It is one of the biggest and most important plotlines the HBO show cut from the original source materials. It is also one of the reasons why Dany’s descent into madness and paranoia was so unconvincing. Why was she suddenly so insecure and jealous around Jon, when he clearly loved her and had absolutely no interest in the throne, whatever claim his bloodline gave him? It didn’t make sense and understandably frustrated viewers. The books have another exciting Targaryen rival waiting in the wings, with great things expected from him in the Winds of Winter and a preview chapter already setting up the drama.
Another secret Targaryen prince with a stronger claim than Dany with support starting to build across Westeros would truly drive her to extreme measures.
Book 5, A Dance With Dragons, started to sow the seeds for this major shock reveal. Not only will it hugely destabilise Daenerys, but it also makes much more sense of the final seasons on the HBO show.
Varys was actually always working for this other Targaryen all along, so his ‘betrayal’ of Daenerys doesn’t have to be so forced. Similarly, the weakening of her supporters in Westeros is much more satisfying when we know they are simply allying with someone they believe has a stronger claim to the throne.
So who is this other Targaryen and where did he spring from?
However, it is starting to appear that Varys had already secretly swapped baby Aegon for the child of an impoverished tanner from King’s Landing and smuggled out the heir to the throne.
In Book 5, while he is travelling across Essos, Tyrion meets Griff and Young Griff. Eventually, it is revealed the older man is Jon Connington, a close friend of Rhaegar. He is acknowledged to be an honourable man, so it seems very unlikely he would be lying about anything.
Young Griff claims to be the real Aegon and meets with the Golden Company to plan the invasion of Westeros. At the end of the book, they have landed and retaken Connington’s family home, Griffin’s Roost.
Even more excitingly, in a teaser chapter from The Winds of Winter, George RR Martin describes Arianne Martell on a mission to discover if this Aegon’s claim is true – and the news that he has also taken Storm’s End, the stronghold of the Stormlands.
This is all bad news for Daenerys.
Daenerys, when she eventually arrives in Westeros, will have numerous things working against her.
She will arrive with hordes of Dothraki, viewed as savages by the lords of Westeros, not to mention eunochs. Aegon/Griff has the famed Golden Company plus increasing Westerosi support.
Daenerys is the sister of Rhaegar, but succession traditionally goes through the line of the first male heir. This automatically gives Aegon a stronger claim to the throne.
The issue is muddied by the fact Aerys declared Dany’s brother Viserys heir, while the baby Aegon was still ‘alive.’ Viserys was declared king on Dragon stone at the news of Aerys’ death. Viserys, in turn, named Dany his heir.
So why wouldn’t Dany automatically have a stronger claim?
Firstly, Aerys was popularly known as the Mad King, especially towards the end of his life. Any such declaration would be easy to discount if the lords of Westeros so wished.
Finally, in a rampantly patriarchal society, a valid male heir would always be seen as preferable and Aegon does still have the better claim by blood.
If this Aegon is who he claims to be, he outranks both Dany and Jon Snow, who is also (we expect) named Aegon but was born after.
All of this would be a much more nuanced and satisfying reason for Dany to grow increasingly angry, desperate and even paranoid. How will she know who to trust with two potential rivals to her claim to the Iron Throne?