House of the Dragon is one of 2022’s most anticipated TV shows. While HBO’s blockbuster takes place in the King’s Landing we all remember, the citizens new to us. Given that it takes place about 200 years before Game of Thrones kicks off, there are no familiar faces to cling to.
That can make getting into House of the Dragon a challenge at first. There are so many new characters, and so many complex relationships, that it can be a little overwhelming at first. This list of key Targaryens should help make sense of the chaos. Note that there are House of the Dragon Episode 1 spoilers below.
Aegon the Conquerer
Aegon Targaryen isn’t shown in House of the Dragon, but his fresh legend is frequently referenced. Often referred to as Aegon the Conqueror, Aegon was the first king of Westeros. He married both of his sisters, Rhaenys and Visenya (yep, his sisters). The three of them each had dragons, which they used to unite the seven kingdoms of Westeros by force. Using the swords of his fallen enemies, Aegon had his dragon forge the Iron Throne.
If you delve into A Song of Ice and Fire lore, you’ll note the terms BC and AC. That’s Before the Conquest and After the Conquest. Rhaenyra Targaryen, for instance, was born 97 AC.
King Jaehaerys I Targaryen
King Jaehaerys sits front and center.
King Jaehaerys Targaryen is seen only briefly in House of the Dragon, but he’s an important Targaryen to know. You saw him in the opening vignette of House of the Dragon’s premiere episode, in which Jaehaerys had convened a council of Westerosi lords to vote on who should succeed him. He’s played by Michael Carter who, fun fact, played Jabba the Hutt lackey Bib Fortuna in Return of the Jedi.
Only the fourth Targaryen ruler of Westeros, Jaehaerys was a great king in A Song of Ice and Fire lore. “The realm that Jaehaerys inherited was impoverished, war-torn, lawless and riven with division and mistrust, whilst the new king himself was a green boy with no experience of rule,” George R.R. Martin wrote in Fire and Blood. Yet despite those inauspicious beginnings, Jaehaerys would reign for 55 years, a period marked by peace and prosperity.
Jaehaerys married his sister, Alysanne Targaryen, which was apparently in vogue at the time. Both of their sons died, leaving no direct successor.
King Viserys I Targaryen
King Viserys is perhaps House of the Dragon’s most prominent character, especially in the opening episodes. He’s the grandson of Jaehaerys Targaryen, and was the winner of the contest that determined Jaehaerys’ successor. His main competitor in that vote was Rhaenys Targaryen, who’s cousin to Viserys and granddaughter to Jaehaerys.
King Viserys’ father was Baelor Targaryen, who was heir to the throne until his death from appendicitis, which explains why Viserys in episode 1 named his newborn son Baelor.
“Many consider the reign of King Viserys I to represent the apex of Targaryen power in Westeros,” Martin wrote in Fire and Blood, though he also noted the king’s faults. “King Viserys I Targaryen was not the strongest-willed of kings, it must be said; always amiable and anxious to please, he relied greatly on the counsel of the men around him, and did as they bade more often than not.”
King Viserys is played by Paddy Considine, who you may have seen in Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum, The World’s End and HBO’s The Outsider.
Queen Aemma Targaryen is Viserys’ first wife, and mother of Rhaenyra Targaryen. Before she married into the royal family, she was Aemma Arryn, making her a distant relative of Jon Arryn, whose poisoning precipitated the events depicted in Game of Thrones.
Aemma’s marriage with Viserys was plagued with great misfortune. She fell pregnant several times, but suffered miscarriages. Only one healthy child was delivered: Rhaenyra. Two boys were birthed, but both died in their cots. Aemma died giving birth to the second, Baelor. Though her death was a natural consequence of childbirth in the Fire and Blood book, in House of the Dragon it’s caused by Viserys instructing Grand Maester Mellos to perform a C-section on Aemma in the hopes of saving the child.
Actress Sian Brooke plays Aemma Targaryen. In addition to several TV credits, including Eurus Holmes in Sherlock, Brooke is also a prolific actress on Britain’s theater circuit.
Arguably the biggest star going into House of the Dragons is Matt Smith, who plays Daemon Targaryen. For four years Smith played the doctor in Doctor Who, and more recently played Prince Phillip in The Crown.
Daemon Targaryen is Viserys Targaryen’s younger brother, and begins House of the Dragon as the heir to the Iron Throne. As we see in episode 1, however, Viserys decides that his daughter Rhaenyra is a more suitable heir, disqualifying Daemon’s traditional right to become king.
Daemon is married to Rhea Royce. The Royces are a great family of the Vale; Game of Thrones fans will remember Yohn Royce as the key Vale figure following Littlefinger’s murder of Lysa Arryn.
Daemon is kind of like a mix between Jaime and Tyrion Lannister. He’s a renowned warrior but, like “the imp” Tyrion, is rightly or wrongly seen as a black mark on the family. He’s known to regularly frequent pleasure houses, and has a pronounced rebellious streak.
King Viserys speaks with Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys.
Rhaenys Targaryen is “the Queen Who Never Was.” She declared a right to become Queen, being King Jaehaerys’ eldest grandchild, but was rejected by the lords of Westeros when they voted en masse for Viserys instead.
Rhaenys is the daughter of Aemon Targaryen — the namesake of the Night’s Watch’s Maester Aemon in Game of Thrones. Rhaenys is portrayed as a badass in Fire and Blood, noted for her spirit, beauty and ability to ride dragons. She’s married to Lord Corlys Velaryon, who is a prominent member of the Small Council in Fire and Blood. Though the Lannisters were known for their riches in Game of Thrones, in this era it’s Lord Corlys’ House Velaryon that’s the most cashed up in Westeros.
Rhaenys is played by Eve Best, most known for her role as Eleanor O’Hara in Nurse Jackie. Steve Toussaint plays Lord Corlys.
It should be noted that in Fire and Blood, the vote to establish Jaehaerys’ successor was principally between Viserys and Laenor Velaryon (Rhaenys’ son, not Rhaenys herself). In the book — this may not end up mattering in the show — both House Baratheon and House Stark were proponents of Rhaenys’ claim for the Iron Throne.
King Viserys may be the central character of House of the Dragon’s first season, but the star character is Rhaenyra Targaryen. As noted, Matt Smith is arguably the most prominent actor coming into the show. Milly Alcock, who plays Rhaenyra for much of the first season, may come out as House of the Dragon’s biggest star.
Rhaenyra is the only surviving child of King Viserys and Queen Aemma Targaryen. Following the death of Baelor, who only lived for around 10 hours, Viserys declared Rhaenyra the rightful heir to the throne. She’s a young woman when the show begins, just 14 years old. But Rhaenyra grows quickly as House of the Dragon progresses, and becomes a compelling force unto herself.
Older Rhaenyra is played by Emma D’Arcy, who had a prominent role in 2020’s Truth Seekers. Nine generations separate Rhaenyra and Daenerys Targaryen: Rhaenyra is Daenerys’ great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother.
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