Administrative Note: This is the first in a series of posts that will be discussing the various character perspectives of the many would be kings of Westeros. These posts will comprise several character’s opinions, my analysis of said opinions, and a few of my final thoughts regarding the character being discussed. The analysis parts of these essays are informed my own interpretation of the opinions expressed by various characters. The intention of this series is to build up a more complete picture of these would be kings by using these opinions.
The Great Mad Dragon
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
Despite never really having met the man we gain a lot of perspective on Rhaegar Targaryen from many different characters. I intend to use the perspectives of these various characters to build up a more complete picture of the man.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Rhaegar but I will do my very best to remain as neutral as possible during this analysis.
Artwork by Amok
We begin with Jorah Mormont as he is the one of the few characters that can provide one of the least biased reports on Rhaegar given that he had no real interaction with the man and has no reason to lie. However, I am aware that he may be sparing Daenerys’ feelings in regards to any comments about her brother.
“I hit him. Ser Jorah, do you think… he’ll be so angry when he gets back… I woke the dragon, didn’t I?”
“Can you wake the dead, girl? Your brother Rhaegar was the last dragon, and he died on the Trident. Viserys is less than the shadow of a snake.”
What I take from this interaction, other than Jorah’s clear disdain for Viserys, is that Jorah has some glimmer of respect for Rhaegar despite the fact that the North rebelled against the Targaryens. Referring to him as “the Last Dragon” gives the impression that Rhaegar was a man to be respected even in death despite the alleged kidnapping of Lyanna Stark.
“Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died.”
Jorah later comments on Rhaegar’s valour, nobility, and honour. This seems to imply that despite the animosity between the Targaryens and the North, Jorah still sees Rhaegar in a positive light with regards to his valour, noble, and honourable nature. However, I do agree that this comment is largely meant as a lesson to Daenerys to remind her that honour, nobility, and honour do not make you invincible, and that good men can still be defeated/die despite their positive attributes.
Artwork by John Picacio
Despite being brother to Lyanna and best friends with Robert Baratheon, Eddard has remarkably little to say about the Prince of Dragonstone and that says something in it of itself.
There was no answer Ned Stark could give to that but a frown. For the first time in years, he found himself remembering Rhaegar Targaryen. He wondered if Rhaegar had frequented brothels; somehow he thought not.
Despite the animosity between the Starks and the Targaryens, Eddard still thinks that Rhaegar was above visiting brothels. That, to me at least, speaks volumes about Rhaegar’s character since even Ned, whose sister, brother, and father lie dead because of the Targaryens, can’t really say a bad word about the Prince of Dragonstone. This opinion seems to be further legitimised by Ned’s lack of agreement/disagreement whenever Robert Baratheon laments on his hatred for Rhaegar and the Targaryens.
However, there is the distinct possibility that raising Jon, whose father is more than likely Rhaegar, and Lyanna’s promise might have softened Ned’s stance towards Rhaegar. To me, Ned seems to have one of the most neutral opinions of Rhaegar despite the events of the Rebellion.
Artwork by Amok
As a knight of the Kingsguard, Barristan had a unique and personal insight into the life of Rhaegar. However, as Barristan was friends with Rhaegar and is in the service of Daenerys Targaryen, there remains a possibility that his opinions and comments on Rhaegar may be biased.
“Did you know my brother Rhaegar as well?”
“It was said that no man ever knew Prince Rhaegar, truly.”
In this quote Barristan comments that no one every really knew the true nature of Rhaegar, what he was thinking or how he felt.
“There was a melancholy to Rhaegar, a sense… of doom.”
This comment is later expanded upon when Barristan tells Daenerys that Rhaegar had an air of sadness to him, that he seemed doomed. The fact that characters say that Rhaegar was “born in grief” because of the “shadow of Summerhall” may explain the sad nature of Rhaegar and the fact that he felt doomed. Selmy seems to have pitied and sympathised with Rhaegar.
“As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, ‘I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.’”
