The Dance of the Dragons is Coming Closer on ‘House of the Dragon’— Here’s What you Need to Know About it
Fire and blood are happening soon.
*** Many spoilers for the current and possibly future seasons of House of the Dragon. You’ve been warned. ***
We knew right from the very start that House of the Dragon was going to centre around a conflict for the Iron Throne—but if one arrived to the show without having read any of Martin’s works then it might have seemed, at least for the first few episodes, that it was going to be between Daemon and Rhaenyra, the King’s brother and eldest child respectively.
Starting from Episode 3, though, everything became clearer: the fight will be between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her youngest half-brother, Aegon, to decide who is going to sit on the Iron Throne after their father King Viserys passes away. Something that could happen at any minute, considering how Viserys’s health has been steadily declining with every passing episode.
And this conflict, known to history as the Dance of the Dragons, won’t be just any succession fight, but rather the succession fight. It will change the course of events in Westeros and within House Targaryen both, and truly create another watershed moment pretty much like the Conquest.
So, let’s go over the events of the Dance of the Dragons in order to clear all of our collective ideas, whether you’re a reader or not. Some things we have already seen happening on House of the Dragon and some are coming in future episodes and seasons, but after you’ve read this guide you’ll know everything you need to understand how things are going to play out.
First, let’s go over the sources, both in-universe and not. House of the Dragon is based on two companion pieces to George R.R. Martin’s main saga, A Song of Ice and Fire. First is The World of Ice and Fire, a guidebook to the worldbuilding and lore of Westeros, which includes a section on the lives of the rulers of the Targaryen dynasty.
Then there’s Fire & Blood, a detailed chronicle of the dragon kings and the main source of material for the show. Martin wrote it as a history book penned by one of the Citadel’s archmaesters, Gyldayn, who lived in the time of Robert Baratheon. His in-universe sources are Septon Eustace, Grand Maester Munkun and the court jester Mushroom, who all lived during the Dance and give very different accounts of the events according to their respective allegiances.
The events of the Dance of the Dragons, though, are often mentioned throughout the main series, both in the books and in the show. Shireen Baratheon, for example, talks about it during Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Keep in mind that while we’re laying out the history of what Martin has written before, HBO’s House of the Dragon will no doubt make some changes, add twists, and take some liberties with the existing plotlines to keep readers on their toes. So while this is the sequence of events per Martin, the actual show could take a different shape.
A question of heirs
So, onto the Dance itself. Just like House of the Dragon showed us, the first seed of this disastrous civil war can be found in the Great Council of 101, which Old King Jaehaerys called to decide which one among his descendants was going to succeed him. The assembled Lords of Westeros chose Viserys, the son of Jaehaerys’s second son, rather than Rhaenys, the daughter of Jaehaerys’s eldest son and heir, and her own son Laenor Velaryon—establishing the precedent of sons being favoured over daughters, even when daughters should have primogeniture on their side.
The same issue returns during the reign of King Viserys: his only living child by his first wife, Aemma Arryn, is a daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen. So his choices of heirs are either his daughter or his rebellious (read: absolutely deranged the messiest bitch in Westeros) brother, Daemon Targaryen. So Viserys eventually decides to name Rhaenyra heir and has all the lords of Westeros swear their loyalty to her. And then he remarries.
Through his second wife, Alicent Hightower, Viserys finally has the male son he so desired (and for whom he pretty much killed Queen Aemma). With the birth of Prince Aegon, the Seven Kingdoms now believe that he will ascend the Iron Throne—and that Rhaenyra’s claim will be passed over just like it had been for Princess Rhaenys.
King Viserys, however, stands resolute in his decision of having Rhaenyra as his heir, and she herself has no intention of letting go of her claim in favour of her half-brother, whom she doesn’t particularly like. And so everyone in the realm starts scheming, as they do.
The blacks and the greens
The court soon divides into two main parties, the blacks and the greens. The blacks are those who support Princess Rhaenyra’s claim, while the greens gather around Queen Alicent and her children. The names for the two factions come from Rhaenyra and Alicent’s favoured choices of dresses—Rhaenyra in Targaryen red and black while Alicent, just like we’ve seen in Episode 5, in Hightower green.
As the tension rises and rises—but doesn’t explode yet, with Viserys still alive—the Targaryens grow. Alicent and the King have a grand total of four children: Aegon, Helaena, Aemond and Daeron. Aegon and Helaena eventually marry each other, following the Targaryen custom, and have three children of their own—Jaehaerys, Jaehaera and Maelor Targaryen.
Rhaenyra marries Laenor Velaryon, with whom he has three sons: Jacaerys, Lucerys and Joffrey, even though rumors ran wild that their real father was actually Ser Harwin Strong, Rhaenyra’s sworn shield and lover.
Daemon, after his first wife Rhea Royce dies mysteriously (read: there are good chances he was behind it, like House of the Dragon confirms) marries Laena Velaryon, with whom he has two twin daughters, Baela and Rhaena. After Lady Laena’s death, he finally marries Rhaenyra herself—and from the marriage come another Aegon, Viserys and Visenya. And a good chunk of these people rides a dragon, so you see how the conflict brewing will be a bloody, terrible affair.
The breaking point
Everything goes absolutely nuclear when King Viserys dies, of course. Once Queen Alicent discovers that her husband has passed away, she keeps the news a secret and gathers her small council to crown her son Aegon II—instead of sending word to Dragonstone and having Rhaenyra return to King’s Landing.
When Rhaenyra learns of this, she’s understandably furious. She crowns herself Queen on Dragonstone and the Dance of the Dragons officially starts, with both sides sending out ravens to seek the allegiance of all other Houses in the Seven Kingdoms. Notable allies of Aegon II included Houses Baratheon, Lannister, and of course Hightower, while strong black supporters were House Arryn, Greyjoy, Stark and Tully.
