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In Game of Thrones Season 7

Aegon and Daenerys Targaryen develop a (somewhat ham-fisted) romantic relationship and end up having sex.

So, while it's not clear whether this will persist

when they find out they're aunt and nephew

but that makes you wonder... Valyrians, or at least Targaryens (historically) do not forbid sibling marriage, and incest, at least among nobles. But what about in the environments in which

Aegon and Daenerys grew up,

i.e. in the North, and in the Free Cities of Essos - how taboo is incest, generally and for nobles in particular? Does it never-ever happen; rare and maligned; not so rare and frowned upon; or semi-customary?

Of course, I'm asking about the books, even though the motivation is in the show.

  • 3
    I think calling Jon "Aegon" here is jumping the gun. Just because Bran says it's his name doesn't mean Jon will go by Aegon...especially before he even knows. – Brad Aug 29 '17 at 16:36
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    @Brad: He can go by "Jon Snow", "King Jon", "King Snow"... no, that's not right.... anyway, his name is Aegon Targaryen and there's nothing more to it. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 23:06
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    Also, they're not step-siblings, they're aunt-nephew + cousins + second-cousins + cousins again + second cousins again. And that's only technically, genetically they're closer to being siblings. src – Möoz Aug 29 '17 at 23:08
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    @Möoz: New gods are not ok with it, but who cares about them? Aegon was brought up in the North and Daenerys in, well, who knows, but not under Andal religious influence. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 23:17
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    @Möoz, I think the crown blew op the sept, not really 'following'. But besides that, the Crown under Robert Baratheon follows the Seven. Stannis followed the Lord of Light. The King in the North follows the Old Gods. – Hans Janssen Aug 30 '17 at 9:39
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North

In North, incest is considered to be evil and something that brings wrath of Gods.

We see it in ACOK, when Cley Cerwyn comes to visit Winterfell and tells Bran about the truth behind Joffrey's parentage. A Knight in his entourage echoed the thoughts of a common Northman on this matter:

"He's a king now too," Cley confided. "He says Queen Cersei bedded her brother, so Joffrey is a bastard."

"Joffrey the Illborn," one of the Cerwyn knights1 growled. "Small wonder he's faithless, with the Kingslayer for a father."

"Aye," said another, "the gods hate incest. Look how they brought down the Targaryens."
ACOK - Bran II

Conclusive evidence is what Catelyn says:

Bastards were common enough, but incest was a monstrous sin to both old gods and new, and the children of such wickedness were named abominations in sept and godswood alike. 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.
ACOK - Catelyn IV

So we can see, Both the Old Gods and the New hate incest.

Then we also have to consider customs of the True North, beyond the Wall where Firstmen Blood and Old Gods are still strong:

"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."
ASOS - Jon III

Jon does point out that Craster does incest but Ygritte counters that he is more Jon's kind (Having a Crow for a father) than he is of the Free-folk. Regardless, notice how conscious are the Freefolk about incest. Their definition of Incest includes not just close kins, but also members of the same clan and village. Which no doubt improves their general genepool and gives their offspring a better chance for survival in the harsh north.

The only documented incest we see in Seven Kingdoms is found in Targaryen dynasty after the conquest. Beyond the Wall Craster practises it but he is seen with scorn among the Free folk.

Essos

There is nothing in the canon which tells us about current views of the Essosi people, including Valyrian colonies, on incest.

In Days of old Valyria, it did exist but presumably, it wasn't because Essos accepted it as normal, but instead because Valyrians answered to no Gods just like their Dragons. Since the fall of Valyria, we can deduce that the custom fell apart, as we do not see any instances of it in current timeline.

The only instance of non-Valyrian Essosi incest that I can find is in Yi-Ti, that too in history, not current timeline:

The Jade Emperor, the Tourmaline Emperor, the Onyx Emperor, the Topaz Emperor, and the Opal Emperor followed in turn, each reigning for centuries...yet every reign was shorter and more troubled than the one preceding it, for wild men and baleful beasts pressed at the borders of the Great Empire, lesser kings grew prideful and rebellious, and the common people gave themselves over to avarice, envy, lust, murder, incest, gluttony, and sloth.
TWOIAF - Bones and Beyond: Yi-Ti

But notice how incest is listed among vices. But then again, TWOIAF is written by a Westerosi Maester so of course he thinks of incest as a vice.

Conclusion

  1. In the Faith of the Old Gods, Incest is considered a horrible sin and children born of incest are considered abominations.
  2. There is no conclusive evidence that Essosi people frown upon the practice but there is no evidence that they approve of it either.

1. It is however unclear in the Knights in question followed the Old Gods or the New. Most of the Knights in North belong to the handful of Houses who keep the New Gods. Most of the Houses which worship Old Gods name no Knights but Knights exist among them regardless e.g. Ser Jorah Mormont. Bran himself wanted to be a Knight even though he was a follower of Old Gods. Plus it's Bran's POV, so maybe Bran just thinks anyone who is wearing heavy armor, rides a horse and carries a lance is a Knight. Previously, Catelyn Tully had also thought of Robb as a young Knight even though Robb keeps the Old Gods and there is no evidence of him actually being a Knight.

  • 1
    If they follow the New Gods the fact the knights believe their gods to consider incest evil because House Targaryen fell, that's merely the change in the teachings by the Faith after Robert's Rebellion. Before the High Septons married siblings and cousins without much of a fuss, but because it helped the usurping Robert to condemn these old practices while consolidating his power the victors pressured (probably easily) the faith into following the new line of condemnation. – BMWurm Aug 29 '17 at 8:28
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    @BMWurm Not really, High Septons had to be tamed after wars with Aenys I and Maegor the Cruel. It wasn't until King Jaehaerys that faith started tolerating incest in the Royals. That's why I provided Catelyn's testimony as well, as a Southern lady who married the North, she is expected to know well about theology of both regions and she says incest is a sin in eyes of both Old gods and the New. And Wildlings, untouched by Faith of seven, think incest incurs wrath of gods in shape of weak and sickly kids. – Aegon Aug 29 '17 at 8:31
  • @BMWurm TLDR, on the Record, High Sept never approved of incest. They however made a special case for the Royal family after being defeated in a long war. Jaehaerys I took their swords, making them unable to forment any trouble. It wasn't until Cersei that Faith Militant rose again and tried Cersei on charges of incest. – Aegon Aug 29 '17 at 8:32
  • True, that is why I added easily. But since we are in fact talking about the royal family ... well sort of at least (Joff having no true claim to the Iron Throne after all) ... the High Septon (whichever puppet House Lannister had installed at any given time [excepting the High Sparrow of course]) had the Faith follow the King (and many people following either or both) in their view on the matter. But all in all you are most probably right in saying the New Gods don't approve of incest either. – BMWurm Aug 29 '17 at 8:38
  • Thanks for the erudite answer. But - your conclusion (1.) does not follow from your evidence. The fact that you quoted a true-north person talking of "Women who bed brothers or fathers or clan kin offend the gods" suggests this practice is not unheard of, just discouraged. And even by Cat's words - there is no penalty for a man who beds a female family member - they will just have a child who's frowned upon and considered to be cursed. The child is not killed, nobody is banished, nobody is penalized materially - nothing. So it seems it's between "rare and maligned and "rare and frowned upon". – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 23:04

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