As Published on February 23, 2022 (updated on May 5, 2022)
After revisiting the profile of Alicent Hightower, who will be one of the main antagonists in House of the Dragon, let’s talk about the official heir whose throne will be usurped by her half brother, Rhaenyra Targaryen. If Alicent is the new Cersei, Rhaenyra has a lot from her descendant, Daenerys. The civil conflict may have become known as A Dance of the Dragons, but it was undoubtedly one of the first installments of the War of the Queens.
Played by actresses Milly Alcock (who appears in the first trailer as the princess as a young girl) and Emma D’arcy (also in the trailer), Rhaenyra is the heart of every tragedy that is written because of a father’s love for his daughter, and of course, because of the Game of Thrones.
A princess who was “pure” Targaryen
Since always, the Targaryens used to marry each other, brothers, uncles, and cousins. Some outside houses were eventually incorporated into the family, but it is relevant to remember that Rhaenyra, as the daughter of Aemma and Viserys I, who loved each other, was effectively a 100% Targaryen princess.
As her brothers died young and her mother too, she was soon elevated to the position of favorite of the King, who did not stray from his only child. He loved her so much that he ignored the Law which demanded that only male heirs should claim the Iron Throne, a rule that made Viserys himself king in place of his cousin and presumably the rightful heiress, Rhaenys, the Queen who never was. And this is important!
Rhaenys was the daughter of the heir to the throne, Aemon, and third in rank. However, when his father died, his grandfather King Jaehaerys I chose another son, Baelon, to replace him, changing the bloodline. In his turn, as King, Viserys I, son of Baelon, named his daughter Rhaenyra his heir and his decision forever shook the fabric of the Targaryens. With this call, Viserys displeased his younger brother, Daemon, who we will talk about separately as he will be the main articulator of House of the Dragon. In addition to his brother, after remarrying and having sons, Viserys displeased his wife and children for insisting on keeping Rhaenyra as future Queen. He certainly was blind to reading the room.
The young woman was beautiful and liked by everyone, but unsurprisingly, some historians called her arrogant, spiteful, and stubborn too. Some say even envious and jealous of her stepmother, her old childhood friend, and possible rival in the affections of Uncle Daemon and Christon Cole. Vain, she was always in House Targaryen colors, jewelry, and elaborate hairstyles.
Her dragon was Syrax, which he learned to fly from when she was 7 years old. As she was always with her father, she soon learned about politics as she attended meetings. Some say that her passion for her uncle started in adolescence, others claim that it was her bodyguard, Ser Criston, who was the object of her first affection.
The first year of the marriage between Viserys I and Alicent apparently were one of peace among the women, but with the birth of the princes soon after, the pressure for men to be prioritized grew and the Court quickly divided between those who were faithful to the princess and those who supported the Queen, wearing black for Rhaenyra and green for Alicent.
Seduction, Marriage, and “Exile” in Dragonstone
The love stories about Rhaenyra are more open than Alicent’s. In common, apparently, was the seduction of the two still young by Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith). The scandal of having or not having an affair with her uncle contributed to two things: the breakup of Ser Criston and the subsequent marriage to Laenor Velaryon, Rhaenys’ son. Daemon was exiled from Westeros by Viserys. (all this is on the second trailer of the series)
Rhaenyra’s marriage to Laenor was not a happy one. He preferred the company of men and she was always accompanied by her bodyguard, Ser Harwin Strong. When her three children weren’t born blond like the Targaryens, or Velaryons, or dark like the Strongs, the feud between the Princess and the Queen gained steam. Alicent and the children revolted that one day the princess’s bastards could be crowned and the fights turned violent, with one of Alicent’s children going blind after a battle. George R. R. Martin says that because Rhaenyra gained weight after each pregnancy, without returning to her previous weight, she came to resent Alicent’s physical beauty, who remained thin even after three children. Since the age of 16, when the fights with Alicent were unbearable, Rhaenyra had lived in Dragonstone and so had spent the last few years of Viserys away from her father.
After being widowed and her lover killed, Rhaenyra married her uncle, Daemon, with whom she had two more children. Viserys I was disgusted by the news of the union but ended up making peace with his brother.
A cut, a lot of blood from a Civil War
Because of a foolish accident, after he cut his hand on one of the swords that formed the throne, Viserys I died suddenly (and suspiciously), prompting Queen Alicent to act. The official succession, promulgated by the King, said that Rhaenyra should ascend the Iron Throne, but Alicent, with the help of Ser Cole, concealed the news of her husband’s death and crowned her son, Aegon II, as King of Westeros.
Rhaenyra, of course, was disgusted. She was pregnant with her third child with Daemon when she learned of both Viserys’ death and Alicent’s coup, so she miscarried her daughter, wanting double revenge for her losses. She crowned herself in Dragonstone and the Kingdom was divided between those who respected her as Queen and those who saw Aegon II as King.
Increasingly paranoid, Rhaenyra’s short reign was marked by persecutions and executions. One of them eventually led the former father-in-law, Lord Corlys Velaryon, to switch sides in the Civil War, as well as other houses, just as the princess becomes a widow, with Daemon’s death in battle. Alicent’s daughter, Princess Helaena’s death, officially a suicide, turned public opinion against Rhaenyra who ended up fleeing King’s Landing. She was betrayed when she returned to Dragonstone and handed over to her half-brother, Aegon II. Without batting an eye, the King handed over Rhaenyra to be eaten alive by his dragon, Sunfyre. Her son was forced to watch the execution.
Ironically, Aegon II died a short time later, leaving no male heir. In this way, Rhaenyra’s youngest son, who saw her die, ascended the throne as Aegon III just a year after the conflict ended.
Daenerys and Rhaenyra, the Madness of Power
Like Daenerys, Rhaenrya will not handle the loss and isolation of Power well. Her advisors have other interests, such as Daemon who wants the Crown himself, and with each loss of a child, the less the Queen is centered. Also like Daenerys, she is betrayed by people close to her, contributing to excessive paranoia, which costs her life. innocent lives to the loyalty of important allies.
In the series Game of Thrones, Daenerys exerts Fear in people but envies the admiration and love they devote to Jon Snow, for example. Even Cersei has the support of the population. Rhaenyra will not burn King’s Landing, but it is in her reign that there will be a popular uprising and many dragons will be slain.
Rhaenyra’s realm will be chaotic, violent, and resentful. Still, she was the true Queen and all her destruction was a consequence of the ambition of others, but she who paid the price.