Blood begins to flow pretty early. The first major dragon battle of the Dance happens above Shipwrecker Bay, after Prince Lucerys goes to Storm’s End to try and win House Baratheon’s favour for his mother. He meets his half-uncle Aemond there, and the two clash with their dragons in the sky: Lucerys and his mount Arrax, however, stand no chance against Aemond and the massive dragon Vhagar, who at the time is the last surviving dragon from the Conquest and the largest in the world. The bodies of both Arrax and Lucerys wash up ashore, sending Rhaenyra into a vengeful rage.
And so Daemon sends two assassins, Blood and Cheese, into the Red Keep. There, they entrap Queens Alicent and Helaena with her three children, and have Helaena choose which son she would like to save and which should die to pay for Prince Lucerys’s death. When Helaena chooses her youngest, Maelor, probably hoping he was too little to understand what was happening, Blood and Cheese instead kill Jaehaerys—an event that will leave Queen Helaena devastated and that will eventually lead to her suicide.
The death of the two princes served to make both sides even more hellbent on destroying the other. Bannermen were called and armies began to march through the Seven Kingdoms. Aegon II lost the Riverlands to Rhaenyra and had to deal with a rebellion in the Reach, where he believed himself the strongest. This is also when he takes the title of Hand of the King away from his grandfather Otto Hightower and entrusts the pin to Ser Criston Cole, one of his mother’s steadiest supporters.
The fighting arrives at Rook’s Nest, where Princess Rhaenys and her dragon Meleys clash with Aemond on Vhagar and the King himself on Sunfyre. At the end of the fight, only Vhagar is still unharmed— Rhaenys and Meleys both die, while Aegon and Sunfyre are horribly hurt and will remain so for the rest of their lives.
Rhaenyra then moves first to ensure the safety of her remaining children, sending them to the Vale and to the Free Cities for their protection, and then calls on the dragonseeds—common folk who have Valyrian blood in them and who can try and claim the riderless dragons nesting on Dragonstone. Eventually, four more dragons are added to Rhaenyra’s cause. Prince Jacaerys, however, dies with his dragon Vermax at the Battle of the Gullet, against a fleet of warships sent from Lys.
King’s Landing falls, and then Rhaenyra
Aemond Targaryen and Criston Cole decide to march on Harrenhal, which Daemon Targaryen has made his base of operations. Daemon, however, takes Caraxes south and helps the blacks seize the Kingdom’s capital. Queen Alicent’s remaining children are smuggled out to safety, while she herself is captured and tries to plead for peace with Rhaenyra. Rhaenyra who, of course, has no intention of standing down.
In the Riverlands, meanwhile, chaos reigns supreme— as it always does in the Riverlands whenever there’s a war. Criston Cole dies in a massacre known as the Butcher’s Ball and one of the most decisive battles in the Dance, which is the height of Rhaenyra’s fortune. Daemon and his new lover, Nettles—one of the dragonseeds who had claimed the dragon Sheepstealer—instead put themselves on Prince Aemond’s tail, who is waging a one-man war burning pretty much every square inch of the Riverlands to the ground.
More chaos and death ensue: Prince Maelor, the last of King Aegon’s sons, dies torn apart by the crowds. Two of the dragonseeds betray Rhaenyra for the greens, burning the Reach in the process until eventually both they and their dragons are defeated. Lord Corlys Velaryon is arrested for helping another dragonseed—Addam of Hull, whom Rhaenyra had legitimised so that he could become Corlys’s heir —escape. While Rhaenyra is in King’s Landing, her brother Aegon actually seizes Dragonstone— taking Daemon’s daughter Baela prisoner in the process.
Then there’s the terrible aerial battle between Daemon and Aemond, known as the Battle Above the Gods Eye—at the end of which both riders and dragons die. Rhaenyra’s fortunes are already declining and they do not go back up. The Velaryons desert her after Lord Corlys’s arrest; the smallfolk of King’s Landing riot, attacking the Dragonpit and killing three more dragons, including Rhaenyra’s own Syrax carrying the last of her three “Strong boys,” Joffrey.
Her advisors finally persuade her to leave King’s Landing, but when she returns to Dragonstone—hoping to hatch another dragon from the eggs kept there—she finds her brother Aegon waiting for her. Aegon feeds her to his dragon Sunfyre, right in front of Rhaenyra’s son, himself named Aegon. But even though Rhaenyra dies, the war isn’t finished yet.
The end of the Dance
The fighting actually continues for at least another half year. The Baratheons regain control of King’s Landing, but are then defeated by the Rivermen army. With the city so defenceless and the Starks and Arryns descending from the North, King Aegon’s advisors suggest that he surrenders and joins the Night’s Watch, something that he obviously refuses. A couple of days later he’s found dead, lips bloodied by poisoned wine. The actual poisoner remains unknown, but a good twenty men are arrested for the fact—Lord Corlys included.
Aegon II’s death marks the true end of the Dance of the Dragons—leaving Rhaenyra’s only surviving son (that she knows of, at least) to ascend the Iron Throne as Aegon III. The legacy of the war is terrible: the realm is broken, burned and filled with rebels running amok—an issue that will take up most of Aegon III’s reign.
The Dance leaves House Targaryen and their dragons decimated. They will never return to the splendour of the first century of their reign. The last dragon actually dies during Aegon III’s reign, leading him to be known as Aegon the Dragonbane. And the House itself, even though it will continue to reign for another century and a half, starts to decline—their power diminishing until Robert’s Rebellion, which dethrones them completely.
(source: AWOIAF; image: HBO)
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