• Mattie Stu

Game of Thrones Lore - The Life of Rhaegar Targaryen

Rhaegar Targaryen was a controversial figure: whilst he won the affections of many, he was largely blamed for starting Robert’s Rebellion by abducting Lyanna Stark, though no one ever knew why. Rhaegar and the Targaryen family may have been defeated by Robert Baratheon and his allies, but both lived on through his younger sister, Daenerys, and his secret child, Jon Snow. Rhaegar is arguably the most important off-screen Game of Thrones character, so let’s learn all about his life…

Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was the eldest son of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, and his sister-wife, Queen Rhaella. The Hand of the King, Tywin Lannister, desired for his daughter Cersei to marry Rhaegar, but Aerys insulted Tywin by stating his daughter was beneath the Prince. Instead, Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell of Dorne, with whom he had two children, a daughter named Rhaenys and then a son named Aegon. In spite of Elia’s love and loyalty to him, Rhaegar rode past his wife after winning the great tourney at Harrenhal to place a crown of winter roses on Lyanna Stark’s lap. The action especially angered Robert Baratheon, who was betrothed to Lyanna. Whilst Rhaegar clearly felt something towards her, the reasons for his abduction of Lyanna were never answered. When the Mad King brutally executed Lyanna’s father, Rickard, and oldest brother, Brandon, Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon joined forces with several other houses to overthrow the Targaryen dynasty.

During the subsequent war, named the War of the Usurper or Robert’s Rebellion, Rhaegar initially remained in Dorne with Lyanna. However, he was summoned to lead the Royalist forces in what would be known as the Battle of the Trident. During the fighting, Rhaegar came face to face with Robert in a ford on the Trident River. After a swing of Robert’s warhammer, Rhaegar was slain. The ferocity of the strike smashed the rubies from the Prince’s armour, which led to the site becoming known as the Ruby Ford. Robert and his men won the battle shortly after, which marked the beginning of the end for the Targaryen dynasty. The main reason why such a high number of Houses had remained loyal to the Mad King was due to the loyalty they felt towards his son and heir, Rhaegar. With the Prince dead, House Targaryen’s popular support fell drastically. Shortly afterwards, Tywin Lannister betrayed the King and sacked King’s Landing. During the chaos, Gregor Clegane, known as "The Mountain that Rides", raped Rhaegar’s wife and fatally stabbed her. The Targaryen dynasty finally crumbled when Ser Jaime Lannister murdered the Mad King.

Rhaella fled to the Targaryens’ ancestral seat of Dragonstone, where she died giving birth to Daenerys. After her passing, Daenerys and her older brother were taken across the Narrow Sea by loyalists to live in exile in the Free Cities. Back in Dorne, at the Tower of Joy, Lyanna faced a very similar fate. Ser Gerold Hightower and Ser Arthur Dayne, who originally rode to Dorne to have Prince Rhaegar fight in the Battle of the Trident, remained at the Red Mountains for unexplained reasons. They were both confronted by Ned Stark and his small group of bannermen. Although Hightower was killed early on in the fight, Ser Arthur Dayne more than held his own against Ned’s men. As greatest knight of his generation, Dayne defeated nearly every man, save for two. As he gained the upper hand against Ned, Howland Reed impaled him from behind. Stark soon after executed Dayne. After rushing to the aid of his dying sister, Ned realised why Rhaegar had kept two members of the Kingsguard at the Tower; they were guarding Rhaegar and Lyanna’s child. Lyanna made Ned promise her that he would keep the child’s heritage a secret, since Robert would kill any Targaryen rivalling his claim to the throne. Just like Rhaella, Lyanna passed away due to complications from childbirth, whilst her son lived in “exile”. Ned took the child as his “bastard son”, living by the promise of his sister, even if it scarred his honour. Subsequently, Jon Snow was raised at Winterfell just like a Stark.

Whether it was through love or rape, Rhaegar’s only child continued his legacy, though in secret. Some claimed Jon Snow was the Prince That Was Promised, whilst others thought his sister, Daenerys, was Azor Ahai. Either way, with two claims to the Iron Throne, the Targaryen dynasty looked to return…

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