In the game of thrones, you either win or you die. That’s still the case for HBO’s latest spin-off series but where GoT gave us feuding houses and white walkers, House of the Dragon is setting up a civil war that will end a dynasty and do away with the one good thing about Westeros: its dragons.
Still, before the bloodshed and violence and political maneuverings take place, it’s good to familiarize ourselves with this particular bit of George R.R. Martin lore — the story of a house divided that takes centuries before the original series. And, to keep track of who the main players are — plus their motivations for the truly heinous things they’re willing to do for power and glory — we’ve crafted a handy guide to the key members of this season’s standout houses.
Let the (new) game for the throne begin.
King Viserys Targaryen
Good men do not necessarily make for great kings and that seems to be the case for House of the Dragon’s Targaryen patriarch played by Paddy Considine. Warm, kind, and devoted to maintaining the decades of peace the seven kingdoms have been enjoying when this story begins, Viserys won the throne on a technicality and he seems to lack the cunning required to keep it. By naming his daughter his successor, he sparks a civil war within his own house, one that threatens the safety of the realm and signals the end of a dynasty.
Prince Daemon Targaryen
There are some distinct parallels between the rogue Targaryen prince and his distant relation, Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal in the original series). Both are playboys, skilled warriors, and reckless statesmen. Daemon Targaryen (played here by Matt Smith) is a peerless swordsman and dragon rider who seems the obvious choice to wear the crown once his brother’s reign ends but he’s a bit of a divisive figure amongst the lords at court. According to George RR Martin’s writings, “there was never a man simultaneously so loved and so reviled as he was.” So yeah, the jury’s still out on what Daemon’s intentions truly are and whether his own family can trust him.
Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen
It is said Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) was born with everything, but she was not born a man. And apparently, that last fact is enough to throw the entire realm into chaos. Despite being raised and educated with the intention of ruling, and being a skilled dragon rider in her own right, Rhaenyra faces challenges from all sides when it comes to her plans for Westeros. Betrayals and backstabbings have made her paranoid of those in her inner circle but she has a single-minded determination to prove a woman can be king and she’ll sacrifice anything — even a fleet-full of dragons — to make that vision a reality. Sound familiar?
Princess Raenys Targaryen
Another formidable female figure wielding influence in this power play is Rhaenyra’s cousin, Raenys Targaryen (Eve Best). She was passed over for the throne by her grandfather after her father’s death, with her uncle Viserys being named king instead. The Targaryen’s confusing stance on succession – i.e. they never thought about the rules of it until some of their women were in line for the throne – is what launches an eventual war and heralds the end of the reign of dragons. As the first Targaryen woman to have her crown stolen, Raenys has conflicting feelings towards and complicated motives for both helping and roadblocking Rhaenyra’s path to becoming queen.
The first-born son of King Viserys Targaryen, Aegon is second in line for the throne but his gender prompts some in court to back his bid to rule. Aegon is also a dragon rider, but he’s inexperienced, quick-tempered, and arrogant – qualities that make for a terrible king-to-be. Because the show is set to take place over decades with multiple time jumps, Aegon will likely have a smaller role when the story starts, but his birth helps set off the Targaryen civil war that’s at the heart of House of the Dragon, so remember his name. You’ll be seeing him again.
Lord Corlys Velaryon
Nicknamed The Sea Snake after his impressive and intimidating ship, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) is a master wayfarer whose house is one of the richest in Westeros. He also commands the largest naval fleet, making him a powerful ally and an even more dangerous enemy. He’s married to Raenys Targaryen but his loyalties to her family aren’t as strong as you might think considering that, when his wife was passed over for the throne, it meant he was too. He has two children by Raenys, a son named Laenor and a daughter named Laena who also factor into the machinations at court.
Rhys Ifans plays Otto Hightower, a cunning and cutthroat politician who has served as Hand of the King for three generations of Targaryen leaders. So, either he’s a great ally in the war to come, or he’s intimately familiar with House Targaryen’s weaknesses and can exploit them for his own gain. Either way, he’s decidedly not a fan of Prince Daemon Targaryen who he views as a threat to the realm – or maybe just his own plans for power. But, for all his cleverness, it’s his arrogance that could easily cause his downfall. There’s a reason other Hands of the King view Otto as a cautionary tale.
Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) is pretty, smart, and ambitious in a time when women are persecuted for being any one of those three. Unlike in the books, the TV version of the character has grown up in court with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and though the two were close, Alicent’s eventual marriage and her own designs to elevate her family’s status drive a wedge between the women that turns a political battle for power into something bloodier. The comparisons to Cersei Lannister are, honestly, earned – Alicent is just as devious and manipulative – but where Cersei was cold, calculating, and cruel to everyone she met, Alicent is much more adept at playing the game of thrones and convincing people of her love and friendship … before she stabs them in the back.
Ser Criston Cole
A member of the Kingsguard, Cole (Fabien Frankel) would eventually earn the nickname The Kingmaker for his role in the Targaryen’s civil war but before pulling a Jamie Lannister – you know, shirking his duties and choosing a political side to align with – he was Princess Rhaenyra’s friend and companion. Their relationship is a bit undefined depending on who you ask – either his unrequited love turned to betrayal or her constant romantic pursuit of him threatened his duties – but Cole, like everyone else in this game, has to choose a team and be ready to die for the cause if need be.
Mysaria’s background is murky at best. The show describes her as a prostitute working in Kings Landing’s criminal underbelly, and a slave from Essos before that while Martin’s writings say she was a dancer from Lys before becoming Prince Daemon’s lover. Either way, Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) is a trusted ally of the unpredictable ruler and she wields the same kind of spy network and political influence as Lord Varys one day would.