House of the Dragon Revitalizes the World of Westeros


Emma DeWees

Targaryen Family Tree

Valar morghūlis. All men must die. This high Valyrian statement was the most predominant theme within House of the Dragon, a Game of Thrones prequel set 172 years before Daenerys Targaryen’s birth—the Queen in Game of Thrones. It features her sixth great-grandmother—Rhaenyra Targaryen’s struggle with her half-brother in an attempt to become the queen of the seven kingdoms. Based on George R. R. Martin’s book Fire and Blood, it stars Emma D’Arcy and Milly Alcock as the older and younger versions of Princess Rhaenyra. This TV adaptation has quickly become a hit, delivering HBO’s biggest premiere to date, and even outperforming Game of Thrones’ numbers when it made its debut.

House of the Dragon dives deeply into Targaryen history and the slow death of a prevalent house through a civil war filled with bloodshed. House of the Dragon originates from George R.R. Martin’s 2018 novel Fire and Blood. Fire and Blood primarily covers House Targaryen’s story beginning with one of the Targaryen kings, Aegon the Conqueror’s reign, and then following the rise of the five kings after him. The book ends with the Targaryen civil war called the “Dance of Dragons” which House of the Dragon brings to life.

The show immediately dives into the patriarchal world of Westeros as
Rhaenyra’s father, King Viserys, hopes for a newborn boy to become the next heir to the iron throne. However, things did not turn out as planned and Viserys named his firstborn child, Rhaenyra, as the heir to the iron throne. He knew that his decision would cause mayhem in the kingdoms as Westeros would not recognize a woman as the future queen. Against all odds, Viserys still named Rhaenyra as his heir. This type of love and favoritism was rare in this time period. Daughters were not recognized as heirs but as tools for political alliances, where they can be married off for political benefits. Viserys on the other hand allows Rhaenyra to choose her suitor, another thing unheard of in Westeros during this time period. Viserys’ favoritism and love for Rhaenyra became more apparent as he refused to recognize that Rhaenyra’s children were illegitimate. This is yet another taboo of this time period even though it was painfully apparent that her children’s father was not Rhaenyra’s husband Laenor but rather another knight.

Rhaenyra had not received much support from the public after being
named heir. The public constantly questioned her authority and claim to the throne because she was a woman. This was especially heightened when King Viserys remarried Rhaenyra’s best friend, Alicent, and fathered his first son Aegon. Her struggle to become Queen clearly became much more difficult. The Houses that pledged their allegiance to Rhaenyra for Queen slowly turned on her to pledge their allegiance to Aegon. Ultimately when the “Dance of Dragons” did occur, Rhaenyra’s allies dwindled.

Alicent, Hightower—enemy, stepmother, and sister-in-law of Rhaenyra Targaryen. Before all of that, they were friends. Rhaenyra never had someone in her life who completely understood her. Her father neglected her before he named her heir because she was not a son, and her mother, Aemma, wanted her daughter to follow the patriarchal norms of the world. Alicent was the one who Rhaenyra confided in which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Alicent and Rhaenyra’s relationship starts to sour. Viserys married Alicent because he had come to love her, and not just for the benefit of the kingdom. The interests of whoever would be Viserys’s wife would always conflict with Rhaenyra’s, and seeing her best friend choose to be her father’s wife was an unforgivable betrayal to her.

Since Alicent’s first-born with Viserys is a boy, he became a challenge to Rhaenyra’s claim as heir to the iron throne. Sides form all throughout Westeros. Team Green for Aegon and Team Black for Rhaenyra. Alicent, unable to see Rhaenyra other than an enemy to her family and her son’s throne, constantly finds one way or another to hurt Rhaenyra. Rhaenyra and Alicent never wanted to get into this rivalry together, but they were driven by the patriarchy in their house, and by the men in their lives. Alicent, by her father, and Rhaenyra, by her second husband and uncle, Daemon Targaryen. The relationship between both women is so complex. They started as friends, moved to a step-mother and step-daughter relationship, and eventually became rivals. At the beginning of the show, it seems almost infeasible that Rhaenyra and Alicent would be anything but best friends. The show does an amazing job at depicting their souring relationship due to Westeros politics, and yet filling their relationship with glimmers of love and respect that was prevalent between them at the start of the show. The development is very well designed and constantly makes the viewer question whether Rhaenyra and Alicent would eventually become friends again. CHS junior, Sophia Sneed also enjoyed this friendship in the show.

“I haven’t read the books so I was super shocked when Rhaenyra and Alicent stopped being friends,” Sneed said. “I loved their friendship so much in the beginning because at times it was like Alicent was the only one who was there for Rhaenyra.”

Throughout the show, it is apparent that the families in Westeros do not marry outside of their bloodline. The Targaryens in particular did not try to marry and birth children outside their bloodline not only for politics but to also keep their blood pure. Targaryens wanted to keep their blood pure since they had the blood of the dragon. Due to this, they were able to sire and bond with dragons. The incest aspect of the show is by far one of the weirdest parts. In one way or another, almost everyone in the Targaryen family tree is related in more than one way. It is meant to elicit uneasiness within the viewers, but also depict the circumstances and the reasons why decisions like these were made. CHS freshman, Fiona Wu shared many of the same sentiments.

“I love the show and what it represents for a woman-led world, but the incest aspect of the House of the Dragon was so weird to me, and to be honest it is still is,” Wu said. “I thought it was super disgusting, but it also kind of made sense because of the storyline and the history behind the family.”

Targaryen history with dragons is an interesting one. It is one of the main reasons why House of the Dragon is such an interesting show. The fictional Valyrian history embedded into the storyline is highly detailed and consists of great world-building which makes it hard for the viewer to not be engrossed in this fictional world. One aspect of the show that makes it particularly interesting is the implementation of dragons. Dragons are such an important part of the show because they are the center of House Targaryen’s power. Without the dragons, the Targaryens are just like any other House in Westeros. They would not possess the same power as they did with the Dragons which serves as an illusion to show that the Targaryens are closer to God than they are to men.

Dragons were prolific years ago in Old Valyria, an ancient city on the continent of Essos. They became strongly bonded to the Valyrians, who tamed them over centuries. Valyrians created a powerful empire called the Valyrian Freehold with the use of dragons but it came crashing down with the Doom of Valyria. The cause of this apocalyptic event is unknown, but volcanoes erupted killing almost all dragons and people. However, the Targaryens, a family of dragon lords escaped the Doom and fled Valyria. Aegon Targaryen, who was King Viserys’ great-great grandfather, wanted to rule Westeros and he eventually took over Essos with his sister-wives Visenya and Rhaenys with dragons. Aegon became the first king of the Seven Kingdoms and is known as Aegon the Conqueror, ultimately giving rise to those after him.

Despite any amount of disgust one might have towards elements of the show, House of the Dragon truly is a remarkable series. A show that is completely free to include flashy dragons in every episode and rely on them for thrill appeal instead chooses to have its most dramatic moments happen quietly in bedchambers and at dinner parties. The misunderstandings and loss of communication between old friends were more devastating than any amount of dragonfire. Despite any faults of the show, including frustrating plot points and disturbing relationships, the episodes are able to hit where it hurts and that’s what makes the endings so memorable.