Daenerys Targaryen is a woman who yearns for the simpler times of her life. Long before she was Queen, Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of chains, she was just a child running through fields barefoot and looking out her window at a friendly lemon tree. Her house with a red door in Braavos, when things were easy and idyllic. Wait…Braavos? The dour, rainy, overcast place with a bustling port, merchants yelling about their oysters, clams, and cockles that looks like Venice mixed with Seattle? That’s where Dany remembers wide open fields, citrus trees, and calm easy living? How can those memories be of the same place?
This is the central question that has launched a thousand tinfoil theories about where Daenerys and Viserys REALLY grew up. It leads to baby swaps, Dornish master planning, and a host of other tinfoil theories that begin at answering the question of how Dany can be remembering Braavos like it was the Reach or Dorne or Tyrosh. Today, we’ll be looking at the evidence held up that Dany must have grown up elsewhere and seeing where it falls down. And then also laying out what the lemon tree and house with the red door actually mean for Dany’s story.
First off, let’s look at the actual quotes in question from Daenerys’ memory that speak of the house and lemon tree.
That was when they lived in Braavos, in the big house with the red door. Dany had her own room there, with a lemon tree outside her window. After Ser Willem had died, the servants had stolen what little money they had left, and soon after they had been put out of the big house. Dany had cried when the red door closed behind them forever.
– A Game Of Thrones Daenerys I
A big house, red door, lemon tree outside her window, and her own private bedroom.
She remembered those great wooden beams and the carved animal faces that adorned them. And there outside the window, a lemon tree! The sight of it made her heart ache with longing. It is the house with the red door, the house in Braavos.
– A Clash of Kings Daenerys IV
The house also had carved wooden beams, a rarity in the supposedly treeless city of Braavos.
She could smell home, she could see it, there, just beyond that door, green fields and great stone houses and arms to keep her warm, there. She threw open the door.
-A Game Of Thrones Daenerys IX
And also green fields and other great stone houses nearby.
Much of the rest of the quotes are nearly identical. Dany and Viserys had lived there until Ser Willem Darry, a Targaryen loyalist, died and the children had to flee the house into poverty. For Dany, these memories represent the only stable home she’s ever had. These memories are mentioned fifteen times across the five published books. As her burdens and stresses mount, the more she wishes to be back in her own bedroom without a care looking out at the green grass and a friendly lemon tree.
The first major point made about Dany’s house not being in Braavos is that lemon trees don’t normally grow there. Braavos sits on a saltwater lagoon and sits at roughly the same latitude as the Fingers in the Vale and the Iron Islands. There’s two commonly quoted passages about this. The first comes from A Storm of Swords Arya II at the Inn of the Kneeling man.
Anguy shuffled his feet. “We were thinking we might eat it, Sharna. With lemons. If you had some.”
“Lemons. And where would we get lemons? Does this look like Dorne to you, you freckled fool? Why don’t you hop out back to the lemon trees and pick us a bushel, and some nice olives and pomegranates too.” She shook a finger at him.
– A Storm of Swords Arya II
Sharna establishes that the commonly known climate for lemons is in the hot and dry Dorne. House Dalt’s keep is even named Lemonwood. And then from two Lannister guardsman in Braavos,
“Seven hells, this place is damp,” she heard her guard complain. “I’m chilled to the bones. Where are the bloody orange trees? I always heard there were orange trees in the Free Cities. Lemons and limes. Pomegranates. Hot peppers, warm nights, girls with bare bellies. Where are the bare-bellied girls, I ask you?”
“Down in Lys, and Myr, and Old Volantis,” the other guard replied. He was an older man, big-bellied and grizzled. “I went to Lys with Lord Tywin once, when he was Hand to Aerys. Braavos is north of King’s Landing, fool. Can’t you read a bloody map?”
-The Winds of Winter Mercy
So twice it is brought up that lemons don’t naturally grow in places like Braavos. Except this information is not correct. Lemon trees absolutely can be grown outside the hot climate of Dorne. The internet is littered with guides and tips on exactly how you can grow a lemon tree in climates you wouldn’t expect. From the Royal Horticultural Society,
A minimum winter night temperature of 10°C (50°F) is fine for lemons. Citrus limon is less cold tolerant than C. × meyeri, which survives down to 5°C (41°F). Limes and C. limon only tolerate temperatures down to (50°F).
