The Dance of the Dragons is the first major civil war for a post-Targaryen Conquest united Westeros. And… it was pretty damn ugly.
In one corner, you had the Greens, so named for Alicent Hightower, second wife of King Viserys I and mother of future claimant Aegon II, wearing a green gown to a tourney in 111 AC. Alicent and her father, who was Viserys’ on and off again Hand of the King, were not bashful about pushing for Aegon’s claim to the Iron Throne, a claim based on the laws of Westeros as confirmed in the Great Council 101 AC, that held that neither a woman nor a man who’s claim descended through a female line could inherit the Iron Throne before an eldest male heir.
In the other corner, you had the Blacks. Rhaenyra Targaryen, first born daughter of Viserys and for much of his reign his only child, elevated to Crown Princess of Dragonstone and heir in order to push back the claims of Viserys’ brother and Rhaenyra’s later lover and husband (and uncle!) Daemon, the Rogue Prince. Her claim was based on the proclamation of the King, and the fact that she was trained for the role since she was a young girl.
Prior to the Dance, both Rhaenyra and Aegon were fairly reasonable people. Rhaenyra demonstrated a questionable level of selfishness by prioritising her personal pleasure and love affair with Ser Harwin Strong over her thoroughly unsuitable marriage to cousin and former claimant for the Iron Throne, Laenor Velaryon, but had undoubtably received years of training in how to rule and had the connections with the nobility to be a decent Queen Regnant. Aegon II seems to have been a fine young man, albeit a little bit under the influence of his grandfather and mother, as you’d expect for a young man in his late teens.
But by the end of the war, both Rhaenyra and Aegon were bitter, twisted, cruel, capricious and vicious people, who you wouldn’t want to rule over a piss up in a brewery, let alone a civil war devastated kingdom.
So who was the rightful claimant?
Who was the better candidate for the Iron Throne?
What could or should have Viserys done to avoid this inevitable conflict?
What was the legacy of the Dance, and does it have any relevance to our current situation in ASOIAF? (Yes. It does.)
And… how many Romeo + Juliet gifs can I put into a blog about historical Westeros?
Jaehaerys the Conciliator and the Great Council of 101 AC
So where are the roots of this conflict between brother and sister? It really goes back to how Jaehaerys, the Old King, dealt with his succession crisis.
… the greatest problem of the later years of Jaehaerys’s reign was the fact that there were simply too many Targaryens, and too many possible successors
TWOIAF, p 63
You have to remember that the Targaryen dynasty was still on shaky ground. Aegon the Conqueror had ruled in relative peace after his initial Conquest, albeit plagued by Dorne’s refusal to bend and their likely execution of Queen Rhaenys.
Then came the disastrous period of Aenys and Maegor, where the Targaryens were plunged into war with the Faith Militant.
Jaehaerys was the oldest surviving son of Aenys and Alyssa Velaryon. Alyssa managed to escape Maegor’s control with some of her younger children, although others remained their uncle’s prisoners and victims for the rest of Maegor’s reign.
NB: I tried using a free online family tree site to draw up the Targaryen family tree so you could visualise this a bit easier and… honestly, it’s so much more confusing, because the site insists on putting duplicates of everyone who marries a sibling/cousin on the tree, rather than just drawing a line!
At the time Jaehaerys took the Iron Throne, the Targaryen family tree consisted of
- him and Alysanne,
- their mother Alyssa Velaryon, who would marry Robar Baratheon and produced Boremund and Jocelyn Baratheon,
And that was it. Their family dynasty was considerably trimmed from the original plethora of children born to Aenys and Alyssa Velaryon, thanks to Uncle Maegor’s murderous whims.
Jaehaerys and Alysanne had a long and happy reign and a long and happy marriage. They had many children, many of which made it to adulthood. Some children married, and created more diverse lines off shooting from the Targaryen family tree. Others went into chaste orders, or otherwise did not contribute to the family line due to misadventure or misplaced lust. The children of Jaehaerys and Alysanne were, in birth order:
- Aegon, who died young
- Alyssa Targaryen, who married her brother Baelon and produced Viserys, Aegon (died young) and Daemon
- Aemon Targaryen, who married his cousin Jocelyn Baratheon, and had Rhaenys Targaryen, who would marry Corlys Velaryon and have Laena and Laenor Velaryon
- Baelon, who married Alyssa
- Daella Targaryen, who married Rodrick Arryn and died birthing Aemma Arryn (future wife of Viserys I and mother of Rhaenyra)
- Aeryn Targaryen, who died young
- Vaegon Targaryen, who was sent to the Citadel and in time because Archmaester
- Maegelle Targaryen, who was sent to the Faith, became a Septa and dedicated her life to helping people with greyscale, eventually contracting the disease herself
- Valerion, who died young
- Viserra, who died after being betrothed to Lord Manderly of White Harbour, in a drunken race through King’s Landing (she fell from her horse)
- Gaemon, died young
- Saera, also given to the Faith, didn’t like it, ran off to Lys and then Volantis where she ran a famous pleasure house
- Gael, “simple minded but sweet,” fell for a travelling singer and then drowned herself when he abandoned her and her swelling belly.
So, with such a sudden upswing in the longevity of Targaryen lives, it is easy to see why Jaehaerys and Alysanne sent so many of their children to orders in Oldtown (although this can also be seen as part of their conciliation with the power players in that city, sealing their new found peace with the service of their children in the Citadel and Starry Sept.)
Intially, the question of succession was simple: his eldest living son Aemon wed Jocelyn Baratheon, and had a child, Rhaenys. They thought they would have more children, but then Aemon died fighting Myrish pirates in 92 AC. Baelon then became Jaehaerys’ heir (and this decision led to the first major separation between Jaehaerys and Alysanne, as the latter was not impressed that Jaehaerys just passed over Rhaenys, his eldest son’s only child and heir, for the next eldest male.)
Baleon then died of a “burst belly” (appendicitis) in 101 AC. This, and possibly the lingering impact of Alysanne’s reaction to Jaehaerys passing over Rhaenys to begin with, led to the succession crisis: there were many sons and grandsons and great grandsons available to Jaehaerys. Who ought to be the heir?
The line of succession had already been murky, thanks to Maegor’s actions to usurp Aenys, but this was thought to be rectified when Jaehaerys took the Iron Throne. Instead of risking a civil war between his descendants, Jaehaerys called the Great Council of 101 AC, held at Harrenhal (the only castle big enough to accommodate all the noblity and their retinue.)
Those nine claimants were heard, ultimately the decision came down to two:
- Laenor Velaryon, son of Rhaenys (the “Queen Who Never Was”) Targaryen and Corlys Velaryon, grandson of Jaehaerys’ eldest son Aemon Targaryen; and
- Viserys Targaryen, son of Baelon and Alyssa Targaryen, the eldest son of Jaehaerys’ most recent heir.
