Crackpot Theory: Rhaegar Targaryen had Aspergers Syndrome

Anyone who has read A Song of Ice and Fire (or paid attention to the backstory of Game of Thrones) is familiar with Rhaegar Targaryen, the Crown Prince who sparked a war by running away with Lyanna Stark, a la Homer’s Paris and Helen. Rhaegar remains something of an enigma, since we are only relying on second or third-hand information about him – this leads to an awful lot of speculation about his personality.

Myself, I have a pet crackpot theory of my own design – one that is unlikely to ever be proved or disproved. Namely that Rhaegar had Aspergers Syndrome.

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Now, when the subject of Aspergers and Autism in Martin’s work gets raised, the most usual candidate is Stannis Baratheon. I actually think the evidence goes either way on Stannis (while he is socially awkward and honest, he does not have a “special subject” or an unnaturally stilted vocabulary). Rhaegar though allows much more room to speculate, and in this case, I think there would be something richly subversive about such a glamorous figure having such a “nerdy” psychology.

My evidence:

  • Rhaegar has a special subject that he pursues to the extent of obsession, namely prophecies, and to a lesser extent harp music. There’s even a flashback scene in the House of the Undying where he’s with his (own actually existing) son, and he’s still going on about “there needs to be one more”.
  • It explains him running off with Lyanna, and not quite understanding why it would upset people, even though he is highly intelligent.
  • As a child, he showed no interest in other children, and spent all his time with books. Our other bookworm, Samwell Tarly, is far more social by comparison – Sam likes dancing, kittens, and hanging out in the kitchen. Rhaegar is much more of a loner.
  • As a child, he impresses the Maesters with his knowledge of arcane trivia. One imagines his vocabulary being pretty extensive.
  • Rhaegar remains clearly introverted as an adult. He prefers brooding over his harp to social contact.
  • He doesn’t seem to notice that Jon Connington has a homosexual crush on him.
  • Ned Stark doesn’t think Rhaegar would visit brothels. This is generally interpreted as a comment on Rhaegar’s moral code, and certainly Ned would have meant it as such, but if we run with this theory, perhaps the notion of intimacy in a social setting made Rhaegar uncomfortable?
  • The apparent lack of social awkwardness can be explained by everyone being too busy admiring his inhuman beauty, or thinking how wonderful he is, to notice him doing anything odd. Especially given that he’s Targaryen: there’s a social expectation that Targaryens are supposed to do odd things, and while his father and little brother are more overt, there is nothing stopping Rhaegar from having his own issues.
  • The biggest strike against the theory is that Aspergers is commonly associated with poor hand-eye co-ordination. Rhaegar becomes a decent swordsman, which implies his hand-eye co-ordination was pretty good. To explain this, I would suggest that Rhaegar’s single-minded obsession with the prophecy (which he interpreted as requiring him to be a warrior) led him to devote far more time and energy to developing his swordsmanship than he otherwise would have.

Note that this theory also allows a middle ground between those who gloss over his role in starting a disastrous civil war, and those who would vilify him for his neglect of the political situation leading up to the conflict. Rhaegar would be culpable, but his culpability does not arise from selfishness or callousness – it arises from an inability to understand what a faux pas he was committing.

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