So long as you place them in a spot with lots of sunlight and can protect them from extremely cold temperatures, a place like Braavos could support a lemon tree. It won’t grow large or produce vast amounts of fruit, however nowhere in Dany’s memory does she mention HER lemon tree growing fruit or even its size. And Braavos could certainly accommodate those conditions especially when Dany lived there.
But, isn’t Braavos is cold, foggy, and wet all the time? From Arya’s A Feast for Crows chapters it seems that way,
The day looked to be a rare one, crisp and clear and bright. Braavos only had three kinds of weather; fog was bad, rain was worse, and freezing rain was worst. But every so often would come a morning when the dawn broke pink and blue and the air was sharp and salty. Those were the days that Cat loved best.
-A Feast for Crows – Cat of the Canals
That seems ill-suited to growing a citrus tree. But, that is not the climate of Braavos when Daenerys lived there. Weather and seasons in GRRM’s world do not function like our own. Planetos experienced a Long Summer from around 284 until 299 AC where every month was like summer. As the main story of ASOIAF begins, the Long Summer is ending. Fall has descended and by Feast Dance (when Arya reaches Braavos) many parts of Westeros have experienced snow falls and the beginnings of Winter. Daenerys lived in Braavos during this Long Summer period when the weather would’ve been much warmer and sunnier.
It’s also important to look at the sources of the information about lemon cultivation in their world. Sharna is a fake innkeeper from the Riverlands and two random Lannister guardsmen aren’t exactly experts in growing citrus. It’s reasonable to doubt their information like if someone from beyond the Wall started talking about the rules of jousting or a person from Dorne started giving you tips on surviving the Winter in the north.
In addition, George is aware of the most common way that you grow exotic plants out of their natural climates: greenhouses. The glass garden of Winterfell is a little temperate paradise in the middle of the frozen North.
The castle had been built over natural hot springs, and the scalding waters rushed through its walls and chambers like blood through a man’s body, driving the chill from the stone halls, filling the glass gardens with a moist warmth, keeping the earth from freezing.
– A Game Of Thrones Catelyn II
Dany doesn’t mention a greenhouse, but they certainly exist in universe so it is a possibility.
So, the lemon tree growing isn’t a problem for Braavos when Dany actually lived there. But where in Braavos would it be grown near green fields, large stone houses, and wooden beams? Samwell describes Braavos as the opposite in his time there.
The stony maze of islands and canals that was Braavos, devoid of grass and trees and teeming with strangers who spoke to her in words she could not understand, frightened her so badly that she lost the map and soon herself. Sam found her weeping at the stony feet of some long-dead sealord.
– A Feast for Crows Samwell III
The answer is provided by the official Lands of Ice and Fire product that conveniently includes a detailed map of Braavos. And right at the top of the map is the Sealord’s Palace which has green fields, trees, and other stone buildings nearby.
The Sealord of Braavos is the elected ruler of the city, and is incredibly wealthy from his position as the lord of Braavos’ mighty trade empire. Wealthy enough to import some wooden beams carved with animal faces into his palace surely. It is also common for courtiers and dignitaries to gift the Sealord exotic forms of life.
“Hear me. The ships of Braavos sail as far as the winds blow, to lands strange and wonderful, and when they return their captains fetch queer animals to the Sealord’s menagerie. Such animals as you have never seen, striped horses, great spotted things with necks as long as stilts, hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows, stinging manticores, tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch, terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws. Syrio Forel has seen these things.
– A Game Of Thrones Arya IV
In addition, later in the same chapter Sam attempts to buy some wood for a fire and is shocked at the price but gives us interesting information about trees in Braavos.
Trees did not grow on Braavos, save in the courts and gardens of the mighty. Nor would the Braavosi cut the pines that covered the outlying islands around their great lagoon and acted as windbreaks to shield them from storms.
– A Feast for Crows Samwell III
Not only does Braavos support pine trees, the courts of the mighty have gardens. Which the Sealord or some other nearby noble would certainly qualify as the mighty. The lemon tree is not the impediment many think it is, rather easily explained. What isn’t as easily explained though is why there is a lemon tree outside Dany’s window in Braavos at all. And, to be honest, there wasn’t at first.
When people say the house with the lemon tree and red door were not in Braavos, they’re technically correct. In 1996 before the publication of A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin published all the Daenerys chapters in a novella titled “Blood of the Dragon” in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. In this pre-publication version, Daenerys states in her memory that the house with the red door was in Tyrosh as seen here. Tyrosh is one of the Valyrian Free Cities much farther South about even with the Rainwood in the Stormlands of Westeros. It has a similar climate to Dorne and makes perfect sense that you’d find citrus growing there.
