Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen

Move over Daenerys Targaryen — there’s a new silver-haired, dragon-riding princess in town. The ending of "Game of Thrones" polarized fans in 2019, but HBO’s highly anticipated prequel series "House of the Dragon" has breathed new life into George R.R. Martin’s fantasy franchise. Set 172 years before Daenerys’ birth, it follows the Khaleesi’s ancestors at the height of their power, when the last dragonlords of Valyria ruled Westeros.

"House of the Dragon" introduces multiple new players in the game of thrones, including Rhaenyra Targaryen, the spirited daughter of King Viserys. Rhaenyra is an intriguing character — those who have read "Fire and Blood," the Targaryen history book penned by George R.R. Martin, will know all about her exploits, which include vying for the throne alongside her allies and riding her trusty dragon Syrax.

"House of the Dragon" depicts the Dance of the Dragons, a civil war between the Targaryens that cost them their dragons and, ultimately, led to their downfall. Rhaenyra is at the center of the conflict, but who is she? This is the untold truth of Rhaenyra Targaryen. Spoilers ahead.

Rhaenyra is born in 97 AC

Young Rhaenyra in the Red Keep

Born in 97 AC, Princess Rhaenyra is the firstborn child of King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) and Queen Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke). Rhaenyra’s father inherits the throne in a time of turmoil. The fifth king of the Targaryen dynasty is chosen to rule by the Great Council of 101 AC after the old king, Jaehaerys I (Michael Carter), loses both of his male heirs and convenes the noble houses of Westeros to decide who will inherit the crown as his successor.

Viserys is chosen over his cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best) despite being the younger of the two. Rhaenys, nicknamed the Queen Who Never Was, discusses the Great Council’s decision with young Rhaenyra in the first "House of the Dragon" episode "The Heirs of the Dragon," telling the princess: "Men would rather set the realm ablaze than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne."

Primogeniture is, arguably, the central theme of Rhaenyra’s story. Viserys and Aemma try multiple times to conceive a male heir throughout their marriage, resulting in several miscarriages, stillbirths, and, ultimately, a brutal and bloody fate for Queen Aemma. After a non-consensual medieval C-section marks the end of the queen, teenage Rhaenyra is officially named Viserys’ heir. This differs from "Fire And Blood" — in the Targaryen history book, Viserys names Rhaenyra his heir when she is eight years old.

She was known as the Realm’s Delight

Young Rhaenyra and young Alicent Hightower

Rhaenyra is beloved by the people of Westeros during her youth and dubbed "The Realm’s Delight" in honor of her esteemed beauty. As a child, she serves as a cupbearer for her father, which gives her access to all of his council meetings and the inner machinations of governance. It’s fair to say Viserys was preparing Rhaenyra for a position of power in the same way Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) readied Jon Snow (Kit Harington) to command the Night’s Watch when he appointed him his personal steward during Season 1 of "Game of Thrones." From their respective roles, Rhaenyra and Jon learn how to serve and rule simultaneously.

Rhaenyra’s reputation plummets over the course of her life, however. "Fire and Blood" tells us the Targaryen queen became a controversial figure in her later years, earning some very unsavory nicknames from the people of Westeros. Young Rhaenyra is portrayed by Milly Alcock in "House of the Dragon," while actor Emma D’Arcy later takes over the role as an older version of the character.

Casting two actors to portray Rhaenyra might be more than a practical decision on the showrunners’ behalf. By seeing two versions of Rhaenyra — Milly Alcock as the younger Realm’s Delight and Emma D’Arcy as the stern Half-Year Queen — viewers get to experience the distinct phases of Rhaenyra’s life, as well as how vying for the throne changes her over time.

