Targaryen this, Targaryen that. It’s been two years since Game of Thrones ended but the fandoms of the show and the book series are still going strong. That said, the last season of the hit fantasy series left many viewers confused and dissatisfied. One of the reasons? Casual viewers had a tough time wrapping their minds around how Jon Snow, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, was related to the royal Targaryen family that once ruled all of Westeros.
‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ author George R.R. Martin makes no secret of the fact that real events inspired his book, particularly the War of Roses. So, just like the real-life monarchies that have shaped the course of human history, to say that the Targaryen family tree is convoluted is putting it mildly. But an easy way to sort out the mess that is the Targaryen line is to start from the beginning, all the way back to the days of Old Valyria.
Where Did the Targaryen Family Come From?
Before House Targaryen became the kings and queens of the Seven Kingdoms, their ancestors lived half a world away, in the far-flung continent of Essos. Though the fictional continent is divided into several city-states, such as Bravos and Lys, by the time the series begins, it was originally dominated by the Valyrian Freehold. The Valyrian Freehold was, for lack of a better metaphor, the ancient Rome of ‘A World of Ice and Fire’. The freehold spanned territory so great that it ruled from the Free Cities in Essos to Dragonstone in Westeros.
So, where does the Targaryen family fit into this? They were originally nobles in the freehold called dragonlords. These dragonlords were the most high-ranking nobles in the Valyrian Freehold and only they had the magical abilities needed to command dragons. Naturally, dragonlords like the Targaryen family resided in the political and commercial hub of the freehold, Valyria. If you have a passing knowledge of either the show or books, you might recall a certain cataclysmic event called the Doom of Valyria.
The Doom of Valyria didn’t just mark the end of Valyria as a city, but the entire Valyrian civilization. The demise of the Valyrian Freehold is when we first get a historic mention of a member of the Targaryen family tree. Though many fans of the show think of Aegon the Conqueror, who conquered Westeros and became its first king, as the first recorded notable Targaryen, it was actually a young Targaryen lady known as Daenys the Dreamer.
As you can guess from her name, Daenys had one of the famed magical gifts unique to the Targaryen family tree’s genes: prophetic visions. Known as ‘dragon dreams’, these visions came to members of the Targaryen line in their sleep, giving them a peek into the world that would be years before these events would occur.
After having a dragon dream about the Doom of Valyria, Daenys Targaryen pleaded with her father Aenor Targaryen to leave Valyria. Thankfully, he listened as otherwise, we wouldn’t have one of the most incestuous families in fiction.
Aenor Targaryen resettled his family on an island on the coast of Westeros that is now known as Dragonstone. There, the Targaryen family tradition of incest continued. Aenar eventually married his daughter Daenys to her brother Gaemon, also known as ‘Gaemon the Glorious’. The two had three children – Aegon, Elaena, and an unnamed daughter. No, it’s still not Aegon the Conqueror nor is this Aegon his father. Our first Aegon Targaryen is the Conqueror’s great great great great grandfather.
Fast forward past two generations and we get Aerion Targaryen and Valaena Velaryon. But before you sigh in relief, Valaena Velaryon‘s mother was also a Targaryen. The incest never stops in the Targaryen family tree and it’s the reason the family is able to keep traits that are special to their genetic line: the blood of the dragon.
Targaryens are noted in the books and show for having looks and abilities attributed to the blood of the dragon. This includes dragon dreams, dragon riding, remaining unscathed by fire, or, to a lesser extent, having white hair and purple eyes. Though the only white haired, Alexandria’s genesis havers we see on the show are Targaryens, the books make it clear that these looks are applicable to Valyrians in general. Citizens of the city of Lys still have a strong Valyrian heritage, making it so that the majority of them have the same pale hair and purple eyes of the Targaryens. Their similarity in looks are part of why a number of the members of the Targaryen family tree are themselves Lyseni.
Aside from incest, another key theme of the Targaryen family is starting wars because of failed engagements.
Aegon the Conqueror didn’t actually have any plans to conquer Westeros and bring the lords of the Seven Kingdoms to heel. But when Harren Hoare, the King of the Isles and Rivers in Riverrun, took offense to Aegon refusing to marry his daughter Argella, he chopped off the hands of Aegon’s messenger.
In the world of Game of Thrones, no marriage means war.
Furious, Aegon informed every king in the Seven Kingdoms that he would bring them to their knees. Together with his sisters, who were both his wives, Aegon laid waste to his enemies from the Reach in the south to the Wall in the north. But Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys couldn’t conquer Dorne as its sandy geography made it difficult to take the country from House Martell by force.
But even with their guerilla tactics, war was taxing on the Dornish. That’s why when Meria Martell, the Princess of Dorne, died, her son Prince Nymor started negotiating a treaty. The peace between the Martells and the Targaryens was later perfected with, you guessed it, a wedding.
Later in A Dance with Dragons, the fifth novel in the series, Prince Quentyn Martell tells Daenerys Stormborn that they’re actually related, not just by her brother Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia Martell, but by blood. Though Daenerys keeps going on about how she’s the first of her name, another Daenerys Targaryen had married into the Martell family before her.
