Downfall of a Dynasty – Incest

There is an all too common idea among readers of the A Song of Ice and Fire fandom that have this idea that an author like George RR Martin is pro-incest and is, perhaps, even promoting it. If anything, GRRM writes far more favorably about polygamy and open relationships more than incest. This includes marriages with a variety of men and women… and who goes with whom. George has his own rules for his own story; scientific reality be damned!

Inbred Targaryen
George uses his own genetic rules, or else Daenerys would look like this instead of being beautiful. Heck, Jon might even have a droopy eye from Rhaegar.

I can firmly say that in all of his writings that include incest, or the idea of interbreeding in any form, it never wins, EVER, and is often related to racist ideals. If incest is not outright rejected from the beginning (some societies chose to die off rather than practice incest), then it leads to a genetic depression of sorts and is the practice is then rejected. I have listed his stories out in the subsequent page to this one.

Often GRRM has this society attend something he calls “gatherings”, which are basically big orgies where the point is to spread your DNA to non-related people.

  • The Skin Trade – incest has caused an inbreeding depression among the “elite” in the werewolf society. Despite the inbreeding, the elite are dying off. The hero of the story is a watered down werewolf, a mutt named Willie Flambeaux- the mutt is the hero, that should tell the reader something about our author. There is even a mention of how practicing incest lead to the mental derangement that caused a brother to kill his sister.
    • Rogoff was watching her from beneath his tangle of black hair. “He still doesn’t get it,” she said. She turned back to Joe. “Steven is sicker than you think. Something is missing. Too inbred, maybe. Think about it. Anders and Rochmonts, Flambeauxes and Harmons, the four great founding families, all werewolves, marrying each other generation after generation to keep the lines pure, for how many centuries? They kept the lines pure all right. They bred themselves Steven. He didn’t kill those children. Roy Helander saw a wolf carry off his sister, and Steven can’t change into a wolf. He got the bloodlust, he got inhuman strength, he burns at the touch of silver, but that’s all. The last of the purebloods can’t work the change!”
  • Despite the four “elite” houses inbreeding, they are declining:
    • “Damned if I know,” Willie said. “What do you think, we get together for a lodge meeting every time the moon is full? The purebloods, hell, not many, the pack’s been getting pretty thin these last few generations. But there’s lots of mongrels like me, half-breeds, quarter-breeds, what have you, the old families had their share of bastards. Some can work the change, some can’t. I’ve heard of a few who change one day and never do manage to change back. And that’s just from the old bloodlines, never mind the ones like Joanie.”
  • And the Skin Trade “elite” think of themselves as the Targaryens do, above gods and men… but in the end they are not because they are dying away just as easily.
    • A Clash of Kings – The dragon kings had wed brother to sister, but they were the blood of old Valyria where such practices had been common, and like their dragons the Targaryens answered to neither gods nor men.
    • And here GRRM confirms this Targaryen idea in an interview
  • What GRRM did in ASOIAF was to replace the wolves with dragons. Otherwise, this Skin Trade story is very much a protoype to the Stark-Bolton historic struggles, right down to Roose, Ramsay and his “Reek”, and Jon at the wall, and Val.
    • “I’ll kill you,” Randi said. “I think not.” He leaned over the bed. “Perhaps I’ll come for you myself some night. You ought to see me, Miss Wade. My fur is white now, pale as snow, but the stature, the majesty, the power, those have not left me. Michael was a half-breed, and your Willie, he was hardly more than a dog. The pureblood is rather more. We are the dire wolves, the nightmares who haunt your racial memories, the dark shapes circling endlessly beyond the light of your fires.” He smiled down at her, then
  • Bitterblooms – the story opens much like Dunk & Egg with a young girl, Shawn, having to bury her [possible] father or brother. The story is not quite clear in regards to the relationship. Lane, the [possible] father/brother was the lover of the 16 year old girl, however, no children resulted. So, the story opens with the death of incest, and at the end of the story, the society that had been dying off as a result of incest depression caused by a Craster-like clan patriarch named Creg (his name is discussed below). Shawn soon attends “gatherings” where she has (non-marital) sex resulting children with other, non-related, people; she has nine children in total. Shawn is honored for it, offered a high clan position, and the clan starts to rebound. Bastards are a non-issue and fully accepted, it seems, as well as this being an open sex culture.
    • It is not clear what relation Lane actually is to Shawn, as the only reference we have to that relationship is this broad statement: “It was not right for her to leave him without burial; he had been father, brother, lover.” However, later when Shawn is with the charlatan witch Morgan “full of magic”, Morgan repeats to Shawn a similar broad statement, and Morgan has zero blood relation to anyone at all. Morgan then uses and illusion to get Shawn to trust her and to have sex with her… just like Melisandre does to Jon using an Ygritte glamour: “You are mine, Shawn Carin, you are my lover and my daughter and my sister. You have to learn to trust. I have much to teach you. Here.She took Shawn by the hand and led her to the window. “Stand here. Wait, Shawn, wait and watch, and I will show you more of Morgan’s magics.” At the far wall, smiling, she did something with her rings to a panel of bright metal and square dim lights.
      Watching, Shawn grew suddenly afraid.”
    • These are the other people of Shawn’s clan that are listed, and only a few are given a familial connection, while others like Devin and Lane are not given a familial connection: “like old mother Tesenya had been, like her sister Leila was sometimes, like Devin. Like Lane, she thought…”
    • “Devin honored her [Shawn] for bringing so much fresh blood into Carinhall, and later another Voice would name her for exceptional prowess as a trader. She traveled widely, met many families, saw waterfalls and volcanoes as well as seas and mountains, sailed halfway around the world on a Crien schooner. She had many lovers and much esteem. Jannis followed Devin as Voice, but she had a bitter unhappy time of it, and when she passed, the mothers and fathers of family Carin offered the position to Shawn. She turned it down. It would not have made her happy. Despite everything she had done, she was not a happy person. She remembered too much, and sometimes she could not sleep very well at night. During the fourth deepwinter of her life, the family numbered two hundred and thirty-seven, fully a hundred of them children.”
    • And we can see in ASOIAF that bastards are not an issue to the northern peoples. The negative stamp of “bastardy” is an Andal taint.
      • A Storm of Swords – Jon II
        [Tormund] “Are bastards weaker than other children? More sickly, more like to fail?”

