«Game of Thrones»: A Dance of Dragons
Flames, death and fiery rain so hot even dragons would burn in it. A dark vision seen by Deanys “The Dreamer” Targaryen, daughter of family patriarch Aenar Targaryen. What she saw was the catastrophe destined to destroy the freehold of Valyria.
Aenar didn’t hesitate when Deanys told him of her vision. He establishes an outpost of Valyrian influence on a volcanic island on the east coast of Westeros: Dragonstone. Twelve years later the Valyrian empire fell, but the Targaryens survived. On Dragonstone they plan their next steps, together with their dragons.
One of them is Balerion the Dread, the largest Targaryen dragon: teeth as long as swords and a maw large enough to engulf a grown ox whole. He could blot out whole cities under the shadow of his gigantic wings. And his fire was so hot it could even melt iron and stone. One thing’s for sure: Balerion was the most feared dragon to ever roam the skies.
His fire would forge the Iron Throne nearly a century later.
300 years ago: the War of Conquest
Aegon I Targaryen wasn’t the first Targaryen in Westeros 100 years after the Doom of Valyria. But he was the first to bring a small army, three dragons and plans for invasion with him. Together with his sister-wives Rhaenys and Visenya he landed in Blackwater Bay 300 years ago – the same place Tyrion would one day defeat Stannis Baratheon using wildfire.
His plan: to unite the Seven Kingdoms – currently reigning separately – into one, with him as leader.
The first target for his armies was Harrenhal. There he planned to make Harren the Black of House Hoare, King of the Iron Islands and the Riverlands, bend the knee. At his side where the rebellious Tullys, technically bannermen of House Hoare. Harren would reject subjugation: he felt safe in his castle, surrounded by the tallest towers and mightiest walls Westeros had ever seen.
Balerion would end the battle in minutes. House Harrenhal was no more.
As thanks for their support, Aegon would name House Tully warden of the Riverlands. On the Iron Islands, however, he let the people choose their own leader. The Ironborn would choose the Greyjoys of Pyke, who immediately swore fealty to Aegon.
At the same time, Orys, Aegon’s bastard half-brother, led an army against Storm King Argilac of House Durrandon. Argilac faced Orys on an open field and was defeated as well as killed.
In return for this, Aegon gave his bastard brother Storm’s End, Argilac’s fort, making him warden of the Stormlands and letting him found his own house: House Baratheon.
A bit further west of the Stormlands House Lannister was reigning over the Westlands, while House Gardener ruled the Reach. They united their armies to prevent Aegon’s conquest: they had never seen dragons before, much less fought them. For thousands of years the great powers of Westeros had fought each other, and every time the side with more soldiers had triumphed.
This would all change.
King Mern, head of House Gardener, found an ashen grave on that scorched plain, later dubbed the Field of Fire. The stewards of House Gardener – the Tyrells – gave the Reach to Aegon and were named wardens of the South in return, establishing their seat in Highgarden.
House Lannister on the other hand bent the knee, named wardens of the West, ruling from their seat at Casterly Rock.
Then Aegon set his sights northwards. There the Northmen ruled – descendants of the First Men – under House Stark of Winterfell. Some ways south of Winterfell, in the green valley: House Arryn, located at the Eyrie.
Both houses knew of the gruesome fate that had befallen Houses Hoare and Gardener. Which is why they bent the knee, to protect their people. Aegon proclaimed the Starks wardens of the North and the Arryns Wardens of the Vale.
With that, six of seven kingdoms were under Targaryen control. Then the High Septon, spiritual leader of the Westerosi faith of the Seven, gave Aegon full support of the church. Not only that: he crowns Aegon the first King of the Six Kingdoms – only two years removed from Aegon setting foot on the mainland.
For thirteen more years, Aegon tried to conquer Dorne, the southernmost kingdom of Westeros. Without success. The Dornish were led by House Martell and were as smart as they were cunning: the dragon Meraxes and sister Rhaenys fell in the battles. In the end, Aegon recognised Dornish independence, giving an end to the Wars of Conquest.