The history of George R.R Martin’s fictional nation of Westeros is essentially the entire Targaryen family tree happening. Aside from their connection to the Martells via the original Daenerys, the Targaryens are blood relatives of House Baratheon through Orys Baratheon, the founder of House Baratheon who fought alongside his half-brother, Aegon the Conqueror. A nearer relative of the Baratheons is Rhaelle Targaryen, Robert Baratheon’s grandmother.
A Glance at the Targaryen Family Tree
Youtuber UsefulCharts may have given us a useful quick map of the Targaryen family tree, but the family is so old and massive that UsefulChart’s version of the Targaryen family tree doesn’t give us a full picture. And let’s face it: we’d need an even bigger family tree to truly get all the Targaryens in one chart.
But one DevianArt user by the name of poly-m has a more comprehensive version of the Targaryen family tree. You might want to click on that link for a closer view of the photo. Poly-m’s Targaryen family tree maps out all of the major Targaryen players in Westeros’ history and helpfully notes which generations were involved in major conflicts of George R.R. Martin’s world.
We’ve already gone over Aegon’s Conquest, so let’s skip ahead to the Dance of the Dragons.
If you thought your family’s Thanksgiving dinners were awkward, your dysfunctional family has nothing on the Targaryen family tree. It turns out dragons and bad blood do not mix. So, the Dance of the Dragons was a civil war between the many claimants to the throne in the wake of King Viserys I Targaryen. In our world’s history, succession wars like this normally happened because the previous king had no heir. But Viserys I had an heir.
It just so happened his heir was his daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen.
Of course, no one, not even the lords that Viserys I had pledged their loyalty to Rhaenyra, wanted a woman on the throne. Since Rhaenyra had other siblings, her younger half-brother, Aegon II Targaryen, questioned her claim. The two would die in a fierce battle with each other. But the Dance of the Dragons didn’t just erase generations of Targaryens: it also put an end to the age of dragons.
Peasants were sick of the bloodshed and starvation that came in the wake of the Dance. An angry mob, led by a prophet called Shepherd, stormed the Dragonpit where the Targaryen family kept their dragons. Furious peasants slaughtered all of the dragons bonded to Targayens involved in the Dance. Years later, after the fall of the Targaryen family line, the dragons still haven’t returned to Westeros.
The next big family feud between the Targaryens was the Blackfyre Rebellion. The Blackfyre Rebellion takes its name from House Blackfyre, a bastard branch of the Targaryen family tree. The Blackfyres, in turn, named themselves after the sword of Aegon the Conqueror, Blackfyre.
Just like the Dance of the Dragons, the road to the Blackfyre Rebellion was paved with good intentions. King Aegon IV Targaryen, perhaps feeling sorry for the bastard children he would leave behind, legitimized them all on his death bed. This meant that each and everyone of Aegon IV’s bastards, if they were male, were now legitimate claimants to the throne.
For Daemon Waters, who renamed himself Daemon Blackfyre, this was a golden opportunity to become king. In a true Uno reverse card move, he went around rekindling the rumor that his brother Daeron II Targaryen was a bastard. Worse still, the rumor didn’t just delegitimize Daeron II but removed him from the line of succession completely because it claimed that his father was actually Aemon the Dragonknight, brother of Aegon IV.
Though Daemon II was able to keep his throne, it didn’t stop a number of other Blackfyre rebellions from happening down the line nor did it stop a series of Blackfyre pretenders. Though King Jaeherys II would later wipe out the entire male line of House Blackfyre, a dangling thread on the Targaryen family tree remained: the female line.
Moving closer to the events of the main storyline of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, our next Targaryen family tree trimming session comes in the form of Robert’s Rebellion. No namesakes here, this Robert is our King Robert Baratheon.
This is where it gets really spicy. Being a history buff, George R.R. Martin made sure his fictional nobles and royals repeated the mistakes of the past. Just like Aegon the Conqueror before him, a ruined engagement sends Robert Baratheon on the war path to retrieve his bride, Lyanna Stark, from Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
Rhaegar Targaryen was already married to Elia Martell when he set his sights on Robert’s fiance. But if incest couldn’t stop the Targaryen family tree from growing, then neither could infidelity.
This leads us to the central conspiracy of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire: Jon Snow isn’t Ned Stark’s son but Rhaegar’s.
In the episode ‘Tower of Joy‘, it’s revealed that when Ned Stark arrived at the Tower of Joy, he had realized that his sister Lyanna wasn’t kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen at all. Instead, the two were lovers looking for a way out of their respective engagement and marriage.
While the war raged on, the couple had stayed together in fragile bliss, conceiving another Aegon Targaryen. Given that the children of Elia Martell and Rhaegar Targaryen were erased from the Targaryen family tree, along with Jon Snow’s older brother Aegon, during the Rebellion. The death of Elia and Rhaegar’s heir meant that Jon Snow was the sole remaining male heir of the Targaryen line.
But Jon Snow wasn’t the only Targaryen born during Robert’s Rebellion. Far away from the battlefield, Daenerys Targaryen was born on the stormy island of Dragonstone. Though the show had Daenerys succumb to the same incest-rooted insanity of the Targaryens that her father King Aerys had, time will tell whether A Song of Ice and Fire ends the same way.