Strict primogeniture, the idea that the succession flows from eldest child to eldest child, favoured Laenor, a boy of 7. Like all Targaryens of that time, Laenor had been bound to a dragon, from an egg placed in his cradle and hatched, and he had learned to ride Seasmoke already. Lord Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, had the favour of Lord Boremund Baratheon, Lord Ellard Stark, the unnamed Lords Blackwood and Celtigar, and Lord Bar Emmon, as well as considerable wealth from his pirating/sailing days to throw around as bribes and to purchase sellswords if necessary.
But a male preferred line argument and proximity favoured Viserys, as did his age – 26 years old, happily married to Aemma Arryn, with one child in Rhaenyra and more expected in due course. He also had control of a dragon, Balerion, before that beast’s death in 94 AC.
… for many lords of the realm, what mattered most was that the male line took precedence over the female line…
TWOIAF p. 65
And therein lies the future problem: as far as the lords of the realm were concerned, the laws of Westeros favoured male line precedence over primogeniture. It was more important that the eldest male take the Iron Throne (or lordship) than it going through a female heir to her son. This suited all the powerful men in the room for very sexist, slut shaming reasons: women cannot be trusted, didn’t you know? We could give birth to a son that unquestionably came from our uterus, but was not necessarily from our husband’s seed. And so the logic of male-dominant primogeniture is that you can, apparently, be more guaranteed that the male claimant is actually from the relevant noble line.
My face even typing that shit…
And that was that. Corlys Velaryon’s little coalition didn’t stand a chance to push for Rhaenys or her son Laenor’s claims to be Jaehaerys’ successor over the top of misogyny. To top it off, Viserys’ brother Daemon had responded to the Sea Snakes cash splashing military build up by gathering his own army of sworn swords, ready to take up arms to defend his brother’s claim to the Iron Throne… because until such time as Viserys and Aemma had a son, Daemon was his brother’s heir under the same rules that would give Viserys the Iron Throne after Jaehaerys.
I’m going to repeat that again for the folk at the back of the room:
DAEMON SUPPORTED VISERYS’ CLAIM BECAUSE HE WOULD BE HIS BROTHER’S HEIR IF HIS BROTHER’S ONLY CHILD WAS RHAENYRA, SO LONG AS VISERYS FOLLOWED THE LAWS THAT GAVE HIM HIS CROWN TO BEGIN WITH…
Because do you know who the biggest problem was in the build up to the Dance?
Daemon fucking Targaryen. The Rogue Prince. More on him later. Get ready for lots of Tybalt gifs, because why not.
Queen Alysanne had passed away in grief over Gael’s death, and a few years later, Jaehaerys followed her. In his final years, Jaehaerys was nursed and, according to scandalous gossip, his bed kept warm and active by the 15 year old daughter of his Hand, Alicent Hightower. Keep her in mind, because she resurfaces later as the leader of the Greens, having later married Viserys I.
The “chief annoyance” during the early years of Viserys’ reign was his brother, Daemon.
mercurial and quick to take offence… dashing, daring and dangerous…
Daemon’s attraction to those within King’s Landing, and in the fandom, is that he’s the Rogue Prince. He knows what he wants, and he’s prepared to stop at nothing to get it.
For Viserys, Daemon was an annoying little brother – too transparent and impatient with his desires to be Viserys’ heir, and in need of something to do to keep him occupied. Viserys attempted to get Daemon out of King’s Landing and away from the Iron Throne initially by wedding him to Rhea Royce in 97 AC, but this did not work out. Theirs was a barren and unhappy marriage, and Daemon hated the Vale, refusing to stay there with the woman he described as a “bronze bitch.”
So when Viserys came to the throne, he invited Daemon to serve on the Small Council, first as Master of the Coin, and then Master of Laws. But Daemon’s lust for power and confirmation of his unofficial status as heir to his brother led the King’s Hand Otto Hightower (who had stayed in the post after being appointed by the late Jaehaerys when Viserys took the reins) to advise Viserys to remove his brother from the Small Council. Mushroom, the court jester, suggests that the origin of Otto Hightower’s distaste for Daemon was that Daemon took Alicent Hightower’s maidenhead…. assuming that she hadn’t already been deflowered by the Old King as his nurse.
Daemon and his dick. A definite strong thread in all of the precursors to the Dance of the Dragons…
Regardless of the reason for Otto’s desire to get Daemon off the Small Council, Viserys gave Daemon a job that was a clear demotion: he made him Lord Commander of the City Watch in 104 AC.
But Daemon rose to that challenge, and turned the City Watch from an ineffectual group into a fierce army, even giving them the gold cloaks that would then become synonymous with the City Watch. With his regiment’s strict regime, crime plummeted, but Daemon garnered himself a dark reputation as the Lord of Flea Bottom, always happy to sample the wares of the taverns, pie shops and whorehouses that his Watch guarded. It was during this time that he and his lover, Mysaria of Lys, began their affair and professional arrangement that saw Mysaria, the “pale worm” provide Daemon with information as his unofficial mistress of whispers (and she later became Rhaenyra’s official Mistress of Whispers, thanks to Daemon’s influence.)
In 105 AC, Mysaria became pregnant with Daemon’s child, and Daemon procured a dragon egg for his future heir’s cradle… a move which angered Viserys – as this practice was reserved for trueborn Targaryen princes and princesses. Viserys ordered Mysaria to return to Lys, and formally pronounced to the realm that Rhaenyra was the Princess of Dragonstone, holding a lavish ceremony where the king required all noble lords attending (and those who couldn’t attend) to swear oaths of fealty to their future Queen.
It is vital to remember this, and to put Viserys’ desire to buck the system into its proper context: he did not want to change the laws of Westeros, he just didn’t want his irresponsible, ruthless brother Daemon to be his heir.
The Evil Stepmother?
By this time, Viserys had lost his wife Aemma in childbirth, and lost the son which he named after his father, Baelon. After a period of mourning, he began to search for a new bride… and here is another key juncture in the set up for the Dance:
Rhaenys Targaryen, still styled a Princess despite being married to Lord Corlys Velaryon for all these years, suggested that Viserys, her nephew (?) marry her daughter Laena, to unite the two lines that were put forward as rival claimants to the Great Council (Laena being Laenor’s sister.)
Viserys rejected this offer, pissing off Corlys and Rhaenys, and pissing off his brother Daemon when the latter heard the news in the Vale (where he had been directed to go after the business with Mysaria.) Instead, Viserys married Alicent Hightower, now a charming young lady rather than the 15 year old who had once nursed (and possibly fucked) Jaehaerys the Old King.
