Every Game of Thrones fan knows the maesters. These wisened old scholars, wearing heavy chains, are kindly fonts of knowledge who diligently serve the various great houses across the Seven Kingdoms. These wise men (and they are exclusively men) are supposed to be unscrupulously impartial, loyal only to the realm and the greater good.
And yet there are dark whispers about the maesters and The Citadel, the great library where they learn their trade. After all, these ‘knights of the mind’ have incredible powers. They may not command legions or have dragons on their side, but they control something just as powerful, knowledge.
But how can knowledge compete with sharp steel or the searing heat of a dragon’s breath? Well, what if I told you there’s a fan theory that the maesters deliberately set out to destroy House Targaryen and rid the world of dragons in their quest to destroy all magic? Don’t believe us? Well, let us explain ‘The Maester’s Conspiracy’.
We’ll begin by explaining the maester’s greatest weapon, their ability to read. Most Game of Thrones characters are illiterate, including many highborn nobles. As such, they trust the maesters – who are taught to read and write at The Citadel – to pen their letters and read their communications.
It would be straightforward then for a maester to twist his lord’s words to his own ends if he chose to or perhaps deliberately misread a letter. Compounding this is the fact that the maesters are the people who train and run the ravens.
The ravens are, of course, how the lords and ladies of Westeros communicate over long distances. This basically gives this gang of scholars complete control over long-distance communication in the Seven Kingdoms.
Control over communication isn’t their only power, though. The maesters are entrusted with documenting the history of Westeros, and as we know, ‘history is written by the victors’. There have been numerous occasions where the maesters have ‘massaged’ the truth of history to fit their ends.
The World of Ice and Fire, a book by George RR Martin, is a meta-textual history of Westeros written in world by Maester Yandel. The book is highly complimentary of Joffrey Baratheon and skirts over his cruelty and the war crimes committed by the Baratheon family in Robert’s Rebellion. Why? Because Yandel doesn’t want to annoy the Baratheon/Lannisters who currently sit on the Iron Throne.
Not only do they write the histories, but they also teach it. They’re responsible for educating the noble houses, allowing them to pick and choose what a lord or lady learns. It has the added benefit of ingratiating them into some of the most powerful families in the land.
So we know the maesters control communication in Westeros; they’re the ones writing history and are close to every major family. All of this gives them a tremendous amount of influence over the land, but just because they have the means doesn’t mean they used that power to bring down House Targaryen, does it?
In the book A Feast for Crows, we meet Archmaester Marwyn, one of the few men in the Citadel who actively studies magic. Marwyn posits that the maesters poisoned the Targaryen dragons, undermining the royal family’s power in the process.
“Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He tells Sam. “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons.”
Why would the maesters do this, though? Well, again, Marwyn has an answer. He believes that The Citadel sought to wipe magic from the land because they could not never truly understand it and that the maesters saw the dragons and Valyria as the source of all that’s arcane. This is supported by what Luwin tells Bran in Game of Thrones.
“Perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer,” Luwin says. “What little remains is no more than the wisp of smoke that lingers in the air after a great fire has burned out, and even that is fading. Valyria was the last ember, and Valyria is gone.”
The Maesters Conspiracy suggests that with the collapse of the Valyrian Freehold, magic was weakened but still existed as long as dragons survived. We see some evidence of this when Daenerys Targaryen manages to hatch her three eggs, that magic seems to grow stronger. In the books, Quaithe tells Daenerys that fire mages who could barely light a glass candle a week before can now conjure ladders of flame once more.
So centuries ago, when Aegon the Conqueror landed on Westeros with just four dragons (including the mighty Balerion the Black Dread), the wise men of The Citadel may have seen their opportunity to kill these few dragons and rid the world of magic.
As such, they positioned themselves as councillors to the great houses, including House Targaryen and slowly worked to undermine the royal family and wipe out the dragons. What evidence do we have of this? The maesters are linked to the two events that broke the Targaryen’s grip on the Iron Throne.
The first is the Dance of the Dragons, the bitter Targaryen civil war we’re watching unfold on the fantasy series House of the Dragon. The Dance cost the Targaryens almost all their dragons, leaving just one under their control.
The war was sparked by Alicent Hightower crowning her son Aegon king against the wishes of her husband Viserys, who wanted his daughter Rhaenarya to rule. While it may not sound like the maesters had a hand in this, the Hightowers are actually the chief patrons of the Citadel and have a close bond with the maesters.
It’s possible the maesters manipulated the Hightowers to start the war with the promise of power and the throne to kill as many dragons as possible. We know, following the Dance, that the few dragons born were small and weak. Indeed the Targaryen king who took the throne following the Dance, Aegon III, hated dragons, and there were rumours he conspired with his maesters to poison the remaining eggs.
Yet despite the Dance, the Targaryens remained on the Iron Throne, but that would not last. Within a few generations, the House of the Dragon was overthrown entirely during Robert’s Rebellion, with just two members of the once mighty family escaping with their lives.
Again it seems like the maesters are innocent of any crime. The rebellion began because Prince Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna Stark yet the books offer clues that the maesters may have subtly influenced events yet again.
In A Dance of Dragons (the book, not the war), Barbrey Dustin claims that Lord Rickard (Ned Stark’s father) was plotting with the other great houses to oust the Targaryen family. While she offers no real evidence for her claim, she says it was his loyal Maester Walys who convinced him to marry his children to southern families to guarantee future alliances.
While this may have just been canny political advice, it does raise an eyebrow. What were Walys and Rickard planning? Did Robert jump the gun? Also, this would have the benefit of mixing the Stark line (which we know contains its own warg magic) with the less magical southern houses. Was Walys’ plan to kill two birds with one stone?
Honestly, we’ll likely never know. George RR Martin likes his fictional world to be full of ambiguity, and half the fun of the show is speculating on this stuff. Still, as the House of the Dragon TV series goes on, let’s keep an eye on those shifty maesters.