So we have two options. Either the lemon tree in Braavos was an editing mistake when George moved her home from Tyrosh in between publications or it was left in as a hint to something. This screenshot from the thread by /u/Mikluho_Maklaj suggests that the lemon tree being out of its natural climate is a hint from George. But to what? For that we turn to Anne Groell, George’s fearless and excellent editor, who gives us a tutorial on the way he constructs his mysteries.
it is easier to tell when he’s overplaying a hand and revealing things too early if you don’t actually know going in what will happen. That said, now that I’ve realized his three-fold revelation strategy, I see it in play almost every time. The first, subtle hint for the really astute readers, followed later by the more blatant hint for the less attentive, followed by just spelling it out for everyone else. It’s a brilliant strategy, and highly effective.
You’d think the inclusion of the lemon tree would raise suspicions for the astute reader, however, we do not learn about where Braavos is exactly in Planetos and its climate until all the way in A Feast for Crows. There isn’t a map of Essos and the Free Cities until the publication of A Dance with Dragons so there is no way to know that there’s anything amiss with a lemon tree and green fields in Braavos. As far as the reader knows, those are perfectly fine for Braavos However, the actual hint for the astute reader is that lemons come from Dorne and what that means for why the tree was outside Daenery’s window.
When Daenerys fled Westeros, she left behind quite a few supporters who bent their knees for new King Robert Baratheon. In a Storm of Swords, we learn of a surprising one: House Martell and the Red Viper Oberyn.
but Oberyn has always been half-mad.”
“Is it true he tried to raise Dorne for Viserys?”
“No one speaks of it, but yes. Ravens flew and riders rode, with what secret messages I never knew. Jon Arryn sailed to Sunspear to return Prince Lewyn’s bones, sat down with Prince Doran, and ended all the talk of war. But Robert never went to Dorne thereafter, and Prince Oberyn seldom left it.”
-A Storm of Swords Tyrion VI
The purpose of Sharna’s dialogue about the lemon tree isn’t about it being out of place, it’s connecting lemons with Dorne. The astute reader may pick up on the lemon tree outside Dany’s window signifying a connection with Dorne after the above quote. But seeing as we don’t know where Braavos is exactly, it could easily be nothing. But the seed of Dorne and lemons is planted for George to harvest later.
In A Feast for Crows, we see from Samwell and Arya that Braavos is nothing like Dorne and that growing citrus trees there would be challenging unless you’re very wealthy. Suddenly that lemon tree is a lot more suspicious. Following Anne Groell’s example, this is the more blatant hint of connections between the Martells and Targaryens. Someone put a lot of effort and money into transporting a lemon tree to Braavos and then keeping it alive outside of Daenerys Targaryen’s window. Connecting back with Oberyn trying to raise Dorne for the children and then a lemon tree growing, observant readers can begin piecing together there might’ve been a relationship between Dorne and Braavos until Willem Darry died and Dany and Viserys fled the city.
The lemon tree could’ve been a gift for the Sealord to seal some kind of bargain as a symbolic gift as a signature crop of Dorne. For instance the Redwynes might give their famous wine Arbor Gold wine, the Lannisters might give gold or a lion (when they still had them), and so on.
And then we have the third step in Anne Groell’s pattern, the grand reveal. In A Dance With Dragons Prince Quentyn Martell has shown up in Mereen with a marriage pact for Queen Daenerys. A marriage pact signed by Oberyn Martell.
“It is a secret pact,” Dany said, “made in Braavos when I was just a little girl. Ser Willem Darry signed for us, the man who spirited my brother and myself away from Dragonstone before the Usurper’s men could take us. Prince Oberyn Martell signed for Dorne, with the Sealord of Braavos as witness.” She handed the parchment to Ser Barristan, so he might read it for himself. “The alliance is to be sealed by a marriage, it says. In return for Dorne’s help overthrowing the Usurper, my brother Viserys is to take Prince Doran’s daughter Arianne for his queen.”
– A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys VII
The foreshadowing with the lemon tree, Oberyn’s failed uprising, and Daenerys’ home in Braavos all are paid off in this moment. There’s a secret alliance between Dorne and the Targaryens and Braavos that would replace the usurper Robert Baratheon on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Not a baby swap, a fake dany, or Dany growing up in Dorne, or any other tinfoil about her past. This is what it leads up to, and from the POV’s in Dorne we learn that it wasn’t just Oberyn. Prince Doran was the mastermind behind this revenge plan that his hot blooded brother Oberyn almost ruined by getting caught advocating for the Targaryens a bit too loudly.
