Rhaegar Targaryen‘s shadow looms large over the Game of Thrones series. Characters such as Cersei and Jaime Lannister, Robert Baratheon, and Ned Stark all look back on the events before Robert’s Rebellion with mixed feelings about him. Robert despises him, Cersei idealizes him as a prince charming, Jaime remembers betraying Rhaegar’s father, and Ned carries the secret about Rhaegar and the Tower of Joy to his grave.
By the time of the series’ main events, Rhaegar is more myth than man. His personality is consistent between accounts of him and all of them mention the drastic shift in attitude he has after he becomes convinced that he has to carry out some great prophecy.
Who Was Rhaegar Targaryen?
Rhaegar Targaryen was a former heir to the Iron Throne. He’s tied to the main events of Game of Thrones not only by Robert’s Rebellion but by his relationships to Daenerys Targaryen (his sister) and Jon Snow (his son). Rhaegar was the heir of King Aerys II Targaryen a.k.a Mad King Aerys with Queen Rhaella Targaryen.
Aerys’ cruelty towards common people and members of great houses alike made him hated throughout the realm and his court. This hatred made Aerys more paranoid since he was always anxious about being assassinated and usurped. His paranoia made him even crueler towards the Westerosi nobility, ironically making it likelier for him to be deposed.
Rhaegar was the only reason people held out for so long. The young prince was known for his gracious manners, keen intellect, and prowess in battle. People hoped he would take over from his father.
As a young boy, Rhaegar was reserved and bookish. He would spend most of his time reading and talking to maesters. He also had a gift for music which is why he’s often remembered fighting in his black and red Targaryen armor or with singing as he played the harp.
Rhaegar was as close to a storybook prince as there was in A Song of Ice and Fire, but he was as mysterious as he was legendary. No one truly understood what Rhaegar’s motivations are and why he had suddenly changed from a passive, bookish boy to a man who made it his business to learn everything to do with combat and ruling.
How Rhaegar Targaryen’s Obsession With Prophecy Drove Westeros to War and Ended the Targaryen Dynasty
People would have toughed out Mad King Aerys’ reign if Rhaegar didn’t die, but Rhaegar Targaryen’s obsession with a prophecy regarding the Prince Who Was Promised ultimately drove Westeros to war. In his quest to complete the “heads of the dragon”, he sought out Lyanna Stark.
Lyanna was Ned’s sister and a young teenage girl at a time when Rhaegar already had two children by Princess Elia Martell of Dorne. With Elia, Rhaegar sired a son named Aegon and a daughter named Rhaenys. Daenerys notes that there had been no Visensya so maybe Aegon had hoped for Lyanna to give him his Visenya. We also know that Elia had trouble conceiving and giving birth, which may be why Rhaegar needed Lyanna. There’s also the matter of Lyanna’s personality.
Ned points out in the books that Robert Baratheon knew little about Lyanna and didn’t know how fierce-spirited she really was. He even compares her to Arya. In ASOIAF the Targaryen dynasty began with Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys. Three heads of the dragon. Visenya was said to have been the coldest of the three siblings and was rumored to have dark magical abilities to the point that fans suspect she killed her sister’s son, Aenys.
Lyanna’s personality and, as disgusting as this might sound, youth compared to Elia could have made her the ideal mother of Rhaegar’s Visenya. Instead, he got another Aegon, Jon Snow.
The damage was done.
Rhaegar kept Lyanna and Jon safe at the Tower of Joy while he went off to the Trident to fight Robert Baratheon. It was there that Robert crushed his body into his black iron and ruby-encrusted armor, ending his life. With Rhaegar gone, there was nothing holding back the plots against Mad King Aerys. Jaime Lannister eventually kills him, earning the name Kingslayer.
Viserys was a child at the time and Daenerys was newly born, making her the only sister of Rhaegar Targaryen. But her birth was too late to make her Rhaegar’s sister-wife. Viserys and Daenerys fled from Dragonstone following the death of King Aerys. In Essos, they lived with anyone who would host them until they lost their wealth, partly because of servants stealing from them. You know the story from there and what happens to the two siblings, but the point is Rhaegar kicks off a string of events that wrecks the Targaryen dynasty.
It’s Not the First Time the Targaryens Have Been Obsessed With Prophecies
Rhaegar Targaryen’s obsession with the Prince Who Was Promised and the three heads of the dragon kicked off a rebellion that ruined the Targaryen family and left its remaining living members scattered throughout the world of ice and fire. He wasn’t the first Targaryen to be obsessed with prophecy. As we’ve seen in the books and shows, Targaryens are sometimes blessed with the ability to see the future called ‘dragon dreams’.
House Targaryen’s known dreamers that could see the future include Daenys the Dreamer, Aegon the Conqueror, Helaena Targaryen, and to a lesser extent, Daenerys Targaryen.
Daenys the Dreamer
Daenys was the legendary daughter of Lord Aenar Targaryen, the head of House Targaryen at the time of the Doom of Valyria. Daenys had a dream about the Doom of Valyria and urged her father Aenar to leave the Valyrian Freehold for Dragonstone immediately. She’s the writer of a lost book called Signs and Portents where it’s said she wrote the rest of her prophecies.
Aegon the Conqueror
It’s revealed in House of the Dragon that Aegon the Conqueror had a dream about the white walkers coming to Westeros and destroying all life in the world. Viserys (First of His Name, not Daenerys’ brother) tells Rhaenyra this is why he decides to conquer and unite Westeros. Aegon’s Conquest results in a long, bloody campaign that ends the lines of notable houses such as House Gardner who used to rule the Reach with House Tyrell as their servants.
Viserys Targaryen’s obsession with a dream he had about a boy with the Conqueror’s name seating the Iron Throne results in the tragic, and ultimately pointless, death of his wife Aemma and a ruined relationship with his daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen. Rhaenyra is clearly hurt by the fact that her mother died trying to birth the son her father always wanted – the son she could never be.
It causes another big problem later on. On his deathbed, Viserys talks about Aegon the Conqueror/Aegon a.k.a Jon and the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy. Alicent, who has no idea what in the Seven Kingdoms he’s talking about, assumes that Viserys wants their son, also named Aegon, to be king. This cements Alicent’s view that Aegon should seat the Iron Throne instead of Rhaenyra, kicking off – you guessed it – the Dance of Dragons.
Helaena Targaryen is seen murmuring strange phrases in House of the Dragon about spools of green and black thread (referring to the Black and Green factions) and how Aemond will “have to close an eye” before he gets Balerion. She even predicts the arrival of Rhaenys and her dragon Meleys the Red Queen.
Daenerys Targaryen has prophetic dragon dreams in A Song of Ice and Fire before her wedding. She dreams of dragon eggs hatching for her and her thighs covered in blood — as if to symbolize she would metaphorically birth them hence her “Mother of Dragons” title.
As we later learn in both House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones, prophecy can be treacherous and turn quickly on the one trying to interpret it. Rhaegar Targaryen’s obsession with prophecy brought House Targaryen to ruin and we’re about to see how the realm will bleed because of Viserys’ obsession with having a son in House of the Dragon.