'House Of The Dragon': Why It Is Customary For Taragaryens To Inter-Marry
I, Daemon Targaryen, Take Thee, Rhaenyra Targaryen..
WARNING: SPOILERS for House of the Dragon 1x07.
Sometimes, the rules of Westeros can be confusing. While in Game of Thrones, the incestuous love story of Jaime and Cersei Lannister would have meant their deaths had it become common knowledge, the most recent prequel series House of the Dragon has Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen marrying her Uncle, Prince Daemon, and Rhaenyra's half-siblings Aegon and Helaena betrothed to each other, without anyone batting an eye.
What changed between House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones? And why are incestuous marriages so much more prevalent among Targaryens? There are a few reasons, but the answer begins with where the Targaryens originally came from.
The Blood of Old Valyria
House Targaryen originated in Valyria, a city in Essos, aka one of the lands across the narrow sea. A model of the city is seen in House of The Dragon's opening sequence, and another in the show itself, which King Viserys has been trying to build the whole series, only to be repeatedly interrupted by his latest family drama.
Various Lords mounted on dragons constantly warred for control of Valyria, and the people of Valyria were also known for experimenting with Blood Magic, a practice frowned upon across most other parts of the Game of Thrones universe. Many believe that the practice of Blood Magic led to the Doom of Valyria.
Twelve years before the Doom, young Daenys 'The Dreamer' Targaryen experienced a prophetic vision of Valyria's destruction. In response, Lord Aenar Targaryen gathered his family and their five Dragons and fled Valyria, eventually finding a new home in Westeros on the Island of Dragonstone. There they reconnected with the Velaryons, a House of Valyrian seafarers who had already relocated to Westeros some time earlier, and soon became Bannermen to the Targaryens. While the other Dragon Lords dismiss the Targaryens as cowards, their relocation means they are among the few Dragon Riders to survive the Doom, and get the last laugh following Aegon's Conquest, positioning House Targaryen as the rulers of all of Westeros.
Keeping the Bloodline pure
Even before the Targaryens arrived in Westeros, it was common for those who hailed from Valyria to marry within their own family. This was done in the interests of maintaining a pure Valyrian bloodline, and became even more important once in Westeros, when it became clear that the genetics of other bloodlines often dominated over Valyrian ones. The tell-tale Valyrian features of violet eyes and pale hair would commonly disappear in any children born of a Targaryen/non Targaryen match. This is clearly seen with Jon Snow once his true parentage is revealed in the sixth season finale of Game of Thrones. The northern features of his Mother, Lyanna Stark, are dominant over those of his Father, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
Unfortunately, seeing as only three major Valyrian families (the Targaryens, the Velaryons, and the Celtigars) made it to Westeros, the pool of pure Valyrian blood is rather small. The solution, in the case of the Tagaryens, was to marry within the family, most commonly to their own siblings. This initially set the Targaryens off-side with Westeros's most common religion, the Faith of the Seven, but due to the destruction caused by King Maegor the Cruel's war with the Faith, they ultimately accept the Targaryens incestuous marriages, though such relationships remain taboo elsewhere in Westeros.
But why, exactly, is it so important to the Targaryens to maintain the purity of their Valyrian blood? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
It may be what gives them their connection to Dragons
Dragons, like the Targaryens, hail from Old Valyria. While other Houses have shown interest in the power of Dragons throughout Westerosi history, only those of the Targaryen or Velaryon bloodline have ever been able to hatch or claim their own dragon to ride. One of the Targaryens' greatest fears was the possibility that diluting their Valyrian blood with the more common blood of other Westerosi Houses could, over time, lessen their ability to connect with Dragons, still the main source of House Targaryen's power. Marrying within their bloodline lessened the chance of this occuring.
In Fire & Blood, the book that inspires House of the Dragon, Alicent Hightower's supporters hope that each of Rhaenyra Targaryen's first three sons (Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey) will be proven as bastards if the dragon eggs traditionally placed in their cradles fail to hatch, therefore weakening Rhaenyra's future claim on the Iron Throne. Unfortunately for Alicent and the greens, all three eggs hatched, into the dragons Vermax, Arrax, and Tyraxes. In contrast, Alicent's own second son, Aemond, was left dragon-less until claiming Vhagar.
Marrying within the family preserves the bloodline of Aegon the Conqueror, and his Prophecy
Keeping marriages and therefore positions of power strictly within the Targaryen family, they preserve and protect the bloodline and legacy of Aegon the Conqueror, and also, his prophetic dream of the future. In the early episodes of House of the Dragon, Viserys tells his daughter and heir, Princess Rhaenyra, of Aegon I's true motive for conquering Westeros: a dream of the future, suggesting that a member of Aegon's bloodline would be destined to save Westeros from a dark fate some time in the future. The prophecy is engraved on a Valyrian steel dagger that Viserys carries, but it is only visible under extreme heat:
"From my blood come the Prince that was Promised, and his will be the song of ice and fire."
Viewers who have also watched Game of Thrones will know that the dark fate is the attack of the Night King. By preserving Aegon's bloodline through inter-marriage, the Targaryens assumed they were safeguarding the prophecy, and Westeros's future. Unfortunately, this safeguard to the future ended up threatening it, with the repeated in-breeding resulting in a slow decline in the sanity of the Targaryen line, leading to the reign of the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, Robert's Rebellion, and eventually the tragic rise and fall of Daenerys Targaryen.
Meanwhile, the Prince that was Promised is widely believed to be Jon Snow. Breaking with tradition allowed the prophecy to be fulfilled. Unfortunately, we are two hundred years away from Jon's birth. House of the Dragon has a lot of Targaryen tragedy still to come.
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