She took her first dragon ride at seven years old

Rhaenyra pets her dragon Syrax

Have you missed those iconic aerial shots of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) flying over cities on dragonback? Worry not. "House of the Dragon" rewards Targaryen fans in its first few moments as viewers accompany Rhaenyra for a flight over King’s Landing (and this time the people aren’t fleeing in terror from dragonfire). Rhaenyra rides the dragon Syrax, nicknamed the "Golden Beast" for her striking gold scales. Named after a Valyrian goddess, Syrax is less aggressive and battle-worn than Prince Daemon’s (Matt Smith) dragon, Caraxes the Blood Wyrm. Nevertheless, Syrax is a force to be reckoned with.

Rhaenyra takes to the sky on Syrax for the first time at the tender age of seven. Unlike other famous Targaryen dragons, such as Balerion the Black Dread and Vhagar, Syrax only has one rider — Rhaenyra — throughout her life. "Fire and Blood" informs readers that Rhaenyra’s son, Prince Joffrey, attempted to fly Syrax… Only for the dragon to reject her rider and throw him from her back to his death.

"House of the Dragon" opens with Rhaenyra and Syrax, highlighting a bond similar to Daenerys and Drogon. But this is Westeros, where happy endings are few and far between. "Fire and Blood" details a terrible ending for Syrax, who is killed by a rioting mob that storms the Dragonpit in defiance of the Targaryens.

She’s the first woman to sit on the Iron Throne

Rhaenyra with her guards

In the long and bloody history of Westeros, Rhaenyra Targaryen is the first woman to sit on the Iron Throne. She has her reign disputed and discredited by her rival Aegon II, as well as the Maesters of the Citadel, who denounce her as a usurper. However, as detailed in "Fire and Blood," Rhaenyra does sit on the throne after her faction, known as the Blacks, takes King’s Landing from Aegon II.

Rhaenyra rules for six months in King’s Landing, earning her the moniker "The Half-Year Queen." Book lore frames her as the only woman to sit on the throne, but in HBO’s "Game of Thrones," Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) follows in Rhaenyra’s footsteps and becomes the Queen of Westeros after the deaths of her children in the Season 6 finale "The Winds of Winter."

Despite her discredited sovereignty, Rhaenyra remains a powerful figure in the Targaryen dynasty and an influential ancestor for Daenerys in the books. The Mother of Dragons is the second sovereign queen in her family after Rhaenyra, as she rules the city of Meereen while laying her claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros.

She lost her daughter in tragic circumstances

Milly Alcock looking sad

The similarities between Rhaenyra and Cersei Lannister don’t end there. The Targaryen queen has five children who are key figures in the Dance of the Dragons. Her first three children, Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey (a name Cersei chooses for one of her own kids, the most vicious of the bunch), are born from Rhaenyra’s marriage to Ser Laenor Velaryon. Like Cersei, however, the legitimacy of her children is doubted, with the realm speculating that the boys are actually the sons of Rhaenyra’s lover, Ser Harwin Strong.

All three of the so-called Strong boys are dragonriders: Jacaerys rides the dragon Vermax, Lucerys rides Arrax, and Joffrey rides Tyraxes. Rhaenyra later gives birth to two more sons, Aegon and Viserys, fathered by Prince Daemon Targaryen. Aegon rides the dragon Stormcloud as a child, before trauma sours the young prince’s perspective on House Targaryen’s winged beasts. Rhaenyra is pregnant with her sixth child when her father Viserys dies. The news triggers a difficult labor. Tragedy strikes twice for the Targaryen queen, as her daughter, Visenya, does not survive the birth.

She married her uncle

Daemon and Rhaenyra

The first time Rhaenyra Targaryen marries, it is for duty. The princess is wed to Ser Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate/John Macmillan) in 114 AC, but makes no secret of her distaste for him. "Fire and Blood" speculates that Rhaenyra was forced to marry Laenor by Viserys, who threatened to denounce her as his heir if she didn’t go through with the marriage. It is heavily suggested that Laenor is gay and in love with Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), with whom he spends most of his time at High Tide, the seat of Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint).

