Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Episodes 1-4 of House of the Dragon.Well, folks, it finally happened! After more than a decade of teasing and throwaway lines about historical marriages between brothers and sisters, the Game of Thrones TV universe gave us a real taste of that good and old Targaryen incest (and no, Jon and Dany don’t exactly count). In Episode 4 of House of the Dragon, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) got a taste of the pleasures of King’s Landing with the help of her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith). And then she got a taste of her uncle’s lips as the two undressed each other at a pleasure house. Things heated up and cooled down in the blink of an eye as Daemon abandoned his niece high and dry for reasons yet to be explained. Performance issues? A sudden, unexpected pang of guilt? Who knows? What matters right now is that fans were excited to see the culmination of a sexual tension that had been building up since Episode 1. Some were also more than a little irked out. After all, we all just watched a young woman engaging in a pretty heavy make-out session with her uncle. There are, of course, ways to make this scenario worse, but they aren’t that many. It is understandable for fans to feel at least a bit uncomfortable. But should they?
Yes. Yes, they should. For the love of the old gods and the new, don’t go getting yourself too comfortable with the notion of incest. But, when it comes to watching House of the Dragon, perhaps it’s best to put that discomfort aside if you truly want to enjoy the series. Because, in the end, incest isn’t that big of a deal in the Game of Thrones universe, especially when a certain dragon-loving family is involved.
It’s Just a Targaryen Custom
Let’s get things straight right away: Daemon and Rhaenyra getting together is not a matter of if, but when. Without spoiling the show too much for those that haven’t read Fire & Blood, the George R. R. Martin novel on which the series is based, suffice to say that Rhaenyra and Daemon eventually get married and have two children together, Aegon and Viserys. So even though Rhaenyra might have had her judgment clouded by alcohol and a general atmosphere of debauchery in House of the Dragon Episode 4, it’s not like she doesn’t have feelings for Daemon. And the fact that he is her uncle doesn’t bother her that much. When Daemon leaves her behind at the brothel, she simply finds someone else to blow off steam with, and, when the consequences of her actions come knocking on the following day, the gravity of being accused of having lost her virginity to her uncle doesn’t even cross her mind. Sure, she denies sleeping with Daemon to King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Queen Alicent (Emily Carey), but their being related plays no part in her defense. Rhaenyra deflects the accusation just as if she was said to have slept with any other man. What’s important for her is making them all believe that she remains a maiden.
Rhaenyra’s accusers also don’t give much weight to the incestuous part of her alleged relationship with Daemon. Alicent is angry that Rhaenyra would do such a thing after rejecting countless suitors in her tour through the realm, and Viserys even considers for a split second marrying his daughter to his brother. You can see the thought flickering in his eyes while he’s beating up Daemon, before he remembers that the prince already has a wife waiting for him at the Vale. It wouldn’t be unheard of for close relatives to marry each other in the Targaryen household. As Daemon himself puts it when he asks for Rhaenyra’s hand, it’s tradition. In fact, both Viserys and Daemon’s parents and grandparents were brother and sister marriages. Even Lord Otto (Rhys Ifans), the most interested party in sullying the princess’ reputation, had already suggested a marriage between Rhaenyra and her baby half-brother Aegon just one episode before the Daemon scandal. All things point to a family very much okay with some uncle-and-niece affection as long as there is no polygamy and no sex out of wedlock. At least, not for the lady.
Incest Is Frowned Upon But That Never Stopped the House of the Dragon
This isn’t the first time Game of Thrones’ fans were introduced to this kind of pairing. Except, back in the day, the genders were reversed. When the final seasons of the original Game of Thrones show were airing, fans and characters alike were counting the days until Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) got together. Granted, for a long while, none of the involved knew that Jon was actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Dany’s eldest brother, Rhaegar. Still, when the truth came out, it didn’t exactly stop the ill-fated couple from enjoying each other’s company before everything went downhill. The Stark siblings didn’t seem to mind that Jon was going to bed with his aunt, except when it came to putting his allegiance into question. As for the members of Daenerys’ entourage, save for those that had the hots for Khaleesi, everyone just gave a big, collective shrug.
