In this article:
- The Dance of the Dragons is a civil war between members of House Targaryen set years before the events of House of the Dragon, HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones prequel series.
- The Dance begins with the death of King Viserys I who appointed and raised his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra, to be his heir.
- Despite being the first born and being legally eligible to be queen, Rhaenyra was challenged by her brother, Aegon II, leading to a succession crisis that forces House Targaryen into two main factions: the Blacks and the Greens.
Dragons are cool and all, but what really set Game of Thrones apart when it was first aired was the political intrigue and irreverent cruelty it displayed toward its own main characters. And that’s exactly what we’re getting back with the upcoming release of HBO’s House of the Dragon, a prequel series that tells the story of a Targaryen civil war centuries before the events of the main show.
But if you were confused the first time around, when everyone had different surnames, you’re going to find House of the Dragon even harder because everyone is a Targaryen.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Dance of the Dragons so you don’t have to pause the show every ten minutes.
What Started the Dance of the Dragons?
The Dance of the Dragons happens 129 years after Aegon I’s Conquest of Westeros and 200 years before Game of Thrones.
It was a civil war born from the political scheming of Queen Dowager Alicent Hightower who wanted her son, Aegon II, to be king.
Before King Viserys I Targaryen died, he had already declared and raised his eldest child, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, to be his heir. In the trailer for House of the Dragon, we see King Viserys ordering the lords of the Seven Kingdoms to swear their loyalty to him and his Rhaenyra, who they acknowledge as his heir.
Viserys I knew that many lords would oppose Rhaenyra because Westerosi culture favored male primogeniture, meaning that only eldest sons could be declared heirs, followed by their brothers in birth order and then sisters in birth order.
So why did Viserys I name Rhaenyra as his heir?
A few years before the Dance of the Dragons, the previous king Jaehaerys I passed a law known as the “Widow’s Law” at the urging of his wife, Good Queen Alysanne.
Now, Alysanne and Jaeherys I were known for their progressive approach to governance. They had no problems appointing lowborn commoners to office or holding women’s courts where Alysanne would act as a judge on women’s concerns.
These women’s courts led Alysanne to realize how common it was for widows to be driven into poverty by the heirs of her husband after his death. The Widow’s Law was meant to change that while still protecting the interests of the first wife by:
- Making it illegal to kick out a lord’s widow from his home and strip her of property.
- Forbidding men from disinheriting their children from the first wife and/or the wife herself in favor of subsequent wives and their children.
It just so happens that Viserys I’s first wife wasn’t Alicent Hightower but Aemma Arryn, the mother of Princess Rhaenyra. Aemma and Viserys I had no surviving sons, making Rhaenyra his eldest heir by his first wife which put Rhaenyra at the top of the succession order.
After Aemma Arryn died in childbirth, Viserys I began to train Rhaenyra to be queen and would even make her part of his small council so that she could learn how to rule.
Aside from having a legal reason to name Rhaenyra his heir, Viserys I was waging a political war against the growing influence of House Hightower and the ambitions of his brother, Daemon, to become king.
Both his wife and hand were Hightowers and held significant influence in court. Meanwhile, Prince Daemon made it clear he thought he would be king, going as far as to call Viserys’s dead baby son an “heir for a day.”
By making Rhaenyra heir, he could stabilize his rule and keep Westeros firmly within Targaryen hands.
Unfortunately for him, Rhaenyra wasn’t in Dragonstone when he died. Alicent Hightower hid his death and left him to rot in his bed for days. This gave the Hightowers time to crown Aegon II as king against Viserys’ will.
But they didn’t have Viserys’ crown because Rhaenyra’s supporters had already brought it to Dragonstone to crown her as queen.
Who’s Who in House of the Dragon?: A 101 on the Families and Factions Involved in the Dance of the Dragons
The House of the Dragon trailer may have shown us a few of the houses involved, but not the actual division between the Greens and the Blacks.
The Greens were Aegon II’s faction or, to be more accurate, Alicent Hightower’s faction. It was backed by House Hightower, House Lannister, House Redwyne, House Strong, and Lord Commander Criston Cole of the Kingsguard.
Aside from obvious reasons, a number of these houses joined the Greens out of fear that Rhaenyra’s rule would allow their sisters and other female relatives to dispute their inheritance.
The Blacks were Rhaenyra’s faction and her main supporters were House Velaryon, Prince Daemon, House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, House Arryn, and multiple other houses in the Crownlands and the Reach including House Tarly.
