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Rhaenyra Targaryen: Who Was Game of Thrones' First Queen of Westeros?

Rhaenyra Targaryen is secretly one of the most distinctive figures in the lore of Game of Thrones. The firstborn of her father, she claimed the throne of Westeros for herself despite the actions of traitorous friends and family. These battles would go on to become the legendary civil war known as the "Dance of Dragons," which reshaped the Seven Kingdoms and featured some truly epic battles between dragon riders across the skies of the kingdom.

Now, CBR is looking back at her titanic rise to power and how everything fell apart for her.

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WHO IS Rhaenyra Targaryen?

Rhaenyra was born the first child of Viserys I Targaryen. She was his only child from his beloved first wife. She quickly became popular throughout the kingdom and was even known as the "Realm's Delight." She lived in the era of dragons and often rode one she named Syrax. She even briefly had a rumored relationship with her uncle Daemon, which was well in line with the the Targaryens' unusual family traditions.

However, this act - which was never confirmed to have actually happened - led to Daemon being briefly exiled. She eventually married Laenor Velaryon at the orders of her father, although she joked Laenor would "prefer" to marry her step-brothers over her. She gave birth to three sons, rumored to be the children of her friend Harwin Strong. She would eventually end up marrying Daemon later in life, leading to the birth of three more sons.

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After her mother died in childbirth during her youth, Viserys I made special provisions in his will to name her his heir to the Iron Throne. He even had the other lords of the Seven Kingdoms swear allegiance to her. This was intended to continue even though he had a son with his second wife, Aegon II. Although Viserys I still meant for his daughter to succeed him, some wondered if she'd be able to hold the throne from her male relative.

WHAT IS THE DANCE OF DRAGONS?

When her father died, Rhaenyra was already a mother of six children. She was at her home in Dragonstone giving birth to a daughter when she technically ascended to the throne. But in King's Landing, traitorous members of her father's court, (including his Hand of the King and her old friend Criston Cole) quickly tried to put Aegon II into power. The stress caused the infant to be stillborn. Enraged on multiple counts, Rhaenyra declared war on Aegon II. Civil war broke out across Westeros, known as the "Dance of Dragons" due to the airborne dragon duels that took place over the course of the conflict.

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The war quickly cost both sides of the Targaryen family. Rhaenyra lost many of her sons on missions and in battles. She briefly managed to control King's Landing but discovered its gold reserves wasted. She vengefully killed anyone who'd even remotely betrayed her, and ever-increasing taxes poisoned the opinion of the common folk against her. Rumors spoke of how she would always prick herself on the Iron Throne, leaving blood on the royal seat. This led the more superstitious members of the court to believe the throne had rejected her, and her time as ruler would be short.

WHO WON THE DANCE OF DRAGONS?

Increasing tension at King's Landing eventually broke out into full-on rioting. This forced Rhaenyra to flee the city for her own safety. The riots led to the Storming of the Dragonpit, where the incensed public managed to kill four chained up Targaryen dragons. Rhaenyra's son Joffrey rode into vengeful battle atop her dragon Syrax to avenge them, but both were overwhelmed and killed as well. Rhaenyra ensured the safety of her only remaining child, Aegon III. She returned to Dragonstone, but was captured by her half-brother Aegon II. She was promptly executed on the grounds of treason, burned alive and eaten by Aegon II's dragon Sunfyre.

Although Rhaenyra lost the Dance of Dragons, her side of the family won in the long run. Aegon II lost all of his sons in the war, meaning the line of succession ended with him. After his death, Rhaenyra's last remaining son Aegon III became the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Rhaenyra serves as something of a foil to many characters in Game of Thrones, including her distant descendant Daenerys and even her rival, Cersei. Like them, she was a powerful woman who took on a title the world did not want for her. And like them, the ambitions of her enemies (and her own vengeful impulses) ended up costing her everything, including those she loved, the crown she fought for, and her life itself.

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