daemon targaryen sitting on the iron throne (left) and rhaenyra targaryen (right) in house of the dragon

Ollie Upton/HBO

Delving into ‘House of the Dragon’s tangled Targaryen family tree

A who's who of a different era in Westeros.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 19, 2022   Updated on Aug 18, 2022, 4:02 pm CDT

The interwoven family history at the center of Game of Thrones was twisted and tangled enough to keep us entertained for years, but House of the Dragon might just give it a run for its money.

Set nearly 200 years before the start of Game of Thrones and based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon zeroes in on an era when House Targaryen, Westeros’ ruling family (which can trace its ancestry back to old Valyria), ruled supreme. While the show probably won’t cover the entirety of the book, which chronicles roughly 150 years of Targaryen history, the decades that it’ll likely cover in the leadup to the Dance of the Dragons and the Targaryen civil war itself (about a third of the book) are violent, bloody, and full of so much interconnectedness it can be hard to keep track of everyone at first.

And that’s in a literal sense, well before Daenerys Targaryen tries her hand at conquering Westeros. Throughout Fire & Blood, numerous characters are products of incest, partake in incest, and arrange incestuous marriages for their children. Many of those pairings are siblings, but you’d also see uncles wed to nieces, aunts married to nephews, and first cousins tied together; the last one is a bit more common among other noble families, such as Tyrion Lannister’s parents. But several generations into the Targaryen family practice, it gets even more complex; for one character far down the line, his father is also his great-uncle.

A long and sanctioned Targaryen tradition

Even for a series that featured two major incestuous relationships at its center—Cersei and Jaime Lannister (twin siblings), and Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow (aunt and nephew, respectively, the former whose parents were also siblings)—House of the Dragon has a lot of incest in it. For House Targaryen, it’s a feature, not a bug. In the days before dragons went extinct, the Targaryens were dragonriders, and you needed Targaryen blood to ride them without being burned alive in the attempt; dragon eggs were often placed in the cradles of Targaryen children.

As Archmaester Gyldayn, the in-universe author of Fire & Blood, wrote:

“The tradition amongst the Targaryens had always been to marry kin to kin. Wedding brother to sister was thought to be ideal. Failing that, a girl might wed an uncle, a cousin, or a nephew, a boy a cousin, aunt, or niece. This practice went back to Old Valyria, where it was common amongst many of the ancient families, particularly those who bred and rode dragons. The blood of the dragon must remain pure, the wisdom went.”

However, the rest of Westeros—both people who worshipped the old gods and those who subscribed to the Faith of the Seven—saw incest as a terrible sin. They accepted it for Aegon the Conqueror (who married both his sisters), but when it came to his sons and some of their descendants, they weren’t as tolerant; they were even less tolerant of polygamy, a move that one of Aegon’s sons who became king tried to do. The particulars of that conflict are lengthy and bloody, but for House of the Dragon, all you need to know is that the Faith—the most popular religion in the realm—adopted a policy in which its leaders affirmed that incest was still an egregious sin. But, Gyldayn wrote, “with this caveat: the Targaryens were different,” attributing those differences to the Targaryens’ Valyrian heritage, customs, looks (e.g. the white-blond/almost silver hair), and the fact that they rode dragons.

By the time we get to House of the Dragon’s timeline, it’s more or less an accepted practice for House Targaryen and the realm. Certain characters might not like who they’re told to marry or rebel to marry a family member that others disapprove of instead, but the characters in House of the Dragon aren’t going to get killed just for committing incest (or, in Bran Stark’s case, pushed out of a window for discovering it).

So who are we dealing with? While we’ll avoid revealing character fates or the outcome of the upcoming war—if you really want to know, A Wiki of Ice and Fire can give you the answers—here’s a small window into who you need to know, along with, when it applies, their dragon. Many of the characters we’re introduced to upfront, along with their descendants, are dragonriders.

Warning: The family tree below contains spoilers for Fire & Blood, elements of which may or may not play out exactly as depicted in House of the Dragon.

