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Here Are the Best of the Worst Kings Who Sat on the Iron Throne

The dragon people are good for drama not for ruling.

Daemon on the Iron Throne in house of the dragon (HBO)

My terrible longing for House of the Dragon—the way I handled this first week without a new episode really makes me fear for how I’ll get to 2024—has had me watch and rewatch some of my favourite scenes from its barely-wrapped-up first season. You know, coping mechanisms. Hyperfixations. Whatever you want to call them.

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And one of the last ones I rewatched was the dialogue Viserys has with his second Hand, Lyonel Strong—where the King ponders on how he’ll be remembered by history and the two argue about whether it’s better to have done something, even something terrible, or to have “simply” maintained the peace. So that has got me thinking about all the rulers that ever sat the Iron Throne—the good, the bad and the in-between.

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones as Dany in 'The Iron Throne'
Before the Throne gets destroyed, that is. I say crying as I remember how terrible Season 8 was. (HBO)

Now, I would argue that it’s easier to make a list of the good rulers who have worn the title of King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. In the official list of the twenty Kings that have succeeded each other on the Iron Throne—going by book canon here—they clearly stand out as rulers who were beloved by the people and exercised their power in as fair a way as you could expect from a society like Westeros. 

Worst Kings of Westeros, though—that’s where it gets a little trickier. Of course, there are some obvious answers: you know that a man who became known to history as Maegor the Cruel couldn’t have been a stellar example of leadership. However, any list of the worst rulers of the Seven Kingdoms has to start with wondering what exactly makes a “bad” King—which is the other side of the coin of what Viserys was asking Lord Strong in House of the Dragon.

A picture of Paddy Considine in House of the Dragon in the role of King Viserys I
Being known as “Viserys the Peaceful” is almost as good as it gets in Westeros, honestly. (HBO)

So, here’s my very personal ranking—once again going off book canon, so no Queen Regent Cersei—of the worst people who have ever sat on everybody’s favourite sharp-edged chair. Most of them are Targaryens, of course, since by the time the events of A Game of Thrones start they are no longer in power but have ruled Westeros for the better part of three centuries—besides if you keep on marrying your closest relatives you’re bound to have some offspring who thinks bombing the largest city in the Realm is a great idea.

6. Daeron I Targaryen, the Young Dragon

Jaime Lannister sits with the Martells and Myrcella Baratheon in Dorne
Not even dragons could conquer Dorne, that’s why they are Unbowed Unbent Unbroken. (HBO)

Yes, I know Daeron Targaryen is the hero of every young knight in the Seven Kingdoms—the Boy King, who ascended the Iron Throne at just fourteen years of age and immediately threw all his might into bravely trying to conquer Dorne, the missing piece of Westeros that had been eluding the grip of House Targaryen ever since Aegon I and his Queens. All true.

He certainly makes for the perfect character in a song, but in truth, his short-lived military successes cost the lives of some fifty thousand men—both in conquering Dorne and in the three-years-long rebellion that followed. Those are definitely some halting numbers, especially when one considers the irony of how Dorne was finally brought into the realm—with the double marriage of Daeron II and his sister, the first Princess Daenerys, to Myriah Martell and Maron Martell respectively.

5. Robert I Baratheon, the Usurper

game of thrones
Good military leader, love that horned helmet and the swinging his hammer everywhere, but a terrible King honestly. (HBO)

On the one hand, everyone’s favourite King Bobby B had the great merit of putting an end to the Targaryen dynasty that was spiralling out into madness—and we’ll get to that madness later on in this list, don’t worry. On the other, being a good military leader and having the blood to claim the Iron Throne doesn’t necessarily mean being a good King once all the conquering and murdering and battling is done.

Like yes, sure, Robert’s reign was particularly bloody while he was alive—but he was a largely uninterested King, who was very happy with a) leaving the matters of the Realm into the hands of his advisors b) drinking himself into a stupor and c) draining the royal coffers. Much like Viserys on House of the Dragon, Robert’s main fault was leaving the Realm weak and open for war at his death—but at least Viserys was somehow involved in ruling before his sickness finally took over.

4. Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King

King Aerys II Targaryen, known as the Mad King, during the flashbacks in Game of Thrones
He did want to burn the entirety of King’s Landing down, so there’s also that. (HBO)

We haven’t seen much of Aerys II, but we definitely know him by his infamous name—the Mad King, aka Daenerys’s father and the one who spurred on the Rebellion that would end the rule of House Targaryen over the Seven Kingdoms. I’ve debated for a while over where to put him exactly on this list, but in the end, I’ve settled for just shy of the top three for a couple of reasons.

Mainly the fact that the fall of House Targaryen was brought on not just by Aerys but by his son Rhaegar as well. The Prince of Dragonstone might not have been cruel and paranoid like his father but he was definitely too invested in the prophecies of the Prince That Was Promised and stealing away Lyanna Stark to have is oh-so-desired third head of the dragon rather than maybe considering that it was time to depose his father and take the Iron Throne for himself.

