Before Jaime Lannister brought King Aerys II’s reign to an end by stabbing him in the back with his sword, House Targaryen had been running the Seven Kingdoms for more than three centuries. The dragon-loving house is known for taking what is theirs with fire and blood (and more fire), and that is a tradition the last known surviving Targaryen, Daenerys Stormborn, is keeping alive and well. Now that the Dragon Queen is finally back in Westeros and settling in at her ancestral home of Dragonstone, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at the major players in the Targaryen family, including the ones who are still impacting the story despite being dead for quite some time.
The two most significant Targaryens on Game of Thrones are hands down Daenerys and Jon Snow, even though Jon still has no idea that his parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Even though they’re two Targaryens alone in the world, the impact of their ancestors’ legacy is still being felt all across the Seven Kingdoms. As season seven moves Daenerys into position to take her rightful place on the Iron Throne, it’s time to refresh your memory on the complex history of her great but sometimes mad House.
Born on Dragonstone during a raging storm, Daenerys holds the distinction of being the last Targaryen to be born in her family’s ancestral castle. Shortly after her birth and the death of her mother, Rhaella, Daenerys and her older brother Viserys were taken across the Narrow Sea, out of Robert Baratheon’s reach. When she comes of age, her brother trades her to Khal Drogo in exchange for his vast Dothraki army. Unfortunately for Viserys, Daenerys realizes her potential to be a great leader, and after Drogo murders her brother, she begins her ascent as a queen and the Mother of Dragons.
Seven seasons later and Daenerys has a vast army of her own, thanks to liberating most of the slave cities and gaining the loyalty of key Houses, like Greyjoy and Tyrell, and three dragons. She’s ready to bring the Seven Kingdoms back under Targaryen rule, but first she’s going to have to go through Cersei Lannister.
As terrible as he is, Viserys plays an important role in Daenerys’s early life. Her big brother is her only family until he sells her into marriage with Khal Drogo. Unlike Daenerys, he never proves himself to have any skill as a leader. Instead, he’s petulant and abusive toward his sister until Drogo gives him the golden crown he longs for. Despite their tumultuous relationship, Daenerys loved her brother, and she even names one of her dragons Viserion in his honor.
Jon believes he’s Ned Stark’s bastard son, but the King in the North is actually the product of an affair between Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark and Daenerys’s brother Rhaegar. In season six’s Tower of Joy scenes, Bran Stark witnesses his father promising Lyanna that he will protect Jon, and he did by raising his nephew as his son. Even though Jon still doesn’t have a legitimate claim to the crown, that may not matter to Daenerys if she ever finds out she’s not truly the last Targaryen after all. It’s unclear if she would be happy about this development or see Jon, who has so many followers of his own, as a threat to her power.
Prince Rhaegar has never appeared on screen, but his presence is felt throughout the series. The oldest son of Mad King Aerys II, Rhaegar is his heir and by all accounts, he is nearly universally beloved in the Seven Kingdoms until Robert’s Rebellion. A skilled fighter, Rhaegar plays a key role in upsetting Westeros’s political stability when he wins the Tourney at Harrenhal and gives his favor to Lyanna instead of his wife, Elia Martell. Shortly after the tourney, Rhaegar either abducts Lyanna or she willingly runs away with him, which spurs her brothers and her betrothed, Robert, to begin the war known as Robert’s Rebellion. Despite his abilities as a warrior, Rhaegar is said to have been killed during one-on-one combat with Robert.
Thanks to Rhaegar’s affair with Lyanna and his father’s madness, the Targaryens lost their three-centuries-long status as the Royal House of Westeros.
King Aerys II
Ah, the Mad King. Daenerys’s father has a reputation for being fire-crazy, but before he went around ordering his enemies to be burned, Aerys was actually a good king. It’s not until later in his reign that he begins to exhibit signs of madness and paranoia, leading Jaime to end his bloody rampage by murdering the king he swore an oath to protect. Of course, by this point, Aerys has already made Jaime watch as he orders the excessively violent executions of Ned Stark’s father and older brother (among others).
Before he goes completely insane, the Mad King swears he hears whispers. Some fans believe those whispers are a product of Bran Stark’s time-hopping, but his madness is just as likely to be the result of the Targaryen family’s long-held belief that the only way to keep their bloodline pure is to marry one another.
The second son of King Maekar I and Queen Dyanna (and uncle to Aerys), Aemon joins the Night’s Watch after his eldest brother dies. It’s an act of sacrifice on his part, because he joins to prevent people from pitting him against his younger brother, Aegon V. He becomes a maester and brother of the Night’s Watch, relinquishing his last name and any claim he may have ever had to the Iron Throne, so that his younger brother can become the uncontested king. By the time his great-nephew Jon Snow joins the Night’s Watch, most people no longer remember that Aemon is a Targaryen.
While he acts as a mentor to Jon, Aemon has no idea that the boy is his relative. He even confides in Samwell Tarly that he worries for Daenerys, because, “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.” Before his natural death of old age in season five, Maester Aemon casts the deciding vote to make Jon the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Although he’s only been mentioned in passing on the show, Jaehaerys is a name you should know. The fourth Targaryen king is known for being a kind and fair ruler. He even negotiates the end of the Faith Militant (the High Sparrow reassembles the group centuries later) and swears the Iron Throne will always protect the Faith, as long as they agree to stop condemning the incestuous actions of the Targaryens. Though he dies long before the events in Game of Thrones, this particular Targaryen may be significant as the story moves forward, or at least his name could be.
It’s believed by many fans that Jaehaerys is the name Lyanna whispers to Ned before her death. If that turns out to be true, then Jon Snow’s given name will be Jaehaerys Targaryen. His mother would surely be proud to know her son is already working hard to become a king as fair as his potential namesake.
Though there are only two Targaryens still alive, the impact of this one great House spans hundreds of years. As Daenerys and Jon wade further into the great game, the more you know about their family history, the better prepared you’ll be for what comes next for these two powerful characters.