This passage gives us one of the greater insights to Rhaegar as a person. From what we read, he was very well read and intelligent despite the japes from members of his household. However, we also see that Rhaegar did not just read for the sake of learning but that the things he read apparently informed his behaviour extensively. From Selmy’s POV, Rhaegar comes across as a well read but melancholic young man who seemed doomed. Perhaps whatever book or scroll that Rhaegar read that caused such a dramatic change in his behaviour also caused him to become so wounded and melancholic.
“. . .that was the tourney when he crowned Lyanna Stark as Queen of Love and Beauty! Princess Elia was there, his wife, and yet my brother gave the crown to the Stark girl, and later stole her away from her betrothed. How could he do that? Did the Dornish woman treat him so ill?”
“It is not for such as me to say what might have been in your brother’s heart, Your Grace. The Princess Elia was a good and gracious lady, though her health was ever delicate.”
While reflecting on his accomplishments during the Tourney at Harrenhal, Barristan tells Daenerys that he does not know why Rhaegar crowned Lyanna his Queen of Love and Beauty. He does not exactly leap to the defence of Rhaegar in this act and instead, remarks on Elia’s positive qualities over Rhaegar’s negative ones. It seems to me that Barristan did not want to speak ill of Daenerys’ brother to her face despite the fact that she expressed shock at Rhaegar’s actions at the tourney.
“Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna and thousands died for it.”
Barristan later reflects on the tourney and seems to acknowledge the fact that Rhaegar’s love for Lyanna and the decisions he made did in fact cause the deaths of thousands. Although, Barristan seems to express this as more of tragedy overall, because thousands of people were condemned to die because of love, than as a moment to harshly express blame against Rhaegar.
Barristan does seem to express a positive bias towards Rhaegar in some respects for various reasons. He shows sympathy towards Rhaegar and highlights his positive qualities. Additionally, he also acknowledges, at least to himself, that Rhaegar is largely responsible for the rebellion.
Artwork by Michael Kormack
As another knight of the Kingsguard, Jaime too had an insight into the man that was Rhaegar Targaryen. However, his time in both Aerys’ and Robert’s Kingsguards may have coloured Jaime’s opinions somewhat.
“And beside them, crowned in mist and grief with his long hair streaming behind him, rode Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone and rightful heir to the Iron Throne.”
Jaime seems to reiterate the common belief that grief and sadness hung over Rhaegar his entire life. He even goes so far as to say that grief was Rhaegar’s crown.
Prince Rhaegar burned with a cold light, now white, now red, now dark.
“I left my wife and children in your hands.”
“I never thought he’d hurt them.” Jaime’s sword was burning less brightly now. “I was with the king…”
Jaime seems to feel immense guilt over the Sack of King’s Landing, particularly the deaths of Aegon, Rhaenys, and Elia. This is likely worsened by the fact that Rhaegar seems to have trusted Jaime with his family’s safety. Rhaegar appears to be have been extremely trusting of Jaime despite his young age, inexperience, and the lack of Lannister aid against the rebels during the rebellion.
“When the battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but … well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return.”
Rhaegar’s trust of Jaime is further shown when Jaime recalls their last encounter before the prince left for the Trident. Rhaegar was so trusting of Jaime that he told the young knight about his future plans for when he returned.
Jaime’s perception of Rhaegar seems to imply that the prince was worthy of his trust and respect. Additionally, Jaime also recalls the sadness that hung over Rhaegar throughout his life.
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
During her youth Cersei wished to marry Rhaegar Targaryen and was promised just as much by her father. Upon their first meeting Cersei became infatuated by Rhaegar but was devastated to learn that Aerys II would not allow a match between the pair. Due to Cersei’s attraction to Rhaegar her opinions of her may be very biased.
By night the prince played his silver harp and made her weep. When she had been presented to him, Cersei had almost drowned in the depths of his sad purple eyes. He has been wounded, she recalled thinking, but I will mend his hurt when we are wed. Next to Rhaegar, even her beautiful Jaime had seemed no more than a callow boy. The prince is going to be my husband, she had thought, giddy with excitement, and when the old king dies I’ll be the queen. Her aunt had confided that truth to her before the tourney. “You must be especially beautiful,” Lady Genna told her, fussing with her dress, “for at the final feast it shall be announced that you and Prince Rhaegar are betrothed.
Cersei follows the pattern of mentioning Rhaegar’s sadness and wounded nature. She remarks on his beauty, even placing him above Jaime in terms of attractiveness.
The other cousin, Elinor, was sharing a cup of wine with the handsome young Bastard of Driftmark, Aurane Waters. It was not the first time the queen had made note of Waters, a lean young man with grey-green eyes and long silver-gold hair. The first time she had seen him, for half a heartbeat she had almost thought Rhaegar Targaryen had returned from the ashes. It is his hair, she told herself. He is not half as comely as Rhaegar was.
Aurane Waters, the dashing young Bastard of Driftmark, would be her grand admiral.
Aurane Waters seemed as bored as Cersei by all this prattle about septons. Seen up close, his hair was more silvery than gold, and his eyes were grey-green where Prince Rhaegar’s had been purple. Even so, the resemblance… She wondered if Waters would shave his beard for her.
Cersei’s infatuation with Rhaegar also informs her opinion and actions in regards to Aurane Water, a man with similar features to Rhaegar, such as making him Master of Ships on the Small Council and deferring the crown’s debts to the Faith of the Seven and the Iron Bank of Braavos in favour of building a new fleet for the Iron Throne.
It seems clear that Rhaegar was both very attractive, talented, and sensitive if he was able to earn the genuine affections of Cersei, Lyanna, and many others.
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
As a companion, squire, and close friend of Rhaegar, Jon Connington provides a certain insight into the prince’s life. However, as Jon Connington is noted to have been in love with Rhaegar, his opinions may be biased.
I rose too high, loved too hard, dared too much. I tried to grasp a star, overreached, and fell.
Let me live long enough to see the boy sit on the Iron Throne, and Varys will pay for that slight and so much more. Then we’ll see who’s soon forgotten.
I failed the father, but I will not fail the son.
Death, he knew, but slow. I still have time. A year. Two years. Five. Some stone men live for ten. Time enough to cross the sea, to see Griffin’s Roost again. To end the Usurper’s line for good and all, and put Rhaegar’s son upon the Iron Throne. Then Lord Jon Connington could die content.
What sort of man was he? Honest and honorable, venal and grasping, proud?
Proud, for a certainty. Even arrogant. A faithful friend to Rhaegar, but prickly with others. Robert was his liege, but I’ve heard it said that Connington chafed at serving such a lord.
It is clear from these quotes that Jon Connington shows a deep regret over the death of Rhaegar and ultimately blames himself for it. The fact that the man is so willing to give up his own life just to seat Aegon upon the Iron Throne certainly gives the impression that Rhaegar was a man who could command love, loyalty, and respect like few others. That he disliked serving Robert and preferred the company of Rhaegar also says something about Rhaegar’s character.
The bells tolled for all of us that day. For Aerys and his queen, for Elia of Dorne and her little daughter, for every true man and honest woman in the Seven Kingdoms. And for my silver prince.
Prince Rhaegar was returning from Dorne, and he and his escort had lingered here a fortnight. He was so young then, and I was younger. Boys, the both of us. At the welcoming feast, the prince had taken up his silver-stringed harp and played for them. A song of love and doom, Jon Connington recalled, and every woman in the hall was weeping when he put down the harp. Not the men, of course……”Your father’s lands are beautiful,” Prince Rhaegar had said, standing right where Jon was standing now. And the boy he’d been had replied, “One day they will all be mine.” As if that could impress a prince who was heir to the entire realm, from the Arbor to the Wall.
A bride for our bright prince. Jon Connington remembered Prince Rhaegar’s wedding all too well. Elia was never worthy of him. She was frail and sickly from the first, and childbirth only left her weaker.