Sure, that doesn’t excuse any of the heinous things Aerys has done, from ordering the entirety of House Darklyn dead to burning Rickard Stark alive to beating and assaulting his sister-wife Queen Rhaella (and maybe other ladies of the court? Question mark on Johanna Lannister?). All in all, it was a good thing that Jaime Lannister did what he had to do when he broke his Kingsguard vow and killed him, putting an end to both the Rebellion and the rule of House Targaryen.

3. Joffrey I Baratheon, the Illborn

Jack Gleeson as Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Image: HBO
I’m not saying that Olenna was right to orchestrate the Purple Wedding, but that’s exactly what I’m saying (HBO)

There isn’t really much need to describe all the terrible things Joffrey Baratheon Lannister has done, we were there to witness them all on both Game of Thrones and throughout the A Song of Ice and Fire books. We know of the physical and emotional abuse he inflicted on Sansa Stark, of the violence he delighted to see and inflict on members of his court and of the smallfolk, of how truly terrible he was as a King—so much so that even members of his own family didn’t really think there was any way to salvage him into some sort of decent ruler.

And let’s not forget how he shattered every possibility of brokering peace with the Starks when he chopped off Ned’s head. Had he been alive as a bargaining chip I’m sure Tywin Lannister could have concocted something with Robb Stark and his men, meaning that the Riverlands maybe wouldn’t have turned into the devastated battlefield they did. Sure, it’s not his fault that he was born from twins—but then again that just puts him very much in line with the other Targaryen rulers on this list.

2. Maegor I Targaryen, the Cruel

daemon standing with a sword in house of the dragon
There’s just something about Targaryen second sons that makes them absolutely deranged and criminal, I guess. (HBO)

Someone who’s passed onto the history books as “Maegor the Cruel” definitely deserves a spot in the top three of worst Kings the Seven Kingdoms have ever seen—even though Maegor was King of only six Kingdoms since he reigned just some decades after Aegon’s Conquest when Dorne was still independent.

Now, Maegor was the son of Aegon the Conqueror and his sister-wife Queen Visenya, and as the second son he was never meant to inherit—but of course, if there’s one thing we’ve learned especially from watching House of the Dragon is that second sons will do everything in their might to sit on the Iron Throne. So Maegor usurps the Throne from his brother’s legitimate son—yet another Aegon, every one of these silver-haired criminals is named Aegon of course people get confused—and proceeds to war his way through the Realm and to use that “dracarys” very freely to make the lords accept him.

In true Henry VIII fashion, he’s obsessed with having a male heir, so he marries a grand total of six women throughout his lifetime—three of them at the same time, in a very forced marriage—and five of them die either by his hand or by the hand of his Mistress of Whispers (who is also one of the wives).

In the time he’s on the Throne, he also tries to have a male heir with all six of his waves, and proceeds to kill a good number of them when they fail to do so. He also oversees the final construction of the Red Keep, asking specifically for a torture section to be added to the dungeons and then killing all the builders who had worked on the fortress so that he could be the only one knowing all its secret passageways. I’d say that “the Cruel” is a very much earned moniker, all things considered.

1. Aegon IV Targaryen, the Unworthy

Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen who is about to make a lot of mistakes
We’ve seen the sword Blackfyre in the hands of Viserys on House of the Dragon. (HBO)

I know that it might seem like there isn’t really much lower we can go after Maegor the Cruel, but I would argue that Aegon the Unworthy is an even worse King—let me explain. So, Aegon IV comes into power some forty years after the Dance of the Dragons—he’s descended directly from Rhaenyra and Daemon’s line, by the way, which flows straight down until Daenerys—and he’s a horrible ruler right off the bat, decadent and corrupt and over-indulging himself in everything.

He had a great number of mistresses and subsequent bastards, surrounded himself with sycophants who were more interested in gaining his favour than ruling the Realm, freely punished those he thought had displeased him and emptied the Realm’s coffers, was overall horrible to his sister-wife Naerys. What truly makes Aegon IV the worst King in Westerosi history, in my opinion, is what he did on his deathbed—he legitimized all his bastards, born of noble and common mothers alike.

Among the Great Bastards, the ones born of noble ladies, was Daemon Blackfyre, whom the King had with his cousin Princess Daena and to whom he had already bestowed the great sword Blackfyre, Aegon the Conqueror’s blade that was seen by many as a symbol of the monarchy. This single act plunged the Realm into a good century of fighting, as four total Blackfyre Rebellions—plus the War of the Ninepenny Kings, when the last Blackfyre pretending was finally slain—arose to try and claim the Iron Throne for this particular branch of House Targaryen. 

(sources throughout: AWOIAF, featured image: HBO)

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Author

Benedetta Geddo
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.

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