Is Alicent's father part of the Grand Maester Conspiracy? Is GMC even true?
Bear in mind that as I write this, we are only on the second episode of the first season of House of the Dragon. One of the things I am very much looking forward to seeing is if we will gain more insight into the what drives the Hand, Otto Hightower, toward actions that would for a limited time give him a vast amount of power, yet ultimately severely weaken the Targaryen dynasty through which his own blood had intertwined. Is he a merely a power hungry man, or a part of a grand conspiracy with far-ranging effects to the realm? Will we find out if the Grand Maester Conspiracy is true, and is Otto Hightower part of this?
Though he descended from one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most powerful Houses in the realm (the Hightowers of Oldtown), Otto was a second son. He was never going to rule his family seat. That he served as Hand to the King was a testament to his own intelligence and drive; the Hand all but ruled the Seven Kingdoms on the King's behalf. Otto first served as Hand during the waning days of the reign of the Old King, Jaehaerys I, a time of relative peace and prosperity in the Seven Kingdoms.
What do we know of him so far, from the first couple of episodes of House of the Dragon? Well, he and Prince Daemon Targaryen loathed each other. He considered the matter of succession an urgent matter, and did not hesitate voicing out that Daemon would be a second Maegor the Cruel as King (I should probably create a separate post about this, but I do not agree with this assessment at all). He initially supported Princess Rhaenyra as heir (to get rid of Daemon) even as he pushed his very young daughter to become King Viserys's new wife. He was consistently dismissive of Lord Corlys Velaryon, a far more accomplished and wealthier man that he was, and did not want the two remaining Valyrian Houses to unite.
Just from the point of view of a casual observer, he does seem to want to weaken the Targaryen rule. Yet, why would he want that, and marry his own daughter into the family?
The Grand Maester Conspiracy is a popular fan theory that is actually two separate theories that are linked. The first theory is that the dragons did not just start weakening and dying naturally following the Dance of the Dragons; the maesters killed them off. The second theory is that the maesters were behind the Southron Ambitions conspiracy that eventually formed the heart of the Houses that led the uprising that brought down the Targaryens; this is the Stark-Baratheon-Tully- Arryn connection. To put it as simply as possible -- The maesters wanted magic gone from the world. Dragons were tied to magic. The Targaryens were never going to let dragons go, for these majestic creatures were the bedrocks of their dynastic powers. Even after the dragons disappeared, the Targaryens were always going to attempt to bring them back. The maesters first killed off the dragons, then they manipulated events that led to the overthrow of the Targaryens.
Do I believe GMC? Yes. Even before I heard of this theory, it was always curious to me why dragons just got smaller and weaker, and eventually died off. Unlike Balerion and Vhagar, latter dragons mostly resided in the dragonpit; one in-text explanation was that dragons simply grew larger in the wild. Was this truly the case, or was it because people who meant them harm could only access the dragons in the dragonpit, and it was only their growth that was stalled? I believe the latter is more plausible. Dragons died out because a powerful entity wanted them to die out. The maesters were in a prime position to arrange this.
Yet, if GMC is true, why on earth would the maesters want magic in the world to end? This is just me, and I could be completely wrong, but I feel like the maesters could want magic to end for three reasons. First, the vocation of maesters is learning. Magic, by its nature, cannot be understood, it just is. A thing that cannot be understood, that cannot be broken down and explained, is a dangerous thing, especially if there are practitioners of magic beyond the the control of the Citadel. Maesters, the gatekeepers of knowledge at least in the western world, may want to get rid of it. Second, without dragons, the maesters could better control events in Westeros and hold on to their power. Maesters gave the appearance of being servants in powerful Houses, but they were very powerful themselves. It was in their power to either heal or kill a lord. At a time when few people could read and write, including high lords, maesters controlled communications through the realm. Lords and Ladies, Kings and Queens, speak their greatest fears and most secret plans with their maesters. Events in the realm were far trickier to manipulate to however they saw best with dragonriders around, even more difficult if that dragonrider happened to have a mind of their own (like Rhaenyra and Daemon). Third, and I could be giving the maesters too much credit here, an equitable world could never be reached as long as dragons exist. Dragons were simply too powerful, and whoever, controlled them controlled the world.
What does Otto Hightower have to do with this? Well, the base of the maesters is Oldtown, House Hightower's seat. Otto's ascent to power as Hand coincided with the slow cracking of the Targaryen hold to power. Otto's actions directly contributed to the Dance of the Dragons, which led to the dying off of many of House Targaryen's largest and most experienced dragon warriors and riders.
If we go further back into history, the connection between the Hightowers and the maesters are quite strong. Long before the Targaryens came to Westeros, the Hightowers were kings. The founding of the Citadel, which became home to the order of the maesters, was said to be due to the Hightowers. A second son of Uther of the High Tower, Prince Peremore the Twisted, was a sickly boy who nonetheless spent his short life indulging his insatiable curiosity of knowledge by keeping in company with wise men, teachers, healers, priests, and singers (notice the pattern -- with the exemption of singers, who were mostly storytellers, still very important in the preservation of the memory of an age, these were highly educated men) and even wizards, alchemists, and sorcerers (again, notice the pattern -- magic). He loved watching them argue. After he died, his brother, King Urrigon, gave a large tract of land to these friends of his so they may continue their learning. Thus, the Citadel was born. My source of this is my copy of George R.R. Martin's The World of Ice and Fire. What if by the time the Citadel was founded, the ones who won the argument and remained in Oldtown were those who favoured rigorous, patient learning over magic?
The Heirs of the Dragon showed Otto sending a raven to Oldtown, not a suspicious matter in and of itself given that is his home and his brother lives there, but stay with me here. He continuously poured poison in the King's ears about his brother and heir, Daemon -- an accomplished warrior, a charismatic leader of men, wielder of Dark Sister (the Valyrian steel sword that belonged to Queen Visenya Targaryen herself), rider of Caraxes (a full-grown, powerful dragon). He pushed for the naming of Rhaenyra as heir knowing full well this would be rejected by the lords of the realm, then later pushed for the King to re-marry so he could produce more heirs, a sure way to drive a wedge between father and daughter. He successfully separated King Viserys from his greatest allies -- his brother Daemon (a dragonrider), his daughter Rhaenyra (also a dragonrider), his cousin Rhaenys (another dragonrider), and Lord Corlys Velaryon, Master of Ships and the most powerful lord of his day.
The maesters, on the other hand, seemed curiously unable to heal simple cuts. What proof do we have that Queen Aemma's belly needed to be cut so her babe could be born? Only the word of the maesters. Under whose care was poor Prince Baelon when he mysteriously died? The maesters.
I am well aware that everything I wrote here could be proven wrong in the next episodes or seasons, but part of the joy of being in the fandom is speculation. It has been so long since I felt this rush to dissect a show and spend hours thinking of what may be, instead of doing useful adult things like the laundry. Where I am with Ser Otto is where I usually am with most of George R.R. Martin's characters. None is all good or all bad. Whatever his motivations are, to himself these are couched in terms of what is best not just for himself and his House but the realm. One of the many things I adore about House of the Dragon is how it brought forth to the greater public consciousness these Houses that were not given much prominence in Game of Thrones. I am still salty about the handling of the Reach. Now, we get to do deep dives into fascinating Houses like the Hightowers and the Velaryons. I cannot wait for the next episode!