Our History of Thrones series examined important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros to try and predict what might happen on Game of Thrones. Now those deep dives are giving some much needed context for House of the Dragon. But, much to our surprise, the Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon also dropped its own giant lore revelation about the dream that led Aegon the Conqueror to take Westeros. And that song of ice and fire makes his story even more important than we ever knew. But who Is Aegon the Conqueror and why is he so important to House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones.
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House Targaryen: The World’s Last Dragonlords
The last surviving Valyrian dragonlords in the world called Dragonstone home. Lord Aenar Targaryen had moved his family there after his daughter Daenys had a dream about the impending Doom of Valyria 12 years before the empire’s total demise.
That island on the eastern shores of Westeros is where Daenerys Targaryen returned from Essos with her three dragons. That castle was more than just a home, though; it was a legacy. Three hundred years before she launched her own invasion, another head of House Targaryen who ruled on Dragonstine turned his gaze to the west. That’s when Aegon I—forever known as Aegon the Conquerer—-achieved the greatest military triumph in the Realm’s history. But everything we thought we knew about why he claimed the continent forever changed when his ancestor Viserys I shared the secret of Aegon’s own dream.
A Quiet Century on Dragonstone
For more than a century House Targaryen resided on the island of Dragonstone, independent from—and uninterested in—the kingdoms of Westeros. But that might have been because they were also down to only one dragon, Balerion.
It was on Balerion’s back that the newest Lord of Dragonstone, Aegon Targaryen, joined the other Free Cities of Essos in battle. He helped them fight against Volantis, which hoped to capture Valyria’s position of power. Aegon burned the Volantene fleet at Lys, reminding the world about the power of dragons. Having experienced firsthand the strength of his ancestors, he then returned home.
The world would never be the same.
Aegon Targaryen Turns His Attention to Westeros
The Free Cities, primarily former Valyrian colonies, wanted Aegon to help them reform the Valyrian Freehold. But instead, he turned his focus to the Seven Kingdoms. Until that moment, even Aegon had only ever considered Westeros a place worth visiting rather than taking. Historical reports say he traveled to the southern island Arbor, as well as Oldtown’s Citadel and possibly even Lannisport.
Why Aegon elected to do what his predecessors at Dragonstone hadn’t and invade the Realm was always a topic of debate. But not the “how.” A Targaryen incursion of the Seven Kingdoms became far more feasible because they had recently hatched two more dragon eggs. And Aegon’s two sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys, had each become riders of fully grown dragons.
The Future King, Aegon the Conqueror, Lands in Westeros
Aegon’s invasion began when King Argilac Durrandon of the Stormlands sent a letter to Aegon offering him his daughter’s hand in marriage. As a dowry, he offered lands that actually belonged to his greatest threat, Harren the Black, King of the (Iron) Isles and Rivers (now known as the Riverlands). Harren was nearing completion of his new enormous castle Harrenhal, and Argilac saw an opportunity to defeat his rival.
Aegon the Conqueror didn’t want another wife, though. Nor did he need Argilac to “give” him lands he’d have to take himself. As a counteroffer, Aegon put forth his closest friend (and possibly bastard half-brother) Orys Baratheon as a husband for Argilac’s daughter. Argilac responded by sending Aegon the hands of his envoy. The response from Aegon was not limited to just Argilac
Aegon called upon his small force of bannermen. (That included House Velaryon of Driftmark, the only other Valyrian family in the Realm.) After meeting with his allies and his sisters over his custom wooden table of Westeros (notably a map without borders), Aegon sent letters to every ruler in the Seven Kingdoms announcing himself the new king of a unified realm.
Aegon promised those who bent the knee would keep their lands and titles. Just as he promised to destroy those who did not.
He then rejected offers of alliance from Dorne and the Vale because they would not kneel. Instead, Aegon, his sister-wives, and their dragons took to the skies and landed at what is now King’s Landing. At the time, they had under 1,600 soldiers in their army.
Westeros Begins to Fall to the Dragonlords
Houses Rosby and Stokeworth quickly surrendered after Aegon’s sister-wives arrived with their dragons. (A little dragonflame roof burning display was needed to motivate Stokeworth.) But Duskendale and Maidenpool united and marched on Aegon’s forces. Their 3,000 men gave them the advantage on the ground, but after Aegon the Conqueror burned the lords from the sky both castles swore allegiance.
As Aegon continued to move across Westeros, sometimes he met an enemy ready to fight. Other times he met those ready to kneel so they could save both their lives and the lives of their people. But even when Aegon’s ever-growing army suffered losses, the strength of his dragons turned those setbacks into victory, bringing more houses under his rule.
Harren the Black, however, refused to kneel and burned inside the walls of his new castle. He’d built Harrenhal to be impenetrable. But it wasn’t immune to dragonflame from the sky, and its huge stone walls were unable to save him and his sons, ending Harren’s line forever. House Tully, who had been the first house of the Riverlands to kneel before Aegon, then became the new Paramounts of the Trident.
Dragons also proved decisive in defeating the last of the Storm Kings. After Argilac fell Aegon named his Hand of the King Orys Baratheon as the new Lord of Storm’s End. Orys married Argilac’s daughter, and House Baratheon took up the words, honors, and sigil of House Durrandon.
Those willing to oppose Aegon grew smaller and smaller, and more and more houses swore allegiance rather than burn. But not everyone was willing to surrender. Yet.