Incest is a big no-no for all major religions in Westeros. However, it is possible that relationships between uncles and nieces, or aunts and nephews, aren’t exactly seen as incest in Westerosi society. After all, they are pretty close to relationships between first cousins, which are pretty common in the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) was married to his first cousin, Joanna, and had three children with her. All perfectly in line with the real-world medieval and modern royal families that served as inspiration for Martin’s universe: in 1666, the infanta Margaret of Spain married her uncle, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I; in 1795, King George IV had a brief marriage to his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick; the list goes on and on. Considering the amount of inbreeding that goes into the business of preserving power and money, if we were to take a look at the family trees of royals in the Seven Kingdoms and our own earthly realm, we would probably find out that everyone is at least a little bit related.
The Targryens Married For Blood Purity But That Came With Its Own Problems
The true sin for monarchies both real and fictional lies is getting sexually and/or romantically involved with members of your immediate family, such as your parents, your children or your siblings. But, in Westeros, even this is up for interpretation and kind of depends on who you are. The Targaryens were repeat offenders when it came to breaking the law against marrying siblings. We’ve already covered Lord Otto’s proposal to marry princess Rhaenyra with prince Aegon, and Daenerys herself was a product of incest, one of the three children the Mad King Aerys II had with his wife and sister, Rhaella. Back in the heydays of the Targaryen dynasty, brothers and sisters would often marry one another to keep the bloodline pure and assure the family’s control over the dragons. Much like in real life, this resulted in many descendants of such unions being plagued by health issues such as King Aerys’ insanity.
The Targaryens often had issues with the representatives of the Faith of the Seven, but their power usually prevailed, forcing the priests and most ardent followers to turn a blind eye to their transgressions. Their marriages between siblings were often cited by Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) as a justification for her affair with her twin brother, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Sadly for Cersei, the Lannisters were no Targaryens. To make matters worse, her husband was the king. So not only was her family not powerful enough to keep the Faith Militant at bay, the fact that all of Cersei’s children were actually Jaime’s, and not King Robert’s (Mark Addy), messed up the entire line of succession and gave way to a war of continental proportions. Nonetheless, the other noble folk of Westeros had a somewhat nonchalant approach to Cersei and Jaime being an item after their secret came to light. They were judgmental, of course, who wouldn’t be? But no one was turning them into the authorities for that particular crime – and there many rival authorities out to get the Lannisters. Poor Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) was only pushed off that window to keep Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in line for the Iron Throne. If there were no children and no kings involved, having their love affair revealed to the entire realm would certainly be a nuisance for Jaime and Cersei, but that’s about it.
There is only one instance of incest that is shown in the Game of Thrones series as being truly horrifying in the eyes of the characters: the case of Craster (Robert Pugh) and his daughter-wives. However, Craster’s crimes had many aggravating circumstances. Unlike Jaime and Cersei’s or Daemon and Rhaenyra’s generally consensual relationships, Craster repeatedly raped his daughters. Not only that, but he also murdered the sons that were born out of this violence. Everything was a lot more gruesome, and the fact that he was a wildling was enough to make him even more repulsive in the eyes of the Westerosi members of the Night’s Watch.
In the end, as long as you are a noble person, don’t threaten the line of succession in any way, and maybe don’t marry your kids, no one in Westeros really cares if you are sleeping with members of your own family. Apart from the religious zealots, that is. If your family name begins with “tar” and ends with “garyen”, even better. Like dragons and face-changing swords for hire, Targaryen incest is just one of those little GOT-y things that we’ll just have to learn to live with. At least for about an hour per week. After the episode is over, we can latch on to our moral compass once again. For society’s sake.