For Game of Thrones fans, House of the Dragon has plenty of familiar names and heraldry, but it could be hard to connect the dots. The prequel series is set about 200 years before the Daenaerys' dragon eggs hatched, so more than a few generations separate these characters. If you need a quick primer on how all these characters relate to their later counterparts, read on.
Author George R.R. Martin has taken pains to depict House Targaryen as separate from the rest of Westerosi nobility, for better or worse. The Targaryens come from Valyria – a magically and technologically advanced civilization that dominated Essos for thousands of years. While the ending of Game of Thrones puts a lot of emphasis on "Targaryen madness," Martin describes this as more of a superstitious fear levied against Targaryens by other nobles. Still, the more you read about them, the clearer it becomes that the Targaryens are different from other humans – perhaps even on a biological level.
This list won't be completely exhaustive, since there's no way it would come out better than Martin's books. If you want the full story of House Targaryen, consider reading Martin's latest book, Fire & Blood, which is the source material for House of the Dragon. For the relevant characters in the main story, scroll on.
#TargaryenThursday. Fun Fact, prior to the Conquest of Westeros Targaryens did not fly the three headed dragon banner. Heraldic banners had long been a tradition amongst the lords of Westeros, but such had never been used by the dragonlords of old Valyria. pic.twitter.com/WBdrHzqhqh— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking) January 20, 2022
House Targaryen is not from Westeros, they're from a fallen civilization in Essos called Valyria – or, "Old Valyria." This civilization sprang up on a peninsula off of Essos which had 14 volcanoes on it, dubbed "The Fourteen Flames." Within the story this history is somewhat shrouded, but maesters tell the reader that the Valyrians began as shepherds who learned to tame dragons through the practice of mysterious fire magic.
Valyrians became an advanced society through magic and conquest, but they thought of their civilization as a "freehold," not an empire. All dragonlords were allowed to vote on important matters of state, but that did not stop them from enslaving conquered people and ruling vassal lands under threat of dragonfire. Typically, about 40 houses of dragonlords contested for power within the freehold.
The freehold was founded at least 5,000 years before the events of the main story, and it fell about 400 years before the events of the main story. The "Doom of Valyria" was a cataclysmic event during which all 14 volcanoes erupted, destroying the freehold and killing all the dragonlords – except for the Targaryens. This was implied to be a magical event that blighted the peninsula, like a magical version of a nuclear fallout zone.
Martin's books Fire & Blood and The World of Ice and Fire strongly hint that the Valyrians were far more than dragonriders. They experimented with dark sorcery, including magically enhanced genetic manipulation to create half-human monsters. This is why there may be truth to the idea that the Targaryens literally share a genetic link to the dragons they ride.prevnext
The Targaryens fled Valyria about 12 years before the Doom, and this will be extremely important in House of the Dragon. The reader is told that a young woman named Daenys Targaryen had a strong gift for prophecy, and she foresaw the doom well in advance. She convinced her father, Lord Aenar Targaryen, to move their household away from the peninsula and onto a remote Valyrian outpost called Dragonstone, right off the coast of Westeros. We are not told whether "Daenys the Dreamer" or her father tried to warn other dragonlords, nor whether they made an effort to preserve other Valyrian arts such as sorcery and genetic manipulation.
We know little about House Targaryen during these first 100 years after the Doom of Valyria. We know that there were six generations of Targaryens in that time, and that some participated in the wars of Essos that followed the fall of Valyria. However, things get much more interesting in the seventh generation, as they're the ones who decided to conquer Westeros.
One additional fact worth noting here – while the Targaryens were the only dragonriders to survive the Doom of Valyria, they were not the only Valyrians. House of the Dragon includes a lot of interaction with House Velaryon, which is a seafaring house based on the island of Driftmark. There are also the Celtigars who rule on Claw Isle. Meanwhile, many other people throughout the world still claim Valyrian descent.prevnext
The Conquest Generation
These are the Targaryens that I want to see one day soon. We deserve to see Aegon the Conqueror conquest of Westeros. pic.twitter.com/xw7f92EUpD— Nicholas Cook (@CaptainNick901) August 15, 2022
About 100 years after the Doom of Valyria – about 300 years before the events of A Game of Thrones – Aegon Targaryen and his two sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys, decided to conquer Westeros. The three were in a polyamorous marriage, and each of them rode their own dragon into battle. Although the books never stated it directly, Martin has now confirmed that they initiated their conquest because of a prophetic dream about the White Walkers and the coming Long Night.
