One of the most powerful houses in the whole Game of Thrones saga, the Targaryens, are a large, twisted family. Bursting 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 Dragonseveral relatives fight 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 key players and most prominent branches of the complex Targaryen family tree. Not surprisingly, this is a bit more complicated than your average genealogy history, in part because the Targaryens are traditionally incest not to be a big deal (I gotta keep that dragon’s blood pure, you know). That practice is probably why Targaryens tend to go crazy once every generation or so (as the saying goes, “When a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin…”) provided they even but live long enough to grow up. However, the ones that survive and manage to keep it together can be quite formidable.
Note that some of this information is based on what we know from George RR Martin’s books, and is always subject to changes in the show. We’ll have to wait and see how they compare when House of the Dragon premieres on HBO on August 21.
King Jaehaerys I, “The Old King”
Jaehaerys Targaryen was crowned at the age of 14 and had the longest and most peaceful reign of all Targaryen kings. He married his sister Alysanne and together they had 14 children, although only nine would survive to adulthood, and only two would survive him. Towards the end of his life, with no apparent heir, he assembles a Great Council to decide which of his descendants will succeed him. The mood is in favor of his grandson, Viserys. However, not everyone is happy with this choice. In his old age, Jaehaerys (played in the show by Michael Carter; that’s him on the throne in the image above) becomes dependent on his Hand, Ser Otto Hightower, and Lord Hightower’s daughter Alicent, who is by his bedside when he dies ( this will be important later).
Princess Rhaenys, “The Queen Who Never Was”
The daughter of Jaehaerys’ eldest son, Aemon, and Jocelyn Baratheon (an ancestor of Robert Baratheon, the man ultimately responsible for ending the Targaryen dynasty), Rhaenys would have been the natural choice next in line for the Iron Throne, if only she wasn’t born a girl. Instead, Rhaenys (played by Eve Best) must watch as her cousin Viserys takes a seat and settles for influencing business from the sidelines, as smart noblewomen in Westeros often do. She is married to Corlys Velaryon, a member of another Valyrian noble house and the captain of the king’s ships. They have a daughter and a son named Laena and Laenor (the Targaryens are not 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.
King Viserys I, “The Young King”
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 from at least 14 contenders with possible claims. He married his cousin Aemma Arryn at a young age and they have a daughter, Rhaenyra. The reign of Viserys is considered the pinnacle of power for House Targaryen. During his 55 years on the throne, the empire is prosperous, the little people are content, dragons thrive in great numbers, and so is the family. But there’s that annoying, looming question of who will inherit the crown, and when Aemma dies and the king remarries Alicent Hightower (did you say she’d be back), things start to get tricky in the Red Keep.
Prince Daemon Targaryen, “The Rogue Prince”
As Viserys’ younger brother, Daemon suffers from an acute case of second son syndrome. He’s a hothead who believes he could do anything better if… he were king instead of his stupid brother. Matt Smith, who plays Daemon on the show, describes him as “all swords and knives.” He is charismatic and has many friends (especially in the more infamous corners of King’s Landing), but also some powerful enemies. Among them is Ser Otto Hightower, who serves as Hand of the King for Viserys, just as he served his grandfather before him.
Princess Rhaenyra, “The Realm’s Delight”
King Viserys knows that with no living male heirs (at least not at this point in his life), the crown will likely be handed over to Daemon if he doesn’t do something about it while he still can. Rather than let his irascible, impulsive brother take on a role he’s completely unsuited for, Viserys surprises everyone by naming his daughter Rhaenyra (played by Milly Alcock) as his successor. It’s a divisive move that he may later regret, but it’s a step toward progress for the women of Westeros. It’s also the closest the Targaryens will ever come to sitting a queen on the Iron Throne.
That pretty much covers the most important pieces on the chessboard at the start of the series, without going too far into what lies ahead. For an idea of 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 start of Game of ThronesWesteros recently saw the fall of the 17th and last 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 ended.