The First Field of Fire in Westeros
Two Western kings decided to stand together and fight the Targaryens and Aegon the Conqueror. Mern IX Gardener, King of the Reach, and Loren Lannister, King of Casterly Rock, put together the single biggest force in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. They marched 55,000 soldiers to the plains of the Blackwater Rush and attacked the Targaryen army. But Aegon and his sister-wives, together on a battlefield together for the first time, bathed the middle of the army in dragonflame, destroying the Gardener force. (Just as Daenerys destroyed the Loot Train three centuries later.)
Over 5,000 men died, with twice as many injured, in what is known as the Field of Fire. House Gardener was also completely destroyed, but Loren Lannister kneeled. Aegon then named him Warden of the West. And when Aegon flew to Highgarden, the Gardener stewards House Tyrell bent the knee and became Wardens of the South.
The North and the Vale Bend the Knee to Aegon the Conqueror
The Vale still intended to continue to fight and hold out, confident in the strength of the Eyrie. But after the Queen Regent Sharra Arryn found her son Ronnel sitting on Visenya’s lap, begging for a ride on the back of her dragon Vhagar, the Arryns became Aegon’s Wardens of the East.
Despite everything, Aegon had accomplished, though, the North (of course) was still ready to fight. It had amassed an impressive force of 30,000 men, twice the size of Aegon’s current army. But before battle, the two sides met at the Trident. While many of his men wanted the King in the North, Torren Stark, to go to war, he knew all too well what happened at the Field of Fire. Just as he knew, Harrenhal now stood in ruin, and House Gardener was gone. So instead, Torren called for peace. He is forever known as the King Who Knelt (an event Daenerys was only too happy to remind Jon Snow about). But not one of Torren’s men died, and House Stark was named Wardens of the North.
Aegon the Conqueror is Crowned King of Westeros
After seven days of prayer, the High Septon of Oldtown convinced Lord Hightower to open the gates and let Aegon and his dragons in. Aegon then accepted the Faith of the Seven and was crowned King. That moment also led to a new way of keeping time Westeros. Aegon technically landed in 2 BC (Before the Conquest). After his coronation, the new calendar used AC (After the Conquest).
In only two years, Aegon of House Targaryen, the First of His Name, became King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm. The first ruler of a (mostly) unified Westeros then built his new capital where he first came ashore on Westeros’s mainland. It became known as King’s Landing and the seat of his Iron Throne, which Aegon forged from the swords of his defeated enemies.
But Aegon the Conqueror never ruled all seven kingdoms because, despite his unparalleled conquest, he never did take Dorne.
Dorne Kills a Dragon and Defies Aegon
When Rhaenys flew to Dorne on her dragon Meraxes, she found all of Dorne’s castles abandoned. One person remained at Sunspear, though, the seat of Dorne’s rulers, House Martell. It was there Princess Meria told Rhaenys that Dorne had no king and would never kneel.
In 4 AC, Aegon waged the First Dornish War in an effort to finish his conquest. But the Dornish continued to hide. They’d learn a valuable lesson from The Field of Fire. They wouldn’t let Aegon use his dragons against them, and instead employed guerrilla warfare tactics of quick strikes and retreat.
Six years into the war, the unthinkable happened. Dorne struck Meraxes through its eye with a scorpion bolt (the same weapon Euron Greyjoy used to kill Daenerys’ dragon Rhaegal). Meraxes fell to his death, but no one knows whether Rhaenys died in the fall or if her captors killer her after. The body of Aegon’s most beloved sister-wife was never returned.
In response, a grief-stricken and enraged Aegon, along with Visenya, burned every castle and holdfast in Dorne except for Sunspear. But the war came to an end a couple of years later, when Aegon received Meraxes’ skull along with a letter. No one knows what that letter said. (Did it have something to do with the fate of Rhaenys?)
What we do know is that the next day Aegon agreed to a peace with Dorne. It wouldn’t formally become a part of the Seven Kingdoms until a Martell/Targaryen marriage almost 150 years later.
Aegon the Conqueror’s Dream and a Greater Purpose
Aegon conquered Westeros, but Daenerys never did. In part, because she failed to find the same early success, Aegon did during his invasion. Despite having a far greater advantage in forces, allies, and naval strength than her famous ancestor, she didn’t have the power Aegon brought to Westeros. She lost two of her dragons before attacking King’s Landing, whereas Aegon had his two dragonrider sisters to fight with him.
But things might have gone differently for Daenerys had she inherited something even more important than dragons. She might never have destroyed King’s Landing and lived to rule if she knew the real reason for his conquest. Because Aegon’s secret dream gave him a purpose that went far beyond a quest for power.
Daenys the Dreamer’s prophetic dream saved her family. And after a century on Dragonstone, House Targaryen finally came to Westeros because Aegon had his own dream. Only he dreamed of the coming Long Night. He saw that the world’s only hope against eternal darkness was a unified Westeros led by his family. Aegon turned his sights to the West and showed mercy to his enemies because his goal was to stop the Night King.
That secret was passed down only to Targaryen heirs, who inherited both the Iron Throne and the greatest responsibility in the world. But the knowledge of Aegon the Conquerer’s dream seemingly died when Robert Baratheon killed Rhaegar and Jaime Lannister slew the Mad King. Daenerys clearly did not know about Aegon’s song of ice and fire, even if she knew about the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised.
Princess Rhaenyra knows all about it, though. And every decision she will make in the coming war of succession on House of the Dragon will be both framed and influenced by the same dream that brought Aegon the Conqueror and House Targaryen to Westeros.
Originally published on August 3, 2017.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.