        No, but—””You’re bastard-born yourself. And if Ygritte does not want a child, she will go to some woods witch and drink a cup o’ moon tea. You do not come into it, once the seed is planted.””I will not father a bastard.”

  • Dying of the Light – Gwen is a historian (to simplify it) and she uncovers the truth that incest played a part in the decline of an extinguished civilization. This is a smaller mention, as no incest happens in the current timeline. Polygamy is a theme here.
  • Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels – The idea of incest is rejected right from the start, is never practiced, and the society chose to die off rather than have relations with related family. In the current timeline the humans who fled and colonized the moon have returned to Earth because fresh genetic stock is running low. They are looking for the other humans that perhaps fled underground.
    • “Luna could be made self-sufficient, but only with a very small population. That’s what happened. The population adjusted itself. But we recycled our air and our water, grew foods in hydroponic tanks. We struggled, but we survived. And began to rebuild.

“But we lost a lot. Too many people died. Our genetic pool was terribly small, and not too diverse. The colony had never had a lot of racial diversity to begin with.

“That hasn’t helped. Population actually declined for a long time after we had the physical resources to support more people. The idea of in-breeding didn’t go over. Now population’s going up again, but slowly. We’re stagnant, Von der Stadt. It’s taken us nearly five centuries to get space travel going again, for example. And we still haven’t duplicated many of the things they had back on Earth before the disaster.”

Von der Stadt frowned. “Stagnant’s a strong word,” he said. “I think we’ve done pretty good.”

Ciffonetto dismissed the comment with a wave of his flashlight. “Pretty good,” he said. “Not good enough. We’re not going anywhere. There’s so damn few changes, so little in the way of new ideas. We need fresh viewpoints, fresh genetic stock. We need the stimulation of contact with a foreign culture.

“Survivors would give us that. After all Earth’s been through, they’d have to have changed in some ways. And they’d be proof that human life can still flourish on Earth. That’s crucial if we’re going to establish a colony here.”

  • Nightflyers – The main protagonist, Royd Eris, is a cross-sex clone of his mother. She has since died and is second-lifing herself within the ruby crystal of the Nightflyer ship (made of three eggs 😉 ) Royd was created by his mother in a test tube to later have a sexual relationship when he grew older. Royd rejected this idea right from the start, and instead he falls in love with a new woman. The mother gets fiery angry over this relationship and tries to kill the girl (and everyone else).

This is the same idea that he gave to the free folk in ASOIAF with the idea of “stealing” (truly just a type of courting), and the idea that you do not have sex with anyone from your own clan. And the irony in this is how in-story, the free folk are referred to in the derogatory term as “wildlings”, when in fact, they are the more civilized when it comes to this practice.

  • A Storm of Swords – Jon III

“It wasn’t Longspear, then?” Jon was relieved. He liked Longspear, with his homely face and friendly ways.

She punched him. “That’s vile. Would you bed your sister?”

“Longspear’s not your brother.”

“He’s of my village. You know nothing, Jon Snow. A true man steals a woman from afar, t’ strengthen the clan. Women who bed brothers or fathers or clan kin offend the gods, and are cursed with weak and sickly children. Even monsters.”


