Here’s a Breakdown of The Bloodiest Civil War in The History of Westeros—And Who Comes Out on Top
It's the Dance of the Dragons, babes.
*** Spoilers ahead for both the House of the Dragon season finale and the events from Fire & Blood that will be covered in future seasons. Be warned. ***
If there’s one thing that the final episode of the first season of House of the Dragon made abundantly clear, it’s that it’s time for the dragons to really dance. Any hope of solving the conflict for the succession that opened up after the passing of King Viserys I with diplomacy and messages died with young Lucerys Velaryon and his dragon, in the skies above Storm’s End.
This entire first season of Game of Thrones’ prequel series led up to these final episodes, introducing us to the key characters of the Dance, their various claims to the Iron Throne, their allegiances, and their temperaments. In Episode 9, we saw the greens make their move, with Dowager Queen Alicent and Hand of the King Otto Hightower keeping the death of Viserys a secret until they could crown Aegon as the new ruler of the realm.
Episode 10 was the reaction from the opposing party, that of the blacks, the supporters of Viserys’s chosen heir Princess Rhaenyra. She’s crowned Queen on Dragonstone and decides to stall the fighting as long as possible while she gathers her allies—which theoretically should be all the lords of the realm who swore fealty to her when she was named Princess of Dragonstone.
One of those potential allies is Borros Baratheon, the Lord of Storm’s End. There, her envoy, her own son Lucerys, is chased into the sky by his uncle Aemond Targaryen, and ends up killed by Aemond and his dragon Vhagar. And that’s the precise moment—which we see right as Episode 10 closes—that the Dance of the Dragons really begins, and all parties involved know it’s time to draw swords and spill blood.
The Dance lasts for a little less than three years, from 129 AC to 131 AC. It’s relatively short but it wreaks complete havoc on the realm—with green and black armies marching to and fro, and clashing especially in the Riverlands, which always end up being the most exposed whenever a civil war breaks out in Westeros.
House Targaryen comes out of it in absolute tatters. At the start of the Dance, there are around sixteen “core” members of the family alive on both sides with more or less the same amount of dragons of various sizes being bonded to them all. Once the Dance finally ends, five people remain—and almost none of the dragons.
While it’s true that House Targaryen will continue to rule over the realm for the better part of two centuries, they will never again reach the splendour they were at during the reign of King Jaehaerys I and King Viserys I, right up until the start of the Dance.
And the fact that they lose all of their dragons, which have always been their main source of power and authority, only contributes to making them weaker. I think we can all agree that Robert’s Rebellion would have maybe ended up going differently if Rhaegar Targaryen had a dragon at his disposal. But by then dragons had already turned into creatures of legend, which is why it’s such a big deal that Daenerys manages to wake three of them from eggs that were believed to be really nothing more than pretty stones. But that’s a story for another time.
What really boggles the mind is that all of this happens during a war that neither of the two sides fighting can really say they won—because neither Rhaenyra nor Aegon end up ruling the realm for good, and in fact, neither survives the Dance.
So, we’re at the end of 130 AC. The Dance of the Dragons has already claimed the lives of several members of House Targaryen, the most recent being both Prince Daemon and Prince Aemond—and their dragons—in the Battle Above the Gods Eye in the Riverlands. Most of the remaining dragons—including Rhaenyra’s own Syrax, ridden by the last of her Velaryon children, Joffrey—have been killed by the smallfolk of King’s Landing during the Storming of the Dragonpit.
Rhaenyra’s councillors manage to persuade her that the capital, which she had conquered less than a year before, is lost and convince her to leave. Together with Aegon the Younger—her first child by Daemon, whom she believes is the only one to have survived the fighting—she decides to return to Dragonstone, where she hopes to hatch more dragons from the eggs kept there so that she can continue the fight.
Except waiting for her on Dragonstone are her half-brother Aegon and his dragon Sunfyre, both horribly wounded after their fight with Princess Rhaenys and Meleys at Rook’s Nest the year before. Aegon captures Rhaenyra and feeds her to Sunfyre, right in front of her son.
Technically the Dance should be over, with the greens ultimately winning the civil war and the Iron Throne—except that Aegon II still has a taste for blood, and so do all the supporters of Rhaenyra who are still marching towards the capital, clashing with green forces as they come South. Seeing how both the hosts of rivermen and northerners are closing in on King’s Landing, Aegon II’s advisors—who by now include also Lord Corlys Velaryon—suggest that his only option is to abdicate the throne and take the black with the brothers of the Night’s Watch.
Aegon II refuses, and he’s found dead not too long after, with blood on his lips from poisoned wine. With Aegon II’s death the Dance is well and truly ended.
Rhaenyra’s son Aegon then takes the crown as Aegon III, marrying Aegon II’s only surviving child, Jaehaera Targaryen, as his first wife. The last dragon will actually die under Aegon III’s rule, earning him the monicker of “The Dragonbane”—not that he’s particularly saddened by this, considering how seeing his mother eaten alive by a dragon leaves him forever terrified of them.
One could say that it’s eventually Rhaenyra who prevails, since it’s her line that ends up ruling from the Iron Throne rather than her half-brother Aegon’s. Both her sons with Daemon will sit as Kings—with her not-actually-dead youngest, Viserys, taking the crown after both Aegon III’s sons die childless, and continuing the family in a straight line down until Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow.
Then again, the question is whether or not this is any consolation in the face of such bloodshed, and whether or not the satisfaction of having one’s own blood sit the Iron Throne is worth destroying both the realm and the House of the Dragon in the process. What A Song of Ice and Fire has taught us is that theoretically, the answer is that it’s not, but that practically it’s always that it is.
(featured image: HBO)
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