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‘House of the Dragon’: Key Targaryens, events and deaths to know ahead of Season 2

By Tracy Brown and Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 17, 2024, 6:09am
3 Photos
This image released by Max shows a scene from the second season of &ldquo;House of the Dragon.&rdquo; (Max via AP)
This image released by Max shows a scene from the second season of “House of the Dragon.” (Max via AP) Photo Gallery

It’s finally time to return to Westeros for the next chapter in the Targaryen war of succession.

After nearly two years, HBO’s “House of the Dragon” returns for its second season on Sunday, airing at 9 p.m. ET and streaming on Max. Season 1 of the “Game of Thrones” spinoff concluded in October 2022.

The first season packed roughly two decades of Targaryen family drama into 10 episodes before ending with an aerial battle that sees one angry (and possibly hungry) dragon ignoring its rider’s command and taking out another dragon in one chomp, rider and all. That first spill of Targaryen blood kicks off the Dance of the Dragons, the civil war that breaks out as Aegon and his half sister Rhaenyra battle over the throne.

That was far from the season’s only death — this is Westeros, after all. Beyond bloodshed, “House of the Dragon” Season 1 featured plenty of scheming, marriages, mourning, remarriages, trysts, births, murders and fights.

Here’s a quick refresher on everything you need to know ahead of “House of the Dragon” Season 2. (Obviously, Season 1 spoilers abound.)

  • What is ‘House of the Dragon’?

Set two centuries before the events depicted in “Game of Thrones,” “House of the Dragon” is a prequel series based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel, “ Fire & Blood,” which explores the history of the Targaryen family and their tumultuous reign over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Created by Martin and Ryan Condal, it’s the first of several planned “Game of Thrones” spinoffs to make it to air on HBO. Another spinoff, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight,” is currently in preproduction.

  • Who are the main players?

Like “Succession” but with dragons, the first season of “House of the Dragon” follows the family power struggle to succeed the ailing King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine). The trouble starts when Viserys’ beloved wife, Queen Aemma (Siân Brooke), dies in childbirth along with her newborn son, leaving no male heir to inherit the Iron Throne. According to the not very well-established laws of succession in the Targaryen dynasty, Viserys’ hot-headed brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) would be his rightful heir. Instead, Viserys names his daughter and only living child, Princess Rhaenyra (played as a teenager by Milly Alcock and an adult by Emma D’Arcy) as his successor, and banishes his roguish brother from King’s Landing.

Things get even messier when Viserys is remarried, to Lady Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke ), Rhaenyra’s best friend and daughter of Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand of the King, and they have a son, Aegon (not to be confused with Aegon the Conqueror, the founder of the Targaryen dynasty).

Rhaenyra faces pressure to form an alliance through marriage. When her uncle Daemon, now loyal to Viserys, returns to King’s Landing, they form a powerful connection. But she eventually weds Ser Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan), son of the powerful Lord Corlys Velaryon, aka the Sea Snake, and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), known as “The Queen Who Never Was” because she was once in contention for the throne but was passed over because of her gender in favor of her younger cousin, Viserys.

Rhaenyra eventually has three sons during her marriage to Leanor, but their lineage is questioned because both spouses pursue relationships outside their marriage — Rhaenyra with Ser Harwin Strong and Laenor with men including Ser Joffrey Lonmouth. Strong is killed in a fire — along with his father, the Hand of the King Lord Lyonel Strong— after he’s sent back to Harrenhal, his homeland. Eventually, Laenor agrees to fake his own death and flees to an unknown destination, leaving Rhaenyra to wed Daemon and carry on the Targaryen bloodline with a brood of silver-haired babies.

  • Why are the Targaryens fighting this time?

For much of Season 1, the Targaryens argue with each other about who will succeed Viserys and who should get married to whom, without shedding each other’s blood. But with each new marriage and birth, these alliances shift and their individual claims to the throne grow more complicated. In a gory side plot, Daemon and Lord Corlys also spend three years fighting — and eventually defeating— the forces of the Triarchy, led by the notorious admiral Craghas Drahar, aka the Crabfeeder, for control of the Stepstones, a strategically significant chain of islands.

When Viserys dies near the end of Season 1, the scramble to succeed him intensifies. Two clear sides fall into place. Alicent conspires with her father, Otto, to install her troubled son as King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney). Meanwhile in Dragonstone, Rhaenyra learns that her father has died and her half brother Aegon has ascended to the throne. (Just to make everything more confusing, she and Daemon also have a son named Aegon.) She is declared queen by her followers and rejects a concession deal offered by Otto on behalf of Aegon. She sends her sons Princes Jacaerys and Lucerys to try to secure the support of key noble houses: the Starks, Baratheons and Arryns. But tragedy strikes when Lucerys and his dragon Arrax are killed by Vhagar, the unruly dragon belonging to Aemond Targaryen, Aegon’s younger brother. Rhaenyra, who is still recovering from a labor that ended in a stillbirth, is devastated. The stage has been set for “The Dance of the Dragons,” a Targaryen family civil war that is expected to play out in Season 2.

  • Who is on Team Rhaenyra?