This generation of Targaryens looms large in the collective conscious of Westeros, so they're worth describing. "Aegon the Conquerer" is a conspicuously mysterious character with a practical demeanor. He was tall, muscular and proficient in battle – both on dragonback and in duels. However, he did not fight for glory or participate in tourneys, and even when it came to flying he was only interested in speedy travel. He was known for preferring solitude and privacy.
Visenya was the eldest of the three siblings and perhaps the fiercest warrior out of all of them. She was ruthless in the Wars of Conquest and in the more subtle political battles that followed. Many historical rumors indicate that she practiced sorcery, and she was not remembered fondly in the histories. Her children did not inherit the throne, so ultimately she had no descendants in the generations that followed.
Finally, the youngest sibling was Rhaenys, remembered as a kind and fun queen. Rhaenys was not keen on battle, but she was good at making political alliances and endearing the Targaryens to their foreign Westerosi vassals. However, her friendliness sometimes became a weakness, as persistent rumors said that she may have been intimate with singers she brought to court, casting doubt on the legitimacy of her offspring.
These three dragonriders took over Westeros in a matter of about two years, although they did not technically win the feilty of Dorne. Still, they accomplished what many believed to be impossible and set the stage for all the beloved stories that followed, in addition to forging the Iron Throne, building the Red Keep and all the other trappings of royalty fans love.prevnext
The Following Generations
The next few generations are fun to read about, but you don't need much more information on them to understand House of the Dragon. Aegon was succeeded by his son Aenys, who died fighting a war for succession against Maegor – the reviled son of Aegon and Visenya. In the aftermath, Aenys' son Jaehaerys took the throne, presiding over nearly 60 years of peace.
There were many interesting episodes in that time, and House Targaryen flourished with many new branches and members. Because Jaehaerys lived for so long, he had many grandchildren and possible successors. In the year 101 AC (after the Conquest), Jaehaerys called a "Great Council" with all the lords of the Seven Kingdoms to hear the competing claims for the Iron Throne and allow the lords to give their input. He decided that giving them a semblance of choice in the selection would help foster a peaceful transition and prevent disputes and rebellions.
The top two contenders at the Great Council were Jaherys' eldest grandchild, Rhaenys Targaryen, and his eldest grandson, Viserys Targaryen. The lords chose Viserys over Rhaenys, and House of the Dragon picks up there, with both Viserys and Rhaenys playing a large part in the show.prevnext
'House of the Dragon' Cast
#TargarynThurstday Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, cheered as the Realm's Delight when she was young and later called the Half-Year Queen,was the first-born child of King Viserys I Targaryen. pic.twitter.com/jr90U8zPQd— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking) May 12, 2022
When House of the Dragon kicks off, you'll meet a handful of Targaryens at King Viserys I's court. The king himself is played expertly by Paddy Considine, while his wife Aemma Arryn is played just as well by Sian Brooke. The show centers mainly on their daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, who is played by Milly Alcock in one section of the timeline and then by Emma D'Arcy later on.
Rhaenys is played by Eve Best, and is married to Corlys Velaryon, who is played by Steve Toussaint. Corlys is a vital character in this story – when we meet him he is on the king's Small Council serving as Master of Ships, in charge of the royal navy. However, the show alludes to his extensive backstory, which is the subject of another TV show that is currently in development.
The other key player from House Targaryen is Prince Daemon Targaryen, played by Matt Smith. Daemon is Viserys' younger brother, and is exactly the kind of hot-headed character you are hoping to see in a show all about dragons.prevnext
After the Dance
#TargaryenThursday Aegon IV Targaryen, known as Aegon the Unworthy was generally considered to be one of the worst kings in the history of Westeros, so much as to be dubbed "Aegon the Unworthy" in the face of his excess and misrule. pic.twitter.com/mC3OV16wJA— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking) March 24, 2022
Without spoiling House of the Dragon, suffice it say that House Targaryen survives its civil war with heavy casualties. The winning claimant to the throne stabilizes the realm and shows mercy to the offspring of his enemies, welcoming them back into House Targaryen. Just two generations later, these two branches begin to intermingle with disastrous effect.
