Though once the most powerful house in the seven kingdoms, House Targaryen is now practically extinct. Only two of its members remain: Daenerys, daughter of the Mad King Aerys, and her nephew, Jon Snow, and considering this is Game of Thrones, we’re not too optimistic both or either of them are going to make it to the end of the series. Descended from Old Valyria, the Targaryens were some of the last of their kind. When they had nothing left, they took everything–with fire and blood. For nearly three hundred years, the Targaryens and their dragons ruled the seven kingdoms. Preserving their line by wedding brother to sister (or aunt to nephew and uncle to niece as the case may be), it soon became said that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin with madness on one side and greatness on the other.
Madness all but destroyed House Targaryen, and though both Dany and Jon have the promise of greatness to restore House Targaryen to its former glory, this may be one of those instances where the son (or daughter) bears the sins of the father.
With House Targaryen playing such a prominent role next season, it’s a good idea to brush up on your Targaryen history. From Aegon the Conqueror to Mad King Aerys, we’ve got all the juicy Targaryen history you won’t find out about in the show. Everything you’re about to read happened long before Game of Thrones takes place, so no need to worry about spoilers.
20. Dragonlords Of Old Valyria
Hundreds of years before Aegon and his sisters conquered the seven kingdoms, the Targaryens were a noble family in the Valyrian Freehold, an empire that ruled much of the world. House Targaryen was one of forty Valyrian houses that were known as dragonlords-those who could tame and ride dragons. Not every Valyrian had this ability, and many believed that those who could used some kind of sorcery. These dragonlords were said to be inhumanly beautiful and often had silver hair and purple eyes, and they would wed brother to sister to keep their bloodlines pure. While this may sound magical and mysterious, the Targaryens were actually one of the least powerful houses of Valyria.
19. Daenys The Dreamer
The then-head of the Targaryen family was a man named Aenar Targaryen. We do not know how large Aenar’s family was at the time–marrying brothers to sisters makes for a small family tree. We do know that he had a wife, a son, and a daughter named Daenys. When Daenys was a girl, she prophesied that Valyria would be destroyed. Aenar moved his family, their wealth, their slaves, and five dragons out of Valyria and onto the island of Dragonstone.
Twelve years later, Valyria was destroyed in a mysterious event called the Doom of Valyria. No one really knows what happened because everyone who witnessed it died. Maesters believe it was a combination of earthquakes and multiple volcanic eruptions. Whatever it was, Valyria was destroyed overnight and is, four hundred years later, still uninhabitable. Because of Daenys’s prophetic dream, the Targaryens became the only dragonriders to survive the Doom of Valyria.
18. Aegon’s Ancestors
Game of Thrones often makes it seem as if Aegon and his sisters were fresh from Valyria when they conquered Westeros, but that romantic image is far from the truth. In reality, there were several generations of Targaryens living on Dragonstone before Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya decided to conquer the seven kingdoms. When Daenys grew up, she married her brother Gaemon, who, as far as we know, was her only sibling. Daenys “the Dreamer” and her brother, Gaemon “the Glorious”, had two children: Aegon and Elaena. Aegon and Elaena, following family tradition, married one another, and they had at least two sons: Maegon and Aerys. We do not know if Maegon ever took a wife, or if Aerys married his sister or a woman outside his family. We do know that Aerys and his wife had three sons: Aelyx, Baelon, and Daemion. Aelyx and Baelon did not have children, but Daemion had a son named Aerion. Aerion married Valaena Velaryon–a woman from a noble family of Valyrian descent. They had three children: Visenya, Aegon, and Rhaenys. Aegon became the ninth Lord of Dragonstone, married both his sisters, and made himself ruler of the seven kingdoms.
17. Orys Baratheon
Aegon was not the only son of Aerion–or so it is believed. Aegon’s conquest would not have been possible without the help of Orys Baratheon, a bastard who many believed was Aerion’s son. Why Orys has a surname that isn’t a standard bastard name (Waters, Snow, etc.) is never explained–perhaps bastard surnames hadn’t been standardized yet. Whatever the case, Orys accompanied Aegon and his sisters and helped make the seven kingdoms theirs.
