It goes without saying that there are major spoilers for HBO’s Game Of Thrones in this story.
About 300 years before the events on the TV epic Game Of Thrones, a man named Aegon The Conqueror, with the help of three dragons, conquered six of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. Thus began the rule of House Targaryen as the Kings of Westeros. Eventually, the hold out, Dorne, would also join the fold and House Targaryen would rule all seven of the kingdoms, The North, The Vale, The Stormlands, The Reach, The Westerlands, The Iron Islands, and Dorne.
House Targaryen’s ancestral home is Dragonstone, an island where they lived even before Aegon conquered Westeros. It’s been their home as far back as Ancient Valyria. For hundreds of years, a Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne, a chair, legend has it, that was forged by dragon fire and made up of the swords of Aegon’s vanquished foes.
The family tree is complicated, to say the least. The Targaryens were known to marry within the family, marrying cousins and even siblings in order to keep the family bloodline “clean.” But here below are the important parts of the lineage as they related to Game Of Thrones. In the interest of keeping this as simple as possible, we won’t be including information from the books unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Aerys Targaryen (The Mad King)
An ancient saying in Westeros, repeated by Varys in Episode 5 of Season 8, “Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air and the world holds its breath,” for Aerys Targaryen, this was the bad side of the coin.
King Aerys Targaryen, the second of his name, and son to Aegon V, was the last Targaryen to have ruled when the show began. He had been overthrown about 20 years before the events in the show began, during what became known as “Robert’s Rebellion.” Robert, being Robert Baratheon, who held Aerys’ son Rhaegar responsible for the kidnapping of his love, Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark’s sister.
Aerys is often referred to as “The Mad King” because, though he was seen as a wise and just leader for the first decade of his reign, as he got older, he grew crazier and crazier. He was the person responsible for the Wildfire hidden around King’s Landing and he is the one who Jaime Lannister – the Kingslayer – stabbed in the back because he threatened to “burn them all” as Robert’s forces were surrounding the Red Keep.
Aerys, in true Targaryen fashion, married his sister Rhaella and together, they had three children, Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys.
Queen Rhaella was the daughter of Aegon V and the younger sister of her husband Aerys. Keeping that bloodline pure! Purely crazy, maybe. She was also the mother of Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys. It is said that she wasn’t happy in her marriage and that The Mad King could get violent with her at times.
Not much else is known about Rhaella except that sometime during Robert’s Rebellion, after her eldest son Rhaegar was killed fighting Robert at The Trident, she fled the capital back to Dragonstone, where she died giving birth to her youngest daughter, Daenerys, in the midst of a huge storm. This occurred some time after her husband was killed by Jaime Lannister in King’s Landing.
Her two living children, Viserys and Daenerys were secretly snuck off Dragonstone and across the Narrow Sea by men loyal to the Targaryens, where they would be raised in secret, away from the murderous tendencies of the new king, Robert Baratheon.
Daenerys Targaryen (The Dragon Queen)
Game Of Thrones fans are of course very familiar with Daenerys Targaryen, played wonderfully by Emilia Clarke, whose full title is so easy for everyone to remember: Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons. The parts that are important to Westeros in there are the “House Targaryen,” “Queen of The Andels and the First Men,” “Protector of the Realm,” and “Regent of the Seven Kingdoms.”
When the show began, Dany, as she is known to her real fans, was second in line to the thrown in the Targaryen line. As the youngest daughter of Aerys and Rhaella, she was behind her older brother, Viserys. Their older brother Rhaegar was already dead by the time Dany was born, and she was one of the last two Targaryens seemingly left. She is also, of course, the aunt of Jon Snow, but we’ll get to that a little later.
Over the years, Dany’s power grew as her followers grew, The Dothraki, The Unsullied, The people of Mereen, Jorah Mormont, and eventually Jon Snow all saw her as their queen. She was breaker of chains, freer of slaves, the most righteous leader the world had ever seen. Or was she? Maybe her coin flipped the wrong direction, too.
Born many years after his older brother Rhaegar, when Game Of Thrones began, Viserys Targaryen (played by Harry Lloyd) saw himself as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. He was smuggled away from Westeros with his sister Daenerys and raised to be king.