Rhaenyra’s supporters, known as the Blacks, include her husband-uncle Daemon, as well as Corlys Velaryon, and his wife, Rhaenys, who rains dragon fire on the crowd at Aegon’s coronation as she escapes her imprisonment by the Dowager Queen Alicent. (All this despite the fact that two of their children have seemingly died as a result of their involvement with the Targaryens.) Crucially, Rhaenyra and Daemon also have a larger flock of dragons at their disposal (though most have no battle experience).

  • Who is on Team Alicent and Aegon?

Known as the Greens, the faction supporting Aegon’s claim to the throne consists of Alicent, now Dowager Queen, the members of the Small Council, and Otto Hightower, the king’s grandfather, and Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), Rhaenyra’s former guard and lover. Aegon also has the support of his brother Aemond (though not rock solid) and his sister-wife Helaena. They also have the support of the Lannisters and Baratheons. Although they have fewer dragons, the Greens have a powerful weapon in Vhagar, the largest and most fearsome dragon in the realm.

  • Who has yet to pick sides?

Among those who have yet to declare formal allegiance to either faction of feuding Targaryens are the Starks of Winterfell and the Arryns of the Eyrie.

Rhaenyra believes she has an in with Lady Jeyne, the head of House Arryn, because her mother was an Arryn. She is also counting on Cregan, the head of House Stark, to honor his father’s oath to support her since the North remembers. The Queen has sent her son Jacaerys to recruit both Houses.

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There are other players whose allegiances remain questionable. This includes Mysaria, Daemon’s former lover and brothel owner who brokers information to Otto through her network of spies.

  • Who died during Season 1?

This is Westeros, so there are too many to list! Here are some of the most notable.

King Jaehaerys I Targaryen: The first Targaryen ruler mentioned in the show. Assembled a council to select his successor since he had outlived his children and obvious heirs. Presumably died of old age. The warring Rhaenyra and Aegon’s great-grandfather.

King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine): Chosen to succeed his grandfather King Jaehaerys I on the Iron Throne since he was the eldest male heir. He named his eldest child Rhaenyra his official heir, then remarried her best friend and had more children. His death was caused by a long term, mysterious illness and leads to the current war of succession between those who support Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne and those who support his son Aegon’s.

Aemma Targaryen (née Arryn) (Sian Brooke): Rhaenyra’s mother. Died during childbirth.

Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr): The former Commander of the City Watch and Rhaenyra’s lover. Presumably fathered Rhaenyra’s three oldest children Jacaerys, Lucerys and Joffrey Velaryon. He was killed by his scheming brother Larys.

Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan): Rhaenyra’s first husband, who is technically still alive. The son of Lord Corlys “the Sea Snake” Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, King Viserys’ cousin and “the Queen Who Never Was.”

Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod): Laenor’s lover. He was killed at Laenor and Rhaenyra’s wedding by Criston Cole after figuring out he is the latter’s lover. Proof that all Joffreys should avoid attending royal weddings.

Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell): Laenor’s sister. The second wife of Prince Daemon Targaryen, King Viserys’ brother. She chooses to die by dragonfire after realizing she is unlikely to survive the complications of her pregnancy. She’s survived by her two daughters with Daemon: Baela and Rhaena.

Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford): The first wife of Prince Daemon. There was no love lost between the couple. She was killed by Daemon, but her death was made to look like an accident.

Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault): Rhaenyra and Laenor’s second son. Killed by his uncle Prince Aemond after his unsuccessful attempt to seek Borros Baratheon’s support for his mother. He had blinded Aemond in one eye during a fight when they were younger. His death makes the Targaryen civil war unavoidable.

Lyman Beesbury (Bill Paterson): King Viserys’ master of coin. He was killed for voicing his objection to the council’s plan to crown Aegon upon Viserys’ death, and was an early casualty before the war is formally declared.

  • Why is there so much incest?

Welcome to the world of “Game of Thrones.” The Targaryens had a long tradition of incestuous marriages dating back to their time in Old Valyria. It is supposedly in order to keep the blood of the dragon as pure as possible. King Aegon I, the first Targaryen to rule over Westeros, was married to both of his sisters. (He is also the namesake of every other Aegon ever, including Jon Snow.) The Targaryen practice of sibling marriages seems to be the only outlier in Westeros, where marriages between slightly more distant relatives like cousins appear to be less taboo.

  • What do we know about Season 2?

As we live in a spoiler averse world, not much! But Season 2 is expected to pick up where Season 1 left off with no confusing time-skips. The big Targaryen civil war, also known as the Dance of the Dragons, is underway now that Aemond drew first blood. Season 2 is also expected to feature more dragons, considering Daemon was last seen trying to recruit one of the oldest, biggest, riderless dragons.

New characters will be introduced, including the aforementioned Jeyne Arryn and Cregan Stark. Alyn and Addam of Hull, members of the Velaryon fleet, are among the other new characters who have been announced. Also expected to appear is Ser Oscar Tully, whose father, brother and great-grandfather are named Elmo, Kermit and Grover Tully, respectively, in Martin’s books. (In the show it appears Grover will be Oscar’s grandfather). You can probably also expect some new Targaryen babies.