Though he achieved many feats, Orys is most well-known for defeating the Storm King, Argilac the Arrogant, in battle. Argilac’s daughter, Argella, refused to submit to the dragonlords, so her own men stripped her, bound her in chains, gagged her, and delivered her to Orys with their surrender. Orys removed her gag and chains, covered her in his own cloak, and spoke gently to her, telling her of her father’s brave and noble death. Orys later married Argella and adopted the Durrandon colors, words, and sigil as his own. He was made the first Lord of Storm’s End and Lord Paramount of the Stormlands.
16. Dark Sister And Blackfyre
Every great house in Westeros has (or had) a Valyrian steel sword. House Targaryen had two. “Dark Sister” was wielded by Visenya, Aegon’s older sister (and wife). It is believed to have been made for a woman because of the slenderness of the blade and the size of the handle, which perfectly fit Visenya’s hand. Only a handful of Targaryens have ever wielded Dark Sister: Prince Daemon Targaryen, Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, and Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers.
“Blackfyre,” on the other hand (lol, get it? Hand? Swords? Okay), has been wielded by almost every Targaryen king. Wielded by Aegon during the conquest, the sword became synonymous with ruling the seven kingdoms. Traditionally passed into the hands of the new king (and the new king only), King Aegon IV attempted to defy tradition by bestowing the sword on his bastard son, Daemon Waters, rather than his trueborn son, the future Daeron II. Daemon took the name “Blackfyre” as his surname (rather than the bastard Waters) and created House Blackfyre. Put a pin in that, because House Blackfyre will make another appearance in this article!
Before Aegon and his sister-wives conquered Westeros, Harrenhal was built to be the grandest castle in all the seven kingdoms, so large and so luxurious that all other castles would pale in comparison. Built by the King of Isles and Rivers, Harren the Black had no intention of bowing to the Targaryens from Dragonstone and believed that even with their dragons, he was safe behind his enormous walls.
He was wrong. Aegon set his dragon, Balerion the Black Dread, on Harrenhal. Harren and all his family died and the castle became a charred, melted mess. Aegon used Harrenhal as an example of what would happen to those who did not submit to his will.
Because Harren and all his line perished in Balerion’s fire, there were no rightful heirs to inherit the estate–and after Harren’s grisly death, few have wanted to inhabit it at all. Many believe it is cursed, or at the very least cannot help but think of what befell its original owner. As such, the castle’s ownership is constantly changing.
14. The Field Of Fire
Harrenhal was not the only time Aegon demonstrated the strength of House Targaryen–or rather, their dragons. Not long after burning Harrenhal and causing the Riverlands to submit to Targaryen rule, Aegon and his sisters turned their attention towards the Westerlands and the Reach. The King of the Rock and King of the Reach either had not heard about Harrenhal or did not think they could suffer the same fate, because they combined forces and met the Targaryen army in the plains just south of Blackwater. Even though the opposing forces numbered twice as many as the Targaryen army, the Targaryens had something their enemy did not have: dragons. Aegon and his sisters took to the air and set fire to the dry grass plains just upwind of the opposing army. Over 4,000 men were killed by fire and over 10,000 suffered burns. The King of the Reach died three days after the battle from his burns, and because he had no children, his line died with him. Therefore, the Tyrells became the Lords Paramount of the Reach.
After hearing about the Field of Fire, King Torrhen Stark knew that it would be foolish to march against the Targaryens, and when they headed north, he bent the knee to spare the lives of his bannermen.
13. Maegor The Cruel
Of all the Targaryen kings, Maegor was probably the most despicable. The second son of Aegon the Conqueror, Maegor was a fierce warrior. When his older brother Aenys ascended to the throne, he gifted Maegor with the blade Blackfyre and made him his Hand. Maegor took Ceryse Hightower for a wife, and he shocked the seven kingdoms when he took a second wife, Alys Harroway. Even though Maegor’s own father had two wives, the Faith of the Seven protested Maegor’s doing so, and Maegor was exiled for three years. During his exile, he took a third wife–Tyanna of the Tower, a woman who was nearly as heartless as he was.