Corlys Velaryon and Daemon Targaryen made moves to build an alliance, although they did not initially focus their attentions on the new Queen and her future children. Instead, they focused on the riches available in the east, specifically those that could be obtained if they broke the power of the Triarchy (Lys, Myr and Tyrosh) over the Stepstones. Viserys heartily endorsed this project, glad to give Daemon something to do that would keep him occupied and out of trouble.
While Daemon was busy battling the Triarchy and then crowning himself the King of the Stepstones, Viserys and Alicent were busy in another sense. Their son Aegon was born in 107 AC, and soon followed by Aemond, Helaena and Daeron. In Targaryen fashion, Aegon and Helaena wed in due course, despite Aegon’s promiscuous ways amongst the maidens of the court and Silk Street.
But before we dive into the very sexist ways that Rhaenyra would be condemned for her sexuality while Aegon’s equal inability to keep to one bed is barely mentioned, there’s a lot more tension to build…
While Rhaenyra and Alicent had initially gotten along fine (despite being closer in age than Alicent and Viserys were) over time, things developed to a distinct level of frostiness. Lord Otto Hightower was eventually sacked as Hand after continually badgering Viserys to revisit the issue of succession now that Alicent had delivered him not just one son, but three. Viserys would not be moved. He had declared Rhaenyra to be his heir, and he would not change his mind. Factions developed at court between the princess’s followers and the queen’s.
In 111 AC, a grand tourney was held where shit got real. Alicent and Rhaenyra dressed their respective parts as Queen Consort and Crown Princess, in lavish gowns of green (Alicent) and Targaryen red and black (Rhaenyra,) which led to their factions being dubbed the Greens and the Blacks. But the tourney was also notable for the return of the Rogue Prince, Daemon, who flew in on his dragon and made a big spectacle of giving up his crown from the Stepstones to his brother Viserys.
As much as Viserys might have been glad to see his brother show some apparent humility then, things would go sour a few months later…
Part of the problem with the Dance is the way that the various accounts from the time (or, more accurately, the various narrative tools GRRM has used to showcase how history can be a confusing mess when not recorded by an independent system) is the way that the various accounts slut shame the women involved.
Daemon and his wandering dick are a HUGE cause of conflict. He wanted to have his marriage to Rhea Royce annulled, or to take Laena Velaryon as a second wife, Viserys said no. He developed a sexual relationship with his niece, Rhaenyra, after allegedly earlier sleeping with the king’s future spouse, Alicent Hightower. He tried to give a dragon egg to his pregnant mistress, Mysaria. Even after he was finally married to Rhaenyra, he dumped her in her greatest need to shack up with Nettles in Harrenhal. About the only thing that you could consistently rely upon in Daemon was that he was thirsty for power, and loved to seduce women.
He loved to fight, and he loved to fuck… and many fans (especially those of a more misogynistic mindframe) worship him as the ultimate Alpha Male
But the women…. nah, the girls don’t get that luxury. Instead, Alicent Hightower is condemned as a slut and a pushy mother who lived vicariously through her sons to claim power. And Rhaenyra? oooooooooh boy. Rhaenyra is routinely condemned for her promiscuity, in text and by fans.
I am one of those who will argue that Rhaenyra’s approach to her personal life highlights that even before the Dance turned everyone bitter and twisted, she may not have been a great Queen. But it’s not because “she’s a slut.” It’s because she demonstrated a lack of foresight or willingness to compromise on her personal pleasure in order to consolidate her political power. She set herself up to fail, when she could have set herself up to thrive within a sexist system. She was a Female Chauvinist Pig, someone who thought she could have it all like Uncle Daemon (and including Uncle Daemon?!) but found herself subject to criticism and condemnation that she should have seen coming.
And this is my personal dilemma when it comes to declaring for the Blacks or the Greens: I want to back Rhaenyra. She was the eldest, she was trained for it, and as a sex positive feminist, I want to celebrate her determination to have a pleasurable and meaningful sex life, rather than being constrained to the limitations society put on her.
But as a politics nerd… she just failed so hard, and failed at some basic stuff that could have easily been avoided had she been more willing to compromise a little on personal satisfaction for the sake of her future crown.
There are many excellent essays over on the War and Politics of Ice and Fire analysing the conflict between Alicent and the Greens against Rhaenyra and the Blacks:
- Nina Friel, The She-Dragons of the Dance Part 1 and Part 2
- Something Like A Lawyer, Aegon and the Greens
- MilitantPenguin, Rhaenyra and the Blacks
- Butterfly’s review of The Princess and the Queen, noting that much of it casts Rhaenyra is a slut shaming light (because it’s supposedly written by the maesters etc who supported the Greens, compared to the Rogue Prince, which comes from the Blacks’ side)
I’ve been running a poll on twitter, and I’m going to hope that linking to the tweet will also lead to updated poll numbers over the time it’s running… if not, I’ll replace at the end with the final results:
I deliberately included a third option that Viserys did not consider, calling a Great Council to let the lords of the realm decide whether to follow the King’s proclamation of Rhaenyra as his heir, or to overrule that and follow the precedent of the Great Council of 101. This is because I’m interested to see how many people find it difficult to choose between the equally detestable Aegon and Rhaenyra, and because it is arguably the most sensible way to resolve the simmering conflict: do what your grandfather did, invite the lords of the realm to pass judgement, open the issue of succession up to detailed legal and political analysis by the nobles who are your peers – remember, feudalism is not about a Divine Ruler sitting on top of a pyramid of lesser men, but the king being the first amongst equals.
The reason that I’m bringing up all of this stuff around slut shaming and the frustrating inconsistency by the text and the fandom in treating Rhaenyra as some wayward slut while Aegon, who was equally promiscuous, is treated like a saint… is because the next exile of Daemon Targaryen is related to the bed of Rhaenyra, Crown Princess.
Rhaenyra, since she was a girl, had a very childish crush on Ser Cristan Cole, who had been her sworn sword in King’s Landing and on Dragonstone for many years. When I say childish crush, I mean like the kind of crush that Sansa Stark has on Ser Loras Tyrell. It was very superficial and starry eyed.
It’s really unclear how much, if at all, this love was reciprocated. Some accounts (that wish to portray Rhaenyra as a wanton slut) say that Ser Cristan Cole was a paragon of virtue, and horrified when the princess threw herself at him. Other accounts (from Rhaenyra’s supporters, like Mushroom) suggest that Cole was equally in love with the realm’s delight, but in a Noble Knight Loves Fair Maiden kind of way, leading him to make the frankly ridiculous proposal that they flee Dragonstone to live as lovers in Essos.
