Editor’s note, August 19, 2022: This piece was first published in 2016 and updated following the season seven finale of Game of Thrones. Click here to read about how the Targaryen family tree relates to HBO’s new prequel series House of the Dragon.
In Game of Thrones’ season seven finale, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen finally consummated their slow-burning passion — even though the season six finale’s confirmation of the “R + L = J” equation surrounding Jon’s parentage renders their love an incestuous one between aunt and nephew.
The finale also revealed that Jon Snow’s real name is Aegon Targaryen — a twist that might have confused readers of the books Game of Thrones is based on, since that’s also the name of Jon’s long-dead half-brother. We know this half-brother at least existed in the show’s universe, because Oberyn Martell famously fought the Mountain partly to avenge his death and the death of his sister. It’s not clear, however, if he was still named Aegon.
Confused? That’s understandable. To know why Lyanna Stark might have wanted to name her son Aegon with her dying breath, you might need a refresher course on the immense Targaryen dynasty — the family that ruled for three centuries over all of Westeros. And if you’re having trouble remembering what part the original Aegon, Jon’s namesake, played in this litany of names, you’re in luck: An enterprising fan artist has drawn the entire House Targaryen family tree, and the results are as educational as they are gorgeous.
DeviantArtist user Maryon B.’s work is a gorgeous take on the complicated, once-mighty dynasty of the Targaryens that doubles as a handy reminder of just where Jon Snow fits into all of this (click here for the full-size version):
Maryon is a 28-year-old French freelance artist and video game developer currently living in Helsinki. She’s also a die-hard Game of Thrones fan, which might explain why she’s illustrated the entire lineage of House Targaryen (home of one Daenerys, Mother of Dragons) from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels — even though, as she says in her description of the project on DeviantArt, “I DON’T EVEN LIKE HOUSE TARGARYEN WHY DID I DO THIS[?]”
“I actually started the Tree out of spite because all their descriptions (and fan representations) make them look the same — beautiful, silver-haired and purple eyes,” she told Vox via email in 2016, after first drawing the tree, “and it frustrated me to see them as elf-clones.”
Maryon’s frustration is understandable. The Targaryens are much more than pretty blondes with big pets, and their convoluted dynasty has vast repercussions for the present and future of Westeros.
As Game of Thrones fans have heard time and again, the powerful Targaryen family unified the Seven Kingdoms. This is mainly thanks to the first Aegon Targaryen, known as Aegon the Conqueror. Several other Aegons followed — including the wise and kindly Aegon V, better known to book fans as “Egg” from Martin’s Dunk and Egg prequel novellas.
But though Egg stabilized the country and ruled over a harsh winter, the end of his reign wasn’t exactly a career high point. And unfortunately for Westeros, Aegon V’s grandson was the “Mad King,” Aerys II, better known as Daenerys’s deceased father.
Aerys’s son, Rhaegar Targaryen — Daenerys’s brother, the crown prince and heir to the throne, whom we now also know as Jon Snow’s father — fell in love with Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark’s sister, even though he was already married to Elia Martell. A further complication: Lyanna was already engaged to Robert Baratheon.
Game of Thrones season seven revealed crucial new context to this backstory: We now know that Rhaegar secretly had his marriage to Elia annulled so he could marry Lyanna Stark sometime before his death and the birth of their son. But Robert believed (or wanted to believe) that Rhaegar had kidnapped and raped Lyanna — and the resulting conflict culminated in a horrific end to the peace between the families, as the Mad King burned Lyanna’s father, Rickard Stark, alive while her brother Brandon watched. This led to an uprising that came to be known as Robert’s Rebellion, in which the Baratheons joined House Stark to fight and ultimately overthrow the Targaryens.
It was during Robert’s Rebellion that Robert defeated Rhaegar in battle. After Rhaegar’s death, Robert’s fearsome henchman Gregor Clegane murdered Rhaegar’s wife — or, as we now know, his former wife — Elia Martell, and Rhaegar’s two young children, Aegon and Rhaenys. The season seven finale revealed that shortly thereafter, Lyanna told Ned Stark that her child, Rhaegar’s last remaining son, was also named Aegon.
Will Jon Snow fulfill the reputation of the name of Aegon the Conqueror and Aegon V? Given all the violence and conflict that led to his birth, we can only hope.
The full Targaryen family tree contains more than 100 characters and spans 16 generations of entirely fictional history.
Here’s a look at only one character from this broad tapestry: the second Rhaenys Targaryen. Known in the annals of Westeros history as the “queen who never was,” Rhaenys was a dragon rider whose claim to the throne was passed over in favor of her brother. She married Corlys Velaryon and died fighting a battle on dragonback at the age of 52:
Rhaenys’s great-grandmother was Alyssa Velaryon, who joined the Targaryen dynasty by marrying Aenys I, a politically wily man who took the throne amid great upheaval. They had six children before Aenys was killed and Alyssa taken hostage by her husband’s half-brother Maegor. (And from there, things get really complicated.)
Further down the family tree, there’s House Blackfyre, an illegitimate house sanctioned by the lust-ridden King Aegon Targaryen IV, who’s generally considered the worst king ever. His decision to legitimize all of the bastard children he fathered with his many mistresses — announced from his deathbed — prompted five generations of battles for the throne known as the Blackfyre Rebellions.
Maryon says she got into Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels and related writing during the long hiatus between seasons two and three of Game of Thrones. She started the Targaryen family tree project more or less on accident after drawing Baelor Breakspear and Maekar, characters who figure prominently in Tales of Dunk and Egg, Martin’s aforementioned collection of related novellas set in the Song of Ice and Fire universe. Naturally, the project spiraled:
[I]t got me interested in their ancestors, so I worked from there. At first I never thought I’d do the whole bunch, but it’s when I realized that I was already halfway through just by making Maekar’s descendants that I gave in: “While I’m at it, might as well do the rest…”
Maryon says the project turned out to be “a very challenging artistic exercise, to keep on coming up with facial variety all while maintaining the same ‘silver hair-purple eyes’ features and some genetic similarities.”
“I had to find inspiration and study some real people’s faces so I learned a lot since I started.”
Above all, a look at the full family tree reveals how often and how strategically the Targaryens secured the future of their line by marrying into other powerful families like the Martells, the Baratheons, and the Velaryons, just as many figures in real-world history have done. And when Maryon was finished, she says she’d actually become fonder of the Targaryens than she was when she began:
“[I]n the end it made me appreciate House Targaryen much more since now I share a personal story with each and every one of them, and I would suggest anyone who likes Game of Thrones to be curious about them because they have a lot of stories to tell.”
You can see these and many more excerpts from the Targaryen family tree, as well as other Game of Thrones portraits, on Maryon’s DeviantArt page. She’s stated that she hopes to eventually produce a print version of the full family tree, but in the meantime she’s done a few more complicated Game of Thrones projects, including a set of Major Arcana tarot cards.