Maegor’s exile ended when Aenys died and Maegor returned to Westeros to claim the crown for himself. He killed Aenys’s eldest son, Aegon, and kept another of Aenys’s sons, Viserys, as his squire so that Aenys’s widow, Alyssa, would not be tempted to defy Maegor. He then married Aegon’s widow (and sister) Rhaena, and later married Lady Elinor Costayne and Lady Jeyne Westerling: a total of six wives at the same time. None of these wives produced living children. Maegor later discovered that Tyanna had been poisoning the other wives so that they would produce monstrous stillborns; furious, Maegor cut her heart out of her chest.
But this wasn’t all Maegor was known for. During his reign, he ordered the construction of the Red Keep, complete with elaborate secret passageways. When the construction was finished, he held a three day feast for the builders and masons, at the end of which he killed all of them so that they could never tell another living soul about the secret passageways.
It did not take long for Maegor to become an unpopular king. With the promise of the people on his side, Aenys’s only surviving son, Jaehaerys, gathered support and formed a rebellion. Rhaena, Maegor’s wife by force, escaped on her dragon, Dreamfyre–but not before stealing Blackfyre.
12. Good Queen Alysanne
Maegor was succeeded by his nephew, Jaehaerys. After he was made king, Jaehaerys married his sister Alysanne. “Good Queen Alysanne” was revered for her wisdom and her generosity. She convinced her husband to abolish the lord’s “first night”, an archaic tradition that allowed a lord to have sexual rights to any woman on his land on her wedding night. Together, she and Jaehaerys had thirteen children, many of whom died before Alysanne.
Alysanne is most well-known for her support of the Night’s Watch. She visited the Wall on her dragon Silverwing and rewarded the men of the Night’s Watch for their valor and selflessness in protecting the realm. She even convinced her husband to expand the Gift, a tract of land in the North belonging to the Night’s Watch, much to the dismay of the Starks who owned that property. Touched by her generosity, the Night’s Watch renamed Snowgate, the castle where she had stayed, to Queensgate.
11. The Dance Of The Dragons
Possibly the most infamous event in Targaryen history was the Dance of the Dragons, the Wars of the Roses-like civil war fought amongst members of the Targaryen family. When Viserys I died, he left behind two children: an older daughter, Rhaenyra, and a son by another woman, Aegon. Rhaenyra had lived her entire life expecting to become the first ruling queen of Westeros, but the Hand and the commander of the Kingsguard crowned her brother Aegon II. The seven kingdoms became divided over who should be the rightful ruler of Westeros–the oldest child who happened to be a woman, or the younger child who happened to be a boy. Rhaenyra vowed that she would not bow to her brother and led a vicious rebellion against him. Rhaenyra was betrayed by one of her own men and, after slaying her Queensguard, brought her to Aegon II. Her brother fed her to his dragon, Sunfyre, while her own son, also named Aegon, was forced to watch.
The rebellion did not die with Rhaenyra. Her three eldest sons all died in the fighting, and still the rebellion continued to put one of her two remaining sons on the iron throne. The conflict was only resolved when Aegon II died without issue and Rhaenyra’s son Aegon became King Aegon III.
10. The Dragons
One of the most interesting things about the Targaryens are their dragons. Though not uncommon in Old Valyria, dragons were a rarity in Westeros. Two-legged, two-winged creatures, dragons are the size of cats as hatchlings but can become an enormous size. Balerion the Black Dread was the biggest and oldest dragon owned by the Targaryens–incidentally, he was also the last dragon who was hatched in Valyria. He had four siblings, all of whom died on Dragonstone, but from the eggs they left behind were hatched Vhagar and Meraxes–Visenya and Rhaenys’s dragons.