So it’s not clear what actually happened. Hopefully GRRM makes this clearer, or at least provides more comprehensive details about each argument, in Fire and Blood so we can have a little more certainty on this matter. But what is clear is that:
- Rhaenyra was interested in Cristan Cole
- Daemon was interested in Rhaenyra, probably for his own interests (i.e. if he married her, he would again become his brother’s de facto heir)
- Rhaenyra and Daemon had a sexual tryst (which may have been all the way to a home run, or may have been everything up until P in V, as Daemon taught Rhaenyra the skills to seduce Cristan Cole)
- Rhaenyra and Daemon were caught in bed – possibly by Cole
- Daemon was again exiled by his brother for this latest indiscretion
- Cole ceased being Rhaenyra’s sworn shield, was appointed Lord Commander of the Kingsguard in 112 AC, and also became a leading proponent of the Greens
Whatever happened between then, when Cole turned on Rhaenyra, he turned hard, which suggests to me that he did catch Rhaenyra and Daemon in bed, and he did have feelings for Rhaenyra himself – whether as a Madonna or whore complex, or if he genuinely did want to run off to Essos with her, unknown and I don’t really care.
After this, in 113 AC, Rhaenyra came of age (i.e. turned 16) and Viserys turned his mind towards finding her a suitable husband (i.e. anyone that wasn’t Daemon.) For Rhaenyra’s part, she had her own love interests, either uncle Daemon (as per Septon Eustace’s pro Green account) or Ser Cristan Cole (as per Mushroom.) Viserys was not willing to let her marry either, for obvious reasons. He also rejected Alicent’s suggestion that Rhaenyra marry her half-brother Aegon, to unite the feuding claims – Viserys was well aware that Rhaenyra and Aegon didn’t like each other, but also Aegon was just a boy, and Rhaenyra needed a husband who could provide her with heirs ASAP.
Which makes Viserys’ ultimate decision even more bewildering.
He chose Laenor Velaryon, his cousin (?) and former rival claimant to be Jaehaerys’ heir. Why was this such a problem? Rhaenys had earlier wanted Viserys himself to marry Laena Velaryon, to achieve the same outcome. One simple reason: Laenor was gay. At the age of 19, he had “never known a woman intimately,” nor did he have any known bastards. He did have a ‘very close friend’ in Ser Joffrey Lonmouth.
Rhaenyra argued against this match, pointing to Laenor’s sexuality and the fact that neither of these cousins particularly liked each other. She was prepared to go up and down the country on dragonback, until she found a suitably noble husband. But Viserys’ mind was made up, and once again, he would not be dissuaded despite all the rational arguments under the sun as to why this was a bad idea.
Rhaenyra Targaryen and Laenor Velaryon were married in 114 AC, and it’s unclear if the marriage was ever consummated. Shortly after their wedding, Laenor returned to his father’s lands in the Driftmark, and continued his relationships with men. Meanwhile, Rhaenyra entered a relationship with her new sworn shield, Ser Harwin Strong. At the tourney held to celebrate their marriage, newly promoted Lord Commander Cristan Cole was in a fury, wearing Alicent Hightower’s favour as he smashed his way through the lists, reserving particular violence and fury for Ser Harwin Strong, who wore Rhaenyra’s favour openly as if to confirm their new relationship, and also injuring Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, who later died from his injuries, much to Laenor Velaryon’s grief and despair.
Despite the doubts over consummation with her husband, Rhaenyra delivered a healthy son by the end of 114 AC. The only problem…. he didn’t look anything like his Valyrian mother or “father.” Jacerys Velaryon was clearly the son of Harwin Strong, as were his brothers who followed later, Lucerys and Joffrey Velaryon. Despite the obvious questions over their paternity, Viserys and Rhaenyra insisted that each babe have a dragon egg in their cradle, and in time all hatched so that Jace had Vermax, Luke had Arrax and Joff had Tyraxes, their own dragons.
But these boys were so obviously NOT Velaryon. This is where Rhaenyra shot herself in the foot. She wanted Harwin Strong – fine. But you need trueborn heirs. If Laenor isn’t up to the job (unlike Renly, who was confident he would have a son born to Margaery within a year – Renly might have preferred the company of Loras, but unlike his show counterpart, book Renly knew all too well the importance of putting a baby in his wife’s belly.)
On Dragonstone, Rhaenyra had access to a plethora of Valyrian looking dragonseeds, bastards born from Targaryen and Velaryon lords exercising prima nocta (First Night, where all new brides are raped by their liege lords for the honour of being allowed to marry… ???)
She and Laenor could have found a way to make things work, as Renly and Margaery would later do, and as countless other canon couples in TWOIAF and ASOIAF do. She could not have flings with her lover/uncle Daemon, as he was exiled (with his new wife, after Rhea Royce’s death, Laena Velaryon, Laenor’s sister *head spins*) and only came back to Westeros when Laena had delivered twins and Viserys hoped fatherhood would calm his brother down. (Narrator voice: It did not.)
Rhaenyra had options available to her to carry on a love affair with Harwin, but make sure that she only gave birth to Valyrian looking children who could be conceivably passed off as Laenor’s sons, if not actually genuinely be Laenor’s sons. Jesus, she could have even gone down the medieval version of a turkey baster route….
BUT SHE DID NOT.
Instead, she chose to give birth to sons that clearly did not come from her husband, and demanded that the realm accept them as legitimate, using her position as her father’s favourite child to have Viserys ultimately declare that anyone who voiced doubts over Rhaenyra’s son’s paternity, they would have their tongue torn out.
This is not great political judgement. It’s pretty self centred and tyrannical – do as I want you to do or face death or dismemberment. Was that an early sign of Rhaenyra’s later failings as a Queen? Unclear.
But at the same time… Aegon was whoring his way around King’s Landing. The difference here is that Aegon did not attempt to pass off any of his bastards as his legitimate sons with sister-wife Helaena.
It’s not the fact that Rhaenyra had an affair. You do you girl. Go get that fine Strong booty. Your husband can’t even bring himself to live in the same castle as you, so fuck it.
It’s the fact that she consistently demonstrated such poor political judgement and then consolidated the problem by turning to state sanctioned violence to force people to go along with what she wanted, instead of admitting she created this problem.
120 AC: Things Get Turned Up To 11
There were four tragedies that happened to the extended Targaryen clan in 120 AC, which impacted the future conflict.
- Laena Velaryon’s death in childbirth.
- Laenor Velaryon’s murder at the hands of his most recent lover, Ser Qarl Comey.
- An “ugly squabble” between Rhaenyra’s sons and Alicent’s sons that led to Lucerys Velaryon stabbing Aemond Targaryen in the eye.
