Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in HBO's House of the Dragon

What ‘Game of Thrones’ Didn’t Tell Us About Rhaenyra Targaryen’s Fate

House of the Dragon takes place 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen and shows the events that led to her family’s greatest conflict, the Dance of the Dragons. Naturally, considering the significant gap between the two shows, we all know that Rhaenyra has to die at some point. The Targaryens ride dragons, but unfortunately, they aren’t immortal.

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Now, if you haven’t read the books and have been trying your best to stay away from spoilers as much as humanly possible but made the mistake of rewatching Game of Thrones before seeing House of the Dragon, then chances are, you probably already know how Rhaenyra dies. Joffrey (the little prince we all hate) literally spoils it when he tells Margaery Tyrell about Rhaenyra’s fate in season 3, episode 4, “And Now His Watch Is Ended.” Still, if you’re looking to hear the facts in a less toxic manner, then you’ve come to the right place.  

The Dance of the Dragons

Rhaenyra Targaryen in final shot of 'House of the Dragon'

In House of the Dragon’s season 1 finale, Rhaenyra learns about the tragic death of her beloved son Lucerys Velaryon, after having sent the young boy to deliver a message to Lord Borros Baratheon. This moment officially marks the beginning of the Dance and—presumably for the purposes of the show—the end of Rhaenyra’s advocating for a peaceful taking of her birthright. What happens from there? Well, Rhaenyra does end up taking the capital and sitting on the Iron Throne—for roughly half a year.

Upon her return to King’s Landing, she keeps the Red Keep open all night to allow people to plead their forgiveness and renew their vows of loyalty (petty, but I respect it). Several maesters wrote that Rhaenyra wounded herself many times as she sat on the Throne, noting that the chair was likely rejecting her—because they had to credit her eventual downfall to superstition, but I digress. 

Having been known as the Realm’s Delight throughout her childhood and youth, the people initially accepted Rhaenyra’s homecoming and reign. But she had her work cut out for her. In the early days following her ascension, the path to the Red Keep was lined with the severed heads of every person who’d helped foster the escape of her half-brothers Aegon and Aemond. Everyone was cool with this considering that the two weren’t really popular with the smallfolk, but then there was the matter of the crown’s empty vaults.

Rhaenyra’s father, Viserys, had a peaceful and prosperous reign and left the crown with a significant amount of gold. But after Rhaenyra took the throne, it was revealed that the Greens had taken all of the gold before fleeing the city, just as Rhaenyra closed in on them. She was left with no solution other than to raise taxes, which, as we all know, is the fastest way to rouse the anger of the general public. As time progressed, so did Rhaenyra’s paranoia. Eventually, her fears zeroed in on Nettles and Ser Addam Velaryon, dragonseeds whom the Blacks had employed during the height of the Dance to mount two riderless dragons. Her orders to kill the two not only came unheeded but also led her to lose the support of Lord Mooton and, more importantly, her former father-in-law, Corlys Velaryon. 

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. All of these moves were further exacerbated by the death of Helaena, Aegon’s sister-wife, who was loved by most of the smallfolk. Driven by grief, Helaena took her own life following the horrific turn of events involving Blood and Cheese. But with Rhaenyra’s ongoing orders to execute all those who had helped her half-brothers to escape, there were whispers that Rhaenyra probably ordered Helaena’s death. The rumor took hold among the smallfolk and riots soon ensued throughout the city. The Dragonpit was stormed, Joffrey—her youngest son from her first marriage—died, and Rhaenyra was left with no choice but to flee the city with her last heir, Aegon III. 

How did Rhaenyra Targaryen die?

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen holding court at the seat of House Baratheon, the castle of Storm's End

Judging by the looks of things and considering that this is, well, Westeros, I suppose that you all probably have a good idea that Rhaenyra didn’t pass away peacefully in her sleep. 

With her husband and several of her children dead, Rhaenyra and Aegon traveled from Rosby to Duskendale until eventually they reached Dragonstone aboard a merchant ship (paid for, sadly, by the crown she wore). Upon reaching the original Targaryen seat of power, Rhaenyra was betrayed once more, this time by Ser Alfred Broome, who killed the rest of her Queensguard.

As for her brother Aegon, well, he was waiting for her. Rhaenyra was noted to have greeted him by saying, “Dear brother. I had hoped that you were dead.” I’d say cue the applause and apply ice to the burned area but, well, this is where she kicks the bucket. 

Who killed Rhaenyra Targaryen?

Aegon wasn’t alone. He was with his dragon, Sunfyre. And right then and there, in front of Rhaenyra’s son (who was often called Aegon the Younger), she suffered the worst possible death for a dragonrider. From Fire and Blood:

“Sunfyre, it is said, did not seem at first to take any interest in the offering, until Broome pricked the queen’s breast with his dagger. The smell of blood roused the dragon, who sniffed at Her Grace, then bathed her in a blast of flame, so suddenly that Ser Alfred’s cloak caught fire as he leapt away. Rhaenyra Targaryen had time to raise her head toward the sky and shriek out one last curse upon her half-brother before Sunfyre’s jaws closed round her, tearing off her arm and shoulder.”

I’ll spare you the further horrific details that led one of Rhaenyra’s ladies-in-waiting to gouge her eyes out. As if feeding his sister to his dragon wasn’t enough, Aegon event went so far as to expunge any accounts of Rhaenyra having ever been queen, decreeing that she be referred to only as “princess” in all maesters’ records and histories.

We do get a bit of vindication later on, though, when Aegon dies childless. Because of it, both of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s sons (including the one who was thought to be dead—turns out, he’s alive!) get to sit on the Iron Throne.

(featured image: HBO)

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Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.