Despite spending most of her time at court away from her husband, Rhaenyra becomes friends with Laenor’s sister, Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn/Nanna Blondell), who marries Daemon Targaryen and dies giving birth to their twin daughters: Princess Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning/Phoebe Campbell) and Princess Baela (Shani Smethurst/Bethany Antonia). When Laenor and Laena die in 120 AC, Rhaenyra and Daemon marry in secret, against the wishes of King Viserys. Their relationship is shudder-inducing from the start: Daemon gifts his niece various trinkets from his voyages (including a Valyrian steel necklace, as shown in the first episode of "House of the Dragon") and courts her from a young age.

She is the official Princess of Dragonstone

Younger Rhaenyra with a guard

Rhaenyra’s formal title as heir to King Viserys is Princess of Dragonstone, a title passed down to all Targaryen heirs and only given to two women during the course of the series. Like her ancestor, Daenerys bears this title at the beginning of "Game of Thrones." Daenerys serves as heir to her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) as the only other (known) living Targaryen left after Robert’s Rebellion. After the deaths of Viserys and her unborn son Rhaego, Daenerys assumes sovereignty of House Targaryen, believing herself to be the last of the dragonlords.

Daenerys’ and Rhaenyra’s story arcs are driven by prophecy. In "House of the Dragon," Viserys tells his daughter about a prophetic dream that Aegon I once had, a dream that motivated the conqueror to unify Westeros with fire and blood. "Aegon foresaw the end of the world of men. ‘Tis to begin with a terrible winter, gusting out of the distant North. Aegon saw absolute darkness riding on those winds, and whatever dwells within will destroy the world of the living. When this great winter comes, Rhaenyra, all of Westeros must stand against it."

The Princess of Dragonstone is heir to her father’s crown and her family’s responsibility. "Fire and Blood" chronicles Rhaenyra fending off crown-hungry suitors from other noble families such as House Lannister, House Frey, and House Tyrell.

She fought her own family for the Iron Throne

Alicent and Rhaenyra argue

King Viserys makes Alicent Hightower his wife in the year 106 AC. The daughter of Viserys’ Hand, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), and — according to "House of the Dragon" — Rhaenyra’s childhood friend, Alicent (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke) gives birth to four children over the next few years: Prince Aegon, Princess Helaena, Prince Aemond, and Prince Daeron. The coming of these kids makes the realm anxious. Will Rhaenyra remain Viserys’ heir? Or will patriarchal traditions force the king to name Prince Aegon (Ty Tennant/Tom Glynn-Carney), his eldest son, the new heir to the throne?

To the character’s credit, Viserys does not budge — Rhaenyra is the heir. But that doesn’t stop the Targaryens from splintering into two factions. In 111 AC, during a tournament held in honor of Viserys and Alicent’s fifth anniversary, Rhaenyra makes a bold statement by dressing in the traditional Targaryen colors (black and red) to symbolize her status as the future of House Targaryen, juxtaposing Alicent’s green gown. The two factions are thereafter dubbed the blacks and the greens after the princess and the queen’s costumes.

Alicent and Aegon lead the greens, with Rhaenyra and Daemon at the head of their opposition. Aegon — who will become known as Aegon II — rides the dragon Sunfyre, while his brother Aemond One-Eye (Leo Ashton/Ewan Mitchell) rides Vhagar, the oldest and largest Targaryen dragon. Rhaenyra and Aegon never fight directly on their dragons. Other characters fight — and die — on their behalf. The civil war decimates House Targaryen, wiping out nearly all of the dragons and triggering the steady decline that leads to Robert’s Rebellion.

The death of the Half-Year Queen

Emma D'Arcy as older Rhaenyra

Although she rules King’s Landing for six months, Rhaenyra is not a beloved queen. The people initially cheer for her when she takes the throne from her brother, but when Rhaenyra hikes taxes dramatically to fund the war, it is the people of King’s Landing who pay the price. Starving and oppressed, the people rebel against her. When Helaena Targaryen (Evie Allen/Phia Saban), beloved sister-wife of Aegon II, commits suicide, the mob’s fury is ignited. Led by a High Sparrow-like figure named the Shepherd, rioters take over the city, storm the Dragonpit and kill multiple dragons — including Rhaenyra’s Syrax.

