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Who Killed Jon Arryn?

One of the cataclysms that sets off the entire War of Five Kings is when Jon Arryn, Hand of the King for 14 years, suddenly falls dead. Most characters seem to agree that he was poisoned by the tears of Lys.. But by who? The list of suspects is lengthy, partially due to the fact that several characters have taken credit for the deed. The suspects will be dealt in order of likeliness, with the most likely possibility being last.


Pycelle’s involvement in the whole affair has been quite suspicious. At Jon’s deathbed, Pycelle sent Maester Colemon away so he could work on Jon alone (GoT, pg. 252). And a curious moment comes at page 354 of Game of Thrones:

{Varys} stroked a powdered cheek. “Now poison...the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death.”

Grand Maester Pycelle’s sleepy eyes flicked open. He squinted suspiciously at the eunuch.

This suspicious activity suggests that Pycelle is worried about what Varys knows about him and the tears of Lys. But all this suspicion really amounts to nothing--while Pycelle may have been planning to poison Jon, it seems he never actually did. His confession, on CoK pg. 412:

“Colemon was purging, so I sent him away.The queen needed Lord Arryn dead, she did not say so, could not, Varys was listening, always listening, but when I looked at her, I knew. It was not me who gave him the poison, though, I swear it.”

Unless Pycelle is more strong-willed than anyone imagined and is lying at the point of Shagga’s blade, it seems that he did not kill Jon Arryn.


Jon Arryn’s squire, Hugh was knighted after his master’s death. In Game of Thrones, Eddard sends Jory Cassel to speak with him about clues as to why Jon Arryn might have died, but Hugh refuses to speak with anyone less than Eddard himself. (GoT, pg. 275) Before Eddard gets the chance, Hugh is killed by Gregor Clegane is a supposed mishap in the Hand’s Tourney.

What evidence does Hugh have against him? Well, Grand Maester Pycelle, at least, believes that Hugh did it. A quote from CoK, pg. 412:

“Varys will tell you, it was the boy, his squire, Hugh he was called, he must surely have done it, ask your sister, ask her.”

If Cersei thought Hugh was the one to kill Jon, it might explain why Gregor ‘accidentally’ killed Hugh in the tourney. (Sandor, at least, believes that Hugh’s death was not an accident). But besides from Pycelle’s confession at swordpoint, Hugh really has little evidence against him. There is no motive, for one. King Robert knighted Hugh after Jon’s death, yes, (GoT, pg. 257), but unless Cersei convinced Robert to knight Hugh, it seems unlikely that this could be a motive. Also, it must be remembered that it seems that Varys told Pycelle that it was Hugh who did the deed. Since Varys himself is a suspect in the crime (see below), his words must be taken with a grain of salt.

All in all, there is no clear evidence that points against Hugh, but the existence of other, more likelier suspects puts his name far down on the list.


Cersei certainly had the greatest motive out of all the suspects to want Jon Arryn dead--Jon and Stannis knew about her incest with Jaime. But did she actually poison him?

Stannis certainly thinks so, on CoK, pg. 477. And Cersei’s conversation with Jaime, which Bran overhears in GoT, pg. 83, certainly suggests as much. Cersei is worried that Lysa is accusing her of Jon Arryn’s death, and Jaime says that she has no proof. This seems to imply that Cersei is guilty, however, this is not backed up anywhere else in the series. In fact, on CoK, pg. 61, Cersei denies to Tyrion that she killed him.

Her denial could be a half truth. It seems likely that Cersei subtly urged Pycelle to kill Jon, as noted above. When Jon died, she assumed that Pycelle had murdered him, and Pycelle never bothered to correct her. That is why Cersei is worried they will suspect her role in Jon’s death, but can still state with a certainty that she did not kill Jon directly.


In Game of Thrones, pg. 434, Arya overhears a conversation between Illyrio Mopatis and Varys.

“If one Hand can die, why not a second?” replied the man with the accent and the forked yellow beard. “You have danced the dance before, my friend.”

...”Before is not now, and this Hand is not the other,” the scarred man said as they stepped out into the hall.

This seems to heavily imply that Varys played a role in Jon Arryn’s death. He certainly had a motive--Varys and Illyrio are plotting to bring war to Westeros so as to weaken the land for a Targaryen invasion, and Jon’s death allowed Eddard to come to King’s Landing and would eventually start the war. (For a full discussion of Varys’s motives, see Who were the two men Arya saw conspiring underneath the Red Keep? What are they plotting?) Also, Jon Arryn was poisoned by the tears of Lys...and Varys happens to be born in Lys.

All this would make sense except for the fact that Lysa Arryn also admits to the murder (see below). This leaves us with several options. One is that the murdered Hand Illyrio is referring to is not Jon Arryn, but another. The problem is that no other Hand fits the profile. Of the Hands that ruled while Varys was in King’s Landing, Lord Merryweather and Lord Connington were exiled, Lord Chelsted was executed by Aerys after refusing to burn down the city with wildfire, and Rossart was killed by Jaime in the Sack of King’s Landing.

Another possibility is that Varys subtly maneuvered Lysa into doing the deed. On GoT, pg. 344, he says that Lysa Arryn has fled beyond his reach, implying that he once had her in his grasp. Perhaps Littlefinger did not tell Lysa to kill Jon at all; instead, it was a clever manipulation by Varys.

The third, most likely possibility is that Varys did not kill Jon but is taking credit for the deed all the same.

Thus, Varys seems a likely suspect, but Lysa Arryn’s confession (see below) rather confuses the issue.


Near the end of Storm of Swords, on page 913, Lysa goes into hysterics and starts yelling at Littlefinger:

“Tears, tears, tears,” she sobbed hysterically. “No need for tears...but that’s not what you said in King’s Landing. You told me to put the tears in Jon’s wine, and I did. For Robert, and for us! And I wrote Catelyn and told her the Lannisters had killed my lord husband, just as you said.”

If Lysa did poison Jon at Littlefinger’s behest, it would explain a lot of things. Littlefinger’s motives are unclear, but it seems that he has been plotting a war, and the death of Jon Arryn fits in with other events (like his blaming Bran’s attempted assassination on Tyrion) that he has had a hand in. Also, Lysa says that the tears of Lys were used, and it seems very unlikely that she would know this if she had not done the deed.

All this is well and good, but what about Varys’s confession to the same crime (see above)? Lysa has no reason to lie about her role in killing Jon; on the contrary, she shouldn’t even be taking credit for it with Sansa and Marillion as witnesses. Varys, on the other hand, may very well have been lying.

Also, note that Littlefinger never confirms to Lysa that it was him who told her to murder Jon--it might very well have been a manipulation of Varys. However, this seems to be pushing things a little too far. A plot twist in which Littlefinger convinced Lysa to kill Jon is believable. A plot twist in which Varys pretends to be Littlefinger convincing Lysa to kill Jon is a bit of a stretch.

In conclusion, it seems that Varys and Lysa have both taken credit for Jon’s death, and neither of their cases can easily be explained away. At this point, it seems a little more likely that it was Lysa who killed Jon, and Varys is simply lying or stretching the truth.