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House of the Dragon: why do Targaryens go mad?

The House of the Dragon has ruled Westeros for decades but why do the Targaryens go mad? Is it simply inbreeding or is there something else at play?

House of the Dragon: why do Targaryens go mad?

Why do the Targaryens go mad? Set hundreds of years before our favourite Game of Thrones characters were even born, the fantasy series House of the Dragon has taken us back to a time before the Baratheons overthrew the Targaryen family.

Just because the Targaryens are on the Iron Throne doesn’t mean there’s peace. A civil war is brewing — with Rhaenyra Targaryen on one side and Aegon II Targaryen and Alicent Hightower on the other —  that threatens to throw the Seven Kingdoms into absolute chaos.

Basically, fans are learning that the Targaryen family have always had an inclination towards madness but what drives this insanity? Why do Targaryens go mad? Well, there’s an obvious answer to this, but is that the only thing at play? We’ve had a think…

Why do Targaryens go mad?

It’s said that Targaryens go mad because they’ve practised inbreeding for centuries. This has resulted in many Targaryen babies being born with physical infirmities and poor mental health. Even those seemingly born healthy, like Daemon Targaryen, live with violent mood swings.

“The dragon spawn were famous for losing their minds,” Robert Baratheon explains during the Histories & Lore featurette released by HBO. “It was the price they paid for centuries of keeping the bloodlines pure, and Aerys more than happily continued the ‘noble’ sister-fucking tradition of his forefathers.”

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That said, while their propensity for “sister-fucking” is probably the main factor in their tendency to go bonkers, it’s hinted that this isn’t the only cause of their madness.

After all, not all Targaryens are born mad, King Viserys Targaryen seems pretty stable, for example, although he did have Otto Hightower guiding him. Indeed it’s a common saying in Westeros that when a Targaryen god flips a coin and decides whether they’ll be “great or mad”. As such Several Targaryens who weren’t the product of incest still suffered from paranoid delusions and could be described as ‘crazy’.

House of the Dragon: why do Targaryens go mad?

Aerion Targaryen didn’t have parents who are related, but he believed drinking wildfire would transform him into a dragon. He tested this theory and quickly found out that Targaryens are not fireproof.

While it’s never been confirmed, it’s undeniable that the Targaryens have something slightly magical about them. We know Aegon the Conqueror had ‘Dragon Dreams’ about the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy, and the family share a unique bond with the explicitly magical dragons.

House of the Dragon: why do Targaryens go mad?

Might the Targaryens have been driven crazy then by a combination of their prophetic abilities and incest? George RR Martin’s unlikely to ever confirm this, but it’s certainly possible.

Out of the universe, the real reason the Targaryens go mad is all to do with Martin. The entire Game of Thrones story is about the tendency of power to corrupt, and Martin uses their madness to demonstrate this.

If you’re enjoying HBO’s return to Westeros, check out our guide to House of the Dragons season 2. We’ve also got guides to several of the major dragons in the series, including Balerion, Vhagar, Meleys, Caraxes, and poor little Arrax, or if you prefer your heroes a little less scaley, we have a guide to the best House of the Dragon characters.