Game Of Thrones: House Targaryen Origins & History Explained
The history of House Targaryen is one of the most important aspects of Game of Thrones, and it could be explored in a new prequel TV show. One of several prequel series currently in development at HBO, this latest addition to the Game of Thrones universe would be set 300 years before the events of the core Game of Thrones story arc and track the "beginning of the end for House Targaryen". This means that the series will be digging into George R R Martin's written history of the Targaryens, Fire and Blood.
Martin has written extensively about the history of Westeros and many of the major houses in other companion books, most notably A World Of Ice And Fire, but Fire and Blood is the only book that delves this deeply into one specific house - and with good reason. The Targaryens came to Westeros 300 years before the events of Game of Thrones, when Aegon the Conqueror and his wives mounted their dragons, and set out to conquer the Kingdoms and rule them as one.
Since that time, this family held the throne of Westeros for centuries, right up until Robert's Rebellion, although there was plenty of infighting and intrigue over that time. Of all the stories told in Fire and Blood, two in particular stand out: Aegon's Conquest itself and the Dance of Dragons. These two most important moments in Targaryen history, and how they connect to Daenerys' story, are what fans should expect to see in the new series.
Although House Targaryen is a huge part of the story of Game of Thrones, their history isn't discussed much within the show itself. Other than the most recent Targaryen king, the rich history of the house is only mentioned in passing - including Aegon's conquest (by Daenerys, plotting her own conquest of Westeros) and the occasional mention of other Targaryen rulers. By the start of Game of Thrones, House Targaryen is far from the mighty house that it was for hundreds of years - Robert's Rebellion saw to that. Fans of the show will be familiar with this story, as it is a huge part of the series, but given the complexity of the source material, it's worth reiterating. The problems of House Targaryen in this time period began with the rule of Aerys II, who would come to be known as the Mad King. Aerys would rule for just over twenty years, but in that time he went from a promising young King to an insane and vengeful old man.
At the start of his reign, Aerys and Tywin Lannister were close friends, and Tywin was made Hand of the King. However, this friendship would soon sour. Aerys became increasingly aware of the people's preference for Tywin, and became increasingly jealous and paranoid, insulting and belittling his Hand. Although he had one son and heir, Rhaegar, he and his wife struggled to produce more heirs, and between fear, anger, and jealousy, Aerys became increasingly rash and dangerous. After a period of time imprisoned during the Defiance of Duskendale (during which Tywin ruled the kingdom in his stead), Aerys went mad. He shut himself away, becoming increasingly convinced of plots and treachery, ultimately choosing to stockpile wildfire underneath King's Landing. After his son, Rhaegar, moved to Dragonstone, he became convinced that his heir was looking to depose him, and when Rhaegar ran off with Lyanna, Aerys snapped. He killed Brandon and Rickard Stark, and demanded the heads of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon. The refusal of this demand sparked Robert's Rebellion.
The Rebellion eventually ended Targaryen rule in Westeros. After a series of battles that claimed the life of Rhaegar, Aerys was killed by Jaime Lannister - who ran him through to prevent him burning Kings Landing to the ground. Robert Baratheon took the throne, and Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen were spirited away from Dragonstone to Braavos, living their lives in fear and exile.
Game of Thrones clearly showed how House Targaryen ended, but not so much about how it began. Centuries before the Mad King and the Mad Queen, the Targaryens were a great family of Valyria, one of several noble houses of dragonriders. However, the Targaryens left Valyria to take up residence on Dragonstone (thanks to prophetic dreams of the Doom), and became the only house of dragonriders to survive. For a time, they lived and ruled on Dragonstone only, but around one hundred years after the Doom, Aegon Targaryen decided that he wanted more.
Aegon, like many Targaryens, married his siblings. He had two wives, Rhaenys and Visenya, and all three had dragons. Aegon rode Balerion the Dread, Rhaenys rode Meraxes, and Visenya rode Vhagar. The conquest itself took around two years (although Dorne took much longer to come fully under Targaryen rule - and their resistance is worthy of a book of its own), and began at the Blackwater Rush. At first, there was resistance, as various houses decided to join Aegon's side or stand against him. However, it quickly became apparent that the men of Westeros would not be able to withstand the dragons, especially after the Burning of Harrenhal.
Harrenhal was a newly-built, seemingly impenetrable castle, the seat of House Hoare. King Harren Hoare had built it and refused to capitulate to Aegon, believing himself safe; he found out otherwise when Aegon flew over the walls on Balerion, burning the castle and everyone in it, with the dragonfire melting stone. Other houses were similarly dispatched, or surrendered, and Aegon took the swords of those that he had conquered and turned them into the Iron Throne. Aegon also established King's Landing, building a new city around his Aegonfort where he first landed, and set about creating a unified kingdom for himself and his Queens to rule.
From Aegon's successful conquest to Daenerys' failed one - through 300 years of Targaryen history - the house has been synonymous with dragons. And for a time, during the earlier part of Targaryen rule in Westeros, they had dragons aplenty - Balerion may have been the only one to come with the house from Valyria, but other eggs were hatched over the years. For a period, many of the royal Targaryens had dragons of their own, and Targaryen children became dragonriders at an early age. However, a Targaryen civil war would see this time of dragons over the skies of Westeros come to an end. Interestingly, with them came the beginning of the end of House Targaryen itself.
During the rule of King Viserys (103-120 AC), there were still a healthy number of dragons remaining, including Balerion himself (who died of old age during this time). By the end of his rule, 20 still took to the skies. However, with Viserys' death came the Dance of Dragons, which saw all but a handful of these perish. The Dance of Dragons was a Targaryen civil war over succession, and it saw dragons battle dragons - which killed many of them. By the end of the civil war (which lasted from 129-131 AC), only four dragons were left alive. Since that time, at least one dragon egg hatched, but the dragons were small and misshapen (as Tyrion mentions in Game of Thrones).
None survived long, and despite the best efforts of mages, no other eggs could be convinced to hatch - bringing the time of dragons to an end. House Targaryen itself continued for decades without dragons, but it was in decline. Long before the Mad King, the Targaryens dealt with rebellions, Dornish wars, and issues of succession. It seems that the fate of House Targaryen is connected to the dragons themselves, and Daenerys' ability to hatch hers gave the Targaryens a fighting chance at taking power again - but as Game of Thrones showed, it is no longer the time of Aegon the Conqueror, and Westeros ended up with no dragons, Targaryens, or even an Iron Throne left.