The Tragic And Brutally Short Life Of Rhaegar Targaryen, And What He Means For Game Of Thrones' End

Rhaegar Targaryen has a lot of Game of Thrones fans talking, even though his presence on the show has mostly consisted of anecdotes and differing accounts of what happened between him and Lyanna Stark. Mounting evidence suggests that Rhaegar will make his onscreen debut soon, which means it's time to ask and answer, "Who is Rhaegar Targaryen?"  

What was Jon Snow's father like? What were his personality traits? Why did Robert Baratheon hate him so much? Just what were the circumstances of Rhaegar's alleged abduction of Lyanna Stark? And is any of this related to the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised? Could the story of Rhaegar Targaryen shed some light on how this series will end? He is, without a doubt, one of the most important figures in A Song of Ice and Fire, and it's entirely possible he's the key to victory over the White Walkers. 

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  • He Was The Eldest Son And Heir Of The Mad King

    He Was The Eldest Son And Heir Of The Mad King
    Photo: HBO

    Rhaegar was the firstborn son of King Aerys II Targaryen, otherwise known as "The Mad King," and Queen Rhaella, who pulled double duty as both Aerys's wife and his sister. Rhaegar was also the eldest brother of Viserys and Daenerys, the latter of whom was born the year after Rhaegar was killed in battle by Robert Baratheon.

    He was born at a time when the Targaryen bloodline had considerably thinned out, so there was no living sister for him to marry before his short life came to an end. As a child, he was said to be an avid reader, so much so that many members of the Royal Court made jokes about him being a bookworm. 

  • He Was Born 'In Grief'

    As Rhaegar was born during the Tragedy at Summerhall – a huge fire that caused the death of many Targaryens and the destruction of their summer castle – many described him as being "born in grief," as if the looming sadness of this event cast a dark shadow over his personality. He was also described as melancholic, and was said to be bookish, studious, and extremely private. 

  • He Was Very, Very Attractive

    Rhaegar is often described in the books as incredibly handsome. He was tall and good-looking, with that classic Targaryen hair: long, flowing, and silver-gold. He even had dark lilac eyes. 

    He caught the attention of numerous ladies, including Cersei Lannister. Cersei developed an infatuation with Rhaegar in her youth, believing him to be the best-looking man she'd ever seen in her life. It was a total bummer for her brother/lover, but there you go.

  • Rhaegar Never Wanted To Be A Fighter

    Rhaegar was an extremely bookish child, more interested in scholarly pursuits than sword-fighting. Still, during one reading session, he came across something that made him believe he had to become a knight. No one really knows what specific text changed his mind. All they know is that he approached the master-at-arms and said, “I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.”

    An enthusiastic acceptance of knighthood? Or just a weary resignation to fate? One theory is that Rhaegar came across the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised and thought he fit the bill. Maybe he thought he had to shape up and accept his destiny to save the world from being plunged into icy darkness. Regardless, he became a knight at the age of 17 and, soon after, his combat abilities were the stuff of legend.   

  • Cersei Almost Married Him

    Cersei Almost Married Him
    Photo: HBO

    It's an uncomfortable truth that the Targaryens were very invested in inbreeding. In Aerys Targaryen's ideal world, Rhaegar would marry his sister, and the Targaryen bloodline would remain purely Valyrian. However, Daenerys wasn't born by the time Rhaegar came of age (or by the time he died, for that matter), so there were no Targaryen women for the Prince of Dragonstone to wed. 

    Cersei Lannister was very attracted to Rhaegar; she thought he was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. She even asked the witch Maggy the Frog - who predicted that all Cersei's children would die and that her brother will kill her - if she was going to marry "the prince." Tywin Lannister, who was Hand to King Aerys II at the time, offered Cersei as a potential wife, but he was summarily shot down by the Mad King.  

  • He Probably Didn't Love Elia Martell

    He Probably Didn't Love Elia Martell
    Photo: HBO

    Aerys turned down Tywin's offer of Cersei as a potential wife for Rhaegar, saying the Hand was "a mere servant of the crown, and no servant's daughter was fit to marry a prince of royal blood." Instead, The Mad King turned to Dorne to find a worthy wife for his son. Rhaegar was wed to Elia Martell (Prince Oberyn's sister), a princess of Dorne.

    Rhaegar wed Elia primarily out of duty. They had two children, but Elia's precarious health—especially after the births—forced her to be bedridden for months at a time. The relationship of the husband and wife was never romantic, but the couple seemed content.