First, many thanks to those who read my previous two entries in this series. The Stannis and Rhaegar 'what if?' pieces received a lot of views and positive feedback. I'm so happy about that. I've decided to run with this alternate ASOIAF timeline series for a while (though I'll also continue writing other posts).
For the third 'what if?' timeline I thought it would be interesting to go way, way back in the ASOIAF universe. What I want to look at, is a timeline in which Aegon's Conquest never happened. What would the continent of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms would look like if the Targaryen Dynasty had never risen? Which lands and Great Houses would be the most and least affected in such a scenario? Which power if any could conceivably rise to bind the Seven Kingdoms together?
No Dragons, No Fire and Blood
Along with the invasions of the First Men and the Andals, the arrival of Targaryens was an event that changed Westeros forever. Aegon, his sister-wives and their dragons were the first to bind all of the continent's warring kingdoms (save Dorne) together. During Aegon's Conquest, old royal houses were destroyed, others brought to their knees, other houses were raised up and territories shifted ownership. A new city, King's Landing, was built and a throne made from the fused swords of Aegon's fallen enemies became the symbol of power for a new political order.
|The Targaryens meet their end in the Doom of Valyria.|
In this alternate timeline, though, Aegon, Visenya Rhaenys and their dragons never exist. Their ancestors who, in the cannon-history, settled Dragonstone twelve years before Valyria's destruction never leave the doomed continent. Instead, Aenar Targaryen ignores his daughter's prophetic warnings about the Doom and remains in his homeland. His entire line his wiped-out and Dargonstone, which had been a Valryian outpost, becomes the home of another house.
Dragons cease to exist and fade in to legend and myth along with Valyria itself. However, like in the cannon-timeline, Volantis and other Valyrian outposts do endure and preserve some aspects of their now deceased motherland's culture.
The Seven Kingdoms Remain...Seven Kingdoms
Since the Targaryens and their dragons are no longer on the scene, where does this leave the Seven Kingdoms that they conquered?
In the short term, pretty much where they were. With no Aegon the Conqueror, the Seven Kingdoms (shown below) remain independent realms. The long term futures of these different kingdoms are impossible to really predict and could go a number of different directions. To cover all of those possible outcomes would require more than one entry. However, based on what we know of the state of these kingdoms at the time of the Conquest (from The World of Ice and Fire and the main series) it's possible to make a few solid predictions.
|The Seven Kingdoms at the time of Aegon's Conquest|
Gardeners, Durrandons, Hoares and the Rest
Some houses and lands are more affected than others by Aegon's absence. The Reach, the Stormlands, the Iron Islands and the Riverlands were changed far more deeply by the Conquest than other parts of Westeros. The royal houses that ruled these lands were extinguished. With no Field of Fire, no Siege of Storm's End and no Burning of Harrenhal, houses Gardener, Durrandon and Hoare endure.
|Sigil of House Gardener, the Kings of the Reach|
In the Reach, House Gardner, which like the Lannisters and the Starks can trace its ancestry to the Age of Heroes, continues to rule from High Garden. Mern IX (the last Gardener King in the cannon who is killed along with all of his sons and male relatives) continues his reign and is succeeded by his son Edmund. The Tyrells remain the Gardener King's high stewards and continue to serve as trusted advisors and (perhaps at times) the power behind the Oakenseat.
|Sigil of the Storm Kings of House Durrandon (adopted by the Baratheons)|
In the Stormlands, the ruling house of Durrandon does not become extinct either (at least not at Aegon's hands). Since the founder of House Baratheon, Orys, was a bastard brother of Aegon, Storm's End remains the seat of Argilac Durrandon (the Arrogant). He marries his daughter Argella to another suitor and perhaps lives long enough to sire a male heir. Like in the cannon, Argilac also tries to seek out allies to counter the presence of the Ironborn in the Riverlands. Instead of sending offers of alliance to Aegon, however, he likely tries to build bridges with one of the other kingdoms surrounding the Riverlands such as the Vale or the Westerlands.
|Sigil of House Hoare, rulers of the Ironborn and the Riverlands|
This brings us to the Iron Islands and the Riverlands, the two regions that were arguably changed the most by the Targaryens. When Aegon arrived in Westeros, the Ironborn had carved an empire out of the Riverlands and what would become the Crownlands. Their royal house, Hoare, ruled as Kings of the Isles and the Rivers. Under kings Harwyn, Halleck and Harren the Ironborn successfully retained controlled of their conquest by fighting off the Arryns, Lannisters, Gardeners and Durrandons. The Storm Kings were the Hoares' strongest rivals for the Riverlands, since the Durrandons had ruled the territory prior to having it taken away by Harwyn. Arguably, the Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers was the most powerful by the time of the Conquest.
In this timeline, King Harren the Black still completes his monstrous castle of Harrenhal making it his seat of power. Though the Hoare line is not extinguished by dragon flame, the Kings of the Isles and the Rivers are likely unable to maintain their great castle or their empire in the long term. Like in the cannon, the construction of Harrenhal drains material and human resources from the Riverlands and the Iron Islands. While the castle is impressive and perhaps impregnable to a direct assault the project ultimately leaves the Ironborn severely weakened. Maintaining the massive castles towers, hearths, kitchens, stables and barracks only puts further strain on the already depleted lands under Harren's rule.
|The construction of Harrenhal depletes resources and leaves House Hoare vulnerable|
While Harren likely lives out the rest of his reign, the enemies of the Ironborn sense the weakness of his realm. Whether through invasion by one or more of the surrounding kingdoms, a rebellion on the Iron Islands or in the Riverlands or a combination of these events, it seems likely that the construction of Harrenhal would eventually lead to the Riverlands being wrested from the Hoares and given to another kingdom. Harrenhal falls largely into ruin like in the books and house Hoare is eventually driven out of power and destroyed, with the Ironborn withdrawing to their islands. Another Ironborn family, perhaps the Greyjoys, succeeds them.
The houses least affected by the Conquest, the Starks, Martells, Arryns and Lannisters endure as well. They remain the leaders of their peoples and continue the wars that they have always engaged in.
No Iron Throne to Bend To...Not Ever
Not surprisingly, conflicts continue between the various kingdoms. As time passes, their lands expand and contract with each new war. However, in the absence of a Targaryen Conquest is there another scenario in which all Seven Kingdoms could be brought together under a single ruler?
Not very likely.
Aegon's Conquest succeeded due to one factor and one factor alone: his three dragons. Without them, the Targaryens' three thousand man army would have been unable to conquer anything beyond a few smaller territories in what we know as the Crownlands. In battle after battle, Balerion, Vhagar and Meraxes decided the outcome and their mere existence and presence was enough to convince even powerful rulers like Torrhen Stark and Sharra Arryn to bend the knee.
|Dragons ensured Aegon's victory over his enemies.|
In a ASOIAF universe without Aegon's dragons, there's only one other way to conquer all of Westeros- with an army.
However, defeating and subduing an entire continent filled with diverse peoples, harsh and varied climates and powerful kingdoms who would fight tooth and nail to hold their lands, would require an enormous number of soldiers. At a minimum, this army would have to be several hundred thousand strong if it was to have any hope of overwhelming any of the other kingdoms' forces.
While its hard to confirm the exact size of the armies that each of the Seven Kingdoms can raise, none of the numbers in the books (or from other estimates online) come even close to matching the army size required. Most great houses such as the Starks and the Arryns seem only able to muster between twenty to thirty thousand men. Even the wealthiest and most powerful kingdoms, the Reach and the Westerlands, can only field a little over fifty thousand men each.
|No Iron Throne...or one quite like it.|