One of the most powerful houses in the entire Game Of Thrones saga, the Targaryens, is a big, twisted family. Rife with infighting and overflowing with disparate dramas and tangled backstories, they’re the ideal focus for HBO’s new series House Of The Dragon, which takes place 200 years before the original show. Though the Targaryens control the Iron Throne in House Of The Dragon, various family members are fighting over which of them will succeed as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, seemingly one of the most popular pastimes in all of Westeros.
To help sort out the key names and faces in the new show, we’ve put together a handy guide to the main players and the most prominent branches of the complex Targaryen family tree. Not surprisingly, this is a bit more complicated than your average genealogical history, in part because the Targaryens traditionally consider incest to be no big deal (got to keep that dragon blood pure, you know). That practice is probably why Targaryens tend to go mad once a generation or so (as the saying goes, “When a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin...”), provided they even live long enough to reach adulthood. Those who survive and manage to keep it together can be quite formidable, though.
Note that some of this information is based on what we know from George R.R. Martin’s books, and is always subject to change in the show. We’ll have to wait and see how they compare when House Of The Dragon premieres on HBO on August 21.
Crowned at the age of 14, Jaehaerys Targaryen had the longest and most peaceful reign of any Targaryen king. He married his sister Alysanne and together they had 14 children, though only nine would survive into adulthood, and only two would outlive him. Near the end of his life, with no clear heir apparent, he puts together a Great Council to decide which of his descendants will succeed him. The vote comes down in favor of his grandson, Viserys. Not everyone is pleased with this choice, however. In his old age, Jaehaerys (played on the show by Michael Carter; that’s him on the throne in the image above) becomes reliant on his Hand, Ser Otto Hightower, and Lord Hightower’s daughter Alicent, who is at his bedside when he dies (this will be important later).
The daughter of Jaehaerys’ eldest son, Aemon, and Jocelyn Baratheon (an ancestor of Robert Baratheon, the man eventually responsible for ending the Targaryen dynasty), Rhaenys would have been the logical choice as next in line for the Iron Throne, if only she weren’t born a girl. Instead, Rhaenys (played by Eve Best) has to watch her cousin Viserys take the seat and settle for influencing affairs from the sidelines, as shrewd noblewomen in Westeros often do. She is married to Corlys Velaryon, a member of another noble Valyrian house and the king’s Master of Ships. They have a daughter and a son named Laena and Laenor (the Targaryens aren’t known for being super original with their names), the latter of which has a legitimate claim to the throne as a male descendant of the crown prince.
Viserys (played by Paddy Considine) is the fifth Targaryen king to rule the Seven Kingdoms, succeeding his grandfather Jaehaerys after being chosen by the Great Council among at least 14 contenders with potential claims. He married his cousin Aemma Arryn at an early age and they have a daughter, Rhaenyra. Viserys’ reign is considered the high-water mark of power for House Targaryen. During his 55 years on the throne, the realm is prosperous, the smallfolk are content, dragons thrive in great numbers, and so does the family. But there’s that pesky looming question of who will inherit the crown, and when Aemma dies and the king remarries Alicent Hightower (told you she’d be back), things start to get testy in the Red Keep.
As the younger brother of Viserys, Daemon suffers from an acute case of second-son syndrome. He’s a hothead who believes he could do everything better if he were king instead of his stupid brother. Matt Smith, who plays Daemon in the show, describes him as “all swords and knives.” He’s charismatic and has many friends (especially in the more disreputable corners of King’s Landing), but also some powerful enemies. Among them is Ser Otto Hightower, who serves as Hand of the King to Viserys, just as he served his grandfather before him.
King Viserys knows that with no living male heirs (at least not at this point in his life), the crown will likely pass to Daemon if he doesn’t do something about it while he still can. Rather than see his short-tempered, impulsive brother take on a role he’s not at all suited for, Viserys surprises everyone by naming his daughter Rhaenyra (played by Milly Alcock) as his successor. It’s a divisive move that he may come to regret later, but it’s a step toward progress for the women of Westeros. It’s also the closest the Targaryens will ever come to having a queen sit on the Iron Throne.
That pretty much covers the major pieces on the chess board at the beginning of the series, without getting too far into what’s ahead. For an idea of just how much history exists between this series and the original, note that Jaehaerys is the fourth Targaryen king to rule the Seven Kingdoms. And by the time we get to the beginning of Game Of Thrones, Westeros has recently seen the fall of the 17th and final Targaryen king, Aerys II, after the brutal war known as Robert’s Rebellion. Daenerys would have been the 18th, and the first Targaryen queen, but we know how that turned out.