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Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” and “House of the Dragon.”
Sometimes HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series seemed like one long, bloody episode of “Finding Your Roots.”
Jon Snow’s Targaryen lineage ended up supporting a long-held fan theory that complicated the line of succession to the Iron Throne. Similarly, Daenerys Targaryen fought to carry on the Targaryens’ dragon-riding legacy of her own.
Set about 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones,” the prequel series “House of the Dragon,” premiering Aug. 21 on HBO Max, provides the Targaryen backstory you may have needed when watching the original HBO show. The series is based on the book “Fire & Blood” by George R.R. Martin, who also wrote the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” on which the original HBO show is based.
The Targaryen characters in “House of the Dragon” are all distant ancestors of Daenerys and have the stark white-blond hair to prove it. But it is Princess Rhaenyra (pronounced Ran-ee-ra) Targaryen, played by Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy, who is perhaps the most similar to Daenerys.
The Targaryens go way, way back. Here’s how Daenerys, aka Dany, is related to the characters of “House of the Dragon.”
Princess Rhaenyra is Daenerys’ distant ancestor in the Targaryen family tree
Princess Rhaenyra and Daenerys are distant relatives, living 200 years and about eight generations apart, as this thorough Targaryen family tree demonstrates.
8 generations separate Rhaenyra Targaryen and Daenerys Targaryen, which makes Rhaenyra the great great great great great great grandmother of Daenerys...
#HouseOfTheDragonHBO #HouseoftheDragon pic.twitter.com/xzkv3P4PUa
— ☝🏽 #TribalChief ☝🏽 (@weshlateam) August 29, 2022
The Targaryens were a noble family from Valyria, the capital of the Valyrian Freehold, a complex civilization that spanned the continent of Essos for five thousand years. Essos is a continent separated from Westeros by the Narrow Sea.
Then came the Doom of Valyria, a cataclysmic volcanic event that destroyed the Valyrian peninsula and all its inhabitants. The Targaryen family was spared only because, 100 years before the natural disaster, they had established a new family outpost at Dragonstone, a volcanic island in the Narrow Sea. The noble family moved after Daenys Targaryen had a prophetic vision of the disaster, convincing her father fleeing was the only option.
100 years after the Doom of Valyria, Aegon Targaryen and his sisters (and his wives) Rhaenys and Visenya went to Westeros to conquer and unite the realm. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros did not include Dorne and the lands beyond the Wall in the North.
Following Aegon I the Conquerer, nearly 20 Targaryen rulers sat on the Targaryen-created Iron Throne, through Daenerys’ short-lived stint as queen.
The women live in vastly different eras of House Targaryen.
“House of the Dragon” takes place during a dramatic chapter of the Targaryen family’s rule of the Seven Kingdoms: Specifically, the battle for succession between Princess Rhaenyra and her half-brother Aegon II, also known as the Dance of the Dragons.
Yes, much happens during this civil war, explored in George R.R. Martin’s “Fire and Blood” and the show, but one big consequence for the “Game of Thrones” era is that it effectively kills off the dragons — one of the Targaryens’ most powerful weapons for maintaining order.
By the time “Game of Thrones” rolls around, the Targaryens have fallen from grace (and power). Jaime Lannister kills King Aerys II Targaryen, known as the Mad King, amid the Baratheon family’s efforts to sack King’s Landing and depose the king.
Daenerys and her brother Viserys are among the last surviving Targaryens. When Viserys dies, Daenerys looks to reclaim her family’s place on the throne.
Daenerys and Rhaenyra have much in common
Daenerys and Rhaenyra are separated by hundreds of years, but they are united by their circumstances.
“She’s met with very similar challenges that Daenerys is also brought with, in not being viable in her claim to the throne and having other people constantly be like, “You’re not legitimate,” Milly Alcock, who plays young Rhaenyra, said in an interview with TVLine.
Down the line, the two have similarities. Both ride dragons: Daenerys rode Drogon and Rhaenyra started to ride Syrax when she was 7. Fans on Twitter pointed out the similarly adoring way they look at their dragons.
the way rhaenyra looks at syrax is the same way daenerys targaryen looks at drogon, rhaegal and viserion pic.twitter.com/G3Ox8sBBRN
— em (@mewsguru) August 28, 2022
Both have two older brothers who die — and both characters grow up believing they will be the first queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
When she was 8, Rhaenyra’s father, King Viserys I Targaryen, designated her as his heir. But her claim to the throne is eventually challenged by her younger half-brother, Aegon.
After King Viserys dies, Queen Alicent — his second wife — and her supporters put her son, Aegon II, on the throne in King’s Landing. Rhaenyra, meanwhile, has herself crowned in Dragonstone, the Targaryens’ ancestral seat. (Remember, when Daenerys returns to Westeros, she goes to Dragonstone to establish herself.)
This sparks a civil war between those who recognize Aegon as the proper ruler and supporters of Rhaenyra.
Similarly, Daenerys’ entire mission in “Game of Thrones” is making her way back to King’s Landing to put a Targaryen back on the Iron Throne.
Spoiler: Neither effort ends particularly well for Daenerys or Rhaenyra.
Both have ‘classic’ Targaryen relationships
The Targaryens tend to keep their dating partners close to the family — literally. A fact not dwelled on in “Game of Thrones” is that Daenerys’ parents, King Aerys II and Queen Rhaella Targaryen, were brother and sister.
Daenerys and Rhaenyra are no exception to the Targaryen preference. Daenerys ends up falling for her nephew, Jon Snow (aka Aegon).
In “House of the Dragon,” keep an eye on Princess Rhaenyra’s relationship with her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith).
During an interview in 2014, Martin spoke about the origins of the Targaryen’s habit of incest. The Targaryens were originally a noble family in Valyria, Martin said, which made them “interlopers” in Westeros.
“They had some unique factors that didn’t necessarily fit into the mainstream of the other Westerosi Lords, such as their traditional incest, which was part of keeping the bloodlines pure so that they could better control the dragons, brother marrying sister, and nephews and aunts, and so forth,” he said.