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Before House of the Dragon premieres, catch up on Targaryen history

Everything from how the Targaryens work to the correct order for all those vowels

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Viserys and Rhaenyra walking on a beach together Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

HBO’s House of the Dragon is bringing us back to Westeros, but not to the Westeros most people are familiar with, at least on screen. The new Game of Thrones prequel series is set nearly 200 years before the events of the original series, and that means a totally different set of characters and events to learn about.

The show is based on the second half of George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood, which serves as an in-universe history of the Targaryen family in Westeros. While you don’t have to read the first half to understand House of the Dragon, there are a few bits and pieces that might be useful. So here’s everything you need to know to watch House of the Dragon’s first episode.

Who is King Jaehaerys?

The royal family in House of the Dragon, gathered around Jaehaerys on the throne
[Leans over to date] That’s King Jaehaerys in the middle
Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Also known as the Old King, Jaehaerys I Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne before Viserys and played a large role in setting the precedent of male succession in Westeros, when he allowed the Great Council of 101 AC to name Viserys his heir rather than his older daughter, Rhaenys. Jaehaerys enjoyed one of the longest and most prosperous rules in Westeros’ history. He was much loved by all, but left his son Viserys with a large legacy to live up to. While most of this story happens well after Jaehaerys’ death, it also unfolds in his shadow.

Who are Aegon the Conqueror and Daenys the Dreamer?

Though they have both been dead for many years by the time House of the Dragon begins, you can think of these two as the ones that kicked off the story of the Targaryen dynasty in Westeros, which is why they’re still relevant to this story.

The Targaryens are originally from the Valyrian Freehold, a region of Essos on the Valyrian Peninsula. Despite the area’s great wealth and status, the Targaryens left the city unexpectedly when Aenar Targaryen moved his family out of Valyria to Dragonstone, a small island at the mouth of Westeros’ Blackwater Bay. Aenar’s decision was based on a vision his daughter Daenys had, which foretold a great catastrophe that would collapse the region and destroy Valyria forever. Twelve years after the family moved, she was proven right as the Doom of Valyria began. From then on she was known as Daenys the Dreamer.

A dragon flying over a Game of Thrones city Image: HBO

Nearly 100 years after the Targaryens moved to Dragonstone, Aegon I Targaryen set his sights on Westeros with a goal to conquer the continent and unite its various warring kingdoms and factions. While his reasons are often debated, it is certain that at least one of them was because he thought it would be fairly easy. After all, he and his sisters Rhaenys and Visenya had dragons and no one else in Westeros did. Ultimately, Aegon’s assumption proved correct and he was able to unite all of Westeros (except Dorne).

Do the Targaryens always marry family members?

Targaryens, much like royal families in our own past, often married family members with the goal of keeping the strength of their bloodline pure. But while this is a longstanding Valyrian tradition, it isn’t necessarily a must for Targaryens in Westeros, and the royals have often married outside of their family. This is particularly true of those Targaryens that aren’t likely to be heirs to the Iron Throne. For those who did marry in the family, it often meant wedding brother to sister, but occasionally involved relations like nephews, nieces, or cousins. While the Targaryens most often liked to keep the roles of king and queen within the family, they still sometimes used marriage as a useful tool for alliances and favors from other great houses when it came to the members least likely to be crowned.

Rhaenys and Corlys at the jousting match. She is standing looking at him, and he’s sitting. Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

House of the Dragon features a few examples of these ideas in its first episode, where we see Rhaenys Targaryen (no, not Aegon the Conqueror’s sister, a different one) married to Ser Corlys Velaryon. The Velaryons were a family that also hailed from Valyria but left the Freehold long before the Targaryens, lacking their dragon-riding ability and standing within the region. Despite this, house Velaryon has always been an important ally of the Targaryens, which is why the alliance was sealed in marriage to Rhaenys, who was once in line to be queen but bears the nickname “The Queen Who Never Was” by the time House of the Dragon begins.

However, by the time the main story of Game of Thrones starts, nearly 200 years after House of the Dragon, the Targaryen kings still marry their siblings. In fact, King Aerys II, also known as The Mad King, was married to his sister Rhaella.

If you have any other questions before watching the show, we’ll let George R.R. Martin answer them himself in the video preview he did for House of the Dragon.

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