Not just anyone can ride a dragon–dragons and dragonriders have an intense connection, and in some cases, dragons have been able to sense when their rider was in danger or dying. This is rare, but it does happen. To form this connection, eggs were sometimes put in the cradles of Targaryen babes so that the dragon and child would literally grow up together.
Dragons also have no known gender; maesters once speculated that they are able to change sex depending on the reproductive needs of the group, so they can fertilize or lay eggs at any point.
As the years passed and the dragons became more and more confined, they also became smaller and weaker. The last dragon was born during the reign of Aegon III, and she was roughly the size of a hatchling.
9. The Conquest Of Dorne
Even though Aegon and his sisters had conquered the seven kingdoms, Dorne remained an independent principality for over a hundred and fifty years. Daeron I ascended to the throne when he was a teenager and attempted to finish what his ancestors had started. While his campaign was initially a success, thanks to the element of surprise, the Dornishmen quickly regained their footing, and shortly after the campaign began, they agreed to meet with Daeron under a banner of peace. The Dornish betrayed Daeron, killing the eighteen-year-old king; three of his kingsguard were killed, one yielded, and a wounded Aemon the Dragonknight was taken prisoner.
Daeron’s brother, Baelor, was able to achieve what his brother could not; rather than using war to make Dorne submit to his will, he integrated the principality into the seven kingdoms with marriage. He negotiated a marriage between his cousin and heir, also named Daeron, and Princess Myriah Martell. When Daeron became Daeron II, he married Myriah and arranged a marriage between his sister, Daenerys, and Myria’s brother, Maron. It was one of the only instances where a Targaryen married outside of the family.
8. Baelor The Blessed
Baelor was the younger brother of Daeron I and grew up believing he would not be king. When Daeron died without issue, however, the pious Baelor suddenly became king. Baelor walked barefoot through Dorne to retrieve his imprisoned cousin Aemon the Dragonknight and to make peace with Dorne. Because Aemon was imprisoned in a cage suspended above a pit of snakes, Baelor was bitten hundreds of times saving his cousin. It’s unlikely Baelor was actually bitten by snakes, and many have interpreted this to mean the snakes were actually Dornishmen who tried to attack Baelor.
Baelor was able to orchestrate the marriage between his cousin Daeron and Princess Myriah Martell, peacefully bringing Dorne into the seven kingdoms without shedding a drop of blood.
In King’s Landing, Baelor’s piety ventured into madness. He appointed an illiterate stonemason named Pate as High Septon, and when Pate died, Baelor appointed an eight-year-old who he believed was gifted by the gods.
Baelor also had his marriage to his sister, Daena, dissolved because it had never been consummated, and then he locked her and his other sisters, Rhaena and Elaena, in the Red Keep so that he would not be tempted by their beauty. Despite being imprisoned in the Maidenvault, Daena managed to get pregnant and birth a son, Daemon Waters. Baelor was so horrified that he fasted for forty days and forty nights; on the forty-first day, he collapsed in the great sept and died.
7. The Blackfyre Rebellions
Daena “the Defiant” didn’t have a bastard with just anyone–it was her cousin, Aegon IV, and Baelor’s heir. When Baelor died, some spoke of giving the throne to his sister Daena as he had no offspring and Daena was the next eldest sibling. However, Daena and her sisters had been locked in the Red Keep for ten years, and the last time a woman had vied for the iron throne, the country had fallen into civil war. Hesitant to repeat the past, the small council agreed that Baelor’s cousin Aegon would be the best choice for the next ruler of the seven kingdoms. Aegon was married to his sister, Naerys, and together they had two children: Daeron and Daenerys. Aegon and Daeron clashed frequently, and there was even a rumor that Daeron was not Aegon’s son, but Naerys’s son by her other brother, Aemon the Dragonknight. Whether Aegon believed these rumors is uncertain, but it is clear that he favored his bastard son, Daemon Waters. Though Daeron was supposed to receive the blade Blackfyre upon his ascension to the throne, Aegon chose to bestow it on Daemon instead. Daemon took the surname Blackfyre in honor of the sword, and people began to murmur that he should be the king’s heir instead of Daeron.