- A fire at Harrenhal that killed Viserys’ Hand, Lord Lyonel Strong, and his heir (and Rhaenyra’s former lover) Ser Harwin Strong.
The first tragedy was sad for Rhaenys and Corlys Velaryon, who lost their daughter in an all too common tragedy, the birthing bed that kills. But for Daemon Targaryen… an opportunity arose.
Which is why there is doubt that Ser Qarl Comey’s only motivation for murdering Laenor Velaryon, his lover who was supposedly going to dump Qarl for another handsome young knight, was jealousy. There’s also suggestion that Daemon paid Qarl to clear the path to Rhaenyra being a widow, so that Daemon could finally marry her.
The ugly squabble led to Aemond’s future designation as Aemond One-Eye or Aemond Starry-Eye (as he placed a diamond in the socket to cover up his lost eye.) Both sets of sons were equally rowdy and at blame – they roamed around causing trouble, much like the opening scene of Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (which is amazing and you should all watch it repeatedly.)
But it also led to Viserys’ tongue pulling proclamation, and the king finally taking some direction to avoid future altercations:
- Alicent and her sons were to stay in King’s Landing, and not go to Dragonstone
- Rhaenyra and her sons were to stay on Dragonstone, and not come to King’s Landing
- Ser Harwin Strong was removed as Rhaenyra’s sworn shield, even though Viserys continued to pretend he was unaware of his daughter’s adultery, and replaced with Ser Erryk Cargyell.
With the death of his Hand, Lord Lyonel, Viserys turned again to Otto Hightower to be Hand at Alicent’s urging. In fact, Viserys’ proclamations that kept Alicent in the capital and Rhaenyra on Dragonstone might have seemed sensible to keep their sons apart, but in the long run, it hurt Rhaenrya’s chances at consolidating her power. The lords who had sworn oaths of fealty to her as a child, 20 years ago, had died and been replaced by their sons, who were more amendable to the raven-sent diplomacy of Otto and Alicent Hightower, who had the immediate control over Viserys’ person and legacy, and Aegon in the wings as an alternate heir to Rhaenyra, who was increasingly the subject of scorn and derision amongst the nobility for the way she chose to handle her marriage to Laenor.
The removal of Laena and Laenor Velaryon from the chessboard, and arguably the removal of Harwin Strong from Rhaenyra’s inner circle, allowed Daemon to finally get what he wanted: Rhaenyra as his wife. How much of this was because he genuinely loved or lusted after her, and how much was because he wanted to rule as King through her claim to the Iron Throne…. draw your own conclusions. I’ve drawn mine. (He wanted the throne.)
By the end of 120 AC, Rhaenyra delivered her first trueborn son, Aegon the Younger, which sent Alicent into a fury, as she and Otto had been carefully ensuring that Aegon the Older was a constant reminder to the royal court of the original Aegon the Conqueror In due course, he would wield Blackfyre, Aegon’s sword, and wear Aegon’s crown. In contrast, Daemon Targaryen wielded Dark Sister, Visenya’s sword, and Rhaenyra chose to be crowned with Jaehaerys’ crown to emphasis her connection as the elder and more just heir. A second son, Viserys, followed in 122 AC. By 129 AC, Rhaenyra was again pregnant, with her sixth and final child.
129 AC: The King Is Dead, Long Live The … Queen? King?
Increasingly worn down from his family’s continual infighting, Viserys died following a prolonged infection from a cut incurred on the Iron Throne in 129 AC.
Alicent immediately moved to crown Aegon, who was reportedly reluctant to steal his sister’s crown (Green propaganda or truth?) while his father’s corpse wasn’t even cold. However, the Small Council were forced to concur with Alicent and Otto’s plans when Lord Commander Cristan Cole, the Kingmaker, slit the throat of Lord Beesbury, Master of Coin and the only one to speak in Rhaenyra’s favour at the midnight meeting to determine succession.
Let’s call it what it was: a coup. The Hightowers/Greens moved swiftly to ensure that Aegon was not just proclaimed by the Small Council to be King, but also anointed by the High Septon and crowned with Aegon the Conqueror’s crown. There was some dissent – a few members of the royal court and kingsguard fled the city to join Rhaenyra on Dragonstone, bringing her news of her father’s death, brother’s crowning, and Jaehaerys’ crown which she used to crown herself.
But first, she had to deal with a prolonged and difficult childbirth, brought on early by the stress of finding out about her father’s death and brother’s coup. She laboured for three days, eventually screaming at her belly for the baby to “get out! Get out, monster!” so that she could get back to ruling. Sadly the child, a daughter named Visenya, was stillborn. The Greens claimed that the child was a deformed monster, like Maegor’s abominations, but this is not corroborated by any of the Blacks, not even Mushroom who would have loved that kind of detail in his gossip and scandal heavy memoirs. (And Mushroom is the one who placed the babe on the funeral pyre.)
Rhaenyra sent her son Lucerys, a young teenager, to fly to Storm’s End to secure the loyalty of Lord Borros Baratheon, to whom the current Targaryens were related by the marriage of Alyssa Velaryon, Aenys’ widow, to Robar Baratheon (and Jocelyn Baratheon, Robar and Alyssa’s daughter, married Aemon Targaryen and had Rhaenys Targaryen, the Queen Who Never Was, who was Laenor Velaryon’s mother.)
But the Greens got there first. Aemond Targaryen had just finished negotiating a marriage pact for Lord Borros’ daughter to seal his support for the Greens when Luke arrived. Borros forebade them fighting under his roof, but said he didn’t give a shit what happened outside his walls…. so Aemond, now riding Vhagar, the largest of the living dragons and last survivor of the trio that conquered Westeros, chased down little Luke on little Arrax. He never had a chance, Aemond and Vhagar easily dispatching Luke and the smaller dragon over Shipbreaker Bay, within the sight of the walls of Storm’s End.
If we ignore the coup as the Greens merely carrying out the law of the land and crowning the eldest male heir instead of Viserys’ proclaimed heir, Aemon’s pursuit and murder of Lucerys is the first war crime of the Dance. Both dragonriders were on diplomatic missions, and it was the first act of violence which confirmed the outbreak of civil war. Rhaenyra did not send her commander and husband, Daemon, or her sworn shield, Ser Erryk. She didn’t even send her eldest son, Jacerys. She sent a teenage Lucerys on what should have been a straightforward and relatively risk free diplomatic mission, and he should have been protected by that status. But Aemond was as ruthless and vicious as his uncle Daemon Targaryen, and he wasted no time in eliminating the bastard who had stabbed out his eye a few years prior.
