Season 5 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is in full swing, and co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss aren’t wasting a single minute of the 10 hours on the schedule. With so many complex characters vying for screen time, one name has made a big splash in Westeros despite the fact its owner hasn’t ever appeared in the flesh.
The name Rhaegar Targaryen keeps coming up in conversation, as well as in some very popular online chatter about one theory or another. In the fourth episode alone, Rhaegar is discussed first by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) in the tomb of Lyanna Stark and then by Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) while speaking to Rhaegar’s sister Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in Meereen.
Clearly, Rhaegar’s name looms large over the show for a character that was long dead before the first episode of Season 1. To help make sure no savvy fan gets left scratching his or her head at the mention of the former Targaryen prince, below is everything the show has told us about Rhaegar so far.
As many probably guessed by his last name, Rhaegar was the brother of Daenerys and the son of King Aerys II, better known to the show’s viewers as the Mad King. Before Rhaegar died, he was married to the sister of Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), Elia Martell.
Together, they had two children, Rhaenys and Aegon. It was mentioned in Season 1 that, despite Rhaegar being married to Elia, he was infatuated with Lyanna Stark. This stirred the fury of Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and led to the rebellion that would eventually bring down the Targaryen dynasty.
As Littlefinger told Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in episode 4, Rhaegar bested Ser Barristan in a tournament at Harrenhal many years ago. After the prince claimed victory against one of Westeros’ best fighters, the crowd fell silent as he rode past his loving wife and placed a “crown of winter roses” on Lyanna’s lap.
Relationships And Rebellion
As many who supported Robert’s Rebellion in the show noted, Rhaegar’s obsession with Lyanna didn’t end at inappropriate public acts of chivalry. What finally set Robert Baratheon off enough to raise an army against the Mad King was the alleged kidnapping of Lyanna. While nobody knows exactly what happened to Lyanna, many believe the son of the Mad King kidnapped and raped her sometime after the tournament. She was brought to King’s Landing where she was presumably held against her will.
During the ensuing rebellion, Lannister troops sacked King’s Landing after it became clear the armies led by Robert and Ned Stark would prevail. Elia Martell and her two children were brutally murdered by Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson); Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) slit Aerys II’s throat (thus earning the nickname Kingslayer); and Daenerys and her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) managed to escape the city unscathed.
Meanwhile, Ned Stark made it to King’s Landing while it was being sacked and discovered his sister lying in a bed of blood. She made him promise her something unknown before dying, unable to ever see Robert or Rhaegar again.
We catch up with all the characters in “Game of Thrones” after Robert’s Rebellion, when the eldest Baratheon had already shown the silver-haired Targaryen what the house words “Ours is the fury” really mean. Before the sack of King’s Landing, the two combatants met in single combat at the Battle of the Trident. With Rhaegar wielding a sword and Robert his infamous hammer, the favorite son of the Mad King was killed -- and that’s when Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) ordered his men to turn on Aerys II.
In the eyes of Westeros history, Rhaegar died a cheating, kidnapping, raping thief who was willing to see the Seven Kingdoms burn rather than have somebody tell him he couldn’t take what he wanted. However, the most recent episode of the series painted the character as more sympathetic than all that. While speaking to Daenerys about the brother she never knew, Ser Barristan revealed a kinder side of history’s greatest villain.
“Rhaegar never liked killing, he loved singing,” Ser Barristan said as he told her about how he would accompany the prince to the streets of King’s Landing while he was still a knight of the Kingsguard. Apparently, the great Targaryen villain liked to stand with the other minstrels and sing songs to see how much money he could earn. Sometimes, he’d give the cash away to the other performers or he’d donate it to the local orphanage -- and, one time, he treated himself to a hearty amount of liquor. It’s unclear what this gentler side of Rhaegar is meant to foreshadow, but, given the timing of it in relation to Ser Barristan’s other big moment in the episode, odds are good that it’s significant.
[POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT]
Anybody who has watched the show, read the books or looked at Twitter in the past five years has likely come across the popular R+L=J theory. For those who somehow aren’t familiar with it, the theory states that R (Rhaegar) either through consensual or nonconsensual sex with L (Lyanna) had a child, J, as it Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Many fans believe the promise Lyanna made Ned swear with her dying breath was to keep her new baby safe from Robert.
Only time will tell what Benioff, Weiss and novelist George R.R. Martin have planned for Rhaegar’s legacy in the future. At the moment, though, he’s simply one of the most controversial figures in Westeros’ history and likely to remain so until the series wraps up at some point in the future.