Warning: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon.
Which blonde dragon-rider will rule the Seven Kingdoms? That is the question at the heart of House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel that tells the story of how a civil war—often called the Dance of the Dragons—pitted Targaryen against Targaryen nearly 200 years before the events of Thrones.
The rules of succession in Westeros are complicated and a bit fungible. One king may decide to pass over a female heir in favor of a man, while another may upend that tradition, just one generation later.
When House of the Dragon begins, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has no male heir. And after his newborn baby boy dies in the first episode, his courtiers pressure him to name the person who will follow him on the Iron Throne: His nasty brother Daemon (Matt Smith) or his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock at the beginning of the series, Emma D’Arcy later). Over his council’s objections, he picks Rhaenyra, even though that means breaking the tradition of barring women from the Iron Throne.
But by the second episode another potential heir emerges. After the death of his wife during childbirth, Viserys remarries and has a son with Rhaenyra’s best friend, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey, then Olivia Cooke). In theory that baby could have a claim to the throne. Rhaenyra goes on to have her own children, who stand to inherit her claim. To understand the drama, you need a handle on the family relationships. But all those blondes can blend together. The Targaryen family tree is admittedly complicated—though compact thanks to the family’s penchant for incest.
Here is the family tree as it stands by the final episode of Season 1 of House of the Dragon. For the sake of clarity, we’ve only included the relevant children in terms of the line of succession. The dotted line connecting Rhaenyra Targaryen’s children to Rhaenyra and her husband Laenor Velaryon indicates that Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey are likely not Laenor’s biological children. Much of Episode 6 dealt with the fact that the many in court—including her stepmother and former friend, Alicent—believe that a lord named Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr) is actually the father of Rhaenyra’s children. (More on that later.)
Daenys “the Dreamer” Targaryen
Daenys Targaryen, who came to be known as Daenys the Dreamer, had a vision that the city of Valyria—where all the dragonriders once resided—would be consumed in some apocalyptic event. Her father, Aenar, took this vision to heart and moved his entire family out of Valyria to Dragonstone. Daenys’ vision came to pass, and the Targaryens became the last remaining dragonriders in the world.
Aegon “The Conqueror” Targaryen
Aegon Targaryen united the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros with the help of his two sister-wives, Rhaenys and Visenya.
The Targaryens often intermarried to keep the bloodline pure, but that tradition could result in nasty consequences. As Cersei points out in Game of Thrones, when a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin. Some turn out monsters, others are good leaders. That was the case for Aegon’s two sons. Aenys Targaryen was a fine leader, but his brother Maegor “The Cruel” Targaryen murdered him.
Aenys was bequeathed a rather unfortunate name. (Though, in fairness, it’s pronounced “Ennis.”) But he overcame that to become a kind ruler until his brother killed him in cold blood. He married Alyssa Velaryon, a descendent of the one other Valyrian family that survived the downfall of that city—though crucially Velaryons are not dragonriders. Still, Velaryons became major players in the game of thrones fairly early on by allying themselves with the Targaryens.
Jaehaerys “The Old King” Targaryen
Maegor ruled for just six years before he died—his council found him impaled on his own Iron Throne. (Ouch!) Whether he was murdered or injured himself on the throne rumored to prick kings unworthy of sitting on it is up for debate.
Aenys’ son Jaehaerys then inherited the throne. He married his sister Alyssane, which is not great for obvious reasons, but apparently the two were actually in love. They were both supposed to marry suitors outside the family but eloped together instead. Jaeherys’ rule was a golden age for Westeros. He built roads and sewage infrastructure—all the things a king does when he’s not busy burning people to a crisp with his dragons. Jaehaerys and Alyssane had 13 children together, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll just talk about the few who were vying for the throne.
Aemon was Jaehaerys’ first son to survive into adulthood. He married Jocelyn Baratheon, who was not a Targaryen (good!) but was his aunt (not so good!) But Aemon died before his father did, leaving behind a daughter, Rhaenys Targaryen. Aemon’s younger brother Baelon became the heir.
Baelon and his sister married and had two sons, Viserys and Daemon Targaryen. Baelon died of a “burst belly” (perhaps a burst appendix) before his father passed away. At this point Jaehaerys has no obvious heirs to the throne.