But then Rhaenyra and the Blacks immediately carry out just as heinous a war crime: Blood and Cheese, where Daemon used his contacts in Flea Bottom (including his returned former lover and mistress of whispers, the pale worm Mysaria,) to arrange for two bloody handed scumbags to sneak into the Red Keep, capture Queen Heleana and her two sons, Jaehaerys and Maelor, and asking Helaena to choose which one of her sons would die to answer for Luke’s murder. Faced with an impossible choice, Helaena chose Maelor, hoping he was too young to understand what was happening, but Blood and Cheese then beheaded Jaehaerys instead. True to their word, they only killed one son in exchange for the son that had been killed by the Greens.
Then, things get really nasty across the realm. Little Maelor was torn to pieces, not in a figurative sense, by a mob at Bitterbridge while he was being transported from King’s Landing to Oldtown in the hope that he’d be safe in the Hightower during the conflict. Ser Cristan Cole ordered Ser Arryk Cargyll, Ser Erryk’s twin, to Dragonstone to kill Rhaenyra and/or her children, leading Arryk and Erryk to duel to the death on Dragonstone. Cole then ordered that the Black supporters across the Crownlands were to be punished by razing their lands and sacking their castles. Rosby, Stokeworth and Duskendale fell to this, but at Staunton they fought back – with the assistance of the Queen Who Never Was, Princess Rhaenys on her dragon Meleys, the Red Queen, a fierce old fighter. This was the first instance of dragon on dragon fighting on Westerosi soil, and led to the death of Rhaenys and Meleys, and the near deaths of Aegon II and his dragon Sunfyre. The new king was only saved by his brother Aemond arriving on massive Vhagar, which tipped the odds against Rhaenys. Nevertheless, Rhaenys went out swinging, doing as much damage as she could and staying with her dragon to the bitter end (unlike Aegon, who jumped off the injured Sunfyre – something he would later repeat at the end of the Dance.)
Aegon spent the next year in isolation, recovering from his injuries, and becoming bitter, twisted and nasty. Sunfyre was also never the same again, meaning that Aegon could not fight his opponents from the air again.
But Aemond could, and did. He took over the governance and war command for his brother, wearing his brother’s crown but naming himself Protector of the Realm and Prince Regent.
At the start of the Dance, most regions picked a side. A couple stayed out of it – Dorne were still not formally part of the Seven Kingdoms and as such were able to avoid getting involved, and Highgarden was led by a regent Lady Tyrell, governing for a child Lord, and similarly kept most of the Reach not allied to Oldtown and the Hightowers out of the conflict.
The Stormlands, through Borros Baratheon, had declared for the Greens, and supplied troops and leadership the early battles of the Dance. The West also declared for the Greens, with the leading Lannisters sending troops to the conflicts in the south, and fighting with other lords surrounding them who had declared for the Blacks.
The Riverlands switched sides – the late Lord Tully had pledged his support to the Greens, but his sons, who took over leadership as he lay dying, preferred to support the Blacks and actively fought alongside the Blacks in the battles around Harrenhal and beyond. The Iron Islands declared for the Blacks, and harassed the West and Oldtown to distract Greens’ supporting lords from being able to send their full troops to the battles. The Vale was led by Lady Jeyne Arryn, and supported the Blacks. The North, led by Lord Cregan Stark, also supported the Blacks, but Cregan Stark would not march his troops south until all Northern townships and castles had harvested all that they could from the final spring harvest before the incoming Winter. But he did send an offshoot army of two thousands soldiers, the Winter Wolves, led by Lord Rodrick Dustin, aka Roddy the Ruin, to the battles in the south. Cregan Stark intended that the full force of the North would follow the Winter Wolves to battles in the south after the harvest, but as it turned out… they arrived after Rhaenyra and Aegon had depleted and defeated each other.
Dragon power and dragonseeds
Rhaenyra’s main edge over the Greens was that her forces had access to more dragons. For fairly obvious reasons, the Targaryens had kept most of their dragons on Dragonstone, with only the dragons of the immediate royal family who lived in King’s Landing housed in the Dragonpit.
This meant that while Aegon and Aemond had dragons (Sunfyre and Vhagar) that were fighting fit at the start of the war, they didn’t have spares – Helaena’s dragon Dreamfyre doesn’t seem to have seen any battle, dying in the collapse of the Dragonpit; Daeron’s dragon Tessarion was of “fighting weight” but died in battle at the second battle of Tumbleton; Jaehaerya’s dragon Morghul and Jaehaerys’ dragon Shrykos were too small to be of any fighting use, and both were killed in the storming of the Dragonpit.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra’s forces had access to a lot of dragons:
- Rhaenyra had her dragon Syrax, “huge and formidable”
- Daemon rode the Blood Wyrm, Caraxes, also described as “huge and formidable”
- Jacaerys rode Vermax
- Lucerys rode the stripling Arrax, to his and his dragon’s deaths
- Joffrey had the “young but strong” Tyraxes
- Rhaenys had the Red Queen, Meleys
- Lady Baela, daughter of Daemon Targaryen and Laena Velaryon, had Moondancer, “slender and beautiful, just large enough to carry a girl,” who was able to mortally wound Sunfyre in the final dragon battle of the Dance and injure Aegon II again,
- Silverwing, the former mount of Queen Alysanne
- Seasmoke, the former mount of Laenor Velaryon
- Vermithor, the former mount of Jaehaerys the Old King
- Morning, bound to Lady Rhaena, Daemon and Laena’s younger daughter, and like her rider, too young for war and survived the Dance
In addition to these tamed dragons, Rhaenyra also had access to 3 wild dragons living on Dragonstone: The Cannibal, so named because he would eat the carcasses and eggs of other dragons on the island, Grey Ghost, who was “shy of people” and preferred hunting for fish in the Narrow Sea, and Sheepstealer, so named for its preferred diet, pilfered from the sheep herders of the Driftmark and Dragonstone.
When the Dance commenced, and Rhaenyra thought that Aegon’s supporters outnumbered hers (as the North held back from fully committing, and the Riverlands were, initially, sworn to support the Greens, and her aunt/cousin and keen supporter Princess Rhaenys had just fallen in battle,) her Small Council suggested that they turn to the dragonseeds of the Valyrian lords’ lands in Westeros to find new dragon riders. A bounty of a knighthood and lands were offered to all who thought they had some blood of the dragon and were prepared to risk taming a dragon. Plenty of people got burned – literally. Others managed to tame a dragon.
