- This page is a stub, to aid navigation - it contains information from a prequel pitch that hasn't formally aired. As such it should not be considered full "canon" to anything yet.
- For the mythological creature this faction is named after, see "Sphinx (mythological creature)"
The Sphinxes were the older, upper aristocracy of Dragonlords: descended from the original nobles and priests of Valyria, before they discovered dragons and began their conquests of surrounding lands.
The Sphinxes were the conservative faction in Valyria - "conservative" to Valyrian values, which were somewhat different from those in Westeros.
They very strictly practiced traditional incest marriage, to "keep the bloodline pure". Ideally this would be brother-to-sister marriage, with uncle-niece or first cousin marriage considered a second best, and so on. They looked down on lesser Valyrian bloodlines of less "purity" because they did not achieve as high a degree of incest, but were merely marriages of unrelated Valyrians. To the Sphinxes, marriage between a Valyrian and a non-Valyrian was miscegenation and weakening of their race. They openly discriminated against the children of such mixed-race unions. Even if mixed-race children managed to successfully bond with a dragon, which only those with Valyrian blood could do, they were never "real" Valyrians to the Sphinxes.
The "conservativism" of the Sphinxes, however, was focused on race and bloodlines. In terms of gender and sexuality, Valyria's society was just as tolerant as the Rhoynar. Even among the Sphinxes, women were dragon-riders as often as men were, and same-sex relationships were openly accepted.
Moreover, it is well known that the dragonlords tolerated all religions within their domains. Most Sphinxes were personally very devoted to the ancient Valyrian religion, but even the most "conservative" dragonlords were largely unconcerned with the faith of others.
- "The Sphinxes' POV character" - One of the leading Sphinxes. Openly in a long-term homosexual relationship. Valyria's overall society tolerated homosexuality, so no one considered this something to remark on, not even their political enemies among the other dragonlords.
Behind the Scenes
Just as the War of the Five Kings is loosely inspired by the War of the Roses in Medieval England, the civil wars leading to the fall of Valyria seem loosely inspired by the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic. In this regard, the "Sphinxes" seem to take inspiration from the "Optimates" faction of the upper aristocracy, the faction of Sulla, Cato the Younger, Brutus, Cassius, etc.
In the books
While the Sphinxes as a political faction weren't mentioned in George R.R. Martin's prior writings, frequent mention of "Valyrian Sphinxes" has actually been made since the first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, published in 1996.
People in Westeros and Essos believe in various mythological creatures that aren't currently known to exist, such as "manticores" or "griffins". "Sphinxes" have also been mentioned independently, but multiple references are also made to "Valyrian Sphinxes" as a set phrase: apparently some sort of specific design or cultural association, comparable to "Lannister lions" or (in real life) a "Welsh Dragon". Examples include:
- When Eddard Stark enters the Small Council chamber in the Red Keep for the first time, he notes its rich furnishings - among which are a pair of "Valyrian Sphinx" statues flanking the doorway, imported from Essos. Other characters who enter the chambers throughout the novels sometimes take notice of the statues as "Valyrian Sphinxes". (Eddard IV, AGOT; Sansa IV, AGOT; Tyrion I, ACOK)
- When Euron Greyjoy gives plunder ironborn in the leadup to the Kingsmoot, among his treasures from the east are "jade manticores, and ancient Valyrian Sphinxes." (The Reaver, AFFC)
- The gates of the Citadel, the headquarters of the Order of Maesters which is located in Oldtown, are flanked by a pair of towering green "Valyrian Sphinx" statues, taken back from the east. (Samwell V, AFFC; Prologue, AFFC; etc.)
- As Tyrion travels through the Free Cities in the fifth novel, from Pentos to Volantis, he observes several different Valyrian ruins which feature sphinxes. He sees another male and female pair of sphinx statues flanking a roadway (or rather, what would have been a pair - there was an empty spot where Dothraki raiders clearly dragged one away as plunder). When Tyrion reaches Volantis, he notes that the entrance to the Long Bridge - a great megastructure built by the Valyrians in their prime - is decorated with "sphinxes, manticores, and dragons". (Tyrion II & VII, ADWD)
Thus the novels already set up some sort of association of Valyrians with sphinxes - though because the Game of Thrones TV series omitted all of these references, that prior setup would be lost on a TV-only viewer.
The current novels have not yet revealed why the Valyrians were specifically linked to a second mythological creature, and not just the dragons they famously rode. The connection may be quite significant: as Maester Aemon is dying, in his last incoherent rant to Samwell he blurts out several clues which seem to tie in to the prophecy of The Prince That Was Promised - then in the middle of it urges Sam to remember that "the sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler" - though the exact importance of Aemon's warning about sphinxes is still unrevealed.