“Every child knows that the Targaryens have always danced too close to madness. Every time a new Targaryen is born, the Gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”Ser Barristan Selmy once told Daenerys
This is a common reference to Targaryen madness, which possibly runs in the family. But this element is not added just randomly to beef up the plot. There is some degree of scientific and historic backing to Game of Thrones.
House Targaryen follows the practice of incest, i.e. they often marry brother to sister, if not available, the closest relative is the next preference. For instance, Daenerys’ parents – King Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King and Queen Rhaella Targaryen were also siblings. Although Rhaegar’s first wife Elia Martell wasn’t a direct family member, she was a distant cousin of the Targaryen. This was probably done because Dany was too small back then.
They do so to keep their bloodline pure, in order to control the dragons and keep their Valyrian legacy.
An uncommon practice?
Targaryens were the rulers and practiced incest. On the other hand, the same practice is considered it a taboo in the rest of the society.
Incest is not alien to the real world either. In the Egyptian, Hawaiian and Incan royal family, siblings or close cousins married in order to maintain the purity of blood or in order to keep the wealth and power within the family. The same was punishable if practiced by the general public.
Back home, when Lord Buddha was still Prince Siddhartha Gautama, i.e. when he had not given up his titles, he was married to his cousin – Princess Yaśodhara.
Siddharth’s father and Yaśodhara’s mother were siblings, making the couple first degree cousins. They practiced endogamy because no other families were considered equal to them in the region.
Many European royal families also frequently married amongst close cousins for similar reasons. Don’t be surprised if you get entangled in a closed web of pedigree while studying medieval European history.
There are also many instances of people going crazy or impotent in the European royal families, thus abruptly ending their house.
Queen Victoria is famous for deliberately inbreeding the European royalty, i.e. her children and grandchildren, to guarantee peace. They royal houses of Europe were already interconnected by the 20th century.
Historians believe that personal family vendetta rooted within political upheaval were central to World War 1. Even Queen Victoria herself was married to her first cousin, Albert.
Genetics behind it
After generations (3 centuries) of inbreeding, insanity became a recurring trait in the Targaryen family, so much so that a saying became prevalent:
“Every time a Targaryen is born, the Gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath.”Last said by Lord Varys in season 8, episode 5
Are they hinting that Danny has a possibility of going crazy?
This saying is not baseless though. When close relatives mate, it results in homozygosity – the possession of two identical alleles of a particular gene or genes by an individual – because related genes have similar gene pools which increases the probability of inheriting faulty genes.
Every gene has two varying traits called allele. For every gene, a child has 50% probability of inheriting one of these alleles from either of his/her parent. Also, not every trait is expressed with the same intensity.
Some traits are expressed some generations later, while some might be dormant initially, but might be expressed later in life. Eg. The Mad King (Dany’s father) was not mad in his early life, this development happened later in his life.
When parents are closely related, even regressive traits (the ones that require both parents to be carriers of a genetic condition in order to pass it to their offspring) are easily passed down and expressed because of homozygosity and a limited gene pool.
One classic example of recessive genetic disease is haemophilia or the royal disease, called so because it runs in the royal family of England, Europe, Spain, Germany and Russia because of Queen Victoria’s matchmaking on top of an incestuous marriage.
In a family with a history of incest, these recessive mutations start appearing more frequently. Children of incest are affected by deleterious recessive traits of physical and cognitive disabilities.
Physical disabilities may include reduced fertility, lower birth rate and higher infant mortality, congenital birth defects, suppressed immune systems, smaller adult size, etc. These defects were frequently observed in later generations of incestuous marriage in royal families.
Game of Thrones has ignored the physical deformities associated with incest, but has focused on the mental disorders that do gown the generations due to the same practice. Several Tararyens are said to be mentally unstable in Game of Thrones.
It is an established fact that mental disorders are associated with incest. Some mental disorders like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia have genetic bearings.
Anxiety too is believed to be hereditary. Though social and environmental factors play a role, one cannot dismiss the genetic factors.
Imagine the magnitude of mental disorders if both the parents have a mental condition! Incest would only amplify it.
Daenerys seems to be stable in the beginning. But she has started to resemble her father. The Mad King liked to see people burn and get charred to death. Danny does the same with the ‘traitors’.
He cried “burn them all” when Jamie killed him. She did what her father wished for, burned Westeros and turned it into a city of ashes.
Incestuous taboo and genetics were subtle but significant plot development in the show.
- Jamie and Cersei’s relationship as well as their children were deemed illegitimate because incest is a taboo in their society.
- The show pretty much starts when Jon Arryn and later Ned stark find out about their illegitimacy by studying detailed genealogies and phenotypes of House Baratheon.
- Joffrey was mentally unstable for the same reason.
Then the omnipresent Targaryen climax.
The season and series finale is near, we will know if Danny’s fit was a onetime thing or if she is turning into a Mad Queen.
We will also get to know if Jon is resisting her because he has given in to his socialization where incest was a taboo or if his resistance has another reason.
Anyway, the finale is much awaited.
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