Warning: This post contains spoilers for the season seven finale of Game of Thrones.
Growing up thinking you are the bastard son of Ned Stark only to find out you are the legal son of Rhaegar Targaryen is like growing up the black sheep son of a Kennedy only to find out you’re the rightful ruler of Krypton. So needless to say when Jon Snow finds out he is really Aegon Targaryen it might be a little bit of a shock.
The ancient and noble family of House Stark trace their blood to the First Men 12,000 years ago, whereas House Targaryen didn’t come to Westeros until 400 years before the start of Game of Thrones. But while the Starks have reigned in the North for thousands of years, it was the Targaryens who united the Seven Kingdoms under their rule.
And since Jon probably doesn’t know nearly as much about his father’s side of the family as he does about his mother’s, here’s a crash course for him about who the Targaryens were, and what he can learn from the best and worst of his ancestors.
House Targaryen was one of 40 minor dragonlord families of old Valyria. They were known for having prophetic dreams, which is how they managed to be the only dragonlords to avoid the Doom that destroyed the other 39. They fled to Dragonstone 12 years before the cataclysmic event that nearly eradicated all dragons and their owners from the world, all thanks to one young Targaryen woman who saw it coming.
Lesson 1 for Jon: If you have any dreams that seem like omens, pay attention and act on them.
Aegon and his two sister-wives conquered the Seven Kingdoms on the strength of their dragonsdespite their vastly smaller force; many lords and ladies of Westeros bent the knee rather than suffer the same fate of the now extinct House Gardener of the Reach, who were wiped out during the aptly named bloodbath the Field of Fire.
But when Aegon died, his son and heir Aenys I immediately faced rebellions across Westeros, including the Faith Militant uprising. Aenys himself had dragons, but he was an ineffectual and weak leader. He died under questionable circumstances after only a few years into his reign, and things only got worse for Westeros after his death.
Lesson 2 for Jon: Dragons can bring you power, but they alone can’t keep it for you.
For unknown reasons, when Aenys died his half-brother Maegor succeeded him rather than Aenys’ son. To give you some idea what kind of ruler he was, he’s forever known as Maegor the Cruel. He burned many of the Faith Militant on the back of Balerion the Black Dread, and his remaining years weren’t much better, like when he murdered everyone who had built the Red Keep for him so they could never reveal its secrets. Maegor was violent, bloodthirsty, and ruled with fear and dragonflame. He was killed by his own men while he sat on the Iron Throne.
Lesson 3 for Jon: A successful king cannot rule by fear and fire alone.
After Maegor came the beloved Jaehaerys I, and at 55 years on the Iron Throne he was the longest reigning king in history. Known as the Conciliator, he ended the Faith Militant uprising peacefully. The Seven Kingdoms never knew a longer and better time period of tranquility. There are few Targaryen kings in history who’d serve as a better model for the kind of ruler Jon would want to be.
Lesson 4 for Jon: Ruling with wisdom and kindness will bring you the love and respect of the people, both highborn and lowborn alike.
The Old King Jaehaerys was followed by his amiable and eager-to-please grandson Viserys I, and he built on his grandfather’s legacy of peace and prosperity. But following his death a civil war broke out between his children over the Iron Throne. Viserys had named his daughter Rhaenyra, from his first marriage, to be his heir, but his son Aegon from his second marriage was crowned by a rival faction within house Targaryen. The Dance of the Dragons nearly ruined the Targaryens, and it greatly contributed to the extinction of the dragons two decades later. House Targaryen was never as powerful once they lost they lost their dragons.
The second great Targaryen civil war, the Blackfyre Rebellions, came after the worst king in Targaryen history, Aegon the Unworthy, legitimized all of his great bastards (those born from highborn woman) on his deathbed. It led to a bloody, deadly war that split Westeros in two, and it was followed by threats and wars against the Iron Throne and House Targaryen for over a hundred years–maybe even to this day.
Lesson 5 for Jon: The heir to whom a Targaryen leaves the Iron Throne is as much a part of a king’s legacy as anything he does when he is alive.
There have been Targaryen kings more interested in brooding than ruling, like Aegon III, and those who were pious and ineffectual, like Baelor the Blessed. Some were bold and daring like Daeron I, who died at 18 after trying to invade Dorne, or kind and scholarly like Daeron II, who reigned for many years and restored peace to Westeros. Many were consumed by the madness that often inflicted the inbreeding Targaryens, like Aerys II, otherwise known as the Mad King. The Targaryen men who were king were kind and cruel, wise and dumb, brave and weak. Some rose to be worthy of the greatness of the throne Aegon the Conqueror forged, while others exploited it for selfish reasons.
Lesson 6 for Jon: A chair does not make the man; the man makes the chair.
But one of Jon’s ancestors had more in common with Jon than any of the others. Jon Snow could end up being the least likely Targaryen to ever rule, but for now that title belongs to Aegon V, also known as Aegon the Unlikely because he was the fourth son of a fourth son. As a kid, Aegon anonymously roamed the Seven Kingdoms as the squire of the legendary Ser Duncan the Tall. Known as Dunk and Egg, this duo met the common people and understood their struggles, and when Aegon became king he was determined to enact laws that protected them from the powerful lords of Westeros.
But despite his best intentions, the kind and caring Aegon was unable to keep the peace, and he was forced to roll back some of his reforms to quell the uprisings of the lords of Westeros. Aegon became convinced that if he had dragons he would be able to rule the way he wanted, and he would be able to help the commoners of the Realm. He died at the Tragedy of Summerhall, along with Ser Duncan and many others, trying to hatch fossilized dragon eggs with magic and wildfire. Aegon was an unlikely king with the best intentions, but it still wasn’t enough.
Lesson 7 for Jon: No matter how much good you want to do, sometimes circumstances make that impossible.
Jon’s father, Rhaegar Targaryen, was himself born during the Tragedy of Summerhall. Rhaegar was everything Westeros could have wanted in a king. Wise, kind, a great warrior beloved by both the highborn and lowborn, Prince Rhaegar might have been destined to be the greatest man to ever sit on the Iron Throne. But he fell in love with Lyanna Stark, and that ended with him dead at the Ruby Ford, struck down by Robert Baratheon’s war hammer. Only his son Jon remains of him now.
Lession 8 for Jon, and the greatest lesson of them all…
Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch–the brother of Aegon the Unlikely, who refused the crown himself–once told Jon the best lesson any ruler needs to know: “Love is the death of duty.” Rhaegar would have been a great king, but he chose love over duty and it not only led to his demise, it almost destroyed House Targaryen forever. Aemon didn’t know he was speaking with his great-great-nephew when he said that, but the best lesson Jon could have ever learned from both his father and his family was shared with him by a fellow Targaryen.
Being king means you can do whatever you want, but to be a good king often means you can’t. Even if you are Jon Targaryen and the blood of the dragon. What lessons do you think Jon can learn from his Targaryen ancestors? Tell us in the comments below.