Who’s Who: House Targaryen edition

Viserys I Targaryen

Dragon: Balerion the Black Dread (deceased)

Viserys (Paddy Considine) is the fifth king of the Seven Kingdoms. Ruling during a time of peace, he’s not exactly interested in stirring the pot, which can just as easily lay the foundation for future conflict. He was the last Targaryen to ride Balerion, the dragon that Aegon the Conqueror rode when conquering Westeros and the last dragon to have been alive before Valyria’s fall.

Viserys’ rise to power is an unusual one. The previous king, Jaehaerys I Targaryen, sat on the Iron Throne for 55 years, and in 101 AC (after the conquest), it wasn’t immediately clear who would succeed him. All of Jaehaerys’ sons were dead—minus one son who was an archmaester, was uninterested in ruling the Seven Kingdoms, and might be cut from the show—so the question of succession went to the next generation. Jaehaerys held a meeting at Harrenhal attended by over 1,000 lords, known as the Great Council of 101 AC, and allowed them to take on the matter. While several candidates were considered, only a couple really had any weight: Viserys, the eldest son of Jaeharys’ son Baelon, was chosen. But the meeting, in the eyes of some, appeared to set the precedent: A man’s claim will always take precedence over a woman’s, even if she and her kin are descendants of an elder son.

Daemon Targaryen

Dragon: Caraxes

Daemon (Matt Smith) is Viserys’ hotheaded younger brother and heir to the Iron Throne. He’s given different positions on the small council (including the head of the city watch) and has a wife in Rhea Royce, but he cannot stand her. He often clashes with Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the hand of the king, during those meetings, and he’s a skilled fighter.

Rhaenyra Targaryen

Dragon: Syrax

Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock as a child, Emma D’Arcy as an adult) is the daughter of Viserys and his first wife Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke). She serves as cupbearer for her father but finds herself in the unlikely position of being appointed Viserys’ heir after Daemon says something insensitive.

Who’s Who: House Velaryon edition

Corlys Velaryon

Also known as the Sea Snake, Corlys (Steve Toussaint) is the head of one of the wealthiest houses in Westeros—and one with ties to Valyria. (When Targaryens can’t marry each other, they often turn to House Velaryon.) In his youth, Corlys made nine trips to Essos, where he gained riches and traveled to the far reaches of the known world. During the Great Council, he supported his wife Rhaenys’ (Eve Best) claim to the Iron Throne (through her father Aemon, who was older than Baelon), but they passed over her for Viserys.

He serves as master of ships on Viserys’ small council and is not someone to be trifled with.

Rhaenys Targaryen

Dragon: Meleys

After she’s passed over to rule Westeros during the Great Council in favor of her cousin, Rhaenys became known as “The Queen Who Never Was.” She never got over that dose of reality, something she tries to pass onto Rhaenyra when she’s accepted as heir. Her two children with Corlys are Laena and Laenor Velaryon.

Who’s Who: Other major players in House of the Dragon

Otto Hightower

Otto, like much of Viserys’ small council, largely has the realm’s best interest at heart. But like many of the hands of the king we witnessed on Game of Thrones, he also has his own agenda up his sleeves, ready to dish out when the opportunity arises.

Alicent Hightower

With her father serving as Viserys’ hand, Alicent (Emily Carey as a child, Olivia Cooke as an adult) is Rhaenyra’s childhood friend who offers a sympathetic ear to the king—and later forges a connection.


Also known as Lady Misery, Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) is a former sex worker from the free city of Lys who becomes Daemon’s mistress and confidant—and whose potential to influence events is great.

Ser Criston Cole

With familial ties to Dorne—which is not yet part of the Seven Kingdoms—Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) quickly proves his worth in a King’s Landing tourney by besting the man considered to be the best knight and fighter in the Seven Kingdoms.

House of the Dragon premieres on Aug. 21.

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*First Published: Aug 19, 2022, 6:30 am CDT