When Aegon died, he legitimized his bastards; despite Daemon being older than Daeron, it was Daeron and his Dornish wife who ascended to the throne. Unlike his brother, Daeron was not a warrior. He wanted to maintain peace with the Dornish, but the people of Westeros longed to return to war with Dorne. Many, including Aegon’s other bastard, Aegor Rivers, urged Daemon to claim the throne for himself. Because his mother should have inherited the throne before Aegon, because he was their son, because he was older than Daeron, and because Aegon had legitimized him, many saw Daemon as the rightful heir. Daemon proclaimed himself King Daemon I and led a forceful rebellion against his half-brother.
Daemon and two of his sons, Aegon and Aemon, were all killed during the first rebellion, and his surviving children went into exile. Daemon’s eldest surviving son, Daemon II, would attempt a second Blackfyre Rebellion, but it was unsuccessful and he was held as a hostage to prevent his brothers from attempting a third uprising.
6. Aerion Brightflame
When Aerion Targaryen was born, the gods flipped a coin, and that coin landed on madness.
The second son of Maekar Targaryen, Aerion was a cruel boy and a crueler man. As a boy, he threw his brother Aegon’s cat down a well and would sometimes sneak into Aegon’s chambers at night, hold a knife to his genitals, and joke about cutting them off and making Aegon a sister that he could marry. Though he was generally cruel to everyone, he always tried to smile and be courteous in the presence of his father.
At the Tourney of Ashford, Aerion was insulted by a puppet show that showed a dragon being slain, and he had the fingers of the puppeteers broken so that they could never “insult” him again. He also challenged Ser Duncan the Tall and tried to cheat his way to victory, but it ended in a brawl with Duncan winning. Maekar was so embarrassed and angered by his son’s actions that he sent Aerion to Lys. While he was there, Aerion joined the Second Sons. He returned to Westeros to fight in the Third Blackfyre Rebellion, and because of his valor, he was allowed to stay. He married his cousin Daenora Targaryen and they had one son, ominously named Maegor.
Aerion was fascinated by fire and often dressed in reds and golds that reminded him of it, earning him the nickname Aerion Brightflame. He died drinking wildfire, believing that it would transform him into a dragon. When his father, then King Maekar, died a year later, the great council passed over Aerion’s son Maegor in the line of succession, fearing that he had inherited his father’s madness and cruelty.
5. Maester Aemon
Aerion had two younger brothers. One of them was named Aegon, and we’ll get into him later. The other was named Aemon–as in, Maester Aemon.
At the time of Aemon’s birth, he was the third son of the fourth son of the king. Despite having so many Targaryen heirs in the line of succession before Aemon, King Daeron II was afraid that someone might want Aemon out of the way and decided to send his grandson to the Citadel to become a maester. Aemon enjoyed his studies and became a maester at the age of nineteen. He served an unidentified lord for some years, and was later summoned to court by his father, now King Maekar I. Aemon had no wish to serve at court, however, and chose instead to serve at Dragonstone, the seat of his brother, Prince Daeron. When Daeron died of the pox and Maekar died in battle, a great council was called to decide who should be the next ruler. Because he was next in line, many wanted to offer Aemon the crown. However, because of his maester’s chain, Aemon quietly refused and instead suggested that the crown go to his brother, Aegon. To ensure he would not change his mind and try to claim the throne later, Aemon went north to serve the Night’s Watch. He has been there for so long that many have forgotten about his Targaryen lineage.
4. Aegon The Unlikely
When Aemon refused the crown, it was offered to his younger (and last) brother, Aegon. Aegon met the knight Ser Duncan the Tall as a youth and insisted on becoming his squire. Duncan believed that if he was raised as a squire, he would become a better man than this brother Aerion. Called “Egg” to disguise his high birth, Aegon did indeed become a better man than Aerion–not that the bar was set very high. He married Betha Blackwood, a woman from a smaller noble house, because at the time of their marriage, he was far down the line of succession and there was no need for him to marry well. They had five children, the oldest of whom was a son named Duncan after Aegon’s mentor.
