supernatural, but even these men have no special powers and claim that magic left the world long ago.
The maesters play an important role in Westeros. They are the only ones with the ability to train messenger ravens, and for centuries were the only ones capable of reading the messages they carried. The Citadel contains the largest library in all of the Seven Kingdoms and, as such, the maesters hold much of the knowledge of the world, portioning it out to the lords they serve as they see fit. All maesters swear an oath of fealty to the noble house they are assigned to, but some suspect the Citadel of manipulating events to their own ends.
There is one theory regarding the maesters that stands up to examination: That their mission is to eradicate all magic from Westeros and create a new world based on reason. In order to accomplish this, they have been part of a generation-long conspiracy to hoard magical items and books in the Citadel, deny the existence of the supernatural, and destroy any living embodiment of sorcery they encounter. This includes dragons and the Targaryens that control them.
Fire And Blood
The Targaryens held onto power in Westeros for nearly 300 years, using their dragons to destroy any enemies real or imagined. But in 129AC, a war of succession within the Targaryen family dubbed the Dance of Dragons wiped out all but a few of the Targaryens’ dragonhost. The eventual winner of the throne was King Aegon III, who harbored a deep-seated terror of dragons after witnessing one devour his mother during the war.
At his bequest, the remaining dragons were kept chained in the Dragonpit upon Rhaenys’ Hill in Kings Landing. Folk knowledge claimed that keeping the dragons in an enclosed structure stunted their growth and left them small and pitiful. But Daenerys’ dragons had no issues growing large and powerful while chained under the Great Pyramid of Meereen. So, what really caused the dragons in the Dragonpit to wither and die?
There was speculation amongst the people that Aegon III’s hatred of dragons was so strong that he poisoned them, earning him the title “Aegon the Dragonbane.” But was it Aegon who poisoned and killed the last of the dragons… or the maesters?
No Place For Sorcery Or Prophecy
In the prelude chapter of A Feast for Crows, we meet Maester Marwyn, an archmaester of the Citadel whose interest in magic is such his nickname is “Marwyn the Mage.” He is something of a black sheep amongst archmaesters and provides much of the evidence pointing toward the Grand Maester’s Conspiracy, starting with the dragons.
“Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around?” he asks Sam in the book. “Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords? The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons.”
This not only seems to confirm that the maesters played a key role in killing the last of the dragons, but that the maesters are actively trying to shape a world without magic. He goes on to claim that had Maester Aemon arrived in Oldtown alive, members of the citadel would have had him killed. “His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.”
This leads us into the next step in the Grand Maester’s Conspiracy… stamping the Targaryen line out of existence.
In A Dance with Dragons, an elderly noblewoman named Lady Dustin shares several interesting stories with Reek. She accuses all maesters of being untrustworthy and claims Rickard Stark’s maester manipulated the Lord of Winterfell regularly. According to Lady Dustin, Maester Walys was the driving force behind Lord Rickard marrying his heir Brandon to Catelyn Tully, forging an alliance between the North and the Riverlands. Walys’ original last name before taking up the chain was Flowers, and Lady Dustin claims he was a bastard child of an Oldtown archmaester.
She later mentions Lord Rickard’s “Southron ambitions,” implying the Lord of Winterfell was planning on rising up against the Targaryens. Indeed, between marrying Brandon to Catelyn Tully and fostering Ned with Jon Arryn in the Vale alongside Robert Baratheon, he was in an excellent position to unite the major houses of Westeros against Aerys II. Many speculate this plays a large role in why Rickard and Brandon were burned alive by Aerys in front of a packed hall of onlookers. Aerys wasn’t just acting on paranoid delusions or overreacting to Brandon Stark’s accusations that Rhaegar Targaryen had kidnapped Lyanna Stark. He saw what was going on and decided to send a strong message to his court that treason would be dealt with harshly.
Again, was Rickard Stark truly the captain of his own destiny, or was he manipulated by his maester to rise up against the Targaryens in an attempt to further eradicate all elements of magic from Westeros?
Those reading A Song of Ice and Fire closely can find other hints that the maesters are working to stymie the spread of magic and downplay its existence. Not every maester is involved in the grand conspiracy we’ve just laid out, but they all play their part as taught to them in the Citadel by the archmaesters, who are the driving force behind this mission. To what effect? One would think a world free of the horrors of magic would be reason enough on its own. The Targaryens and their dragons wreaked death and destruction upon Westeros for centuries. Removing them leaves a much more stable kingdom for the maesters to control and administrate.
Whether their attempts to destroy magic are based on saving the realm from otherworldly destruction or solidifying their hold on power remains to be seen. There can be little doubt that this is one of the order’s core goals, and the final books and seasons in the series are sure to delve further into the workings of the Citadel and those who inhabit it.