And Rhaenyra had the dragons.
Out of nearly twenty dragons involved in the Dance of the Dragons, only four of them were aligned with the Greens and King Aegon.
The rest were all Rhaenyra’s.
Because she was named heir, Rhaenyra not only became heir to the Iron Throne but became the Princess of Dragonstone, the castle where House Targaryen’s dragons are all hatched and raised.
The Greens had Vhagar, an ancient dragon that fought in Aegon’s Conquest with Queen Visenya, Tessarion, Dreamfyre, and Sunfyre. Sunfyre was an exceptionally powerful dragon known for having golden scales. It was ridden by Aegon II.
The Blacks had Rhaenyra’s Syrax, Caraxes, Vermax, Arrax, Tyraxes, Stormcould, Meleys, Moondancer, Seasmoke, Verthimor, Silverwing, and Sheepstealer.
Basically, Rhaenyra had all the nukes. But Prince Daemon’s involvement with the Blacks meant that Rhaenyra suddenly had more enemies than she expected.
Daemon had a reputation for cruelty and an appetite for power. He had enemies all over Westeros and to Essos so when the Greens came knocking for help, the Triarchy of Myr, Lys, and Tyrosh gave them a massive fleet.
Why the Targaryen Civil War Marks the Death of Dragons in Westeros
House Targaryen’s house words are “Fire and Blood,” a nod to the only reason they managed to gain and hold onto power in the years after Aegon’s Conquest.
If it weren’t for dragons, House Targaryen would have never managed to get the Seven Kingdoms under their rule because as foreign invaders, they had limited resources and no local support.
Dorne is proof of this because even during the events of Game of Thrones, Dorne remains more or less independent from the rest of Westeros, mostly thanks to the guerilla war they waged against House Targaryen during the Conquest.
But because of the Dance of the Dragons, House Targaryen pretty much hit the self-destruct button on their strongest weapon and slapped a ticking time-bomb on their dynasty.
The Dance was the first and only war in Westerosi history to have dragons on both sides, resulting in many dragons’ death during the Targaryen civil war. The few dragons during the Dance that didn’t die fled and were never seen again.
At the same time, competing factions were able to weaken the near-absolute power that the Targaryens had on the realm, allowing different houses to plant the seeds of power that would only come to fruition during Game of Thrones.
That, and the last dragon died shortly after the Dance of the Dragons.
Unlike previous dragons we know of, the last dragon is never named and was born during the reign of a ruler who succeeded the one who won the Dance.
This new ruler was left traumatized by the Dance of the Dragons which led them to hate dragons. In the books, it’s said that this person would fly into a rage if anyone mentioned dragons in their presence.
Their hatred of dragons led to the suspicion that they poisoned the last dragon, a green she-dragon who was described as having “withered wings” and other deformities.
Is House of the Dragon Worth Watching?
Only time will tell whether House of the Dragon is worth watching so we’ll all find out on July 12. But it’s understandable if you’re on the fence about watching it after the terrible reception that Game of Thrones‘ ending had.
Right now, there’s a good chance that House of the Dragon will turn out great or at least, better than most historical fantasy shows we’ve seen in the years after Game of Thrones.
The first reason is that House of the Dragon has complete pre-existing material to base its story on.
Game of Thrones, meanwhile, had to start tying up loose plot threads and creating a tidy-ish conclusion when it became clear that George RR Martin wasn’t going to release the next book in A Song of Ice and Fire, Winds of Winter — let alone the final book planned for the series, A Dream of Spring — anytime soon.
Not only does House of the Dragon have bits of lore from A Song of Ice and Fire to draw inspiration from, but the book based on the Dance of the Dragons, Fire & Blood, is already finished.
All that’s left for House of the Dragon to do is to color inside the lines of a completed plot.
Secondly, House of the Dragon has a lot of great actors in its cast. As we’ve seen in the trailer, they have Paddy Considine playing King Viserys I, Olivia Cooke playing Alicent Hightower, Emma D’Arcy playing Princess Rhaenyra, and Matt Smith, who you might remember from Doctor Who, The Crown, and Last Night in Soho, playing Prince Daemon.
The third reason, and the one that fans of the original Game of Thrones might need to hear most of all, is that House of the Dragon has a completely different team of writers.
That said, it’s possible that House of the Dragon is going to take more creative liberties with the source material than its predecessor, especially considering that both the Blacks and the Greens are difficult to side with in the original book, they’re both pretty evil.