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How the Song of Ice and Fire Prophecy in House of the Dragon Changes the Story of the Mad King in Game of Thrones

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Despite only appearing in flashbacks, King Aerys II Targaryen, a.k.a. The Mad King, loomed large over Game of Thrones. He was cruel and delighted in setting his enemies aflame. One of his own Kingsguard, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), eventually assassinated him. The Mad King was often invoked as a cautionary tale, especially when it came to the growing ambition of his daughter, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke).

And while there is no denying that the Aerys was a monster, his predilection for burning people to a crisp might be explained by a prophecy shared in the Game of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon.

Aegon the Conquerer’s A Song of Ice and Fire Prophecy

During the first episode of House of the Dragon, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) tells his daughter Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) that their ancestor Aegon the Conqueror had an important vision. Viserys shares the contents of that dream only after he decides to formally name Rhaenyra as his successor, despite the fact that a woman has never inherited the Iron Throne.

Read More: Why Targaryen Dreams Are So Important in House of the Dragon

The Targaryens have a long history of predicting the future, beginning with Daenys the Dreamer prophesying the downfall of the Valyria. Now it seems that Aegon, too, had portentous dragon dreams.

Viserys says that Aegon dreamt of a threat from the North descending upon King’s Landing—a prophecy he called A Song of Ice and Fire. (Sound familiar? Well, it’s the name of George R.R. Martin’s series of books upon which Game of Thrones is based.)

“Ambition alone is not what drove him to conquest. It was a dream. Just as Daenys foresaw the end of Valyria, Aegon foresaw the end of the world of men. It is to begin with a terrible winter gusting out of the distant North. Aegon saw absolute darkness riding on those winds, and whatever dwells within will destroy the world of the living. When this great winter comes, Rhaenyra, all of Westeros must stand against it. And if the world of men is to survive, a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne, a king or queen strong enough to unite the realm against the cold and the dark. Aegon called his dream the song of ice and fire. This secret has been passed from king to heir since Aegon’s time. And now you must promise to carry it and protect it.”

How the Prophecy Connects to Game of Thrones—or Doesn’t


At first blush, name dropping “A Song of Ice and Fire” in House of the Dragon may appear to some a pointless attempt to connect the new series to Game of Thrones. Everyone who watched Game of Thrones knows exactly what happens when that “great winter” comes: Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow (Kit Harington)must face down the White Walkers at the Battle of Winterfell. So the revelation that this prophecy has existed for centuries prior to that battle introduces little dramatic tension.

The dream also muddles the end of Game of Thrones, since it doesn’t exactly come true. Though Jon and Daenerys—both descendants of Aegon the Conqueror—are key to rallying the North to stand up against the Night King and his army, Cersei Lannister is actually the one ruling from King’s Landing when the Battle of Winterfell takes place. And neither Jon nor Dany are the ones to win the war. It’s Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), carrying the dagger that Viserys wears prominently on his belt while talking to Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon, that ultimately kills the Night King.

Read More: The Definitive Guide to the Game of Thrones Family Tree

Most prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones do come true, but rarely in the way those characters in the story expected. No doubt, George R.R. Martin, who consulted extensively on House of the Dragon, introduced this new Song of Ice and Fire prophecy because he plans to address it in his two unfinished books in the Son of Ice and Fire series, Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. (Martin has said his books will not end in the same way as the much-maligned series finale of Game of Thrones.)

The Mad King’s Motivations

The dream also ultimately changes the Game of Thrones canon, particularly when it comes to Targaryen figures like Aegon the Conqueror and the Mad King.

Until now, neither book readers nor show watchers knew Aegon’s true motivations for uniting the Seven Kingdoms. Most attributed his decision to conquer Westeros to bloodlust and unbridled ambition. But now it seems that Aegon also had a more noble motivation: Saving Westeros from the White Walkers by ensuring a Targaryen was on the throne when they arrived.

Read More: Why It Matters When the King Is Cut by the Iron Throne on House of the Dragon

And we can perhaps better understand the Mad King’s preoccupation with fire. By the time Aerys took the throne, the dragons had died out. If the White Walkers had arrived while he was king, there would have been no effective way to fight the ice zombie army. Aerys became obsessed not just with fire, but specifically with wildfire, which resembled dragon fire. That fixation on developing a fire-based weapon that could take out an army makes a little more sense if he believes that the kingdom would need dragon fire to defeat some threat from the North. Of course, the paranoid ruler didn’t use the wildfire against the wights but against the lords of Westeros, like Ned Stark’s father and older brother.

There’s some evidence that Mad King was aware of the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy and even passed it down to his son, Rhaegar Targaryen. Rhaegar incessantly spoke of another similar prophecy that’s often referred to as the Prince That Was Promised or Azor Ahai. Azor Ahai was said to be a great hero who would usher the world out of darkness. He was supposed to wield a flaming sword called Lightbringer and be associated with the “Song of Ice and Fire.”

Basically, the Targaryens discussed several different prophecies, all of which point to a person who represents the duality of fire and ice and could beat back a dark threat. Rhaegar thought he could be that prince. Later he thought it might be his son, Jon Snow. Perhaps that’s why Jon Snow’s Targaryen name is Aegon. (He wasn’t wrong: Jon ultimately is the driving force behind the effort to defeat the Night King.)

Read More: The Meaning Behind Jon Snow’s Real Name in Game of Thrones

Jon probably never heard about Aegon’s dream since his parents died shortly after he was born, and his identity was hidden from him for most of his life. It’s unclear if Daenerys would have known about it either, but probably not. She had older brothers who were expected to become king. And Daenerys wasn’t even born until after the Mad King’s death.

There is one Game of Thrones character who may have heard about Aegon’s vision: Maester Aemon Targaryen (Peter Vaughan). Aemon was the son of a king and despite becoming a maester could have had a claim to the Iron Throne when his older brothers died. But he turned it down and left King’s Landing so his presence wouldn’t undermine his younger brother King Aegon V’s rule. Still, the secret may have passed to him before he left for the Wall. Indeed, hearing about the fabled threat from the North could theoretically have factored into his motivation to serve the Night’s Watch.

In the end, the revelation of that Aegon foresaw the Battle of Winterfell doesn’t have a huge impact on either Game of Thrones or the future of House of the Dragon. But perhaps it will play some important role in Martin’s books—if he ever gets around to finishing them.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com