Whether all of these supposed dragonseeds were actually descended from Targaryens or Velaryons remains debatable. The accepted in-universe explanation that is given repeatedly in the World books, the associated novellas that will be elaborated in Fire and Blood and the main series, is that IF you can ride a dragon, you MUST have dragonblood. As I’ve suggested before, I think a better way to put it is that IF you can ride a dragon, you MAY have dragonblood. Nettles is the key. She is described as looking nothing at all like someone descended from Valyrian stock – dark of hair, dark of eyes, dark of skin, solid, compared to silver-blonde, slim, aqualine features with indigo/violet/blue/silver eyes typical of Houses Targaryen, Velaryon and even Celtigar. She never claimed to be a dragonseed. She just turned up, prepared to have a go at taming a dragon for the reward on offer. Everyone else described her as a dragonseed.
Nettles trained Sheepstealer to accept her by bringing the dragon a sheep every day until it let her ride it. Which is how Tyrion, using all of his knowledge about dragons from his extensive reading, is going to be able to ride one of Dany’s dragons even though he is NOT Aerys’ bastard son….
Anyway. Rhaenyra’s dragonriding numbers were soon bolstered by Addam of Hull, who was accepted by Lord Corlys Velaryon as an illegitimate ‘grandson’ … through Laenor Velaryon…. (The far more likely explanation: Corlys himself fathered Addam and Alyn of Hull, but could not claim them as his bastards while Rhaenys was alive, so claimed them in a fashion by attributing their paternity to Laenor after her death.) The newly anointed Ser Addam Velaryon managed to ride his “father’s” dragon, Seasmoke. Alyn was also legitimised as a Velaryon and knighted, but he fought for Rhaenyra on the ground after failing to win over Sheepstealer.
Ulf the Sot became Ser Ulf the White after successfully riding Silverwing. Hugh of the Hammer, a local drunk, became Ser Hugh Hammer after he rode Vermithor. Both of these new knights were hungry for more and were bought out by the Greens, turning cloak at the Battle of Tumbleton before dying along with their newly claimed dragons.
Their defection had serious consequences for Rhaenyra long term though – fuelled also by jealousy, as her husband Daemon had abandoned her to shack up with his new lover Nettles at Harrenhal, just as she was struggling to deal with the death of more of her children (Jacaerys falling in battle) and loss of Viserys – suspected to be dead, but actually rescued and taken off to Lys by his rescuers/captors. He would later return in his brother’s reign, with his Lyseni wife and young son, the future Aegon the Unworthy.
Still, Daemon and Rhaenyra worked together to seize King’s Landing from the inexperienced and volatile Aemond. While Aemond led an assault on Harrenhal, determined to wipe out Daemon’s Riverlands power base, Daemon took his dragon south to work with Rhaenyra and their forces to capture King’s Landing while the Prince Regent was away. They did not manage to capture Aegon II, who was spirited out by his counsellors, and ended up hiding on Dragonstone for six months, correctly assuming that the last place that his sister and enemy would look for him was in her own holdings.
Interestingly, for all that Rhaenyra is portrayed by The Princess and the Queen (‘written’ from the Greens’ perspective) as a vengeful and unreasonable tyrant, she did not kill her great rival Alicent Hightower when the latter was captured in Rhaenyra’s conquest of the city. She had every right to put Alicent on trial for treason and execute her. It was Alicent who had always pushed Aegon’s claim to the Iron Throne, it was Alicent who arranged the speedy crowning/coup for Aegon, it was Alicent who wrote the letters and secured the lords who backed the Greens. But no. Rhaenyra opted for mercy, for the sake of her father “who loved you once.”
Bear that in mind. Because Aegon was not so minded to be merciful.
Peace? I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues…
But… Rhaenyra had become bitter, angry and paranoid by this stage. (Aegon was no better, to be fair.) After helping her secure the city, Daemon flew back to Netty’s warm embrace, and his ultimate death in combat over the God’s Eye against Aemond. Rhaenyra feared her new dragonriders turning against her, and made spurious accusations against Ser Alyn Velaryon that he and Addam were working against her (because Addam had been injured in combat, and Alyn helped his brother get back to Driftmark to recover.) This led to Corlys Velaryon, desperate to protect his new ‘grandsons’/actual sons, to abandon Rhaenyra’s cause and start making deals with Aegon.
While this was happening, the smallfolk of King’s Landing were violently expressing their frustration at the ongoing conflict and associated starvation. Rhaenyra didn’t help herself by hosting great feasts to celebrate her successes, while her people in the city starved. The Poor Fellows, still clinging on to moral legitimacy amongst the smallfolk despite being disarmed when the Faith Militant was disbanded, were able to rally people into a frenzy, claiming that their woes and starvation were a punishment for submitting to the godless demons of Valyria, and that Westeros would only be free when they had thrown off the submission of the “spawn of godless Valyria.” This led to the riots and the Storming of the Dragonpit, where Rhaenyra’s mount Syrax, as well as her son Joffrey and his mount Tyraxes, and the dragons of Aegon’s wife and children were killed.
This occurred on the twenty-second day of the fifth month of 130 AC, a rare instance of GRRM being quite firm about when something happened. It was on this same day that Daemon and Aemond duelled to their deaths and the deaths of their dragons above the God’s Eye.
Rhaenyra had lost her husband, four out of five of her living children, her dragon, and the capital. She had to sell her crown to pay for passage to Dragonstone, hoping to recoup with her son Aegon the Younger. The Riverlands forces had by now turned to the younger Tullys supporting her, and the full Northern army, led by Lord Cregan Stark, was on its way south. In contrast, the Greens military ground advantage collapsed when Lord Borros Baratheon fell at the Battle of the Kingsroad. They just didn’t have any experienced, senior leadership on the ground with Corlys Velaryon’s expertise being at sea, Aemond dead over the God’s Eye, and the Hightower’s leadership being more political than military.
But Aegon the Older was waiting for her, and he had already made his bargains with Lord Corlys Velaryon which saw the Driftmark fleet shore up the Blackwater and beyond for the Greens.
He didn’t get it that easily though. Lady Baela on Moondancer had a last stand at the Dragonstone castle, fighting to the near death (and Moondancer’s actual death) and causing grievous harm to Sunfyre and Aegon, who again leaped from his injured dragon, only this time shattering both legs in the landing.
So, pissed off and in agony, Aegon the Older confronted his sister Rhaenyra, and the final horrible war crime of the Dance was committed. Aegon ordered Sunfyre to burn and eat Rhaenyra alive, forcing her son Aegon the Younger to watch. Corlys might have turned on Rhaenyra because she turned on his natural sons, but he had wrangled guarantees of safety for the future Aegon III from Aegon II when turning cloak, convincing the reluctant king to finish off the conflict by wedding his surviving daughter Jaehaera to Aegon the Younger to unite the feuding lines of the Dance.
The Hour of the Wolf
Rhaenyra and Daemon might have been dead, but in their son Aegon, the Blacks’ cause lived on. And so did Aegon’s fury and desire for vengeance.
As I said above, Rhaenrya exercised mercy when dealing with Alicent.
Aegon did not exercise mercy when dealing with Rhaenyra. And he wasn’t prepared to go quietly into the night. Still quaffing wine and milk of the poppy to ease the pain of his shattered legs, Aegon rejected the advice of Corlys to surrender to the oncoming forces of the North and the Riverlands, marching on King’s Landing for the Blacks. Corlys suggested that Aegon take the black, and let the realm pass to the next generation.
Aegon ordered his servants to carry him to his litter and then to Aegon the Younger’s chambers, intending to take his nephew’s ear off as a reminder to the Blacks that he had “won” the war by outliving Rhaenyra.
But he never made it.
It is unknown who carried out and who ordered the poisoning of Aegon II. But that was how he died. Poisoned by his supposed supporters, who had grown tired of this constant, destructive war.
So Cregan Stark’s army arrived, finally ready to engage in a battle, filled with many young men, old men, men who hoped that they would alleviate the burden on their families back in the North by dying honourably in battle and thus being one less mouth to feed in the winter which had just hit the North…
To find that the war had ended in such a dishonourable way.
Lord Cregan Stark was not having this shit. He used his military advantage to pressure the new Aegon III, the boy king, and his advisors to make him Hand of the King, and then he presided of the Hour of the Wolf, the week in which a Stark ruled the Seven Kingdoms as Hand, and in which the realm waited to find out if the war would continue.
In between Aegon II’s death and Stark’s arrival in King’s Landing, Corlys Velaryon had used his influence over Aegon III to be appointed as Hand of the King, so that he could send out peace envoys across the realm, advising that as Rhaenyra and Aegon II had died, and Aegon III was to marry Jaehaera, Aegon II’s daughter, and Alicent Hightower was in custody still…. could we all just stop fighting now? This was the message, more or less, sent to Storm’s End, Casterly Rock and Oldtown, the seats of the only major Greens supporters left.
Cregan Stark was content to wait for the outcome of those envoys before launching into any further war, but he was not content to ignore the poisoning of the previous king.
To kill a cruel and unjust king in lawful battle was one thing. But foul murder, and the use of poison, was a betrayal against the very gods who had anointed him.
TWOIAF, p 82
Cregan Stark more or less bullied the boy king into sacking Corlys Velaryon as Hand so that Stark could be Hand, so that Stark could arrest 22 people suspected of conspiring to kill Aegon II, including Corlys. When the envoys returned confirming that the Greens’ supporters were willing to abandon the war, Cregan Stark held court for one day, and put every single one of those 22 men on trial. Unsurprisingly, for the iffy nature of justice and a fair trial in Westeros, they were all found guilty. Most took the black, but for 2:
- Ser Gyles Belgrave of the Kingsguard, who did not wish to outlive the King he had been sworn to protect (Aegon II;) and
- Lord Larys Strong, the former Hand to Aegon II and the last scion of House Strong, formerly of Harrenhal.
While the “why” is fairly clear, the “who” of who actually poisoned Aegon II remains a mystery in the World book (perhaps one to be answered by Fire and Blood?) Nonetheless, Cregan Stark felt that justice had been carried out, and his final act as Hand of the King was to establish a council of regents for the boy king Aegon III.
The success and failures of that time… ugh. That’s another blog in itself.
So who was right?
The biggest problem for fans in analysing the Dance is that by the end of it, both Rhaenyra and Aegon, and their key supporters, had proven themselves to be bad rulers and bad people over and over again. Many atrocities were carried out during the Dance, by both parties.
It’s tempting to say that the whole problem could have been avoided by Daemon Targaryen meeting with an “accident” around the time he was Lord Commander of the gold cloaks, before Rhaenyra was named heir to ensure he would stop acting as de facto heir presumptive.
But the biggest cause of the Dance is Viserys’ stubbornness. His reasons for naming Rhaenyra has his heir to begin with are understandable. But his refusal to revisit the issue of succession is not.
Under the laws, lores and customs of Westeros that the Great Council had used to make Viserys king to begin with, Aegon had the better claim. If you take the view that the king is just as bound by the laws of the land as any of his subjects, (which, FYI, is the #ObjectivelyCorrect view to take…) then Viserys had to amend his desires about succession once Aegon was born and survived infancy. Not only did he have a son, but he had a son and two spares – Aegon, Aemond and Daeron. There was just no excuse to keep going “Nope, I said Rhaenyra and that’s that,” because that IS NOT that.
If you take a might-makes-right, a king can do whatever the hell they want view, (which is a very bad idea) then Viserys could declare that his heir was Rhaenyra and that was that. But this is very simplistic, and overlooks the biggest logical hurdle that Viserys should have faced:
THE SAME LAWS AND LORES WHICH ALLOWED HIM TO BE JAEHAERYS’ HEIR OVER LAENOR VELARYON ALSO MEANT THAT AEGON HAD A BETTER CLAIM THAN RHAENYRA.
Viserys could and should have solved this problem by doing what his grandfather did: hey, lords of the realm. We have ourselves a succession crisis here. How about we get together and establish what the correct precedent it?
Given the outcome of the 101 council, it’s highly likely that the result would have been “Aegon, because male primogeniture.” BUT Rhaenyra had supporters in the Northern and Vale lords, as well as the Riverlands lords who weren’t content to follow the senior Tully to the Greens. And it’s unclear how much the sons who had become lords since their fathers swore oaths of fealty to Rhaenyra’s claim when she was young would react if they were asked to confirm their support in a Great Council instead of a civil war.
Modern sensibilities find the idea of male-priority primogeniture just weird and outdated, and so we tend as readers to gravitate towards backing Rhaenyra’s claim as the eldest. Plus there’s the Daemon fanboys who think the Rogue Prince was the ultimate Alpha Male and should have got to be King alongside Rhaenyra.
But she had demonstrated poor judgement before the Dance commenced, even ignoring the slut shaming, and would go on to exercise poor judgement as Queen. So would Aegon, who let Aemond murder on a whim, and ultimately forced his nephew to witness his mother’s death is such a brutal manner that it’s no wonder Aegon the Younger would grow up to be terrified of dragons, and ultimately be labelled the Dragonsbane as all dragons died out in his lifetime.
It’s hard to see a clear winner for the Dance. Aegon outlived Rhaenyra, but her line outlived his – his daughter Jaehaera died young, well before she and Aegon III were expected to consummate their marriage.
The only person who walked away from the Dance with their integrity intact was Cregan Stark.