A Dance of Dragons the beginning of the end
After Aegon’s war, a new capitol city was founded at the Blackwater Bay: King’s Landing, named after the place where the Targaryen King stepped onto Westerosi mainland for the first time. This is the same place the Iron Throne was built.
The Iron Throne is the mighty seat of the King of the Andals and the First Men, forged from the thousands of swords captured from Aegon’s fallen enemies. Molten together by Balerion the Dread’s fire. Until today, a symbol of the person in power – which can quickly vanish again, however.
Aegon I Targaryen reigned for 37 years before dying of a stroke. This wouldn’t stop the Targaryen dynasty: sons married daughters, cousins wed cousins, uncles their nieces and aunts their nephews. Incest was a Valyrian tradition, one which the Targaryens never gave up. It guaranteed Targaryen blood purity and ensured that the royal line would stay with the family; the magical blood pact between Targaryens and dragons would remain. For about 130 further years.
A deceptive calm.
When the current regent Viserys I Targaryen died, a struggle for the throne broke out. On one side stood Rhaenyra, eldest daughter and the only child from his first marriage. She would have been the first Westerosi Queen. A novelty. Facing her was Aegon II, eldest son from the late King’s second marriage. He was second in the line of succession, but was a man.
People were forced to pick a side. The dragons fought dragons. Brother killed brother. Father battled son. The whole kingdom was drowning in blood. When the smoke cleared, thousands had died. Dragons as well. Rhaenyra was imprisoned and fed to Aegon II’s dragon. Aegon II succumbed to his wounds shortly thereafter, leaving no winner.
Aegon III, Rhaenyra’s son, took the Iron Throne. When the last dragon died during his reign, the Dance of Dragons would go down in history as a calamity the Targaryens would never really recover from – one which destroyed an entire species.
The end: Robert Baratheon’s rebellion
The end of the Targaryen’s came slowly. They would still rule for another 100 years – in the meanwhile, Dorne had been incorporated thanks to a marriage alliance –, but the dragonlords would be hard-pressed to consolidate their power without dragons.
The last Targaryen King of Westeros was Aerys II Targaryen. His reign began promisingly, but fell into madness: he placed barrels of wildfire under King’s Landing. He would rather burn down the city than watch it fall into the hands of his enemies.
His son and heir, Prince Rhaegar, was determined to become a better monarch. He wanted to prove himself by fulfilling the prophecy of the Prince that was promised. But it was Rhaegar himself who would bring a definite end to the Targaryens.
As the history books say, Rhaegar had kidnapped Lyanna Stark, Robert Baratheon’s betrothed. Enraged, Rickard and Brandon Stark, the Lord of Winterfell and his son, headed to King’s Landing to demand the Targaryen Prince’s capture. Both men would be burned alive at court, Aerys’ crazed laughter filing onlookers with terror.
This horror incited an uprising: Robert Baratheon’s rebellion.
Many battles were fought. Robert was supported by Ned Stark, his best friend since childhood, as well as by their foster father Jon Arryn of the Green Vale. The deciding battle was fought at the Trident, a mighty river where Robert Baratheon managed to kill Rhaegar Targaryen with his powerful warhammer.
Robert’s armies reached King’s Landing and the city was taken. For his final hours, the Mad King screamed only three words through the halls of the Red Keep: «Burn them all!» He commands Jaime Lannister, a member of the Kingsguard, to blow up the barrels of wildfire dooming the city. But Jaime refused, stabbing the King in the back. Even though Jaime saved thousands of lives, he would be known by a new name from that day forth: «Kingslayer». It was his sword that ended a dynasty that had lasted 300 years.
Only Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, Rhaegar’s younger siblings, would survive the massacre at King’s Landing. They were brought to Pentos in secret, a city in the eastern continent of Essos, where no one would know of their existence.
And here begins the «Game of Thrones»...