This the time when King "Baelor the Blessed" Targaryen inherits the Iron Throne, and fans likely remember hearing references to him throughout the main series. He constructed the massive Sept in King's Landing and empowered the Faith of the Seven. He is succeeded by the infamous King Aegon IV Targaryen, known as "Aegon the Unworthy."
Aegon IV had many bastard children and, upon his death, he legitimized all of them. This led to many disputes for the crown and a series of wars known as the "Blackfyre Rebellions." Those characters are even relevant in the main story – Aegon's son Brynden, nicknamed "Bloodraven," becomes the mysterious old man to teach Bran Stark how to be a Greenseer north of The Wall. Meanwhile, the offshoot House Blackfyre becomes a powerful independent army in Essos, with a major part to play in the future of the series.prevnext
The 'Dunk & Egg' Generations
"Aegon the Unworthy" was succeeded by King Daeron II, followed by King Maekar I, and House Targaryen began to thrive again. Fans meet many Targaryens of Maekar's generation in Martin's novellas, The Tales of Dunk & Egg. In those books, we learn how it came to be that King Aegon V Targaryen took the Iron Throne in spite of being very far down in the line of succession. We also meet Prince "Daeron the Drunken" Targaryen, who notably has the infamous Targaryen gift for prophecy.
"Egg's" reign is where things start to become extremely relevant to the main story. Aegon struggles to bring peace to the realm without the power of dragons, which are now extinct. Frustrated, he tries all kinds of unproven magic to hatch one of his remaining petrified eggs. This is the origin for the "Tragedy at Summerhall," an event that Martin has left intentionally mysterious since he says that an explanation of the event would spoil the ending of his books.prevnext
The Current Generation
Years later … I’m still waiting for this Rhaegar Targaryen to show up pic.twitter.com/uR56uP9lDt— ɹɐɔs (@DlKIGOROS) August 12, 2022
Egg's son Jaehaerys inherits the throne, and his son Aerys II follows him. This is "Aerys the Mad King" Targaryen – father of fan-favorite Daenerys Targaryen from the main series. However, Aerys and his sister-wife Rhaella first have an older son, Rhaegar Targaryen, who looms large in the main story. Martin's books tell us that Rhaegar was another quiet, melancholy Targaryen who preferred solitude, music and reading. There are implications that he may have encountered some prophecies – if not in his own dreams, then in the writings of his ancestors.
Egg's brother, Maester Aemon Targaryen, tells the reader that he and Rhaegar discussed these prophecies together. It may have been these prophecies that led Rhaegar to forsake his wife, Elia Martell and remarry to Lyanna Stark, fathering Jon Snow in secret. Ironically, the resulting war took House Targaryen off of the Iron Throne just before their fabled prophecies were about to come true, leaving Jon, Dany and other key players with no background or guidance. Of course, this is exactly how Martin maintained suspense early on in his main series.prevnext
After 'House of the Dragon'?
#TargaryenThursday: Aegor Rivers: Ser Aegor Rivers, frequently called Bittersteel, was one of the Great Bastards and a son of King Aegon IV Targaryen by his fifth mistress, Lady Barba Bracken. Aegor was the founder of a famed group of exiled sellswords, the Golden Company. pic.twitter.com/gk4sRkA2kB— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking) May 26, 2022
As you can see from this list, House Targaryen alone is a rich well for more screen adaptations and expansions based on Martin's work. House of the Dragon will cover the civil war that follows Viserys' reign, covering the period up to about 131 AC. Showrunner Ryan Condal recently told The Hollywood Reporter that he hopes to finish this story in about four seasons. After that, the story could go on.
Condal said that his hope is to take House of the Dragon to a different chapter in Targaryen history. He mentioned going back to Aegon's Conquest, or possibly even further back to the Doom of Valyria, which was not depicted directly in Martin's writings. Fans went wild for this idea, believing that this episodic approach could sustain the show for years to come. Many have also discussed other stories they would like to see covered, particularly the Blackfyre Rebellions.
Meanwhile, HBO has at least four other live-action Game of Thrones spinoffs in development and at least two animated series as well. As the world of Westeros has expanded in Martin's writing, it has become fertile ground for new adaptations.
House of the Dragon airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Fire & Blood is available now in print, digital and audiobook formats wherever books are sold.prev