Warning: Contains SPOILERS for House of the Dragon season 1, episode 7, “Driftmark.”Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen’s marriage in House of the Dragon season 1, episode 7, “Driftmark,” confirms the prequel wants audiences to actively cheer and invest in incest far more than Game of Thrones did. The idea of incestuous relationships in Westeros has been present ever since Game of Thrones season 1, episode 1, when Bran Stark caught Cersei and Jaime Lannister getting a little too close in a Winterfell tower. But in a world where murder, while not exactly un-punishable, was certainly a common occurrence that just about every character could and would partake in, incest remained one of the last great taboos even in its more medieval society.
That is definitely not the case in House of the Dragon, which has so far presented multiple cases of people marrying within the family: King Viserys was married to his cousin, Aemma, when the show started; Alicent has betrothed her son, Aegon, to her daughter, Helaena, and that comes after Rhaenyra had suggested one of her own children could perhaps marry Helaena. Rhaenyra first married her cousin, Laenor Velaryon, and has now wed her uncle, Daemon. The moral code saying incest is wrong does not, despite an inherent weirdness to it for audiences. In having Rhaenyra marry Daemon and present this as a good decision for both characters (one of whom is very much set up as the show’s main hero) both politically and romantically, House of the Dragon really wants viewers to root for incest.
Why Rhaenyra & Daemon’s Romance Works Better Than Game Of Thrones’ Incest
House of the Dragon has been building to a romance between Rhaenyra and Daemon for some time, long before Emma D’Arcy replaced Milly Alcock in the role of the former. It’s clear in both cases there was a chemistry between the characters, and a spark of desire that, ultimately, would have to result in the two of them together in some way. Though Daemon’s actions when Rhaenyra was younger were certainly questionable (to put it mildly), the show has done enough to make it clear these two characters are an “endgame” couple, and to sell why that should be.
That certainly goes for helping to demonstrate the political importance – for Daemon, the line to the Iron Throne he’s long been denied; for Rhaenyra, a great and wealthy warrior to help support her claim; for both, the chance to have children who will become heirs to the Iron Throne, and whose lineage cannot be doubted. But it’s also true romantically as well: Daemon and Rhaenyra have clearly been shown to long for and love one another, presented as lovers more so than relatives. They’re a rare couple who marry for duty and love and so, in a world where incest is already so normalized, it works.
In contrast, Game of Thrones generally worked against incest. Its biggest romance in this sense was Cersei and Jaime but, as the former became increasingly villainous and the latter strove toward redemption, it made audiences want them to be apart, not together. From the very beginning, even, their affair was clearly far more of an illegal act that should not be encouraged, eliciting a far more natural response to the notion (and not only because it was initially tied up in the attempted murder of a small child). With Jaime and Cersei both villains (for a time), and incest outlawed in Westeros, there was a much more clearly defined and easier to follow moral code for viewers who, by the end, wanted Jaime to kill Cersei, not to sleep with her. Similarly, another example of incest was beyond the Wall with Craster, who married his own daughters and was among the show’s most repulsive villains.
All of this then continued into Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s romance, despite the position of both of them as great heroes. Because Game of Thrones had never previously supported the notion of familial love affairs, it was that much harder to root for them as a couple, with even Jon himself unsure of the idea. There were arguably some chemistry issues between the pair as well, but mostly there was no real grounding for that kind of relationship to spring up so suddenly in Game of Thrones and so it’s far more jarring (and has a much greater ick-factor), which stands in stark contrast to how House of the Dragon has presented these things.
Why House Of The Dragon Needs You To Root For Incest
Beyond those factors, there’s also the consideration that House of the Dragon needs viewers to root for this relationship in a way Game of Thrones did not. Cersei and Jaime’s relationship certainly wasn’t presented as healthy, nor one audiences should want to happen. Things are a little muddier with Jon Snow and Daenerys, but ultimately the greater focus was on their claims to the Iron Throne and, for Jon, doing what he believed to be right in the end, more so than it was their romance. Rhaenyra and Daemon, though, help form the backbone of House of the Dragon‘s story, and it’s the key romantic relationship of the person who, so far, is the show’s major protagonist.
Whereas in George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, presentations of the rival factions in the civil war – though still showing the blacks in a somewhat better light than the greens – are a little more balanced in a ‘both sides are terrible’ kind of way, House of the Dragon unequivocally supports Rhaenyra (for now), making her the much more sympathetic and likable character versus wanting you to hate Alicent as a villain. In order for that to work, then it also has to make audiences complicit in the incest and invested in her pairing with Daemon, to see it as a triumph rather than a sin. If viewers wrote off Rhaenyra and Daemon’s marriage because of the fact they’re related, then the rest of their arcs and the emotional responses they’re supposed to inspire would fall short.
Why Targaryens Can Marry Each Other But Cersei & Jaime Couldn’t Be Together
House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones may both be set in Westeros, but present very different views of incest. That, however, isn’t as clear-cut as it seems: even in House of the Dragon‘s timeline, it is still a taboo that’s considered a great sin by the main religions in Game of Thrones‘ world, the old gods and the Faith of the Seven. Cersei and Jaime’s romance would be every bit as illegal as it is in Game of Thrones, but the Targaryens are considered different. Aegon the Conqueror himself was given a free pass when he arrived in Westeros with his two sister-wives (despite the double-whammy of incest and polygamy), striking up a good relationship with the High Septon (who also clearly realized trying to oppose the man with three giant dragons wasn’t a great idea).
After Aegon’s reign, things did eventually begin to change with the Faith Militant ultimately rising up against his successor, Aenys, and later his brother, Maegor. It’s worth noting that the High Septon did not speak out against Aegon’s marriages, but didn’t support them either: at this point, incest was still unlawful, and there was a belief the practice would die out even among the family members of House Targaryen. The High Septon protested against Maegor marrying Aenys’ daughter, Rhaena, instead encouraging him to wed Lady Ceryse Hightower (who just so happened to be the High Septon’s niece). While the Septon’s advice was followed, more incidents would occur over the years to cause tensions between the crown and the faith, which fully broke when Aenys had his daughter, Rhaena, married to his son, Aegon, which led to him being referred to as King Abomination and the military conflict that would see out his reign and all of Maegor’s.
When King Jaehaerys I Targaryen ascended to the Iron Throne, he made peace with the Faith of the Seven, but did ensure steps to protect the Targaryen custom of marrying each other. This was known as the Doctrine of Exceptionalism, which decreed that Targaryen incest was different to that of any other Westeros house, because the Gods had made them different thanks to their Valyrian blood and dragons. Thus, Targaryens were free to marry one another, but incest was still outlawed in general. That largely only applied to the most immediate of relations, though, as marrying cousins was common throughout Westeros – Tywin Lannister married his cousin, Joanna – and in the North there were examples of uncles marrying nieces. Still, none of these went quite so far as House Targaryen, and how House of the Dragon wants viewers to see incest in a… different way.
House of the Dragon releases new episodes Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO.