The Genetics of Ice and Fire
What is the ‘blood of the dragon’ of the Targaryens or the ‘wolf-blood’ of the Starks? How are these traits passed on within families and populations in general? This line of exploration attempts to discover the origins of certain key traits within the bloodlines of major families in ASOIAF. I trace origin of those most conspicuous of Targaryen traits, silver-gold hair and purple eyes, back to a common ancestors: the Emperors of the Dawn and their wives, the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea.
Genes of Gold and Silver : why I adopt a genetic approach:
My exploration is based on concepts of evolution and genetics coupled with a healthy dose of the interpretation of symbolism.
Some of you may ask if this is a valid way to go about investigating particular themes in the books. I think so. Though GRRM does not explicitly mention genetics and inheritance, we see it all the time, especially regarding hair and eye colour:
Descriptions of hair and hair colour are rampant in the books. From the unusual silvery gold of the Valyrians to the black-and-red hair of the Ghiscari, the attention given to the Tyroshi and their outrageous hair-styles and colours, Jaquen Hagar’s two-colour head of hair, parted down the middle. We also have the Tully red hair, which is passed on to most of the Stark children. Even the direwolves are can be distinguished by virtue of their eye and fur colours. Those lucky people ‘Kissed by Fire’ are red-heads. Even Theon worries that Jeyne’s brown eyes might blow her cover:
In songs, the hero always saved the maiden from the monster’s castle, but life was not a song, no more than Jeyne was Arya Stark. Her eyes are the wrong color.
Case Study: Joffery, Myrcella and Tommen
The importance George attaches to hair and eye-colour and, by extension, to the inheritance of traits, cannot be denied. The entire conflict which engulfs the Starks and the Lannisters is based on the fact that Robert’s so called children are not his children because they have golden hair. In fact, George even gives us our first lesson in genetics via the revelation that Robert comes from an unbroken line of black-haired people and that all his mistresses in the past had blond or honey coloured hair and that following on from that, Cersei’s children cannot possibly be his. He even tells us that ‘the seed is strong’. The seed is strong – yes. That trait or the gene for black hair is dominant. Cersei’s recessive blond hair gene would never have shown in the children if Robert had been their father. For blond hair to come through in a child, both parents had to have the ‘lesser seed’, the recessive blond trait. That’s exactly what happened. Jamie is blond. He is blond because he carries the ‘blond gene’ and together with Cersei’s blond gene, they make blond children. All a matter of inheritance. The same applies to the eyes. George is thrusting all this hair and eye stuff at us in double doses. The inheritance of hair and eye traits is a matter of genetics!
Hair and eye colour are not the only hints George gives us regarding genetics. There’s more:
Hints via Lady Bulwer, a little girl in Margery’s entourage:
The Bulwer Gene is an extremely rare trait. It occurs in only 0.4% of the population; not much is known about it. I suspect the traits of ice and fire are equally rare and that GRRM gives us this clue to their rarity via Lady Bulwer – she also happens to be ‘little’.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton: Literature also counts the 19th century writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, as one of the first authors to write a novel based on a genetic theme, at a time when very little was known of the laws of inheritance or genetics in general. Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”. He is also author of a book titled ‘The Coming Race’. Follow this link for a summary of the novel.
Bulwer’s petrel: To complete the Bulwer hints, we have Bulwer’s petrel, a bird with a very long wing span and a long pointed tail. It spends most of its life out at sea, picking food from the ocean surface. It was named after the Scottish naturalist James Bulwer.
I recommend the following excellent posts, which provide background information regarding my investigation:
Daenerys is the Amethyst Empress Reborn by Durann Duranndon:
Dany is the Amethyst Empress Reborn
Illyrio’s Fingers by Blind Beth the Cat Lady:
General Genetic Concepts and Definitions
I’ll try to keep things simple. Refer to this brief glossary of terms to enhance understanding.
- Chromosomes: thread-like structures in the nucleus of a cell, which carry the genes.
Humans have 46 chromosomes in all body cells and 23 in each sex cell (X = female, Y = male).
- A male child results due to the combination of an X and a Y chromosome (XY)
A female child results due to the combination of two X chromosomes (XX)
- Genes: the fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity. Our genes comprise two alleles. We receive one allele from our mother and a second from our father. Dominant alleles are typically shown as an uppercase letter and recessive are shown as a lowercase letter. Ex.: BBrr
- Alleles: alternate forms or varieties of a gene. The alleles for a trait occupy the same position on matching chromosomes and thus govern the same trait. However, because they are different, their action may result in different expressions of that trait.
- Phenotype: the observable characteristics of an individual (skin, eye and hair colour, height etc.)
- Genotype: the actual genetic make-up of an individual.
- Dominant genes / alleles: a dominant trait is expressed over a recessive trait.
- X-Linked Inheritance: traits that are passed on to progeny via the female X-chromosome
- Mitochondrial Inheritance: traits that are passed on via female mitochondrial DNA only.
- Genome: the entire genetic make up of an organism.
- I apply Mendelian principles of genetics and will illustrate my proposed models of inheritance with a Punnet Square.
The inheritance of hair and eye colour
My theory of the inheritance of these traits is based on the premise that Daenerys’ (and the Targaryens’) ancestors were the Emperors of the Dawn / that she is the Amethyst Princess reborn. Please read the linked essay above if you are not familiar with this theory. In this regard, I further assume that Magister Illyrio serves as a stand-in for Dany’s father, the Opal Emperor (see Illyrio’s Fingers).
We begin with a quick look at the mechanisms involved in the inheritance of hair and eye colour:
Eye colour is determined by genes governing the pigmentation of the iris and by the scattering of light by the stroma of the iris. Important here is that alleles for brown and black eyes are dominant over other colours. Blue is a recessive trait. Different hues of eye-colour come about through a combination of different dominant and recessive alleles.
Red and purple eyes are attributed to albinism and only occur when a gene does not carry pigmentation. These are also recessive traits and do not normally occur in great frequency in a population. Another thing of note is that individuals affected by albinism suffer from a partial or complete lack of pigmentation in skin and hair. Lacking melanin, the skin is white and very susceptible to sunburn while the eyes are sensitive to sunlight.
Hair colour is determined by two types of pigmentation responsible for dark (black / brown) and light (orange / yellow) hair colour respectively. Genetic combination of these factors then determine the actual colour. Black and brown are dominant over red, blond and lighter hair types (recessive). This we have already seen by virtue of Robert Baratheon’s lineage. Red / auburn hair is a recessive trait. It is also very rare in populations.
At this point, it’s important to remember that for a recessive trait to be expressed in the phenotype (i.e. for a child to actually have blond hair or purple eyes), an individual has to receive the corresponding recessive allele from both parents. Conversely, for a dominant trait such as black hair to be expressed, a person need only receive the dominant allele from one parent.
Sources of Purple Eyes and Silver-Gold Hair
A passage from the World Book gives us some information on the Emperors of the Dawn:
Dominion over mankind then passed to his eldest son, who was known as the pearl Emperor and ruled for 1000 years. The Jade Emperor, the Tourmaline Emperor, the Onyx Emperor, the Topaz Emperor, and the Opal Emperor followed in turn, each reigning for centuries…
This establishes the ghosts of the Emperors of the Dawn Daenerys sees in her dream as her forefathers
Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade.
Dany, the Targaryens, and people of Valyrian descent share the silver-gold hair and amethyst (purple / violet) eyes of the ghosts in this dream. The ghosts here represent the Emperors of the Dawn; they are ancestors. Platinum white, silver and gold hair are light hair colours. The trait is recessive and will only show in an individual if both parents carry a gene for the trait. This means Dany’s parents both carried recessive genes for light hair, as did her grandparents and all those ancestors who came before them. It is unusual for a recessive trait to be expressed in the phenotype in the population for so many thousands of years as a single black or brown haired ancestor would ‘spoil’ the sequence. This kind of inheritance normally only occurs in an isolated population or in one that takes care to keep its bloodlines pure by breeding only within families or within the population. Another example of the transfer of a recessive blond hair trait via both parents to their children are Cersei and Jamie’s kids. Had Robert really fathered Joffery, Myrcella and Tommen, they should have had black hair – black being a dominant hair trait.
“Robert’s bastards? What of them?”
“He fathered eight, to the best of my knowing,” Varys said as he wrestled with the saddle. “Their mothers were copper and honey, chestnut and butter, yet the babes were all black as ravens … and as ill-omened, it would seem. So when Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen slid out between your sister’s thighs, each as golden as the sun, the truth was not hard to glimpse.”
The mothers of Robert’s bastards all had light coloured hair but their children all expressed the black hair trait. We also learn that all of Robert’s ancestors had black hair so we can assume his genes for hair colour were all dominant black. In genetic recombination, this means that all Cersei’s children should have had black hair, had they been Robert’s.
Robert = BBBB (all dominant black hair genes) + Cersei = bbbb (all recessive blond genes)
Children = BBbb = All children carry both genes but exhibit black hair.
The same principle applies to purple eyes. Both purple and red eye colour are recessive traits. They denote albinism. Albinism is a rare condition and purple eye-colour is very uncommon even in albinism. That Valyrians consistently display purple / violet eyes is quite remarkable and another hint that Dany descends from a line that originally displayed and passed down the trait. We can safely assume that the parents of the Amethyst Princess (the Opal Emperor and his wife) each passed on a recessive gene for hair and eye colour to their daughter. It explains why Dany, as their descendant, displays these traits.
The nature of recessive inheritance becomes evident when we consider Rhaego, as Dany sees him in her visions and dreams:
Her son was tall and proud, with Drogo’s copper skin and her own silver-gold hair, violet eyes shaped like almonds.
Rhaego has Dany’s silver-gold hair and violet eyes. He has his father’s copper skin and almond-shaped eyes. Drogo has black hair but he must have contributed the recessive hair and eye colour gene for Rhaego to have the colouring that he does.
- Drogo = BBbb (where B = dominant (dark) and b = recessive (light) = black hair
- Dany = bbbb (b = recessive) = light hair
- Genes recombine to different sets in children (bbbb = light) or (BBbb = black)
- Rhaego has a 50% chance of exhibiting silver-gold hair and a 50% chance of exhibiting black hair.
One could argue that if Drogo carries a recessive gene for blond hair, then other Dothraki may also have this trait. You may rightly ask why we don’t see Dothraki with blond hair. Well, we don’t, that’s true, however given that the majority are black-haired and thus carry dominant genes for black hair, the likelihood of two individuals with a recessive blond hair gene coming together is very slim.
Let us now have an in-depth look at silver-gold hair and purple eye-colour inheritance with corroboration from the text. The genetics, is of course hidden in symbolism.
The Gold in the Hair
Dany’s hair is silver-gold. You can think of this in terms of mixing two colours on a colour palette. Take two different shades of yellow – a darker and lighter yellow or white for instance – when you mix them you get something in between. Silver-gold is colour all on its own, but it is created by mixing silver with gold, or white with yellow.
Remember Dany’s ghosts had hair of silver and hair of gold. First, we need to establish where the gold in Dany’s silver-gold hair comes from.
My argument is that the Great Empire of the Dawn is symbolized by gold and its variations. Consider the legend from TWOIAF:
In the beginning, the priestly scribes of Yin declare, all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng), formed a single realm ruled by the God-on-Earth, the only begotten son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made of Light, who travelled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives. For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the God on earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forbearers.
The Emperors of the Dawn descended from the Maiden-Made of Light (the sun) and the Lion of Night. These two entities are both associated with gold. The Maiden, the daytime sun, directly by the Light she emits, and the Lion of Night by the symbolism surrounding the Lion. The lion is a symbol of courage, power and wealth (gold). In astrology, Leo, the lion, is ruled by the sun. The lion is wise, a king of the beasts and is a favourite symbol of monarchs and leadership. Perhaps less known, the lion’s roar also calls down thunder and lightning and teaches the animal magic of telepathy.
We also learn that in ancient days:
the God emperors of Yi Ti were as powerful as any ruler on earth, with wealth (gold) that exceeded even that of Valyria at its height and armies of almost unimaginable size.
In the current Golden Empire of Yi Ti, the god-emperors alone wear cloth-of-gold.
Those who have visited Yi Ti as it is today tell us that the thousand gods and hundred princes yet remain …but there are three god-emperors, each claiming the right to don the gowns of cloth-of-gold, green pearls, and jade that tradition allows to the emperor alone.
Clearly, this was a mighty and wealthy empire with powerful rulers who descended from sun-gods themselves. Wealth itself is associated with gold. I think we can safely assign gold to the GEotD and its past rulers. Just to drive the point home, we will now consider Magister Illyrio, who plays a fatherly role to Dany and stands in for the Emperors of the Dawn:
Gemstones glittered on every finger, and his man had oiled his forked yellow beard until it shone like real gold. “May the Lord of Light shower you with blessings on this most fortunate day, Princess Daenerys,” the magister said as he took her hand. He bowed his head, showing a thin glimpse of crooked yellow teeth through the gold of his beard.
The Emperors of the Dawn were associated with gemstones such as Illyrio sports on his fingers. We have lots of yellow and gold imagery as well. As we shall see, in terms of genetics, the gold symbolism represents the source of the gold in Dany’s hair:
Note that the passage begins with a description of her hair, setting the stage and drawing our attention to its molten silver appearance – hot molten silver shimmers like gold.
The girl brushed her hair until it shone like molten silver, while …
The girl slid the gilded sandals onto her feet, while the old woman fixed the tiara in her hair, and slid golden bracelets crusted with amethysts around her wrists. Last of all came the collar, a heavy golden tore emblazoned with ancient Valyrian glyphs.
There is heavy gold and violet / purple symbolism here, so let’s sort this out. First, we take a look at the gold jewellery – everything associated with gold jewellery are traits she receives from her forefathers. The golden bracelets are crusted with amethysts – the amethysts represent paternal recessive genes – one contribution to her purple eyes. The gold represents the gold in Dany’s silver-gold hair.
Kingsblood – Golden Blood
Viserys specifically tells us that theirs is the golden blood of old Valyria.
The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men.
Looks like the Targaryens remember their ancestry, going back to old Valyria and beyond.
Even more interesting, he claims their blood is the kingsblood. The kingsblood? The old Valyrians had NO kings. Theirs was a Freehold, a nascent democracy in which the citizenry who held land had a voice.
The Valyrians had no kings but instead called themselves the Freehold because all the citizenry who held land had a voice. Archons might be chosen to help lead, but they were elected by the lords freeholder amongst their number, and only for a limited time. It was rare for Valyria to be swayed by one freeholding family alone although it was not entirely unknown either.
TWOIAF, The Rise of Valyria
If the Valyrians of old had no kings, where does this notion of kingsblood then come from? Viserys lists kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria and the blood of the dragon in one breadth. The implication here is that this special bloodline reaches back to a time way back in the past, to ancestors who were powerful kings, to a people associated with gold, with wealth and, as we see, with dragons.
By analogy, which traits does Dany inherit from her forefathers?
By strict association with the gold jewellery, which she receives from Illyrio, Dany inherits the following physical traits from her father (father in this sense is the original Opal Emperor):
- purple eyes via the amethysts
- gold hair via the gold jewellery and assoication with the GEotD
The Silver in the Hair
The Silver Genome and the Dothraki Sea
So far we’ve looked at the traits that Dany received from her forefathers. But what about her foremothers? Where did they come from? Did the Emperors of the Dawn recruit their wives from another powerful dynasty of the age?
Dany’s hair suggests that the silver hue originally comes from another source. We see no direct reference to silver in Illyrio’s gifts, but the text offers further clues to traits from another source.
First, and in the same chapter, we have references to water regarding both Dany and Viserys. The gown here is directly associated with water. I have already designated the gown as a collection of genes coming from Dany’s foremothers.
Her brother held the gown up for her inspection. “This is beauty. Touch it. Go on. Caress the fabric.” Dany touched it. The cloth was so smooth that it seemed to run through her fingers like water. She could not remember ever wearing anything so soft. It frightened her. She pulled her hand away. “Is it really mine?”
Her brother was waiting in the cool of the entry hall, seated on the edge of the pool, his hand trailing in the water. He rose when she appeared and looked her over critically.
Dany receives a gown in addition to the gold jewellery above. The gown itself does not include any gold threads or buttons and is distinct from the jewels, so I attribute the gown to the traits Dany receives from her female ancestors. A gown is made for women, usually by women – indeed history shows that spinning, weaving and sewing of fabric are crafts carried out by women. Beautiful is an adjective attributed to women. All this female imagery is placed in relation to water. The fabric is soft and flows like water. We already know that Dany’s hair is silver-gold. She looks in a silvered looking glass as well.
Perhaps her foremothers lived near a body of water associated with silver?
Well, yes. The Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea
From such we know of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands adjoining the Silver Sea – the great inland sea at the heart of the grasslands – from a floating palace that made its way endlessly around its shores. The Fisher Queens were wise and benevolent and favored of the gods, we are told, and kings and lords and wise men sought the floating palace for their counsel.
The Fisher Queens sound like perfect wives for the Emperors of the Dawn and I think they were.
We will look for corroboration shortly – first a recap of quotes and points up for discussion:
The girl brushed her hair until it shone like molten silver, while the old woman anointed her with the spiceflower perfume of the Dothraki plains, a dab on each wrist, behind her ears, on the tips of her breasts, and one last one, cool on her lips, down there between her legs. They dressed her in the wisps that Magister Illyrio had sent up, and then the gown, a deep plum silk to bring out the violet in her eyes.
“Now you look all a princess,” the girl said breathlessly when they were done. Dany glanced at her image in the silvered looking glass that Illyrio had so thoughtfully provided. A princess, she thought …
There’s a list of things up for examination here:
- spiceflower perfume of the Dothraki Plains
- a silvered looking glass in which Dany sees her image
- hair that shines like molten silver
- a gown of deep plum silk to bring the out the violet in her eyes
- Wisps that Illyrio sends up to accompany the gown
The Dothraki Plains
The Dothraki Plains – otherwise known as the Dothraki Sea is is our first real clue to the origin of the silver portion of Dany’s genome.
According to TWOIAF, the region now claimed by the Dothraki and known as the Dothraki Sea, was the location of a great body of water, the Silver Sea and home to the Fisher Queens. The Silver Sea has since dried up and dwindled down to three lakes. Do any of you possess the Land of Ice and Fire with its collection of detailed and beautiful maps? Well if you do, please check this region out. You will find three the three remaining lakes, the most interesting of which is the lake near Vaas Dothrak and the Mother of Mountains. This lake is called the Womb of the World.
Isn’t it interesting that the grasses of the region are consistently metaphorically linked to the sea? That the Dothraki wear silver bells in their hair and that Khal Drogo is connected to Dany, the Silver Queen, an unlikely union and one that would NEVER have taken place under normal circumstances?
Dany IS the Silver Queen. A very significant part of her story takes place in this region – the arranged marriage, the hatching of her dragons and her ordeal through the desert. Her bride gift from Drogo IS a beautiful silver-grey mare with a silver MANE (mane = hair). Dany does not name this mare. She simply calls the filly “her silver”, as if the horse were part of her.
The old crones of Vaes Dothrak, the dosh khaleen, are the wise women of the Dothraki and they parallel the Fisher Queens in their function as advisors. They are the law in Vaes Dothrak. Khals listen when they speak:
Even a khal as mighty as Drogo could know fear when the dosh khaleen peered into smoke of the future.
In this place, the crones of the dosh khaleen had decreed, all Dothraki were one blood, one khalasar, one herd.
To draw a blade means death in Vaes Dothrak.
The dosh khaleen are as wise and benevolent as the Fisher Queens once were, albeit in a different way.
Even the slaves, the smallfolk of Essos, tell tales of what they imagine Vaes Dothrak to be and they style it in terms of what the original palace of the Fisher Queens must have been. Dany’s hair, now fittingly only described as silver-pale, without the gold, leads us into this passage:
The old woman washed her long, silver-pale hair and gently combed out the snags, all in silence. The girl scrubbed her back and her feet and told her how lucky she was. “Drogo is so rich that even his slaves wear golden collars. A hundred thousand men ride in his khalasar, and his palace in Vaes Dothrak has two hundred rooms and doors of solid silver.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that Dany is a descendant of the Fisher Queens. She is a Silver Queen, she is a Fisher of Men and Women, much like Jesus – just think of all those unlikely apostles – Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, Daario Naharis, all the slave folk she freed, even the Shavepate and his beasts. I think the silver is what really makes Dany ‘lucky’.
Floating palaces and barges
The Fisher Queens travelled round the shores of the Silver Sea in a floating palace. Wow. I wonder what kind of technology they employed to propel the building and to keep it afloat. We find some nice parallels to the Fisher Queens in the story:
is another floating castle that wanders about The Neck in Westeros.
The Crannogmen show many aquatic tendencies – breathing mud, experts at catching aquatic creatures and so on. I shall refrain from quoting here – I think most of you are familiar with that.
Meera is our present day Fisher Queen. Isn’t she talented in this regard? See how cleverly she nets and spears fish and frogs. One of her chief weapons is a three-pronged speer. A trident. Those three prongs are made of silver. Perhaps the Crannogmen descended from the Fisher Queens as well. There was once a House Fisher, now extinct, on the Stoney Shore along the western coast of Westeros.
The floating barges of the Courtesans of Braavos
The courtesans of Braavos were famed across the world. Singers sang of them, goldsmiths and jewelers showered them with gifts, craftsmen begged for the honor of their custom, merchant princes paid royal ransoms to have them on their arms at balls and feasts and mummer shows, and bravos slew each other in their names. As she pushed her barrow along the canals, Cat would sometimes glimpse one of them floating by, on her way to an evening with some lover. Every courtesan had her own barge, and servants to pole her to her trysts. The Poetess always had a book to hand, the Moonshadow wore only white and silver, and the Merling Queen was never seen without her Mermaids, four young maidens in the blush of their first flowering who held her train and did her hair. Each courtesan was more beautiful than the last. Even the Veiled Lady was beautiful, though only those she took as lovers ever saw her face.
So here we have the famous courtesans of Braavos with goldsmiths and jewellers and wealthy princes, all vying for their attention, evoking the golden imagery, gemstones and wealth of the Great Empire of the Dawn. One of these ladies wears only white and silver and we even get a mention of hair in association with the Merling Queen, who in turn again reminds us of the Fisher Queens. The Poetess always has a book in hand – is she as wise and knowledgeable as the Fisher Queens once were? To top it all, these famous courtesans are undisputed Queens of their trade and they travel in floating barges.
But maybe you are not convinced so let’s have a look at the silvered looking glass that Illyrio thoughtfully gives her.
A silvered looking glass
Dany glanced at her image in the silvered looking glass that Illyrio had so thoughtfully provided. A princess, she thought …
Dany looks at her image – there’s two of her here – herself and her ancestor, whom she sees in the silvered looking glass – the Silver Sea – that great lake. The great Silver Lake, which reflects her own image back to her. Lakes do reflect images, they act as mirrors, don’t they? Yes they do.
At the Womb of the World – the lake the Dothraki believe they originated from, Dany enters the waters to cleanse herself. She herself sprang from these sacred waters, once part of the Silver Sea.
The moon floated on the still black waters, shattering and re-forming as her ripples washed over it. Goose pimples rose on her pale skin as the coldness crept up her thighs and kissed her lower lips.
A reflection of the moon, Dany, Drogo’s moon, floats on the still black waters. Dany’s ripples shatter and reform the reflected moon. She is back, with a new mission. The coldness of the waters creep up and kiss her lower lips – the lower lips of her sex. We can imagine an act of procreation – the cold waters of this lake once mated with the fire of the golden sun and gave rise to the Amethyst Princess, now reborn in Dany. The moonlight is silver, not described in this passage but described in others ad nauseum. And yes, the Dothraki are also descendants of the Fisher Queens and the Emperors of the Dawn but that is another story, for another essay.
Hair that shines like molten silver
I hope you’ve understood the genetic mechanism I explained at the beginning of this essay. Dany’s recessive gold hair colouring is derived from her forefathers. The silver portion of that colouring must be provided via her foremothers. This gene is also recessive – together, the two alleles combine to give the silvery-gold look.
A gown of deep plum silk
a gown of deep plum silk to bring the out the violet in her eyes
They dressed her in the wisps that Magister Illyrio had sent up, and then the gown, a deep plum silk to bring out the violet in her eyes.
Think of the gown and wisps in terms of a collection genes or traits that Dany receives from her foremothers. A gown is woven of threads – I see the threads in terms of chromosomes – the gown itself, together with the wisps, forming the silver genome. One of the characteristics of the gown is its colour, a deep plum, which is placed in relation to and represents the trait for the colour of Dany’s eyes. Remember again the principles of inheritance: for Dany to have purple eyes (which, as far as eye-colour goes, is a form of albinism and a recessive trait), she needs to receive two recessive purple / violet traits – one from both parents.
Wisps of fabric accompany the deep plum gown to complete the outfit. What exactly is a wisp?
By definition a wisp is:
- a thin streak of smoke, mist, etc.
- a thin thread or strand of something (such as hair)
- a small amount of something
In its essence, a wisp is something small, tiny or slim. It is also something nebulous, smoke or mist, both of which remind us of the colour of silver. Thin hair in particular is often described as ‘wispy’ as is smoke – a ‘wisp’ of smoke.
Dany receives several wisps, which are may be part of the silver genome. I however suspect the “wisps” are are reference to ancestral spirits rather than genetic attributes. There are strong allusions to rebirth in the narrativ. Some of the main characters are vessels for these reborn souls – just think of Azor Ahai reborn for example. Azor Ahai born of “salt and smoke” alludes to the rebirth of two ancestral spirits, one associated with salt and the other with smoke. Since the wisps are accessories styled for the gown, my guess is the spirit born within her is the soul originating from “salt,” from the Dothraki “Sea“, formerly home to the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea.
See also: The Pearl Inheritance – The Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea
The ancestors of Dany and the Targaryens in general, can be traced back to the Emperors of the Great Empire of the Dawn and the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea. From their forefathers they inherit recessive traits for golden hair and purple eyes and from their foremothers the complementary recessive traits for silver hair and violet eyes.
Viserys tells us that Targaryens do not mate with lesser men nor with the beasts of the field. They have obviously taken great pains to keep this bloodline pure over the centuries, this kingsblood, blood of the dragon and golden blood of Old Valyria.
This essay establishes their ancestry via their most visible and prominent features, hair and eye colour, only a minute aspect of their genome. The genes handed down by their ancestors surely harbour further interesting traits, all awaiting discovery.
These are a number of traits we all want to know more about. In particular, what do gold, silver and purple really stand for?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this essay. Feel free to comment below!
11 Replys to “The Genetics of Ice and Fire”
“There is heavy gold and violet / purple symbolism here, so let’s sort this out. First, we take a look at the gold jewellery – everything associated with gold jewellery are traits she receives from her forefathers. The golden bracelets are crusted with amethysts – the amethysts represent paternal recessive genes – one contribution to her purple eyes. The gold represents the gold in Dany’s silver-gold hair.”
I just posted the text from Dany’s sojourn in Vaes Toloro, City of Bones, on your other thread (no pun int– ok pun intended). In that one, the second Dothraki sent out finds two cities, twins to Vaes Toloro. One is warded by skulls on spears; Aggo avoids that one. In the other city he finds old scrolls and a black iron bracelet with an uncut fire opal in it. Do you make anything of that?
I have not looked at those cities in terms of genetics but they are interesting in another way which may support the genetics aspect. The one warded by skulls appears to be a place of death, perhaps haunted by ghosts. In the city with scrolls and black iron bracelet with an uncut fire opal… this reminds me so much of Mel’s glamour magic – perhaps the beginnings of that kind of magic in ancient times. A fire opal is red, like a ruby, the black iron fits the bill for a glamour scenario. Note also black iron is the link in a Maester’s chain for ravenry………
It’s come to my attention (since posting this) that the entire area of the Silver Sea may have actually belonged to the GEotD – either that or the territory was annexed during the turmoil shortly before the long night so the region would include those two cities. Going back to the fire opal – it’s an opal – could this be a subtle nod at the Opal Emperor? He was the father of the Amethyst Empress. In view of what we’ve been discussing per PM, I’m beginning to wonder if the Opal Emperor named his daughter in place of his son and that his son (BSE) retaliated by killing his sister, It is odd that we have a woman after a string of male emperors. A similar scenario that led to the Dance of the Dragons. Perhaps the strife in the realm did not begin with the BSE but had its root in decisions taken by the Opal Emperor.
