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A Deep Dive Into Princess Rhaenys Targaryen’s History—and the Reason she Didn’t Kill Aegon II

Spare a Dracarys, ma'am?

A picture of Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, played by Eve Best, leaning against a door in House of the Dragon

The latest episode of House of the Dragon, titled “The Green Council,” was less violent than we might have expected, considering how other Episode 9s have turned out—even though we did catch a glimpse of an underground child fighting ring and had a dragon burst right through the middle of a crowded Sept. Still, the final scene of the episode was undoubtedly its most spectacular one, even if it wasn’t as gory as the Red Wedding of the Battle of the Bastards. After having been locked in her rooms while the Red Keep underwent a lockdown following the death of King Viserys and the plotting of the Green Council to have Prince Aegon succeed him, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen finally manages to reach her dragon, intimidate the newly crowned King and leave the capital. 

Aegon II Targaryen after his coronation in the Dragonpit in Episode 9 of House of the Dragon
I’m sure getting stared down by a dragon wasn’t on Aegon’s “perfect coronation day” Pinterest board. I’m not even sure he had one, to be honest (HBO)

We can safely assume that she rejected Queen (now Dowager Queen, or maybe it’s The Queen Mother) Alicent’s offer of declaring allegiance to Aegon II and will instead fight for Rhaenyra— since we can see hear reach Dragonstone in the trailer for next week’s season finale. But who exactly is Princess Rhaenys Targaryen? So far, we’ve seen her on the sides of most of the important events that have happened on House of the Dragon and we know that she could have been the first ruling Queen the Realm had ever seen—but her character is one of the most fascinating ones that George R.R. Martin ever wrote and so she deserves a bit of a deep dive. 

Now, Rhaenys Targaryen—named after the youngest of the three Conquerors, Queen Rhaenys, the mother of the entire Targaryen dynasty, and Rhaenys’s own great-great-grandmother was the daughter of Aemon, Prince of Dragonstone, and Lady Jocelyn Baratheon. 

Maester Aemon Targaryen in Game of Thrones
Honestly all these Targaryens call their children by the same three names there are like five Aemons in the family tree (HBO)

Aemon was the firstborn son and heir of King Jaehaerys I and Queen Alysanne, while Jocelyn was the child of the Lord of Storm’s End, Rogar Baratheon, and the Dowager Queen Alyssa Velaryon, herself the mother of both Jaehaerys and Alysanne from her previous marriage. You know how Targaryens are when it comes to marrying their own relatives.

Rhaenys became a dragon rider at thirteen, when she claimed the dragon Meleys—who had previously been ridden by her aunt, Alyssa, mother to both Viserys and Daemon, before her death in childbirth. Meleys, nicknamed the Red Queen because of the colour of her scales, was one of the swiftest dragons alive. Rhaenys was an accomplished dragonknight, following her grandfather the King on his royal progresses and flying with him on multiple occasions.

When she was sixteen, she received Jaeherys’s blessing to marry Lord Corlys “the Sea Snake” Velaryon, Westeros’s most famous seaman and the Lord of Driftmark, fabulously rich from his legendary nine voyages to all corners of the known world. 

Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, aka The Sea Snake, the richest man in Westeros.
Corlys was Westeros’s most famous adventurer and also the freshly-ascended Master of Driftmark by the time of his wedding to Rhaenys (HBO)

Corlys, who was thirty-seven by the time of his marriage, told Rhaenys that she was the only one who could call him back from the sea and that he had returned from the ends of the earth for her. Rhaenys famously replied that they could “go back to the ends of the earth together.” But she added that she would “get there first, as I’ll be flying.”

When Rhaenys was born, Queen Alysanne named her “our Queen to be,” since she was by then her father’s only child. But sadly, the crown would avoid Rhaenys for her entire life, so much so that she became known to history as the Queen That Never Was. The first time she was passed over in favor of a male heir was when her father Aemon died fighting pirates on the island of Tarth, just two years after Rhaenys’s wedding as she was pregnant with her first child. Queen Alysanne insisted that Rhaenys should become Princess of Dragonstone as Aemon’s heir and that her unborn child should rule after her, but King Jaehaerys preferred to pass the title to his secondborn, Prince Baelon. This was a decision that caused what would be known as the First Quarrel between the Old King and his beloved Queen.

The second time was at the Great Council of 101, which we saw in the very first scene of House of the Dragon. When his second chosen heir died, King Jaehaerys convened all the lords and ladies of the Realm to choose who should be granted the title of Prince or Princess of Dragonstone—Rhaenys, in virtue of her being Prince Aemon’s only child, and her children Laena and Laenor Velaryon; or Viserys, Prince Baelon’s firstborn, with his by-then pregnant wife Aemma Arryn. We know how that Great Council ended— Rhaenys was passed over once more and Viserys eventually ascended the Iron Throne as King Viserys I.

A picture of the Targaryens during the Great Council called by King Jaehaerys
We all know how this gathering panned out (HBO)

Now, we’ve seen that things have been somewhat tense between House Targaryen and House Velaryon. Given of Rhaenys is still convinced that Rhaenyra had her son murdered just a few days after Laena’s funeral just so she could marry her uncle, it’s also pretty understandable. However, the Queen That Never Was and the Sea Snake are firmly black supporters—and the fact that Rhaenys escaped King’s Landing on Meleys’s back to fly to Dragonstone only confirms it.

There’s just one more question that needs answering. Why the hell did she not burn the entire royal family right there in the Dragonpit? One quick “Dracarys” and that would be it, Dance of the Dragons is no longer a go. I have some theories, but let me preface them all by saying that the choice of having Rhaenys and Meleys stare down Aegon II, Alicent and the rest was immensely ill-conceived—in Fire & Blood, the source material for House of the Dragon, she escapes quickly and without drawing attention to herself.

The fact that she had the chance of eliminating all of Rhaenyra’s obstacles to the Iron Throne requires, in my opinion, a lot more textual support than what we were given—especially since it seems like the scene at the Dragonpit ties directly into the dialogue Rhaenys and Alicent have in the Red Keep. Which is, again, a very weak motivation for having avoided such an easy solution to the brewing conflict.

A picture of Alicent Hightower and Rhaenys Targaryen, played by Olivia Cooke and Eve Best respectively, in Episode 9 of House of the Dragon
Was this dialogue really all it took for Rhaenys not to kill what are by now her political opponents? It’s not the kind of decency Westeros got us used to (HBO)

I would like to add my two cents, looking at what we know about Westerosi traditions. First of all, there’s the possibility that Rhaenys knew burning the newly-anointed King would have only turned Rhaenyra into a tyrant rather than the rightful claimant to the Iron Throne, turning the people against her with one brutal act of violence. It could also be that Rhaenys considered how such an open act of war could be decided only by her chosen Queen, and so Rhaenyra herself. However, I think that the strongest motivation Rhaenys could have here is tied to both kingslaying and kinslaying. We know that killing a King is no small crime, given how Jaime Lannister is saddled with the name “Kingslayer” for his entire life— true, Jaime was a sworn member of the Kingsguard and so his treason is even more heinous, but it doesn’t mean Rhaenys would get away with it scot-free.

Kinslaying is even worse. There are very few worse crimes in Westeros than killing one’s own family members, and all the Targaryens on that dais are related to Rhaenys by blood— they’re all cousins and part of the same House, after all. I think that the social stigma that surrounds kinslayers, which would haunt Rhaenys for the rest of her life no matter who was sitting on the Iron Throne, was enough to stay her hand and made her fly out of the Dragonpit without ordering Meleys to open fire. 

(source: AWOIAF; image: HBO)

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Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.