From Dance of Dragons to TV: A Brief History of House Targaryen

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: April 21, 2024
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Targaryens: A Dance of Dragons and Fire
A banner showing the Targaryen sigil of a three-headed dragon above a castle.

While the enigmatic Daemon believes that dragons made the Targaryens kings, there was so much more to the reigning dynasty that put them a cut above the rest. The majestic beasts were not so easily tamed, but the old Valyrian blood in the Targaryens made the impossible happen. House Targaryen are known for turning tricky situations to their advantage and using their cunning to consolidate control. Neither luck nor mere fate made the Targaryens the longest-ruling dynasty in Westeros. It was sheer grit, burning ambition, and a hunger for more that helped them push boundaries. 

The history of the Targaryens spans centuries as time is blurred in battles, betrayals, and bloodshed. When the family members were not busy fighting amongst themselves, they were facing bigger threats from the outside. The Targaryens have braved the passage of time to remain powerful and in touch with their vast legacy. Here’s a breakdown of the past, present, and future of the mighty Targaryens that will help you understand the nuances of the dynasty better. 

The Valyrian Targaryens

Daemon is right, dragons did make the Targaryens kings. But a dream ensured their survival. And how would they have been kings if they had not survived? Let’s take a trip down the dream lane.

Daenys the Dreamer saw in a haze the town of Valyria burning hot red with ashes twinkling like stars in the sky above. She foresaw the Doom of Valyria and encouraged her family to move out of the peninsula, leaving behind one of the most sophisticated civilizations in the world back then. We’re well aware of the value and power of Valyrian steel. 

Daenys’ dream saved the Targaryens from the cataclysm of Valyria. Thus, they became the only dragon-riding family after Valyria fell, and could share the history of the great place with the world. Armed with great heritage from Valyria and the power to tame dragons, the Targaryens soon rose to unparalleled power. After crossing the Narrow Sea, the family settled in Dragonstone, the place that would go on to become their ancestral home. 

Years after settling in their new home, Aegon I decided he wanted more, nudged forward by a dream that spoke to him. He couldn’t just sit in a castle and let his ambition die a slow death. Instead, he chose to take his sister-wives on dragonback and conquer the West. He forged Westeros with Fire and Blood and set up the Iron Throne along with a dynasty that would go on to reign for centuries. 

Events of House of the Dragon

Targaryens: A Dance of Dragons and Fire

Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon | Image via HBO

HBO’s House of the Dragon dives into the history of House Targaryen and its members way before the events depicted in Game of Thrones. The foundations are based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, and while the show is influenced by the novel, ample creative license has been taken in the adaptation. 

It might upset some loyal fans of the books, but the show works towards building on to the narrative rather than rushing the story or minimizing the crucial parts. For example, the primary difference lies in the perspective. Fire and Blood narrates the story of the Targaryens through Archmaesters, Septons, and Jesters. However, House of the Dragon showcases the events from a neutral perspective, adding the important aspects to maintain the sequentiality. 

Season 1

House of the Dragon builds on the events from Fire and Blood. Being a television show, it has the freedom to craft individual characters and how they must have sounded. The showrunners have given unique personalities to the Targaryens, making it easier for the masses to understand and resonate with their actions. 

Season 1 of House of the Dragon begins with the blossoming friendship between Rhaenyra and Alicent, an aspect ambiguously missing in the book. A smart decision on the creators’ part to show their close bond which ultimately sours and turns into the civil war of the century. It creates a more impactful hit for the viewers to witness such close friends fight with everything in their power (most importantly dragons) and spread waves of destruction and bloodshed across the realm. 

Targaryens: A Dance of Dragons and Fire

House of the Dragon | Image via HBO

Given the way Fire and Blood narrates the events, there is no way for us to know how each character would have felt or what thoughts they might have had while the story went on. However, House of the Dragon has a chance to adapt the story and give each character a unique voice and personality. The scene where we first understand Rhaenyra’s will and confidence is when she negotiates the dragon egg’s return from Daemon at Dragonstone. This incident is not in the book but proves to be a thoughtful gateway into the Princess’s fierce persona.

House the Dragon takes a firm stance in showing the events from one perspective as opposed to different ones in Fire and Blood. This enables them to choose the sequence and events in the narrative that fit more suitably. An exceptional example of such decision-making is seen when Viserys dismisses Otto as the Hand of the King. The book mentions this event after Otto urges Viserys to name Alicent’s son as next in line for the throne. However, the show charts its own path and adds Rhaenyra to the twist to build tension between all the parties involved.

What more to expect?

The wait for Season 2 of House of the Dragon might have felt like forever, but the Dance of the Dragons will play out on our screens in just a scant couple of months. The Targaryen civil war will be a violent turning point in the saga.

The plot details of the second season have predictably been kept under wraps, but what we know for sure is that alongside the Targaryens will be some new houses and members added to the show’s cast. The two sides will rally their allies and summon the armies in the showdown of the century. 

The suspense is albeit limited, unlike with Game of Thrones, which GRRM was still writing when the show aired. Fire and Blood is a completed project, so people who have read the book already know how it ends. But there were plenty of tweaks in the first season, so even those familiar with the material shouldn’t be too certain they know where things are going.

Rebuilding the Targaryen Name in Game of Thrones

Targaryens: A Dance of Dragons and Fire

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones | Image via HBO

Game of Thrones is set way after House of the Dragon, so our first experiences with the complicated Targaryen family tree represented the family’s future. And our first glimpse isn’t entirely positive, since it’s of Viserys and Daenerys, whose sibling relationship was a bit unhealthy — and that’s putting things mildly. But Jon Snow, aka Aegon Targaryen, wasn’t just the last legitimate heir to the Iron Throne but also fits the archetypal hero mold well, which helps to give the Targaryen name a bit more of a good guy contour. 

During the first few seasons, we believe that Daenerys is the last surviving Targaryen, and her claim to the throne makes her easy to root for since we see her suffer all kinds of injustices along the way. Her journey from the East is long and tedious, and she suffers insults, violence, the loss of her husband, and even chains, which makes her grow irritable and restless. Her counsel urges her to have patience but Daenerys feels like she has been placid for too long. 

Soon, her anger rears its ugly head and Daenerys burns King’s Landing to the ground. It appears that the family gene catches up to her and even she does not realize when her ambition takes its last breath and madness rises from the ashes. 

Aegon, on the other hand, is everything a Targaryen should have been in that era. Perfect to claim the Iron Throne, he is smart, brave, and passionate about helping people. All these qualities make him an admirable heir to the throne. However, like his father Rhaegar, he has no interest in power or politics. He had the chance to make the Targaryen name great again, but he chose to give way to Bran, the keeper of stories. 

Features, RSC Originals, TV
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