Not to sure about including the Silver Sea in the GEotD, that’s a heavy lift. I’ve studied all the GEotD stuff and I haven’t seen evidence for that. It would also completely undercut the idea of matriarchy to make them vassals to the GEoTD. I don’t see it, thematically… but who knows, you’ve changed my mind before.
I really like you comparisons between the Dance and the BSE. Martin loves to do the “history repeats itself” thing, and since the BSE is the original usurper, I’ve been comparing him to all the usurpers to see what we can leaner. So far that’s been fruitful. Daemon Targaryen even set himself up as king of the StepStones on Bloodstone Isle. Sweet! But yes, i see the parallel with Viserys I naming Rhaenyra heir and the Blood Betrayal. In order to feel confident ascribing characteristics of the dance to the blood Betrayal, however, we should look for clues in TPATQ to confirm that Martin is intending us to think this way. I really need to get the ebook of that one so I can do word searches!
I took the fire opal as a trace of Dany’s lineage, much as you did. It seems like one of the first traces of Dany rediscovering her past. This whole section, I have interpreted as a comet hits moon metaphor, and in the context of that, the two cities represent the two comets and the two moons. The dead one with skulls on spears represents the comet which destroyed the moon – skull on a spear is a comet symbol. Jhogo won’t go in this city. The other city, meanwhile, shows hope and promise. The old scrolls imply ancient knowledge, and taken with the fire opal bracelet, could add the connotation of lost knowledge, rediscovering her past, etc.
There’s a lot of iron and fire or iron and blood stuff going on. The Bones mountains are guarded by warrior women with iron rings and rubies. This is all blood and fire stuff, I suppose, and when you add iron to the mix you get Lightbringer, or at least Valyrian Steel.
Someone pointed this out to me the other day – “grey water” = “silver sea.”
This is really great! I was pre-convinced that Dany is heir to the Great Empire of the Dawn and the Silver Sea, but you’ve done a really great job of assembling all the evidence in a clear way.
Oh, and re: the fire opal:
In addition to everything you guys pointed out, it’s also the first piece of “tribute” Dany receives after hatching her dragons. Which supports the idea that it symbolized her rediscovering her heritage, I think.
hello LOVE your stark lineage chart showing wolfs blood etc – do you have one of thosae made up for Targaryens?
Hey thanks ! I’m still working on the Targ chart, trying to get everything right. It has some apparently complex and unclear issues I’m still grappling with. Hope to figure it out fully in the near future.
Certainly looking forward to seeing that 🙂
I am curious, based on what you have put together thus far, do you see any chance Mushroom might slide into the Targ lineage chart?
Good question. I do see echoes of Tyrion in Mushroom and am fairly convinced Tyrion is Aery’s son, so there might be something there. But it’s difficult to prove and must remain speculation as far as the chart goes. What’s interesting is the imagery surrounding Mushroom – someone whose tales if taken seriously have the capacity to cause a lot of havoc, matching the idea of poisoned mushrooms (or the theme of the poisoner/poisoning) as well as a mushroom that blooms after an atomic explosion which in turn reminds me of the Doom or indeed of Tyrion’s wildfire defense at the Battle of the Blackwater. Tyrion also has a couple of rendezvous with poison – he’s accused of poisoning Joff, does not want to eat Illyrio’s food because he thinks it may be poisoned and he actually poisons Nurse. So in a roundabout symbolic way Mushroom and Tyrion are connected. Maybe. But he won’t be included in the chart unless i can find something more conclusive.
Yea that all fits for sure. I cant decide if a genetic Mushroom-Tyrion connection is a red herring or a deep hidden secret lol. i am super excited to see the Targ chart whenever it goes up 🙂