And I have a sneaky feeling that George has mentioned these same orgy gathering in ASOIAF, and the purpose of these gatherings to to spread the skinchanger (old gods) genetic material that is native to Westeros… but this is just speculation.

  • A Dance with Dragons – Prologue

Not all skinchangers felt the same, however. Once, when Lump was ten, Haggon had taken him to a gathering of such. The wargs were the most numerous in that company, the wolf-brothers, but the boy had found the others stranger and more fascinating. Borroq looked so much like his boar that all he lacked was tusks, Orell had his eagle, Briar her shadowcat (the moment he saw them, Lump wanted a shadowcat of his own), the goat woman Grisella …


And then there is the often shouted, “But the Starks practice incest!”, which is not true on its face within the Stark line or any other Northern line (with a “Creg” exception). Actually, not in any other line except for the Targaryens. Not the Dothraki, the Andals, Ibbenese, any civilzation in the far eastern hemisphere. No one.

George seems to be following his own pattern as follows:

  1. Creg from Bitterblooms is a controlling person who condones incest, which is never mentioned as “normal” in that society as a whole. Creg is a very controlling old man and belittles his people much like Craster does, and much like Arnolf/Cregan Karstark do. It is only after Creg dies that the clan rebounds.
  2. Cregan Stark from history also went against the norm in the north and #1, tried to work in the south and northern men “melt” in the south (not normal). It was Cregan’s two sons that were the only ones in noted history to commit incest when they married their half-nieces in an attempted power grab (that failed with Cregard Stark). Cregan, a ice-man of the north, was trying to appease a fire “god”, and it failed.
  3. Cregan Karstark is also going against the northern norm and trying to force an incest marriage on his clan kin, Alys, as a means for a power grab. History repeats, people, history repeats. Arnolf is Cregan’s father, and he is the one behind the power grab plan for Alys and the plan to kill the rightful heir, Harrion. Arnolf and Cregan are once again betraying the north.

Ultimately it comes down to what sounds right. And I struggle with that, finding the right name for a character. If I can’t find the right name I don’t know who the character is and I can’t proceed.” – George R.R. Martin

But the 93′ outline!!!!, some may shout. To that I say, nope. GRRM seems to have traded the possible romance mentioned there (remember, we never saw the conclusion to that idea in the outline itself), and invented Cersei just for this purpose. So very much of that outline has been changed, and GRRM even said that when writing it in order to pitch the book idea, that he was making shit up. The outline is not the refined version of ASOIAF we have now. Thank the old gods and the new!

The better way to investigate this Stark idea is that you should be looking at everything else that is also going on around this same time. Long and short, never do we hear of any Stark practicing incest other than this twisted case/s. We have the Stark lineage in the World book and the wiki online to be able to check.

A few things to keep in mind about the Stark incest issue are…

First, Jonnel and Edric Stark were only half-uncles to Serena and Sansa (Manderly) Stark. I am not sure if or where that counts on the “abomination scale”, but Jonnel and Edrick came from Cregan. If Eddard’s parents being cousins once removed is enough of a genetic spread (two more bloodlines introduced), then maybe this is too, but I dunno for sure. Maybe that extra new blood is enough? But chances are it was as listed in number 2, next…

Second, the two nieces were of a Manderly mother, Jeyne Manderly. So the Manderly’s at the time, who were trying to continue their move into the north, and still followed the seven, continue their campaign into the northern bloodlines. Remember, girls do not get to chose their husbands on the norm. This was a strategic double marriage back into House Stark, with one of the girls already being a widow (so second cattle marriage for her). This could be history repeating as we see current day Wyman Manderly trying to get a hold of Rickon Stark, and there is certainly speculation as to the “real” reasons why.

Third, and maybe most important, none of the half-uncle+niece marriages went back into the main branch of House Stark. It was not prevalent in House Stark at all by the records we have. If it was important, or if it was common, we would have seen it. Instead we are repeatedly told the opposite by more than one source. The Sansa-Jonnel Stark marriage had zero children; so bloodline ended. And the Serena-Edric marriage went on to create/continue House Umber and House Cerwyn. From that point on I cannot find any Umber or Cerwyn being bred back in to the Starks. Beron Stark and Lorra Royce continued House Stark proper.

And fourth, this one fits what George was talking about for why Tywin married his own first cousin- to gain and maintain power. Tywin has struck fear into the hearts of men because of how he handled the Reynes of Castamere situation. Tywin is no longer questioned.