Rhaenys “The Queen Who Never Was” Targaryen
As the child of Jaehaerys’ eldest son Aemon, Rhaenys (Eve Best) theoretically should have been the first in line for the throne. But because Westeros is a sexist place, the lords balked at the idea of a woman ruling over them. Jaehaerys, wary of an uprising, called together a council to decide who should inherit the Iron Throne. The council picked Baelon’s eldest child, Viserys, over Rhaenys, who came to be known as “the queen who never was.” In the first season of House of the Dragon, both of Rhaenys’ children die and her husband, Corlys Velaryon, suffers a serious injury. She manages to broker an uneasy truce with her niece, Rhaenyra, after the death of King Viserys.
Viserys marries his cousin Aemma (Sian Brooke), who gives birth to Rhaenyra Targaryen. Unfortunately, the couple is unable to have a male heir. In the first episode of House of the Dragon, Aemma dies in childbirth after Viserys cruelly forces her to have a C-section against her consent. Their son, too, dies. Viserys is left with no obvious heir and eventually decides to name Rhaenyra as the next in line for the throne.
However, by the second episode of the show, Viserys has remarried Alicent Hightower, and together they produce a son, Aegon II Targaryen. Aegon II, merely by existing, is a threat to Rhaenyra’s rule. Viserys and Alicent go on to have three more children: Helaena, Aemond, and Daeron. After a long and protracted illness, Viserys dies in the eighth episode of House of the Dragon. A misunderstanding on his deathbed means that Alicent pushes to have their son, Aegon, crowned as king after his death.
Daemon Targaryen, a storied if bloodthirsty warrior, not-so-secretly covets the Iron Throne. Viserys’ councilors fear that Deamon might take drastic action to usurp the throne from Viserys or even Rhaenyra. Daemon has been married off for strategic purposes but hates his wife, Rhea Royce. As of the beginning of the show, he looks to have very little hope in challenging Rhaenyra or Aegon II for a spot on the throne. He kills his wife and eventually remarries Laena Velaryon, who gives birth to Baela and Rhaena Targaryen before dying in childbirth. Once Laena dies, Daemon finally marries his niece Rhaenyra, who he has been pining for all along. Together, they will make a bid for the throne. They
Corlys “The Sea Snake” Velaryon
Known as the the Sea Snake, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) was a fabled sailor who marries Rhaenys Targaryen—a rare love match in Westeros’ history. Together, they have Laenor (Matthew Carver early in the show, John Macmillan later) and Laena Velaryon (Nova Foueillis-Mosé early, Savannah Steyn later). Corlys pressures Viserys into marrying Leana when she’s still a child, but Viserys chooses to wed Alicent Hightower instead. Still, the two Velaryon children will come to play important roles in the future of the show as key allies to various Targaryens.
Alicent is the daughter of Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand to both King Jaehaerys and King Viserys. At the beginning of the show, she’s a woman of the court who largely keeps Rhaenyra Targaryen company. But Otto encourages Alicent to comfort King Viserys after his wife’s death and become invaluable to the ruler. Viserys eventually falls for Alicent, and they have Aegon II. Alicent, convinced that Rhaenyra will murder her children in order to secure the Iron Throne, becomes increasingly invested in positioning Aegon II as Viserys’ true heir. She later gives birth to Helaena and Aemond Targaryen. A deathbed misunderstanding leads her to push to have her son Aegon crowned as king after her husband, Viserys, dies.
Viserys long ignores Rhaenyra, hoping that a male heir will essentially replace her. When he does finally name Rhaenyra as next in line for the throne, Rhaenyra faces skepticism from a kingdom that would prefer to see her half-brother as king than ever submit to a queen. Though she does not wish to marry, she eventually does wed Laenor Velaryon in order to create a strong alliance that will help her capture the throne. However, when the parentage of Rhaenyra’s sons comes into question, Alicent tries to undermine her old friend’s claim to be queen. In order to strengthen her claim to the throne, Rhaenyra plots to marry her uncle Daemon. They seem to share a mutual attraction and have become close over the years. (Targaryens often intermarry to keep the bloodline pure.) Rhaenyra helps her husband Laenor fake his death and escape with his lover, rendering her a “widow.” She quickly weds Daemon, and the have Aegon III, a daughter who doesn’t survive childbirth, and Viserys II.
The son of the Sea Snake, Laenor Velaryon (John MacMillan) marries Rhaenyra Targaryen largely for political purposes. Laenor is gay, and he and Rhaenyra agree to an open marriage before they’re betrothed. Unfortunately, Laenor’s sexuality seems to be the worst-kept secret in Westeros, so the parentage of his supposed children with Rhaenyra are constantly under scrutiny. Eventually Laenor fakes his death and escapes with Qarl Correy, his lover, to start a new life free of the burdens of nobility.
