5 "House of the Dragon" facts to remember before the show returns

A reminder of who's feuding for the Iron Throne, who's in an incestuous relationship, and who's still alive

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published June 15, 2024 12:15PM (EDT)

Ewan Mitchell as Aemond Targaryen in "House of the Dragon" (Gary Moyes/HBO)
Ewan Mitchell as Aemond Targaryen in "House of the Dragon" (Gary Moyes/HBO)

It's been more than a year and a half since we were last in Westeros watching all the action that underpinned House Targaryen's impending Dance of the Dragons — a civil war stemming from a battle over the hotly contested rights to the Iron Throne. 

HBO's "House of the Dragon" traces nearly 20 years, predominantly chronicling the infighting between Houses Green — led by Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his mother Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) in King's Landing — and Black, led by Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) from Dragonstone. Adapted from George R.R. Martin's 2018 fictional history book, "Fire and Blood," the series is set roughly 200 years before the events of "Game of Thrones" and approximately 170 years before the birth of the Breaker of Chains, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi-turned-cold-blooded killer, Daenerys Targaryen. 

After the chronically ailing King Viserys (Paddy Considine) dies, former childhood best friends Rhaenyra — the king's daughter and named heir — and Alicent — daughter of the Hand of the King, Viserys' second wife, and mother to four of his offspring — spar over royal succession. By the first season finale, the two factions were teetering on the brink of war. The series returns  Sunday, June 16 and will dive headlong into that conflict.

"House of the Dragon's" initial season was rife with weaving plotlines, incestuous relationships, immolation by dragon fire and a plethora of silver-haired people to keep track of. All that, in addition to the 18th months since that season last ended, may make for some confusion when revisiting Westeros. Never fear. Salon will remind you of the key plot points to make reentry smoother:

01
King Viserys marries Alicent HIghtower, Rhaenyra's childhood best friend
The King faces pressure to remarry after his wife Aemma Arryn dies in childbirth to produce more heirs (specifically, male ones.) Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand of the King, carefully positions his young daughter and best friend of Princess Rhaenyra, Alicent, to ascend the role of queen consort when he routinely sends her to call on the grieving king. The king finds a companion in Alicent, and the two wed, producing four children: Aegon II, Helaena (Phia Saban), Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), and Daeron, who has not yet been explicitly named in the show.
 
The marriage causes a seemingly irreparable rift between the two girls as Alicent effectively becomes Rhaenyra's stepmother and directly challenges her claim to the throne through her children. Once Viserys dies, their already fraught relationship continues to fragment as each lays claim to the throne.  
02
Rhaenyra is in a relationship with her uncle, Daemon Targaryen
This one was a slow burn. Midway through the first season, Daemon (Matt Smith) brings his young niece, with whom he maintains a flirty rapport, to a brothel in Flea Bottom at night, the beginning of his seduction of her. While the two don't wholly consummate their intimacy that evening, they remain very close over the years. 
 
After the death of his first wife, Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford), the ever-volatile Daemon marries Lady Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) with whom he shares two children. Rhaenyra, meanwhile, weds Laenor Valeryon, although the parentage of their three sons is a long-running subject of skepticism, as many believe them to be fathered by Sir Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), since none of the kids bear the platinum Targaryen hair.
 
When Daemon and Rhaenyra's respective spouses supposedly die (Laenor fakes his own death), they finally tie the knot and go on to have two more sons together.
03
Two interpretations of Viserys' dying words cause the battle for the throne
As Viserys falls in and out of lucidity on his deathbed, he mutters the name "Aegon," which his wife Alicent interprets as the king's support for their son to become his successor in place of his named heir, Rhaenyra. The only problem? That's probably not what he meant.
 
Viserys, in his milk-of-the-poppy addled semi-consciousness, appears to believe himself to be speaking with his daughter and not his wife. In this interpretation, he's referring to Aegon's Dream, a prophecy seen by Aegon the Conqueror, that he shared with Rhaenyra in her youth. He tells her that Aegon “foresaw the end of the world of men. It is 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 . . . if the world of men is to survive, a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne.”
 
This plot point appears to resonate with the Long Night, the battle between man and White Walkers that takes place at Winterfell in the final season of "Game of Thrones."
 
Once Viserys dies, Alicent swiftly moves to see her reluctant son Aegon seated on the throne, which is where we will find him when the show returns.
04
Rhaenyra appoints herself as queen
 
Though Viserys beseeched the lords of Westeros to pledge fealty to Rhaenyra early in season 1, her being a woman leaves them sharply divided.
 
Years later, Viserys' cousin Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) — whose very legitimate claim to the throne was previously snubbed by him — informs Rhaenyra about her father's death and Aegon II's assumption of the Iron Throne. The news jolts Rhaenyra so deeply that she goes into premature labor with her and Daemon's daughter, Visenya, who is stillborn. The pair holds a funeral for their late daughter before Rhaenyra hosts her own coronation, declaring herself to be the rightful queen.
 
 
05
Aemond Targaryen and Lucerys Velaryon have a deadly confrontation
The closing moments of the finale were one for the ages when it came to shock value. Rhaenyra sends her second-born son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) to negotiate an allyship from House Baratheon. Upon arriving at Storm's End, Lucerys finds his cousin Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) – who lost one eye to Lucerys in a brawl as children – is already there to do the same. Lucerys comes up short, as Aemond and the Greens have offered Lord Borros Baratheon (Roger Evans) a much more fortuitous alliance: a marriage between Aemond and his daughter. 
 
As the cousins depart on their respective dragons — Aemond riding the ancient behemoth Vhagar and Lucerys commanding the significantly smaller Arrax — Aemond hurtles through a storm-stricken sky, chasing after his cousin to scare him and exact payback for blinding him as a child. A rattled Arrax spews a brief tunnel of fire at Vhaghar before Lucerys navigates him into a calm clearing, seemingly on their way home. But Aemond loses command of Vhaghar, and mere seconds later, the elder she-dragon emerges from the clouds to eliminate Lucerys and Arrax with one snap of her jaws.

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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