‘House of the Dragon’: The History of King Viserys Targaryen

House of the Dragon is the new Game of Thrones prequel coming to HBO. Based on George R. R. Martin’s Westeros “history” book Fire & Blood, the new series is set approximately three centuries before the original. And, it tells the story of the Dance of the Dragons — a brutal civil war among House Targaryen.

The ancestors of Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen and Kit Harington’s Jon Snow from Game of Thrones begin their fight for the Iron Throne due to a disagreement over who King Viserys Targaryen I (Paddy Considine) chooses as his heir. 

But House Targaryen actually started to crumble before King Viserys named his successor. The path that Viserys took in his claim to the Iron Throne caused a rift that sowed the seeds for the Dance of the Dragons.

MAJOR HOUSE OF THE DRAGON SPOILERS AHEAD!

House of the Dragon King Viserys Targaryen played by Paddy Considine
Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen | Ollie Upton/HBO

The history of King Viserys Targaryen in ‘House of the Dragon’

In the lore of Martin’s novels, King Viserys I is the grandson of Jaehaerys, who himself was the grandson of Aegon the Conqueror — the man who invaded and united Westeros and forged the Iron Throne.

Jaehaerys rules for so long that his son — Viserys’ father — dies before he can inherit the throne. So, Viserys is the one who succeeds his grandfather and becomes the fifth king of the Targaryen dynasty to rule the Seven Kingdoms. 

In his youth, Viserys was a dragonrider who briefly rode Balerion the Black Dread before the dragon died of old age. He was crowned in his 20s and known as the Young King, inheriting a realm that had experienced an unprecedented run of peace and prosperity that had lasted 50 years. 

Not everything is stable in House Targaryen

Despite the peace and prosperity among the Seven Kingdoms, there was some instability among House Targaryen. Viserys was the oldest child of Jahehaerys’ second son, and his succession to the throne was contested by Rhaenys Velaryon — the daughter (and only child) of Jaehaerys’ first son.

The family’s dynasty was young, though, and didn’t have succession laws. If Rhaenys was passed over because she was a woman, others — like House Stark — argued that rule should pass down to Rhaenys’ son Laenor Velaryon.

To address the succession issue, the lords of Westeros gathered at the Great Council at Harrenhal. And the final vote results in Viserys winning by a wide margin. 

“Viserys was chosen by the lords of Westeros to succeed the Old King, Jaehaerys Targaryen, at the Great Council at Harrenhal,” reads a description of the character from HBO.

“A warm, kind, and decent man, Viserys only wishes to carry forward his grandfather’s legacy, but as we’ve learned from Game of Thrones, good men do not necessarily make for great kings.”

Continuing the Golden Age of his grandfather’s reign in ‘House of the Dragon’

Rhaenys grudgingly accepts the outcome of the vote, but this causes a major rift between Viserys’ new royal court and House Velaryon. Which is led by Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), Rhaenys’ husband, who is the admiral of the royal fleets and also the wealthiest man in Westeros.

Viserys’ goal during his reign was to continue the golden age created by his grandfather, and he does that for the most part. He becomes quite popular with both lords and smallfolk. And the family’s dynasty remains essentially unchallenged for an entire century after the Targaryen Conquest. 

King Viserys’ reign sows the seed of civil war

During his first marriage to Queen Aemma Arryn, Viserys only has one surviving daughter named Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). Without having a male heir — and the precedent being set by the council at Harrenhal that the closest male relative should be heir to the throne — Viserys is expected to name his brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) as the next in line. But the lords of Westeros see him as a hot head who isn’t suitable to sit on the throne.

Instead of naming his brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) as his heir, Viserys publicly names his daughter when she was just eight years old. However, Viserys later has a number of sons with his second wife, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), the daughter of a notable family in Westeros. 

If Viserys would have never named his daughter as his successor — and not raised her believing she would be queen — one of his sons would have been his natural heir. In Alicent’s eyes, her oldest son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) has a better claim to the throne compared to Rhaenyra. But because Viserys made his public announcement, the succession issue became muddled.

King Viserys’ death in ‘House of the Dragon’ produces two factions in the Targaryen family

The issue is never settled. So when King Viserys dies, two factions among House Targaryen emerge in a fight for the Iron Throne. The family splits into two sides, each with their allies and vassals. A group known as “the blacks” support Princess Rhaenyra, while “the greens” support Alicent and her son Aegon’s claim.

This happens at a time when the Targaryen family has dozens of dragons under their control. So, when the family splits and starts fighting with each other, there are dragons and dragonriders on both sides of the conflict.

The civil war is known as ‘The Dance of the Dragons’

Because both sides have dragons, the battles in this particular civil war feature clashes in the sky. This leads to the war being known as The Dance of the Dragons. This conflict was mentioned in Game of Thrones, as well as Martin’s source novels.

Because the conflict doesn’t begin until after King Viserys’ death, it isn’t clear just how much the character will be a part of the series. Will he only be part of the first few episodes? Will they even get to the Dance of the Dragons in season 1? These are questions that have yet to be answered. 

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‘House of the Dragon’: How Is King Viserys Targaryen Related to Daenerys Targaryen?

With Viserys’ reign — and the events that happen during that time — being so important to why the civil war begins, it’s very possible that could be the focus of the entire first season. Fans might have to wait to season 2 and beyond for the war to truly begin.

House of the Dragon premieres Sunday, August 21 on HBO. All eight seasons of Game of Thrones are streaming on HBO Max.