Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for House of the Dragon.The Targaryen dynasty of George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire is massive and spans centuries of intriguing characters, deception, and bloodshed. However, the longtime ruling family of Westeros isn’t always associated with doom and gloom. Quite the contrary, a few of the silver-haired dragon lords enjoyed reigns that were much more positive for both the nobility and the smallfolk. Viewers of House of the Dragon saw one of these great rulers, albeit for only a short moment. The king in question is Jaehaerys I Targaryen (Michael Carter), a man by many titles including “The Conciliator,” “The Wise,” and later, “The Old King.” We see him in House of the Dragon‘s prologue very much an older king, and one faced with a choice of succession between his grandson Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and his granddaughter Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best). After deliberation between the king and a Great Council of the lords and ladies of Westeros, Jaehaerys appoints Viserys his heir apparent, setting the events of House of the Dragon in motion after his death.
But who was this grizzled elder monarch? What did he accomplish? And what is his legacy in House of the Dragon‘s events where it concerns his descendants? There’s a ton of history to cover with this particular man, as he was the longest-reigning Targaryen king in the history of Westeros. While every detail doesn’t necessarily be divulged, what Jaehaerys was capable of accomplishing during his reign is still incredibly notable due to the tumultuous history of the family itself and their time sitting the Iron Throne. In a family whose words are well-known as “Fire and Blood,” Jaehaerys bucked the trend and showed remarkable wisdom and restraint when exercising the royal family’s great power.
Jaehaerys was born in 34 AC, over three decades after six of the Seven Kingdoms were brought to heel by his grandfather Aegon the Conqueror and Aegon’s sisters Visenya and Rhaenys. On the backs of their massive dragons Balerion, Vhagar, and Meraxes, the trio conquered the majority of Westeros and the Iron Throne was formed, cementing the Targaryens as the ruling family. As an infant, Jaehaerys’ sister Rhaena placed a dragon egg in his crib as per Valyrian custom, and his dragon Vermithor would eventually hatch from this egg. When Aegon the Conqueror died, Jaehaerys’ father Aenys Targaryen ascended the Iron Throne as its second king. Sadly, King Aenys’ reign was short-lived. In defiance of the Targaryen custom of incestuous marriage, the Faith of the Seven rebelled against the crown, ultimately leading to Aenys dying from illness.
In an unexpected move, Dowager Queen Visenya flies to Pentos to retrieve Aegon’s son Maegor from exile, where he ascends the throne in quick order. This opened of the bloodiest chapters in Targaryen history, as Maegor’s ruthlessness in word and deed earned him the title “Maegor the Cruel.” Jaehaerys and his immediate family were taken hostage on Dragonstone by Dowager Queen Visenya, where they would be unable to challenge Maegor’s claim. The cruel king continued killing off members of his own family to cement his status. However, an oppportunity arrived when Visenya passes away from natural causes, and Jaehaerys, his sister Alysanne, and mother Alyssa managed to escape Dragonstone. By the time this escape occurred, Jaehaerys was the oldest living son of King Aenys, and was Maegor’s most immediate threat in the line of succession. As a result, Maegor disinherits Jaehaerys as heir and names his daughter Aerea his successor, a child he had conceived by force with Jaehaerys’ eldest sister.
Maegor’s brutal reign brings widespread condemnation from the other great houses of Westeros, and Jaehaerys uses this opportunity to advance his own claim to the Iron Throne. The great houses immediately declare for Jaehaerys, with House Baratheon making the first show of support before houses Lannister, Tyrell, Arryn, and Tully followed suit. Jaehaerys’ oldest sister Rhaena, hearing news of her brother’s claim, stole Aegon the Conqueror’s sword Blackfyre and flees King’s Landing on dragonback to support the effort. While the ensuing conflict may likely have been incredibly brutal, a turn of fate prevents the bloodshed almost entirely. In 48 AC, Maegor the Cruel is found with his wrists slashed and his throat skewered by the Iron Throne he rested upon. It was never clear as to how the vicious king truly died, though there are plenty of rumors to go around. Hearing news of his uncle’s mysterious death, Lord Rogar Baratheon’s army marches into King’s Landing as Jaehaerys rides Vermithor into the city to take his place as king. However, at the young age of fourteen, Jaehaerys needed to be presided over by his mother Alyssa Velaryon as Queen Regent, while Lord Baratheon would serve as Protector of the Realm and the Hand of the King until Jaehaerys came of age.
In an unexpected move for a member of his household, Jaehaerys begins his reign by pardoning most of the lords and knights who served King Maegor, though he asks for a son or daughter from each as a hostage and exacted a sum of gold from the pardoned as reparations to the crown. This act of clemency proves wise, as the news reached the other followers of Maegor in Westeros, who arrive at King’s Landing to bend the knee. Additionally, the head septon responsible for the uprising of the Faith of the Seven dies unexpectedly, and the “Poor Fellows” who had harassed the realm and besieged cities such as Oldtown broke ranks and fled back into the countryside. To cement the crown’s relationship with Westeros’ main institutional religion, Jaehaerys vows that the crown will protect the faith from his kingship onward. The young king’s realm was slowly but surely mending based on his early decisions.
