I just read A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (a compilation of GRRMartin’s three novellas about Ser Duncan the Tall and Prince Aegon, aka Dunk and Egg) this weekend, and I think what made it so much fun was that Dunk’s POV was a refreshing change of pace from the POV characters of the main books. Surely I’m not the only one who’s noticed that the main series is overwhelmingly preoccupied with the lives of royalty and nobility? And that the POV characters are, almost without exception, people of noble birth? Even the exceptions aren’t really exceptions; Davos is a major POV character with a humble background, and he’s a boot-strapper. The story is told almost entirely in the voices of Westerosi One Percent.
So then we have Ser Duncan the Tall, known to his friends as Dunk! He’s a humble, illiterate hedge knight who started out as an orphan boy in Flea Bottom and has no idea who his parents were. The novellas are told from his POV, while little Prince Aegon (Maester Aemon’s little brother Egg!) travels around with him and routinely tries his patience. He is occasionally mentioned in the main novels as the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard under King Aegon V, which is quite a climb up for a hedge knight who had to use rope for a sword belt.
Anyway. GRRMartin has disclosed to his readers that there is a POV character in A Feast for Crows who is a descendant of Ser Duncan. The question here is not really “Who is Ser Duncan’s descendant?” so much as how he managed to have descendants who occupy the sort of social position required to have a POV in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Choosing from POV characters in AFfC, the descendant of Ser Duncan is pretty obviously Brienne. First, there is the obvious similarity of their both being exceptionally large and strong. They are both compulsively honorable characters who are committed to showing up for the weak and innocent just because it’s the right thing to do, and yet neither of them are actually knights. Brienne can’t be a knight because it is an honor not extended to women, whereas Ser Duncan told everyone his previous master knighted him, but he never actually took the vows or received the tap on the shoulder. Still, he behaves more like a true knight than most actual knights. There’s also this weird parallel of Dunk thinking of himself as stupid: “Dunk the lunk, thick as a castle wall,” is an idee fixe throughout the trilogy, a memory of what his deceased master, Ser Arlan of Pennytree, would call him. It was affectionate coming from Ser Arlan, but now Dunk is convinced that he’s unintelligent. It doesn’t help that after about two years of travelling with Egg, he still hasn’t learned to read. Brienne has also allowed certain people (that Septa Roelle was quite the piece of work) to convince her that she is stupid. Jaime once even asked her, in exactly these words, “Are you thick as a castle wall?” when she failed to accept his apology on the first try. She’s better-educated than Ser Duncan and accordingly has better language skills, but she was frequently tongue-tied as a kid and still isn’t known for her sparkling conversation.
They’re not stupid, though: they’re both thoughtful, observant and diligent.
The biggest clue to Ser Duncan being an ancestor to our big Sapphire Islander, though, is that she knows his sigil—an elm tree with a shooting star on a sunset background—from having seen it on a shield in her father’s armory. This is also the biggest question mark: if he passed on his shield to the Tarth armory, that means he didn’t just father a bastard or two on some random lady. He was knowingly involved in his child’s life. A knight passes his colors only to a trueborn son.
At some point between the end of The Mystery Knight and his joining the Kingsguard under the king who was once his squire, Ser Duncan must have gotten married and had a kid or three with his wife. He was too honorable to abandon a living wife and dependent children for a white cloak, but if his wife died young (and so, so many people die young and leave little kids in this universe) and someone else was fostering his children (also a commonplace arrangement), then there was nothing stopping Ser Duncan from becoming a Kingsguard to Aegon V.
For the timeline, the Dunk and Egg novellas apparently take place about 90-88 years before A Game of Thrones begins; we see a 4-year-old boy in the third novella that I’m fairly sure is little Walder Frey. In the second novella, Dunk interacts with Lady Rohanne Webber, who later marries Lord Gerold Lannister and becomes the mother of his four sons. Accordingly, Lady Rohanne is the Lannister siblings’ great-grandmother. I’ll go ahead and assume Ser Duncan is Brienne’s great-grandfather; the calculation would be easier if I stuffed another generation in there, but I won’t do that. Based on Lord Selwyn having similarly gigantic hands as his daughter, I will assume that Dunk is on his side of the family tree, and we know Selwyn is only slightly younger than Tywin Lannister. So, for now I’ll say Dunk is Selwyn’s grandfather. And I wonder how an illiterate hedge knight who can’t even name his parents managed to get his shield into an old, noble family’s armory.
His friendship with Prince Aegon Targaryen may have helped him get on friendly terms with a minor lord or landed knight who needed a husband for his daughter. Especially if there was a sort of Lollys Stokeworth situation, in which the girl was not too pretty, not too smart (let’s assume she was not as impaired as Lollys) and no longer a virgin; her parents needed a husband for her and couldn’t afford to be too picky, and Dunk thought she was nice enough even if she wasn’t a clever, beautiful virgin. So he married into a noble-ish family, had some kids with his less-than-perfect wife, and at some point his wife died and eventually King Aegon V asked him to join the Kingsguard. His taking the white meant he was barred from marriage and inheritance, but he’d already been married once and didn’t have anything to inherit anyway, whereas his children could still inherit from their mother’s family. He didn’t have anything to give to his children except for the elm tree and shooting star on sunset.
Then perhaps his daughter grew up and interacted with enough noble knights and lordlings to catch the eye of Lord Tarth. She may have had a modest dowry, but Lord Tarth also liked the idea of being related to the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. She brought Ser Duncan’s shield with her to Evenfall, she bore some children including a son named Selwyn, the next Lord Tarth, whose only surviving child is a big, ugly girl who is loyal past the point of sense.
This is all just me making shit up, though. I’d really like to see it in GRRMartin’s own words how someone with such humble origins as Dunk of Flea Bottom becomes part of a noble family tree.