While some years a go there was a claim that Martin had said (in a mail to an individual who reported on the GeorgeRRMartin mailing list) that Aegon was dead, the exact wording of this statement was never produced and the reporter could not vouch that he had correctly interpreted GRRM’s statement to him. Since then, GRRM has been cagier about the issue. For example, when asked about the fates of both of Rhaegar’s children, he only provided a definitive answer concerning Rhaenys’s fate (SSC). When probed further about Aegon, his answer was rather coy (SSC).
The popular theory as to why Aegon is not dead is that he was spirited out of the Red Keep at some point, and replaced with another baby who looked somewhat similar (not the easiest thing to do, since Aegon was coming out more Valyrian, but presumably any child with fair hair and blue eyes would probably pass inspection by the likes of Ser Gregor Clegane). It’s usually thought that if this was the case that Varys would be responsible for it. Candidates for who Aegon may now be are many, and include Samwell (too old, in fact), Edric Dayne (too young), an as-yet-unnamed child residing with Howland Reed in the Neck (speculation based on metaphorical analysis of the text), or someone else entirely. One reason why some feel that Aegon must have survived include Rhaegar’s definitive statement that Aegon was the prince who was promised and that the dragon has three heads (II: 512). Martin has noted, however, that one does not necessarily have to be a Targaryen to be one of the three heads (SSR).
A Dance with Dragons provides us Young Griff, who is apparently revealed as Aegon Targaryen, the trueborn son of Prince Rhaegar and the rightful Targaryen heir to the throne. Much as speculated in the past, the tale goes that Varys spirited him out of the Red Keep, substituting another child in his place. Raised in secret of Essos, he was placed in the care of “Griff”—the exiled Jon Connington, who at Varys’s suggestion let it be put about that he died in disgrace—who, with other Westerosi, raised him in preparation of his claiming the crown one day. Tyrion Lannister appears to accept this story, and puts it into Aegon’s head that he should invade Westeros rather than seeking Daenerys. Aegon’s landing on the shores of the stormlands causes confusion in King’s Landing, as with the help of the Golden Company he successfully seizes several castles.
However, our own view is that Aegon is not, in fact, Aegon Targaryen. Despite the many details that appear to match up—including his apparent age and Valyrian features—the fact is that there is no proof from Connington that Aegon is who he says he is. He only has Varys’s word for it. Valyrian features still remain visible in the Free Cities, particularly in the Free Cities of Lys and Volantis, which are repeatedly noted (especially in A Dance with Dragons) as still having the silver-gold hair and violet eyes among a significant portion of the population. It would not have been hard for Varys and his partner-in-crime Illyrio to have a child to take over for the deceased Aegon, to construct this false narrative, and to pass the boy off as Rhaegar’s to a man who bother worshipped Rhaegar and dearly wanted to believe that there was a way back to Westeros to reclaim his lost glory and honor.
One of the most intriguing theories connects to Illyrio’s conversation with Tyrion as they travelled from Pentos to meet Griff and his company. There, Illyrio revealed three important pieces of information: that there was more than just a bond of friendship leading him to work with Varys (V: 74), and that he adored his now-deceased concubine Serra of Lys whose features included silver-gold hair (V: 79). This has led us to speculate that “Aegon” is in fact Illyrio’s own son by Serra, passed off as Aegon with Varys’s connivance. This would neatly explain his affection for the boy (whom he seems to have raised in his own household right up to the time that the opportunity to ensnare Connington in their plot presented itself [V: 22]), what gain he seems to think to gain from this risky venture (having his own son on the throne must be quite a pleasing thought to his ego), and the possible reasons for why “Aegon”‘s Valyrian appearance comes from his Lyseni mother, where men and women alike are known to still have Valyrian features. A further complication of the theory even suggests that Serra is related to Varys (who also originally hailed from Lys) and that they are both descendants of either the Blackfyres or Aerion Brightflame, the Targaryen prince who was exiled to Lys for a number of years and whom Martin claims may well have left a few by-blows behind when he returned to Westeros to drink his cup of wildfire (SSC).
Perhaps the chief reasons to believe that Aegon is not truly Aegon is the fact that there have been two separate visions suggesting that there are “false dragons” present in the tale: Daenerys’s vision from the Undying (“Daughter of Death”) and Moqorro’s vision as reported to Tyrion (“Dragons Old and Young”). The chief evidence used against the theory that Young Griff is not, in fact, Aegon, relates to Varys’s explicit rejection of the dying Kevan’s claim that Aegon was dead. Our own counter to that is that Varys reveals, in the very same conversation, a belief that someone can be shaped to a purpose—in Aegon’s case, to be a king. But this logically goes further: that someone can be shaped to believe that they are something that they are not. That is, when he rejects Aegon being dead, what Varys may well mean is that for his purposes, Young Griff is Aegon—he has directed his last seventeen years or so to shaping the boy to be Aegon Targaryen.