Secret Members of the Targaryen Family Tree
If you thought Jon Snow was the only hidden fruit of the Targaryen family tree, you’re dead wrong. Though the central conflict of both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones are either based on the R+L = J issue or Daenerys’ quest to claim the Iron Throne, there are also other Targaryen family members that play a significant role in the events of the story.
In fact, we meet several members of the Targaryen family tree in ‘Winter is Coming‘, the very first episode of Game of Thrones.
Maester Aemon Targaryen
After his siblings leave for King’s Landing, protagonist Jon Snow leaves Winterfell for the Wall, a massive fortification made of ice that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the untamed lands up north. There, he meets a certain Maester Aemon. As a member of Westeros’ scholarly class, Maester Aemon held a vast knowledge of medicine, trade, and, most suspicious of all, a deep understanding of history.
To readers of A Song of Ice and Fire, it was easier to connect the dots about Maester Aemon’s real heritage. But fans of the show likely have missed the subtleties of its timeline.
Maester Aemon is actually the third son of King Maekar I Targaryen. Take a seat for this one because you might end up shaken by just how old the maester is. King Maekar I was the father of Aegon V, the same guy from ‘Tales of Dunk and Egg‘. This Aegon was the father of Jaeherys II who was the father of Mad King Aerys.
Both the books and the show heavily hint that Maester Aemon is so old that everyone forgot that he was a Targaryen. Even Robert ‘I’m going to kill the last Targaryen’ Baratheon had completely forgotten to account for the old man on the Wall.
Everybody keeps talking about how Gendry, an unacknowledged bastard, is Robert Baratheon’s heir, but what many theorists seem to forgot is that Baratheon blood meant that Gendry is a Targaryen too. Aside from Orys Baratheon, founder of House Baratheon, being a Targaryen bastard, Robert Baratheon’s father was himself a half-Targaryen.
Since nobles of Westeros frequently intermarried to secure alliances and make peace, Aegon V had his daughter Rhaelle Targaryen marry Ormund Baratheon pacify Lord Lyonel Baratheon after her brother refused to marry his daughter. Rhaelle and Ormund would have a son, Steffon, who later had King Robert.
So, yes, virtually every claimant of the Iron Throne is part of the Targaryen family tree. From here, it just gets even crazier.
Tyrion or Cersei and Jaime Lannister
Why does Tywin Lannister hate Tyrion so much? Aside from his wife Joanna dying while giving birth to him, many fans speculate that Tyrion is actually Joanna’s son by Mad King Aerys.
The reason? It isn’t that Tywin’s beloved Joanna was unfaithful to him. Instead, the theory goes that Mad King Aerys had raped her. A Tumblr blog post carefully lists out all of the passages where George R.R. Martin heavily suggests that Aerys II had a taste for sexual assault.
In ‘A Dance with Dragons’, Aerys remarks that it’s a shame that he no longer had the right to the first night with Joanna. Further, Aerys had assaulted Joanna on her very wedding night with Tywin. From there, it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that Aerys likely raped Joanna, leading to the birth of Tyrion Lannister.
Or is it Tyrion?
Other fans of the books and show speculate that it might be Tywin’s beloved twins, Cersei and Jaime, who are Aerys II’s children. This theory originates from the same speculation that the Mad King raped Joanna but notes how the twins exhibit traits closely associated with the Targaryen family tree. In contrast, it’s Tyrion who’s the most like Tywin in wit and temperament.
Cersei and Jaime, on the other hand, look more like the Targaryens before them and are heavily paralleled with their potential Targaryen ancestors. This fan theory points out that Aerys acted suspiciously after the twins were born such as having Tywin bring them to court immediately and sending gold on the day they were born. It’s a messed up way of giving child support.
Cersei and Jaime also continued the Targaryen tradition of incest and conceived Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. Most notable of these is Joffrey who shows the same mental health issues that his grandfather Aerys had.
So, you know, maybe don’t have sex with your siblings?
This next secret Targaryen family member isn’t featured in the show, but he is mentioned several times in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Remember how Elia Martell and her children were murdered during Robert’s Rebellion? The book ‘A Dance with Dragons’ reveals that the elder Aegon Targaryen, not to be confused with Jon Snow, is still alive.
In the book, Tyrion figures out that the son of Griff, a mercenary that he meets while rallying support for Daenerys, is actually the other hidden Aegon. The conspiracy goes that Varys knew Elia and her family wouldn’t survive the sacking of Sunspear. That’s why he hatched a plan to swap the infant Aegon with a tanner’s son.
Having escaped the hands of the Mountain, Aegon was brought to Essos and placed under the care of Lord Jon Connington, one of Rhaegar’s closest friends. The then Young Griff is later revealed to be Aegon VI, Rhaegar’s eldest son. This means that Aegon VI has a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than his aunt Daenerys and his brother Jon.
But because he was presumed dead, Aegon IV was declared a pretender to the throne compared to Daenerys whose descent from the Targaryen family tree is clear.
With this many loose ends to tie up, it’s no wonder George R.R. Martin is taking forever to come out with his next book.