One of the immediate concerns of the realm was the line of succession, as Jaehaerys had not been wed and had not produced any heirs. The Small Council, remembering the Faith of the Seven’s uprising, decides that another incestuous Targaryen marriage would only inflame divisions. As a result, it was decided to marry Jaehaerys’ sister to Ser Orryn Baratheon. However, Jaehaerys does not accept this decision, and he and Alysanne fly to Dragonstone and marry in secret. Despite this, the marriage is not consummated, as Jaehaerys decides that his sister is still too young. Due to this, a standoff ensues between Lord Rogar Baratheon and the Kingsguard. Rogar had ordered Jaehaerys and the other Targaryen children to be detained for their defiance, but the Kingsguard declares that only death would allow the Baratheons to take the king and his family. Eventually, Lord Rogar is convinced to return to King’s Landing, and the budding couple remain on Dragonstone until Jaehaerys is finally old enough to end his mother’s regency and take full control as king.
Once he’d reached the age of sixteen, Jaehaerys returns to King’s Landing to make amends with his supporters as well as having an official wedding ceremony within the city. There was no resistance to this union, as the temperament of the young king was appreciated by the nobility and smallfolk, and the presence of the pair’s dragons likely defused any tension. A few months later, Jaehaerys and Alysanne discover that they had a child on the way. This child, Aegon, unfortunately died three days after his birth. The two would conceive again, however, and their daughter Daenerys (not to be confused with the Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons) is born in 53 AC. Jaehaerys continues his royal progresses, entreating with the lords of the realm and seeking their counsel for the betterment of all of Westeros. As his reign continues, he sets forth a unified code of laws for the Seven Kingdoms that all can follow. After his niece Aerea returned from the ruins of Valyria on the back of Balerion the Black Dread, she dies from an unknown malady, and Jaehaerys issues an edict that any Westerosi who were caught venturing to the ruins of the destroyed empire were to be executed.
Jaehaerys’ reign continues, seeing King’s Landing grow in size and the realm surviving harsh winters and prospering on the other side. The Westerosi sing praises of the king from Winterfell to Storm’s End. The Dornish, who had often resisted Targaryen rule, have their fleet destroyed by Jaehaerys’ dragons when they attempt to invade the Baratheon domain of the Stormlands. Not a single soldier loyal to the crown is lost during the fight, something even Aegon the Conqueror never accomplished. Jaehaerys and Alysanne usher in several more Targaryen heirs, and king and country prosper together. However, the loss of multiple descendants and an eventual growing rift with his wife as a result begins to take its toll on Jaehaerys as he continues to roam the realm and implement as many beneficial policies as possible. Personal tragedy bears down on the king known as the Conciliator, and by his fiftieth name day he is more commonly referred to as the Old King due to his diminishing physique. Inter-family tragedy continues, with Jaehaerys’ youngest daughter Gael committing suicide and Queen Alysanne dying from grief soon after. The Old King’s heir Baelon also perishes from a burst appendix, and he begins to fear bloodshed on the horizon due to the potential issues with succession.
By 101 AC, Jaehaerys has outlived his own wife and seven of his nine children. In a bed to settle any disputes about the future of the dynasty, he calls together a Great Council of all the lords of Westeros to decide the next monarch, and this is where House of the Dragon‘s prologue begins. Out of over fourteen claimaints, the final candidates came down to Viserys Targaryen and Rhaenys Targaryen’s son Laenor. In the HBO adaptation, in lieu of Laenor, Rhaenys was considered the next most capable claimant to the throne. However, the patriarchal society in Westeros (and Jaehaerys’ own preference for his own grandson) leads to Viserys being formally named the heir to the Iron Throne. This essentially becomes King Jaehaerys’ final major decision, as his body begins to fail him, and he is confined to his bed. His Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) takes of administrative duties, though Otto’s daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) takes personal care of the king on his deathbed. She fetches his meals, cleans and dresses him, and even reads to him, and Jaehaerys’ failing mind eventually causes him to confuse her with his daughter Saera, who had been disowned and left for Essos many years earlier.
103 years after Aegon’s Conquest, King Jaeherys I Targaryen takes his last breath at the age of sixty-nine. His body is cremated by the dragons of the Targaryen dragonpit in King’s Landing, and his ashes are interred with his wife Alysanne’s. His 55-year reign comes to a close with a realm in mourning over the loss of the benevolent ruler, who oversaw an unprecedented era of prosperity for its inhabitants large and small. Many historians would go on to write that he was the finest king to ever emerge from House Targaryen, and a monument in the Citadel of Oldtown is erected stating “He bound the land together, and made the Seven Kingdoms one.” Jaehaerys’ crown was bestowed to Viserys I Targaryen, who became King of the Seven Kingdoms.
Sadly, the peaceful and prosperous years that the realm enjoyed under the reign of the Conciliator would not last, and House of the Dragon viewers are likely already aware that Westeros is teetering on the brink of war once again. Not all Targaryens can measure up to Jaehaerys’ legacy, but this is expected by many in the Seven Kingdoms, and the Old King even confirmed it himself. Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) recounted as much with the quote “King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”
House of the Dragon premieres new episodes every Sunday on HBO and HBO Max.