“I am not blind, nor deaf. I know that you all believe me weak, frightened, feeble. Your father knew me better. Oberyn was ever the viper. Deadly, dangerous, unpredictable. No man dared tread on him. I was the grass. Pleasant, complaisant, sweet-smelling, swaying with every breeze. Who fears to walk upon the grass? But it is the grass that hides the viper from his enemies and shelters him until he strikes. Your father and I worked more closely than you know”
– A Dance with Dragons The Watcher
The marriage pact doesn’t die with Daenery’s rejection and Quentyn Martell roasting in dragonfire though. Arianne Martell is on her way to Aegon VI Targaryen and Jon Connington with another marriage pact. After all the original marriage pact was with Viserys and Arianne, not with Daenerys.
waiting for the Prince of Dorne to loose them on the enemies of House Martell. Waiting for the dragons. For fire and blood. For me. One word from Arianne and those armies would march… so long as that word was dragon.
– The Winds Of Winter Arianne I
If Arianne judges Aegon legitimate, the pact signed between Willem Darry and Oberyn Martell all those years ago with finally be fulfilled.
In this way, it appears that what George did is took a leftover error when he moved Dany and Viserys from Tyrosh to Braavos and found a way of weaving it into a complex plot revealing who a primary secret sponsor of the Targaryen children actually were. And also how that plan is doomed to fail from Doran waiting too long to harvest it, like the over-riped blood oranges that fall all around him.
The blood oranges are well past ripe,” the prince observed in a weary voice, when the captain rolled him onto the terrace.
It was true about the oranges. A few had fallen to burst open on the pale pink marble. The sharp sweet smell of them filled Hotah’s nostrils each time he took a breath. No doubt the prince could smell them too
– A Feast for Crows The Captain of the Guards
And the rumors around Oberyn’s failed rebellion are why Doran delayed so long, he was terrified of being discovered before Viserys was old enough. And seeing how Robert had smashed the Greyjoys in their own rebellion, that’s understandable.
The old knight read the pact slowly. “If Robert had known of this, he would have smashed Sunspear as he once smashed Pyke, and claimed the heads of Prince Doran and the Red Viper … and like as not, the head of this Dornish princess too.”
-A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys VII
The same holds for other Targaryen loyalist families still in the Seven Kingdoms. Doran is smart enough to realize that you need support ahead of time. And so, when Oberyn signed the marriage pacts he must’ve done so with the support of families back home who would rise with the dragons again. All you have to do is look at the roster of the Blackfyre supporter Golden Company to see which houses and regions would likely be on board. Cole, Connington, Lothston, Peake, Strong, Mudd. From those you get connections in the Stormlands, Crownlands, the Reach, Riverlands, Westerlands. In addition, the Free Cities, notably Volantis, have long been interested in claiming Westeros. Volantis tried to ally with Aegon the Conqueror before he burned their fleet in response, and the War of the Ninepenny Kings saw the other Free cities trying to overthrow the Great Lords of Westeros.
Many of these connections back to Westeros and secret loyalists would be in danger should the truth of the Dornish pacts come to light. However, with Aegon landing and Daenerys soon leaving Essos we hope, these hidden supporters are likely to rally with the dragons if they log early victories against the Lannisters especially with Robert and Tywin dead and Jaime maimed. That is also a key part of the puzzle moving forwards and why George was emphasizing the lemon tree again in Arya’s chapter of The Winds of Winter. There will be many surprising turns of cloak for Aegon and Dany as the Targaryen base comes back to life. You can see exactly who in BryndenBFish’s excellent series “Blood of the Conqueror” on Wars and Politics of ice And fire.
That is the truth of the House with the red door and the lemon tree of Daenerys’ childhood. The mystery is not about where they actually are or some complex baby swapping scheme. Instead the mystery that is paid off in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons is who was sponsoring their safety in Braavos with the Sealord and why. Sunspear wants fire and blood back in Westeros and justice for Elia, Rhaenys, and Aegon. They sent Oberyn for Viserys, Quentyn for Daenerys, and Arianne for Aegon, all in attempts at binding together the spear and dragon once again. The tragedy of the Doran’s house continues though, as it appears the only dragon he will get is a mummer’s dragon.. Meanwhile the real fire and blood follows behind.