Jon Connington had known that, and he had also known that Robert’s head upon a spear would have put an end to the rebellion, then and there. He was young and full of pride. How not? King Aerys had named him Hand and given him an army, and he meant to prove himself worthy of that trust, of Rhaegar’s love.
The fact that Jon Connington loved Rhaegar to this extent, almost obsessively too, tells me that Rhaegar must have been a truly unique and impressive character to be deserving of such devotion.
Artwork by Amok
As the counterpoint to Rhaegar’s character it is only natural that Robert would have a less than stellar opinion of him. The prince’s “abduction” of Robert’s beloved Lyanna and her ultimate death can only have served to insight hatred from Robert towards Rhaegar. However, the inclusion of his external perception of the crown prince is important as it provides a balance to the previous accounts of others beforehand.
“In my dreams, I kill him every night. A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves.”
“And Rhaegar … how many times do you think he raped your sister? How many hundreds of times? I will kill every Targaryen I can get my hands on, until they are as dead as their dragons, and then I will piss on their graves.”
“Treachery was a coin the Targaryens knew well. Lannister payed them back in kind. It was no less than they deserved. I shall not trouble my sleep over it.”
“You were not there. There was no honor in that conquest.”
“The Others take your honor! What did any Targaryen know of honor? Go down into your crypt and ask Lyanna about the dragon’s honor!”
“The gods be damned. It was a hollow victory they gave me. A crown … it was the girl I prayed them for. Your sister, safe … and mine again, as she was meant to be. I ask you, Ned, what good is it to wear a crown? The gods mock the prayers of kings and cowherds alike.”
“I swear to you, I was never so alive as when I was winning this throne, or so dead as now that I’ve won it.”
It’s made abundantly clear in these short quotes just how much Robert hated Rhaegar. His hatred of Rhaegar even extended to justifying the brutal murders of Elia, Aegon, and Rhaenys. To Robert, Rhaegar is the man who kidnapped, raped, and is ultimately responsible for the death of the only woman he ever loved. Robert’s hatred of Rhaegar followed him for the rest of his life after the death of Lyanna. Nothing could make him happy other than drinking, eating, whoring, and fighting, and even that was only a temporary distraction so he had to do it constantly. Robert blames Rhaegar for his constant unhappiness because Rhaegar’s actions broke him. In the end, the two men ultimately destroyed one another.
Some Final Thoughts…
It’s clear that Rhaegar was an accomplished, intelligent, talented, and attractive character who won the hearts and loyalty of both men and women extremely easily. However, it is also obvious that there was a dark cloud that hung over Rhaegar from the day he was born due to the tragic nature of the events at Summerhall. The crown prince may have in fact sensed this looming doom and this may explain certain radical actions that he carried out. It is also clear that Rhaegar’s shoulders most of the blame for the outbreak of the rebellion. For a man described as “Able. That above all. Determined, deliberate, dutiful, single-minded”, there remains an element of mystery surrounding his actions at the Tourney at Harrenhal and his subsequent “abduction” of Lyanna Stark. His actions scream impulsiveness and dishonour but his characterisation by other characters seems to be at odds with this. I believe that there is far more to this story and that it is likely that Rhaegar was acting this way due to some external factors that he perceived e.g. his son’s destiny. There is a good chance that I am wrong and that Rhaegar simply acted impulsively due to falling deeply and helplessly in love with Lyanna.
I have enjoyed writing this essay. I have wanted to for some time and never got around to it. As I wrote my opinion on Rhaegar Targaryen changed to a slightly more positive one. Originally I believed that Rhaegar possibly had a touch of the Targaryen Madness to him and that he was a cruel, self-aggrandising, deluded, impulsive, and entitled narcissist that was in love with his own legend. I was wrong, for the most part. I now believe that Rhaegar is something of a tragic figure who was haunted his entire life by Summerhall and whatever he read the day he decided to learn to be a knight. I truly believe that he had the best of intentions but that he was ultimately blind to the consequences of his actions, prioritised poorly, and that he damned himself, and thousands of others, when he did not offer an explanation or reasoning for them.