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House of the Dragon: King Viserys Targaryen explained

House of the Dragon is building to the Targaryen civil war but who is the king who sowed the seed of this war who is Viserys Targaryen?

House of the Dragon: King Viserys I Targaryen explained

Who is King Viserys Targaryen? The hit HBO fantasy series House of the Dragon is exploring the Targaryen family tree and getting into the roots of their downfall. Basically, you can blame the whole thing on one man, King Viserys I Targaryen.

With his indecisiveness, lack of foresight, and general ignorance Viserys pitted his daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen against his son Aegon II Targaryen and doomed the realm. Not really the legacy any king wants to leave behind. But why was Viserys the way he was? Well, the answers lie in his past, so here’s everything you need to know about King Viserys  Targaryen.

Viserys’ early life

Viserys was born the eldest son of Prince Baelon Targaryen and Princess Alyssa Targaryen, the children of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen (yes, they were brother and sister). While Baelon wasn’t the first of Jaehaerys, he was named heir after the death of his elder brother Aemon.

Viserys grew up a happy and contented child alongside his brother Daemon Targaryen. Unfortunately, the brother’s peaceful childhood came to an end when their mother passed away when Viserys was just a boy.

As Viserys grew into a man, he became a dragon rider, taking an aged Balerion the Black Dread as his mount while his brother claimed Caraxes. Unfortunately, Balerion had grown so massive and old at that point that he was either too weak or too heavy for a prolonged flight, and Viserys rarely rode the dragon.

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Viserys’ First marriage

At some point, Viserys met and fell in love with Aemma Arryn. After multiple failed pregnancies, Viserys and Aemma finally had a child, Rhaenyra Targaryen, who would bond with the dragon Syrax. For six years, the family lived in comfort, but when Baelon died, it caused a succession crisis. Without any direct heirs, Jaehaerys called a great council of all the lords and ladies of Westeros to decide who’d inherit the throne.

While several people tried to claim the Iron Throne, the only serious claimants were Viserys and Rhaenys Velaryon. Viserys was the eldest son of Jaehaerys’ heir, while Rhaneys was the daughter of Jaehaerys’s firstborn son. Eventually, the tradition of primogeniture won out, and Viserys was named heir.

House of the Dragon: King Viserys I Targaryen explained

Two years after he was named heir, Jaehaerys’ passed away, and Viserys ascended to the throne. Lacking a son of his own, he named Daemon heir. Still, Viserys and Aemma kept trying for a son, but each attempt ended in tragedy. While their personal lives were difficult, running the kingdom was relatively easy. Jaehaerys had left Viserys a treasury full of gold, a peaceful kingdom, and Otto Hightower as his dutiful Hand of the King. As such, the land prospered under the king’s rule.

Eventually, the gods smiled on Viserys and Aemma, and she became pregnant once again. Convinced his dreams meant he would have a son Viserys held a grand tournament for his son and invited the realm to attend. Viserys joy turned to ash, however, when Aemma entered labor early, and the child was born breech.

House of the Dragon: King Viserys I Targaryen explained

Faced with either losing his wife or his child Viserys ordered the maester to perform a c-section that killed Aemma. Naming the boy Baelon after his father, the child lived less than a day before following his mother into the afterlife. Having lost both his son and his wife, Viserys entered a period of mourning.

It was during this time that he named Rhaenyra heir, realizing that she was all he’d ever needed. Still, while the king grieved, Otto Hightower saw an opportunity and ordered his daughter Alicent Hightower to start ‘comforting’ the king.

House of the Dragon: King Viserys I Targaryen explained

Viserys’ Second Marriage

Eventually, Viserys married Alicent, to the general annoyance of Rhaenyra and the delight of Otto. Alicent became the new queen consort and gave Viserys three children, Aegon, Aemond, and Helaena Targaryen.

Still, though, the king grieved his Aemma, and when it became clear he was suffering from some form of wasting disease (confirmed to be leprosy by Visery’s actor), he refused any real treatment for it, believing it was divine punishment for what he did to his first wife.

House of the Dragon: King Viserys I Targaryen explained

Viserys also kept Rhaenyra as his heir despite having sons, much to Otto and Alicnet’s annoyance. That said, he did marry Rhaeynra to Laenor Velaryon, the eldest son of Corlys Velaryon, in an attempt to bring the two Valyrian houses closer together.

While neither Rhaenyra of Laenor were loyal to one another, and the princess even had three obvious bastard children with Harwin Strong, Viserys either ignored the problem or was ignorant of it. The king believed his sons and grandchildren would grow up closer than brothers, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Just as Rhaenyra and Alicent had grown to hate each other, so had their children. Things eventually came to a head at the funeral of Laena Velaryon when Aemond claimed the dragon Vhagar before Laena’s children could. Aemond got in a fight with Rhaeynra’s younger son Lucerys and lost his eye to a frantic knife slash.

While Alicent wanted blood in revenge, Viserys demanded she stays her hand, and the two families went their separate ways. Viserys didn’t see his daughter for years following this incident, even when she married Daemon. The next time the family met, Viserys was barely alive. His body had wasted away to almost nothing.

Still, the king summoned enough strength to exonerate his daughter from claims her sons were bastards and attend one more super with his family. As he watched his family share one last happy meal, the king’s illness flared up, and he had to be sent to bed.

House of the Dragon: King Viserys I Targaryen explained

Viserys’ Death

Viserys died of leprosy in his bed chamber at the Red Keep that same night. Before he passed away, however, he laid the foundation for the Dance of the Dragons when he confused Alicent for Rhaeynra and told her the Song of Ice and Fire Prophecy.

Alicent misunderstood her husband’s final words and believed the Aegon he was referring to was their son Prince Aegon. The next day Otto and Alicent had Aegon crowned king, cutting Rhaenyra from the line of succession and sparking the civil war.

Viserys Legacy

Ultimately Viserys laid the foundation for the ruin of House Targaryen and was remembered as a good man but a weak king. Still, he was clearly fondly remembered by later generations of the house, and the Mad King named his son Viserys, Daenerys Targaryen’s older brother, after the fallen king.

If you love the history of Westeros, check out our guide to House of the Dragon season 2, or you can give our article about a hypothetical Game of Thrones season 9 a read.

Perhaps, though, you want to know more about the major players in the coming war. Well, we have an article breaking down the major House of the Dragon characters, including Ser Criston Cole, Larys Strong, and Mysaria the White Worm.

Finally if you want to know what the Game of Thrones cast has been up to since 2019 we’ve got you covered.