Rhaenyra flees to Dragonstone. Unfortunately, Aegon and his forces wait in ambush. Aegon’s had a tough time by this point. Not only is he badly burned from a clash with Rhaenys and her dragon Meleys, but the king’s legs are shattered from a fight with Princess Baela and her dragon Moondancer, during which Aegon is forced to jump from Sunfyre’s back. Needless to say, he’s not thrilled. Aegon sentences Rhaenyra to death by dragon. Sunfyre devours her, all while her son watches.

In Season 3 of "Game Of Thrones," Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) recounts the story of Rhaenyra’s death to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) while touring the Great Sept of Baelor. Rhaenyra’s remains are entombed at the Sept alongside her Targaryen brethren.

The reason we know so much about Rhaenyra’s family

Rhaenyra Targaryen and Daemon Targaryen

Most of what we know about Rhaenyra and her family comes from Mushroom, a dwarf who served as a court jester to the Targaryens according to "Fire and Blood." Mushroom is a Tyrion Lannister archetype. Both share a propensity for wine and bawdy jokes. Most importantly, Mushroom and Tyrion (famously played by Peter Dinklage in "Game Of Thrones") are underestimated by the people around them. Like Tyrion, Mushroom uses this to his advantage by becoming privy to important information that the nobles don’t bother to conceal from him.

Mushroom documented an account of the Dance of the Dragons titled "The Testimony of Mushroom." His testimony forms the backbone of "Fire and Blood," and the narrator of the history book — Archmaester Gyldayn — attempts to discern the truth from the lies. Mushroom makes some pretty salacious claims in his testimony. Gyldayn compares his account of the events to other historians, like Septon Eustace and Grand Maester Munkun, whose tales often contradict. Then again, in Westeros, any scandal is possible.

Mushroom doesn’t appear in "House of the Dragon," though so-creator Ryan Condal has confirmed that there will at least be some nods to the character.

Viserys made Rhaenyra an exception

Paddy Considine as King Viserys

King Viserys I defies tradition in naming his daughter the heir to the Iron Throne. However, the king does a half-hearted job of securing Rhaenyra’s position of power, especially after he has sons by Alicent Hightower. Rather than challenge male primogeniture, or make a formal declaration of Targaryen exceptionalism (which is how the Targaryens convinced the Faith of the Seven to let them practice incest), Viserys seemingly just hopes for the best, oblivious to the civil war beginning around him.

"House of the Dragon" suggests that Viserys is motivated by a mixture of guilt for Aemma’s death and his desire to keep his hot-headed brother Daemon away from the throne. Does Viserys love his daughter? Yes. But doesn’t that mean he should work harder to secure her future as queen? Probably. "House of the Dragon" will shed light on this in future episodes as it works to fill in the gaps from "Fire and Blood."

Rhaenyra’s son ended up on the throne after all

King Viserys, Princess Rhaenyra, Iron Throne

After Rhaenyra’s death, it seems as if Aegon II has won the war. But all is not lost for the queen’s cause. The blacks continue to fight in her name, with a new army of Northmen and knights from the Vale approaching King’s Landing. Cregan Stark leads his soldiers to the capital, where they discover that Aegon II has been poisoned. The greens bend the knee to Cregan, who makes some severe changes in the city on behalf of Rhaenyra’s son, the future King Aegon III.

Cregan’s six-day rule in 131 AC is dubbed the "Hour of the Wolf." With it, the Dance of the Dragons comes to an end. Aegon III is crowned at the age of eleven, though the realm is ruled by a council of regents until he comes of age. The young king remains deeply traumatized by the death of his mother and falls into a life-long depression. It is during Aegon’s reign that the last of the Targaryen dragon dies, earning him the nickname Dragonbane.

Rhaenyra might not win the throne, but her legacy lives on. Her ancestry extends all the way to Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, the last scions of the House of the Dragon.