When Rickon Stark (husband to Jeyne Manderly and heir to Cregan Stark) died in Dorne, that left a power and inheritance gap. Rickon only had two daughters, and we know from George that Winterfell has never had a female in charge for whatever reason. So, it could have been a power grab from the half-uncles, or it could have been an exception to keep a Stark always in Winterfell. Anyway, it gets worse because that plan backfires because the inheritance again gets screwed up because the “right” males die at the wrong time anyway (old gods judgement?). So, the incest lines end completely, either by death in the line, or it never being practiced again. The Stark inheritance went to Jonnel and Edric’s younger brother Brandon.

And we are told very clearly many times in the entire universe of Ice and Fire literature that incest is a Targaryen privilege. Elio/Ran even confirmed this in the Sons of the Dragon thread.

  • No other houses copied Targaryen polygamy in the post-Aegon era for the same reason that no one copied Targaryen incest: it was a unique privilege permitted to them and no one else. Simple as that. Source

Any time we see incest happen, or even suggested, it is meant as a bad omen. You have to include it to show how “bad” it is. The Targaryens practiced it as a means of control of their woman and their dragons. It is a type of slavery. (and this also makes you question whether there really is something to the female Targaryens being the required hatching element to dragons). The Targaryens thought themselves above gods and men, and therefore could do as they pleased (or so they thought).

In ALL of GRRM’s work that do feature an idea or act of incest, it is ALWAYS detrimental. To be clear, not all of his work features incest, but those that do, it is always a negative and is shunned or responsible for downfalls and lust, pride, purity, etc. It literally brings down dynasty’s and entire cultures. In several of his stories, the civilizations out right rejected incest even though it mean their clan will die. The only time some of these clans can have a rebound is when they realize that “new blood” is needed and incest is ended. Every time.

And, an author writes what he knows, and GRRM is in no way shape or form promoting or uplifting incest. As a matter of fact, he speaks against it many times, in many different ways. Just two examples below.

Here at the 47 minute mark where he talks about the idea of purity needs to go away because, as he says, we should all be “mutts” and “mongrels” (just like the hero in The Skin Trade).

George does not condone incest, as he says in the 1:45 mark.

And this is how incest is described in the books (below), and we never hear of another culture anywhere practicing it. It repeatedly caused a rift between not just the Faith of the Seven and the Targaryens, but also between the smallfolk and the Targaryens when they arrived, and that rift lasted:

  • The World of Ice and Fire

The tradition amongst the Targaryens had always been to marry kin to kin. Wedding brother to sister was thought to be ideal. Failing that, a girl might wed an uncle, a cousin, or a nephew; a boy, a cousin, aunt, or niece. This practice went back to Old Valyria, where it was common amongst many of the ancient families, particularly those who bred and rode dragons. “The blood of the dragon must remain pure,” the wisdom went. Some of the sorcerer princes also took more than one wife when it pleased them, though this was less common than incestuous marriage. In Valryia before the Doom, wise men wrote, a thousand gods were honored, but none were feared, so few dared to speak against these customs.

This was not true in Westeros, where the power of the Faith went unquestioned. Incest was denounced as vile sin, whether between father and daughter, mother and son, or brother and sister, and the fruits of such unions were considered abominations in the sight of gods and men. With hindsight, it can be seen that conflict between the Faith and House Targaryen was inevitable.

And we even have a “King Abomination” in history, all because he chose to reinstate incest within the line.

King Aenys I- King Abomination. Artist: Amok
  • The World of Ice and Fire
Aenys seemed content to let the matter lie with Maegor’s exile, but the High Septon was still not satisfied. Not even the appointment of the reputed miracle-worker, Septon Murmison, as Aenys’s new Hand could wholly repair the breach with the Faith. And in 41 AC, Aenys made matters worse when he chose to wed his eldest daughter, Rhaena, to his son and heir, Aegon, whom he named Prince of Dragonstone in Maegor’s place. From the Starry Sept came a denunciation such as no king had ever received before, addressed to “KingAbomination“—and suddenly pious lords and even the smallfolk who had once loved Aenys turned against him.

There are even GRRM notes on how closely the Karstarks are related to the Starks, to which GRRM implies they pretty much aren’t at this point in time:


  • The other factor, which you haven’t raised, is degree of kinship. Killing a parent is probably worse than killing a sibling, but either one is a lot worse than killing a distant cousin. Lord Karstark was stretching that aspect of it when he tried to accuse Robb of kinslaying… but of course he was hoping to save his head.
  • Q: There seem to be Lannisters and Freys under every rock, while the Starks are very scarce. Does Ned not have any distant relatives who could reclaim Winterfell? GRRM: The Starks do have distant relations, but the problem is how to define what you mean by “relations”. You have some like the Karstarks, who are their own family and is basically a house founded by a son of House Stark, but this was more than a thousand years ago. And the Starks have certainly married other families. For example, it’s mencioned in the books that when Robb believes Bran and Rickon are dead…


***editing in process. More quotes to come 🙂
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