When Aegon was thirty-three, his father died suddenly, and a Great Council was summoned to determine who the crown should next go to. Maekar’s two eldest sons, Daeron and Aerion, had predeceased him and left a simple-minded girl and an infant boy as their heirs. The crown was offered to Maekar’s third son, Aemon, who preferred his maester’s chain to the iron throne. The last son of Maekar’s was Aegon, who accepted the crown and became King Aegon V. He was also called Aegon the Unlikely because he had been so far from the throne at his birth, but nevertheless, he became king.
3. Prince Duncan And Jenny Of Oldstones
Aegon had five children, and he betrothed four of them to children from noble houses to strengthen his reign. His eldest child and heir, Duncan, was betrothed to a daughter of House Baratheon. However, while traveling in the riverlands, Duncan met, fell in love with, and married a mysterious and beautiful common woman who wore flowers in her hair named Jenny of Oldstones.
Because he was heir to the throne, Aegon’s marriage to a commoner was seen as dangerous. His father and the small council, including the High Septon, attempted to annul the marriage, but Duncan was steadfast in his love for Jenny. Eventually, he decided to abdicate and live in peace with Jenny. His brother Jaehaerys would become king instead.
Even though Duncan had abdicated, Lord Lyonel Baratheon was still offended that Duncan had chosen a common woman over his daughter. He called himself the Storm King and attempted to raise a rebellion against the Targaryens. The rebellion was put to a stop by Ser Duncan the Tall, and Aegon smoothed things over by betrothing his daughter, Rhaelle, to Lyonel’s son and heir, Ormund. To ensure that Rhaelle would not repeat her brother’s actions, Aegon sent her to Storm’s End to become a cupbearer until she reached a marriageable age.
2. Aerys And Rhaella
Duncan was not the only one of Aegon’s children to defy his father’s wishes and marry out of love. Interestingly enough, Aegon’s second son, Jaehaerys, had been betrothed to Celia Tully, but he reneged on their betrothal in order to marry his sister, Shaera. They had two children, Aerys and Rhaella. Because Jenny of Oldstones’ woods-witch friend made a prophecy that the Prince Who was Promised would come from Aerys and Rhaella’s line, Jaehaerys forced his children into a marriage neither of them wanted. Though incestuous marriage had been common practice in the Targaryen family, Aegon V was strongly against it, and his attitude passed to his grandchildren. Aerys and Rhaella, who had been in love with a knight, were wedded, and Ser Barristan recalls that there was little fondness between the two. Later in his life, Aerys would lust after Tywin Lannister’s bride, Joanna, to a point where Rhaella dismissed her from court.
Rhaella gave birth eight times, but only three of those children survived to adulthood: Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys. Rhaegar was born at Summerhall, and it was perhaps the tragedy of that day that made Rhaegar the man he became.
Daeron II was fond of the Dornish and built a summer home in the Dornish Marches. Daeron reluctantly stopped residing at Summerhall as the pressures of state became more pressing and he found it harder to leave King’s Landing. He gifted Summerhall to his youngest son, Maekar.
King Aegon V invited his family to Summerhall to celebrate the impending birth of his great-grandchild, the first child of Aerys and Rhaella. What happened there is not entirely clear, for most of the witnesses perished. It is believed that Aegon attempted to hatch dragon eggs using pyromancers and possibly the same wildfire that Tyrion used to destroy Stannis’s fleet and Cersei used to destroy the sept of Baelor. Aegon V, Prince Duncan, Jenny of Oldstones, and Ser Duncan the Tall were among the victims. As Rhaella was escaping the tragedy, she went into labor and gave birth to a son “amongst the flames”. Her son, Rhaegar, developed a morbid fascination with Summerhall in his life and often spent many nights in the ruins, composing songs about the tragedy in the midst of which he had been born.