Laena’s father Corlys Velaryon initially tries to marry her to Viserys as a power play. But Viserys is uncomfortable with their huge age difference and has already set his sights on Alicent Hightower. Laena (Nanna Blondell) still winds up marrying a Targaryen though. After Daemon brutally murders his first wife, he weds Laena and together they have two daughters. Laena meets an unfortunate end, however, when trying to give birth to their third child. After learning that delivery will likely kill her, she kills herself by asking her dragon to breathe fire on her. She leaves Daemon a widower, yet again.
Aegon II Targaryen
Aegon II Targaryen (Ty Tennant, then Tom Glynn-Carney) arrives just in time to send the kingdom into further chaos as lords question why the Iron Throne would pass to Rhaenyra when the king finally has a son. As a teenager, though, Aegon seems to care little about who inherits the throne. He spends most of his time bullying the other children in the castle. Only when his mother Alicent points out that Rhaenyra will likely kill Aegon and his siblings to secure her place on the Iron Throne does the young boy seem to become invested in questions of succession. Aegon does eventually ascend the throne, but only after an episode is dedicated to learning about his depraved behavior among the people of Flea Bottom after he escapes the Red Keep.
Aegon’s sister Helaena (Evie Allen, then Phia Saban) is the second child of Viserys and Alicent, and their only daughter. She rides a dragon named Dreamfyre. The show also hints that Helaena may, like her ancestors, be a Targaryen dreamer who can see into the future. She tells her brother Aemond that she has seen visions of him bonding with a dragon. She is eventually married to her brother, Aegon, and they have three children: Jaehaerys, Jaehaera, and Maelor.
Aemond (Leo Ashton, and later Ewan Mitchell) is the youngest of Viserys and Alicent’s children and, at the beginning of the series, does not yet have a dragon. The other Targaryen children mock him for his inability to bond with one of the fire-breathing creatures. When Laena Velaryon dies, Aemond claims her dragon, upsetting Rhaena and starting a scuffle among the children that costs Aemond his eye. But Aemond gains a powerful weapon in the form of a new dragon for his mother’s side in the coming battle.
Rhaenyra’s oldest son, Jacaerys (Leo Hart, and then Hary Collett) is supposed to inherit the throne after his mother. However, his dubious parentage will likely play a role in determining his future. Though ostensibly the son of Rhaenyra’s husband Laenor Velaryon, the audience knows that the couple have reached an agreement in which they can both have extramarital affairs because Laenor is gay. Alicent clearly suspects that Rhaenrya’s sons have a different father since she demands to inspect Rhaenyra’s baby immediately after the princess gives birth. The show heavily hints that the true father of Jacaerys and his siblings is Harwin Strong, the heir to the title of Lord of Harrenhal. Harwin seems a little too invested in Jacaerys’ training. Jacaerys is bonded to a young dragon named Vermax, and is betrothed to his cousin Baela Targaryen.
Rhaenyra’s second son Lucerys (Harvey Sadler) is also, likely, the son of Harwin Strong. After the death of Laenor, who is perceived to be his father, his grandfather Corlys Velaryon, says that Lucerys will one day inherit Driftmark. Later, during an argument, Lucerys is responsible for taking the eye of his uncle Aemond. This moment will come to haunt him years later when they both approach Borros Baratheon in the hopes of securing the loyalty of Storm’s End for their respective mothers. Aemond threatens Lucerys, who is later eaten, alongside his dragon Arrax, by Aemond’s dragon Vhagar. Before his death, Lucerys was betrothed to cousin Rhaena Targaryen.
Joffrey Velaryon, the youngest of Rhaenyra’s sons, is just a baby when Rhaenyra and Laenor decide to leave King’s Landing because of the rumors circulating about their children’s parentage.
The elder daughter of Daemon Targaryen and Laena Velaryon, Baela (Shani Smethurst, and then Bethany Antonia) grows up in Pentos away from King’s Landing. Like brother and her parents, she is a dragonrider. She is betrothed to Jacaerys Velaryon.
Rhaena Targaryen (Eva Ossai-Gerning, and then Phoebe Campbell) is the younger sister of Baela. Though she was given a dragon egg at birth, her egg never hatched. Baela is caught putting her egg in the fire in hopes that it will eventually produce a dragon. In order to become a dragonrider Rhaena will likely have to claim a dragon for herself, a harder task than simply bonding with a dragon whose egg was gifted to her in childhood. She is betrothed to Lucerys Velaryon.
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