The problem was, he wasn’t a very good leader, he wasn’t well liked, and he was quite psychopathic. Like Varys said, you never knew what side the coin would fall on. His coin fell on the bad side.
He didn’t last long either. Viserys never seemed to understand that his divine birthright meant nothing to the Dothraki and he WAY overstepped his bounds by carrying a weapon in Vaes Dothrak.
As a result, Dany’s husband, Khal Drogo, whom Viserys had traded Dany to, melted down Viserys’ fine gold jewelry and poured the molten gold on his head, giving him a crown, but not the one he wanted. With Viserys’ death, Daenerys became the last Targaryen on earth. Or so she thought.
Rhaegar Targaryen was the eldest son of The Mad King, Aerys II. He was the true heir to the throne before Robert’s Rebellion and the cause of the rebellion. Throughout most of the show’s history, it was believed that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. The supposed kidnapping is what sparked Robert’s Rebellion, and ultimately brought an end to the Targaryen dynasty. That wasn’t what really happened.
The truth is that Rhaegar, though he was married to Elia Martell and had two children with her, had his marriage with her annulled and secretly married Lyanna Stark, with whom he was in love. (She was also in love with him.) Following their marriage there was the rebellion, and Robert defeated and killed Rhaegar at the Battle of the Trident. There, Ned located his sister at The Tower Of Joy as she was giving birth to her child with Rhaegar.
Just before she died from the trauma of the birth, she told Ned the truth about the child and told him his name, Aegon Targaryen. Ned, having promised his dying sister he would protect the baby and knowing that any child of Rhaegar’s would be killed by Robert Baratheon, quickly made up his mind to claim the child as his own bastard child and renamed him Jon Snow.
Rhaenys And Aegon Targaryen
Before Rhaeger annulled his marriage with Elia Martell, they had two children together, a daughter named Rhaenys and a son named Aegon. Elia, Rhaenys and Aegon were all killed, brutally, by The Mountain, a Lannister loyalist during Robert’s Rebellion. This happened during the Sack Of King’s Landing.
As fans of Game Of Thrones know, her death inspired one of the best fights in the show’s history when Elia’s brother Oberyn, played brilliantly by Pedro Pascal, attempted to exact revenge for their rape and murder in a battle to the death with The Mountain. Oberyn also happened to be fighting for the life of Tyrion Lannister, who was accused of murdering Joffrey Baratheon. Oberyn was killed by The Mountain but not before poisoning him, which led to The Mountain become The Zombie Mountain and Cersei Lannister’s loyal subject.
Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen)
For many years, both on Game Of Thrones and in the books, the accepted story was that Jon Snow was Ned Stark’s bastard, conceived during Robert’s Rebellion and brought back to Winterfell by Ned. Also for years, book-readers especially had a theory that Jon Snow was not actually Ned’s bastard. R+L=J was a code that book readers (and eventually show watchers) used to represent the theory.
So what is R+L=J? It’s the truth. Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon. But he’s wasn’t really Jon Snow (Snow being the surname given to all bastard born in The North). He was really Aegon Targayen, sixth of his name, and heir to the Iron Throne. As the only living son of the true Targaryen heir, Jon/Aegon became the true heir, with a better claim than anyone, including his aunt, Daenerys Targaryen.
Maester Aemon Targaryen
There was one more Targaryen in Game Of Thrones who is worth mentioning: Maester Aemon Targaryen, who served Castle Black as a sworn member of Night’s Watch. He was the brother of Aegon V, who was Daenerys’ grandfather and Jon Snow’s great-grandfather, making Maester Aemon Jon’s great-great uncle. Aemon gave up all claims to his family’s wealth and power when he took “The Black.”
So that’s it, the Targaryen family tree as it’s known on Game Of Thrones. Dany, as the sister of Jon’s real father, Rhaegar, is actually Jon’s aunt and while the Targaryens have long inbred to keep the bloodline pure, Jon and Dany’s incestual relationship has been problematic, to say the least.
How will it all shake out? Who will have the better claim to the Iron Thrown when the show wraps up? You’ll have to tune in Sunday night for one of the most anticipated series finales of all time when HBO’s Game Of Thrones concludes.